Archive for January, 2018

There IS a Deep State… and It’s Name is ALEC… and It’s Face is the Koch Brothers

January 26, 2018 Comments off

Of late, much has been written about the Deep State, which The Nation writer Greg Grandin describes as:

…a vernacular way of describing what political scientists like to call “civil society,” that is, any venue in which powerful individuals, either alone or collectively, might try to use the state to fulfill their private ambitions, to get richer and obtain more power.

Those who believe the mechanisms required to maintain “civil society” somehow create a coordinated effort by the heads of government agencies to get wealthy and impose their will at the expense of taxpayers are likely to oppose “the government” in general and are especially susceptible to the ideas of the “Deep State”. Those who oppose “the government” don’t like it’s regulatory arm that requires them to get permits to put additions on their homes, to keep their cars maintained, to buy auto insurance, and— now— to buy health insurance. They especially don’t like the “confiscatory taxes” the government imposes on them: taxing their income, the products they buy at the store, skimming off money for retirement and health care, and imposing fees on a host of services.

After reading “Big Money Rules“, Diane Ravitch’s review of two recent books in the NY Review of Books, I am persuaded that there IS a “Deep State”… and it’s name is ALEC and it’s face is the Koch Brothers. In her essay, Ms. Ravitch reviews Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth for America and Gordon Lafer’s “The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time.” The essay provides a stunning description of how the Koch brothers used their incredible wealth to create and populate think tanks with libertarian economists and political scientists who crank out studies supporting their beliefs and used their influence among their billionaire peers to create the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It is hard to understate the influence of ALEC the stance of today’s GOP and the legislation being written in state legislatures across the country. Ms. Ravtich describes ALEC’s impact in these paragraphs:

ALEC writes policy reports and drafts legislation designed to carry out its members’ goals.* It claims, Lafer writes, “to introduce eight hundred to one thousand bills each year in the fifty state legislatures, with 20 percent becoming law.” The “exchange” that ALEC promotes is

between corporate donors and state legislators. The corporations pay ALEC’s expenses and contribute to legislators’ campaigns; in return, legislators carry the corporate agenda into their statehouses…. In the first decade of this century, ALEC’s leading corporate backers contributed more than $370 million to state elections, and over one hundred laws each year based on ALEC’s model bills were enacted….

Lafer contends that ALEC and its compatriots are engineering what he calls “a revolution of falling expectations.”  They have cynically played on the resentments of many citizens, purposefully deepening antagonism toward government programs that benefit unspecified “others.” Many people are losing their economic security while others are getting government handouts. Why should others get pensions? Why should others get health insurance? Why should others have job protections? Why should unions protect their members? “We are the only generation in American history to be left worse off than the last one,” reads a post from the Kochs’ advocacy group Generation Opportunity urging young people in Michigan to vote down a ballot proposal to raise the state’s sales tax. “We are paying more for college tuition, for a Social Security system and a Medicare system we won’t get to use, $18 trillion in national debt and now an Obamacare system—all that steals from our generation’s paychecks.”

What’s especially frightening to me is that the Koch brother’s notions about social security, medicare, and government programs have permeated the mindsets of all Americans, particularly the younger generations. I am dismayed to hear my daughters who are in the 30s and 40s declare matter-of-factly that they do not expect to benefit from social security or Medicare because “we’re going to run out of money”… which is correct if and only if the low taxes and libertarian ideas espoused by the ALEC prevail. But there is nothing in the constitution and nothing in the laws of the economics that indicates that the government will run out of money despite what Koch-funded think tanks want the public to believe.

In 2014, just before the mid-term elections, I heard Bernie Sanders speak to roughly 90 people at Dartmouth College. He spent 30 minutes of his time explaining about the Koch brothers, a topic I wrongly assumed most in attendance knew about. I heard him give talks to increasingly large audiences over the next several months and every time he spoke he explained how the Koch brothers were using their money to buy influence. Here’s what is frustrating to me— and I am certain frustrating to him: the coverage of his campaign focussed more on immaterial and bogus issues like “Bernie Bro’s”, polls, and intramural squabbling in the DNC and seldom on his stance against plutocrats like the Koch brothers. The essence of his campaign and that of all progressive candidates is opposition to the REAL Deep State, which is the influence of money on politics and, most importantly, on the shared ideals of our nation.

Six months ago I wrote a post the made reference to Ms. MacLean’s book that concluded with this paragraph:

How do we turn this around? Only by appealing to the higher angels in people. Service learning projects, the creation of clubs at public schools that promote humanitarian causes as opposed to athletics and careers, and direct instruction and direct experience in how democracy works would all be helpful. As long as schools are viewed as career-preparation we are reinforcing the go-it-alone ethos that led us to where we are today…. where those who have made their fortune are loath to share it with others. The result of this ethos is an economy where the .1% cling to their “earnings” while the vast majority of the workforce works from paycheck to paycheck.

Everything that has happened in the last six months— especially the “tax reform” bill— reinforces the final sentence of this conclusion. Until the mainstream media— and the party that supposedly opposes the GOP ethos— hammers on inequality the same way ALEC hammers on unions, “the government”, and taxes we can expect the revolution of falling expectationsto continue unabated.





Weapons in School: A Personal History… and Ronald Reagan’s Change of Heart

January 25, 2018 1 comment

In the early 1970s I taught at Shaw Junior High School in Philadelphia. In May, 1972, the last year I taught at that school, a student was stabbed to death in a scuffle that occurred in the lavatory across from my classroom. At that time, Philadelphia staffed its schools with non-teaching assistants and had police officers assigned to guard the building. Knives and guns were forbidden in schools, but, as the incident in the bathroom indicated, enforcing the prohibition was difficult.

Two years later I became Assistant Principal at a nearby suburban high school of 650 students. In that capacity I confiscated knives from students,  removed baseball bats from lockers of students who were not on the baseball team but had threatened to harm classmates over squabbles that occurred in the neighborhoods outside of school, and asked those attending basketball games to allow me to inspect their overcoats in search of guns that were rumored to be on their person. I count myself as fortunate to have avoided injury on one occasion when I disarmed a student who had a knife in a fight with another student and to have never encountered a situation where a student was armed.

In the late 1970s I became Principal in a rural Maine school district where I was asked to impose greater discipline on the students who attended. I was told (and during my first year witnessed) students often scuffled in the hallways and often brought “buck knives” to school, knives they used most frequently to vandalize property but which could have been used to injure each other in scuffles. In writing the student handbook for the school, I banned the possession of knives and guns, a move that was widely supported by the teachers but questioned by many students and parents— particularly during hunting season when many students went hunting before school and left their rifles in the vehicles they drove to school. The ban seemed commonsensical given the experiences of my predecessor, but it did result in the need for me to replace six tires over the course of the year and to have many heated exchanges with parents and students who questioned the need for the ban, which they viewed as coming from my experience “in the city”.

For the years that followed, when I became a school superintendent in that same rural Maine district, in the Seacoast section of New Hampshire, and a Western Maryland district, I cannot recall any issues involving the prohibition of knives and guns in schools. The bans were in place, enforced on rare occasions by administrators, and never an issue at the Board level. In each these assignments I worked on the State Superintendents Association’s legislative committee and I cannot recall any debates on the issue of weapons in school at the legislative level.

All of that changed in 1999 when Columbine occurred. By that time I was leading a large suburban district in Upstate New York, a district that had homes like those pictured in the Denver suburb where two students brought high-powered weapons into a high school and killed several of their classmates. The Columbine incident occurred at the time I was convening “coffees” to discuss the school budgets that would be voted upon in mid-May, and the discussions that followed my 15 overview of the budget had nothing to do with school finance and everything to do with security in schools. The issue of school safety was exacerbated when a rumor circulated that a group of students was going to come to an unnamed school in our region with assault weapons on May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, with the intent of killing classmates. While no one could find the source of this rumor, it persisted to the extent that my colleagues and I experienced a decline in attendance in their high schools on that day.

Since Columbine, the debates about guns in schools, the need for “good guys with guns” in schools, the need for surveillance equipment, and the need for better locks has resulted in a counter-movement in the gun-owning community. Since Columbine States have moved away from laws preventing weapons in schools by passing concealed carry laws, open carry laws, and, in the case of New Hampshire, laws that prevent local school boards from passing any restrictions whatsoever on guns in schools. All of these laws that allow the proliferation of guns are based on a “slippery slope” theory that if state legislatures— or local school boards— pass laws or policies that limit the acquisition of guns, limit the kinds of guns that can be sold, or limit places where guns can be carried, soon those same legislative bodies will be passing laws that confiscate guns altogether.

It would be wonderful if legislators ignored the NRA, who promotes these laws that encourage the widespread use of guns and promotes the “slippery slope” thinking. It would even be better if gun owners had some assurance through the law and some faith in such an assurance that “the government” has no intention of confiscating any weapons they possess unless there is substantial evidence that they intend to use them to harm people. But recent experience in Oregon indicates gun rights advocates will spread misinformation on any legislation designed to protect family members, school children, and members of the public from gun owners who a court has determined are likely to use the weapons to harm others.

And so we find ourself in a world where 297 school students were killed in 137 school shootings between 1980 and 2013 and 200 school shootings and 94 deaths since the Sandy Hook incident at the end of that year and the end of 2016 and school boards concerned about the well being and safety of their children have no means of excluding those with weapons.

In retrospect, I’m glad I began my career as a school-based administrator in the 1970s when it was still possible to screen spectators for concealed weapons and still possible to send students home with the rifles they perched on the gun racks on their pick-up trucks. There were only two mass shootings at public schools during an era when common sense prevailed in terms of gun ownership, an era when Ronald Reagan saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons” and that guns were a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” The party of Ronald Reagan has changed its thinking since then… in part because the context has changed. Ronald Reagan had just signed the Mulford Act which forbid the public carrying of loaded firearms, a law he believed “would work no hardship on the honest citizen”. California’s Mulford Act was introduced in 1967 in response to members of the Black Panther Party who were conducting armed patrols of Oakland neighborhoods. If such an incident took place today, where would the GOP stand? Where would the NRA stand?

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NC’s Public School Forum Offers Fix For Schools Poor Rankings in Education Week’s Quality Counts Report

January 25, 2018 Comments off‘s editorial page shared an op ed piece from North Carolina’s Public School Forum that offered a 10 point plan to improve the State’s low rankings on the recently released “Quality Counts” report issued annually by Education Week. The “Quality Counts” report ranks states based on test scores, various metrics on teacher and administrator quality, the availability of services for students, and the funding mechanisms for public schools. There was a time not so long ago that North Carolina was one of the better states in the union and a decided leader among Southern states. But no longer: this year the state received a C- overall (40th in the nation) and a D (45th in the nation) in school finance. This is not surprising given the actions taken by the GOP who dominates the state legislature, most of which have been covered in earlier posts on this blog. In response to this ranking, the Public School Forum offered ten recommendations to leaders in the state, recommendations that the editorial board wholeheartedly supported. They are:

  • Fix the class-size mandate crisis, providing certainty to students, parents and educators. The legislature should fully fund the kindergarten-3rd grade class-size mandate and provide additional time for implementation. Failing that, the legislature should continue to give local schools flexibility in teacher allocations.
  • Provide adequate and equitable funding for schools, including the buildings. Address the growing gaps between poor and wealthy school systems – and related student achievement gaps.
  • Insist on transparency and accountability for school choice (voucher) programs. Taxpayers should know just how their money is being spent on vouchers and private education savings accounts; private schools should have to disclose information on curriculum, student achievement on par with public schools.
  • Recruit and retain the best and brightest teachers and principals. Improve principal pay, which is the lowest in the nation. Restore retiree health benefits for future teachers (as well as other state workers).
  • Fix the faulty A-F school grading system with indicators that more accurately reflect what in schools is working and truly measures student achievement.
  • Scale up successes for the state’s struggling schools by restoring funds to the Department of Public Instruction’s successful “Turn Around Lowest Achieving Schools” intervention model, provide more incentives for the most talented teachers to work in struggling schools and provide charter-like flexibility to more public schools.
  • Adopt a “whole child” approach to health and learning. All students should have access to high-quality afterschool programs and out-of-school learning opportunities.
  • Pursue “outcomes-focused” strategies around racial equity. Do more to diversify the teacher workforce; increase minority enrollment in advance placement and higher-level coursework.
  • Build on the state’s investment in early childhood education.
  • Policy makers must do better at governing public schools. Policymakers, education leaders and parents must effectively work together.

This is not calling for a radical overhauling of schooling as envisioned by the GOP legislature. Indeed, instead of calling for the dismantling of the school choice (voucher) programs passed by the legislature it is calling for them to provide taxpayers with clear and accurate information on “ their money is being spent on vouchers and private education savings accounts” and requiring that private schools “…disclose information on curriculum, student achievement on par with public schools.” If wild-eyed radicals or even middle of the road liberals were on the committee making recommendations, it’s hard to believe that the continuation of voucher programs would be included in the list of recommendations.

But, as the editorial infers, business friendliness (i.e. low taxes and opportunities for the expansion of for-profit deregulated private schools) are valued in North Carolina more that fully funded public schools that provide services to children raised in poverty. My hunch is that it will be easier for NC voters to replace the legislators in office than it will be to change the hearts and minds of those in office today. Here’s hoping they do so, for the sake of the children who are being short changed.

Insufferable Cheerful Liberalism is NOT the Cause of Distrust in Government… Lying Is.

January 24, 2018 Comments off

I read the Caledonia Record, a regional and conservative regional newspaper to get a different perspective on the world than I get from Naked Capitalism, Diane Ravitch, the New York Times, Truthdig, Common Dreams, and any number of articles sent my way via social media. Today’s paper had a column by George Will that, predictably, raised my blood pressure a bit. Here’s a letter I submitted in response to the column:

George Will’s column, “Insufferable Cheerful Liberals”, critiquing historian David Goldfield’s new book “The Gifted Generation: When Government Was Good” misses the mark. The American public did not lose their faith in government because liberalism “swerved in another direction” between 1964 and 1980. The American public lost faith in government during those 16 years because they learned through the publication of the Pentagon Papers that Presidents from BOTH parties lied to them about the war in Viet Nam. They learned through the tapes that came out of the Watergate investigation that President Nixon’s behavior behind closed doors was disgraceful and that he repeatedly lied to the public. To make matters even worse, they learned from the 1973 and 1979 oil crisis and the hostage-taking during Jimmy Carter’s presidency that the federal government was powerless in the face of actions by Middle East dictators and theocrats. Ronald Reagan capitalized on this lack of trust and sense of powerlessness in 1980 by declaring bluntly that “government was the problem”. Since then neither party has dared to oppose that proposition, with the GOP moving toward a libertarianism that expects everyone to fend for themselves and the Democratic party moving toward a neoliberalism that expects the private sector to assume responsibility for providing social services.

As one who grew up trusting the government, I agree with Mr. Will that the government should used “”liberal means… to achieve conservative results”, and that programs should avoid “maintaining people as permanent wards of government” by creating “an educated, property-owning middle class equipped for self-reliant striving.” But given the cuts to education departments at all levels of government, given both parties’ willingness to bail out banks but not borrowers, and given both parties’ faith in corporations-who-are-citizens to make decisions in the best interest of the public I don’t see that happening any time soon. If we ever hope to see government succeed, we need to stop starving it of funds that will fund programs like the GI Bill that create “an educated, property-owning middle class equipped for self-reliant striving.”

“Disaster Capitalism” Nothing New in Public Education… Test Scores Lead to “Failing Schools” that Privatization can “Fix”

January 24, 2018 Comments off

An article by Common Dreams staff writer Julia Conley titled “Disaster Capitalism in Action as Puerto Rico Governor Announces Plan to Privatize Electrical Services” immediately struck a nerve and raised a question:

  • How is the Puerto Rico Governor’s decision to privatize the electrical services after a hurricane any different than any State Governor’s or city mayor’s decision to privatize public schools after standardized tests indicate they are “failing”?

And these two paragraphs made me even more on edge and raised two more questions:

Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch called the decision “catastrophic” and indicative of the same pattern of the Trump administration prioritizing wealthy companies that aim to take over public services.

“The decision to privatize Puerto Rico’s state-owned power company follows the same dangerous path mapped out in the Trump administration’s draft infrastructure plan,” said Hauter. “Whether it’s water or energy, privatization helps Wall Street at the expense of the wellbeing and health of communities, particularly low-income families and people of color.”

I am far from a fan of the Trump administration, but I do have a two questions for Ms. Hauter:

  • Do you see any difference between “the decision to privatize Puerto Rico’s state-owned power company” and Arne Duncan’s decision to privatize Chicago’s city owned schools because they were “failing” based on standardized test scores? Or Governor Cuomo’s decision to expand Eva Moskovitz’s empire? Or ANY mayor or Governor who decides that privatized deregulated charter schools will solve the problems of “failing government schools” that “everyone knows” are a “disaster”?
  • Do you see either party backing away from Wall Street’s privatizers and advocating more money for State and local governments? Or, stated slightly differently, how is the neoliberal Democratic Party different from the GOP when it comes to advocating for greater role for state and local government, particularly when it comes to their treatment of low income families and people of color?

The drive to privatize public services is a feature of both parties and has been for over two decades. This isn’t a “Trump” issue or a GOP issue. It’s baked into our politics and will be hard to undo as long as corporations are citizens.

NH Voucher Bill Needs to Address One Key Question: Why Aren’t “New” Funds Being Used to Address Inequity?

January 23, 2018 Comments off

Our local newspaper today features an article by a local reporter who looked at the benefits of SB193, a bill designed to provide de facto vouchers to parents. The article profiled a homeschooling parent and a local priest who hopes to open a parochial school in a nearby community, Claremont, that is involved in a lawsuit seeking equitable state funding. The article led to me writing a letter to the editor, which is pasted below:

Rob Wolfe’s article in Tuesday’s Valley News understates the adverse impact to public education that will result from the passage of SB 193, the New Hampshire bill establishing education savings accounts for students. His article overlooks one key question: How can legislators who claim there is no money available to address the lawsuits dealing with inequitable funding of public education in New Hampshire suddenly find funds for “stabilization grants” to underwrite vouchers for homeschoolers and private and parochial schools? I believe advocates for SB 193 need to explain to cash-strapped public schools like Claremont where the additional funding for “stabilization grants” will come from and why that additional funding isn’t being used to help those public schools who have been shortchanged for years.



University of Illinois Professor Links Sessions’ Rollback on Civil Rights with DeVos’s Choice Advocacy

January 22, 2018 Comments off

In a blistering op ed piece in yesterday’s Champaign-Urbana News Gazette, Sundiata Cha-Jua, professor of African-American studies and history at the University of Illinois, links Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rollback on civil rights legislation with Betsy DeVos’ advocacy for school choice. The result is a narrative about the racism inherent in the Trump administration that is chilling and hard to refute. Ms. Cha-Jua opens her essay with these paragraphs:

Though often ridiculed by his master, Emperor Trump, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions has meticulously moved to roll U.S. law, policy and social relations back toward the 19th century.

Given his success in nullifying Department of Justice consent decrees with municipal police departments and his commitment to reversing voting rights and immigration policies, and reviving racialized mass incarceration, it’s understandable that the attorney general has become the focus of anti-fascist social movements. However, Elizabeth “Betsy” Devos, the emperor’s education secretary, is pursuing a similar backward agenda. She has similarly nullified sensible and humane policies on campus sexual assault, civil rights protections for transgendered students, refused to enforce regulations on for-profit-colleges and has vigorously advocated for vouchers and charter schools.

Ms. Cha-Jua then describes how Ms. DeVos’ religious convictions inform her desire to offer publicly funded vouchers for children to attend religiously affiliated schools, and how the voucher schemes she supports were used to keep schools in the South segregated after Brown v. Board of Education mandated the end of that practice. Ms. Cha-Jua offers evidence that the deregulation of charters in Ms. DeVos’ home state of Michigan, deregulation that was the direct result of Ms. DeVos’ financial support for State legislators who shared her views, resulted in diminished funding for public education, lower test scores for those enrolled in deregulated charters, and increased segregation. She concludes her argument in opposition to Ms. DeVos’ deregulation movement noting that the “no excuses” charters that Ms. DeVos and reformers advocate push children of color out, avoiding the consequences of high drop-out rates while reinforcing the school-to-prison pipeline that results in the higher rates of incarceration of African American children.

Ms. Cha-Jua concludes her essay with these two paragraphs:

Given these results, it’s not surprising the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter network called for a moratorium on charter schools.

Though her sphere is more limited, given the importance of public education, Devos’ promotion of charter schools is as dangerous as Sessions’ assault on civil rights.

Here I disagree with Ms. Cha-Jua: I believe Betsy DeVos’ promotion of charter schools is more dangerous because it is reinforcing the “sort-and-select” template of public education that reinforces the racism and racial and economic segregation that exists in our culture today. Public schools can be an incubator for inclusive and open-mindedness that is essential for democracy, but only they provide an equal opportunity for all children and encourage divergent thinking. Charter schools, especially those based on religious convictions and those that do not accept all children, do the opposite. We have educated a generation that believes standardized test scores are a valid basis for identifying the best and brightest despite the evidence that standardized test scores are highly correlated with wealth and the education of one’s parents. Until we acknowledge that reality we will continue to eliminate opportunities for those born into poverty, many of whom could achieve the same degree of success as their more affluent cohorts IF they had the same opportunity.