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Thomas Friedman’s Rosy Analysis Overlooks One Reality: We Are Becoming China; They are NOT Becoming us!

November 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Thomas Friedman, an incurable neoliberal optimist, wrote a column yesterday extolling the capacity of the United States to compete with China, asserting that our system of governance will ultimately prevail over China.

I disagree because I fear the US is becoming more like China instead of the other way around. Instead of encouraging China to adopt OUR values we are adopting theirs… especially the “Darwinian system of capitalism” where billionaires can buy support from the government to increase their profits. (see previous posts on Amazon for recent examples of cities squandering resources to entice a business to locate in their community while short-changing public services). And has Mr. Trump championed the WTO or any “globalist” organization that fails to bow down to America? And I seriously doubt that Mr. Trump or the GOP leadership understands the importance of our navy in the Pacific. Have you ever heard him mention it or read a tweet about it? China IS a plutocratic state… we’re becoming one. But I was incredulous to read these three paragraphs describing why our country is capable of competing against China:

America’s formula for success, which dates from our founding, also had multiple components: We always educated our children to take advantage of the prevailing technology of the day.

When it was the cotton gin that meant universal primary education; when it was the factory, it meant universal secondary education; once it was the computer, some form of universal postsecondary education was required; and now that it is becoming big data and artificial intelligence, it’s going to be lifelong learning.

We also always aspired to have the best infrastructure (roads, ports, airports and telecom), the most government-funded basic research to push out the frontiers of science so our companies could innovate further and faster, the best rules and regulations to incentivize risk-taking and prevent recklessness, and the most open immigration system to attract both high-energy low-skilled workers and high-I.Q. risk-takers.

Finally, we always stood for universal values of freedom and human rights, always paid extra to stabilize the global system from which we were the biggest beneficiary, and therefore always had enduring allies — not just intimidated neighbors and customers like China does.

He later expresses his worry that “...if we get away from the formula that actually made us great, we’re not going to enjoy sustainable, inclusive growth” and concludes his column with this message for the President:

America became great with a formula that every great American president refreshed and reinvested in. And you’re not doing that. You’re actually undermining and neglecting some of its key elements — immigration, allies, rules and regulations. 

Here’s my message to Mr. Friedman. Contrary to his rosy passage about the governments support for public education, we have fallen behind in the past two decades thanks to our focus on standardized testing.  If we want to MAGA, we need to  educate ALL our children to take advantage of the prevailing technology of the day… and we are NOT doing that now and we HAVEN’T BEEN doing it for decades.

And in case Mr. Friedman didn’t notice, the plutocratic class hasn’t suffered from underfunded public schools,  …they’ve survived by residing in the nicest communities and neighborhoods or going to private schools and now THEY think THEY are the fittest. It’s past the time for us to offer the same chances the plutocrats had to ALL children in our country. IF we do so, we can ultimately demonstrate to China that democracy is superior to plutocracy.

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The Great Amazon Auction is Over… and MAYBE Americans Will Now Wake Up to the Scam of Corporate Welfare

November 13, 2018 Leave a comment

Atlantic writer Derek Thompson’s recent article on Amazon’s recent “search” for a second headquarters is titled “Amazon’s HQ2 Spectacle Isn’t Just Shameful—It Should Be Illegal” and offers this subheading:

After recounting the procedure Amazon followed to seek out its second headquarters, Mr. Thompson poses a series of questions critics of this process and of Amazon are posing and and poses one very blunt question himself:

The rumored announcement has emboldened Amazon’s army of critics. Did the world’s smartest company really need 13 months, and applications from 238 cities, to reach the striking conclusion that it should invest in New York and D.C.?  The former is America’s heart of capital, and the latter is America’s literal capital, where Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, already owns a house and a newspaper.

Was this national auction nothing more than a scripted drama to raise the value of the inevitable winning bid? And did the retailer miss an opportunity to revitalize a midwestern city by choosing to enrich the already-rich East Coast?

All good questions. But here’s the big one: Why the hell are U.S. cities spending tens of billions of dollars to steal jobs from one another in the first place?

After offering rationalizations for why corporations should engage in this kind of bidding between local and state governments and why those local and state governments should play the game of lowballing their taxes to entice businesses to locate in their town or state, Mr. Thompson offers three major problems with this “system” of reading corporations by providing them with tax breaks:

First, they’re redundant. This process doesn’t expand the local, state or national economy at large in any way, shape, or form. As Mr. Thompson notes, “Companies often decide where they want to go and then find ways to get their dream city, or hometown, to pay them to do what they were going to do anyway.

Second, companies don’t always hold up their end of the deal. Mr. Thompson cited the recent FoxConn scam in Wisconsin as an example, but the fact is he could have chosen any one of the examples he offered earlier in the article.

Third… it’s… ludicrous for Americans to collectively pay tens of billions of dollars for huge corporations to relocate within the United StatesTo underscore the ridiculousness of the competition between cities and states he describes the ongoing “battle” between Kansas City, KS and Kansas City MO for corporations that undercuts local and state taxes in both states, cuts that diminish the ability of both Kansas City’s to provide public services.

Mr. Thompson concludes his article offering some possible solutions that could be reached at the federal level, but laments that such solutions are unlikely given the bi-partisan support for corporate welfare. He observes:

…in a starkly divided country, corporate pandering is the last bastion of bipartisanship, an activity enjoyed by both Democrats and Republicans at every level of government. New Jersey and Maryland, both blue states, insisted that Amazon take $7 billion in tax savings just months after congressional Republicans passed a corporate income-tax cut that some analysts project will save Amazon nearly $1 billion over the next decade.

Corporate America is getting all the help it doesn’t need. You and I may not like it. But executives such as Jeff Bezos have no reason to care. They are winning by the rules of a broken game.

And who suffers? Mr. Thompson answered that question earlier in the article:

…since cities and states can’t print money or run steep deficits, these deals take scarce resources from everything local governments would otherwise pay for, such as schools, roads, police, and prisons.

So if your city or state plunks down millions or billions in “incentives” to entice a corporation to locate in your region, please connect the dots if your schools are substandard, your police force is spread too thin, and your roads are in terrible shape. If you want to know where the money went to provide those services, drive past the spiffy new office park, vast new warehouse staffed by robots, or the gleaming skyscraper full of pink collar workers.

 

 

 

Maybe Dewey Will Prevail Over Thorndike After All!

November 10, 2018 Leave a comment

The Flaw of Averages“, a compelling essay by John McDermott that I read in Medium earlier this week, describes the research of Harvard Professor Todd Rose that is serving as the basis for the personalization movement in Silicon Valley. Dr. Rose, the director of the Mind, Brain and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, contends that our current education system is wrongheadedly based on the average student:

His research is in the field known as “the science of the individual”. He argues that the myth of an “average” person, around which today’s educational systems are built, stunts people’s intellectual growth and damages their lives. A class of pupils has an average height and an average score in a test but when you look closer at individuals, the elements are “all over the place”. Very few pupils are average across most dimensions: they learn in different ways, at different speeds and along different paths.He expounded his ideas in “The End of Average” in 2016.

As Mr. McDermott notes in his essay, this obvious observation often results in a “so what” response. But Dr. Rose sees the reliance on averages to measure progress as problematic:

“Average-arian” thinking gives rise to another problem, says Rose. Edward Thorndike, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, thought that, “the quick learners…are the good retainers.” To this day exams are time-limited; pupils are placed in age-specific grades; timetables feature specific times for each subject. All of which reflect the belief that there is a straightforward relationship between learning ability and learning speed. But it turns out that whether you can master a subject is not related to how long it takes to do so, says Rose.

To repeat an aphorism I often cite: in schools time is a constant and performance is the variable… and clearly it should be the other way around. But the age-specific batching of students IS efficient, especially if the purpose of schooling is to sort and select s opposed to achieving the optimal achievement by all students. And Mr. McDermott describes how technology could make it possible for schools to embrace a new model, one based on John Dewey’s ideas about education:

Though newly fashionable, these ideas have a long history… In 1916, John Dewey, a philosopher and psychologist, published “Democracy and Education”, arguing that the pupil, not a government-mandated curriculum, should be at the centre of a school.In ordinary schools, he said, the child is not allowed to “follow the law of his nature”, and is therefore “thrown into a passive, receptive or absorbing attitude”.

Technology has given these ideas a new momentum. Providing children with bespoke attention typically means hiring a tutor or raising the teacher-pupil ratio — too expensive for most parents or schools. But while a blackboard can show only one set of sums, new software claims to display whatever sums are appropriate to a child’s level and should free up teachers’ time to spend less time marking and preparing lessons, and more with individual pupils. In theory, then, such technology should put personalised education within the reach of every school.

Mr. McDermott describes Summit, a school in the Bay Area that is implementing these ideas, but he counterbalances this success story with some caveats:

Cognitive scientists such as Daniel Willingham of the University of Virginia worry that autonomy can be taken too far. If children can opt out of learning important facts, he says, they will find it harder to understand more complex ideas at a later stage.

Groups representing minorities have also expressed scepticism. They point out that it took African-Americans until 1954 to earn the legal right to be taught in the same school as white people, and almost another half-century before a president vowed to ensure that “no child [be] left behind”. The average-arian school may not be perfect — but at least it has minimum standards, for which they have fought long and hard…

Worries about such heavy reliance on technology do not relate only to its impact on the nature of education. Platforms like Summit’s generate vast quantities of data about the intellectual and social skills of the children using them. Pupils may benefit from this — but they may not be the only beneficiaries. Data are a resource, so these deep, detailed profiles could become exceedingly valuable to the companies that are supplying the technology. That’s why some critics suspect that the tech barons who are promoting personalised education may not be doing so purely out of altruism.

Dr. Rose acknowledges that this is all true, and also admits that these changes will not turn out well. But…. he also notes that continuing what we are doing now is unlikely to yield different or more improved results:

America is in the very early stages of a big pedagogical experiment based on old ideas given new life by digital technology and the techies’ money. There isn’t enough evidence yet to conclude that this blend of technology and personalised learning serves pupils better than the status quo, but the revolution is gathering pace.

It could, Rose acknowledges, “go horribly, horribly wrong”. If it does, a lot of children’s lives will have been damaged; but then it is hardly as though the existing system is releasing the full potential of America’s young people.For Rose, giving children more control over what they learn and how they learn it is central to achieving that. Ultimately, he says, “you should have a right to know who you are.”

Is the opportunity for every child to learn at their own pace worth the risk of some students taking longer to complete school? The risk of more data being shared and sold to advertisers? Mr. Rose thinks so… and if it is done slowly and deliberately by elected school boards I agree.

 

Philanthrocapitalist Reed Hastings’ View of Public Schooling Will Widen Divides

November 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Reed Hastings, libertarian founder of Netflix and leading funder of the charter school movement in California, has a warped view of public education, one that if brought to scale would undercut public education’s role as a force for equity.

“Reed Hastings: Netflix CEO Goes Nuclear on Public Schools” a lengthy profile of Mr. Hastings by Joel Warner that appeared earlier this month in Capital & Main, describes Mr. Hastings desire to completely destroy the existing governance structure of public schools by replacing elected boards of education with corporate boards who oversee schools that consist largely of internet streaming sites that operate something like Netflix, the corporate he knows best and sees as the best way forward in all operations. In the article Mr. Warner describes how Reed Hastings earned his first millions and decided to use his new found wealth to invest in charter schools:

After the success of his first start-up, the debugging program maker Pure Software, made him a multimillionaire in 1995, Hastings decided to use some of his wealth to tackle the problems he saw in the nation’s schools. “I started… trying to figure out why our education is lagging when our technology is increasing at great rates and there’s great innovation in so many other areas—health care, biotech, information technology, moviemaking,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “Why not education?”

Mr. Warner describes how his decision to tackle education combined with his libertarian beliefs led to his determination to overthrow the governance model for public schools. That, in turn, led him to donate huge sums to the charter school movement and, as a by product, to political campaigns of like-minded politicians in California. ultimately, Governor Grey Davis, who benefitted from Mr. Hasting’s contributions and agreed with the need to privatize public education, appointed Mr. Hastings to the Chairmanship of the State Board of Education in 2000, where Mr. Hastings had a short-lived opportunity to put some of his ideas about public education into policy… and some politicians found his ideas abhorrent:

While president of the board, he aggressively pushed for English-language instruction for immigrant students, adopting a policy that limited federal funding for elementary schools that weren’t teaching at least two-and-a-half hours in English every day. That rule, later overturned, was part of what education observers say was a lengthy dismantling of California’s bilingual education programs. Hasting’s stance on the matter caused Democratic legislators to block his reappointment in 2004, despite the fact that he was a key Democratic donor. “Just because [Hastings] and right-wing Republicans thought it was a good idea to force immigrant children to speak only English in school, he gets to derail bilingual education for a decade?” says Karen Wolfe, a California parent and founder of PSconnect, a community group that advocates for traditional public schools. “That’s not disruption. That’s destruction.”

Mr. Warner describes how Mr. Hastings vision for dismantling the existing governance structure of public education will have an adverse impact on economically disadvantaged families. Quoting Derecka Mehrens, co-founder of Silicon Valley Rising, a campaign to raise pay and create affordable housing for low-wage workers in the tech industry, he writes:

“We see profound consequences, both political and economic, when technology industry leaders take action from a position of privilege and isolation from the very communities they desire to help,” she says. “When tech industry leaders like Reed Hastings call for an elimination of school boards or for more privatization of public schools, they block low-income people from using the one instrument that the powerful can’t ignore – their vote.”

After recounting several examples of charter school failures and several studies that underscore the limitations of technology when it comes to solving the kinds of problems students bring with them to school, Mr. Warner concludes with this:

Undeterred (by these evident shortcomings), Hastings and other school reform-minded tech billionaires want to inject the start-up mentality into the country’s schools, using high-tech solutions to replace human labor and disrupting longtime management and oversight approaches in the name of efficiency.But to Brett Bymaster in San Jose, that’s not the right approach. After all, roughly half of all start-ups fail. What happens to the children who get caught in those failures, like the students left without a school when California Charter Academy folded?

“I have been through several successful Silicon Valley start-ups. I am as techy as they come,” says Bymaster. “But ultimately the problems in our schools are people problems. Technology doesn’t solve people problems. People solve people problems.”

And that phrase… people solve people problems… captures the limitations of technology when it comes to addressing the inequities in our society and restoring public schools to their rightful place as a means of overcoming adversity. Increasing the screen times of children raised in poverty to match that of children raised in affluence will NOT address inequity. Public schools will improve only when they are given the means of addressing “people problems”.

The Mid-Terms Are Over: Now What Happens?

November 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Now that the Democrats have captured control of the House, the question is “what can they do to change the course of public education?” The practical answer is “not very much” in the way of legislation unless they can get the GOP controlled Senate to go along. The political answer, though, may be different since the House can exercise oversight on the Department of Education and can introduce legislation that would signal what MIGHT occur in the future should the Democrats gain control of the Senate and the White House. Here’s the take from yesterday’s Politico: 

The stage is set for at least two showdowns in the coming months — the Trump administration will soon propose a new regulation on the handling of campus sexual assault cases under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs. And a White House school safety commission led by DeVos is set to release a report on its findings since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. The Trump administration’s push to unravel Obama-era regulations aimed at the for-profit college industry and its handling of state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act are also areas that Democrats will likely target for oversight.

Scott (D-Va.) is expected to lead the way. A veteran lawmaker and stalwart on civil rights who was the first African-American elected to Congress from Virginia since Reconstruction, he has been ranking member since 2015. During that time, he helped negotiate the bipartisan ESSA, the federal education law that replaced No Child Left Behind. Two of Scott’s staffers — Jacque Mosely and Véronique Pluviose — will likely play a more prominent role now that Democrats hold the majority. Read up on Scott here.

Look to Scott to push a legislative agenda focused on passage of his Rebuild America’s Schools Act, H.R. 2475 (115) , which would invest billions of dollars in new funding into improving school infrastructure.Another big priority is an update to the Higher Education Act — a heavy lift under any political environment, but an item high on the wish list for many in higher education circles. Some education wonks are hopeful about a split Congress making progress on legislation, particularly when it comes to HEA and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the federal law governing the privacy of student education records.

I highlighted the Rebuild America’s Schools Act because I see this kind of legislative proposal as a clear winner for Democrats. The condition of schools in property poor communities is deplorable and there was a time when federal funds underwrote the construction of thousands of schools across the country— the very schools that are now outdated and/o dilapidated. This kind of infrastructure project would be hard for the GOP to oppose— except they will be likely to point to the deficit as a problem. If the Democrats are smart they will preemptively note that the deficit is the result of the generous giveaway to the .01%, a “stimulus” that was supposedly going to result in an increase in jobs and wages. The sooner voters in the heartland realize that the “tax cut” they received is minuscule in comparison to the tax cuts corporations and billionaires received the sooner tax dollars will be retrieved from those who can afford to pay more to help the government rebuild our infrastructure.

Where Oh Where Are Those Jobs the FoxConn Tax Boondoggle Promised for Wisconsinites?

November 7, 2018 Leave a comment

Common Dreams writer Jake Johnson provided his progressive-minded readers with an update on the FoxConn project in Wisconsin. If you follow this blog, you might recall reading about the tax revenues diverted to FoxConn and the property tax abatements they received in exchange for 13,000 jobs. The grand total of funds diverted?

As the New Yorker‘s Dan Kaufman noted in a detailed look at the Foxconn deal over the weekend, the agreement—which is rapidly declining in popularity among Wisconsin voters—includes “taxpayer subsidies to the company totaling more than $4.5 billion, the largest subsidy for a foreign corporation in American history.”

“Since Wisconsin already exempts manufacturing companies from paying taxes, Foxconn, which generated a hundred and fifty-eight billion dollars in revenue last year, will receive much of this subsidy in direct cash payments from taxpayers,” Kaufman observes. “Depending on how many jobs are actually created, taxpayers will be paying between two hundred and twenty thousand dollars and more than a million dollars per job.”

But as the article reports in the first paragraph, the 13,000 jobs aren’t materializing and because FoxConn can’t find enough Wisconsin engineers to work in its plant it is importing them from…. CHINA!

Wisconsin’s Koch-funded Republican Gov. Scott Walker lavished the Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn with over four billion in taxpayer subsidies last year in a deal that he claimed would create 13,000 jobs in the state, but that agreement is increasingly looking like a massive con-job amid new reports on Tuesday that Foxconn is planning to bring in Chinese workers to fill spots that the governor insisted would be filled by Wisconsinites.

“If Foxconn has to import Chinese engineers to Wisconsin, that would be yet another insult to Wisconsin taxpayers,” Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, told Common Dreams. “This is already The Great Disappearing Jobs Deal of recent U.S. history. It’s also the biggest mega-subsidy deal ever given to a foreign-based company. How tone-deaf would it be if the best-paid jobs don’t even go to Wisconsin taxpayers?”

Fortunately for Wisconsin voters Scott Walker, the “deal maker” who made this happen  is now out of a job. Here’s the short victory announcement from the victor in that race:

“My name is Tony Evers and I’m going to be the next governor of the state of Wisconsin,” Evers told a raucous crowd of supporters at The Orpheum theater in Madison. “I’ll be focused on solving problem and not picking political fights. It’s time for change, folks. The voters have spoke. A change is coming, Wisconsin!”

I trust the door will now be closed on doing deals with foreign countries and instead of offering tax cuts to corporations it will look westward to Minnesota where the legislature and Governor have made the economy robust by offering Government support to businesses and its citizens.

David Brooks’ Sees Our Stance on Immigration as “The Central Challenge of the Age”… But Overlooks the Roots of the Problem

November 6, 2018 Leave a comment

David Brooks column today, titled “The Central Challenge of the Age“, asserts that neither political party is helping our nation address the issue of immigration, which he sees as that central challenge. In dong so, he particularly singles out the Democratic Party, effectively conceding that the GOP is ripping the country apart by playing to the fears of xenophobe and racists. But his analysis seems to be implicitly defeatist, because he also concedes that defending anything that passes as “looser” immigration laws is a losing proposition politically. He writes:

The Republicans have flocked to Trump’s cramped nationalism and abandoned their creedal story. That’s left the Democrats with a remarkable opportunity. They could seize the traditional American national story, or expand it to gather in the unheard voices, while providing a coherent, unifying vehicle to celebrate the American dream.

And yet what have we heard from the Democrats? Crickets.

What is the Democratic national story? A void.

Why have the Democrats failed to offer a counternarrative to Trumpian nationalism? For two reasons, I think, one political and one moral.

The political reality, as described above, is that any position short of the GOP’s wall building and Muslim immigration ban is painted as “soft” and “anti-American” by the GOP. The moral problem is more complex. He writes:

Democrats have a very strong story to tell about what we owe the victims of racism and oppression. They do not have a strong story to tell about what we owe to other Americans, how we define our national borders and what binds us as Americans.

Here’s the central challenge of our age: Over the next few decades, America will become a majority-minority country. It is hard to think of other major nations, down through history, that have managed such a transition and still held together.

Here’s the comment I left in response to Mr. Brooks’ column after doing some quick Google research on immigration in the early 1900s:

How about OUR country as an example? I think this same “central challenge” existed  in the early 1900s when the percentage of immigrants was higher than it is today. Somehow we managed to absorb the Italians, Poles and Russians who sought refuge in our country. In 1900 it would have been easy to see that we might become a “majority-minority” country if we defined “minority” based on recent immigrants. What’s the difference today? Could it be race? Could it be religion? Could it be our own loss of optimism? And since we DID “manage” this transition in the early 1900s why can’t we do it today? Could it be our racism? Our religious intolerance? Or our pessimism about the future?

What got us out of our funk in the 1900s was an embrace of Progressivism. Our era then, like our era now, was one of extreme economic inequality; one of economic transition— then from an rural agrarian economy to an industrial urban one and now from an industrial urban one to a technological suburban-exurban one; and one of xenophobia— then against the wave of immigrants who arrived in the decades preceding that time and the African Americans who had been freed to now, where our latent racism and religious intolerance is being fueled by a power-mad President and his political party.

Mr. Brooks concludes his essay that effectively urges the Democrats to take the leadership on this issue with this:

But if the Democrats are going to lead this transition, they’ll need not just a mind-set that celebrates diversity, but also a mind-set that creates unity. They’ll need policies that integrate different groups into a coherent nation, with shared projects, a common language and culture and clear borders.

If you don’t offer people a positive, uplifting nationalism, they will grab the nasty one. History and recent events have shown us that.

I wholeheartedly agree with half of this conclusion. I DO agree that we can only overcome the latent racism and intolerance that exists in many disenfranchised Americans by fostering “…a mind-set that creates unity”. I DISAGREE that we can only accomplish this unity through “…a positive, uplifting nationalism“. It can also be achieved by getting voters united in their desire to restore the government services that provided every citizen with an equal opportunity to experience economic well-being, an opportunity that has been undercut by the corrosive winner-take-all economy that the GOP has buttressed with its tax cuts and deregulation. In short, the Democrats can achieve a mind-set that creates unity by helping the public see the benefits of a strong government.