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Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Something Positive Emerges from the Ashes of the Amazon Debacle: Public Awareness of Tax Breaks

March 9, 2019 Comments off

The NYTimes today featured an article by Matthew Haug describing the tax breaks developers received in the construction of Hudson Yards, an ambitious project that involved the construction of several multi-millions dollar office towers, infrastructure upgrades, and parks and a new school on the West Side of Manhattan. The article’s title, “Amazon’s Tax Breaks and Incentives Were Big. Hudson Yards’ Were Bigger” seemed to implicitly accuse those who supported Hudson Yards but opposed Amazon as hypocrites. But from my perspective, the article did something more important than pointing out hypocrisy: it pointed out that not all tax credits are money grabs by a singular billionaire, that not all tax credits have an adverse impact on nearby neighborhoods, and ALL tax credits need to be examined in the sunshine before they are agreed upon by politicians.

The Hudson Yards project DID make several billionaires even more wealthy… but since government cannot directly provide capital for major projects like Hudson Yards (or Amazon for that matter), some venture capital is required and that venture capital requires a high rate of return since, in some cases, the venture capitalists make bad decisions by investing in projects that do not pan out at all. But unlike the Amazon project— which benefitted one corporation that has a deserved reputation for undercutting wages, displacing local small businesses, and rewarding shareholders with the profits made on the backs of overworked employees and underfunded local governments— Hudson Yards engaged multiple businesses most of whom will receive tax breaks contingent on the creation of new jobs. Also unlike the Amazon project, Hudson Yards was coordinated and devised in concert with the local government. Finally, Hudson Yards was taking an area of the city that the Times described as:

…a neighborhood that included a stubby collection of brick warehouses, factories and tenements built when the Hudson River docks were busy. In the middle was an unsightly rail yard.

Hudson Yards supporters believe the development, which included an extension of the No. 7 subway extension, parks and other improvements, will make the Far West Side an overall better neighborhood. And as for critics of economic development projects like the Amazon one, the Times concludes its article with this:

Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn, a Democrat who is a founder of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, said it was smart to expand the No. 7 subway and create parks on the West Side.

But tax breaks for specific companies are a different story, said Mr. Lander, who was an opponent of the Amazon deal.

We’re giving away tax breaks without paying close attention to what’s a good deal or not a good deal,” he said.

If the failed Amazon deal compels newspapers and politicians across the country to pay closer attention to what’s a good deal or not a good deal, then some good will come out of this debacle. Who knows, maybe voters will want to provide more funds to the government so that they can upgrade infrastructure on their own as a means of luring business. It’s just possible that good roads, high quality public services, beautiful parks, and good schools might entice businesses to locate in a city or region more so that cold cash.
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The Hazards of Unfettered Data Sharing and Poorly Crafted Red Flag Legislation

March 4, 2019 Comments off

Over fifteen years ago I wrote an article for Education titled “A Homeland Security Bill for Public Education“, an article that advocated the sharing of pertinent information among social service case managers, medical professionals, school districts, and police. I reasoned that the various staff member’s confidentiality pledges precluded them from sharing important information with the other agencies in a timely fashion, citing several cases from my work experience where such sharing would have benefitted the clients they were striving to help.

Of late, similar recommendations have come forth in the form of “red flag” legislation that would allow police or family members to take weapons away from individuals with documented mental health problems, individuals who might pose a harm to themselves or others. These “red flag” laws seem to be eminently reasonable. Indeed, some NRA officials and politicians who reflexively oppose any effort to limit anyone’s access to any weapons whatsoever are seemingly open to considering “gun violence restraining orders“.

After reading a recent Motherboard article about the use of data collected by social service agencies, schools, and police in Canada and in several US cities, though, I am having second thoughts about my recommendations and about the efficacy of “red flag” legislation. The Motherboard article underscores the importance of carefully crafting any legislation and/or regulations that deal with data access, for once an individual receives a “red flag” it is difficult to reverse that designation. The article opens with these paragraphs:

Police, social services, and health workers in Canada are using shared databases to track the behaviour of vulnerable people—including minors and people experiencing homelessness—with little oversight and often without consent.

Documents obtained by Motherboard from Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) through an access to information request show that at least two provinces—Ontario and Saskatchewan—maintain a “Risk-driven Tracking Database” that is used to amass highly sensitive information about people’s lives. Information in the database includes whether a person uses drugs, has been the victim of an assault, or lives in a “negative neighborhood.”

The Risk-driven Tracking Database (RTD) is part of a collaborative approach to policing called the Hub model that partners cops, school staff, social workers, health care workers, and the provincial government.

As you can see, the description of the “Hub model” is eerily similar to what I recommended in my 2003 Education Week article. But when I wrote that article, I did not foresee the advent of facial recognition technology… or the widespread use of data warehousing by schools, the medical profession, social service agencies, and law enforcement… or the  avalanche of data that would be collected by social media sites. With all of these technology tools in play, it would appear that some kind of failsafe algorithm might come into play, a means of identifying an at risk individual with laser like accuracy. Such pin-pointing would presumably target those individuals likely to engage in mass shootings or crimes. But it begs the problem of how and when to engage law enforcement officials and how and when to compel an individual to seek treatment for mental illness. As Valerie Steeves, a University of Ottawa criminologist, noted in a VICE article on the use of the Hub model: “As soon as you’re identified [as at-risk], it changes how people interact with you. At that point, you become the problem: ‘we need to watch you, all the time, so we can fix you.’” As one who worked for six years as a high school disciplinarian, I can recall how difficult it was for a youngster who misbehaved as a freshman to shed his or her image as a “troublemaker”… and, as we’ve seen in recent years, Google never forgets. Ill advised posts on social media can limit one’s opportunities as much as poor report cards or low SAT scores.

If we hope to use the massive amounts of data we are collecting on individuals to screen them for “risky behavior” or “mental fitness” we need to enact legislation that sets clear guidelines for the collection and use of that data. We now have surveillance cameras gathering data in schools, shopping areas, at intersections, and, in some cases, on our phones and on our home computers. Who owns that data? Who decides how it can be used? Social media records our “likes” and “loves”, the things that make us laugh, the things that make us cry, and the things that make us angry. Who can buy that data? Who has access to it? Virtually all of our purchases and media consumption results in the collection of data, making it possible for some agency to determine the books we read, the movies we watch, the foods we purchase, the places we are planning to take our vacations, and the major purchases like houses and cars we are examining on-line. Who has access to this data? How is it being used.

15 years ago, I thought that the notion of data sharing was straightforward. The school district’s guidance counselor assigned to a student, the social worker assigned to that student, the probation officer working with that student, and the mental health counselor working with that student, and the physician(s) working with the should all feel free to share information with each other. Each clearly had the student’s well-being at heart and they would each benefit from sharing whatever they knew without completing reams of paperwork or getting clearance through their chains-of-command. Now, I’m not so sure, particularly when the data platforms like those used in the “Hub model” are privately operated and owned and there are no clear parameters on how and when the data are purged.

These questions are complicated and thorny. Presumably we would want to know that someone who is planning a mass shooting has acquired a stockpile of weapons. We would also want to be able to confiscate weapons from someone who is a potential terrorist and know who is communicating with on-line ISIS recruiters. But is everyone who is stockpiling weapons a threat to us? Is everyone who is researching Arabic and Muslim websites a potential terrorist? Is a website purporting to be an ISIS recruitment site a bona fide site?

It would be helpful to have these issues brought to the forefront now, before the data being collected are made available to whomever is willing to pay for it for whatever purposes they wish. I just googled myself. I have 36,000+ that came forth in .42 seconds. The 8th item on the list from MyLife.com indicates that I once lived in Portland, OR. That is demonstrably false…. but there it is for all to see and draw their own conclusions. I’m leaving it there because their is no way I can keep track of all the misinformation that is accumulating. But if I were identified as someone “we need to watch…, all the time, so we can fix you” I might not sleep too soundly as the misinformation accumulates.

 

 

In Chicago, Black Families Leave, White Families Arrive, NYTimes Wonders Why. The Answer? The Degradation of Public Schools

February 26, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes has a lengthy analysis of the forthcoming mayoral election written by Monica Davis headlined: “Chicago, Seeking a New Mayor, Sees Many Black Residents Voting With Their Feet“. The reasons given for this outmigration are myriad, with the best synopsis offered in this paragraph:

“People are frustrated and they’re saying, ‘We’ve just had enough. No more mayors for the 1 percent. This city belongs to all of us, not just the people who live in the Gold Coast,’” Sharon Fairley, a former federal prosecutor who also led an agency that oversees Chicago police, said of the hurdles facing the next mayor. “The biggest challenge that anyone coming into this position now is facing is generating a feeling of inclusiveness.”

One of the actions that undoubtedly contributes to the disenfranchisement of African American was the mayor’s decision to close 50 neighborhood schools and compel children to board buses to attend schools in parts of town where they felt unwelcome. They felt unwelcome not because the schools were predominantly white or middle class, but because the schools were often in neighborhoods where different gangs controlled the streets and where it was impossible for parents to regularly monitor their children’s performance.

Nothing reinforces a lack of inclusiveness like closing a neighborhood school, shunting children to a distant school where they are unwelcome, and stripping the schools of elective programs and support services. Yet the school closure issue barely registered in the lengthy article, warranting only these two passing comments:

Downtown Chicago is booming, its skyline dotted with construction cranes. Yet residents only a few miles to the south and west still wrestle with entrenched gang violence, miserable job prospects and shuttered schools — some of the still-being-identified forces, experts say, that are pushing black Chicagoans to pack up and get out.

Before his announcement, he was facing a wide field of people who said they would challenge him, as well as criticism over a tenure that included conflicts over police conduct, street violence and the closings of schools on the city’s South and West Sides. And Mr. Emanuel’s policies have remained a focal point for criticism from some who now hope to succeed him.

If you want to send a message to voters and residents that they don’t matter and that the political leaders are looking out for the 1% at the expense of everyone else; underfund schools and close those that are underperforming…. and that formula for reform is precisely what is generating a feeling of despair and a lack of inclusiveness in our nation today.

My Comment on the Green New Deal Editorial

February 25, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday I read a NYTimes editorial on the so called Green New Deal that I found troubling because it reinforced the idea that we cannot accomplish anything big in this country. Here’s the comment I wrote, which, I believe, can be understood without reading the article itself:

One reason that Ms Pelosi and scores of voters are unable to enumerate the contents of the Green New Deal is that the media use their limited space to chastise progressive and inexperienced legislators like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez for their errors in framing the debate over climate change instead of emphasizing the actual contents of the Green New Deal.

This editorial, for example, uses 150 words to elaborate on the “poorly written talking points” developed by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s staff and 72 words to describe “the actual resolution” which “seems more measured”…. and the details on the ACTUAL resolution appear AFTER the details on the gaffes by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’ staff. The Times and most media outlets have not provided readers and voters with a concise explanation of the elements of a Green New Deal. Instead, coverage has focussed on the wholly predictable political dynamics and the “impossibility” of accomplishing the ambitious goals in the plan.

I am old enough to remember when a President put forth a plan to put a man on the moon within a decade— a goal that seemed technologically daunting at the time. Thankfully, the press didn’t waste ink space telling readers about the political implications or the “impossibility” of such a task.

College Board’s Two Key AP Courses COULD Put Democracy on the Right Track

February 13, 2019 Comments off

As readers of this blog may hove noted, I often disagree with NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman, who reliably supports neoliberal ideas about “school reform” and often reinforces the ideas set forth by Anand Giridharadas’ MarketWorld proponents. But I found myself nodding in agreement with his column today that supported the College Board’s assertion that two AP courses are needed to set a better course for democracy: Coding and the US Constitution.

The coding course focuses not on a specific computer language. Instead it focussed on the self-actualization that is possible when one learns how to DEVELOP uses for the computer as opposed having the computer dictate uses to students. Here’s the pitch the College Board used to attract a larger and more diverse enrollment in AP Computer Science:

What is it that you’d like to do in the world? Music? Art? Science? Business? Great! Then come build an app in the furtherance of that interest and learn the principles of computer science, not just coding, (College Board President David) Coleman said. “Learn to be a shaper of your environment, not just a victim of it.”

Both Mr. Friedman and College Board President David Coleman view the AP US Constitution course s being essential for future success. Why?

Every student needs to understand that, as Coleman put it, “our country was argued into existence — and that is the first thing that binds us — but also has some of the tensions that divide us. So we thought, ‘What can we do to help replace the jeering with productive conversation?’”

It had to start in high school, said (Stefanie) Sanford, (the College Board chief of global policy), who is leading the “two codes” initiative. “Think of how much more ready you are to participate in college and society with an understanding of the five freedoms that the First Amendment protects — of speech, assembly, petition, press and religion. The First Amendment lays the foundation for a mature community of conversation and ideas — built on the right and even obligation to speak up and, when needed, to protest, but not to interrupt and prevent others from speaking.”

This becomes particularly important, she noted, “when technology and democracy are thought of as in conflict, but are actually both essential” and need to work in tandem.

I completely agree with Mr. Friedman’s thinking about the essential need for informed citizens of the future to have a deep and fundamental understanding of both coding AND the constitution. In tandem they offer an opportunity to develop both convergent and divergent thinking and, most importantly, provide the skill sets students need to function in a democracy.

And while I generally oppose high stakes tests, I DO think that requiring all students to pass two AP tests like these would improve the pool of voters substantially. So here’s the question: which state will sign on first to make this happen?

A Shortfall in Gambling Profits Dedicated for the Funding of NH Kindergartens Put Public Education Advocates in a Box

February 12, 2019 Comments off

Concord Monitor reporter Ethan DeWitt wrote an article the appeared in today’s Valley News indicating that there is a serious revenue in the gambling revenues that could result in a shortfall of funding for Kindergarten’s across the state.

The game pulled in $8.3 million in sales in its first few months – Fiscal Year 2018 – and is projected to garner just under $15 million in Fiscal Year 2019, which ends in June, according to figures provided by the Lottery Commission on Monday.

But after expenses and prize payouts, those numbers diminish to $1.5 million of net profits in its first year, and $2.3 million in its second, according to the commission. That’s the money that ultimately makes it into the state coffers for kindergarten.

Those profits — exacerbated by several rejections of keno in major cities and towns — are far below the estimated $11 million needed to provide the minimum additional adequacy under the keno bill. The shortfalls mean the state will be picking up the tab for the rest, and that school districts are unlikely to get more than the minimum.

The consequences appear to be innocuous… but the Governor is concerned enough that he sent an email to all Superintendents alerting them budget only $1100 per student— the minimum amount allowed by law– as they prepare their budgets. Moreover, given New Hampshire’s notorious inability to raise any supplemental revenue and their past practice in fulfilling funding promises it would not surprise me if the State did not keep its commitment to meet the minimum figure.

And here’s what I find despicable: the schools in communities who rejected the keno “opportunity” might find themselves at a point where they might feel compelled to support gambling so that they can get sufficient funds for their Kindergarten children. While this has been a de facto reality at the STATE level, the NH legislatures unwillingness to mandate a statewide gambling program pushed it down to the local level. When faced with revenue shortfalls due to the lack of Keno funds and angry voters whose taxes are increasing, school boards in towns who failed to adopt Keno might find themselves in an awkward position. But then in New Hampshire, where so called “sin-taxes” on alcohol, cigarettes, and gambling are the major source of revenue, voters who drink, smoke, and gamble are prized. Those who earn money, not so much.

 

Seattle Complaint About “Liberal Bias” Has One Flaw: It’s Based on Facts

February 4, 2019 Comments off

Dori Monson, a Seattle talk-radio host who describes himself as “right-leaning”, “center right”, and “libertarian“, recently wrote a post for KIRO radio’s website titled “Seattle Public Schools indoctrinate youth with Scholastic reader”. In this post Mr. Monson uses an email from a listener to describe the “indoctrination” as follows:

My daughter attends fourth grade in the Seattle School District. She has a weekly assignment to read the “Scholastic News” reader that is for reading comprehension. This week’s edition had a cover story titled, ‘Women in the House,’ about the increase of women being elected to Congress with some history of women’s suffrage. While I didn’t have any objections with the article for the most part, it’s the cover that I found troubling for several reasons. On the cover are five newly-elected women to Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar.

This cover is the continual far-Left indoctrination by our public schools. First, there are no Republican Congresswomen on the cover. You also have the Socialist agenda being pushed with AOC. The most troubling, however, is that you have two outright anti-Semites represented with Tlaib and Omar, as well as AOC’s association with Al Sharpton and her membership with the Democratic Socialists of America, who support the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement against Israel.

This is how it begins, normalizing people like this by putting them on a cover linked to a story about women achieving.

So… based on one parent’s email Mr. Monson has come to the conclusion that Scholastic is perpetuating some kind of left-wing agenda. Funny… my memory of Scholastic from my teaching and administration days was that it was moderate to a fault and clearly driven by the profit motive… and Wikipedia’s section describing criticisms of Scholastic bears that memory out. Under the heading “Criticism”, Wikipedia offers this critique of Scholastic:

Scholastic has been criticized for inappropriately marketing to children. Also, Scholastic now requires parents to submit children’s names with birth dates to place online orders, creating controversy. A significant number of titles carried have strong media tie-ins and are considered relatively short in literary and artistic merit by some critics.[18] Consumer groups have also attacked Scholastic for selling too many toys and video games to children, rather than focusing on just books. In July, 2005, Scholastic determined that certain leases previously accounted for as operating leases should have been accounted for as capital leases. The cumulative effect, if recorded in the current year, would be material. As a result, it decided to restate its financial statements.

Nothing anywhere about promulgating “leftist propaganda”. Rather, Scholastics biggest problem seems to be violating privacy (in order to sell information on children) or— stated more bluntly— focussing too much on its shareholders!

Nevertheless, Mr. Monson determined that Scholastic was clearly biased and promoting a leftist agenda. But there is a problem with his analysis: in fact the number of female GOP congressmen declined in the 2019 class while the number of Democrats spiked: 
So

So was the report flagging five newly elected Democrats “biased” or factual? And was the decision to flag three of the most diverse members of the newly elected Congress “biased” or factual? Here’s a report from the Washington Post on the day after the election:

The women who ran this year were remarkably diverse — black, Latina, Native American. But noticeably absent on ballots were more Republican women.

“We need to go out and get our women engaged,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership. “We are being dwarfed by the Democrats. This is something we are going to focus on.”

Yes, I know, it’s the Washington Post a left-leaning publication if there ever was one… but they are quoting the president and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership for goodness sakes.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am left-leaning, progressive, and all in favor of diversity— which is to say I favor democracy! Here’s hoping there is a counter-alining voice to Mr. Monson somewhere on the airwaves.