Archives for category: Democracy

Rob Reich and Mohit Mookim write in “Wired” about the efforts by Bill Gates, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Chinese billionaire Jack Ma to step in and do what the federal government has failed to do in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

They warn:

Public health is a paradigmatic public good. We should never be dependent on the whims of wealthy donors—as philanthropy is increasingly dominated by the wealthy—for our collective health and well-being.

That would be a betrayal of democracy. Rather than democratic processes determining our collective needs and how to address them, the wealthy would decide for us. We wanted rule by the many; we may get rule by the rich.

The coronavirus pandemic presents us with an immediate need for a response and it reminds us of the importance to invest so that we avoid preventable disasters in the future. At the moment, it’s all hands on deck for the emergency. But this is not what big philanthropy is built for. Or what it can sustain. The richest country in the world must step up to fund public health rather than relying on the richest people in the world to do it piecemeal.

Rob Reich is Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and author of Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better. He is the faculty codirector of The Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, which has received grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Mohit Mookim is a researcher at the Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University.

Curiously, the co-author Rob Reich Of the article leads an organization funded by the Gates Foundation. Will Bill Gates listen to him?

In Arkansas, the governor and the legislature does not want the citizens of Little Rock to have democratic control of their public schools. They took over the schools five years ago and were supposed to return it to the people but passed a hoax of a bill.

Now activists have filed a lawsuit to expose the hoax and demand a real return to democratic control of their schools.

Max Brantley, veteran journalist in Little Rock, explains how the state intends to clamp down on a new local board and hang on to the reins of power.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three plaintiffs by Matthew Campbell, challenges the state Board’s order that prevents the School Board from filing lawsuits; from negotiating with the teachers union on a contract, and from firing the school superintendent.

The plaintiffs are a parent of a child in the district, Heather Speyer-Rainbolt; Jim Ross, a member of the School Board disbanded by the state five years ago on account of low standardized tests scores in a handful of the district’s almost four dozen schools, and Marshall Sladyen, a teacher at Hall High School.

The lawsuit argues that the state’s ability to control the district ended by law at the five-year trusteeship period in January. Then, the state had to consolidate, annex or reconstitute the district. The state contended that it had reconstituted the district by allowing the election of a new board at the end of this year. But it put three key limits on its powers. It has since acted in other ways to assert control — including in the naming of a school and designation of a principal and asserting that it could act in any way it found necessary to oversee practices in the district.

So, the hoax is exposed. The new locally elected board is not allow to file lawsuits; it is not allowed to restore the teachers’ union; it is not allowed to fire the superintendent hired by the state. The state board can do whatever it wants to intervene in the district and the local board is powerless to stop it. The state board, the state superintendent, the governor, and the legislature are determined to crush democracy in Little Rock, without regard to the law.

Behind the hoax are the Waltons, who treat the state as their private plantation. I asked a local parent about who was pulling the strings and she replied:

The Waltons are behind the efforts to maintain indefinite state control beyond the five years allowed in state law. The State Board of Ed member (Chad Pekron) who proposed the limitations on returning LRSD local control (no collective bargaining, and no filing lawsuits) was appointed by our governor just a few months ago, when Jay Barth’s term ended. Chad Pekron stayed on the board only long enough to implement these “guard rails” before the Waltons called him home to the Walmart home office as Lead Counsel – Appellate.

This is not democracy. This is colonialism.

George Packer writes in The Atlantic about Trump’s success in destroying the institutions and norms of the federal government and bending them to his will. It is a brilliant and disturbing article. Trump calls the apolitical civil service “the deep state.” He is determined to destroy it and replace it with loyalists and lackies. This article echoes the themes of Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk, about Trump’s deliberate dismantling of three federal departments—energy, agriculture, and commerce, by leaving hundreds of positions unfilled and/or staffing them with people determined to destroy the organization and its mission (think Betsy DeVos).

Packer writes:

When Donald Trump came into office, there was a sense that he would be outmatched by the vast government he had just inherited.

The new president was impetuous, bottomlessly ignorant, almost chemically inattentive, while the bureaucrats were seasoned, shrewd, protective of themselves and their institutions. They knew where the levers of power lay and how to use them or prevent the president from doing so. Trump’s White House was chaotic and vicious, unlike anything in American history, but it didn’t really matter as long as “the adults” were there to wait out the president’s impulses and deflect his worst ideas and discreetly pocket destructive orders lying around on his desk.

After three years, the adults have all left the room—saying just about nothing on their way out to alert the country to the peril—while Trump is still there.

James Baker, the former general counsel of the FBI, and a target of Trump’s rage against the state, acknowledges that many government officials, not excluding himself, went into the administration convinced “that they are either smarter than the president, or that they can hold their own against the president, or that they can protect the institution against the president because they understand the rules and regulations and how it’s supposed to work, and that they will be able to defend the institution that they love or served in previously against what they perceive to be, I will say neutrally, the inappropriate actions of the president. And I think they are fooling themselves. They’re fooling themselves. He’s light-years ahead of them.”

The adults were too sophisticated to see Trump’s special political talents—his instinct for every adversary’s weakness, his fanatical devotion to himself, his knack for imposing his will, his sheer staying power. They also failed to appreciate the advanced decay of the Republican Party, which by 2016 was far gone in a nihilistic pursuit of power at all costs. They didn’t grasp the readiness of large numbers of Americans to accept, even relish, Trump’s contempt for democratic norms and basic decency. It took the arrival of such a leader to reveal how many things that had always seemed engraved in monumental stone turned out to depend on those flimsy norms, and how much the norms depended on public opinion. Their vanishing exposed the real power of the presidency. Legal precedent could be deleted with a keystroke; law enforcement’s independence from the White House was optional; the separation of powers turned out to be a gentleman’s agreement; transparent lies were more potent than solid facts. None of this was clear to the political class until Trump became president.

Arthur Camins writes about the importance of voting Democratic in November. He says he supports Senator Sanders but recognizes that he is unlikely to win the nomination, given the double-digit losses sustained by his personal choice. The stakes are high, he writes, and he’s prepared to support former Vice President Joe Biden.

He begins:

“Short of some unexpected dramatic development, there is a high potential for Joe Biden’s nomination. I want Bernie to win, but the delegate numbers are not just media hype. It is real.

“I see a lot of non-voting, 3rd party and write- in sentiment. I have no idea if this is widespread or just a feature of a few websites or bots out to suppress the vote. Either way, I find it alarming. I hope it is in-the-moment anger and disappointment rather than long-term resolve.

“I have supported Bernie. I’m furious and frustrated too. So, I’m writing to persuade, not condemn.

“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven ….

“A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

“And a time to every purpose, under heaven

“A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late (Peter Seeger)

“Now is not the time to count on an alternative progressive 3rd party win, never done before in a substantive way at the national level. That takes years of grassroots organizing at the local level. It cannot be done in time to prevent Trump from being elected.

“Now is not the time for a symbolic protest vote. Stopping Trump’s reelection is essential. Lives depend on it.

“For me, a lifelong progressive, that means that anyone who cares about human and political rights must vote for whoever is the Democratic nominee. There is no moral equivalence between Trump and Biden. Even if Bernie wins the nomination, that organizing would be essential for him to implement his agenda. That is what “political revolution” means. If Trump wins– the assured result of non-voting, 3rd party, or write-in votes– his authoritarian impulses will be unleashed and uncontrolled.”

Please read on.

James Hohmann writes today in Washington Post that Ohio Governor DeWine should pay attention to history: Abraham Lincoln did not cancel the elections of 1864.

”Abraham Lincoln rejected calls to postpone the 1864 election amid the Civil War, even though his reelection remained very much in doubt until the capture of Atlanta that September. “If the rebellion could force us to forgo or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us,” the 16th president reasoned.

”To be sure, Lincoln was not facing a global pandemic with a highly contagious novel coronavirus that epidemiologists fear could kill more than a million Americans if not quickly contained. Officials reported 18 new deaths across the United States on Monday, bringing the nationwide total to 85, with more than 4,450 cases now confirmed in the country and the real number thought to be far higher because of problems distributing the test.

”But Lincoln was fending off an existential threat to the country’s survival. And his principle that the elections must go on has guided generations of leaders facing crises. During the influenza pandemic a century ago, for instance, local election officials across the country chose not to postpone voting in primaries during the 1918 midterms.

”On Monday night in Ohio, Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye rejected a temporary restraining order supported by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) to postpone the state’s primary until June. He warned that rescheduling the election would “set a terrible precedent.” The judge explained during a court hearing that “there are too many factors to balance in this uncharted territory.”

“That didn’t deter DeWine. A few hours later, his director of public health ordered polls closed on account of a statewide emergency. “During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election [Tuesday] would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” the governor tweeted. Overnight, without issuing an opinion, the Ohio Supreme Court denied a legal challenge to the order to postpone the primary. This means that there will not be in-person voting in the Buckeye State today.

“The only thing more important than a free and fair election is the health and safety of Ohioans,” DeWine said in a joint statement overnight with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R). “Logistically, under these extraordinary circumstances, it simply isn’t possible to hold an election tomorrow that will be considered legitimate by Ohioans….”

“Even as President Trump showed a new seriousness about the outbreak, he told reporters that he didn’t think it was necessary for Ohio to delay its primary. “I think postponing elections is not a very good thing,” said Trump. “They have lots of room in a lot of the electoral places. … I think postponing is unnecessary.” He added that he defers to individual states.

“For the foreseeable future, debates over delaying primaries and elections are poised to become normal. “In Arizona, the Maricopa County Elections Department closed 78 polling locations, citing widespread shortages of cleaning supplies. Now, rather than being limited to their local precinct, voters may cast ballots at any of 151 geographically dispersed polling centers,” Amy Gardner, Elise Viebeck and Isaac Stanley-Becker report. “Poll-worker shortages in Florida prompted one election official in Pasco County, north of Tampa, to draft sheriff’s deputies, school district workers and county employees to fill in.”

Suspicion, fear, concern: Is Ohio setting a precedent for the national election of 2020?

A relatively new corporate reform group—the City Fund—acts as a pass-through for billionaires Reed Hastings (Netflix) and John Arnold (ex-Enron). The staff consists of six or seven (or more) veterans of the privatization movement. It opened its operations with $200 million in pledges from its billionaire funders. It has staff but no members. Its mission is to push the “portfolio district” (i.e., more charter schools) in designated cities. In short, the City Fund was designed to advance the goals of its billionaire funders, who have no relationship to the cities whose schools they want to disrupt. Grassroots groups in every city and state can only dream about what they could do if they had even $1 million in the bank.

One of the staff, Chris Barbic, started a charter chain in Houston (YES Prep), then became leader of the disastrous Achievement School District in Tennessee; he promised to lift the state’s lowest performing schools into the ranks of its highest performing in only five years by handing them over to charter operators. The ASD burned through $100 million in Race to the Top and failed to turn any of its takeover schools into a high-performing school. If anything, it proved that turning low-performing schools over to charter operators doesn’t produce change.

Another staffer, Neerav Kingsland, is a law school graduate and a Broadie who was CEO of New Schools for New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans eliminated the teachers’ union and eventually eliminated every public school. The 2019 state report card rated 49% of the schools as D or F schools. The students in the lowest performing schools are almost all black. Hardly a success story.

Matt Barnum writes in Chalkbeat that the City Fund has dispensed over $100 million to help achieve its funders’ goal of detaching schools from elected school boards.

The newest major player in school reform has already issued more than $110 million in grants to support the growth of charter and charter-like schools across the U.S.

The City Fund’s spending, detailed on a new website, means the organization has quickly become one of the country’s largest K-12 education grantmakers. The money has gone to organizations in more than a dozen cities, including Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Memphis, and Oakland.

The spending is evidence that The City Fund’s brand of school reform continues to attract major financial support — and may foretell more battles over education politics in those cities…

The City Fund’s strategy is to grow the number of schools, including charters, run by nonprofits rather than traditional school boards. Advocates say that shift will help low-income students of color, pointing to academic improvements in virtually all-charter New Orleans as one example. Critics argue that strategy undermines teachers unions, democratically elected school boards, and existing public schools.

Overall, The City Fund says it has raised $225 million, largely from Netflix founder Reed Hastings and Texas philanthropist John Arnold. (Chalkbeat is funded by Arnold Ventures.) The organization has also created a political arm, Public School Allies, which has raised $15 million from Hastings and Arnold to support officials vying for state and local office.

The funders of the City Fund think that democratically elected school boards are the biggest obstacle to school reform. They like charter schools and stake takeovers. The fact that they have zero evidence that their strategies improve education doesn’t stop them, as long as the money keeps flowing. Unless you are impressed by a district, New Orleans, where half the schools are rated D or F.

One of the themes of my new book SLAYING GOLIATH is that billionaires are disrupting education by buying control of school districts and states. That, in conjunction with the federal government’s mean-spirited and useless mandate for annual standardized testing (no high-performing nation tests every child every year in grades 3-8), has posed a mortal threat to public schools.

TIME magazine published an article showing how one of our best known billionaires, Michael Bloomberg, has undermined democracy by buying local school board races and making it impossible for local people to compete with his spending.

The article begins:

School board elections are usually local affairs, with candidates soliciting money from neighbors at pizza parties and dragging along friends to knock on doors and ask for votes.

That’s what Chris Jackson expected when he decided to run for the school board in Oakland, Calif., in 2016. He’d previously been elected to the board of the City College of San Francisco and thought he knew how to build the ground game to win in Oakland. He started gathering endorsements—from the state superintendent of public schools and city council members and the Alameda County Democratic Party—and began raising money, feeling optimistic about his chances. By October, he’d raised almost $12,000. But Jackson did not plan for Michael Bloomberg.

In October of 2016, a few weeks before the election, Bloomberg gave $300,000 to the political action committee sponsored by Go Public Schools Advocates, an Oakland-based nonprofit that supports charter schools. The committee, Families and Educators for Public Education, then spent $153,000 in support of James Harris, Jackson’s opponent. Dwarfed by funding, Jackson watched as the PAC paid for web ads and campaign literature and phone banking for Harris, and then as it posted an attack ad about Jackson on Facebook. “It’s so disappointing to work hard, gather volunteers, and then see an out-of-towner like Bloomberg drop hundreds of thousands of dollars and just win through no effort but money,” Jackson, a special-education teacher in Oakland, says.

Bloomberg was not the only donor to Families and Educators for Public Education, but his $300,000 stands out. In the campaign-finance records, there are pages upon pages of donors who gave $10 or $25 apiece; the second-biggest contribution on the filing in which Bloomberg’s donation was disclosed was $250 from a retiree. “There’s no way outsiders should have more speech in Oakland than the actual residents and voters do,” Jackson says.

A couple of years ago, the Network for Public Education Action published a report documenting how billionaires are hijacking local and state school board elections. They flood the races with money, making it impossible for a local person to compete. In most cases, they buy elections in districts and states where they are not residents. There are also organizations like Democrats for Education Reform (hedge fund managers) who bundle money and make huge donations from their members who also do not live in the districts.

Bloomberg is not the only billionaire playing this anti-democratic game. There are also the Walton family, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Doris Fisher (Banana Republic and the GAP), John Arnold (ex-Enron), and Reed Hastings (Netflix).

What is the goal of all this money? Electing school board members who are committed to opening new charters and fighting any accountability for existing charters.

Say it for what it is: It is an attack on our democracy by the monied elite. It allows them to buy what they want, instead of respecting voters’ wishes.

The principle of one man, one vote dies when money swamps elections.

As a postscript, may I express my delight to see the new TIME coverage of education. We used to get adoring portraits of Michelle Rhee and attacks on teachers from TIME. No more. Now they are looking at the attack on democracy by billionaires.

Randi Weingarten will be in Providence on Saturday to discuss the role of teachers in the state takeover engineered by neoliberal Governor Gina Raimondo. The governor is openly hostile to teachers and unions and a major supporter of privately managed charter schools. She hired Angelica Infante-Green as State Commissioner, although Green (ex-TFA) was never a principal or superintendent. She is a member of Jeb Bush’s rightwing Chiefs for Change.

Randi said:

Unfortunately, the current Commissioner just continues to do the same things that Joe Klein or Michelle Rhee would do. Rather than work with teachers, they’ve set up other ‘process’ committees that will come out and say all the things are wrong, and what teachers should do in collective bargaining to fix it,” said Weingarten. “It’s not as though we haven’t seen this movie before — you have to roll up your sleeves and work together and you have to lift the morale. You don’t create a situation were every utterance the boss says divides people more and more…”

Weingarten said that she believed Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza had allowed the schools to fall into disrepair — but that takeover by Rhode Island education commissioner Angélica Infante-Green was not necessarily the answer.

“Here you had a situation where you had city control and the mayor was not giving the school the resources they need — just look at the shape they were in. He was not going to play that role, so this was viewed as no worse than already divesting democratic control,” said Weingarten. “Raimondo made a case that she wanted to make things better, but what you’re seeing already, and this is why I’m so proud of my local union, is that you have to change the normal typical tired conversation when a school system is not as good as you wish it would be…”

There are are a couple of other people who were really good who they were considering for superintendent and they didn’t pick them,” said Weingarten of Providence. “The Hopkins report said we have a problem where people feel alienated and discouraged — Hopkins also didn’t spend a lot of time in schools that were working. Since that time our union has come up with recommendations of what to do and meet people halfway.”

“We put out the recommendations that were never taken up. We did some of them ourselves. If this is urgent, and things must be solved right now — and we came up with recommendations in September, and then they do none of them — it gives pause to the urgency,” she said. “We tried to do a bunch of different things to respond to the Hopkins report and we’ve had a couple of big professional development seminars and what we’re hearing from the other side is just give up your contract.”

“So what is all of this, I’ve been through this with Rhee and Klein, and it seems like the same playbook — say things are as bad as you can instead of trying,” said Weingarten. “And in vilifying people you create demoralization — you create a vehicle by which parents say, why am I even here?”

“If you think a change agent is someone who thinks they can do things to teachers not with them, they might be a disruptor, but that’s not a change agent,” said Weingarten. “Schooling is about what happens [with] the connective tissue between teachers, school staff and kids. Kids have to trust teachers — and the community has to as well — and when you have someone who tries to come in from on high and chooses to vilify and not deal with issues, that’s not going to help make things better in schools.”

“How do you create a school where community and parents trust their teachers when the superintendent says they’re not to be trusted? It may get someone headlines — but it’s not the way,” she said.

To my knowledge, there has never been a successful state takeover. Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority collapsed. Tennessee’s Educational Achievement Authority was a $100 million disaster.

The only districts that are targets for state takeovers are those with a black and brown majority. State officials think that eliminating democracy will fix the schools but it doesn’t and never has. It is a civics lesson to citizens and students of color that they are not capable of self-government.

Domingo Morel wrote a book called “Takeover” where he compntended that takeovers were about race and power, not education. Black and brown parents lose their political power and are subject to a colonial regime.

Jan Resseger, as you surely know, is oneof my favorite writers. I admire her deep moral values, her clarity, and her direct writing.

In this post, she discovered an article that I missed.

If you are going to read one article about public education this week, I recommend Derek Black’s commentary in last Friday’s USA Today, Trump’s ‘Education Freedom’ Plan Is an Attack on Public Schools. That’s Un-American.  Derek Black is a professor of law at the University of South Carolina.

Black begins by challenging what he calls the coded language being used by President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to pitch DeVos’s one program idea—the one she has pitched unsuccessfully to Congress now for three years running and the program she is pitching again this year.  This is, of course, her idea for a kind of federal private school vouchers at public expense, a $5 billion plan for tuition-tax-credits.

Black explains: “‘Education freedom’—the Trump administration’s new buzzwords—is not about good education for the public. It’s about ending all that public education stands for. The administration won’t claim that precise goal because it’s politically toxic, including with a huge chunk of its own base. Instead, President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have carefully aimed at core aspects of public education without ever formally declaring war. But peel away the coded language and convoluted tax schemes, and the only thing left is an agenda incompatible with public education.”

In his State of the Union message, Trump described “American children trapped in government schools.”

Black responds: “‘Government schools’ refers to public schools in general…  (T)he point is to equate public schools with all the negative connotations government conjures—waste, bureaucracy and liberty-crushing control.”

And with DeVos’s “Education Freedom Tax Credits,” writes Black, the administration is “casting government schools as the enemy of education freedom… Yet… the administration’s education freedom does not actually mean educational opportunities that free students.  It doesn’t mean securing a quality education—private or public—for every student or opening doors of opportunity that were once closed. Education freedom means something much narrower: exiting public schools with the assistance of state and federal dollars.  The education quality students receive after they exit, the segregation it might produce, and the exclusion and discrimination students might face are not matters the administration is worried about.”

Black reminds us that throughout American history, “The dominant story of public education…. has been expanding our commitments in public education to find solutions to the nation’s greatest challenges..  When deciding how the nation would expand westward and form new states in the late 1780s, Congress divided every square inch of undeveloped land into square townships and counties, reserving the center plots of land for schools…  Congress directed that these schools were to ‘forever be encouraged.’ When the nation sought to lift poor whites out of illiteracy and blacks into citizenship at the end of the Civil War, Congress demanded that state constitutions guarantee uniform school systems that provided education to all children. To fund them, they mandated taxes.  When the nation was struggling to break free of its Jim Crow discrimination, public education was chosen to lead the way—even as resistors explicitly tried to end public schooling (and replace it with vouchers).”

Black concludes: “Trump and DeVos have a vision of private education and individual freedom that is more than misleading; it’s dangerous. They are sowing the notion that a fundamental pillar of our democracy is antiquated and oppressive.”

David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect, expresses his concern about billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who is a plutocrat and an autocrat.

In many ways, Dayen writes, Bloomberg is like Trump, only richer. How strange would it be for the Democrats to nominate a Republican to run against Trump.

He writes: