Addendum on a Fundraiser: Moskowitz and the Company She Keeps

October 23, 2014

Last April Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of the publically funded, privately run Success Academy Charter School would-be-empire, held a fundraiser that, thanks to the very, very rich and infamous, garnered over seven million dollars in one garish evening.

While there were far richer guests, it is safe to say that, even among a crowd consisting largely of hedge fund managers and politicians, there was no one there more infamous than Erik Prince, founder and CEO of the publically funded, private army called Blackwater, then Xe, then Academi.

Eric Prince

Eric Prince

Here is Prince described by Vanity Fair: ” Erik Prince, recently outed as a participant in a C.I.A. assassination program, has gained notoriety as head of the military-contracting juggernaut Blackwater, a company dogged by a grand-jury investigation, bribery accusations, and the voluntary-manslaughter trial of five ex-employees, set for next month. “
The trial referred to by Vanity Fair concluded yesterday. While Prince himself remains rich and free, one of his former mercenaries was found guilty of murder, three others of voluntary manslaughter. All of these men worked under the command of Eva’s patron, all of them were paid large amounts of taxpayer money to do as they did. All of them are in jail while their boss remains free as a bee.

When I read about the verdict this morning I remembered Moskowitz’s fundraiser and as I did questions formed in my mind. What kind of person would invite or even permit the likes of Erik Prince to a fundraiser for kids’ schools? What kind of person would accept his blood money? What kind of ethical and spiritual degeneracy are we breathing in?

I know the answers to these questions, of course, but somehow it edifies to ask them.

Eva Moskowitz

Eva Moskowitz

As Bloomberg is Knighted in London, His Legacy Festers in New York

October 13, 2014


Last week brought many a happy puff piece in many a publication announcing the knighting of former mayor Michael Bloomberg in London. Meanwhile, back in the city in which he used his billions to obtain power and rule like a king for 12 excruciatingly long years — the rule of law and democracy be damned — came two less than happy stories dealing with the less majestic aspects of Bloomberg’s reign. It is a reign which, as will be seen, lingers on. Indeed, well into the mayoralty of Bill De Blasio, Bloomberg’s sordid rule remains deeply if insidiously entrenched.

One item, covered apparently only by Crain’s, dealt (kind of) with the legal aftermath of Bloomberg’s mass circumvention of hiring codes and state laws concerning civil servants. 37,000 of them, in fact. In direct violation of civil servant rules and state laws, Bloomberg did this by hiring the 37,000 as “provisional workers. “
“The state constitution dictates that governmental appointments be based on “merit and fitness,” and for many job classifications that is determined by scores on civil-service exams. In many cases, only the top three scorers are allowed to be interviewed for a position.”

Feeling “hamstrung” by the codes and laws, Bloomberg did what any self respecting CEO would do: he did exactly as he pleased.

“The mayor therefore had his agencies circumvent the system by hiring “provisional” employees. By 2007, nearly 37,000 were swelling the ranks of city government, occupying more than 19% of the “competitive” city job titles that were supposed to be filled based on exam scores.”
As “provisional employees”, the workers enjoyed exactly the kind of status Bloomberg and people who think like Bloomberg would like to impose on all workers everywhere: non union, “ at will” employees who could be fired at any time for any reason the Boss Man felt like using to fire them. As a bonus, such workers would be extremely unlikely to “call out managers’ misdeeds, including contracting abuses ” and the like. One has to admit, it is a brilliant system of political control.

This, of course, is precisely how the corporate world envisions all management/ labor relationships. That Bloomberg’s maneuver was a form of union busting – perhaps union preemption is a better way of describing it – is clear.
That it was an undermining of the meritocracy that America is supposed to be built on is also clear. That it is was transparently unfair is undeniable. What was the criteria for hiring these people ?
As working class New Yorkers know, the civil service has long been seen as an entry into the middle class.

But…Hard cheese old chap! Should have thought of that before you were born!

In complete concordance with the apotheosis of corporatism in American life, Crain’s reports Bloomberg’s maneuver, not as a scandal worthy of Boss Tweed and a dangerous throwback to an era of shameless patronage, but rather as a “brain drain “ for DeBlasio. In terms of contempt for the democratic process, the move is reminiscent of Bloomberg’s successful bribe of the City Council, which led to their overturning of not one but two referendums on term limits and the acquisition of his third term. Both are chilling examples of how deeply corporate values have eroded our remaining democratic institutions and sensibilities as well as our sense of simple fairness.

But never fear, Crain’s located a shill from the Manhattan Institute to explain that that fairness and merit are but antiquated 19th century will o the wisps, fit for garbage men perhaps, but far too unsophisticated for today’s world.

“The civil-service system was a progressive reform to ensure good government—but that was 100 years ago,” said Steve Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “Now there’s far more sophisticated technology and different types of positions. But you may still want this kind of test for someone working in the Sanitation Department. There are no easy answers to this.”

There are, of course, very easy answers to this and they have existed since the reforms of Teddy Roosevelt. The answers are to respect the laws outlawing patronage and to treat people fairly.

37,000 jobs is a whole lot of patronage, and it is not unreasonable to think a scandal of this proportion would have brought down the mayoralty of any other mayor who did not happen to be the richest man in the city he ruled.
How can we measure what this one man has done to our collective sense of democracy and law ?

The second item concerns the unconscionable month long suspension of a Department of Education occupational therapist named Debra Fisher for “ theft of services.” Her crime? Fisher helped run a Kick starter campaign for a 13 year old student with cerebral palsy and did so partly by sending emails from a DOE computer during school hours. That she did so with the knowledge of the principal made no difference.

Writes Jim Dwyer of the New York Times: “This is a story of an almost unfathomably mindless school bureaucracy at work: the crushing of an occupational therapist who had helped a young boy build a record of blazing success.”

Dwyer is right, of course, but he is omitting a key component, perhaps the key component in this particular mindless school bureaucracy. And that is the element of malice: malice that is the direct result of the orders of Michael R Bloomberg. Malice that remains, like Bloomberg’s “provisional workers “, long after Bloomberg has gone. Malice that employs the relentless power of the state to crush the state, the sooner to privatize everything in sight and unseen. Malice that is designed to utterly eviscerate any and all union — which is to say “human” — concerns and sensibilities.

While it is surely the nature of bureaucracies to find a rationale to perpetuate themselves, no one working in the department of education during Bloomberg’s reign could mistake the malevolence emanating from the Office of Special Investigations for bureaucratic inertia or a search for a reason to exist.

How many of Bloomberg’s “provisional workers” are OSI? Who knows ? All we know is that at least 4000 were employed in some capacity with the Dept. of Education.

At any rate, even if the average New Yorker remains oblivious or unconcerned with the wholesale corporatization of their city, hopefully the vicious idiocy behind the suspension of Debra Fisher will awaken Bill De Blasio and Carmen Farina to the fact that while Bloomberg may be gone, some of his most horrific policies remain firmly in place and will continue to do so until they are pulled out by the roots, an action that cannot come soon enough.

Why Does the NY Times Pay So Much Attention to An Accused Teacher and So Little to the Common Core ?

October 10, 2014

Over the past several years the New York Times, the paper of record and all that, has published article after article, editorial after editorial praising the wonders of the privately owned experiment on American children deceptively called the Common Core State Standards and painting all who opposed the instantly sacred writ as little more than right wing nut jobs. The paper has done all it can do to hide the fact that the Common Core exists solely because a private citizen, one Bill Gates, has decided that it is his right to undermine democratic process and dictate public policy even as our spineless politicians have helped him every step of the way. The information about the genesis and financing of the Common Core, though obscured and hidden, has been flushed out and is available to those who seek it. See especially the work of Mercedes Schneider. Apparently the New York Times does not seek it.

With this in mind, I read with astonishment the almost granular description and psychological profile of the life of one Sean Shaynak, a high school teacher arrested for multiple counts of sexual misconduct with his students.
The story is disturbing and disgusting and, yes, newsworthy but I have to ask myself: why does the horrific behavior of a single teacher merit such research and scrutiny while the imposition of a radical experiment, increasingly loathed by American parents, students and teachers, and created by an unelected, unaccountable monopolist given what results in a free pass by the paper of record?

Consider simply the level of research — research reminiscent of a NY Times profile of a presidential candidate — that went into the ridiculous citing of Shaynak’s favorite Pretenders song as he rode down the highway of life toward ignominy and worse. Try to find an a commensurate example of research in any NY Times article on the provenance of the Common Core or any of its principal creators and you will search in vain.

Consider that the admittedly sordid allegations against this one individual, horrible that they are, affected a tiny proportion of one school yet merited the front page of the most important paper in America while the stealth creation of a radical privately owned imposition that is currently upending almost every school in the country is scarcely worth a mention.

Something is wrong. Very, very wrong.
What is really going on here ?

A Chronicle of Echoes by Mercedes Schneider Reviewed by Patrick Walsh

September 19, 2014

Vergara Part Two : How the 1% Have Learned to Use the Noblest Causes for the Most Venal Ends

June 13, 2014

David Welch: A Civil Rights Leader of our Time

David Welch: A Civil Rights Leader of our Time

There have been more than a few events in the past 20 years or so that, even as I accepted their possibility, sent chills down my spine upon learning they actually happened. This sensation of primal fear tended only to grow stronger with time to ponder the deeper significance of such events upon the direction of the nation, a nation in which I now raise a young child.
One was the Supreme Court’s still unfathomable decision to appoint George W. Bush president in 2000. Another was the same Bush’s decision to eviscerate a virtually defenseless Iraq under the pretense of somehow making it into a democracy. A third was the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that permits the military to seize U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military facilities under the pretense of fighting terrorism.

All of the above are clear and unmistakable evidence that strange, terrible and extraordinarily powerful forces have been unleashed in this country, met only with an as yet equally extraordinarily absence of an effective resistance. In very short order in all of the cases above, what shortly before seemed inconceivable almost overnight become what is cynically called “the new normal.”

Add to these now the decision in Vergara vs. California, which may seem small potatoes when compared with the above, but, unless things change in this country and radically so, I fear it is anything but.

The case, we are meant to believe, was brought forth by nine preternaturally litigious kids who just grew tired of being the victims of “grossly ineffective teachers” who, protected by California’s laws on tenure and seniority, robbed them of their civil rights to a fair and adequate free public education. Somehow, the kids’ cause came to the attention of Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur and modern day civil rights leader David Welch, co-founder of Infinera and founder of the advocate group StudentsMatter, and David being David… well, he just had to act. Welch, out of the kindness of his massive heart, massively bankrolled the civil rights lawsuit, hiring none other than the “high-powered legal team chaired by famed litigators Theodore Boutrous and Theodore Olson, ” the same legal team, in fact, that brought us George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election.
The solution to this alleged civil rights case, concluded Judge Rolf Treu, is not to extend probation or hire better administrators or anything sensible and moderate like that. No. The solution, declared Treu, is to gut all job protections for all teachers across the state of California; and, if Boutrous and Olsen and their mega rich employers are to be believed, across the country – just like the Common Core.
Or so goes the dark Disneyland narrative.
What is this decision?
It is many things and none of them good. All of them are portents of a bleak and miserable future for 99 % of Americans.
To be sure, the decision is a particularly powerful and harmful volley in the most insidious, sustained and fantastically financed public relations assault on a legal profession in American history, arguably in human history, otherwise known as “education reform.”

Think about it.

Has there ever been a legal profession that has undergone the barrage of insults and insinuations and insane claims ( education is now a threat to national security) from every conceivable form of media—documentary, newspapers, Hollywood film TV, and radio — as have teachers in the past decade or so?

If so, who? When ?

Vergara is too, if one needed it, yet another billboard proudly displaying the Obama administration’s utter subservience to the American oligarchy whose goal is the privitization of every facet of American public life, beginning with the public school system. Consider the words of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan concerning a ruling that has surely disgusted any serious teacher and will likely dissuade any serious young person from becoming a teacher: “For students in California and every other state, equal opportunities for learning must include the equal opportunity to be taught by a great teacher. The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems.”

Neither Duncan nor anyone else on planet earth can explain how stripping teachers of due process (tenure) and the dignity and liberty that goes with it can, in any way, shape or form, help students be taught by a “great teacher,” but what the hey.
Duncan, as shameless as ever, did doubtless please his masters with his straight face declaration that the lawsuit was, in fact, brought by children and not yet another saintly billionaire using children to ram into place their stealth agenda.

To be fair, Duncan does see a role for public participation in the privatization of public education: “Together, we must work to increase public confidence in public education,” said the man. After spending years using nothing less than the weight of the federal government to systemically and as a matter of public policy destroy public confidence in public education, this is what the secretary of education would have us do in the wake of this devastating judgement — “work to increase public confidence in public education.”

Some times one has no words.

It is ample evidence of the dark genius of the 1% who have figured out how to manipulate or purchase the institutions and mechanisms created to insure a modicum of democracy and justice – namely, elections and the courts – and use them to destroy democracy and justice.
It is also ample evidence of the moral bankruptcy of the “reformers,” who will use anything, even children as innocent class warriors, to get their way in their stealth class war.
Most egregiously, insofar as the “reformers” have hijacked the language and iconography of civil rights, the most emotionally resonant, heroic and spiritually charged movement in American history, the Vergara decision is, to my way of thinking, outright blasphemy. But not merely blasphemy: Vergara is blasphemy wrapped in perversity, sugar coated in obscenity.
The blasphemy is using the sacred spirit of civil rights for the venal cause of union busting under the shameless pretence of helping kids.

The perversity is the insinuation that magically appearing billionaires who never taught a day in their lives care more about the fate of the urban poor than the teachers who serve them day in and day out.

The obscenity is the political obsequiousness that fortunes that no sane society would even allow, never mind genuflect before, are allowed to dismantle the institutions — unions and public education – that built America, and are doing it in the name of freedom.
But it is a grave mistake to perceive the Vergara decision as simply another attack, however brutal, on teachers and education. Education is merely the conduit. Vergara is an attack on the rights of every worker in the USA, union or not.
The 1% may know little of history, but they know enough about the union movement to know that, in time, the force that revolutionized even non- union industries, forcing them to treat their workers with dignity, pay them fairer wages and provide them with some modicum of security, was the threat of unions. They also know the absence of unions has exactly the opposite effect. Consider the working conditions of most Americans in the land of the free and the home of the brave since the shrinkage of American unions. No due process. No job security. No pension. No nothing but a wage that for most people has not grown since 1973.

It is in this light that the Vergara decision need be seen: as yet another objective indication of a new, if yet to be fully formed, oligarchic despotism where most of us are to live as obsequiously as valets before our rapacious and one dimensional overlords, grateful to have jobs of any kind, more grateful still for their philanthropic gestures.
The Vergara decision is an act of barbaric civic, legal and spiritual violence against the working people of this deranged country. Sooner or later, when people come to fully
understand that the overlords running their lives, those who have bankrolled and orchestrated decisions such as this, could not care less if they or their children lived or if they died, it will inevitably result in barbaric physical violence.
In the immediate future, what Vergara is about is wrecking the teachers’ unions, the faster to privatize the public school system and all of public life so as to create a revenue stream that will continue the greatest transfer of wealth upwards in human history. In the long term, it’s about eviscerating union consciences altogether so that in a generation or so, solidarity among workers (or anyone for that matter) will seem as distant and romantic as the moon, a process already well under way.
It is also about the insanely rich using the trappings of democracy to hollow out democracy, to insure that “government of the people by the people and for the people” does indeed perish from this earth.


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