Depriving homeless people of their last shelter in life is Silicon Valley at its worst.


The 1% Wants to Ban Sleeping in Cars

Because It Hurts Their ‘Quality of Life’

Photo Credit: meunierd/Shutterstock.com

Across the United States, many local governments are responding to skyrocketing levels of inequality and the now decades-long crisis of homelessness among the very poor … by passing laws making it a crime to sleep in a parked car.

This happened most recently in Palo Alto, in California’s Silicon Valley, where new billionaires are seemingly minted every month – and where 92% of homeless people lack shelter of any kind. Dozens of cities have passed similar anti-homeless laws. The largest of them is Los Angeles, the longtime unofficial “homeless capital of America”, where lawyers are currently defending a similar vehicle-sleeping law before a skeptical federal appellate court. Laws against sleeping on sidewalks or in cars are called “quality of life” laws. But they certainly don’t protect the quality of life of the poor.

To be sure, people living in cars cannot be the best neighbors. Some people are able to acquire old and ugly – but still functioning – recreational vehicles with bathrooms; others do the best they can. These same cities have resisted efforts to provide more public toilet facilities, often on the grounds that this will make their city a “magnet” for homeless people from other cities. As a result, anti-homeless ordinances often spread to adjacent cities, leaving entire regions without public facilities of any kind.

Their hope, of course, is that homeless people will go elsewhere, despite the fact that the great majority of homeless people are trying to survive in the same communities in which they were last housed – and where they still maintain connections. Americans sleeping in their own cars literally have nowhere to go.

Indeed, nearly all homelessness in the US begins with a loss of income and an eviction for nonpayment of rent – a rent set entirely by market forces. The waiting lists are years long for the tiny fraction of housing with government subsidies. And rents have risen dramatically in the past two years, in part because long-time tenants must now compete with the millions of former homeowners who lost their homes in the Great Recession.

The paths from eviction to homelessness follow familiar patterns. For the completely destitute without family or friends able to help, that path leads more or less directly to the streets. For those slightly better off, unemployment and the exhaustion of meager savings – along with the good graces of family and friends – eventually leaves people with only two alternatives: a shelter cot or their old automobile.

However, in places like Los Angeles, the shelters are pretty much always full. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of unsheltered homeless people increased by 67%. In Palo Alto last year, there were 12 shelter beds for 157 homeless individuals. Homeless people in these cities do have choices: they can choose to sleep in a doorway, on a sidewalk, in a park, under a bridge or overpass, or – if they are relatively lucky – in a car. But these cities have ordinances that make all of those choices a criminal offense. The car is the best of bad options, now common enough that local bureaucrats have devised a new, if oxymoronic, term – the “vehicularly housed”.

People sleeping in cars try to find legal, nighttime parking places, where they will be less apparent and arouse the least hostility. But cities like Palo Alto and Los Angeles often forbid parking between 2am and 5am in commercial areas, where police write expensive tickets and arrest and impound the vehicles of repeat offenders. That leaves residential areas, where overnight street parking cannot, as a practical matter, be prohibited.

One finds the “vehicularly housed” in virtually every neighborhood, including my own. But the animus that drives anti-homeless laws seems to be greatest in the wealthiest cities, like Palo Alto, which has probably spawned more per-capita fortunes than any city on Earth, and in the more recently gentrified areas like Los Angeles’ Venice. These places are ruled by majorities of “liberals” who decry, with increasing fervor, the rapid rise in economic inequality. Nationally, 90% of Democrats (and 45% of Republicans) believe the government should act to reduce the rich-poor gap.

It is easy to be opposed to inequality in the abstract. So why are Los Angeles and Palo Alto spending virtually none of their budgets on efforts to provide housing for the very poor and homeless? When the most obvious evidence of inequality parks on their street, it appears, even liberals would rather just call the police. The word from the car: if you’re not going to do anything to help, please don’t make things worse.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/1-wants-ban-sleeping-cars-because-it-hurts-their-quality-life?akid=11722.265072.4yEWu6&rd=1&src=newsletter982385&t=3&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Obama, Monopoly Capitalism, and Global Hegemony

Time for an Accounting
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by NORMAN POLLACK

We’ve seen enough to know that the US is on track to push structural-ideological tyranny to a new level, not so much the reproduction of 20th century fascism (although that historical experience has created an indelible mark on the mindset of present-day geopolitical strategists in defining what might be possible in violating international law without thoroughly antagonizing the world community) as, instead, using a cloak of liberal humanitarianism to assert military power in pursuit of traditional imperialism. The same goals, different label.

America transcends the recent past, including its share in constructing a system of power politics, in favor of more ambitious unilateral dominance which takes advantage of the increasing cultural pluralism arising from the fragmentation of the commercial-financial order. Counterterrorism is the fig leaf for achieving greater wealth-concentration at home, aided by massive surveillance to induce social control of the population (informal boundaries on permissible dissent) for purposes of creating on the base of formal democracy a national-security state, and for achieving in the world, a predator state charged with the mission of resisting the societal democratization of emerging and industrial economies alike. Both are necessary, compliancy here and abroad, a tightly-woven structure of wealth and power, if US capitalism, penetrating every nook and cranny of the globe, followed—or sometimes preceded—by military intervention, bases, naval power, hard-nosed diplomacy, paramilitary efforts at regime change, is to sustain acceptable rates of profits at acceptable levels of risk. American capitalist preeminence in a not-deviating capitalist world, firmly grounded in the dynamics of counterrevolution (the US as guardian of the global system) is at the crux of what others perceive as the Exceptionalist Nightmare or the divine right of hegemony.

The fig leaf of counterterrorism, which has supplanted anticommunism to the same end of habituating the American people to still more invidious extremes of wealth differentiation and resulting class power, is still, however, not sufficient for the stabilization of capitalism at this level of intense concentration; for needed as well is the popularization of Reaction and Repression. Obama is the man for the job. His race —thanks to liberal guilt and political correctness—alone saves him from critical scrutiny (neatly played out, as though making Reagan’s Teflon presidency amateurish by comparison), as he, like none before him, integrates capitalist, military, intelligence, and media resources, i.e., the communities represented by the elites of each, into a finely-honed authoritarian backdrop for manifesting and executing national power. And yet, liberals slobber at his feet, their moral bankruptcy and lack of political wisdom and will nowhere more evident.

The putsch has become outmoded; the bowdlerization of race and gender is a sufficient cause of false consciousness, of feel-good celebration of diversity, as the upper 0.1% tightened their hold on the levers of power. A black president? a woman president? What would Paul Robeson think—or Rosa Luxemburg! If a white president abused power, from Espionage Act prosecutions to the hit list of drone assassinations, in the way Obama has, one might hope to see street demonstrations—a hope perhaps futile given the decline of societal awareness already rife in the way war crimes, corporate giveaways, and the celebration of wealth pass unnoticed.

Time for an accounting, then, before it’s too late. From whence, though? It is important to recognize how much America has changed, since, say, the early 1950s. At least, then, anticommunism was met by (often painful and unsuccessful) resistance, for as repression mounted so also did the clarity of struggle and need to fight back. Taft-Hartley, Peekskill, legislation, events, large and small, the purging of “reds” from labor unions (and like UE, whole unions themselves)—a time to be alive, the very lies being met in response by forthright declarations of freedom.

Those who took the Fifth, and found themselves fired; those like Claude Pepper of Florida, who in the 1950 Senate race had been smeared by the Miami Herald with a faked composite showing him embracing Joe Stalin, and Pepper’s opponent, campaigning around the state hissing that his opponent’s sister was a—thespian. Even as late as 1956, I followed Adlai Stevenson for three days during the California Democratic primary, and while hardly a flaming radical, he had, as I recall, dead-tired, standing on the railroad tracks somewhere around San Jose, expressed a vision of social awareness seldom found since. With Kennedy, the fascistization of America had begun in earnest.

The process continues, now accelerated.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/16/obama-monopoly-capitalism-and-global-hegemony/

 

 

Oligarchy, not democracy: Americans have ‘near-zero’ input on policy – report

Reuters / Amr Abdallah Dalsh

The first-ever scientific study that analyzes whether the US is a democracy, rather than an oligarchy, found the majority of the American public has a “minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy” compared to the wealthy.

The study, due out in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, sets out to answer elusive questions about who really rules in the United States. The researchers measured key variables for 1,779 policy issues within a single statistical model in an unprecedented attempt “to test these contrasting theoretical predictions” – i.e. whether the US sets policy democratically or the process is dominated by economic elites, or some combination of both.

“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” the researchers from Princeton University and Northwestern University wrote.

While “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association,” the authors say the data implicate “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

The authors of “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” say that even as their model tilts heavily toward indications that the US is, in fact, run by the most wealthy and powerful, it actually doesn’t go far enough in describing the stranglehold connected elites have on the policymaking process.

“Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups,” the researcher said.

“Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.”

They add that the “failure of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy is all the more striking because it goes against the likely effects of the limitations of our data. The preferences of ordinary citizens were measured more directly than our other independent variables, yet they are estimated to have the least effect.”

Despite the inexact nature of the data, the authors say with confidence that “the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

“We believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened,” they concluded.

http://www.trueskool.com/forum/topics/oligarchy-not-democracy-americans-have-near-zero-input-on-policy-

The Attack on Russia is Mounting

Washington Drives the World Toward War
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by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

The CIA director was sent to Kiev to launch a military suppression of the Russian separatists in the eastern and southern portions of Ukraine, former Russian territories for the most part that were foolishly attached to the Ukraine in the early years of Soviet rule.

Washington’s plan to grab Ukraine overlooked that the Russian and Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine were not likely to go along with their insertion into the EU and NATO while submitting to the persecution of Russian speaking peoples.  Washington has lost Crimea, from which Washington intended to eject Russia from its Black Sea naval base. Instead of admitting that its plan for grabbing Ukraine has gone amiss, Washington is unable to admit a mistake and, therefore, is pushing the crisis to more dangerous levels.

If Ukraine dissolves into secession with the former Russian territories reverting to Russia, Washington will be embarrassed that the result of its coup in Kiev was to restore the Russian provinces of Ukraine to Russia.  To avoid this embarrassment, Washington is pushing the crisis toward war.

The CIA director instructed Washington’s hand-picked stooge government in Kiev to apply to the United Nations for help in repelling “terrorists” who with alleged Russian help are allegedly attacking Ukraine. In Washington’s vocabulary, self-determination is a sign of Russian interference. As the UN is essentially a Washington-financed organization, Washington will get what it wants.

The Russian government has already made it completely clear some weeks ago that the use of violence against protesters in eastern and southern Ukraine would compel the Russian government to send in the Russian army to protect Russians, just as Russia had to do in South Ossetia when Washington instructed its Georgian puppet ruler to attack Russian peacekeeping troops and Russian residents of South Ossetia.

Washington knows that the Russian government cannot stand aside while one of Washington’s puppet states attacks Russians.  Yet, Washington is pushing the crisis to war.

The danger for Russia is that the Russian government will rely on diplomacy, international organizations, international cooperation, and on the common sense and self-interest of German politicians and politicians in other of Washington’s European puppet states.

For Russia this could be a fatal mistake. There is no good will in Washington, only mendacity. Russian delay provides Washington with time to build up forces on Russia’s borders and in the Black Sea and to demonize Russia with propaganda and whip up the US population into a war frenzy.  The latter is already occurring.

Kerry has made it clear to Lavrov that Washington is not listening to Russia. As Washington pays well, Washington’s European puppets are also not listening to Russia. Money is more important to European politicians than humanity’s survival.

In my opinion, Washington does not want the Ukraine matters settled in a diplomatic and reasonable way. It might be the case that Russia’s best move is immediately to occupy the Russian territories of Ukraine and re-absorb the territories into Russia from whence they came. This should be done before the US and its NATO puppets are prepared for war. It is more difficult for Washington to start a war when the objects of the war have already been lost. Russia will be demonized with endless propaganda from Washington whether or not Russia re-absorbs its traditional territories. If Russia allows these territories to be suppressed by Washington, the prestige and authority of the Russian government will collapse. Perhaps that is what Washington is counting on.

If Putin’s government stands aside while Russian Ukraine is suppressed, Putin’s prestige will plummet, and Washington will finish off the Russian government by putting into action its many hundreds of Washington-financed NGOs that the Russian government has so foolishly tolerated.  Russia is riven with Washington’s Fifth columns.

In my opinion, the Russian and Chinese governments have made serious strategic mistakes by remaining within the US dollar-based international payments system. The BRICS and any others with a brain should instantly desert the dollar system, which is a mechanism for US imperialism. The countries of the BRICS should immediately create their own separate payments system and their own exclusive communications/Internet system.

Russia and China have stupidly made these strategic mistakes, because reeling from communist failures and oppressions, they naively assumed that Washington was pure, that Washington was committed to its propagandistic self-description as the upholder of law, justice, mercy, and  human rights.

In fact, Washington, the “exceptional, indispensable country,” is committed to its hegemony over the world. Russia, China, and Iran are in the way of Washington’s hegemony and are targeted for attack.

The attack on Russia is mounting.

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is How America Was Lost.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/15/the-attack-on-russia-is-mounting/

 

The commons lies at the heart of a major cultural and social shift now underway.

The New Economic Events Giving Lie to the Fiction That

We Are All Selfish, Rational Materialists

Photo Credit: AllanGregg; Screenshot / YouTube.com

Jeremy Rifkin’s new book, “The Zero Marginal Cost Society,” brings welcome new attention to the commons just as it begins to explode in countless new directions. His book focuses on one of the most significant vectors of commons-based innovation — the Internet and digital technologies — and documents how the incremental costs of nearly everything is rapidly diminishing, often to zero. Rifkin explored the sweeping implications of this trend in an excerpt from his book and points to the “eclipse of capitalism” in the decades ahead.

But it’s worth noting that the commons is not just an Internet phenomenon or a matter of economics. The commons lies at the heart of a major cultural and social shift now underway. People’s attitudes about corporate property rights and neoliberal capitalism are changing as cooperative endeavors — on digital networks and elsewhere — become more feasible and attractive. This can be seen in the proliferation of hackerspaces and Fablabs, in the growth of alternative currencies, in many land trusts and cooperatives and in seed-sharing collectives and countless natural resource commons.

Beneath the radar screen of mainstream politics, which remains largely clueless about such cultural trends on the edge, a new breed of commoners is building the vision of a very different kind of society, project by project. This new universe of social activity is being built on the foundation of a very different ethics and social logic than that of homo economicus — the economist’s fiction that we are all selfish, utility-maximizing, rational materialists.

Durable projects based on social cooperation are producing enormous amounts of wealth; it’s just that this wealth is not generally not monetized or traded. It’s socially or ecologically embedded wealth that is managed by self-styled commoners themselves. Typically, such commoners act more as stewards of their common wealth than as owners who treat it as private capital. Commoners realize that a life defined by impersonal transactions is not as rich or satisfying as one defined by abiding relationships. The larger trends toward zero-marginal-cost production make it perfectly logical for people to seek out commons-based alternatives.

You can find these alternatives popping up all over: in the 10,000-plus open access scientific journals whose research is freely shareable to anyone and in community gardens that produce both fresh vegetables and neighborliness. In hundreds of “timebanks” that let people meet basic needs through time-barters, and in highly productive, ecologically minded commons-based agriculture.

Economists tend to ignore such wealth because it generally doesn’t involve market activity. No cash is exchanged, no legal contracts signed and no measureable Gross Domestic Product is generated. But the wealth of the commons is not accumulated like capital; its vitality comes from being circulated. As I describe in my new book, “Think Like a Commoner,” the story of our time is the rise of the commons as a new way to emancipate oneself from predatory markets and to collaborate with peers to protect and expand one’s shared wealth. This is a story that is being played out in countless digital arenas, as Rifkin documents, but also in such diverse contexts as cities, farming, museums, theaters and indigenous communities.

One reason that so many commons arise and flourish is because they help their participants meet important basic needs in fair, responsive and socially satisfying ways. That’s quite attractive to those who are otherwise held captive by conventional, predatory markets. Big agriculture is more concerned with efficiency and profit than ecological stewardship. Large transnationals are more interested in rip-and-run resource extraction (mining, fracking, timber) than in the protection of sacred lands and time-honored ways of life. “Copyright industries” like Hollywood and record labels want to treat all of culture as tightly controlled “product,” not as something that is freely shared and built upon.

Nowadays the commons has a special appeal for people of the global South who are often victimized by the “enclosures” inflicted by neoliberal investment and trade policies. Enclosures are the act of privatizing and commodifying previously shared resources. For example, millions of acres of land in Africa, Asia and Latin America are currently being seized by investors in a massive international land grab. Hedge funds and even the government of South Korea, Saudi Arabia and China are enacting an eerie replay of the English enclosure movement. Commoners who have worked the land for generations as a customary right are being forced to migrate to cities in search of work, where they often end up as paupers and sweatshop employees: a modern-day replay of Charles Dickens’ novels.

By the lights of modern economic theory, it’s all for the best because it promotes “development” (i.e., consumerism and other market dependencies). But many commoners are now fighting the dispossession and dependencies that enclosures entail by struggling to retain some measure of dignity and self-determination through their commons. The International Land Alliance estimates that 2 billion people around the world depend upon subsistence commons of forests, fisheries, arable land, water and wild game to meet their everyday needs.

Strangely, the leading introductory economics textbooks in the U.S. virtually ignore the commons except for the obligatory warning about the “tragedy of the commons.” They prefer not to recognize that the commons represents an entirely viable but different paradigm of “development” – one that can transcend the unsustainable consumerism, cultural disintegration and economic growth of our time. As the late Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom showed, commons are an entirely sustainable, ecologically friendly model of resource management, contrary to the “tragedy” parable.

Commoners are not all alike. They have many profound differences in their governance systems, management practices and cultural values. And commons are not without their conflicts, struggles and failures. That said, most commoners tend to share fundamental commitments to participation, openness, inclusiveness, social equity, ecological respect and human rights.

The politics of the commons movement can be confounding to conventional observers because political goals are not the paramount priority; protection of the commons is. Commoners tend to be more focused on “prepolitical” social activity and relationships, which is why commons are embraced by such a wide variety of people. As German commons advocate Silke Helfrich notes in The Wealth of the Commons, “Commons draw from the best of all political ideologies.” Conservatives like the tendency of commons to promote responsibility. Liberals are pleased with the focus on equality and basic social entitlement. Libertarians like the emphasis on individual initiative. And leftists like the idea of limiting the scope of the Market.

It is important to realize that the commons is not a discussion about objects, but a discussion about who we are and how we treat each other. What decisions are being made about our resources? Does economic activity satisfy basic human needs and honor human rights and dignity? These kind of discussions are not often heard in in conventional business and policy circles, alas.

To conventional minds, the idea of the commons as a paradigm of social governance appears either utopian or communistic, or at the very least, impractical. But a diverse, eclectic universe of commons around the world demonstrates otherwise. It is the neoliberal project of ever-expanding consumption on a global scale that is the utopian, totalistic dream. It manifestly cannot fulfill its mythological vision of human progress through ubiquitous market activity and greater heaps of private consumption, if only because it demands more from Nature than it can possibly deliver – while inflicting too much social inequity and disruption as well.

Fortunately, the Internet and indigenous peoples, the re-localization movement and hackers, community foresters and fishing cooperatives and many, many others, are showing that the commons can be an effective vehicle for social and political emancipation. Jeremy Rifkin’s astute analysis of this powerful trend will help open up a much-needed discussion in the stodgy precincts of conventional economics.

David A. Bollier is an author, activist, blogger and independent scholar with a primary focus on “the commons” as a new paradigm for economics, politics, and culture. He is the founding editor of Onthecommons.org (2002-2010), co-founder and principal of the international consulting project Commons Strategy Group, and co-director of the Commons Law Project. Bollier is the author of numerous books, including “Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons.”

 http://www.alternet.org/economy/were-about-enter-whole-new-era-economics-and-its-going-make-everyone-feel-lot-more-wealthy?akid=11716.265072.WdcnEx&rd=1&src=newsletter981596&t=7&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Employee pensions under attack in the US

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By Andre Damon
15 April 2014

The American financial elite has launched a sweeping nationwide assault on the pension benefits of US workers in both the public and private sectors.

Following the example of the city of Detroit, municipalities and states throughout the country, including Illinois, California, and Pennsylvania, have sought to slash government workers’ legally protected pension benefits on the grounds that there is no money to pay for the “generous” retirement benefits that are owed to workers for decades of labor.

Now, private sector pensions, already decimated in the wave of corporate bankruptcies and buyouts that took place in the 1980s, are coming under renewed attack. In particular, multi-employer pension funds, once considered more secure than those operated by single employers, are being targeted for cutbacks.

The New York Times reported Saturday, “Labor officials, business groups, members of Congress and others have been quietly discussing a proposal to extend multiemployer plans’ life spans by letting them roll back even retirees’ pensions.”

Private employee pension funds have been over the course of decades starved of contributions by the corporations that are legally obliged to finance them. This is true not only of standard single-employer pension funds, but also larger, union-affiliated multi-employer funds, which provide retirement benefits for some 10 million Americans.

The Times noted that one major pension plan, the Teamsters’ Central States plan, pays out $2.8 billion per year in retirement funds, but only takes in about $700 million from corporations. The plan’s director said he expects the plan to run out of money in 10 to 15 years.

The multi-employer arm of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the government agency that insures private pensions, is expected to run out of funds within seven years, according to a report issued in February by the Congressional Budget Office.

Last year, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation posted a record deficit of $35.7 billion. “Within the next 10 years, more and more plans are going to run out of money,” said Joshua Gotbaum, director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp, in a November report.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, enacted in 1974, forbids companies from cutting their employees’ pension obligations for work they have already performed. But a subsequent 2006 law, signed by George W. Bush, allowed under-funded multi-employer pensions to stop paying some benefits, such as disability, death benefits, and early retirement.

The PBGC was conceived as self-financing, with insurance payouts to be covered by premiums paid by corporations. But these premiums have been steadily dwindling, as successive administrations from both parties have introduced loopholes to allow companies to reduce their contributions.

The Times noted that the PBGC multi-employer fund “now has premiums of about $110 million a year to work with. All it would take is the failure of one big plan to wipe out the whole program.”

Defined benefit pensions now cover only 18 percent of private-sector workers, down from 35 percent in the 1990s, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These pension plans have largely been replaced by completely inadequate defined-contribution 401(k) plans. The bureau of labor statistics found that the median households aged 55–64 with a retirement savings account had just $100,000 to retire, or about twice the yearly household income for older households.

The calls to slash private pensions are coupled with renewed attacks on public sector retirement benefits. Last week, the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates reported that public pensions in the United States have only $3 trillion in assets to cover some $10 trillion in scheduled payments over the coming decades. According to the report, 85 percent of public pensions will run out of funds within three decades.

These funds are insolvent because they have been looted by state and local officials to cover the billions of dollars in local tax cuts and incentives that have been handed out to big business over the course of the past several decades. Now, the Democratic and Republican politicians who have starved the pension funds are calling for workers’ pensions to be slashed to keep the funds solvent.

  • In Detroit, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has proposed to slash city workers’ pensions by 26 percent—or 34 percent if workers do not vote in favor of the deal. These pension cuts, coupled with equally draconian cuts to their dental, vision, and health insurance coverage, will effectively reduce their incomes by more than 50 percent. 10 percent of Detroit city retirees already live below the poverty line, and pension officials have said that the cuts will force at least another 20 percent into poverty.
  • On April 8, the Illinois legislature voted in favor of a law proposed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that will slash pensions for 57,000 city laborers and municipal employees. The law eliminates the workers’ cost-of-living increases, meaning that, as years go by, their pensions will be whittled down enormously.
  • A group of California Democrats, led by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, is campaigning for the implementation of a constitutional amendment to remove the state’s protections on public employee pensions. With the proposed amendment, cities, counties, and other government entities could lower cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. In addition, they could increase the retirement age or demand larger pension contributions from current employees.
  • Last month, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, announced plans to cut pensions for hundreds of thousands of state employees and teachers covered by the state’s pension system. The proposal would switch new workers to a 401(k)-style retirement plan, while even further underfunding existing pension plans. “The only question is whether we will do it now, when it’s still a manageable problem, or let others do it later,” said Corbett.

Even as retirement benefits are being slashed, on the grounds that there is supposedly no money to pay for them, the super-rich are doing better than ever. Last week, Equilar, the executive compensation research firm, reported that the 100 top-earning corporate CEOs had their median pay increase by 9 percent in 2013, to $13.9 million.

WALL STREET

 

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Quote of the Week

“Look around Wall Street. You’ll find tribal insularity, short-term thinking, personal irresponsibility, cynicism about playing by the rules, an aversion to socially productive labor, a habit of shameless materialism, an inability to defer gratification, and a lack of concern for what ‘message’ all this sends to the youth raised in such an environment. In short, you’ll find the very things typically imputed to the culture of poverty.”

Eric Liu, How America is rigged for the rich, CNN, April 9, 2014

 

Google, once disdainful of lobbying, now a master of Washington influence

Google’s Eric Schmidt is no stranger to D.C. He has spent lots of time at the White House and on Capitol Hill lobbying on behalf of his titan technology company. But his relationship with Washington and the Obama administration has not always been a comfortable one.

WRITTEN BYTom HamburgerMatea Gold

PUBLISHED: APRIL 12

In May 2012, the law school at George Mason University hosted a forum billed as a “vibrant discussion” about Internet search competition. Many of the major players in the field were there — regulators from the Federal Trade Commission, federal and state prosecutors, top congressional staffers.

What the guests had not been told was that the day-long academic conference was in large part the work of Google, which maneuvered behind the scenes with GMU’s Law & Economics Center to put on the event. At the time, the company was under FTC investigation over concerns about the dominance of its famed search engine, a case that threatened Google’s core business.

In the weeks leading up to the GMU event, Google executives suggested potential speakers and guests, sending the center’s staff a detailed spreadsheet listing members of Congress, FTC commissioners, and senior officials with the Justice Department and state attorney general’s offices.

“If you haven’t sent out the invites yet, please use the attached spreadsheet, which contains updated info,” Google legal assistant Yang Zhang wrote to Henry Butler, executive director of the law center, according to internal e-mails obtained by The Washington Post through a public records request. “If you’ve sent out the invites, would it be possible to add a few more?”

Butler replied, “We’re on it!”

On the day of the conference, leading technology and legal experts forcefully rejected the need for the government to take action against Google, making their arguments before some of the very regulators who would help determine its fate.

The company helped put on two similar conferences at GMU around the time of the 18-month investigation, part of a broad strategy to shape the external debate around the probe, which found that Google’s search practices did not merit legal action.

The behind-the-scenes machinations demonstrate how Google — once a lobbying weakling — has come to master a new method of operating in modern-day Washington, where spending on traditional lobbying is rivaled by other, less visible forms of influence.

(Read the e-mails between Google and GMU officials)

That system includes financing sympathetic research at universities and think tanks, investing in nonprofit advocacy groups across the political spectrum and funding pro-business coalitions cast as public-interest projects.

The rise of Google as a top-tier Washington player fully captures the arc of change in the influence business.

Nine years ago, the company opened a one-man lobbying shop, disdainful of the capital’s pay-to-play culture.

Since then, Google has soared to near the top of the city’s lobbying ranks, placing second only to General Electric incorporate lobbying expenditures in 2012 and fifth place in 2013.

The company gives money to nearly 140 business trade groups, advocacy organizations and think tanks, according to a Post analysis of voluntary disclosures by the company, which, like many corporations, does not reveal the size of its donations. That’s double the number of groups Google funded four years ago.

This summer, Google will move to a new Capitol Hill office, doubling its Washington space to 55,000 square feet — roughly the size of the White House.

Google’s increasingly muscular Washington presence matches its expanded needs and ambitions as it has fended off a series of executive- and legislative-branch threats to regulate its activities and well-funded challenges by its corporate rivals.

Today, Google is working to preserve its rights to collect consumer data — and shield it from the government — amid a backlash over revelations that the National Security Agency tapped Internet companies as part of its surveillance programs. And it markets cloud storage and other services to federal departments, including intelligence agencies and the Pentagon.

“Technology issues are a big — and growing — part of policy debates in Washington, and it is important for us to be part of that discussion,” said Susan Molinari, a Republican former congresswoman from New York who works as Google’s top lobbyist. “We aim to help policymakers understand Google’s business and the work we do to keep the Internet open and spur economic opportunity.”

Molinari added, “We support associations and third parties across the political spectrum who help us get the word out — even if we don’t agree with them on 100 percent of issues.”

Susan Molinari, a Republican former congresswoman from New York, works as Google’s top lobbyist in Washington.

Susan Molinari, a Republican former congresswoman from New York, works as Google’s top lobbyist in Washington.

As Google’s lobbying efforts have matured, the company has worked to broaden its appeal on both sides of the aisle. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is a well-known backer of President Obama and advises the White House. Google’s lobbying corps — now numbering more than 100 — is split equally, like its campaign donations, among Democrats and Republicans.

Google executives have fostered a new dialogue between Republicans and Silicon Valley, giving money to conservative groups such as Heritage Action for America and the Federalist Society. While also supporting groups on the left, Google has flown conservative activists to California for visits to its Mountain View campus and a stay at the Four Seasons Hotel.

The company has also pioneered new and unexpected ways to influence decision-makers, harnessing its vast reach. It has befriended key lawmakers in both parties by offering free training sessions to Capitol Hill staffers and campaign operatives on how to use Google products that can help targetvoters.

Through a program for charities, Google donates in-kind advertising, customized YouTube channels and Web site analytics to think tanks that are allied with the company’s policy goals.

Google “fellows” — young lawyers, writers and thinkers paid by the company — populate elite think tanks such as the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the New America Foundation.

To critics, Google’s investments have effectively shifted the national discussion away from Internet policy questions that could affect the company’s business practices. Groups that might ordinarily challenge the policies and practices of a major corporation are holding their fire, those critics say.

“Google’s influence in Washington has chilled a necessary and overdue policy discussion about the impact of the Internet’s largest firm on the future of the Internet,” said Marc Rotenberg, a Georgetown University law professor who runs the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a watchdog and research organization.

CONTINUED:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-google-is-transforming-power-and-politicsgoogle-once-disdainful-of-lobbying-now-a-master-of-washington-influence/2014/04/12/51648b92-b4d3-11e3-8cb6-284052554d74_story.html?wpmk=MK0000200

America’s military-industrial complex is evolving

The next generation of shadow wars:

After a decade of failed nation-building in the Middle East, the U.S. military sets its sights on a new continent

, TomDispatch.com

The next generation of shadow wars: America's military-industrial complex is evolving
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

What the military will say to a reporter and what is said behind closed doors are two very different things — especially when it comes to the U.S. military in Africa.  For years, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has maintained a veil of secrecy about much of the command’s activities and mission locations, consistently downplaying the size, scale, and scope of its efforts.   At a recent Pentagon press conference, AFRICOM Commander General David Rodriguez adhered to the typical mantra, assuring the assembled reporters that the United States “has little forward presence” on that continent.  Just days earlier, however, the men building the Pentagon’s presence there were telling a very different story — but they weren’t speaking with the media.  They were speaking to representatives of some of the biggest military engineering firms on the planet.  They were planning for the future and the talk was of war.

I recently experienced this phenomenon myself during a media roundtable with Lieutenant General Thomas Bostick, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  When I asked the general to tell me just what his people were building for U.S. forces in Africa, he paused and said in a low voice to the man next to him, “Can you help me out with that?”  Lloyd Caldwell, the Corps’s director of military programs, whispered back, “Some of that would be close hold” — in other words, information too sensitive to reveal.

The only thing Bostick seemed eager to tell me about were vague plans to someday test a prototype “structural insulated panel-hut,” a new energy-efficient type of barracks being developed by cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  He also assured me that his people would get back to me with answers.  What I got instead was an “interview” with a spokesman for the Corps who offered little of substance when it came to construction on the African continent.  Not much information was available, he said, the projects were tiny, only small amounts of money had been spent so far this year, much of it funneled into humanitarian projects.  In short, it seemed as if Africa was a construction backwater, a sleepy place, a vast landmass on which little of interest was happening.



Fast forward a few weeks and Captain Rick Cook, the chief of U.S. Africa Command’s Engineer Division, was addressing an audience of more than 50 representatives of some of the largest military engineering firms on the planet — and this reporter.  The contractors were interested in jobs and he wasn’t pulling any punches.  “The eighteen months or so that I’ve been here, we’ve been at war the whole time,” Cook told them.  “We are trying to provide opportunities for the African people to fix their own African challenges.  Now, unfortunately, operations in Libya, South Sudan, and Mali, over the last two years, have proven there’s always something going on in Africa.”

Cook was one of three U.S. military construction officials who, earlier this month, spoke candidly about the Pentagon’s efforts in Africa to men and women from URS Corporation, AECOM, CH2M Hill, and other top firms.  During a paid-access web seminar, the three of them insisted that they were seeking industry “partners” because the military has “big plans” for the continent.  They foretold a future marked by expansion, including the building up of a “permanent footprint” in Djibouti for the next decade or more, a possible new compound in Niger, and a string of bases devoted to surveillance activities spreading across the northern tier of Africa.  They even let slip mention of a small, previously unacknowledged U.S. compound in Mali.

The Master Plan

After my brush off by General Bostick, I interviewed an Army Corps of Engineers Africa expert, Chris Gatz, about construction projects for Special Operations Command Africa in 2013.  “I’ll be totally frank with you,” he said, “as far as the scopes of these projects go, I don’t have good insights.”

What about two projects in Senegal I had stumbled across?  Well, yes, he did, in fact, have information about a firing range and a “shoot house” that happened to be under construction there.  When pressed, he also knew about plans I had noted in previously classified documents obtained by TomDispatch for the Corps to build a multipurpose facility in Cameroon.  And on we went.  “You’ve got better information than I do,” he said at one point, but it seemed like he had plenty of information, too.  He just wasn’t volunteering much of it to me.

Later, I asked if there were 2013 projects that had been funded with counter-narco-terrorism (CNT) money.  “No, actually there was not,” he told me.  So I specifically asked about Niger.

Last year, AFRICOM spokesman Benjamin Benson confirmed to TomDispatch that the U.S. was conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, or ISR, drone operations from Base Aérienne 101 at Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, the capital of Niger.  In the months since, air operations there have only increased.  In addition, documents recently obtained by TomDispatch indicated that the Army Corps of Engineers has been working on two counter-narco-terrorism projects in Arlit and Tahoua, Niger.  So I told Gatz what I had uncovered.  Only then did he locate the right paperwork.  “Oh, okay, I’m sorry,” he replied.  “You’re right, we have two of them… Both were actually awarded to construction.”

Those two CNT construction projects have been undertaken on behalf of Niger’s security forces, but in his talk to construction industry representatives, AFRICOM’s Rick Cook spoke about another project there: a possible U.S. facility still to be built.  “Lately, one of our biggest focus areas is in the country of Niger.  We have gotten indications from the country of Niger that they are willing to be a partner of ours,” he said.  The country, he added, “is in a nice strategic location that allows us to get to many other places reasonably quickly, so we are working very hard with the Nigeriens to come up with, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a base, but a place we can operate out of on a frequent basis.”

Cook offered no information on the possible location of that facility, but recent contracting documents examined by TomDispatch indicate that the U.S. Air Force is seeking to purchase large quantities of jet fuel to be delivered to Niger’s Mano Dayak International Airport.

Multiple requests for further information sent to AFRICOM’s media chief Benjamin Benson went unanswered, as had prior queries about activities at Base Aérienne 101.  But Colonel Aaron Benson, Chief of the Readiness Division at Air Forces Africa, did offer further details about the Nigerien mini-base.  “There is the potential to construct MILCON aircraft parking aprons at the proposed future site in Niger,” he wrote, mentioning a specific type of military construction funding dedicated to use for “enduring” bases rather than transitory facilities.  In response to further questions, Cook referred to the possible site as a “base-like facility” that would be “semi-permanent” and “capable of air operations.”

Pay to Play

It turns out that, if you want to know what the U.S. military is doing in Africa, it’s advantageous to be connected to a large engineering or construction firm looking for business.  Then you’re privy to quite a different type of insider assessment of the future of the U.S. presence there, one far more detailed than the modest official pronouncements that U.S. Africa Command offers to journalists.  Asked at a recent Pentagon press briefing if there were plans for a West African analog to Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier, the only “official” U.S. base on the continent, AFRICOM Commander General David Rodriguez was typically guarded.  Such a “forward-operating site” was just “one of the options” the command was mulling over, he said, before launching into the sort of fuzzy language typical of official answers.  “What we’re really looking at doing is putting contingency locating sites, which really have some just expeditionary infrastructure that can be expanded with tents,” was the way he put it.  He never once mentioned Niger, or airfield improvements, or the possibility of a semi-permanent “presence.”

Here, however, is the reality as we know it today.  Over the last several years, the U.S. has been building a constellation of drone bases across Africa, flyingintelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions out of not only Niger, but also Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the island nation of the Seychelles.  Meanwhile, an airbase in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, serves as the home of a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment, as well as of the Trans-Sahara Short Take-Off and Landing Airlift Support initiative.  According to military documents, that “initiative” supports “high-risk activities” carried out by elite forces from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara.  U.S. Army Africa documents obtained by TomDispatch also mention the deployment to Chad of an ISR liaison team.  And according to Sam Cooks, a liaison officer with the Defense Logistics Agency, the U.S. military has 29 agreements to use international airports in Africa as refueling centers.

U.S. Facility near Gao, Mali.  This austere compound is thought to have been overrun by Islamist forces in 2012.  Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

As part of the webinar for industry representatives, Wayne Uhl, chief of the International Engineering Center for the Europe District of the Army Corps of Engineers, shed light on shadowy U.S. operations in Mali before (and possiblyafter) the elected government there was overthrown in a 2012 coup led by a U.S.-trained officer.  Documents prepared by Uhl reveal that an American compound was constructed near Gao, a major city in the north of Mali.  Gao is the site of multiple Malian military bases and a “strategic” airport captured by Islamist militants in 2012 and retaken by French and Malian troops early last year.

AFRICOM’s Benjamin Benson failed to respond to multiple requests for comment about the Gao compound, but Uhl offered additional details.  The project was completed before the 2012 uprising and “included a vehicle maintenance facility, a small admin building, toilet facilities with water tank, a diesel generator with a fuel storage tank, and a perimeter fence,” he told me in a written response to my questions. “I imagine the site was overrun during the coup and is no longer used by U.S. forces.”

America’s lone official base on the African continent, Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion post in Djibouti, has been on a decade-plus growth spurt and serves a key role for the U.S. mission.  “Camp Lemonnier is the only permanent footprint that we have on the continent and until such time as AFRICOM may establish a headquarters location in Africa, Camp Lemonnier will be the center of their activities here,” Greg Wilderman, the Military Construction Program Manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, explained.

“In 2013, we had a big jump in the amount of program projects,” he noted, specifically mentioning a large “task force” construction effort, an oblique reference to a $220 million Special Operations compound at the base that TomDispatch first reported on in 2013.

According to documents provided by Wilderman, five contracts worth more than $322 million (to be paid via MILCON funds) were awarded for Camp Lemonnier in late 2013.  These included deals for a $25.5 million fitness center and a $41 million Joint Headquarters Facility in addition to the Special Operations Compound.  This year, Wilderman noted, there are two contracts — valued at $35 million — already slated to be awarded, and Captain Rick Cook specifically mentioned deals for an armory and new barracks in 2014.

Cook’s presentation also indicated that a number of long-running construction projects at Camp Lemonnier were set to be completed this year, including roads, a “fuel farm,” an aircraft logistics apron, and “taxiway enhancements,” while construction of a new aircraft maintenance hangar, a telecommunications facility, and a “combat aircraft loading area” are slated to be finished in 2015.  “There’s a tremendous amount of work going on,” Cook said, noting that there were 22 current projects underway there, more than at any other Navy base anywhere in the world.

And this, it turns out, is only the beginning.

“In the master plan,” Cook said, “there is close to three quarters of a billion dollars worth of construction projects that we still would like to do at Camp Lemonnier over the next 10 to 15 years.”  That base, in turn, would be just one of a constellation of camps and compounds used by the U.S. in Africa.  “Many of the places that we are trying to stand up or trying to get into are air missions.  A lot of ISR… is going on in different parts of the continent.  Generally speaking, the Air Force is probably going to be assigned to do much of that,” he told the contractors.  “The Air Force is going to be doing a great deal of work on these bases… that are going to be built across the northern tier of Africa.”

Hearts and Minds

When I spoke with Chris Gatz of the Army Corps of Engineers, the first projects he mentioned and the only ones he seemed eager to talk about were those for African nations.  This year, $6.5 million in projects had been funded when we spoke and of that, the majority were for “humanitarian assistance” or HA construction projects, mostly in Togo and Tunisia, and “peacekeeping” operations in Ghana and Djibouti.

Uhl talked about humanitarian projects, too.  “HA projects are small, difficult, challenging for the Corps of Engineers to accomplish at a low, in-house cost… but despite all this, HA projects are extremely rewarding,” he said.  “The appreciation expressed by the locals is fantastic.”  He then drew attention to another added benefit: “Each successful project is a photo opportunity.”

Uhl wasn’t the only official to touch on the importance of public perception in Africa or the need to curry favor with military “partners” on the continent.  Cook spoke to the contractors, for instance, about the challenges of work in austere locations, about how bureaucratic shakedowns by members of African governments could cause consternation and construction delays, about learning to work with the locals, and about how important such efforts were for “winning hearts and minds of folks in the area.”

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command’s Wildeman talked up the challenges of working in an environment in which the availability of resources was limited, the dangers of terrorism were real, and there was “competition for cooperation with [African] countries from some other world powers.”  This was no doubt a reference to increasing Chinese tradeaidinvestment, andeconomic ties across the continent.

He also left no doubt about U.S. plans.  “We will be in Africa for some time to come,” he told the contractors.  “There’s lots more to do there.”

Cook expanded on this theme. “It’s a big, big place,” he said.  “We know we can’t do it alone.  So we’re going to need partners in industry, we’re going to need… local nationals and even third country nationals.”

AFRICOM at War

For years, senior AFRICOM officers and spokesmen have downplayed the scope of U.S. operations on the continent, stressing that the command has only a single base and a very light footprint there.  At the same time, they have limited access to journalists and refused to disclose the number and tempo of the command’s operations, as well as the locations of its deployments and of bases that go by other names.  AFRICOM’S public persona remains one of humanitarian missions and benign-sounding support for local partners.

“Our core mission of assisting African states and regional organizations to strengthen their defense capabilities better enables Africans to address their security threats and reduces threats to U.S. interests,” says the command.  “We concentrate our efforts on contributing to the development of capable and professional militaries that respect human rights, adhere to the rule of law, and more effectively contribute to stability in Africa.”  Efforts like sniper training for proxy forces and black ops missions hardly come up.  Bases are mostly ignored.  The word “war” is rarely mentioned.

TomDispatch’s recent investigations have, however, revealed that the U.S. military is indeed pivoting to Africa.  It now averages far more than a mission a day on the continent, conducting operations with almost every African military force, in almost every African country, while building or building up camps, compounds, and “contingency security locations.”  The U.S. has taken an active role in wars from Libya to the Central African Republic, sent special ops forces into countries from Somalia to South Sudan, conducted airstrikes andabduction missions, even put boots on the ground in countries where it pledgedit would not.

“We have shifted from our original intent of being a more congenial combatant command to an actual war-fighting combatant command,” AFRICOM’s Rick Cook explained to the audience of big-money defense contractors.  He was unequivocal: the U.S. has been “at war” on the continent for the last two and half years.  It remains to be seen when AFRICOM will pass this news on to the American public.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in theLos Angeles Timesthe Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author/editor of several books, including the just published The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare  (Haymarket Books). This piece is the final article in his serieson the changing face of American empire, which is being underwritten byLannan Foundation. You can follow him on Tumblr.

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/04/14/the_next_generation_of_shadow_wars_americas_military_industrial_complex_is_evolving_partner/?source=newsletter

Obama Is About to Get a Lot More Cozy with the Corporate Education Racket



The fight over public education is about to get even more heated.
 

Photo Credit: spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

The nomination of Californian Ted Mitchell to the number two position at the U.S. Department of Education is the latest indication that proponents of school privatization are continuing to gain influence over the Obama administration’s education policy.

“He represents the quintessence of the privatization movement,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, tells Capital & Main. “This is a signal the Obama administration is committed to moving forward aggressively with transferring public funds to private hands.”

In education “privatization” refers to the contracting out of traditional public education services to for-profit companies or to charter schools that are set up as nonprofit organizations. In many ways, the Mitchell nomination reflects the ongoing battle being fought in Washington and in school districts across the country. It’s a battle that pits the views of teachers, their unions and community groups against a movement that is backed by wealthy philanthropists and corporations.

Mitchell is a former Occidental College president who had previously served as then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s president of the California State Board of Education. He was nominated by the White House to become Under Secretary of Education last October. Mitchell is also the founder and chief executive of NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit whose stated goal is “to transform public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children – especially those in underserved communities – have the opportunity to succeed.”

But critics like Ravitch say that Mitchell and NewSchools Venture Fund are in the forefront of a movement to privatize public education, a radical transformation that would benefit technology, testing and textbook companies such as Pearson, the London-headquartered multinational publishing and education giant.

Furthermore, the website of Students Matter names NewSchools Venture Fund as a supporter of Vergara v. California. This lawsuit, currently being tried in Los Angeles Superior Court, is aimed at scrapping teacher seniority protections in California. Vergara’s sponsor, Students Matter, is a nonprofit created by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch – whom Business Week identified as a NewSchools investment partner.

Sabrina Stevens, the executive director of Integrity in Education, says in an interview that “[Mitchell’s] nomination is an example of the kind of thing we are worried about – corporate influence at the U.S. Department of Education.”

Stevens, a former teacher who worked with students in low-income communities in Philadelphia and Denver, says that she has been disappointed that pro-privatization views have gained a stronghold in the education department.

“It doesn’t look like there are any voices representing the views of ordinary school stakeholders: everyday teachers, students and their families,” she says.

“There’s a lot of high level policy talk about reducing education to numbers, with an overemphasis on tests,” Stevens continues. “That’s not how learning works. We don’t want to have the Pearson Department of Education.”

Mitchell’s nomination was approved by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions [in January]. He still must be approved by the full Senate. Mitchell did not respond to requests from Capital & Main for comment.

Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says that Mitchell, whom he has known for 15 years, is highly qualified to be Under Secretary of Education.

“Ted Mitchell is an incredibly smart and even-tempered guy,” Hess tells Capital & Main. “He’s got a ton of relevant experience. He’s thoughtful and he likes to listen, he is somebody very used to people disagreeing and giving them a fair hearing. I think it’s a terrific choice. It’s very much consistent with the open-minded approach the administration is taking.”

Jeffrey Henig, a political science and education professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and an expert on the dynamics of education policy, says that the Mitchell nomination appears to send a strong message about the direction of education policy.

“This does look like a signal that President Obama is continuing to place more bets with the reform crowd,” he says.

An investigative reporter for more than three decades, Gary Cohn won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 1998 for his series The Shipbreakers, detailing the dangers to workers and the environment when old ships are dismantled. Reach him with comments or story ideas at gcohn@fryingpannews.org.

 

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