Category Archives: Education

Don’t Be Charter-Fooled

Major problems in the charter school sector have been detailed by many researchers and writers over the years. In the last year or two, however, persistent charter school problems have been exposed with much greater depth, breadth, and regularity by more individuals and organizations.

It has become abundantly clear to more people that the charter school sector is riddled with too many serious difficulties to hide. The consequences of these problems are just too severe to deny.

In this context, some “leaders” in the fractured crisis-prone charter school sector have remained hidebound, arrogant, and dogmatic, nonchalantly ignoring endless valid criticisms and simply chugging along as if everything is hunky dory.

Others in the charter school sector have feigned concern and expressed an ostensible desire to “acknowledge problems” and “improve.” The hope is to fool the gullible by recasting the heavily tarnished image of these deregulated schools so as to prettify them and counteract growing resistance to them.

But can a charter school not be a charter school?

As a general rule, state laws deliberately and consciously establish charter schools as entities (performance-based contracts) that are destined to have all the problems that they have. Charter schools are deregulated, deunionized, and privatized by conscious design. They are not public schools, no matter how often one claims they are.

The problem is not that charter schools are not living up to their “original promise,” but that they are doing exactly what they have always been carefully set up to do: function as pay-the-rich schemes in the context of a continually failing economy and discredited political system.

Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have always been neoliberal through and through. The false narrative that charter schools started out as humble, progressive, grass-roots “innovations” that unforeseeably got hijacked by millionaires and billionaires for nefarious ends has always been a fairytale promoted by many on the left, right, and center. There is no “going back” to the “original vision” of charter schools. Contract schools have always fundamentally been “free market” schools.

While some charter school advocates may admit to and broadcast some problems in the charter school sector, this is not the same as making everything right. For example, getting rid of authoritarian, violent, Skinnerian “no-excuses” policies and practices in many charter schools will not stop a charter school from being a charter school. It will still be segregated, deregulated, and largely deunionized. It will still have high student, teacher, and principal turnover rates. It will continue to offer fewer services and resources than public schools. Fraud and corruption will not go away. Selective enrollment and fudging test data will persist as well.

Attempts by some in the fractured charter school sector to “improve” charter schools will not fundamentally or permanently change the content, nature, and direction of charter schools. Performance-based contract schools will remain performance-based contract schools. A change in form is not identical to a change in essence.

Neoliberals, privatizers, and corporate school reformers are highly effective at generating new forms of irrationalism and disinformation to preserve and promote their antisocial agenda. No doubt, they will continue to fool some, but as the saying goes, “you cannot fix a scam,” and most scams generally have a short and troubled shelf-life.

People should remain vigilant and continue to expose, critique, and reject privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools. They should step up their defense of public education and the public interest. Private wealthy interests have no place in public education. Owners of capital are obsessed only with the outmoded aim of maximizing profit as fast as possible, no matter the damage to the social and natural environment.

Opposing Charter Schools Without Really Opposing Them (Part 3)

Irrationalism and disinformation manifest themselves in endless ways. While both have intensified greatly in the neoliberal period which began in the late 1970s, the public should brace for even more of both. The obsolete forces who have long benefitted from an outdated economic system that cannot provide for the needs of the people will surely sustain a massive onslaught of irrationalism and disinformation in an attempt to preserve their class power and privilege while keeping people disempowered and disoriented. They see no alternatives to anachronistic arrangements in society and its institutions.

In Opposing Charter Schools Without Really Opposing Them: Part 1 (November 2018), I highlighted some of the forms of confusion promoted by neoliberals, privatizers, and corporate school reformers in order to block people from concluding that nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are detrimental and must be opposed.

Seven months later, in Opposing Charter Schools Without Really Opposing Them: Part 2 (June 2019), I highlighted a different offshoot of the forms of confusion highlighted in Part 1.

The core of all these different types of confusion typically takes the form of detailing many damning and indicting problems with charter schools, while still managing to find a convoluted and bizarre way to support them. It is essentially poorly-disguised support for privately-operated charter schools.

In this article, Part 3, I address yet another form of charter school disinformation distorting consciousness, harming the public interest, and enabling school privatization.

In a July 2, 2019 article in the Hechinger Report revealingly titled, “Charter schools aren’t a radical solution and neither is blaming them: Slamming charters won’t address systemic inequality or put families to work.”  Andre Perry correctly notes that social and economic problems; e.g., racism and inequality, must be addressed if we want schools, students, and society to improve. He rightly notes that the problems in the sphere of education reflect deeper problems in the wider society and that solving the latter is the precondition for the healthy development of the former. Since “Educational inequality is an outcome of larger, systemic issues,” the former can only be improved by fixing the latter. Makes sense.

But Perry is merely setting the stage to say: look, of course, charter schools have 50 problems, but let’s not go after them. What will that accomplish? It won’t eliminate inequality, will it? Let’s just casually and conveniently ignore the failed charter school project for now and focus on bigger fish. Perry explicitly states:

While I frequently criticize the current education reform movement and charter schools, I don’t believe banning the privately managed, publicly financed schools that helped define a reform era will resolve inequality. We must evaluate why this reform movement has mostly failed to deliver on promises for radical change: Education reformers’ attempts  to fix black students, teachers and districts rather than address the systemic inequality that pushes blacks to the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid. (emphasis added)

In other words, when all is said and done, no matter how rotten privately-operated charter schools are, Perry is OK with hanging on to a failed arrangement that plunders billions of dollars a year from public schools and solves no problems.

It is true that eliminating privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools that foster segregation, corruption, union-busting, poor performance, weak transparency, selective enrollment, and high teacher turnover rates will not eradicate inequality, but it is also true that eliminating all privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools will be of tremendous benefit and advantage to public schools, society, the economy, and the national interest. Billions of public dollars looted and wasted by wealthy private interests could have gone back to the public, back to its owners, back to where it belongs, and greatly benefited schools, society, and the economy.

Privatization never benefits society, education, the economy, or the national interest. It mainly increases corruption, lowers accountability, keeps people out of the equation, reduces efficiency, and makes rich people richer. Privatization is socially irresponsible.

Perry’s irrationalism and thinly-veiled support for privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools begins to make more sense when we examine his credentials.

Perry is a neoliberal who works for the Brookings Institution, an organization that has long supported many antisocial policies and arrangements. His disposition and orientation are capital-centered. Not surprisingly, Perry has also been heavily involved in the charter school sector for years.

Teachers, parents, students, principals, school board officials, unions, education advocates, child advocates, and others must remain vigilant under these dangerous conditions where reason, logic, coherence, and people’s outlook and rights are being undermined and violated by wealthy private interests every hour.

Every effort must be made to defend and promote coherence, analysis, public schools, and democracy.

Privatizers, neoliberals, and corporate school reformers will not stop their destructive assault on thinking and social responsibility. They are determined to deprive people of an outlook and reference point that serves them. They seek to keep control of education, society, and the economy in their private hands and out of the hands of the public. Privatizers, neoliberals, and corporate school reformers are growing increasingly desperate and want nothing more than to prevent people from activating themselves and their social consciousness to develop solutions that favor them.

Charter School Advocates Try to Downplay Growing Opposition to Charter Schools

Prominent charter school advocates are understandably shaken and worried about the growing tide of opposition to privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools that have been wreaking havoc across the country for nearly 30 years. Charter school supporters are speaking out more in hopes of saving these deregulated and segregated schools that often perform poorly and foster corruption.

We’ve seen this kind of resistance before, it’s no big deal” is the general refrain issued by worried charter school advocates. “Yes, we are experiencing some troubled times and blowback right now, but it is not unusual and it will eventually pass” is another variation of this revealing refrain.

Charter school promoters know that the charter school sector, which has never been grass-roots in any way, shape, or form, is in trouble. But advocates of pay-the-rich schemes like privately-operated charter schools are too dogmatic and profit-focused to see the wood for the trees. Objectively, they are unable and unwilling to come to terms with the fact that people do not want education privatized and turned into a consumer good subject to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market.” People want fully-funded public schools under public control, completely free of the destructive influence of wealthy private interests.

Opposition to privately-operated charter schools is real, strong, growing, and irreversible. Individuals, organizations, and states across the country are taking real steps to rein them in. Worn-out platitudes, one-liners, lies, and absurd statements about these “innovative” schools that treat education as a business increasingly hold less sway.

Charter School Advocates Reject Analysis

Advocates of privately-operated charter schools that siphon billions of dollars a year from public schools have been a little more defensive and restive than usual in recent months.

This is to be expected given the growing number of mainstream and academic reports exposing their long-standing problems, as well as the fact that more people are seeing charter schools for what they really are.

There is a growing unstoppable social consciousness that charter schools are not just over-hyped phenomena which regularly over-promise and frequently under-deliver, but that they are fundamentally pay-the-rich schemes masquerading as “innovations” that “empower parents,” “promote choice,” and “save minority kids.”

The pious claims, platitudes, and grandstanding of charter school advocates are becoming more worn-out, hackneyed, and tired. They mean less with each passing week. Charter school advocates think that blindly repeating the same knee-jerk assertions and one-liners over and over again is the same thing as analysis and discussion. They believe that people develop convictions in a healthy and organic way by being bombarded by clichés, buzzwords, and counterfeit solutions.

Charter school supporters and promoters have always favored disinformation and irrationalism over analysis, discussion, and coherence. They have always feared that too much discussion, especially deep discussion and analysis, would expose them too much and undermine their antisocial agenda. They do not want people to think too hard and too much about what is really going on.

It is not a coincidence that in various cities charter school advocates are striving more desperately to organize more charter school “discussions” to combat the swelling irreversible social consciousness developing about major problems in the charter school sector. Of course, such “discussions” are often sponsored by pro-business organizations (e.g., chambers of commerce) and typically led by panels made up entirely, or almost entirely, of people who unequivocally support charter schools and repeat myths and banalities about them.

Some of the key topics and issues charter school advocates are unable and unwilling to analyze seriously include the following.

Blind Embrace of High-Stakes Tests

Charter school promoters never address, let alone analyze, the role, nature, meaning, and significance of expensive, curriculum-narrowing, anxiety-producing, punitive, high-stakes standardized tests produced by a handful of for-profit corporations. They are fixated on comparing and ranking schools, teachers, and students, as if this has anything to do with learning. Charter school advocates are obsessed with “win-lose” tests and feel comfortable raising no concerns about them. They automatically and erroneously assume that such tests are educationally sound, meaningful, and useful. They are too hidebound and anti-intellectual to even know what it means when someone points out that assessments today are based on psychometric pseudo-science.

Charter school promoters habitually accept the social Darwinist and Skinnerian ideologies underpinning these hazardous tests that fetishize competition and quantification, while debasing learning. But how useful and meaningful are “results” that come from assessments that are top-down and philosophically and scientifically flawed? Are civilizations built on timed, multiple-choice, memorization tests produced by large corporations? The bankruptcy of the tests charter school advocates support is also evident in the fact that there are many ways to improve test scores without improving learning. Test performance and genuine learning and growth are not synonymous. In fact, a greater focus on high-stakes standardized tests means less meaningful learning and growth. Obviously, charter school promoters have no use for such critical considerations. All they know is that high-hazard standardized tests are antidemocratic political instruments to be used for destructive neoliberal purposes.

Profound Differences Between Public and Private

Charter school supporters mindlessly repeat the disinformation that charter schools are public schools to create a pretext for seizing vast sums of public money and to conceal their inherently privatized character. They believe that a school becomes public just because it is called public or just because it receives public money. If they were openly and honestly treated as the privatized arrangements that they really are, then it would be obvious to all that charter schools have no valid or legitimate claim to public funds and assets. For this reason, charter school supporters self-servingly blur the profound distinction between public and private. They even go so far as to cynically urge the public to “move past discussions about whether charter schools are public or not.” They do not want anyone concluding that the private aim to profit from providing education will never fulfil the right to education.

Major Differences Between Choice and Rights

Another way charter school supporters avoid analysis and promote incoherence and confusion, is by manipulating the use and meaning of the word “choice” to suit their narrow needs. No one is opposed to choice as such. Everyone recognizes that, generally speaking, people should have the freedom and autonomy to select something from a list of alternatives. The key problem is that charter school advocates use choice in the narrow consumerist free market sense of the word because they view education as a commodity and see parents and students as consumers, not humans or citizens. They look at a social responsibility like education largely from the profit-oriented perspective of business and entrepreneurship. The two meanings of choice are different, however, and should not be mixed up.

It should also be recalled that charter schools usually choose parents and students, not the other way around. Unlike public schools, charter schools turn away many parents and students. Charter school advocates proudly embrace “free market” dogma. They see no problems with the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market.” They are unable and unwilling to see that education is a basic human right and social responsibility that government is duty-bound to guarantee. Charter school supporters do not comprehend that parents in a modern advanced society should not have to shop for a school the way they shop for peanut butter. And they think it is normal and positive for hundreds of schools to close every year.

Why and How Public Schools Have Been Purposely Mandated to Fail by the Neoliberal State So As to Privatize Them

The last thing charter school advocates want is for people to investigate and analyze why so many public schools have been actively set up to fail by the neoliberal state. Charter school advocates have been deliberately repeating the self-serving narrative that public schools are failing in order to “argue” that students should enroll in charter schools, even though thousands of charter schools across the country perform poorly and are plagued by widespread fraud and corruption. Charter school advocates offer no analysis or discussion at all about how and why these schools have been set-up to fail by the same neoliberals behind charter schools and privatization. “Starve It-Demonize It-Privatize It” has been the mantra of privatizers and neoliberals for decades. The basic formula goes like this: first, cut funding for schools every year. Bleed them dry. Set them up to fail. Then demonize, attack, scapegoat, and discredit them relentlessly for months, even years, so as to set the stage for privatization as a “solution.” In this connection, charter school advocates also want to avoid any serious discussion on the enormous role of poverty, segregation, and over-testing in ensuring failure and chaos in America’s public schools, especially its urban school systems, which are the ones most heavily targeted by charter school supporters. Charter school boosters are adamantly opposed to any solution of these problems. But, as everyone can see, far from solving a single social, economic, or educational problem, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have made everything worse.

Charter school promoters are opposed to admitting to, analyzing, and openly discussing numerous other persistent problems in the charter school sector. They quickly become defensive when confronted with these persistent unresolved problems:

  1. High student, teacher, and principal turnover rates.
  2. Widespread poor academic performance.
  3. Many charter school closures per year.
  4. High student suspension and expulsion rates.
  5. Unethical admissions practices.
  6. Extensive fraud, corruption, and racketeering.
  7. Increased segregation and stiff opposition to unions.

Many other stubborn problems could be listed. The point is that the crisis-prone charter school sector is causing great damage to public schools, the economy, society, and the national interest.

Instead of confronting issues, problems, and topics in an intellectually honest and rigorous manner, in a way that raises the level of discussion and thinking, charter school advocates prefer to keep things superficial and on the plane of platitudes, grandstanding, and anachronistic ideologies. There is no deep-dive into anything except how to profit off kids and the public.

Will Mississippi Supreme Court Allow Privately-Operated Charter Schools to Keep Seizing Public Funds from Public Schools?

A high-level court case is currently underway in Mississippi to decide if privately-operated charter schools can keep siphoning local property taxes from public schools.

Presently, Mississippi’s charter school law unconstitutionally diverts millions of dollars in local property tax money (ad valorem taxes) away from local public school districts to privately-operated charter schools.

Defenders of public schools and the public interest rightly note that privately-operated charter schools are harming public schools by draining money away from them and that opening more charter schools will only make things worse. They say that if privately-run charter schools are going to operate in Mississippi, they should find another source of funding.

Charter schools are not public schools in the proper sense of the word, therefore they have no valid or legitimate claim to public funds. Privately-operated charter schools differ legally, philosophically, organizationally, and operationally from public schools. To treat both types of schools as public and entitled to public funds is erroneous, misleading, and dishonest.

In Mississippi and other states, only public schools under local control by publicly elected individuals can receive local tax dollars raised by residents of the district. Charter schools are run by unelected bodies that are not answerable to the community. Charter schools do not operate under a local school district and are not under the control of the residents of public school districts, which means residents have no say over the charter schools that are siphoning their money. It is a form of taxation without representation.

Putting aside the poor academic performance of thousands of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools across the country, why should the public tax dollars of residents go to charter schools that are privately-governed, do not follow many public laws, and are not accountable to the community? Why should local property tax dollars go to schools exempt from local supervision? Why should a school district be required to share its maintenance tax levy with other school districts, let alone privately-operated charter schools?

In Mississippi, privately-operated charter schools receive public funding even though they are exempt from the oversight of the state Board of Education, the Mississippi Department of Education, and local boards of education. Low accountability and scant transparency have plagued the segregated and deunionized charter school sector for more than 27 years.

It is also important to stress that local public funds, as well as state and federal public funds, belong to schools, not students per se. The public funding of public schools is an issue that goes well beyond individual students. Public funds do not simply fund isolated free-floating individual students; they fund schools, their infrastructure, their employees, their programs, their future, the community, and more. Individual students are not the only ones benefiting from local property taxes.

Charter school advocates in Mississippi are trying desperately to arbitrarily change the meaning of many words to maintain their illegitimate ability to siphon millions of public dollars every year from public schools. They are eager to change the legal definition, identity, and relations that have long shaped and governed public schools in America. This may be one of the most under-reported and unexamined coups of the public by wealthy private interests in a while.

Mississippi passed its charter school law in 2013 and currently has only a handful of privately-operated charter schools.

Mississippi Supreme Court justices are expected to issue a ruling in the three-year-old case “in due course.” Given the current neoliberal context, more courts are abandoning the public interest and ruling on the basis of neoliberal ideology. Thus, there is a good chance that the Mississippi Supreme court will rule to allow millions of public dollars to keep flowing to privately-operated charter schools.

A Slow Death: The Ills of the Casual Academic

Any sentient being should be offended.  Eventually, the casualisation of the academic workforce was bound to find lazy enthusiasts who neither teach, nor understand the value of a tenured position dedicated to that musty, soon-to-be-forgotten vocation of the pedagogue.  It shows in the designs of certain universities who confuse frothy trendiness with tangible depth: the pedagogue banished from the podium, with rooms lacking a centre, or a focal point for the instructor.  Not chic, not cool, we are told, often by learning and teaching committees that perform neither task.  Keep it modern; do not sound too bright and hide the learning: we are all equal in the classroom, inspiringly even and scrubbed of knowledge.  The result is what was always to be expected: profound laziness on the part of instructors and students, dedicated mediocrity, and a rejection of all things intellectually taxing.

Casualisation, a word that says much in, and of, itself, is seen as analogue of broader outsourcing initiatives.  Militaries do it, governments do it, and the university does it.  Services long held to be the domain of the state, itself an animation of the social contract, the spirit of the people, have now become the incentive of the corporate mind, and, it follows, its associated vices.  The entire scope of what has come to be known as outsourcing is itself a creature of propaganda, cheered on as an opportunity drawing benefits rather than an ill encouraging a brutish, tenuous life.

One such text is Douglas Brown and Scott Wilson’s The Black Book of Outsourcing. Plaudits for it resemble worshippers at a shrine planning kisses upon icons and holy relics.  “Brown & Wilson deliver on the best, most innovative, new practices all aimed at helping one and all survive, manage and lead in this new economy,” praises Joann Martin, Vice President of Pitney Bowes Management Services.  Brown and Wilson take aim at a fundamental “myth”: that “Outsourcing is bad for America.”  They cite work sponsored by the Information Technology Association of America (of course) that “the practice of outsourcing is good for the US economy and its workers.”

Practitioners and policy makers within the education industry have become devotees of the amoral dictates of supply and demand, underpinned by an insatiable management class.  Central to their program of university mismanagement is the casual academic, a creature both embraced and maligned in the tertiary sectors of the globe.

The casual academic is meant to be an underpaid miracle worker, whose divining acts rescue often lax academics from discharging their duties. (These duties are outlined in that deceptive and unreliable document known as a “workplan”, as tedious as it is fictional.)  The casual academic grades papers, lectures, tutors and coordinates subjects.  The casual provides cover, a shield, and an excuse for a certain class of academic manager who prefers the calling of pretence to the realities of work.

Often, these casual academics are students undertaking a postgraduate degree and subject to inordinate degrees of stress in an environment of perennial uncertainty.  The stresses associated with such students are documented in the Guardian’s Academics Anonymous series and have also been the subject of research in the journal Research Policy.  A representative sample of PhD students studying in Flanders, Belgium found that one in two experienced psychological distress, with one in three at risk of a common psychiatric disorder.  Mental health problems tended to be higher in PhD students “than in the highly educated general population, highly education employees and higher education students.”

This is hardly helped by the prospects faced by those PhDs for future permanent employment, given what the authors of the Research Policy article describe as the “unfavourable shift in the labour-supply demand balance, a growing popularity of short-term contracts, budget cuts and increased competition for research sources”.

There have been a few pompom holders encouraging the casualisation mania, suggesting that it is good for the academic sector.  The explanations are never more than structural: a casual workforce, for instance, copes with fluctuating enrolments and reduces labour costs.  “Using casual academics brings benefits and challenges,” we find Dorothy Wardale, Julia Richardson and Yuliani Suseno telling us in The Conversation.  This, in truth, is much like suggesting that syphilis and irritable bowel syndrome is necessary to keep you on your toes, sharp and streamlined.  The mindset of the academic-administrator is to assume that such things are such (casualisation, the authors insist, is not going way, so embrace) and adopt a prostrate position in the face of funding cuts from the public purse.

Casualisation can be seen alongside a host of other ills.  If the instructor is disposable and vulnerable, then so are the manifestations of learning.  Libraries and research collections, for instance, are being regarded as deadening, inanimate burdens on the modern, vibrant university environment.  Some institutions make a regular habit of culling their supply of texts and references: we are all e-people now, bound to prefer screens to paper, the bleary-eyed session of online engagement to the tactile session with a book.

The casual, sessional academic also has, for company, the “hot-desk”, a spot for temporary, and all too fleeting occupation.  The hot-desk has replaced the work desk; the partitions of the office are giving way to the intrusions of the open plan. The hot-desker, like coitus, is temporary and brief. The casual academic epitomises that unstable reality; there is little need to give such workers more than temporary, precarious space.  As a result, confidentiality is impaired, and privacy all but negated.  Despite extensive research showing the negative costs of “hot-desking” and open plan settings, university management remains crusade bound to implement such daft ideas in the name of efficiency.

Casualisation also compounds fraudulence in the academy.  It supplies the bejewelled short cut route, the bypass, the evasion of the rigorous things in learning.  Academics may reek like piddling middle class spongers avoiding the issues while pretending to deal with them, but the good ones at least make some effort to teach their brood decently and marshal their thoughts in a way that resembles, at the very least, a sound whiff of knowledge.  This ancient code, tested and tried, is worth keeping, but it is something that modern management types, along with their parasitic cognates, ignore.  In Australia, this is particularly problematic, given suggestions that up to 80 percent of undergraduate courses in certain higher learning institutions are taught by casual academics.

The union between the spread sheet manager and the uninterested academic who sees promotion through the management channel rather than scholarship, throws up a terrible hybrid, one vicious enough to degrade all in its pathway. This sort of hybrid hack resorts to skiving and getting casuals to do the work he or she ought to be doing.  Such people co-ordinate courses but make sure they get the wallahs and helpers desperate for cash to do it. Manipulation is guaranteed, exploitation is assured.

The economy of desperation is cashed in like a reliable blue-chip stock: the skiver with an ongoing position knows that a casual academic desperate to earn some cash cannot dissent, will do little to rock the misdirected boat, and will have to go along with utterly dotty notions.  There are no additional benefits from work, no ongoing income, no insurance, and, importantly, inflated hours that rarely take into account the amount of preparation required for the task.

The ultimate nature of the casualisation catastrophe is its diminution of the entire academic sector.  Casuals suffer, but so do students.  The result is not mere sloth but misrepresentation of the worst kind: the university keen to advertise a particular service it cannot provide sufficiently. This, in time, is normalised: what would students, who in many instances may not even know the grader of their paper, expect?  The remunerated, secure academic-manager, being in the castle, can raise the drawbridge and throw the casuals to the vengeful crowd, an employment environment made safe for hypocrisy.

Household Income, or Higher Planes of Consciousness?*

We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said the following to the New York City School Teachers Association in 1909

The hubris, the lack of ground truthing, the faux academic natures, the overlord mentality, the star chamber blathering, and the oh so tight with capitalism persuasions of elites like Nick Hanauer, Founder of the public-policy incubator Civic Ventures, billionaire, Charter School aficionado, and one of those not-so-rare money grubbers who has so much to say about how we, the 80 percent, should live our lives in their strangling economic hell.

Allen, Gates, Bezos, Buffet, Walton, Nick, and on and on, the number of elites who are lecturing governors, policy makers, citizens, and business opportunists on what we, their poor trickled down subjects, should do to survive in their sacrifice zones of hellish capitalism.

Here’s Nick’s piece in that faux magazine, The Atlantic — Better Schools Won’t Fix America  — “Like many rich Americans, I used to think educational investment could heal the country’s ills—but I was wrong. Fighting inequality must come first.”

Long ago, I was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

— Nick Hanauer

It goes downhill from there, which one would expect as the magazine gives this fellow broadsheet exposure as he lumbers along in an attempt to revamp his earlier theses about how education is the salvation for our society, our economy (sic) and in bringing people out of poverty.

You see, these billionaires play with words and ideas, and he comes off as all anti-trickle down, pro-bridging the gap in this New Gilded Age.

He sounds like a duck, quacks like a quack, though. No mention of taking capitalism down to its knees, at least. No mention of a decent single payer health care bill, no mention of a social security system paid for through the rich and not-so-rich paying above their $120,000 cap on wages that currently sets as the gold (rust) standard for taking out SS on wages. No discussion of ending the war economy, stopping rich entrepreneurs from moving technology from its current state of extinction event after extinction event into the isolation bunkers we put nuclear energy’s waste stream.

Like all good capitalists, Nick’s invested in making money from the “middle class” as it’s forced into a frantic hamster wheel services-goods-consumer-unnecessary-and-polluting-junk society which is a race to the bottom, for sure. Ramping up riderless cars, 200 mph exclusive trains, drone-delivered crap, and I am sure people-killing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning devices — that’s their MOS. Starbucks on Mars. Netflix on the Moon. That’s their wet dreams.

Here’s his many times repeated foundation tooted throughout his piece:

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem.

Whenever I talk with my wealthy friends about the dangers of rising economic inequality, those who don’t stare down at their shoes invariably push back with something about the woeful state of our public schools. This belief is so entrenched among the philanthropic elite that of America’s 50 largest family foundations—a clique that manages $144 billion in tax-exempt charitable assets—40 declare education as a key issue. Only one mentions anything about the plight of working people, economic inequality, or wages. And because the richest Americans are so politically powerful, the consequences of their beliefs go far beyond philanthropy.

A major theme in the educationist narrative involves the “skills gap”—the notion that decades of wage stagnation are largely a consequence of workers not having the education and skills to fill new high-wage jobs. If we improve our public schools, the thinking goes, and we increase the percentage of students attaining higher levels of education, particularly in the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math—the skills gap will shrink, wages will rise, and income inequality will fall.

Oh, god, so all my decades teaching in so many venues, even now, PK12, are worthless since I am a journeyman, ground truther, not in some academic elite group of book writers, or in the know with these elites who are the rich and the famous and the leeches who will spin multi-billions of our hard-earned money to play with educational curriculum.

Fact is, the jobs are pure crap, the unemployment rate is higher than the economists and their followers say, the type of jobs we have in the USA are asinine and foolishly tied to hyper consumption and hyper eating and hyper entertaining and hyper disposable (not) income based.

Old Nick goes on and on about how we need to bring people out of poverty and to pay more for those Walmart and Burger King jobs. He talks about the big job growth in low-wage jobs (low wage because we do not value bedpan cleaners, home health care workers, people that pick up the trash, do the social work, aid the teachers, teach, and do the work of paving roads, building day care centers, staffing day care centers, and on and on).

Our infrastructure in the USA is D- from the civil and other engineering societies’ POVs. We have people paying 250K dollars to be a doctor or veterinarian. We have student loan debt in the $1.5 trillion category. We have students who are homeless, part-time faculty who sleep in their cars (houseless) and millions upon millions of people with degrees from college making squat. Nick thinks the schools are great, that we are turning out highly educated folk from the colleges yet, however, we have so many jobs now that demand zero college but can’t be filled to assist the billionaires making more billions.

You know, warehouse jobs, food processing, delivery, etc. A true capitalist like Nick would never ever say we need BETTER schools, PK12, where the youth get real history on the crimes of the wealthy, the crimes of capitalism, the crimes of their own country. Never give young people ways to monkey wrench the oppressive systems that capitalism naturally invents and props up and hires militaries for to keep workers down and the rich up.

Our schools are crap, and the Chromebooks and standardized curriculum and the flat earth people around the South who hold sway on what is taught and what is read, well, we are an embarrassment. The students are losing their IQs every five years, and what is done in schools is an assault of the senses, antithetical to learning, and contrary to what we need to be teaching and having youth embrace so they can have the tools and collective wisdom and force to take Mr. Nick’s billions and take his messed up ideas and put themselves in the driver’s seat.

This addictive screen society, and the meaningless content delivered on line, and the anorexic history, and the childish stuff even in college, all of that, and more, demonstrate a true skills gap.  We need a moratorium on student debt, a jubilee, and we need major moratoriums on the power of capital and their Gilded Age masters.

He’s shocked that over the past 40 years there has been such a huge gap in the wealth of middle class people and the rich. Hmm, nothing about millions in investments making exponentially more than what most Americans consider big bucks with a few thousand in the bank. Interest rates down in the toilet for the investor class. Fee after fine after levy after penalty after tax after toll after add-on after compounded interest rate, sure, try that on $50 k a year. The cost of insurance on the vehicles, all that money stolen buying a house with more scum scoopers in the Real Estate Mafia, all those municipal and county and state government agencies adding more and more onto fees to pay for the business of democracy.

Because guys like Nick sound like a liberal, sound like a benefactor of the middle class, well, they get play in the Mainstream Mass Suicide Media like a rag such as the Atlantic. But get under the skin of this guy’s article and we find a plastic world of not-very-original ideas that are so divorced from what it takes to be a teacher and a staff and a student and a parent and a citizen of the public school system.

The teachers do not cross pollinate, and to be honest, so teachers never co-teach or cover a variety of subjects as a team. I’d say 70 percent of the people I teach with should not be teachers, though that might be hard to ferret out since I believe all PK12 education should be hands on, experiential, tied to community projects, with tons of book reading, outdoor gardening, real science in the fields and heavens, raising animals, doing arts and crafts that sell to the community, building, thinking entering the community as parachutists for day care, elderly care, animal care, park care.

School should be the end all for a community, and with national health care, a decent chance at some income at 62, with safety nets built in for illness, accident, mental health breakdown, and with housing that is built by the community, and affordable beyond affordable, tied to public transportation, tied to community farms, community civics, community art and music and democracy schools, all wrapped up in a big fat bow of retooling people to think like a tribe but act like a 21st century survivor of climate catastrophe.

Imagine taking all the additives and chemicals and toxins out of food, water, air and activities of daily living for our youth, from inception to college, and we’d be saving trillions on health care and worker depression and crime and suicide.

Yes, taking technology away, sending it to the dustbin of the waste storage facilities of the nuclear age, the chemical age, the bio-toxin age.

Nick can never ever criticize the War Machine, the Fossil Energy Machine, the Pharma Machine, the AI Machine, the Legal Machine, the Real Estate Machine, the Retail Machine, the Prison Machine, the Health Care Machine, and the other Machines that keep capitalism going strong like those gas chambers we have so much read about tied to WWII.

The Age of Dumb has morphed into the Age of Stupid, into the Age of Distraction and morphed further into the Age of Passionless Existence . . .  and then into the Age of Screen . . . and then further into the Age of I Wanna Be a You Tuber Star to this juncture,  into the Age of Fascism.

Old Nick, I am sure, loves them all — Boeing, Whole Foods, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and a thousand other enterprises of the sick and famous.

Yes, we have a huge skills gap. The skills necessary to defend a community from toxins and Air B & B’s. A skills set to stop the cops murdering, and stop the school to prison pipeline. We lack the Pk12 skills to teach youth to question ALL authority, question ALL big businesses, question ALL governments, question ALL of the so-called Nicks of the world.

The entire systems created by the cancer of capitalism need to be scrapped, or chemo-therapied out of existence.

Here, John Steppling:

But…Mark Morford, a columnist for the S.F. Gate, talked to a high school teacher friend of his in Oakland….

But most of all, he simply observes his students, year to year, noting all the obvious evidence of teens’ decreasing abilities when confronted with even the most basic intellectual tasks, from understanding simple history to working through moderately complex ideas to even (in a couple recent examples that particularly distressed him) being able to define the words “agriculture,” or even “democracy.” Not a single student could do it. It gets worse. My friend cites the fact that, of the 6,000 high school students he estimates he’s taught over the span of his career, only a small fraction now make it to his grade with a functioning understanding of written English. They do not know how to form a sentence. They cannot write an intelligible paragraph.

Mark Morford, S.F. Gate, 2018

So this is not about measuring intelligence. IQ tests are, as I say, biased in dozens of ways. But I don’t think you can find a high school or university teacher who would not agree with the general decline in reading and writing skills. And I have noted, personally, a horrifying decline in curiosity. I rarely ever have found students curious enough to go look things up for themselves. The reasons for this are complex and beyond the scope of this article. (I have written about the evolution of visual processing and the creation of an ideal observer, on my blog. Jonathan Crary and Jonathan Beller both have profound books out on subjects inextricably linked to media and cognitive development, or lack thereof). The point here is that this loss of curiosity and literacy is not the result of a single simple thing. Nor is it a moral argument about values or some shit that Bill Bennett might have come up with. It is about a system of hegemonic control that has encouraged a surplus populace to a life spent on screens, distracted and stupified. And how this is tied into western capital and its insistence on social control and domination.

Yes, John brings in the “heavyweights” with their tomes and bibliographies and data-driven theses about media and cognitive slippage; however, again, the ground truthers have it, know it, say it, but we never are brought to the table to illuminate the elite and the powerhouse writers and thinkers to give them a real sense of the problem and the causation and the deeper issues tied to mental health slippage, physical deterioration, learning disabilities increasing, lower and lower bars for ethics, family ties, mentoring, love and respectfulness.

The bottom line is too few people have too much money, too much power, too much authority, too much control, too much say, too much ability to shape and reshape our communities. And just because everyone is doing it — oh, damn, that could be one of a thousand things consumer citizens and consumer workers and consumer neighbors are doing, but the bottom line is that many would be doing things so differently if we had agency and no overlords dictating every waking, sleeping, working, recreating, fornicating, eating, shitting, dying second — doesn’t mean it’s right or even what we want.

If Nick could just walk away from the Atlantic. If the Atlantic would just begin real journalism and real ground truthers writing vigorously and profanely and profoundly, each and every issue.

* The Six Planes of Higher Consciousness

1. Transcendence
2. Serene Knowledge
3. Universal Abundance
4. Your Vast Self
5. Integration
6. Creative Mind

Your journey through the stages of the heart, as it grows from the dark state to the clean, has been described in Stages of Mental/Emotional Awakening. It’s very important to keep these stages of mental/emotional awakening in mind as reliable guideposts of your voyage. However, it’s also very important to know the following levels of awareness which you will likely experience as you come home to your higher consciousness and become enabled to live in it as a new person.

Signing off with John Taylor Gatto:

First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don’t let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a preteen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there’s no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.

Opposing Charter Schools Without Really Opposing Them (Part 2)

In November 2018 I wrote a short piece titled Opposing Charter Schools Without Really Opposing Them.

In that article I highlighted some of the forms of confusion promoted by neoliberals, privatizers, and corporate school reformers to block people from concluding that nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are harmful and must be opposed.

The essence of these different forms of confusion typically takes the form of listing many damning and indicting problems with charter schools, while still managing to find a convoluted way to support them.

Here is the general formula:

  1. I know charter schools have 50 profound problems.
  2. I just spent hours researching and showing that charter schools have many problems.
  3. I know more people are rejecting charter schools and seeing them for what they really are.
  4. But I will stubbornly continue to support charter schools anyway and be comfortable with such a contradictory and incoherent position.

Refer to the 2018 article for more details and analysis.

In this article I address yet another form of confusion distorting consciousness and undermining public schools and the public interest. This form of disinformation is a slight, but significant, variation of an existing confusion. It goes something like this:

There are tons of serious problems with thousands of charter schools across the country, but some charter schools are “good” or “work,” and as long as it is “all about the kids” and “increasing test scores,” then  I don’t care if the school is a charter school, public school, or catholic school. I support any type of school as long as it is “a good fit for the kids.”

This is really nothing more than open support for privately-operated charter schools. It is dangerous and reveals a lack of analysis of charter schools. It is not deep or serious. It is another way of saying that funneling billions of public dollars a year to wealthy private interests is acceptable as long as the charter schools the wealthy elite benefit from are “a good fit for the children.” Such a view condones the parasitism, destruction, and decay of neoliberalism.

Obviously, it does matter who runs, governs, and decides education affairs in a society based on mass industrial production. It matters a lot.

Public and private mean the opposite of each other. Public and private are antonyms. Conceptual confusion flourishes and results in antisocial policies when these different categories are mixed up and used carelessly. This happens frequently.

Public refers to everyone, the whole society, the common good. Private means exclusive, not for everyone, not inclusive, not shared. The former focuses on we, while the latter focuses on me. For this and other reasons, the aims, preoccupations, outlook, drive, and agenda of public forces and private forces are not the same. Private wealthy interests and the common good are not identical; they actually contradict each other.

Charter schools are not public schools. They never have been. There is no such thing as a public charter school. Charter schools differ profoundly from public schools—legally, philosophically, organizationally, and operationally. Many courts have even ruled that charter schools are not public schools.

The key issue with privately-operated charter schools is not whether they are “a good fit for a student” or not. Nor is it about whether privately-operated charter schools raise test scores or not. High-stakes standardized tests come from the rich, not teachers, and are useless and harmful in many ways. The issue is that all charter schools—nonprofit and for-profit, virtual and brick-and-mortar—are privatized marketized education arrangements that have no legitimate and valid claim to public funds, assets, facilities, resources, or authority. Public wealth and property belong only to the public, not someone else.

In a society drowning in an overabundance of socially-produced wealth, no parent should have to roll the dice, shop for a school, cross their fingers, hope and pray the school chooses them, and then be violated and betrayed when the school performs poorly, over-punishes students, engages in fraud, and ends up closing, as so often happens in the unaccountable charter school sector.

Treating a fundamental social responsibility like education as a commodity, as a consumer good, as a free market exchange relation, is the opposite of what society and the economy need. Modern education cannot be run on the basis of consumerism, competition, social Darwinism, and Skinnerian ideology.

A fully-funded, world class, integrated, locally-controlled public school system available for free to every person in every neighborhood is a basic human right that government must provide with a guarantee in practice.

The American Dream Is Alive and Well – in China

Home ownership has been called “the quintessential American dream.” Yet today less than 65% of American homes are owner occupied, and more than 50% of the equity in those homes is owned by the banks. Compare China, where, despite facing one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world, a whopping 90% of families can afford to own their homes.

Over the last decade, American wages have stagnated and U.S. productivity has consistently been outpaced by China’s. The U.S. government has responded by engaging in a trade war and imposing stiff tariffs in order to penalize China for what the White House deems unfair trade practices. China’s industries are said to be propped up by the state and to have significantly lower labor costs, allowing them to dump cheap products on the U.S. market, causing prices to fall and forcing U.S. companies out of business. The message to middle America is that Chinese labor costs are low because their workers are being exploited in slave-like conditions at poverty-level wages.

But if that’s true, how is it that the great majority of Chinese families own homes? According to a March 2016 article in Forbes:

… 90% of families in the country own their home, giving China one of the highest home ownership rates in the world. What’s more is that 80% of these homes are owned outright, without mortgages or any other liens. On top of this, north of 20% of urban households own more than one home.

Due to their communist legacy, what Chinese buyers get for their money is not actually ownership in perpetuity but a long-term leasehold, and the quality of the construction may be poor. But the question posed here is, how can Chinese families afford the price tag for these homes, in a country where the average income is only one-seventh that in the United States?

The Misleading Disparity Between U.S. and Chinese Incomes

Some commentators explain the phenomenon by pointing to cultural differences. The Chinese are inveterate savers, with household savings rates that are more than double those in the U.S.; and they devote as much as 74%of their money to housing. Under China’s earlier one-child policy, many families had only one heir, who tended to be male; and home ownership was a requirement to score a wife. Families would therefore pool their resources to make sure their sole heir was equipped for the competition. Homes would be purchased either with large down payments or without financing at all. Financing through banks at compound interest rates doubles the cost of a typical mortgage, so sidestepping the banks cuts the cost of housing in half.

Those factors alone, however, cannot explain the difference in home ownership rates between the two countries. The average middle-class U.S. family could not afford to buy a home outright for their oldest heir even if they did pool their money. Americans would be savers if they could, but they have other bills to pay. And therein lies a major difference between Chinese and American family wealth: In China, the cost of living is significantly lower. The Chinese government subsidizes not only its industries but its families—with educational, medical and transportation subsidies.

According to a 2017 HSBC fact sheet, 70% of Chinese millennials (ages 19 to 36) already own their own homes. American young people cannot afford to buy homes because they are saddled with student debt, a millstone that now averages $37,000 per student and will be carried an average of 20 years before it is paid off. A recent survey found that 80% of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck. Another found that 60% of U.S. millennials could not come up with $500 to cover their tax bills.

In China, by contrast, student debt is virtually nonexistent. Heavy government subsidies have made higher education cheap enough that students can work their way through college with a part-time job. Health care is also subsidized by the government, with a state-run health insurance program similar to Canada’s. The program doesn’t cover everything, but medical costs are still substantially lower than in the U.S. Public transportation, too, is quite affordable in China, and it is fast, efficient and ubiquitous.

The disparity in incomes between American and Chinese workers is misleading for other reasons. The “average” income includes the very rich along with the poor; in the U.S., the gap between those two classes is greater than in China. The oversize incomes at the top pull the average up.

Even worse, however, is the disparity in debt levels, which pulls disposable income down. A survey after the 2008-09 credit crisis found that household debt in the U.S. was 136% of household income, compared with only 17% for the Chinese.

Another notable difference is that 70% of Chinese family wealth comes not from salaries but from home ownership itself. Under communism, all real property was owned by the state. When Deng Xiaoping opened the market to private ownership, families had an opportunity to get a home on reasonable terms; and as new homes were built they traded up, building the family asset base.

Deng’s market liberalization also gave families an income boost by allowing them to become entrepreneurs. New family-owned businesses sprang up, aided by affordable loans. Cheap credit from state-owned banks subsidized state-affiliated industries as well.

“Quantitative Easing With Chinese Characteristics”

All this was done with the help of China’s federal government, which in recent decades has pumped massive amounts of economic stimulus into the economy. Unlike the U.S. Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing, which went straight into big bank reserve accounts, the Chinese stimulus has generated new money for productive purposes, including local business development and infrastructure. Sometimes called “qualitative easing,” this “quantitative easing with Chinese characteristics” has meant more jobs, more GDP and more money available to spend, which in turn improves quality of life.

The Chinese government has done this without amassing a crippling federal debt or triggering runaway inflation. In the last 20 years, its M2 money supply has grown from just over 10 trillion yuan to 80 trillion yuan ($11.6T), a nearly 800% increase. Yet the inflation rate of its Consumer Price Index (CPI) has remained low. In February of this year, it was just 1.5%. In May it rose to 2.7% due to an outbreak of swine fever, which drove pork prices up; but this was a response to shortages, not to an increase in the money supply. Radically increasing the money supply has not driven consumer prices up because GDP has increased at an even faster rate. Supply and demand have risen together, keeping consumer prices low.

Real estate prices, on the other hand, have skyrocketed 325% in the last two decades, fueled by a Chinese shadow banking system that is largely beyond regulatory control. Pundits warn that China’s housing is in an unsustainable bubble that will pop, but the Chinese housing market is still more stable than the U.S. subprime market before 2008, with its “no-doc no-down” loans. Chinese buyers typically put 40 to 50% down on their homes, and the demand for houses remains high. The central bank is also taking steps to cool the market, by targeting credit so that it is steered away from real estate and other existing assets and toward newly-produced goods and services.

That central bank intervention illustrates another difference between Chinese-style qualitative easing and Western-style QE. The People’s Bank of China is not trying to improve banking sector liquidity so that banks can make more loans. Chinese economists say they don’t need that form of QE. China’s banks are already lending, and the central bank has plenty of room to manipulate interest rates and control the money supply. China’s central bank is directing credit into the local economy because it doesn’t trust the private financial market to allocate credit where local markets need it. True to its name, the People’s Bank of China seems actually to be a people’s bank, geared to serving the economy and the public rather than just the banks themselves.

Time for More QE?

 In early April, President Trump said in one of his many criticisms of the U.S.  central bank that he thought the Fed should be doing more quantitative easing (expanding the money supply) rather than quantitative tightening (shrinking the money supply). Commentators were left scratching their heads, because the official U.S. unemployment rate is considered to be low. But more QE could be a good idea if it were done as Chinese-style qualitative easing. A form of monetary expansion that would allow Congress to relieve medical and educational costs, grant cheap credit to states to upgrade their roads and mass transit, and support local businesses could go a long way toward making American workers competitive with Chinese workers.

Unlike the U.S. government, the Chinese government supports its workers and its industries. Rather than penalizing China for that “unfair” trade practice, perhaps the U.S. government should try doing the same. China’s legacy is socialist, and after opening to international trade it has continued to serve the collective good, particularly of its workers. Meanwhile, the U.S. model has been regressing into feudalism, with workers driven into slave-like conditions through debt. In the 21st century, it is time to upgrade our economic model from one of feudal exploitation to a cooperative democracy that recognizes the needs, contributions and inalienable rights of all participants.

• Article was first published on Truthdig.org.

Imperialism and the Stupid Show

During the Cold War, and especially in the wake of the Chinese Revolution, it was commonly thought by US planners that too many Third World “mouths to feed” would inevitably create conditions hospitable to Communism. The fall of the USSR failed to alleviate such fears but instead transferred them to a new set of adversaries: popular resistance groups primarily located in the Middle East and typically designated with the catch-all term “terrorists.” Thus the 1986 report of the US Vice President’s Task Force on Combatting Terrorism warned that “population pressures create a volatile mixture of youthful aspirations that when coupled with economic and political frustrations help form a large pool of potential terrorists.
Public Report 1986: Jacob Levich (Global Health and U.S. Imperialism, 2019)

But also the real government policy of population control, whether that be sterilization, genocide or anything within the military-industrial complex. Who is targeted? The poor and brown, always.
— Nick Pemberton, “Mom and Pop-ulation”, Counterpunch 2019

…the export of capital, one of the most essential economic bases of imperialism … sets the seal of parasitism on the whole country that lives by exploiting the labor of several overseas countries and colonies.
— Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, January 18, 2015

There is a political consequence to injecting a pessimistic world view (as David Harvey put it) into a hierarchically structured capitalist system, one based on racial and class lines and in which it is a given that the goal is a preservation of capitalism. That consequence is, as yet, unclear. What is clear is that the proprietor class, the owners of Western capital, are terrified by the spectre of environmental instability — but they also view it in that way that they view everything, as a business opportunity.

There is also today a crisis in education. And it is intimately related to the environmental crises. Informally I have spoken to educators in Norway, where I live, and they are both frightened and appalled at the loss of cognitive skills, the erosion in writing and even speech, in students at the high school and college level. Students, they say, cannot understand even simple verbal instructions. They cannot concentrate for very long and are easily distracted. And they can barely read.

When scientists from the Norway’s Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research analyzed some 730,000 IQ tests given to Norwegian men before their compulsory military service from 1970 to 2009, they found that average IQ scores were actually sinking. And not just by some miniscule amount. Each generation of Norwegian men appear to be getting around seven IQ points dumber.
— Jessica Stillman, Inc. 2018

This is referred to as the reversing of the Flynn affect.

Of course, one of the first responses was linked to the racist neo-colonial logic of eugenics…

More recently, some observers have suggested that average IQs are coming down because of dysgenic fertility—that is, because less intelligent people are having more children than smarter folks—or because of lower-IQ immigrants and their children.
— Ronald Bailey, Reason, 2018

Now, the very idea of quantifying intelligence is itself a legacy of the positivist instrumental logic of western capital. It is also, almost certainly, acutely racist and classist. But…Mark Morford, a columnist for the S.F. Gate, talked to a high school teacher friend of his in Oakland….

But most of all, he simply observes his students, year to year, noting all the obvious evidence of teens’ decreasing abilities when confronted with even the most basic intellectual tasks, from understanding simple history to working through moderately complex ideas to even (in a couple recent examples that particularly distressed him) being able to define the words “agriculture,” or even “democracy.” Not a single student could do it. It gets worse. My friend cites the fact that, of the 6,000 high school students he estimates he’s taught over the span of his career, only a small fraction now make it to his grade with a functioning understanding of written English. They do not know how to form a sentence. They cannot write an intelligible paragraph.
— Mark Morford, S.F. Gate, 2018

So this is not about measuring intelligence. IQ tests are, as I say, biased in dozens of ways. But I don’t think you can find a high school or university teacher who would not agree with the general decline in reading and writing skills. And I have noted, personally, a horrifying decline in curiosity. I rarely ever have found students curious enough to go look things up for themselves. The reasons for this are complex and beyond the scope of this article. (I have written about the evolution of visual processing and the creation of an ideal observer, on my blog. Jonathan Crary and Jonathan Beller both have profound books out on subjects inextricably linked to media and cognitive development, or lack thereof). The point here is that this loss of curiosity and literacy is not the result of a single simple thing. Nor is it a moral argument about values or some shit that Bill Bennett might have come up with. It is about a system of hegemonic control that has encouraged a surplus populace to a life spent on screens, distracted and stupified. And how this is tied into western capital and its insistence on social control and domination.

There can be no question that the existing social order perceived itself to be under some kind of threat in the late 1960s (particularly in France and the US, and now in Britain). Was it accidental that the environmentalist argument emerged so strongly in 1968 at the crest of campus disturbances? And what was the effect of replacing Marcuse by Ehrlich as campus hero?
— David Harvey, Spaces of capital: towards a critical geography, 2001

There is another closely linked topic here, and that is the manner in which western capital and its various institutions, both governmental and not, are penetrating into all areas of life globally.

Jacob Levich, begins his invaluable article this way…

Interventions in the field of public health are a significant form of “soft power” by which imperialism extracts profits from the world’s poorest billions US involvement in the health field is intended, inter alia, to help ensure efficient use of low-cost labor in transnational production chains; to support and rationalize military interventions; to create and exploit worldwide markets for health-care products, especially pharmaceuticals; and broadly to consolidate control over the lives and bodies of Global South people.

This is the world of NGOs, government initiatives, charitable and religious organizations, and pan-national corporations — all of which form what Levich calls *Global Health Imperialism*.

The biggest of these is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Overarching health-care planning, policies, and programs for the people of poor countries are determined by the experts and financiers of wealthy countries.
— Levich

It is useful to watch this half hour video by Dutch journalists on the practices (and ideology) of the World Wildlife Fund.

It speaks to the staggering racism and orientalism of western NGOs, and most disturbingly those who are provided cover by claiming to be Green.

Now, the desire for global hegemony is what fuels the U.S. foreign policy agenda. The U.S. continues (and, really, escalates) its support for the insane young crown prince of Saudi Arabia (Mohammed Bin Salman) as well as its continuing support and subsidizing of Israel. The failed coup in Venezuela has not deterred the U.S. establishment in the least. And to segue back to eroding cognitive skills the latest polls out indicate Americans view Maduro as a dictator and Assange as a criminal deserving of severe punishment. Americans are quite possibly the most indoctrinated populace in the history of the world. How much of this is to be laid at the feet of electronic media, of screen life overall, is hard to say, but I would tend toward believing quite a lot.

Television was only the first of a category of apparatuses with which we are currently surrounded that are most often used out of powerful habitual patterning involving a diffuse attentiveness and a semi-automatism. In this sense, they are part of larger strategies of power in which the aim is not mass-deception, but rather states of neutralization and inactivation, in which one is dispossessed of time.
— Jonathan Crary, 24/7

It is worth digressing just a moment here to note Crary’s insightful take on the work of Philip K. Dick, and how Hollywood predictably inverted the meaning of his books. The popularity of the film version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (made by Ridley Scott as Blade Runner) belies the reactionary core of the film version. Here is Crary…

But the refusal to capitulate to the laws of a thing-like existence in Do Androids Dream? gives way to something very different in its film adaptation. The novel’s account of the unremitting and petty ruin of individual experience is turned into a world-weary celebration of the petrification and “malign abstractness” from which Dick recoiled. Appearing during the early Reagan-Thatcher years, Blade Runner is an outline of a reconfigured relationship to an emerging global consumer culture that would be more securely in place by the 1990s. Rather than tracking any kind of split between the self and this milieu, the film affirms a functional assimilation of the individual into the circuitry and workings of an expanded field of commodification. It makes emotionally credible the bleak threshold at which the technological products of corporations become the object of our desires, our hopes. The film visualized the de-differentiated spaces in which machines and humans were interchangeable, in which distinctions between living and inanimate, between human memories and fabricated memory implants, cease to be meaningful.

I mention this because this is perhaps a small example (though perhaps not) but it is one in a nearly infinite number of examples in which the establishment (Hollywood in this case) absorb and repurpose radical material, neutralize dissent, and turn into its opposite. How many times did the average American hear that Maduro was a dictator? A thousand? Ten thousand? The list of U.S. enemies is routinely demonized in Hollywood product. Find me a single show in which the Cuban revolution is praised? A single show that mentions the U.S. air force total destruction of North Korea in the 1950s. One example in which Ho Chi Minh is portrayed as heroic, or even as a legitimate leader of resistance to an invading army. You cannot. But you find hundreds of examples of Serbian villains or Russian gangsters, or assassins sent by Chavez or the Sandanistas. Nowhere is the real history of Haiti portrayed, or the story of United Fruit and central America. These small deceptions and revisionist mini-histories are cumulatively the history of the world known by most Americans. And we have not even touched on the history of slavery in the United States and how it is cleansed by western media.

But Ivy spilled out a rush of very different words. “They sold slaves here and everywhere. I’ve seen droves of Negroes brought in here on foot going South to be sold. Each one of them had an old tow sack on his back with everything he’s got in it. Over the hills they came in lines reaching as far as the eye can see. They walked in double lines chained together by twos. They walk ‘em here to the railroad and shipped ’em south like cattle.” Then Lorenzo Ivy said this: “Truly, son, the half has never been told.” To this, day, it still has not. For the other half is the story of how slavery changed and moved and grew over time: Lorenzo Ivy’s time, and that of his parents and grandparents. In the span of a single lifetime after the 1780s, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out plantations to a subcontinental empire. Entrepreneurial enslavers moved more than 1 million enslaved people, by force, from the communities that survivors of the slave trade from Africa had built in the South and in the West to vast territories that were seized—also by force—from their Native American inhabitants. From 1783 at the end of the American Revolution to 1861, the number of slaves in the United States increased five times over, and all this expansion produced a powerful nation. For white enslavers were able to force enslaved African-American migrants to pick cotton faster and more efficiently than free people. Their practices rapidly transformed the southern states into the dominant force in the global cotton market, and cotton was the world’s most widely traded commodity at the time, as it was the key raw material during the first century of the industrial revolution. The returns from cotton monopoly powered the modernization of the rest of the American economy, and by the time of the Civil War, the United States had become the second nation to undergo large-scale industrialization. In fact, slavery’s expansion shaped every crucial aspect of the economy and politics of the new nation.
— Edward Baptist, The Half has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, September 9, 2014

The real problem for western capital, for those espousing green awareness and those injecting the new green pessimism, is that technology cannot cure the problems of technology’s waste. Nor the likely damage to young brains in their developmental phase. Capitalism cannot self correct for then it would not be capitalism. Pessimism, like cynicism, is a cliched form of conformity (per Adorno). The crises of capitalism is also yielding (semi intentionally) the acute rise of a new global fascism. And the western imperialist powers rely even more heavily on militarist solutions.

Maritime transport systems are also integrated into the tail end of the life cycle of digital media. The European Environment Agency “estimates between 250,000 tonnes and 1.3m tonnes of used electrical products are shipped out of the EU every year, mostly to west Africa and Asia,” with Interpol stating that one in three inspected containers leaving European ports contained illegal e-waste (Vidal) ( ) is suggests, once again, that technological solutions for technological problems may not be any more sustainable than the problems they set out to solve. It is worth reiterating that the major function of container fleets and land transport is not business-to-consumer but business-to-business delivery, including legal and illegal shipments to legal and illegal recycling zones, and consequently that consumer power has little chance of impacting industry practice.
— Sean Cubitt, Finite Media

In the United States, about 400 million units of consumer electronics are discarded every year. Electronic waste, like obsolete cellular telephones, computers, monitors, and televisions, composes the fastest growing and most toxic portion of waste in American society. As a result of rapid technological change, low initial cost, and planned obsolescence, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that two-thirds of all discarded consumer electronics still work—approximately 250 million functioning computers, televisions, VCRs, and cell phones are discarded each year in the United States. Digital culture is embedded in a large pile of network wires, lines, routers, switches, and other very material things that, as Jonathan Sterne acutely and bluntly states, “will be trashed.” Far from being accidental, discarding and obsolescence are in fact internal to contemporary media technologies. As Sterne argues, the logic of new media does not only mean the replacement of old media by new media but that digital culture is loaded with the assumption and expectation of a short-term forthcoming obsolescence. There is always a better laptop or mobile phone on the horizon: new media always become old.
— Jussi Parikka, Digital Mediations

The western affluent class is faced with the reality that they consume the most. And to change that would mean changing a system of narcissistic individualism and privilege. A system of private property. Planned obsolescence is the logic of capitalism. Designed to fail the day after the warranty expires. Crary argues, and I think he is mostly right, that social upheavals of the sixties were followed by thirty some years of counter revolutionary practice enforced by the ruling class. As Crary writes:

Beginning in the 1980s and continuing since, these events of the 1960s and their participants have been ferociously converted into hollow caricatures, into objects of ridicule, demonization, and trivialization.But the extensiveness and malevolence of the historical falsifications are an index of the danger levels the culture of the 1960s posed, even in its afterlife.

Today this ideological revanchism is clothed in green pseudo science and prey to capital’s marketing arm. I have read elaborate mathematical analysis of climatic warming and populations and consumption of petroleum, without a single word about class. Suddenly it’s all just generic *people*, as if Kazakh sheep herders were the same as Hong Kong bankers and hedge fund managers or European aristocracy. Where Berber nomads are lumped together with jet setting millionaires and their private jets. I expect this level of stupid from the Wall Street Journal but not from alternative media.

There are a few rather obvious things to be said here about globalization, too, and Imperialism, for they tie into the marketing of Green product under Capitalism, and into the ever dumber class of western youth.

Not only did Cuba’s Communist leadership avail themselves of every opportunity to denounce imperialist exploitation and arouse workers, farmers, and youth to rise up in revolt against it, they also fought hard for trade with the Soviet Union and other Comecon countries to fundamentally break from the exploitative pattern of trade between rich and poor countries. Indeed, the only example of fair trade between industrialized and developing nations in the modern world is to be found in the economic relations developed between Cuba and the USSR until the latter’s collapse in 1991.
— John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, January 22, 2016

The new pessimism coming from liberal and pseudo leftist writers is pure narcissism. There is a global crises of capitalism and it is built on the super exploitation of the global south. Running alongside this are critical problems of pollution, industrial waste, and global warming. The impact from the latter is still unclear partly because so much of its reportage is from sources devoid of any class analysis or marxist education. In other words most science writing is western-based and couched in the delusions of liberalism. The institutional corruption one sees in nearly all western based NGOs (think Amnesty International as the prime example) is structurally the cause of so much suspect science-ism, which mimics the Hollywood world of computer geniuses and Marvell Comics super heroes, and Mad Max landscapes. One can know the climate problem is deadly serious, but still evidence credulity about pop-explanations and all the new grammar associated with it (wet bulb, carrying capacity, etc).

Although the global crisis first manifested in the sphere of finance and banking, what’s now engulfing the world is far more than a financial crisis. It is the inevitable and now unpostponable outcome of the contradictions of capitalist production itself. In just three decades, capitalist production and its inherent contradictions have been utterly transformed by the vast global shift of production to low-wage countries, with the result that profits, prosperity, and social peace in imperialist countries have become qualitatively more dependent upon the proceeds of super-exploitation of living labor in countries like Vietnam, Mexico, Bangladesh, and China. It follows that this is not just a financial crisis, and it is not just another crisis of capitalism. It is a crisis of imperialism.
— John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, January 22, 2016

The effects of screen damage, or screen addiction, are acute. The extent and nature of this damage is yet to be determined, I don’t think, but clearly we are into probably the third generation now of cognitively mutilated children and youth. And it is hard, and I am speaking of the West and perhaps primarily the U.S., not to analyse much of this as resulting from a pathological narcissistic state.

Social effectiveness is equated by liberals with economic efficiency which, in turn, is confounded with the financial profitability of capital. These reductions express the dominance of the economic, a dominance characteristic of capitalism. The atrophied social thought derived from this dominance is “economistic” in the extreme. Curiously, this reproach, wrongly directed at Marxism, in fact characterizes capitalist liberalism. (  ) Economics and politics do not form two dimensions of social reality, each having their own autonomy, operating in a dialectical relationship; capitalist economics in fact governs the political, whose creative potential it eliminates.
— Samir Amin, The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World, 2004

And this narcissism overlaps with the idea of ‘American Exceptionalism’. An exceptionalism that is, in fact, the legacy of Puritanism and Protestant morality that helped shape the American consciousness and has abetted the ruling class in its designs for social domination. Donald Pease posits the siege at WACO and the Oklahoma City bombing as the twin poles of the ‘apocalyptic state fantasy of American exceptionalism’; a kind of regeneration through violence (as Richard Slotkin put it) …a violence that was set against a kitsch frontier landscape, the sort that white America seems to endlessly desire and consume. But then…

The events that took place on September 11, 2001, supplied the state with a traumatizing event out of which it constructed a spectacle that accomplished several interrelated aims. September 11 supplied a conclusive ending to the cold war even as it permitted the state to inaugurate an utterly different social configuration. The description of the site of the attack on the World Trade Center as “Ground Zero” supplied this scene with a representation that the bombing of Hiroshima had installed in the national psyche as one of the terrifying images with which to imagine the conclusion of the cold war. The Shock and Awe campaign with which the Bush administration inaugurated its response to these attacks became the first event in a total war—the Global War on Terror—whose powers of governance surpassed even the reach of the cold war.
— Donald Pease, The New American Exceptionalism, October 30, 2009

And the nearly hysterical insistence that “socialism failed”, the Reagan outspent the Soviets trope, or that somehow everyone in the world hated communism and it was an evil empire! In fact, the super exploited global south remains steadfastly loyal to the memory of communism and the Soviet support for African and Latin American independence.

Bourgeois economics mirrors the unreality one sees in much lay science writing, the same conformist consensus about expertise overrides even basic logic.

Economics thus becomes a discourse which is no longer engaged in knowing reality; its function is no more than to legitimize capitalism by attributing to it intrinsic qualities which it cannot have. Pure economics becomes the theory of an imaginary world. The dominant forces are such because they succeed in imposing their language on their victims. The “experts” of conventional economics have managed to make believe that their analyses and the conclusions drawn from them are imperative because they are “scientific,” hence objective, neutral and unavoidable.  This is not true.
— Samir Amin, The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World, 2004

The counter-revolutionary movement employed, from the start, an ultra nationalistic rhetoric and symbology. As Donald Pease put it…“And after 9/11, the national myths that had undergone wholesale debunking in the post-Vietnam era underwent remarkable regeneration.”

The assault on civil liberties was launched by Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. This was a national emergency, a national trauma. Today the emergency is global and being used and taken advantage of by the same ownership class and the same marketing teams at Madison Avenue and the State Department. The enemy is everyone now, not just Arab terrorists. People are going to soon (and already are) being asked to sacrifice (themselves even) for the global good. But, of course, as in the aftermath of 9/11, when Bush emphasized our *ownership society* (as opposed to the godless socialists or Islam who refuse to sufficiently worship owning stuff) he was encouraging Americans to see themselves as special (well, white Americans anyway). The once prosperous middle class, though, the wage earners, both white and blue collar and who made up close to 60% of the population were plunged into precarity, poverty and downward mobility. And this via real estate manipulations and a kind of social engineering.

One wonders at how quickly the public seemed to forget the photographs from Abu Ghraib. The brutalizing of the helpless, of the ‘Other’, began the normalizing (or returned to the normalizing) of a hatred of the poor and vulnerable. Today the constant news stream of police brutality against (mostly) the black population re-enacts, on one level anyway, the theatre of cruelty that was Abu Ghraib. But the emergency of the environmental crises has made these near unconscious associations ambivalent. The threat to the planet is just *people*, too many people, not global capital and western imperialism. So the narcissism of the bourgeoisie becomes self loathing simultaneously. There is a fair ration of guilt manipulation going on here, too, and the attendant projections of that (and the U.S. was already and always had been a culture of shaming and stigmatizing). But self-stigmatizing is a hugely complicated mental process. And, again, one runs into the cognitive deteriorization of much of the populace. Suicide rates increase, anti-depressant use increases, and polls suggest vast numbers of people in the so called advanced west suffer acute loneliness and generalized anxiety.

The indigenous bourgeoisies have lost all capacity to oppose imperialism—if they ever had any… There are no other alternatives. Either a socialist revolution or a caricature of a revolution.
— Che Guevara, Writings of Che Guevara {quoted by John Smith)

Trying to find the reality behind the unreality of this moment is nearly impossible. And it is why I consider the first step toward a genuine future, a possible future, is a commitment to a platform of anti-war and anti-imperialism. From there one can begin to chip away at the massive nearly ubiquitous assault of corporate media and the promotions of capital. I saw an article in VICE (an outlet worth over a billion dollars now and owned in significant measure by FOX) about the planet’s coming extinction. There were glossy photos, too, of arid salt beds and a bright sun. This is marketing.

Now, tweezing apart the implications of that marketing, and even its target demographic, is not easy. But it’s safe to say that somehow the super exploited global south should expect more misery.

Imperialism never did dissolve into abstract notions of ‘globalization’ or ‘empire’, or fantasies involving ‘multitudes’, a ‘global village’, ‘the age of access,’ and so on. Rather the term neo-imperialism captures for us the new features it acquired in the 1980s and 1990s with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Washington Consensus and the end of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc. As we have seen, democratization in Latin America signaled the end neither of imperialism as a geopolitical and economic system of global domination, nor Brazilian sub-imperialism, nor the authoritarian neoliberal regimes common in Mexico and elsewhere. Instead it served to restructure them in the post-Cold War period, providing new foundations and characteristics.
— Adrián Sotelo Valencia, Sub Imperialism: Dependency Theory in the Thought of Ruy Mauro Marini, July 17, 2018

Ultra-imperialism of the kind now favoured in Europe has, however, its own negative connotations and consequences. If Robert Cooper, a Blair adviser, is to be believed,it favours the resurrection of nineteenth-century distinctions between civilized, barbarian, and savage states in the guise of postmodern, modern, and premodern states, with the postmoderns, as guardians of civilized collaborative behaviour, expected to induce by direct or indirect means obeisance to universal (read ‘Western’ and ‘bourgeois’) norms, and humanistic (read ‘capitalistic’) practices across the globe.
— David Harvey, The New Imperialism, 2004

Change can only come from recognizing the US as imperialism’s center. The U.S. exerts military coercion, from Iraq to Afghanistan and now Yemen, as well as via Venezuela style coup attempts. It has built a string of military bases, most of them at least semi permanent, across the planet and yet rarely do I hear critics ask why? What is being enforced here? What is being protected? The answer is super exploitation and at the same time a monitoring of any communist ghosts or radical dissenters. Marcuse was right about token resistance. This is the era of Bana and now Greta; it is the digital age of internet marketing, a tool even for ISIS. And the age of an American populace searching for environmental solutions at the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream section of the supermarket. Or at the Prius dealership. There are no capitalist solutions. Full stop. Indulging this stuff is an absolute waste of time. The Green New Deal et al…waste of time. The environmental crises is real but obscured by western media, not clarified. Education is critically important, and stopping the extreme privilege of the elite class. Equality is the real green.