From the NY Times today:
Eric T. Schneiderman, the top prosecutor in New York, was removed on Tuesday from a committee of state attorneys general investigating mortgage abuses.
In recent months, Mr. Schneiderman has voiced concerns over a proposed settlement between major banks and a coalition of federal and state officials over claims of foreclosure abuses. He has come under increasing pressure to approve the deal.
The Iowa attorney general’s office is leading the investigation and on Tuesday sent an e-mail to other lawyers involved in the investigation to announce the decision. “Effective immediately, the New York attorney general’s office has been removed from the executive committee of the robosigning multistate,” a lawyer from the Iowa office wrote, using the shorthand for the investigation, which is looking into so-called robo-signing of mortgage documents and other abuses.
Mr. Schneiderman has said that he opposes any deal that gives participating banks a release from other litigation surrounding their mortgage activities. Attorneys general from other states have also questioned aspects of the deal, including Beau Biden of Delaware.
You might think this is no big deal until you come across this article, as I did the other day, also from the NY Times:
Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, has come under increasing pressure from the Obama administration to drop his opposition to a wide-ranging state settlement with banks over dubious foreclosure practices, according to people briefed on discussions about the deal.
Eric T. Schneiderman has objected to elements of the settlement for months.
In recent weeks, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and high-level Justice Department officials have been waging an intensifying campaign to try to persuade the attorney general to support the settlement, said the people briefed on the talks.
Mr. Schneiderman and top prosecutors in some other states have objected to the proposed settlement with major banks, saying it would restrict their ability to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing in a variety of areas, including the bundling of loans in mortgage securities.
But Mr. Donovan and others in the administration have been contacting not only Mr. Schneiderman but his allies, including consumer groups and advocates for borrowers, seeking help to secure the attorney general’s participation in the deal, these people said. One recipient described the calls from Mr. Donovan, but asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.
Followed by this bit, same article:
Not surprising, the large banks, which are eager to reach a settlement, have grown increasingly frustrated with Mr. Schneiderman. Bank officials recently discussed asking Mr. Donovan for help in changing the attorney general’s mind, according to a person briefed on those talks.
In an interview on Friday, Mr. Donovan defended his discussions with the attorney general, saying they were motivated by a desire to speed up help for troubled homeowners. But he said he had not spoken to bank officials or their representatives about trying to persuade Mr. Schneiderman to get on board with the deal.
“Eric and I agree on a tremendous amount here,” Mr. Donovan said. “The disagreement is around whether we should wait to settle and resolve the issues around the servicing practices for him — and potentially other A.G.’s and other federal agencies — to complete investigations on the securitization side. He might argue that he has more leverage that way, but our view is we have the immediate opportunity to help a huge number of borrowers to stay in their homes, to help their neighborhoods and the housing market.”
Notice the rhetoric: we’re not bailing out banks and letting them escape punishment for their criminal actions, we’re helping homeowners. Meanwhile, homeowners could be helped many other ways besides letting their tormentors avoid jail time. And notice how Mr. Donovan appears reasonable, can’t we all get along, as the crooks escape jail behind him, with his knowledge and approval.
Clearly the fix is in. The Obama Administration is trying to get a settlement deal happen in these cases where banks and other mortgage lenders knowingly engaged in fraud. People like the NY Attorney General who want to actually investigate these cases, and hold banks legally accountable, they’re facing pressure from the Administration and, it appears, are being kicked off a key board in retaliation for not playing along.
While some of this is politics as usual, in any era, it’s disheartening to see the Obama Administration play this game for the benefit of Wall Street. It suggests they’re as much thieves as the people who actually committed these crimes. It also suggests the Administration is not interested to create real programs to help homeowners.
UPDATE: Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone has all the gory details of what is going on and what is at stake, Obama Goes All Out For Dirty Banker Deal:
The banks are going to claim that all they’re guilty of is bad paperwork. But while the banks are indeed being investigated for “paperwork” offenses like mass tax evasion (by failing to pay fees associated with mortgage registrations and deed transfers) and mass perjury (a la the “robo-signing” practices), their real crime, the one Schneiderman is interested in, is even more serious.
The issue goes beyond fraudulent paperwork to an intentional, far-reaching theft scheme designed to take junk subprime loans and disguise them as AAA-rated investments. The banks lent money to corrupt companies like Countrywide, who made masses of bad loans and immediately sold them back to the banks.
The banks in turn hid the crappiness of these loans via certain poorly-understood nuances in the securitization process – this is almost certainly where Scheniderman’s investigators are doing their digging – before hawking the resultant securities as AAA-rated gold to fools in places like the Florida state pension fund.
They did this for years, systematically, working hand in hand in a wink-nudge arrangement with clearly criminal enterprises like Countrywide and New Century. The victims were millions of investors worldwide (like the pensioners who saw their funds drop in value) and hundreds of thousands of individual homeowners, who were often sold trick loans and hustled into foreclosure when unexpected rate hikes kicked in.
It truly is disgusting Obama and his Administration are so clearly for sale to the highest bidder. Never mind taxpayers fund their salaries. Let’s hope they all go to jail.
From Maureen Tkacik at Reuters:
Even the Tea Partiers who claim to be broke don’t apparently mean that literally; after reporting personal assets worth zero dollars, Tennessee’s Stephen Fincher made headlines for having received $3.34 million in federal agriculture subsidies in recent years; eventually he amended the form to include his cotton farm as an asset, estimating its value at $500,000. (South Dakota’s Kristi Noem has also collected more than $3 million in farm subsidies over the past decade, but her form only lists five assets worth somewhere between $33,000 and $145,000.)
It’s not hard to guess what these people see in Tea Party politics. Here is a movement united around an unfailing support of tax cuts for people like them, at a time in which poll after poll (23 polls, by one count) reveals the American electorate to be united by unprecedentedly broad-based support for doing the opposite. But there also more specific interests at play: the wealthier freshmen generally made their livelihoods in one of three economic sectors—health care/insurance, real estate and energy—whose profit margins not too long ago appeared particularly vulnerable to Obama’s policy goals.
Great opinion piece calling bullshit on the Tea Party as angry poor and middle class white people. They may be the foot soldiers but the Tea Party politicians (and the financial backers) are rich, rich, rich. And they clearly benefit from pushing austerity policies.
Which puts Obama and the Democratic leadership on the spot: they can’t claim supporting Tea Party goals is what most Americans want or benefit from. You’re either for the status quo and the wealthiest or you are for helping the people who are suffering from the status quo.
Today on the train, looking over people’s shoulders to read the headlines from the NY Post, Daily News, Times, and Wall Street Journal, many of them had the same slug for Obama’s speech yesterday (text here) — “We’re a Triple-A Country” — but then noted the market dropped even further after the speech. As if Obama had failed, which indeed he did, in my view, as we’ll see.
The speech yesterday reminded me of another speech, Jimmy Carter’s “malaise speech” which also was mocked afterwards as a sign that Carter was clueless. And that Reagan ran all over Carter in the 1980 election in part because Carter was being Carter, too touchy feely and emotional when the country wanted a robust response to the energy crisis of the late 1970s. So I looked up both speeches and found some rather unexpected differences. Read the rest of this entry »
Perhaps you are like me and, upon hearing last night or this morning that Wall Street had taken a dive, dropping 512 points, losing two trillion in market value globally, perhaps you thought, so what? Where is the surprise?
Of course the US and global economy suck. Of course businesses are raking in piles of cash while working their employees harder and refusing to hire. Of course politicians refuse to do what got us out of the Depression and insist on doing what caused then prolonged the Depression. Of course consumers can’t spend: there’s almost 30 million unemployed and barely employed (part time and looking for a job) workers, not to mention about half of homeowners have mortgages underwater. Who would hire in this climate? Who would spend beyond the necessities?
This is news?
The real story is that there is so much money fleeing traditional markets that Bank of New York Mellon has started to charge large depositors for parking cash with their bank. And Treasury bond yields dropped dramatically, down to 0.08% return. People are giving their money to the near bankrupt, corrupt, and politically clueless US government in exchange for bonds and near zero return.
Digging deeper, perhaps the real story is that the Masters of the Universe on Wall Street are clueless. Nope, wrong word. They are dumb. Apparently they would not know something was in their own best interest if it bit them in the ass.
Indeed, we should play a game, Who is the Most Clueless? On the flip … Read the rest of this entry »
From the NY Times:
No matter how the immediate issue is resolved, Mr. Obama, in his failed effort for greater deficit reduction, has put on the table far more in reductions for future years’ spending, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, than he did in new revenue from the wealthy and corporations. He proposed fewer cuts in military spending and more in health care than a bipartisan Senate group that includes one of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans.
To win approval of the essential increase in the nation’s $14.3 trillion borrowing ceiling, Mr. Obama sought more in deficit reduction than Republicans did, and with fewer changes to the entitlement programs, because he was willing to raise additional revenue starting in 2013 and they were not. And despite unemployment lingering at its highest level in decades, Mr. Obama has not fought this year for a big jobs program with billions of dollars for public-works projects, which liberals in his party have clamored for. Instead, he wants to extend a temporary payroll tax cut for everyone, since Republicans will support tax cuts, despite studies showing that spending programs are generally the more effective stimulus.
(my emphasis) Notice the disconnect? Cuts in the payroll tax that fund Social Security are cuts to Social Security. Yet the Times reporter and their editor are so into boilerplate reporting they completely ignore what is in their reporting. They pretend, instead, that you can cut payroll taxes indefinitely and magically Social Security will continue to be funded at “normal” levels (actually, normal is what the Europeans pay, around 80% of pre-retirement income, while the US pays around 40-60%).
Then there’s this telling bit:
In his budget proposal in January, Mr. Obama declined to suggest a plan along the lines proposed by a majority of his bipartisan fiscal commission, which in December recommended $4 trillion in savings over 10 years through cuts in military and domestic programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, and a tax code overhaul to lower rates while also raising more revenue.
Even though Mr. Obama was widely criticized, administration officials said at the time that to have embraced that approach then would have put him too far to the right — where he ultimately wanted to end up in any compromise with Republicans, not where he wanted to start.
But by this month, in ultimately unsuccessful talks with Speaker John A. Boehner, Mr. Obama tentatively agreed to a plan that was farther to the right than that of the majority of the fiscal commission and a bipartisan group of senators, the so-called Gang of Six. It also included a slow rise in the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65, and, after 2015, a change in the formula for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments long sought by economists.
“He’s accommodated himself to the new reality in Washington,” said Tom Davis, a former House Republican leader from Virginia. “That’s what leaders do.”
But Congressional Democrats and liberal groups objected.
First, “long sought by economists”? Which economists? Right wing economists, surely, if it is true these COLA adjustments decrease the payout people receive in retirement. More lazy reporting from the Times to not name names of economists and/or indicate their ideology. And remember, people pay into Social Security. It’s a separate program from the federal budget. Paying out less is a form of theft completely unrelated to the larger issue of the federal debt. Paying out less is a right wing wet dream. It’s not morally fair or economically sensible (you don’t want half dead seniors littering the sidewalk, begging for food).
Bernie Sanders is still correct: the pundits, the lobbyists, the politicians, they have zero clue as to the impact of the programs they propose. The wealthiest who pay their lobbyists and offer jobs to politicians, they know: pressure to increase their taxes will go down if the government spends less. Even if it means hundreds of thousands of more layoffs and more economic misery for all Americans. The Times should call these details out. This is not a horse race: it is life or death for many Americans. And for many others, it is the difference between economic security and insecurity, a job or no job.
As for this article, the journalist has not been paying attention to who has benefitted from Obama’s policies to date. They are traditional Republican constituencies: Wall Street, Big Business, and the wealthy. This is not a rightward tilt, or edging to the right. This is a Republican President calling himself a Democrat because the Democratic party is captive of the same forces that have captured the Republican party, and the media.
This is why I love Alan Grayson, his rhetorical skills:
Because Washington is now divided between the “Meanies” and the “Weenies.” That’s the real two-party system today in Washington, the Meanies and the Weenies. The Meanies want to take Social Security and Medicare away from Grandma and Grandpa, and the Weenies are quite willing to go along with it and “compromise.” Well, people need Social Security and Medicare to live. And there is no compromise between life and death. There is no middle ground. The average person who retires in America today has less than $50,000 in savings. That’s good for one, maybe two years. And those people live for close to 20. There is no way anybody in America can get by without Social Security and Medicare, and that’s what the right wing in America wants to take away. I say, “No. No compromise.” We need to strengthen Social Security and Medicare. I want to see Medicare cover dental work. I want to see Medicare cover hearing aids. I want to see Medicare cover actual medical needs.
Here’s the video:
A smart mouthy guy like Grayson is a huge asset for more delicate politicians in the Democratic party. He can plow ground, get people excited, get the opponents pissed off, and set the terms of the debate. If only Reid, Pelosi, and Obama knew how to use the climate Grayson has created and can create. Or wanted to use Grayson’s gifts. At this point, I believe Obama and Reid, in particular, suck because they want to suck. They’re Republicans to their core. They believe the status quo only needs a few tweaks. They are able to look past all the human and economic carnage of the past three decades.
From the New York Times:
In a move that pleased labor unions, the National Labor Relations Board proposed new rules on Tuesday to speed up unionization elections.
The labor board wants to tighten the process by ensuring that employers, employees and unions receive needed information sooner and by delaying litigation over many voter-eligibility issues until after workers vote on whether to unionize
And this interesting factoid:
The board’s most recent annual report says 1,619 unionization elections were held in fiscal year 2009, with unions winning 63.8 percent of them. Business groups say such a high winning percentage refutes labor’s claims that the process is unfair. But union officials assert that if the election process were not so skewed and unfair, that percentage would be far higher and they would be pushing to hold many more elections, perhaps helping to reverse labor’s decline.
I’d be curious where this push comes from, if it is from the White House or in spite of the White House. And I’d be curious how these proposed rules compare to countries like Germany with strong trade unions. The rules appear more than sensible given the current way elections are held.
From Jeff Bryant:
As educators close out this school year and go into planning mode for the next, what many of them truly dread is the fiscal nightmare being handed to them by miserly state governments who’ve decided to balance their budgets on the backs of helpless school children.
According to a new survey conducted by the American Association of School Administrators, three-quarters of school districts will be eliminating jobs in 2011-12, sending nearly a quarter of a million of the nation’s public school educators and their support staff into the ranks of the unemployed.
And a somewhat related link from one of my sisters, More Black Men Now in Prison System than Enslaved in 1850.
Of course, all this is 100% preventable if the wealthiest paid 60-90% on their incomes above some amount ($100 million? Certainly $1 billion.) and corporations paid taxes. Sadly you don’t hear those facts in the media even though most Americans, judging by polls, get this truth.
You know what I mean.
GWB’s nemesis has been done in by Barack Hussein Obama. A resounding victory for Neo-Libs, eh? Without leaks, to boot. Powerful stuff.
One, two punch combo, too, with the recent SNL-, Meyers- facilitated “D. Trump is a dip-schitck and here’s the long form I’ve been sitting on” skit. Head writer for the BHO network, too, Seth?
Is it really the anniversary of Georgie’s “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!” debacle, or was that a dream?
Seems they’ve been working on this since 2004?! Could explain why Obama retained GDub’s staff, and rearranged so recently. Job finished.
On the terrorist vs US of A board: Obama 1, Usama 0. Step up from the “I protected you for X many yrs” Bush/Cheney with 0 and Usama 1 + Old Europe Targets.
A drone in Pakistan attacked a mansion in a sovereign nation and killed a person with much hatred piled upon his head. Am I to be elated? Deflated?
Its really “exasperated” and “let’s try something different-itated”, if you get my drifteration and gistification.
Closure. An eye for an I. Blindness disenlightened by drones. Pilotless. Sterile.
Powerful and stochastic.
In a world where comics spark death squads, what will this execution bring?
Can it be buried quickly enough? The coal black ea may have claimed it, and with it our hatred. Perhaps.
If we push that way. Synergize and switch.
Come on, now.
From the NY Times:
Republican leaders, activists and donors, anxious that the party’s initial presidential field could squander a chance to capture grass-roots energy and build a strong case against President Obama at the outset of the 2012 race, are stepping up appeals for additional candidates to jump in, starting with Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana. (my emphasis)
Okay, this mostly is for laughs. Other than skin color and being in the Democratic Party, what don’t Republicans like about Obama and his policies? In most ways, Obama has been the absolute perfect Republican: attentive to wealthy interests, big business, insurance companies, and spiking Democratic ideas like the public option, Employee Free Choice Act, and other policies that benefit the 99% who are not wealthy.
From David Moberg, The Debate That Wasn’t, on the economic crisis.
Regulation is obviously necessary, but it is not enough without a comprehensive vision of finance as a public utility, like a highway (or other utilities that would better serve the nation if publicly owned). Regulated industries consistently capture their regulators, and the financial services have ideologically captured Republicans and many Democrats. Little can be accomplished with even a militant campaign if the public and politicians remain captive. The industry needs more than a traffic cop. It needs a new architect and greater democratic control, just as corporations in general should be more closely controlled through national charters.
The goal of any new movement to reform American capitalism should be more than restoring “the American dream” of homeownership and personal accumulation. It should also stimulate dreams of a new America, where people hold more power over the key institutions of our society, and their own lives.
This is what a progressive vision looks like.
Federal regulators said the decision to craft their own deal doesn’t preclude what they call a global settlement with banks that could also include the state attorneys general and Obama administration.
Officials from Justice Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and 10 state attorneys general met yesterday for a second time with banks to negotiate a broader settlement, Associate U.S. Attorney General Tom Perrelli told reporters. The group is discussing potential fines and whether servicers should be required to reduce the principal on some home loans.
The agreements “will not limit our pursuit of remedies and reforms,” Iowa’s Miller said yesterday in a statement. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said the deals support their broader effort.
Basically decent reporting that clarifies something jlars highlighted the other day, Wrists Out, Bankers! Oh Nevermind! We Forgive You (Again).. The deal with mortgage bankers absolving them of their sins is between government regulators and the banks. State Attorneys General and the US Justice Department can still pound on the banks. However, this regulator deal does dampen both the likelihood and the severity of any fines or jail time from either quarter.
Indeed, if you read Matt Taibbi’s piece, Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?, it become abundantly clear the game that is afoot:
As for President Obama, what is there to be said? Goldman Sachs was his number-one private campaign contributor. He put a Citigroup executive in charge of his economic transition team, and he just named an executive of JP Morgan Chase, the proud owner of $7.7 million in Chase stock, his new chief of staff. “The betrayal that this represents by Obama to everybody is just — we’re not ready to believe it,” says Budde, a classmate of the president from their Columbia days. “He’s really fucking us over like that? Really? That’s really a JP Morgan guy, really?”
Which is not to say that the Obama era has meant an end to law enforcement. On the contrary: In the past few years, the administration has allocated massive amounts of federal resources to catching wrongdoers — of a certain type. Last year, the government deported 393,000 people, at a cost of $5 billion. Since 2007, felony immigration prosecutions along the Mexican border have surged 77 percent; nonfelony prosecutions by 259 percent. In Ohio last month, a single mother was caught lying about where she lived to put her kids into a better school district; the judge in the case tried to sentence her to 10 days in jail for fraud, declaring that letting her go free would “demean the seriousness” of the offenses.
So there you have it. Illegal immigrants: 393,000. Lying moms: one. Bankers: zero. The math makes sense only because the politics are so obvious. You want to win elections, you bang on the jailable class. You build prisons and fill them with people for selling dime bags and stealing CD players. But for stealing a billion dollars? For fraud that puts a million people into foreclosure? Pass. It’s not a crime. Prison is too harsh. Get them to say they’re sorry, and move on. Oh, wait — let’s not even make them say they’re sorry. That’s too mean; let’s just give them a piece of paper with a government stamp on it, officially clearing them of the need to apologize, and make them pay a fine instead. But don’t make them pay it out of their own pockets, and don’t ask them to give back the money they stole. In fact, let them profit from their collective crimes, to the tune of a record $135 billion in pay and benefits last year. What’s next? Taxpayer-funded massages for every Wall Street executive guilty of fraud?
The mental stumbling block, for most Americans, is that financial crimes don’t feel real; you don’t see the culprits waving guns in liquor stores or dragging coeds into bushes. But these frauds are worse than common robberies. They’re crimes of intellectual choice, made by people who are already rich and who have every conceivable social advantage, acting on a simple, cynical calculation: Let’s steal whatever we can, then dare the victims to find the juice to reclaim their money through a captive bureaucracy. They’re attacking the very definition of property — which, after all, depends in part on a legal system that defends everyone’s claims of ownership equally. When that definition becomes tenuous or conditional — when the state simply gives up on the notion of justice — this whole American Dream thing recedes even further from reality.
The most shocking bit in Taibbi’s story? Mary Jo White who used to have great media about her integrity appears to be captive of this corrupt system. And people she hired while working for the government are not only in charge of prosecuting Wall Street, they openly schmooze with the firms and individuals taxpayers hire them to prosecute. Even an aide to Eliot Spitzer turns out to be corrupt. Both articles are worth a read, Bloomberg for the level of detail for a deal obscurely reported on (so far) and Taibbi for the disheartening detail about how corrupt our economy really is. And how it won’t get better any time soon.
This isn’t about neo-liberalism and different views about how to structure the economy. This is pure greed and pure corruption, nothing less.
Hysterically funny (depressing) email from Alan Grayson today:
In Washington, DC, the leaders of both parties are celebrating. “Woo-hoo, we made a deal! Isn’t that great?!”
Well, it depends on the deal.
There is one particular part of the federal budget that I’ve been following closely for the past couple of weeks. Since March 30th. When Rajiv Shah, the head of the US Agency for International Development, testified that Republican budget cuts would kill 70,000 children.
“We estimate, and I believe these are very conservative estimates, that H.R. 1 [the original Republican budget proposal] would lead to 70,000 kids dying,” he said.
“Of that 70,000, 30,000 would come from malaria control programs that would have to be scaled back specifically. The other 40,000 is broken out as [follows:] 24,000 would die because of a lack of support for immunizations and other investments, and 16,000 would [die] because of a lack of skilled attendants at birth.”
Now, admittedly, all these children deliberately chose to be born outside the United States. To make things worse, they selected parents living in poverty. And, of course, most of them have brown skin.
Notwithstanding all that, I would very much prefer to see these children alive. Maybe it’s just me, but it disturbs me to think that 70,000 innocent children will die in pain from malaria or some other horrible disease, or die at birth because no one in the neighborhood happens to know how to perform an episiotomy.
Not to mention the mothers. Among women, at the time when my mother was born, the second leading cause of death was birth. Childbirth, specifically. That’s still true in some other parts of the world.
After I heard about Shah’s testimony, I looked up the bill he was referring to, H.R. 1. It’s true. In Title XI of the bill, the section on the State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations, there are big cuts.
Then yesterday, when the Republicans posted their new budget bill H.R. 1473 online, I looked that up, too. And, starting on Page 364, I saw big cuts in the State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations. Not quite as big as H.R. 1. But still big.
Personally, I’d like to know how many children H.R. 1473 is going to kill. But no one in Washington, DC is likely to provide that figure, because the leaders of both parties are so busy celebrating the “compromise.”
But there is no compromise, there is no middle ground, between life and death.
The record for human sacrifice was established in 1487, by the Aztecs. Aztec priests slaughtered 80,000 prisoners of war, to celebrate their new temple. (The event was loosely portrayed in Mel Gibson’s 2006 movie Apocalypto.)
So no matter how many children H.R. 1473 may kill, it won’t set a record. At most, it will earn the silver medal for cruelty.
I just wish that someone, in either party, would make the case that the federal budget is not simply 500 pages of large numbers. It also represents our collective effort to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and heal the sick. To help people accomplish whatever it is that they can accomplish in life, unburdened and undefeated by poverty, bigotry, hunger, unemployment, disease, racism, sexism and ignorance. Our collective effort to fulfill the last four words of the Pledge of Allegiance: “and justice for all.”
Ain’t that America?
Grayson forgot the 45,000 Americans who die every year for the crime of not having enough money to pay for health care. Probably that’s worth a bronze medal for cruelty. Unless you think Americans are worth 1.5 or 2 foreigners (which would make 45,000 needless American dead worth 65,000 or 90,000 foreigners); I imagine some people do, sadly. Perhaps the current crop of heartless Republicans were Aztecs in their past lives who have come back to life hell bent on upping their previous record for mass killing.
Another day, another political email, this one from the Progressive Campaign Committee:
The White House announced that in a big speech tomorrow, President Obama will do what no Republican President has been able to do: Put Medicare and Medicaid on the table for potential cuts.
Many former Obama volunteers, donors, and voters are deeply disappointed. A Democratic Congressman said on MSNBC last night that Obama needs to “act like a Democrat.”
and this bit:
Below are some amazing notes from Obama volunteers who worked passionately for the President in 2008.
Many people still want to believe in President Obama. But the White House needs to understand that their actions now will have real consequences for 2012. The level of grassroots enthusiasm will be determined by whether the President fights for bold progressive change — and takes cuts that hurt grandparents, the disabled, and kids firmly off the table.
NOTES FROM ACROSS THE NATION:
Susan Carpenter, Obama volunteer from Ohio:
“Like many volunteers on his campaign, I was in love with the idea of Obama. I haven’t given up on him quite yet, but I’m mustering the energy to work on the resistance. He needs to know who we are.”
John Rotolo, Obama volunteer from Florida:
“I’m almost too heartsick to comment…I’m at a loss.”
Barbara Louise Jean, Obama volunteer from Nevada:
“It’s ludicrous to cut Medicare for seniors when Wall Street created this mess without being held accountable. At 69, I’ll be in financial trouble if Medicare benefits are lowered.”
Joelle Barnes, Obama volunteer from Pennsylvania:
“This is like a knife through my heart! This is a Republican thing!”
Suzanne Fair, Obama volunteer from Maryland:
“I know he has to compromise sometimes, but it seems that he is caving to the Republicans far too often. We elected him for real change and I would like to see him stand strong against the corporate rich.”
Margaret Copi, Obama donor from California:
“I contributed more to Obama’s campaign than I have to anything else in my life, but no more dollars from me and definitely not a moment of volunteer time, unless he makes huge shifts and starts to fight for the peoples’ interest.”
What struck me were the putative voices of Obama supporters, not the Obamabots but real people who supported Obama thinking he would challenge the status quo to some degree. Not cut Medicare and all the other Republican policies he has pushed.
[BTW, I do think Obama "joining the deficit debate" is the endgame Pete Peterson and his kind have been building for and dreaming of for decades. We're about to see the deficit become an official fetish with the ability of the government to create jobs abandoned, much needed social programs cut then gutted. The media is practically salivating all over themselves this week on this issue. You'd almost think the American public backed deficit reduction over creating jobs, punishing Wall Street, and making corporate deadbeats pay their fair share of taxes.]
Cross-posted from Campaign for America’s Future.
Last week, President Obama gave us a clear perspective of what’s wrong with current education policies and a positive vision for where they should be going.
In a townhall meeting,he lamented that current education policies have “piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids” that are too often used to “punish” students and schools. He expressed his fears that schools are responding to this test mania by “teaching to the test” and not educating their students about “different cultures” and “science,” while instead emphasizing “how to fill out a little bubble on an exam.”
He stated that instead of burdening young people with more and more tests, it was more important for schools to recognize that students are more apt to “do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.” And he explained that a more sensible role for tests would be similar to what his daughters Malia and Sasha recently experienced, where “it wasn’t a high-stakes test” but “a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.”
These remarks would appear to be common sense to anyone at all familiar with children. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, or just an interested party, you probably get that kids are more apt to learn when they are engaged in critical thinking and problem solving rather than “how to fill out a little bubble.” You want schools to offer a broad range of subjects because you want students to be prepared for the range of challenges they will face when they grow up. You understand that because learning is strongly influenced by emotions, it’s not a good idea to make students fearful by using test results to “punish” them with round after round of remedial work, or leaving them back altogether. And although testing can serve a worthy diagnostic purpose, it’s disruptive to students to put them into a “panic.”
Seems sensible. Yet his remarks created a firestorm in the education community.
First to tee-off was teacher and edu-blogger Anthony Cody who questioned, “Is President Obama aware . . . that Race to the Top requires states to tie teacher pay and evaluations to student test scores? If ever there was a recipe for teaching to the test, this is it!”
Historian and education advocate John Thompson commented at Huffington Post that “the problem is that the Obama Administration has pressured districts to double or even triple bubble-in testing, thus encouraging more of the educational malpractice that he has criticized.”
Author and progressive educator Deborah Meier noted, “In reality, the government is paying people to invent more bubble tests for the untested subjects (art, science, physical education), and we’re giving these not just annually, but four, five, six, 10 times a year to see if teachers are keeping up the needed pace, not to mention to determine how some of those teacher will get paid!”
When officials from the Department of Education attempted to clarify Obama’s remarks, the discussion got pretty deep into the weeds, as illustrated by this online exchange between Cody and Arne Duncan’s Press Secretary Justin Hamilton.
Although you should read the above link, the short version is that the whole controversy boils down to just one word: “accountability.” The form of accountability being enforced on schools today – by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top – bears very little resemblance to what the President appears to want for his children. Rather than repeatedly sending his kids through cow chute after cow chute of required tests, the “accountability” that the President is apparently looking for is more apt to be based on other feedback, such as whether his children are engaged, whether they’re keeping up with daily assignments, what is the nature of the curriculum being taught, and how well the teacher appears to understand the needs of his children.
Because the President’s version of accountability bears very little resemblance to what’s currently being enforced on schools, it doesn’t mean he’s letting the school off the hook. Most parents, in general, actually approve of their local schools and believe that schools are giving their children a better education than they had. And parents generally have decidedly mixed feelings about NCLB and high-stakes tests. So does that mean they aren’t for “accountability?” Of course not.
But listen carefully to what officials from the Department of Education are saying and what you hear is that it doesn’t particularly matter what parents want their schools to be accountable for – even when that parent happens to be the most powerful person in the world. Instead, what matters is whether technocrats operating in some basement inside the Beltway can tell that schools in inner city Chicago are being accountable.
In other words, the argument isn’t about how to make schools that the Obamas send their kids to more “accountable.” It’s all about creating more accountable schools for “those kids” – you know, children who tend to perform poorly on standardized tests because they don’t understand English very well, they have learning problems they can’t help, or they have other difficulties, usually attributable to being raised in poverty.
As Richard Kahlenberg has observed, quoted most recently in Bob Herbert’s next to last column for the New York Times, “95% of education reform is about trying to make separate schools for rich and poor work.” And because there’s little doubt that many schools serving mostly poor and minority children are indeed in deep trouble, there’s broad agreement that the primary focus of education policy needs to be aimed at improving these schools.
So is the technocrats’ version of accountability actually doing that? Unfortunately, no. According to the diagnostic test that’s most widely relied upon, academic progress has in fact slowed since the law was implemented, and there’s widespread evidence that states responded to tougher test impacts simply by lowering the bar for passing.
The Civil Rights Project has conducted studies of the effects of the accountability movement in six states and has found that “it does not make much sense either as a managerial or an educational strategy. It has very good intentions but often sanctions those institutions where progress is most difficult and most urgently needed rather than offer the kind of help that could really make a difference.”
The problem, as they see it, is that enforcing accountability assumes that “children are falling behind very largely because educators don‘t care enough and that deadlines and strong sanctions imposed by the federal government can cure the problem.” But what tends to happen is that the accountability mandate “often punishes schools that are making a positive difference for students, discouraging the staff and undermining future prospects for the school,” and it “produces a strong focus on tactics that create a semblance rather than reality of success.” Their recommendation is that new policies should be designed “around real educational experience” that use “what research has shown about the sources of educational inequality.”
Not only is there evidence that the technocrat’s version of accountability is bad for education, it also appears to be detrimental to society at large. According to another report, high-stakes testing and the systems of rewards and punishments embedded in current education policies lead to “practices that push K-12 students out of schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems, with especially alarming effects on students of color and youth with disabilities.”
Clearly, calls for more tests aren’t going to solve the problem. And those who whine “but tests are all we have” are severely mistaken. For years, educators have been begging political leaders to support them in using more authentic and sensible alternatives to high-stakes standardized tests. But accountability mandates have swept that aside.
So what would it take for policy wonks in the Education Department and DC-area thinktanks to change their minds? After all, former standardization proponent Diane Ravitch changed her mind after looking at all the evidence. So do you think that it can happen if we all just get behind President Obama and help him push his education department toward policies that are more along the lines of what he believes in?