Thursday, January 31, 2008

And One, and Two, and Up and Down...

It looks like a lot of city kids, perhaps victims of testing mania, are not getting their mandated gym classes. In Queens, they "often don't have the time, space or staff" to offer classes.

That strikes me as odd. In my school, which Mayor Bloomberg has managed to stuff to over 250% capacity (because he just loves city kids) students seem to get gym all the time. Our only problem is they barely fit in the gym. That's why it has to be really, really cold before any gym teacher decides to stay inside.

Some mornings, I come in wearing an arctic parka and a scarf and a hood, but the kids are out there, many of them in t-shirts and shorts. I wonder how on earth they don't freeze to death, but I don't imagine they'll stop dragging them out there until one of them does.

Honestly, I don't know if gym classes are enough to solve problems like childhood obesity. I suppose they're a good start. But personally, I'd rather kids got no gym at all than see them dragged out on freezing cold days.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Required Viewing

That's Gold Rush, with Byron Berline, Mark O'Connor, Jerry Douglas, and Bill Monroe, who composed it.

Give Too Much Homework, Go to Jail

Well, maybe not, but City Council member Peter Vallone wants to limit the amount of homework kids get. Apparently no one has disabused him of the notion that children need time to play, so he wants first graders to get 10 minutes of homework, second graders 20, and so on.

He said limiting homework would increase the time children can spend going outside and exercising. He said his own two daughters sometimes get so overwhelmed by homework that he cannot convince them to play outside.

Is Vallone right? Was I mistaken when I bolted shackles and chains to my little daughter's desk so she'd sit and work until bedtime? I've always given her a bowl of gruel, and promised her extra rations if she'd pass enough standardized tests. I thought that was my role as a parent.

Maybe Vallone is onto something, though. Kids need to be kids, right?

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Famous Last Words

CNN showed a few speeches from the candidates. The Democrats had little to say, McCain was gracious in victory, and Mitt Romney worried out loud about losing jobs to "countries like Asia and India."

Our beloved Saint Rudy pleaded for "less lawsuits." While the English teacher in me kept thinking "fewer lawsuits," the newspaper reader in me couldn't help but remember that before 9/11, Mayor Rudy was perpetually involved in lawsuits, suing everyone in sight.

And while he nickel and dimed the cops, the firefighters, and the teachers, I don't personally recall Rudy using 35-dollar-an-hour lawyers in any of his lawsuits.

You see, lawsuits are important when he starts them. They're just not important when you or I start them.

Farewell, Saint Rudy. Not everyone is bold enough to adopt a strategy of ignoring virtually every contest in order to win at the end, and it was tough to see how all those purposeful losses would snare the nomination. Historically, it's never worked, but not everyone is Saint Rudy, who sues for the right to bring his mistress into the home he shares with his wife and young children. Rules don't apply to Saint Rudy, who ignores term limits and doesn't want to be bothered standing for re-election.

Take a broad view, Rudy. Look on the bright side. Whoever wins in November, your loss is the American people's gain.

Sneak Preview

The Carnival of Education is up, and a day early too, at Creating Lifelong Learners. Where is that, you ask? Why it's right here.

Paradise Postponed

You'd think every principal jumped in ecstasy at every mandate from Tweed, to hear some of them talk. But that may not be the case after all. Many, upon discovering from local papers that their budgets would be cut by 70,000 bucks, seem not to have responded positively at all. But they filled out all those satisfaction surveys, didn't they?

(Principals' union rep) De Vale said the results were distorted because many principals were not under the impression that their answers were actually anonymous.

"This is a climate of fear," he said. "Principals don't speak the truth."

There's a familiar-sounding remark. And it's refreshing to hear it spoken by someone who represents administrators. Many teachers told me they had the same suspicions about the surveys we took. The atmosphere of fear and loathing that took flight after the arrival of this administration is palpable, and it's only reasonable that principals should feel it too.

A historian of the New York City public schools, Diane Ravitch, reached a similar conclusion after giving a speech to a group of more than 500 principals on Saturday.

She said the principals applauded loudly when she criticized Mr. Bloomberg's education record. Puzzled, she asked some principals afterward why the survey results had been so positive.

"They said, 'Everybody is afraid to say that they're dissatisfied,'" Ms. Ravitch said.

And who can blame them? After having given up tenure, principals live and die at the pleasure of Tweed. It's important for Tweed to be able to hold people accountable. After all, their own chief accountability officer literally runs from public school parents, so it's important for them to be able to point fingers at principals, who can consequently point fingers at teachers.

The atmosphere in city schools is toxic. That's not good for principals, it's not good for teachers, and it's certainly not good for the 1.1 million kids who learn in our public schools. It's regrettable that so few of us trust our leaders, but after watching them for six years, it's very tough to give them the benefit of a doubt.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Loose Talk

The always objective Bob Novak is suggesting that John Edwards, should his numbers continue as they are, might be tapped as Attorney General.

Mike's Lament

Don't you get sick and tired of people criticizing your school systems? I mean, there you are, closing big schools and reopening them as five small schools, and does anyone even say thank you? Those ungrateful bastards.

Not only that, but then they complain that you don't allow special ed. and ESL kids. So you accommodate their pesky demands, and still no thank you. I mean, there they are, ten real-live special ed. kids in your brand-new academy. That oughta be good enough for anyone, right?

So what if you didn't actually hire a special ed. teacher or provide mandated services? You've got a presidential campaign to attend to, for goodness sakes! I mean, can't these people just shut up for one cotton picking minute? If they're so unhappy with the public schools, why can't they just lay out twenty grand for a good private school?

What's wrong with these people anyway?

Thanks to Schoolgal

Let's Experiment

The DoE is going to try year-round schools at several test sites. An organization called the "After-School Corporation" has determined it's a good idea, and that's enough for Tweed. This is significant for forward-looking teachers, as one precedent for the August punishment days we now endure was the large number of teachers who came in early to set in their classrooms. By incorporating it into the contract for less than cost of living, we now perform this service for less than nothing.

Regrettably. my alternative notion of good teachers, reasonable class sizes and decent facilities has long been rejected as too idealistic and costly.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ethics Are for the Little People

Saint Rudy and his people don't need to bother. Sure, Roosevelt and Lincoln had to stand for re-election, but Rudy felt he needed to defy term limits and stay on unelected. This was ostensibly to keep up the morale of FDNY and NYPD, to whom he'd been denying contracts for years (At that point, NYPD, originally an ardent supporter, had already begun demonstrating against Giuliani).

Then there was the lawsuit demanding the right to bring his mistress into the home he shared with his wife and two young children, and then there was Bernard Kerik (and we don't seem to have heard the last of him).

Now here's Fred Brown, a Giuliani delegate who lives in a Battery Park high-rise, but votes and holds office in the Bronx. Brown claims it's OK because he owns property in the Bronx. Never mind that it's not actually located in the district he votes in--he's a Rudy supporter, so it's OK.

There's been a lot of chatter in the comments section about the double-zero contract that we took (during one of the biggest economic booms in NYC history). The UFT was the first to vote on this contract. The UFT President wrote a letter to rank-and-file stating anyone who thought we could do better must be "smoking something," and that we'd better get used to double zeros and a 25-year maximum. Nonetheless, rank-and-file rejected this contract.

Immediately thereafter, DC37 voted it up, and many municipal unions followed. A modified version of the contract was presented to the UFT, raising maximum to 22 rather than 25 years, and a demoralized UFT voted for it. As someone who reached maximum salary last year, I can tell you that the UFT Prez was wrong, and that we certainly benefited from our initial rejection.

But later, it was discovered that DC37 leaders had falsified their union election, the one that passed double-zeros and set the precedent for other municipal unions. Several DC37 leaders were relocated up the river to do a stretch. The fact that the municipal contracts were all based on blatant fraud did not trouble Saint Rudy at all. The contracts all stood.

What's the moral here? Morality must be strictly adhered to by working people, while important folks like Saint Rudy can do whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Moron at Work

A Muslim student reports one of her teachers pronouncing that all Muslims are terrorists, plotting against Christians and Americans. I have to wonder how this teacher became acquainted with all Muslims. There are a lot of them, and I imagine it must be time-consuming to travel far and wide enough to get to know them all.

However, the Sun-Sentinel reports the teacher has apologized. It's good to know that you can spout outrageous offensive stereotypes and then simply say, "I'm sorry."

Friday, January 25, 2008

No Time Outs for You

Last week security guards at an elementary school handcuffed a 5-year-old boy and took him to Elmhurst Hospital for psychological evaluation. Here in fun city, we don't mess around.

Get it together, kid, and stop behaving like a 5-year-old.

Hat tip: Inside Schools Blog

Here Come The Budget Cuts

Back in his State of the City address, Mayor Moneybags warned that all city agencies would be facing budget cuts both this year and next year as a result of projected declining tax revenues for the city.

With the nation either in a recession already or facing the prospect of one later in the year, with the financial markets on Wall Street turning bearish (at least before Tuesday's emergency rate cut of 75 basis points), with the unemployment rate rising to 5% last month (just 18,000 new jobs were added to the economy in December), with manufacturing contracting in December and with much of the nation's housing market in a recession (2007 saw the first decline in home prices since the Great Depression and existing home sales are at a 25 year low while inventories are near an all-time high), Moneybags expects the national recession to hit New York City pretty hard even though the city's economy, employment numbers and housing market seem to be doing better than the nation at large right now.

Falling revenues or even projected falling revenues usually mean budget cuts for the city (usually starting at the city libraries and parks first), but with the mayor planning to run against "fiscally irresponsible Washington" when he launches his 2008 independent campaign to buy the White House the way he bought City Hall, this year means especially stringent belt tightening:

A day after Mayor Bloomberg cast himself as a fiscally responsible leader and decried Washington's "reckless" spending habits, he is calling for cuts to all city agencies.

The cuts in his $58.5 billion budget proposal would reduce the Department of Education's budget by about $180 million this year and $324 million next year, and the plan calls for the police department to cut its budget by $33.8 million this year and $95.6 million next year. The cuts and new sources of revenue would yield $1.42 billion in savings. Overall, the budget proposal would increase spending by nearly 4%.

With inflation currently running at 4.1% (and expected to go even higher when the Fed interest rate cuts filter through the economy later in the year), the mayor's budget proposal increase of 4% doesn't really amount to increase.

And it's subject to change, of course.

Just a few weeks ago, the mayor thought the city's budget would allow for a proposed extension to a 7% property tax cut.

Now he says the extension is contingent upon future revenue and may have to be cut from the budget.

So much of the mayor's proposal is probably going to be changed before everything is said and done, and given the trajectory of the American economy these days, city agencies are probably subject to more cuts than spending increases.

Not to mention that now that the mayor has settled on a "I'm a fiscally prudent, post-partisan businessman who can solve the nation's economic ills that the current crop of politicians in Washington have ignored," you can bet he's going to lean toward more cuts rather than less so he can show just how "fiscally responsible" he is.

Here's what the budget cuts mean for those of us in the Department of Education:

On a list of about 20 line-item cuts outlined yesterday, principals are asked to shave $99 million in direct spending, an average of about $70,000 each; the Department of Education is to scale back a vaunted new program to test students regularly, moving to four tests a year from five, and, starting this June, an incentive program developed by the teachers union loses its central funding.

Principals who wish to keep the program, known as Lead Teacher, will have to pay for it with their own budgets, school officials said.

I won't cry to see the Lead Teacher position go the way of the reading rugs in most schools, nor am I sad to see one less "No Stakes" standardized test per year. Frankly, if that's the kind of stuff they're going to cut out of the education budget, count me in.

But remember that these cuts are just a start. As soon as the city's economy worsens (and it will - check out NY Post business columnist John Crudele for an inkling why), more cuts will be coming.

Will the mayor continue to cut his "vaunted" battery of No Stakes standardized tests when he needs to make cuts?


So, let me throw this out there: if and when the mayor needs to make more budget cuts to city agencies later in the year, what additional cuts will the schools have to make?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Slow Learners

Some people learn more slowly than others, and as such need special attention. Sometimes we give kids time-and-a-half on tests so they can keep up with their peers. Sometimes kids thrive when given the attention they need.

Unfortunately, some people never learn at all, and keep making the same mistakes over and over. When the UFT paper loudly declared "Class Size Victory," the details made it very clear that Mayor Bloomberg had the option to reduce class size by a fraction of a kid, or not at all, and that there would be no consequences whatsoever for any failure to do so. When class sizes were "reduced" by a fraction of a student, UFT leadership was shocked and outraged.

When Mayor Bloomberg followed his merit pay deal with a million-dollar panel, ostensibly to identify and eliminate bad teachers, the UFT leadership was shocked and outraged. How could he do such a thing? Isn't Mayor Bloomberg the same guy who, after forging a contract agreement, unilaterally denied sabbatical leave to all teachers for just as long as he could get away with it? As I recall, the UFT had to go to court to enforce the contract they had just negotiated. They were shocked and outraged, of course.

So when Mayor Bloomberg's double-secret plan to evaluate teachers based on student scores came out, how did the UFT react? They were shocked and outraged, again. Only it turns out, they knew about it in advance. Edwize writer City Sue sits on the panel that administers the plan. Like all UFT employees, she admits no fault, ever:

President Weingarten had angrily refused to endorse the project last summer and had won a concession that results would not be used to evaluate any UFT member.

Naturally. And when President Weingarten found out otherwise, I've no doubt she was shocked and outraged.

City Sue figured there was little cause for concern:

Still, to skip to the bottom line before I fill in the details, remember we have a signed contract until October 2009. By then Klein and Company will be packing their bags.

I'm not altogether convinced that a new administration will be the end of the shock and outrage. Only someone willfully ignoring history could come to such a conclusion. We can’t count on a friend in City Hall. I’ve been teaching for 23 years, and we’ve almost never had one. While I remember a brief flash of sympathy from Mayor Dinkins, he quickly turned his back on us, rather than defending education as important.

It’s high time for the UFT to become more proactive, more assertive, and less dependent on who may or may not be the next mayor, governor, president, or whatever. Governor Spitzer, for example (and I voted for him as enthusiastically as anyone), has just drastically reduced funds that could’ve been used to reduce class sizes in NYC.

It's time for the UFT to push a pro-teacher, pro-education agenda, to take charge for a change. We can't just stand around waiting to see what Mayor Bloomberg (or whoever) does next. Among other things, kids are packed into Mayor Bloomberg's crumbling testing factories like so many sardines. They can't wait any longer and neither can we.

Next time the Unity/New Action patronage employees visit you're school, cut them off when they tell you how shocked and outraged they are. Ask them what on earth they're doing to justify those double salaries and pensions. They'll probably respond with shock and outrage.

Today, we need more.

Better Spend More Money, Moneybags

A Gallup poll released yesterday finds that 84 percent of Americans "believe that there is a candidate currently running for the White House who would make a good president."

In past election cycles, the number of Americans who believed a candidate running would make a good president was much lower.

For instance, in 1992 when Bill Clinton beat George Bush, only 40% of respondents felt that way.

The survey also found that people overall are feeling positive about this year's presidential election:

The positive responses to whether candidates are talking about important issues was more than 70 percent, a number that is close to the percentages seen in polling conducted in October of both 1992 and 2000. Similarly, positive responses to whether any of the candidates have come up with good ideas for solving the country's problems (58 percent) are higher than results from January polls of previous election years and are close to the numbers of polls taken in October of previous election years.

So what does this mean for Mayor Bloomberg's independent, post-partisan bid to purchase the White House with $1 billion in campaign money?

It's not looking so good:

The results from today's poll suggest that no possible independent candidate would do as well in November as Ross Perot did in 1992.

Sorry Bloomberg shills and paid operatives - your man with the money is going to have to spend a lot more of it to buy the White House than even he imagined.

Which is not to say that he still isn't going to try.

He's already in full pander mode, bashing the current crop of presidential candidates over and over again for coming up short on every major issue.

For instance, in this early January speech, the foreign policy experience-less Bloomberg criticized candidates like John McCain and Hillary Clinton who sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee for not telling America how they will handle foreign policy post-Dubya:

"I have not heard anybody who's said what they'd really do when it comes to foreign policy, how they would rebuild the relationships America has around the world," Bloomberg said.

I guess Moneybags is too busy cranking out the standardized tests here in NYC to have noticed that both McCain and Clinton have explained just how they would do that. First, Clinton's plan:

New York Senator Hillary Clinton called for a broad reform of US foreign policy that would include better cooperation with other nations and bilateral talks with enemy nations.

Criticizing President George W. Bush's foreign policy from Iraq to Afghanistan and North Korea to Iran, the wife of former president Bill Clinton called for a more internationalist approach to foreign policy in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based foreign policy think tank.

"First, and most obviously, we must by word and deed renew internationalism for a new century," said Clinton, a likely Democratic Party presidential candidate for the 2008 election.

"We did not face World War II alone, we did not face the Cold War alone, and we cannot face the global terrorist threat or other profound challenges alone either," she said.

Clinton also defended the idea of bilateral talks with nations that Washington has been avoiding, such as Iran and Cuba.

"We must value diplomacy as well as a strong military," Clinton continued. "We should not hesitate to engage in the world's most difficult conflicts on a diplomatic front."

"Direct negotiations are not a sign of weakness; they're a sign of leadership," she said.

Clinton blasted what she said was the Bush administration's "simplistic division of the world into good and evil. They refuse to talk to anyone on the evil side, as some have called that idealistic. I call it dangerously unrealistic."

Now McCain's:

Defeating radical Islamist extremists is the national security challenge of our time. Iraq is this war's central front, according to our commander there, General David Petraeus, and according to our enemies, including al Qaeda's leadership.

The recent years of mismanagement and failure in Iraq demonstrate that America should go to war only with sufficient troop levels and with a realistic and comprehensive plan for success. We did not do so in Iraq, and our country and the people of Iraq have paid a dear price. Only after four years of conflict did the United States adopt a counterinsurgency strategy, backed by increased force levels, that gives us a realistic chance of success. We cannot get those years back, and now the only responsible action for any presidential candidate is to look forward and outline the strategic posture in Iraq that is most likely to protect U.S. national interests.


Defeating the terrorists who already threaten America is vital, but just as important is preventing a new generation of them from joining the fight. As president, I will employ every economic, diplomatic, political, legal, and ideological tool at our disposal to aid moderate Muslims -- women's rights campaigners, labor leaders, lawyers, journalists, teachers, tolerant imams, and many others -- who are resisting the well-financed campaign of extremism that is tearing Muslim societies apart. My administration, with its partners, will help friendly Muslim states establish the building blocks of open and tolerant societies. And we will nurture a culture of hope and economic opportunity by establishing a free-trade area from Morocco to Afghanistan, open to all who do not sponsor terrorism.

You may not like either Clinton or McCain as people, you may not like them as candidates, but the one thing you cannot say is that they have not stated pretty explicitly how they would handle foreign policy in the post-Dubya era.

You also cannot say that 8 years on the Armed Services Committee for Clinton and 20+ years for McCain does not give them some experience with foreign policy (even if you don't happen to agree with how they plan to handle it in the post-Dubya era.)

But I guess if you have $20 billion dollars and you're a potential candidate for president, you can say it and get away with it.

Bloomberg has also criticized the presidential candidates for pandering to voters and not telling America the harsh truths it needs to hear to solve the political, social and economic problems facing it. Yet the NY Daily News finds this morning that Bloomberg himself is pandering to voters:

Mayor Bloomberg adopted the 2008 campaign tactic of bashing Beltway insiders Wednesday night as he issued a compassionate call to help Americans who received shady home loans - a dramatic shift from his earlier stance.

Appearing before the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Bloomberg - who once bluntly blamed the buyers rather than the lenders in the subprime mortgage crisis - said no one should become homeless by defaulting on a loan.

"The most important and immediate economic relief we can offer is to help people who are in danger of losing their homes stay in their homes," Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg said preventing families from getting kicked out of their homes "is more important than giving everybody a check."

"We must make sure that people still have a place to live, regardless of how they got it," Bloomberg said to applause.

Only last August, Bloomberg faulted homebuyers "who really didn't have the wherewithal" or "lied about their incomes" to take out subprime mortgages.

But amid rumors of a possible third-party presidential bid, Bloomberg has suddenly adopted a less harsh tone, offering to help counsel those threatened with foreclosure.

So here is the Little Mayor criticizing the "Beltway Insiders" for saying anything to get elected while he himself says anything and changes positions (and political parties) willy-nilly to get elected.

Oh, and he's also backed by a bunch of "Beltway Insiders" like Sam Nunn, William Cohen, David Broder (the "Dean of Beltway Insiders"), et al., which kinda takes away the whole "I'm an outsider" thing.

So remind me again why it is Bloomberg thinks America needs him when 84% of the country think one of the current candidates will make a fine president, most Americans believe the candidates are addressing the important issues of the day and the criticism Bloomberg is leveling at the current crop of candidates is hypocritical and wrong?

Oh yeah, because he's a billionaire and in America billionaires always get listened to, even when they're full of themselves and a whole lot of horse#$%^.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Vision Thing

Under the beneficent leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, school principals are now required to have "visions" for their schools. The first time I heard our principal talk about vision, images of Carlos Castaneda eating mushrooms with the venerable Don Juan filled my mind, and I wondered how exactly our school would be affected.

But it turns out that "vision," in fun city, has everything to do with following the various dictates of Tweed without question, and applying what little variation is possible within those narrow limits.

"My vision is a 2% increase in test scores for every year of my tenure. When we reach 110% passing, I'll retire."

"My vision is to examine test results, and secretly use them to assess teachers rather than students."

Those are some great visions, and they bring comfort to our great leader, Mayor Mike. Certainly principals who've attended the Leadership Academy are well-schooled in which visions are appropriate. Notice that when their schools fail miserably, accumulate preposterously unacceptable safety records, or simply disappear altogether from this astral plane, their principals are always retained with vague words of appreciation:

"Ms. Wormwood did an extraordinary job under difficult circumstances, and is being reassigned to the central office."

They need to keep these principals, because they have "vision," which is necessary to achieve "reform." Principals who have not received this training are liable to abuse their visions:

"I want to reduce class size to 20 per class."

"This school was built to accommodate 800 kids, and we now have 3,000. Therefore, I want to reduce this school's population by 2,200."

"This building is crumbling before our very eyes. I want to repair it, even if it diverts money from valuable sports stadiums."

Such principals cannot be tolerated. They lack appropriate "vision," and as such, have no place in the "reform"-minded administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Testing 1, 2, 300...

New York City is in the business of testing, and tests are the Holy Grail of Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein. In fact, at Public Schools 40 and 116 (among many others, no doubt), they've added 10 annual tests designed to test new tests. That's right, we're not testing the kids, we're not testing the teachers (secretly or otherwise), we're simply testing new tests, and doing it ten times this year (on top of all the other tests these hapless kids are up for).

“We’re using tests to figure out how kids will test on tests,” said Jane Hirschmann, the founder and co-chairwoman of Time Out From Testing, an anti-testing group that sponsored the news conference.

Parents from these schools have decided to boycott the tests. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, displaying his trademark indifference to public school parents, suggested that the tests would provide useful information for teachers. Perhaps the mayor thought it would somehow help them raise test scores, a feat his "reforms" have been patently unable to accomplish.

It's encouraging to see parents in New York City standing up for their kids. With enough of this, perhaps we'll finally see this system move away from nonsensical "reforms," and closer to what everyone knows works---good teachers, reasonable class sizes, and decent facilities for kids.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Parents Give Mike and Joel an "F"

In Mayor Bloomberg's incredibly short-sighted view of grading schools, only test scores count. Not only that, but a school that's gone from 50 to 55% passing is somehow better than one that's gone from 90 to 88% passing. Schools the state rates as "persistently dangerous" are granted As, while schools parents actually wish their kids to attend don't do well at all.

It appears parents are beginning to question Mayor Bloomberg's well-oiled propaganda machine:
'It really saddens me that this is how the Department of Education thinks that parents are best served, by boiling everything that happens in an entire school to a letter grade,' said Lee Solomon, the mother of a first-grader at the Brooklyn New School, a sought-after school that accepts students only by lottery but got a C.

Could there be more to a school than meets Mayor Mike's eye? Some parents think so:

Jim Devor, the father of a fifth-grader at P.S. 58 in Brooklyn _ which got a D on its report card_ said students there were 'strongly invited' to attend Saturday test-prep sessions but have no time to discuss current events like the presidential campaign.

'I'm appalled at how little my child knows about social studies,' he said. 'They're all obsessed with test prep.'

There could indeed be more to school (and life) than English and math tests. But you wouldn't know it if you went by Klein and Bloomberg. Of course, their kids wouldn't attend public schools anyway, so why should they care? The largest class sizes in the state, the rampant and unconscionable overcrowding, and most remarkably, the inability to show progress on test scores they can't manipulate--none of these things will ever be problems for the children or grandchildren of "reformers" Mike and Joel.

Personally, I think those who'd presume to run a school system ought to have their kids patronize it. If they don't think it's good enough for their kids to attend, they ought to either fix it or find work more suited to their talents.

Related: Here's a new blog with a request for a respite from Mike.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Last week, the U.S. financial markets tanked on recession fears. The Dow and the Nasdaq fell 4%, the S&P fell 5.4% and the Russell fell 4.7%.

This week isn't expected to be any better, and after European and Asian stocks got hammered Monday with the worst losses since 9/11 and Asian stocks continued to tank on Tuesday, things are really getting scary:

LONDON (Reuters) - World stocks nosedived and demand for safe-haven bonds and currencies soared on Monday as fears gripped investors that a deteriorating U.S. economy would drag others down with it.

The losses on the blue-chip stock indexes of Germany, Britain and France alone amounted to more than $350 billion, or roughly the size of the combined economies of New Zealand, Hungary and Singapore.

The Financial Times put it this way:

Global equities plunged on Monday as investor concerns over the economic outlook and financial market turbulence snowballed into a sweeping sell-off.

Tumbling Asian shares – which continued to fall early on Tuesday – led European stock markets into their biggest one-day fall since 9/11 as the prospect of a US recession and further fall-out from credit market turmoil prompted near panic among investors, who rushed to the safety of government bonds.

About $490bn was wiped off the market value of Europe’s FTSE Eurofirst 300 index and $148bn from the FTSE 100 index in London, which suffered its biggest points slide since it was formed in 1983. Germany’s Xetra Dax slumped 7.2 per cent to 6,790.19 and France’s CAC-40 fell 6.8 per cent to 4,744.45, its worst one-day percentage point fall since September 11 2001.

“September 11 aside, I can’t remember a day like this. It was carnage,” said Jimmy Yates, a dealer at CMC Markets in London.

Dow futures are now down over 500 points.

Tomorrow could be very, very bad on Wall Street.

The Dow is down 15% in the last four months.

This year could be very, very bad on Wall Street.

Fears of potential ratings cuts for bond insurers like Ambac and MBIA have added to the blood in the streets.

Financial talking heads are no longer talking about if the U.S. is going to fall into a recession; now they're talking about just how long and how bad the recession is going to be.

It looks like it's going to be very bad.

If panic continues to spread across the markets and the recession is as bad as some fear, mass public and private lay-offs won't be far off.

You can bet Mayor Moneybags will be looking to rid the Department of Education of some expensive substitute teachers in the ATR pool.

How much you want to make a bet Randi and the UFT throw the ATR's overboard if Bloomberg comes to them in the midst of a really bad recession and says "We have to cut payroll"?

UPDATE: The Dow futures were still down 500+ points this morning and Asian and European markets were still selling off. So Uncle Ben and the Fed panicked and cut interest rates by 3/4 by issuing an emergency rate cut just minutes ago.

When I woke this morning and saw the futures down as much as they were, I said to my girlfriend, "I bet Uncle Ben issues a surprise rate cut of 75 basis points at 8:30 before the U.S. markets open to stave off the panic."

I missed the surprise rate cut by 10 minutes. It was announced at 8:20 AM.

Another 50 basis points will probably be cut next week when the Fed meets officially.

That means the Fed will have cut the target interest rate from 4.25% to 3% in a week.

There goes the interest rate on my savings account. And that, of course is the point - they're trying to get you to borrow money, banks to lend money and people to BUY, BUY, BUY!!!

Ironically, the Dow futures rose from 525 to 190 within seconds of the announcement of the cuts, but now they're back down over 350.

What happens if the Fed gives a 75 basis point emergency rate cut and the markets still panic?

SECOND UPDATE: Dow futures down 555 as of 8:52 AM.

Should be an interesting day.

BTW, according to CNBC, the 75 basis points rate cut is the largest one-time cut since 1984.

Gee, no panic at the Fed.

THIRD UPDATE: As of 9:35 AM, the Dow is down 454, the Nasdaq 118. But 4:00 PM is a long way off and maybe they'll find a bottom and finish up from there.

As of 9:52 AM, the Dow is only off 240...

Grading Teachers

The NY Times reports today that New York City has "embarked upon an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced" in which 2,500 public school teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests.

The program, which may be a breach of the teachers contract, is considered so "contentious" that it has been kept secret from some of the teachers who are being scrutinized in the 140 elementary and middle schools participating in the program.

The Times article says DOE officials will not say publicly what they plan to do with the information being collected, but Chris Cerf, a deputy chancellor of the NYCDOE and former head of Edison Schools, surely gives a good indication:

“If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city — every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will — that will have been a powerful step forward,” said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project. “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”

The Times reports the UFT has known about the program for months but does not know which schools are involved because of "confidentiality" agreements between the DOE and the principals who agreed to participate in the program.

The Times says UFT President Weingarten is concerned about the program:

Randi Weingarten, the union president, said she had grave reservations about the project, and would fight if the city tried to use the information for tenure or formal evaluations or even publicized it. She and the city disagree over whether such moves would be allowed under the contract.

“There is no way that any of this current data could actually, fairly, honestly or with any integrity be used to isolate the contributions of an individual teacher,” Ms. Weingarten said. “If one permitted this, it would be one of the worst decisions of my professional life.”

Ha - what a joke! When Ms. Weingarten and the UFT leadership agreed to merit pay for teachers based upon standardized test scores earlier this school year, they opened the door to all kinds of funky other things related to test scores - including grading teachers based upon scores whether the tests were meant for that purpose or not.

While the Times reports that DOE officials "adamantly deny" they plan to hand out letter grades to teachers and base tenure decisions solely on test score performance, those of us in the system know better.

That's exactly where this is going in the near future. And just as giving letter grades to schools based upon a formula overly weighted toward annual test score improvement has proven reductive and harmful (schools with 85%-95% test score passing rates have been handed D's and F's by the DOE for failing to improve on their test scores while schools with 30%-50% test score passing rates have been handed A's and B's because their test scores have improved from one year to the next), so too will handing out letter grades to teachers.

And before my friends at the Democrats For The Return Of Feudalism and other education "reform" groups starting chirping about how I must be a bad teacher because I'm complaining about being held accountable to standards, let me tell you that I am a teacher who works at a school that received an A and a "Well Developed" assignation from the DOE in this year's assessments, I teach at least three sections of ELA Regents prep each year (sometimes four or five if I teach remedial Regents prep in the Spring), and have very high passing rates every year.

I'm attacking this program not because I'm worried I will be exposed as a "bad teacher," but because I do not believe the testing regimen as currently constituted was designed to provide enough insight into teachers' performances to base salary decisions, tenure decisions and personnel decisions nor do I think any one annual standardized test should be given the kind of weight Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein and others are giving them.

And yet, that is where we are headed, and despite Ms. Weingarten's "Oh, I am so concerned about this program..." tone, Ms. Weingarten and the UFT leadership have partnered with Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein and the other education "reformers" to bring them to us.

The NY Sun reports
that Ms. Weingarten is widely expected to move up the ladder this year and take over the reins of the American Federation of Teachers when the current head steps down.

That means all the concessions that Ms. Weingarten has made here in New York on merit pay, on additional days and additional time, on grievance rights, on seniority rights, on authoritarian mayoral control, on charter schools, on curriculum and a host of other issues can now be made at a national level so that teachers all across the nation can learn just how much fun it is to be lead by Rod Paige's favorite teachers union head.

Frankly, I'm not as mad at Bloomberg, Klein and Cerf for the merit pay, the additional standardized tests a year (10 and counting so far), the additional days and time, the loss of grievance and seniority rights, and all the other things they've done to take more power for the DOE and diminish the power and work conditions of the teachers in the system as I am at Randi Weingarten, Leo Casey, and the other sell-outs at the UFT who have enabled all these things while telling us to our faces they're fighting them.

That's who is at fault here. And despite her "grave reservations" to the contrary about the newest DOE horror show - measuring teachers in secret by how much their students improve on test scores, you can bet Ms. Weingarten is either in favor of the program or doesn't care enough to stop it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ego Trips

Mayor Bloomberg kicked off his presidential campaign unofficially yesterday when he gave his annual State of the City speech.

The speech was the usual self-aggrandizing pat on the back rah-rah pom-pom moment you usually get from a politician getting ready to jump to higher office, so I'm not going to bother you with the details.

Suffice it to say that if you work at a vocational high school in the New York City public school system (as I do), Mayor Bloomberg has got some reform for you starting in September 2009!

But let's leave that horror show for another post and get back to the real story (at least in much of the major media's eyes): will he or won't he run for president and if he does, can he win?

Now Bloomberg's been playing coy this last year or so, ordering his administrative minions and political aides to tell the press to ask the mayor publicly at press conferences if he's going to run for president or not so that the mayor can get all smiley and deny he is running but say boy the candidates who are surely suck.

You see, that's his strategy for creating an opening in the race. He wants to create as much dissatisfaction with the current crop of presidential candidates as he can while his political aides and paid shills (including the supposedly "independent" Unity 08 ticket so lovingly trumpeted by "post-partisans" like Sam Waterston, Sam Nunn, Bill Cohen, David Broder, etc) prepare a 50 state strategy for getting their hero on the ballot and competitive in the '08 race.

Bloomberg has a billion bucks to drop in this race and he knows that the current right track/wrong track numbers are so bad (about 19/75 in the latest Washington Post/ABC News and NY Times/CBS polls) that people are desperate for some sort of "change" from the current direction.

So he's doing the best he can to stir up excitement among his true base - the media and press corps - so that they in turn will write glowing stories like this one from David Broder that describe what a competent, post-partisan genius he is and how he is tanned, rested and ready to take on America's problems.

They're also selling him as a businessman who handled the post-9//11 economic problems in New York City so well that he will make mincemeat out of the current mortgage mess/housing slump/coming recession and make America into the beautiful smoke-free, trans-fat free, fiscally solvent land the Founding Fathers envisioned .

But there's only one problem with all these theories: when Survey USA conducted a 50 state poll to see what Bloomberg's support is and the kind of base his potential candidacy would appeal to, they found something quite startling - he garners little support anywhere across the country, never receives more than 13% in any state including New York, wouldn't even win in New York City as a presidential candidate no matter who the Democratic or Republican candidates are and has little effect on the presidential race except that he takes some votes away from Republicans.

In other words, as of now he has no shot to win the White House as an independent.

Now it's true he has a billion dollars or more to drop on advertising to sell himself and his candidacy to America and it's true that a billion dollars in advertising can change opinions awfully fast. Think about how he outspent his opponents in both 2001 and 2005, sold himself to the electorate and bought City Hall. But even so, Bloomberg's got a long hard slog to do it and I don't think even a billion dollars and glowing columns from David Broder would pull it out for him in the end.

As for the rationale behind his candidacy, Bloomberg likes to sell himself as the change agent in the race, a post-partisan figure who will bring the parties together and stop the fighting in Washington, but we already have one of those in Barack Obama, the Democrat who claims Ronald Reagan is his hero.

Bloomberg also likes to sell himself as the competent businessman who can clean up the fiscal mess left behind by George W. Bush, but we also have one of those candidates already in the race and his name is Mitt Romney.

Bloomberg's supporters also like to sell him as a candidate without the personal baggage of a Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Rodham Clinton, one who has no skeletons in his closet and will not be hit with personal or public scandals as president.

But let us not forget that Bloomberg has been slapped with a plethora of sexual harassment lawsuits in the past and settled them all and got non-disclosure agreements from the victims. Let us also remember that his company, Bloomberg LP, is being sued by the federal government for gender discrimination and that his own role in the discrimination problem is being eyed by the feds.

Bloomberg is NOT a candidate without personal or public scandal baggage.

Bloomberg's supporters also say that Bloomberg needs to run because people are fed up with politics as usual and only a post-partisan independent like himself can restore America's interest in politics.

And yet how turned off from politics can America be when interest in the election is so high and turn-out in the primaries and caucuses this year is at a record high? (See here and here for that story.)

It doesn't seem to me like people are being turned off politics these days. If anything, the Iraq war and the tanking of the economy have heightened interest in politics and the '08 elections among all segments of the America - including young people.

So at the end of the day, why is Bloomberg going to run for president?

Well, given that the man feels the need to put his name on everything he owns (Bloomberg LP, Bloomberg News, Bloomberg Radio, Bloomberg TV) and given that the man seems to only be happy when he's the center of political attention and everybody's calling him a political genius, I'd have to say it's nothing more than ego for both the Little Mayor himself and the "wise old men" of Washington and the media who are trying to sell him as just what the nation needs.

Or as Glenn Greenwald put it:

A Bloomberg candidacy would have no purpose other than satisfy his bottomless personal lust for attention and bestow the wise old men threatening the country with his candidacy with some fleeting sense of rejuvenated relevance and wisdom. His political views are conventional in every way and he's little more than an establishment-enabling figurehead. The whole attraction to his candidacy has nothing to do with any issues or substance and everything to do with an empty addiction to vapid notions of Establishment harmony and a desire to exert control, whereby our Seriousness guardians devote themselves to a candidate for reasons largely unrelated to his policies or political views, thus proving themselves, as usual, to be the exact antithesis of actual seriousness.


POSTSCRIPT: One last thing about Bloomberg's poll numbers. Right now his approval in NYC is high - in the 65%-73% range. But if you look at his Q poll numbers over the course of his time in City Hall, you will see that his approval numbers are completely tied to how the economy in the city is doing. When Wall Street is doing well, unemployment is okay and the tax receipts are rolling in, Bloomberg's numbers are quite high. But when the economy was bad, as it was in 2003-2004, his poll numbers sink and he has higher disapproval numbers than approval numbers.

With the economy either falling into a recession or already in one and with financial institutions like Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, Bear Sterns and a bunch of others writing off almost a a hundred billion dollars, and as lay-offs, inflation and recession start to take a toll on the city economy (as the mayor warned it would in his State of the City speech yesterday), you can bet the mayor's approval numbers are going to plummet as they did during the worst of the 2003-2004 economic downturn.

Which means he may not be as popular as he (or his paid shills in and out of the media) think he is.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Britney Update

Forgive me for being remiss on this vital topic. The Education Wonks were very tough on the Britster today. But perhaps things will change when she converts to Islam.

Best Bets

There's an interesting piece in Firedoglake about who can best carry the upcoming 2008 elections. For Republicans, it appears John McCain is their man, but only because FDL has written off Rudy Giuliani. Despite the polls, I wonder how many skeletons would crawl out of Rudy's closet in a major national race.

And though the entire country seems to have written off John Edwards, he looks to be the best chance for Democrats to take the White House, followed by Obama, with Hillary in dead last.
The upshot of all this: If Hillary's the Democratic nominee, we could very easily lose to any likely GOP nominee. If Obama's the nominee, he does OK so long as he doesn't face McCain. But if Edwards is the nominee, we're sitting pretty. Which, I suspect, is one reason why Big Media hates John Edwards so much and does everything it can to destroy him. (Speaking of which: KingOneEye at DailyKos pointed out this morning how the NYT is ignoring a key result of its own poll on the race -- namely, that as more people get to know him, Edwards' favorability rating keeps going up.)

Even though polls show a statistical dead heat in Nevada, Edwards is routinely ignored by mainstream media. Hopefully sometime between now and February 5th, Democrats will take a look at the big picture and vote with their eyes wide open.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Kids and Money

In Nashville, Tennessee they're having kids take personal finance classes. While the article doesn't go into much detail, it could be an excellent idea.

I'm particularly concerned about how kids deal with credit cards. At night, I teach college classes, and the credit folks are standing outside the college, in the student union, and in the cafeteria handing out applications like they're candy. They give free t-shirts, water bottles, and other inconsequential goodies to anyone who signs their forms.

My classroom has a bulletin board on the side, and credit applications hang there by the dozens, stapled over one another.

I remember when I got my first credit card. I was working one job, I foolishly ran it up and couldn't pay it off till I was working two jobs. That frightened me enough to start paying my bills in full each month, and not spending more than I could realistically handle.

New college kids, though, are not that much more mature than they were when they were in high school. I regularly read of such kids running up tens of thousands in debt, and sometimes committing suicide rather than dealing with the debts. While it may be profitable for credit card companies to saddle our children with debt early, we'd damn well better warn them about it.

Classes like these, if done well, could be a good start.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Competitive Bidding Is for the Little People

How on earth is Mayor Bloomberg supposed to get anything done? That goshdarn Thomas diNapoli is at it again. First, he went and audited the KIPP schools, finding the following:

  • lack of documentation of criminal background checks for seven employees at the school;
  • an unclear policy regarding the competitive bidding process that resulted in the awarding of four contracts totaling in $181,584 without the benefit of competition;
  • no written policies and procedures to determine and approve salary increases;
  • missing or incomplete overtime records;
  • no system to track employees’ sick or personal leave accruals; and
  • no written policies and procedures or Board approval for employee bonus and stipend pay.
With such indifference toward compensating their employees, it's no wonder they needed to send them on "vacation" (which supposedly consisted largely of work-related meetings and discussions). When this story came out, "reformers" round the net branded diNapoli as "political." I found that a very unpersuasive argument, as nowhere did they use the word "inaccurate." But it turns out that diNapoli has his eyes on public schools as well.

Apparently, the Bloomberg administration's policy of offering no-bid contracts to whomever they please does not please Mr. diNapoli. Sure, it's easier for Bloomberg to just hand out money to anyone he feels like, but is that in the public's best interest?

The city came under tough criticism in 2006 over a $15.8 million deal with Alvarez & Marsal, a consulting firm that was hired to restructure the schools’ financial operations and cut as much as $200 million from the city’s more than $15 billion budget. The consulting firm also restructured several school bus routes to save money, but the plan infuriated parents when it took effect last January.

You may remember when kids were left to freeze on the coldest days of the year last year. This led to widespread dissatisfaction with the Bloomberg regime, which came to an end only when UFT President Randi Weingarten unilaterally stopped a demonstration against reorganization number 3 (The clear implication that reorganizations 1 and 2 had failed was largely ignored by the press).

Some of the consultants charged as much as $450 an hour for their work, and were able to bill as much as $500 a day for such expenses as transportation and housing.

Perhaps competitive bidding could have saved the city money and avoided the bus fiasco, but apparently the Bloomberg administration feels doing what it wants, when it wants, however it wants is more important.

School officials have said that awarding contracts without bidding gives them more flexibility and allows them to get better and faster results...

What, exactly, are these results? Under Mr. Bloomberg's leadership, I've watched my school mushroom to 250% capacity, and by his own standards (standardized test scores) he's made no progress at all.

Is diNapoli political? Well, of course he is. In fact, that's an adjective I'd apply to virtually all politicians. After all, there's a reason they're called politicians.

Is he accurate? We'll have the results of his audit in six months. Perhaps we can't attribute the unconscionable overcrowding, or the failure to reduce class sizes or raise test scores to no-bid contracts. But kids freezing on NY streets were indeed a disgraceful spectacle, and not remotely the sort of "results" I want, particularly from someone who aspires to be President of the United States.

The Teeth of the Storm

Bad times are coming.

Americans are in debt up to their eyeballs.

Take a look at the chart to the left to see just how much debt levels have increased since the beginning of 2000 (let alone since the 1950's and 1960's!)

For a while now I have been saying that individual and public debt levels in America are at scary levels that cannot be maintained much longer without some serious consequences.

Reaganomics and Bushonomics helped the top 5% (let's call them the "Haves") make tons more money in the past 25 years, but the other 95% (let's call them the "Have Debts") have seen little benefit from trickle-down economics and the Bush tax cuts.

In fact, the bottom 95% are now worse off in 2008, adjusted for inflation, than they were back in 2001 when President Bush first took office.

So the "Have Debts" have resorted to borrowing to maintain lifestyles that could no longer be financed by their squeezed wages or their outsourced jobs. Increased health care, housing, education, food and energy costs have further squeezed the "Have Debts" (although the Greenspan-created Housing Bubble enabled them to survive a little while longer before the implosion...more on that in a minute.)

Times would have been tough, but the "Have Debts," encouraged by Uncle Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve and the president and the media (owned by multi-national corporations with huge stakes in financial institutions) and a bunch of other shills for the credit card companies and banking industry, encouraged people to buy houses (even if they couldn't afford them), encouraged people who already owned homes to refinance them for vacations, home improvements and other consumer spending, and encouraged Americans to do their "patriotic duty" and buy, buy, buy after 9/11, even if all this buying was being done on credit with money people didn't actually have.

The fact that Uncle Alan decreased interest rates to historic lows and kept them there for a very long period of time, further encouraging spending and discouraging saving, helped people to continue on their spendthrift course.

It worked for a while, of course. As long as real estate values continued to inflate, people could continue to tap into their home equity for ready cash or could buy homes, wait six months for them to increase ridiculously in value, and "flip them" to other sellers looking to cash in on the housing market themselves.

The banks played a role, lending to just about anybody with a pulse (my favorite loan product was the NINJA loan - this stands for NO INCOME, NO JOB, NO ASSETS...NO PROBLEM, HERE'S YOUR LOAN!!!), Wall Street investors played a role by buying up all these mortgages after they had been bundled up into CDO's and other non-transparent financial instruments and the regulatory bodies like the ratings agencies and the federal government played a role by turning a blind eye to all the fraud and insanity and calling it "financial innovation."

Now, with real estate values plunging across the country and many of the mortgages made in the last three years going bad, with credit card late payments and defaults increasing, with financial stocks tanking and mortgage companies going belly-up as a result of the bursting of the housing bubble, people are starting to wonder if Uncle Alan Greenspan and the president and the financial companies weren't completely insane for encouraging all this debt.

Only it's kinda too late to do anything about the problem. You see, all that borrowed money has already been spent and it's starting to look like the only way people can continue to make payments on their debt is if they can borrow more money.

Which, due to the credit crisis, tightening lending standards, and falling home prices, they mostly can't.

So, the storm created by Uncle Alan and the banks and the rating agencies and the federal government and the news media and the people who borrowed all that money and now can't pay it back is here.

Amex took a $440 million writedown in the fourth quarter because of credit card defaults. Amex stock fell 11% yesterday and other credit card companies also took a hit as investors fear consumers will continue to default on their credit card bills.

Capital One also cut its profit outlook on Thursday because of default problems.

Countrywide Financial, the nation's largest mortgage lender, was about to go belly-up until Bank of America, perhaps urged by Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, purchased the company that many people feel ushered in the era of lax lending and fraudulent mortgage practices in the first place.

Other financial companies like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup are selling parts of themselves to foreign governments like China to shore up their books after taking record losses from the mortgage mess.

According to the Washington Post, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, UBS, Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns have gotten about $30 billion from sovereign wealth funds. Merrill and Citigroup are set to get another $14 billion. With additional write-downs expected as a result of mortgage losses, credit card and auto loan defaults, (Merrill is expected to write down a total of $15 billion, Citigroup as much as $24 billion), problems with these financial institutions are nowhere near over.

And then there is the job market. Citigroup is rumored to be cutting somewhere between 5%-10% of its workforce (between 17,000 and 34,000 employees) in the coming months. If recession fears turn out to be accurate, firms from Main Street to Wall Street will be laying off tons of people and curtailing spending to weather the storm.

Since 72% of the American economy is powered by consumer spending, when Americans cannot or will not do their "patriotic duty" and go shopping, economic problems will grow even worse. Americans with record debt levels and no jobs will probably not be able to do their patriotic duties and spend, spend, spend.

The Fed will do its part, of course, and try and lower interest rates back to Greenspan levels. Indeed, Uncle Ben Bernanke said Thursday that he is ready to get up into his helicopter and shower the U.S. economy with as much cheap money as it wants or needs. The problem is that food and energy inflation is already so high (oil hovers between $90-$100 a barrel, soybeans and corn hit all-time highs again this week, gold hit $900.10 an ounce this week) that the Federal Reserve risks stoking 70's style inflation if it prints too much money.

We're in a heap of trouble and Uncle Ben and President Bush and the shills on Wall Street know it. The financial markets have suffered their worst start to a year in 20 years. According to Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank, "From an earnings perspective, we're already in recession." The housing market hasn't been this awful since The Great Depression, as home prices and values continue to decline month after month across the country while inventories continue to grow. Manufacturing declined last month for the first time since 2003 while job creation fell to 18,000. Local governments and even state governments like California are facing huge shortfalls and looking to cut millions/billions of dollars in spending. New York City faces a $3.1 billion shortfall in the coming fiscal year and Mayor Bloomberg has said he is open to tax hikes and drastic budget cuts to make ends meet. If stocks continue to tank and Wall Street layoffs are larger than expected, New York City will face even larger budget problems in the near-term.

Scary times, and while it's true that one month does not make a trend, the direction for the U.S. economy seems pretty clear.

The financial excesses of the last decade will have to be paid for. The hangover cannot be put off anymore.

Bad times are coming.

The "Haves" will no doubt weather the storm like they always do.

As for the "Have Debts", I have a feeling that things are going to be really, really bad for awhile.

I hope I'm wrong.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Who Really Took A Vow Of Poverty?

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the union representing 10 high schools run by the Archdiocese of New York urged teachers to call in sick to work on Thursday to protest the lack of a new contract.

The union says about 300 of its 375 members called in sick to work, forcing some schools to close early.

A spokesman for the archdiocese says the "sick-out" has done nothing but hurt the kids in the schools and cause the teachers to lose a day's pay.

The teachers have been without a contract since August 31.

The archdiocese offered a "last, best final offer" of salary increases of 17%-19.5% that would take top salary for teachers from $45,000 a year to $58,000 a year.

In addition, teachers would have to contribute to their health care. The article does not say what percentage of a teacher's salary would go to this contribution.

No new talks have been scheduled between the union and the archdiocese.

Couple of things here:

1. Can you imagine what the tabloid press and politicians would say if Randi Weingarten urged her union members to all call in sick on a particular day to protest the lack of a new contract for UFT members and 80% did so? And can you imagine the havoc such a "sick-out" would wreak across the city?

2. The current top salary for teachers in these 10 Catholic High Schools is $54,000? Yikes, how do these teachers provide for their families? Two jobs? Three jobs? Rob banks?

I guess the archdiocese, which used to use the "free labor" of priests and nuns to teach in their schools, will argue that they cannot pay teachers livable salaries and provide health care for them because they don't have the money.

The church is, after all, in the soul-saving and charity business.

But a cynic would note that the church owns an awful lot of real estate and the cardinals and the archbishops and the bishops and pope live awfully well for men who have taken "vows of poverty".

Just take a walk by St. Patrick's Cathedral and take a look at how well Cardinal Egan is living.

I guess the cardinals and the archbishops and the bishops and the pope figure it's the lay teachers in Catholic schools who have taken a "vow of poverty."

UPDATE: The NY Post reports low-end salaries for Catholic high school teachers currently stand at $38,107 and high-end salaries currently stand at $45,757. Under the offer from the archdiocese, low-end salaries would rise to $44,585 while high-end salaries would increase to $54,701. The highest salary offered would be $58,200.

Try raising a family in New York City in 2008 on any of those figures.

"Reformers" at Work

Ah, the battle cry of the "reformers." Schools are for the children, not for the adults that work there. If the adults are treated well, the children must be getting a bad deal. I suppose, therefore, public school teachers in NYC must be the best since we have the lowest pay, the highest class sizes, and the worst working conditions in the area.

Oddly, though, the theme song of Mayor Bloomberg and his "reforms" is still "Children First." Now he's managed to worsen working conditions for teachers considerably, so you'd think he'd be satisfied. But every time the UFT tosses away another hard-earned right, he demands more.

Perhaps he's just jealous. In New Orleans, they've beaten Mayor Bloomberg at his own game. After President Bush did a heckuva job with Hurricane Katrina, he managed to privatize, voucherize, and charterize most of those nasty public schools. And it turns out that the new charter schools don't offer health benefits to retiring teachers.

So when Dennis Mischler went back to work after a leave of absence, he couldn't return to his former workplace. Now this certainly shows that the Lusher Charter School, where he worked before it became a charter school, is not concerned about adults. Bravo!, cry the "reformers." Parents are less convinced: Lusher parent complains that Mischler feels forced to leave midyear -- and that other teachers might need to leave school shortly before their retirements as well.

"I just find it very frustrating that the School Board would think that it would be an educationally sound move to yank a teacher out of a classroom," said Lonnie Smith, whose four children attend Lusher.

After the parents, the only hitch for the "reformers" is the children they care about so much. The sad truth is that they're very likely to become adults (the same selfish oafs we have to stop worrying about), and will face a world of fewer and less desirable opportunities. Who wants a career that dumps you after 20 years with no insurance? Who wants their kids to have such careers?

You can't minimize the importance of medical insurance. I just got a bill for some medical tests that came to almost $2,000. GHI paid $136, and I have to send $15, so the company was able to profit even after offering GHI a 90% discount. The poor shmoe without insurance is out of pocket for 2000 bucks. Should teachers have to wait till they're eligible for Medicare to retire? Will the prospect of a miserable future attract the best and brightest?

Clearly some think so. But young people don't always consider they'll one day be old people, and things are not getting easier in these United States. When I was a kid, I lived across the street from a guy who worked in a bread factory. He was the sole support of his family of six. Today, they'd be living in a tree, and not one in a very good neighborhood either.

There's more to life than test scores. There's the future of our children, and as far as I can see, once they pass those tests, the "reformers" don't give a damn about them. Let's leave things better, not worse, for our children, for the people who will have to work here.

Thanks to Schools Matter and Schoolgal

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Haga como digo, no como hago

Rudy Giuliani insists immigrants must read English, write English, and speak English to become citizens. Curiously, he neglects to mention these demands on his Spanish-language ad:

Hat tip to Crooks and Liars

President Mike

Good old Mayor Mike. He finds strikes by public employees morally reprehensible, but greets torturers with the best of them. Is this the sort of "centrist" philosophy our country needs right now? Well, over at Pseudo-Intellectualism, blogger David Bellel stumbled upon a biting analysis by Tom Robbins suggesting President Bloomberg may not be what the country is clamoring for after all:

Michael Bloomberg thinks he hears America calling. He alone hears this call, but that doesn't matter. Unfortunately for us, he is eager to answer...

He needs no stinking caucuses to do this, no treading through New Hampshire snows, no forced smiles through endless living-room chats, no stadium rallies only half-filled with supporters, no late-night flights over frozen cornfields, no town-hall meetings that so easily go awry with one little misspoken word. He need engage in none of these tedious democratic exercises. He will simply buy himself a place on the ballot, just as he did here in New York in 2001.

Now you have to grant that Mayor Bloomberg bought Graycie Mansion fair and square. It was a minor miracle, with Rudy Giuliani's 9/11 ascension from bum to saint, Mark Green's astounding ineptitude, and of course, all that money. But can Bloomberg buy the White House?

Ross Perot tried and failed in 92. Before the race, all I'd known about Ross Perot was what I'd read in Ken Follet's On Wings of Eagles. I thought he was an American hero. By the end of the race he looked like a paranoid lunatic (though in retrospect, he was right about NAFTA). Will Mayor Bloomberg fare better under public scrutiny? It's hard to say. He could talk endlessly about the nebulous "reforms" he's embarked upon here in NYC. But who will listen?

Michael Bloomberg, who couldn't get a crowd to stand on its feet and cheer with real enthusiasm to save his life; Michael Bloomberg, who raises the temperature in the room only when he reaches for his wallet; Michael Bloomberg, who has managed to duck every tough question about the direst issues confronting our country, from Iraq to Iran. Michael Bloomberg will run for president because he hears America calling for change. He alone hears his own name in that same wind, but no matter. He can do so because he can afford to. And that's that.

So he can buy a lot of air time, no doubt. Robbins suggests it would be problematic for Bloomberg to face either McCain or Obama, but any other lineup and all systems are go. As usual, NYC public employees are already on the case:

His full-time Deputy Mayor for Presidential Politics, Kevin Sheekey, keeps track of these small but vital things. Sheekey did such a good job for Bloomberg's re-election that Bloomberg paid him a $400,000 bonus. Back on the city payroll, Bloomberg hiked Sheekey's salary to almost $200,000 a year, this time with our money.

So if you're enjoying "reform," calculated solely to raise test scores, that doesn't actually work, on a local level, here's your chance to see it used all over the country. And if you think billionaires don't have enough power in this country, here's your chance to do something about it.