Thursday, July 31, 2008

Out to Lunch

I'll be in Wind Gap Pennsylvania for a few days. Sadly, my laptop is very sick and had to go to the laptop hospital so I may be offline a couple of days.

Enjoy your vacation, if you're having one, and if you're teaching summer school, you have my sympathy. Remember, once you're finished, you don't have to go back until September.

Oops. I meant August.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In Which I Stand on Principle

I got a call this morning at 7:35 AM asking me to sub at the college in which I work, about 25 miles away from my house. Having stayed at the library until closing time the previous evening, I was asleep. But I woke up ten minutes later and returned the call.

Now, the hourly pay is pretty good, and I'm a mercenary whore, so I tossed on some clothes and subbed for three hours. But I wonder...what on earth was my boss doing in at 7:45 AM? I mean, what's the point of even being boss if you have to be in an hour before classes start?

If I were boss, I'd come in around 11 AM, scream at everyone for 10-15 minutes, and go home. After all, who wants to miss All My Children just because of work? When I pointed that out to my boss, she suggested I not open with it in my next job interview. Fortunately, I have no ambition, and I'll always be a lowly teacher.

But here's what really grinds my gears---after I subbed 3 hours, I found there was actually another three hours to sub, and that the teacher had gotten hold of someone else to do it. There I was, with a perfectly good parking space, ready to whore myself out for another 3 hours, and for what?

It turns out that this other sub was not only a mercenary whore like me, but had also put up a sign in the office offering to whore himself out at any time. I mean sure, I don't have any more integrity than he does, but I don't go around boasting about it. It's one thing to be a mercenary whore, but quite another to place signs in prominent places advertising it.

I have scruples.

Catch the Carnival..

... this week at The Chancellor's New Clothes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Maverick Johny

Well, Ol' John McCain loves our men and women in uniform. That's why he took a position against the GI Bill, and that's why he didn't vote for it. That's why he voted against Webb's call for adequate time between deployment, and that's why he voted against 20 million for the VA. That's why he didn't want to fund safety equipment for the troops he so passionately supports.

He's passionate about our troops, but consistently votes against their interests. If you're a teacher, or anyone who needs to work for a living, you can count on him voting against your interests as well. What else does Mr. McCain stand for? Well, it's tough to say, as he seems to tailor his positions toward whatever he thinks will get him elected on that particular day:

But the media adores him nonetheless. No matter how many of his previous firebrand positions he tosses in the trash, they yammer about what a "maverick" he is. Don't any of these journalists bother to follow the news?

Choose Your Tattoo Artist Carefully...

...or you may regret it. More examples right here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

Everyone's favorite chancellor, Michelle Rhee, is out pretending to be Mike Bloomberg again. Here's a recent quote:

"We are finally going to put aside the rights and privileges and priorities of adults" — and return the focus to children, she said.

Mayor Mike said almost the same thing a few years back. It's interesting that, as chancellor,Ms. Rhee would portray education is an incredibly simplistic struggle between children and adults, with only one possible winner. You'd think, "Gee, it must be a pleasure to teach in the DC school system. Boy, those teachers must be delighted to be in those schools and partying 24/7. They must be having dance parties while I'm doing hall patrol."

It's a wonder we don't all get in our cars and look for work there. But let's get back to Ms. Rhee's conflict.

You'd have to ask yourself this--exactly whom do we make the world a better place for? Children or adults? Well, if we're going to pursue this preposterous question, I'd say adults, since we spend most of our lives as adults.

Or we could simply come down to planet earth and ask ourselves this question--what do our children become when they grow up? Please choose one:

a. lawn chairs
b. kangaroos
c. bicycle seats
d. adults

If you answered "d," you've passed NYC Educator's weekly multiple choice exam. Congratulations on your discerning judgment.

Now that we've established our children are going to grow up to be adults, doesn't it make sense to at least offer them job protection? Or should we leave our children to the tender mercies of demagogues like Ms. Rhee? I mean, can we trust her?

sent me here, where Jim Horn informs us of the following:

Back in January Chancellor Michelle Rhee argued for and got the closing of 23 DC Schools, based on the premise of saving taxpayers $23 million. Now it seems that Rhee will use $7.5 million of those saved dollars to bail out five Catholic schools in DC, which are now scheduled to open this Fall as "secular" charter schools.

So I gotta wonder this--if Ms. Rhee has no qualms about misleading the taxpayers (who are, after all, adults, whose rights and privileges and priorities deserve to be put aside anyway), what reason do we have to suppose she'd look after our children? Because make no mistake, Ms. Rhee wants the right to fire working people with no due process whatsoever.

Don't enough people get fired in this country? Shouldn't we be aiming for fewer, rather than more Americans losing jobs for no reason?

And shouldn't our children have rights based on something more secure than the changing whims of Michelle Rhee?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Middleman

My 12-year-old daughter started recording this show on the TIVO a few weeks back, and I'm fairly certain she and I are the only people on earth who watch it. But it's really offbeat and worth a look. Here's a sample:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Don't Shoot Your Lawnmower with a Sawed Off Shotgun

It can void the warranty.

It Came from Lane 28

My class demanded to go to a baseball game. I checked out tickets to the Mets, which I thought were too expensive--I'm not asking 50 bucks a piece to sit in the bleachers--and minor league teams seem to only play at night.

"I want to play bowling," said one of my students, in the way only an ESL student could, and that was the beginning of our big trip yesterday to a bowling alley. I can't bowl worth a damn, and many of my students were even worse. The highest scoring bowler walked up to the line, rolled the ball with both hands, and somehow managed to hit pins consistently--a gutter ball and then a spare.

One of my students complained bitterly that everyone else kept depriving her of the ball she liked--a green and red affair with an alien painted on it.

"We'll find you another ball." I said.

"No," she replied, "I think this one is magic."

"That's ridiculous," I told her.

She wrestled the ball from her classmate and insisted I try it. I bowled a strike. The next time she gave me the ball, I bowled another.

I've gotta stop hanging around bowling alleys.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Green Dots in Locke (and NYC)

Green Dot Charter Schools have taken over Locke High School in LA, and columnist Steve Lopez of the LA Times sees improvements already. Apparently they've dumped two-thirds of the teaching staff, instituted dress codes for students, and tightened up security considerably.

I work in what's considered an excellent regular high school, but it would be much better if administration were to accept no nonsense from kids. I don't accept it in my classes, but I really can't get involved in the halls as I'm dead certain I will receive little or no backup.

Public schools here are not permitted to mandate dress codes, as Green Dot apparently is. And while Chancellor Klein talks a big game about reporting illegal and dangerous behavior, there's little incentive for principals to cooperate as it may impact negatively on their ability to earn 30 grand in merit pay.

Lopez offers no evidence tenure and seniority for teachers would preclude what's described in the column, or that union contracts stood in the way of any of the changes mentioned. Certainly Chancellor Klein would love to have the option of firing two-thirds of working teachers and replacing them with shiny new Teaching Fellows, TFAs, and newbies at half the salary. After all, there are still stadiums to be built.

Here in NYC, he's got a willing collaborator in UFT President Randi Weingarten, who's partnered with Green Dot to open a charter in NYC. Ms. Weingarten and her Edwize minions insist that what they have at Green Dot is better than tenure. It's difficult for me to imagine that the newly-fired Locke teachers share her sentiments right now. In fact, Green Dot ejects not only tenure, but seniority rights as well. Here's what its website proclaims:

Key reforms embodied in the AMU contract include: teachers have explicit say in school policy and curriculum; no tenure or seniority preference...

Perhaps you're willing to trust the good graces of Green Dot. Perhaps you believe they won't dump you out on the street, as they just did to two-thirds of the teachers at Locke. Probably the teachers at Locke thought that too, or they wouldn't have invited Green Dot in the first place. After all, Green Dot's Steve Barr bought them pizza, so he must be a good guy. Right?

More remarkable than any of this is the fact that the United Federation of Teachers, whose job, ostensibly, is to stand up and negotiate for us, would invite this company into the city.

On May 17th, 2007, the LA Times ran an editorial which stated Locke teachers:

...are perfectly willing to loosen work rules and toss tenure out the classroom window...

I wrote about this story here on that very day, saying:
Green Dot charter schools are interesting to me. I was thrilled when Eduwonk featured its founder, Steve Barr, as a guest blogger. I thought unionized charters were a hopeful sign for innovative education. But it turns out there's no tenure in Mr. Barr's variety of union, and the LA Times urges teachers to toss it out the classroom window.

This provoked a typically vicious response from Leo Casey, Ms. Weingarten's internet mouthpiece:

From the “make up whatever facts fit today’s rant” school of thought, there is the assertion that Barr has thrown tenure out the window.

Mr. Casey, via his link, attributes the assertion to me. However, it was the LA Times who made the remark. Thus, Leo Casey, unelected UFT High School Vice-President, shows that he'd rather libel a working teacher than abide criticism of a charter school boss who explicitly rejects both tenure and seniority.

Working people have it very tough in the USA nowadays. It's simply unconscionable that union officials should be working at making things worse. And despite what the Unity/New-Action machine may tell you, Rod "The NEA is a terrorist organization" Paige admires UFT President Randi Weingarten but not because she's improved the lot of working people.

Leo Casey asks:

...why let the facts get in the way of a good rant?

Why indeed, Mr. Casey? Now that we have more facts about Green Dot, I have total confidence you'll ignore them utterly. You've got your gig, and your two pensions, and really, who gives a damn if generations of Americans will suffer for your willful and unconscionable refusal to confront reality?

PS: At Locke, Green Dot gets just just one more little advantage:

With the help of private donations, class sizes will be kept at about 28 instead of 40.

There's nothing like a level playing field, and Green Dot's sweetheart deal is nothing like a level playing field at all. Wouldn't it be nice if we had lower class sizes too? It's odd we don't. The UFT declared "Mission Accomplished" on class sizes back on April 12th, 2007.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Don't Behave Like a Fool

That's what right-wing commentator Michael Savage's father told him. Now he's on the radio claiming that 99% of autistic children are simply acting out.

I have a nephew with Asperger's syndrome who's better behaved than Mr. Savage.

Taking Care

In one of my college classes, we'd just read a piece that touted the virtues of polygamy, and how convenient it was to have your sister wives watch your children while you were at work. No nasty microwave dinners, no kids fixing their own breakfast--a veritable paradise, according to the author.

None of the women found it an appealing notion, while a few macho guys from various cultures discussed how great it must be to have nine wives. Still, they failed to find any virtue in the concept of polyandry.

The conversation drifted to how government could help out new mothers.

"My friend had a baby, and they gave her seven months of with pay," said one of my students. I think she's from Senegal

"My sister-in-law got 12 months," I told her.

"Was that here?" asked another student.

"She lives in Canada." I said.

"I want to move there," said a young woman from France.

"But things are not bad where you come from, are they?" I asked. "I hear no one works more than 35 hours a week?"

My Asian students looked over at her in amazement. They had never heard of such a thing.

"And everyone gets six weeks vacation. But the new Prime Minister wants to change that," she responded.

"How do you feel about that?" I asked.

"I'm against it," she said.

I can't say I blame her. Like many Americans, I work multiple jobs. It seems like, as far as working people go, our country is moving backwards. When I was a kid I lived across the street from a guy who worked in a Taystee Bread factory. His wife didn't work, and they raised four kids in that house. Today they'd have to apply for Medicaid and live in a tree.

And on a factory worker's salary, that tree would almost certainly not be in a good neighborhood.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Amaze Your Friends

Where did American Teacher get that cool jargon-filled comment? From the homepage listed right there--the educational jargon generator. Be the first on your block to stun administrators with phrases like:

transform developmentally appropriate assessment


undefined performance-based infrastructures


transition performance-based action-items

or even

cultivate multi-media paradigms.

You'll be the talk of the office as you whiz past their meager comprehension of only the handful of prescribed terms. They'll offer you per-session hours. They'll give you that comp-time position where you can sit in front of a computer and look up the best hotels for weekend getaways.

Maybe they'll even offer you an administrative position. You could be AP, or even principal. I'd say even chancellor, but that office is strictly reserved for non-teachers. After all, who better to run the largest school system in the country than someone with no experience whatsoever?

The important thing is to talk the talk. Anyone can walk the walk, especially if they have the op-ed boards of all the local papers in their pockets.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ducks at Work

Near where I live, there's a duck pond. There's also a big sign just like the one you see here.

I've lived here for 15 years, and never much thought about it. But I was driving down the road with my wife and daughter, and lo and behold, right in front of us, was a line of ducks crossing the road.

It wasn't smart, I'll grant you. I mean, I wouldn't walk across a busy street like that, particularly if I were with my kids. And this duck had quite a few of them. But what do you expect? She's a duck, after all.

But the cars behind me started honking, imploring me to plow over those birds so they could get to Starbucks and buy that latte, or go home and open up that Hustler mag they'd just bought, or get to their friend's house in time to catch Dr. Phil.

"Why are they honking like that, Daddy?" my daughter asked.

And you know, I had a response right there, right on the tip of my tongue. But I try not to use that sort of language in front of my daughter.

"It's hard to say," I told her.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

This Year's Jargon

differentiated intruction
paradigm shift
multiple intelligences
common planning
common assessment

Thanks to Mrs. T. for composing this list. Here is your mission:

When speaking with colleagues, particularly when administrators are present, toss about these terms as much as humanly possible. Do so with absolute confidence, so the administrators think you know what they mean.

When you're convinced they believe you understand all this stuff, go to the classroom and teach the kids, secure in the knowledge that the administrators won't get in your way. If they actually understand all the buzzwords, they'll be happy you appear to be using them. If they don't, they'll avoid you so you won't expose their unconscionable ignorance.

Mass Media at "Work"

Andrew Sullivan writes about a Newsweek reporter interviewing X-Files star Gillian Anderson. The reporter's first approach to Miss Anderson:
I've got to confess. I don't know anything about "The X-Files."

With standards like that, it's no surprise their education reporters are ready to believe anything about "reforms."

Friday, July 18, 2008


Poor William L. Jews. His compensation package for leaving his position as CareFirst CEO has been cut by more than half. This means Mr. Jews will not get the $18 million severance he was expecting, but will receive less than 9 million bucks. Can you imagine having to get by on just shy of 9 million bucks? I mean, you can't even buy a decent Santa Barbara estate for that kind of money anymore.

Why was this outrage perpetrated? Well, it seems CareFirst is a nonprofit health provider, like New York's GHI and HIP:

In a 65-page order, state Insurance Commissioner Ralph S. Tyler wrote that CareFirst's board had violated a 2003 state law requiring executive pay for the nonprofit to meet a "fair and reasonable" standard. The decision marks the first test of the law, which was passed by legislators furious with Jews for trying to convert CareFirst to a for-profit entity and sell it to a California company.

The proposed deal to sell CareFirst included $39 million in potential bonuses for Jews and led to sharp criticism over the insurer's pay to executives, which helped to scuttle the deal. While executive pay has skyrocketed on Wall Street, lawmakers and regulators have argued that CareFirst should be held to a different standard. The company is the region's largest insurer, but its nonprofit status means that its mission should be to provide affordable and accessible health insurance, they contend.

So that, apparently, is the problem. Had Mr. Jews been successful in converting the company to "for-profit" status, he'd have been able to collect his 18 mil, and policy holders would have been left to pay the tab one way or another. In fact, NYC employees, most of whom are covered under GHI and HIP, are facing a very similar situation.

UFT/ AFT President Randi Weingarten is fighting privatization right now. That's because she'd like a larger share of the IPO to feed her Unity/New Action patronage mill, which now has to sputter by on less than a hundred million per annum. And heartbreaking though her situation may be, the fact is that "for-profit" status will most certainly mean price-hikes and care reduction for most of the city's employees.

There is an intrepid group of teachers fighting this money grab and you can find them right here. Here is their most recent newsletter. And here's something you can do tonight, if you're so inclined:

Our next meeting is Friday July 18th at 6:30pm at 339 Lafayette St. Buzzer #11 Please email us at or call (718) 869-2279

If you're a teacher, don't be afraid to reach out and let Ms. Weingarten know you oppose privatization. Ms. Weingarten, living in a rah-rah Unity cocoon, is blissfully unaware that there are working teachers who can envision the future. Her double-pensioned sycophants are not about to educate her, so it's up to us.

We are teachers, after all. But you're also doing it for the police, the firefighters, and all the hard-working people that make the city what it is.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Skill Sets

I'm teaching college for the summer, so I'm pondering whether or not that makes me a professor. My official job title is "adjunct lecturer," which perhaps suggests I talk all the time. I don't. I'm the listening/ speaking teacher, and it's my job to open up the students (who can be painfully timid).

As a high school teacher, I bring certain tricks of the trade that my full-time college colleagues don't have. For two weeks, several of my co-teachers have been complaining that one of our classes does not participate. Today, two of them revealed that by placing them into groups, they'd gotten them to open up a bit. They were very pleased with this. I'd placed them in groups the first day I saw them, and noticed they did well. I've never had a problem making them participate.

One of my students is a little lethargic. Today he fell asleep in class while I was explaining a task. I looked at him while I was talking, and bent over him in the manner of Vincent D'Onofrio on Law and Order CI. The girl next to him nudged him awake. Moments later he nodded off again, I walked right next to him and continued with the instructions--except I spoke in the loudest voice I could muster.

He woke up immediately, and I didn't lose him again.

I do these things reflexively, almost without thinking. Many of my current colleagues are largely unaccustomed to such situations and don't know how to deal with them. Public school teachers can deal with these things without breaking a sweat.

They shouldn't underestimate us. Teaching isn't easy, but we can do it. It would be a lot rougher for them to step into our shoes.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hot Links

Leonie Haimson skewers Jonathan Alter.

The Carnival comes to town.

Renowned hedge fund magnate Smellington J. Worthington tells us what's good in NYC schools.

I love quotes. For your reading pleasure, Scheiss Weekly offers 50.

Why Work?

It's not necessary anymore. Beginning August 12th, you can get "Imagine Teacher" and simply do the job on your Nintendo DS. No more crazy administrators, no more op-eds proclaiming you are the scum of the earth, no more nasty personal issues to resolve, and no more hunting down phone numbers of your students' families.

Or maybe it's not so easy after all. The notes say, "The game really begins when you meet some characters who don't want you to succeed. "

Anyway, just turn on your little game and there you are.

What more could you ask?

I'm gonna imagine reasonable class sizes, a classroom with windows, enough space in it to actually fit my students, and a school that's not crammed to over double capacity.

What are you gonna imagine?

Play as a rookie teacher who takes over a class in a newly built modern school. At the beginning your class only has a few kids because most of the kids in town are used to going to a school located in the next town over. It is your job to bring those students back to make your classroom and school the best place to learn. The game really begins when you meet some characters who don't want you to succeed.

Key Features

  • Increase your students' knowledge via fun mini games-Teach them writing, science (math & biology), culture (geography & history). Develop their artistic skills like music, drawing, and pottery. Celebrate events including birthdays and the end of the year party.
  • Help your students find their true vocation
  • Pay attention to your students' behaviors to manage their mood and create the best learning atmosphere-All kids have their own personalities and favorite subjects. Create a seating chart in the classroom to prevent them from chatting, being a distraction or fooling around.
  • Create the school of your dreams-Buy or collect new items to upgrade your classroom and school
  • Interact with many different characters-Not only do you take care of your students, but talk to their parents and school staff.
  • Multiplayer-Connect up to 4 DS a single card allowing you and your friends to play mini-games.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Everything Old Is New Again

Do you think your job is tough? Well it probably is. Maybe you’ve taken the wrong path.

If you’d only known the right people, you could have become a Tweed flunkie, perpetually dreaming up new ways to justify your six-figure salary. How would that be?

Well, you’d have to sit for hours and consider, for example, should you come up with a new idea? No, if you had any imagination, you’d probably never have gotten this job in the first place. Should you inspire teachers with your years of experience? No, that’s out of the question, what with your not once in your life having ever set foot in a public school, let alone worked in one.

Should you amuse them, at least? No, if you had any talent or sense of humor, why would your mother have had to get this job for you? What if you just gave them another few hours of long-winded convoluted trendy edu-speak with no value whatsoever? That usually works. Hmmmm...

Wait! You have a sudden flash of inspiration. You could just take the same old idea everyone’s been using for fifty years, give it a new name, and claim to have invented it. Then, when they do the same old thing they’ve been doing forever, you can tell the chancellor they’re using your idea. When standards go down, and test scores consequently go up, you can take credit for it!

Let’s see…you’ll need a big word here…OK, you can call it congruency, and amaze everyone by announcing that the do now and motivation have to be mostly related to the lesson. For example, you could caution teachers not to give too many algebraic equations as leads-up to lessons on Hamlet.

Wait—you’d better throw in another big word here—tell them to not even call it the do now and motivation—it’ll now be now the “anticipatory set.” That’s far less likely to be understood! You could explain it by saying “Teachers consciously stimulate the neural network so that the learner will be ready to make connections between prior experience and new learning.” Let them crawl under their beds and figure that out.

This has great potential. You can make up confusing handouts with arcane illustrations and spend hours at meetings explaining them to supervisors who are obliged to pretend they’re interested. Then, for the two extra days of talking you’ll have to do this August, you can rattle off the same thing to the teachers. Just sit them in groups and make them discuss it and give presentations on how they’ll use it. That’ll kill three or four hours right there.

So basically, the introduction to the lesson should be somewhat related to the rest of the lesson. How can you phrase that so no one will be precisely certain what you’re talking about, thus necessitating endless hours of clarifying discussion? What about this—“Most of the Teacher Actions are on a one-to-one match with the Teacher Objective.” That oughta do it.

Maybe you can make a video. That could kill a few hours, and you can show it at every meeting. Now you’ll need speakers no one exactly understands, to facilitate discussion groups who could try to figure out what the heck it’s about. By the time they report back, that’ll have killed two days right there.

Oh well, 11:30—time for another gala luncheon.

This job sure beats working.

Originally posted November 24, 2005

Monday, July 14, 2008

Webmaster's Note

You are certainly entitled to your opinions as to precisely which racial or religious groups you deem it proper to discriminate against. Nonetheless, you will have to express them elsewhere. They are totally unacceptable on this forum.

Thank you.

Bailout Monday

Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson issued a statement last Friday saying the federal government would NOT be bailing out mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

That was Friday.

By Sunday, word came down the Bush administration was prepared to provide whatever funding necessary to ensure Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would not go belly up.

As Cunning Realist noted Friday
, this looked like it was going to be an exact repeat of the Bear Sterns debacle.

The Friday before Bear Sterns was essentially liquidated, the Bushies said there would be no government action to aid the firm but they would be monitoring the situation over the weekend.

Of course by Sunday night it became clear that the Bush administration considered Bear Sterns one of those "Too Big To Fail" institutions and was already in the process of providing $30 billion taxpayer dollars to back up Chase's acquisition of Bear Sterns.

Same thing happened this weekend.

As many have started to note, while the Bush administration has sold us for years on the Ownership Society in which people are supposed to take the risks and responsibilities for their own lives, livelihoods and retirements, what they've really been doing behind the scenes is creating the the socialization of capitalism - if you're big and rich and powerful, there's safety net for you in Washington DC ready print up lots of dollars and send 'em your way.

At least for the investment class, that is.

For the rest of us, bailouts only come when they are forced to do them (i.e., when the press cameras are on them.)

Thus New Orleans got "help" or what what Hank Paulson would call a "government bailout" when the media were paying attention.

He does not call the Bear Sterns/Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae taxpayer bailouts by that name however.

Rather they are instead a means of "providing liquidity to ensure an orderly operation of markets during a period of financial stress."

See the difference?

Anyway, when the press got bored with the Katrina story and went on to following the next ball of yarn, there wasn't much of a government bailout for the Katrina victims anymore anyway, especially once the Bushie cronies had gotten their hands on as much of the reconstruction funds as they could.

The same will happen for the homeowners going belly-up on their mortgages. It's an election year, so both parties are ready to "help" but you can bet the help will be pretty ineffectual for most and fade away after the election.

You see, Joe and Susie Upside Down Mortgage aren't "Too Big To Fail" once the election season is over and their votes are counted.

Ahh, yes, we are all equal in Bush's Ownership Society, but some of us are more equal than others.

As a side note to this mess, can you imagine if Bushie and the Republicans had gotten their way and had privatized Social Security and put the dough in blue chip stock like GM, Lehman, Bear Sterns, or Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae?

Yeah, that would have been fantastic for the long-term health of the Social Security program.

Okay, not really.

But it absolutely WOULD have been fantastic for the long-term wealth of the Wall Street shills and Bush cronies handling the money and taking their fees.

You know, the very same guys who created messes like Bear Sterns, Indymac, and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac.

The ones we as tax payers are bailing out this morning.

The guys who are "Too Big Too Fail."

Office Politics

Mr. Greenberg was writing a lesson plan in his department office. Ms. Languageteacher walked in and instructed him to get up.

"That my chair," she informed him.

Mr. Greenberg looked down. "I didn't see your name on it."

"No say nothing," she said. "That my chair."

"You're breaking my heart," he replied, "but I'm not moving."

This comment was not to her liking. "What you mean, I breaking your heart?"

"I mean I'm not moving," he replied.

Now Ms. Languageteacher was angry. And she began to express her anger for 10-15 minutes, in front of a dozen teachers. Failing to get a rise out of him, she decided to unleash one of the sophisticated vocabulary words she had learned from the book she used to teach her class English.

"You know what you problem is? You are a capricious, that you problem."

Mr. Greenberg sat and continued writing, or at least pretended to. For Ms. Languageteacher, this was intolerable. Finally she really let him have it.

"You are a JEWISH!" she proclaimed. "You are a JEWISH!"

Mr. Greenberg was not all that surprised. He had known for a long time that he was a Jewish. At this point, though, he felt he had listened to Ms. Languageteacher long enough. He got out of the coveted chair, left the office, and reported Ms. Languageteacher to the guy who was supposed to deal with racial discrimination in the building.

Ms. Languageteacher stayed in the office screaming for another 20 minutes.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Where Is Mr. Klein's Magic Parachute?

by special guest blogger Yo Miss! (formerly in Bushwick)

In an article published at, Ray Fisman says,

New York’s schools chancellor, Joel Klein, has gotten rid of some teachers through a program that effectively gives them a golden parachute out of teaching—they aren’t allowed into the classroom, though they stay on the payroll. But this is a very expensive Band-Aid.

Fisman’s article, on the whole, is asking a question that, no doubt, many of us have asked ourselves: How do poor teachers get into the school system in the first place? Let’s not pretend, Lake Wobegon-style, that every teacher is above-average. We’ve all seen, heard, and worked with teachers whose practice is not what it should be. Many of those individuals are well-meaning and could improve their teaching, but some should simply be in another line of work. We know this, as teachers. Administrators know it too. Yet the personal, professional, and academic traits that predict success as a teacher are notoriously difficult to identify and quantify—not to mention that not everyone agrees on what “success” as a teacher looks like.

Fisman’s question—“Why are public schools so bad at hiring good teachers?”—is a question worth asking. He brings up a few points that have personally engaged and perplexed me as a teacher and researcher, namely why standardized test scores, such as SAT scores, among teachers tend to be such a reliable predictor of student success. But, if self-reported data is reliable, most teachers who have been in the New York City system more than five years already possess most or all of the traits, attained before beginning their teaching careers, that research indicates improve student achievement. Most of these teachers continue their professional education after obtaining a master’s degree and are open to a wide variety of innovations in teaching practices.

So why is student achievement in New York City, then, still lagging behind? The achievement gap seems to be narrowing, yet city children still do not do as well as their suburban or upstate counterparts. Any number of theories have been proposed for why this is, but Fisman, and unfortunately too many people like him, have concluded that it is clearly the fault of the teachers. It has nothing to do with a constantly in-flux student population, nothing to do with poverty, nothing to do with a lack of value and focus on academics in families. None of those factors are mentioned in Fisman’s piece. No, it is clearly all the fault of poor teachers.

Now, here’s where Fisman’s analysis really goes off the tracks. Toward the end of his piece, Fisman makes the aforementioned comment about Joel Klein’s “golden parachute.” I’d be very interested to know what “program” this is. Is Klein finally admitting that there is an organized effort to remove veteran teachers from their posts—some of whom may be incompetent, some of whom may just be unpopular—via “rubber-rooming,” specious claims of unsatisfactory teaching or insubordination, and systematic demoralization? What is this “program” called? Who administers it? I’d certainly like to know.

For Fisman, naturally, the solution is union-busting. Particularly alarming for anyone considering a teaching career is Fisman’s suggestion that early-career teachers receive no union membership at all. Perhaps Mr. Fisman does not realize that in New York City, that means going without glasses, teeth cleanings, and prescription drugs for two to three years. That means no way to take advantage of PIP, no way to know what your rights are, no limit on what your supervisor can or can’t make you do. For young teachers already overwhelmed by the requirements of their new career, this is clearly a disturbing proposal.

So let’s review: According to Fisman, everything would be okay if we didn’t hire poor teachers in the first place. That’s not such a bad idea. An apprenticeship-like system for new teachers also has its merits—as has been mentioned in this blog and others, many private schools have very successful systems like that in place. But union-busting in the name of improving teacher quality isn’t going to magically solve anyone’s problems. And that’s not the biggest issue with Fisman’s piece. I’m still wondering what we call Mr. Klein’s Magic Parachute—and, if this is such a wonderful program, why we’re not all tripping over each other to get into it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mr. Klein's "Truth Squad" Takes a Whoopin'...

...courtesy of Sol Stern on Eduwonk today.

I Believe In Magic

Woke up and put on CNBC this morning like I do every weekday morning.

On Tuesday one of the "perma-bears" on the channel told me the market had bottomed and Tuesday was a wonderful day to buy, buy, buy. Oil was heading downward (it eventually fell from the mid-$140's to the mid-$130's this week), the battered financial sector was ripe for bottom-picking, the market was on the way up and all was well with America.

Yesterday the McCain campaign, echoing the CNBC perma-bears, dismissed the economic problems the country is facing as a "mental recession" and called Americans a "nation of whiners" for not seeing the silver lining in outsourcing, record high oil prices, record high food prices, record high health care costs, soaring inflation, a credit crisis, a tanking stock market, record foreclosures, and a housing market in depression.

You see, the problem is with your mindset, not the Bush financial policies of tax-cut and spend and business deregulation that brought so many of these problems to fruition in the first place.

And yet this morning when I turned on CNBC, all I heard was panic.

Here's why:

Shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two pillars of the nation's housing market, continued to plummet yesterday as investors and federal officials contemplated the possibility that the giants of the mortgage business could require a federal bailout.


The failure of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac could be devastating, making it harder for people to buy and sell homes and sending ripple effects through the broader economy.

If Fannie and Freddie go under, you're looking at a trillion dollar taxpayer bail-out that will make the Bear Sterns bailout look small.

If Fannie and Freddie go under and they aren't bailed out, the housing market is REALLY going to get hammered.

The credit crisis has already choked off mortgage money for many borrowers; Fannie and Freddie have picked up the slack - but if they can't lend, then very few people will be able to get home loans.

With home values already down 15% in many areas around the country, the bottom would fall out of the market and you'd have an awful lot of homeowners with upside down mortgages (owe more than the home is worth.)

That really would complicate the foreclosure problem, wouldn't it?

Which would really complicate this "mental recession" so many of us are suffering from.

Couple the Fannie/Freddie panic with spiking oil prices (oil futures are back up to an all-time high - $146.90) and the Dow threatening to fall below the 11,000 support level this morning, and I get why the CNBCers sound so panicked.

But here's what I don't get. Throughout the economic problems of the last year and a half, from the failing hedge funds to the Bear Sterns bailout to the locking up of the credit markets to the dismal job numbers to the soaring commodity prices, so often I hear from the boys and girls who supposedly know about these things is "The worst is over, the markets have bottomed, this economy is the greatest story never told..."

And yet, isn't it becoming increasingly clear that the worst is NOT over for either the main street economy, the housing market or Wall Street?

Now today's CNBC panic may turn out to be nothing - lately every time there is a really bad crisis in the stock market or the economy, money has a funny way of finding it's way where it's needed (think Federal Reserve credit market infusions, think Bear Sterns) so I'm sure Hank Paulson is cranking up the currency printing press and Ben Bernanke is warming up the helicopter to start throwing money at the problem right now.

But what do you think all this newly-minted money is going to do to already record oil and food prices?

You got it - they're going to continue to go up, up, up.

So maybe the CNBC perma-bears have got it right - maybe the worst is over and the market is on an upswing.

All you've got to do is ignore the plummeting home prices, the bear market at the Dow and the S&P, the soaring commodity prices, and the constant news about new write-downs at the banks related to the mortgage crisis which continue to complicate the foreclosure problem.

All you've got to do is believe in magic.

Mr. Klein Sets a Benchmark

At the end of a long run of PR victories, NYC School Chancellor Joel Klein has established a truth squad. This will help ensure that the truth never gets in the way of the perceptions he and Mayor Bloomberg have worked so hard to establish. In fact, Mayor Bloomberg himself is appearing on a series of commercials trying to reinforce the notion that handpicked test score improvements have to do with his "reforms."

But that's not all Mr. Klein is doing:

...the Leadership Academy – created by Joel Klein, with Joel Klein chair of the board, Joel Klein who had selected the other board members, Joel Klein who had appointed the director, Joel Klein who had raised $75 million in private money to start it through the Fund for Public Schools, an organization which is also chaired by Joel Klein….had now been awarded a $50 million contract by Joel Klein...

This suggests that Mr. Klein (who left this Leadership Academy board a month ago, convincing the tabloids there's no conflict of interest) will be able to extend his influence well beyond his actual tenure. The article suggests Mr. Klein may now simply grant himself a contract to control the schools for the next twenty years. That certainly jibes with the chancellor's philosophy.

After all, the chancellor has been suggesting for years that we eradicate tenure and seniority rights for working teachers. UFT President Randi Weingarten likes this idea so much that she's sponsoring a Green Dot charter school that does just that (no wonder Rod Paige adores her so).

If only individual teachers would follow in the Chancellor's footsteps, there's be no need for tenure. Teachers could simply negotiate multimillion dollar contracts with the city and stay on well after their ideas were welcome. And the whole "accountability" thing would be moot, as teachers could offer the city programs just as flawed as the Leadership Academy (or the 80-million dollar computer that doesn't work, or the bus fiasco, or real test results, or massive overcrowding...) and make a neat profit for accomplishing nothing whatsoever.

It's sad that most teachers with records as abysmal as Mr. Klein's flee the profession. Mr. Klein has set a standard here, and working teachers hindered by a sense of responsibility will probably just continue to teach kids.

Some people just don't know when to grab an opportunity.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Not to Be Missed

Clever Mamacita at Scheiss Weekly hosts this weeks Carnival of Education.

Check it out

A Worthwhile Reform

Eduwonk has a very thoughtful post about the possibility of using adjunct teachers to help out where needed. I was leaning against this idea until he mentioned that a rational health care system might make it easier. With that, I couldn't agree more. I happen to work as an adjunct, but I certainly couldn't afford to do so in lieu of my regular gig, which provides me and my family with health insurance.

In fact, I know people who work as paraprofessionals not for the salary, but simply for the insurance. I was speaking with one and telling her she might do better as a teacher.

"Teach?" she said. "Who needs those headaches?" And if that's how she feels, she shouldn't do it. Of course, if she didn't need the insurance she might be able to afford doing something she liked better.

Here's my response to Eduwonk:

Amen to your notion of a rational health care system. I think if we were to have such a thing, we’d have a lot more common ground on educational issues. Many things would be possible in a country like that, and I hope we live in such a place one of these days.

The reality, though, is UFT President Randi Weingarten is looking at privatizing the NYC healthcare network, and her prime reservations seem to relate to how big a cut will reach union coffers and a very short-sighted temporary stop on turning over the company. It’s sad Ms. Weingarten feels she can’t operate her patronage mill on a piddling 80 million a year.

Still, it’s remarkable that her myopic vision indicates teachers need what the rest of the country has. Particularly in terms of health care, the rest of the country needs what teachers have, and the sooner the better.

Let's say a prayer that Ms. Weingarten doesn't get her way and sell us off for the usual pittance she manages to negotiate. I'd say more money to pay her propagandists and sycophants ought to receive the lowest possible priority from working teachers (who might get sick one of these days).

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Student Teacher

I always allow student teachers and observers in my classroom. Generally, my experiences are positive or unremarkable. But I remember one in particular who really surprised me. This occurred in an English immersion class at a public university.

I was discussing the lesson on the phone with the teacher, whom I'll call Joseph. We'd been practicing using present progressive (She's washing her hair.) in everyday conversation. I told Joseph, as part of his lesson, to bring in some pictures, and ask the students to describe what was happening.

Joseph followed my instructions. He prefaced his talk by saying "These are very old pictures," then proceeded to show the class pictures of Jesus (He's healing the sick....)and others (They're kneeling before Jesus...).

I could not decide quickly enough how to deal with it--I felt if I'd stopped him, my class, 100% Christian, might determine I had something against Jesus.

When I told Joseph that he had no business bringing religion into my classroom, he suggested that my heathen ways were impeding his mission. I told him his mission would probably not be helped by his failing the course, which I assured him I'd recommend if the episode were repeated.

He seemed to understand that a little better. While my students found Joseph largely tedious, he did not do any further proselytizing in my classroom. He did stand outside the building before class distributing religious literature, though.

Last I heard, Joseph was planning to travel to a Muslim country with his wife and two daughters to convert the infidels.

-originally posted March 4, 2006

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Letter

Dear GHI/HIP subscriber:

As you know, GHI and HIP have merged. Therefore, we're delighted to be able to offer you the benefits of both companies. GHI subscribers will now be able to visit HIP doctors and hospitals with no copay, and HIP subscribers will now have access to the GHI network of providers if they wish to pay the copays.

Did you receive that letter? Me neither. That's because this merger was not done to benefit subscribers. It's the precursor to a "for-profit" status, or privatizing your health care. The benefits of privatization consist primarily of an IPO. This may bring cash to the UFT, which now has to squeak by on as little as 80 million a year. Heartbreaking though that may be, if your heart were to break, literally, you'd need to get it fixed on even less.

GHI/HIP privatization is the single most unconscionable and witless venture Ms. Weingarten and her merry patronage mill have ever embarked upon. It's bound to hurt union members and their families if no one stops them. Check Save Our Health Care on a regular basis. Find out the status of the privatization grab, and find out where demonstrations will be held this Saturday, July 12th.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dinner Check Too High?

Why not just feign a heart attack?

Today's Deal

Get a deck of playing cards with whatever photo you like on the back--your beautiful kid, your secret lover, Hannah Montana, your principal in a compromising position with a custodial aide named Raul--whatever you wish, for just 2.99 shipped.

Just click here and use coupon code PPC299. Valid till July 10th.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

God Bless America

We're mired in Iraq, moving backwards in Afghanistan, the economy is tanking, unions are an endangered species, and the middle class is rapidly becoming a quaint memory. But the important news today is that Joey Chestnut has won the mustard yellow belt at Nathan's, thus rekindling pride in the US for the second year in a row.

I remember an SCTV sketch in which a kid asks legendary Yankee slugger Babe Ruth, "Can you eat 50 hot dogs for me, Babe?" I found that so absurd I couldn't stop laughing. But no one's laughing at Joey, who managed to swallow 59 hot dogs in ten minutes. Nonetheless, that was good enough only to tie his archrival, Takeru Kobayashi, who'd held the belt for several years before losing it to Joey for the first time last year.

In a five hot dog run off, Joey reclaimed his glory.

Kobayashi still holds records for rice balls and cow brains, but Joey, who is number one in hamburgers, chicken wings and grilled cheese sandwiches, is nipping at his heels. And everyone knows Nathan's is the big contest anyway. No one talks about rice balls anymore, and I'm fairly certain of that because I'm not exactly sure what they are.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th... all who are reading this. If you're playing with fireworks, be sure to run away before watching them blow up. Try not to be like the UFT leadership, or the President of the United States, just standing there waiting for things to explode. While it's true you can always say, "Oh, that's what happens when an M-80 blows up in your hand," the truth is you can always find uses for as many fingers as you have.

For example, it's tough to play music with eight fingers. Now, sure, you can throw Django Reinhardt in my face, but not everyone can do what he did. Let's hope one day someone with that much vision runs our union, and our country as well.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The L-Word

Not what you think - the "L-word" stands for landslide.

As in the landslide Republicans are fighting against this year, at least according to Andrew Sullivan.

Obama ahead in Montana by 5? Sheesh - no wonder John McCain looks so mad.

More people self-identify as Democrats these days (41% of the electorate) than Republicans (31%.) Sheesh - sure wasn't that way back in 2000 or 2004.

Hispanic voters, a crucial part of the electorate in swing states like New Mexico, back Obama 59% to 29% for McCain. Sheesh - so much for that Hillary Clinton/GOP meme that Hispanics won't vote for Obama.

Intrade political futures, the website for the serious gambler and/or person with a serious gambling addiction, has the odds of Obama winning the election at 64%, McCain at 30%. Sheesh - didn't look that way for John Kerry in 2004 ever.

A USA Today/Gallup poll says most people see John McCain as too much like President Bush. Given that President Bush enjoys 23-30% approval ratings in every poll you can find, that doesn't sound like a good thing for Senator McCain.

Hell, McCain's only up by 15 points in Alabama of all places. McCain enjoyed a 30 point lead not all that long ago in that ruby reddest of ruby red states.

With the amount of money Obama is going to be able to raise over McCain, McCain is going to have a difficult time combating these headwinds. McCain is going to be playing defense in red states, Obama is going to be on offense in those same states. The odds definitely favor Obama and Democrats right now.

This is not to say some GOP Swift Boat campaign won't undercut Obama's lead (or the advantage Dems enjoy in House and Senate races as well - the non-partisan and well-respected Cook Report has Dems scoring a net 4-7 Senate seats and 10-20 House seats.)

This is also not to say that a sudden wonderful resolution to the Iraq war and a sudden turn around in gas prices, inflation, unemployment and the overall economy won't undercut the advantage Dems and Obama enjoy this year (although given the problems with the economy documented here, not likely.)

This is also not to say that a domestic terrorist attack before the election won't change the parameters of the race either (and some might say that given the way McCain campaigners are talking about such a tragedy, they're kinda hoping for one.)

But the way things stand right now, on July 3rd 2008, I can see why Senator John McCain looks so damned pissed off.

He's worried about the L-word.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Yikes (Updated)

My comment provider, Haloscan, was down for a few hours. I regret the inconvenience. If you've gotten over it, you can check this week's Carnival of Education, which is right here.

Sleep With One Eye Open

That may be good advice for working people in New York City. GHI and HIP are embroiled in a project to merge and adopt "for-profit" status. It's hard for any objective soul to imagine privatization will benefit those of us, 90% of city employees, who utilize these services.

When Americans can't get insurance because of pre-existing conditions, when the number one cause of bankruptcy is catastrophic medical emergency, and when people are literally dying because they are uninsured, more "for-profit" entities are hardly the answer.

You'd think that union leaders would be looking out for their members. But you'd be sorely mistaken. There's a huge windfall here in the form of an IPO, and union leaders have an eye on precisely who will be reaping the considerable profits:
The municipal unions are also looking to share in what has been estimated as up to a $5 billion windfall from an IPO if the new company becomes a for-profit. There was actually some internal friction a couple of years ago after a group of uniformed union presidents led by Sergeants' Benevolent Association head Edward Mullins supported a bill in Albany that would have allowed Service Employees International Union Local 1199 to share in a significant piece of the windfall if HIP became a for-profit. While Local 1199 is one of the state's largest unions and a political powerhouse in Albany, it represents only about 2,000 city workers, and there were concerns expressed by Ms. Weingarten and others that it might wind up with a disproportionate share of the IPO money.

The amount of money the unions receive is not remotely as important as maintaining affordable and adequate coverage for working people. I see precious little evidence Ms. Weingarten and other union leaders are giving this adequate consideration. It's true Ms. Weingarten has written tepid missives hoping that the company would not be sold (at least not immediately):

...rumors persist that upon conversion there will be a “flip” of both the management and control of the converted entity. That is unacceptable. At a minimum, a multi-year “freeze” must be imposed as a condition to the grant of any approval.

Once again, though, Ms. Weingarten's chronic myopia fails to protect working people. Not to belabor the obvious, but what happens after this "freeze?" Ms. Weingarten brought us the ATR mess, and endorsed an entirely ineffectual "hold harmless" clause which failed to help the hundreds of teachers now caught in this unnecessary limbo. She also declared victory on the class size issue on the basis of a nebulous unenforceable law that proved 100% ineffectual.

And here's a little more of Ms. Weingarten's letter, looking to enrich union coffers:

As I noted in my February 8 letter, our initial concern remains that if the state, through your agency, approves conversion, both New York City and its unions must share in the proceeds since it was their assets and business that made possible the current financial viability of HIP-GHI. Any approval, therefore, must make provision therefore.

There is certainly monetary benefit for shareholders in "for-profit" status. But it doesn't take a genius to know who will pay so others may benefit. Now Ms. Weingarten, who makes many times the salary of any teacher, has little reason for concern. But you and I had better keep an eye on her.

Ms. Weingarten is much admired by Rod "The NEA is a terrorist organization" Paige because she gave Mayor Bloomberg everything but the kitchen sink in 2005 (She's saving the sink for his successor). Whether or not she worries about the welfare of those she ostensibly represents, her complete and utter lack of foresight is ignored at our peril.

And, no kidding, our very lives are at stake.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Stayin' Alive

Remember the 70's?

I do.

I was born in 1967, so the 70's were my formative years.

Some of my first memories in life are of oil embargoes, gas lines, blackouts, riots, high unemployment, mass layoffs, Mom complaining bitterly about double digit inflation and double digit interest rates (which kept her from selling our old house and buying a newer one in a nicer neighborhood) and Dad pontificating about President Nixon taking us off the gold standard and Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur Burns creating a spiral of hyper-inflation with his monetary policies

I know, I know - a truly twisted childhood, which is why I'm in therapy now and working through those awful memories. But I'll save that story for another post and focus on this:

Watching the TV news or reading the papers these days, I'm starting to have deja vu all over again to my childhood.

I mean, have you seen these headlines?

Inflation fears spark global market rout

Reports show U.S. growth weak if not in recession

Geopolitical worries send oil above $143

Eurozone inflation soars to new high

Prices for commodities and oil likely to stay high

Broad Says Economy in Worst Slump Since World War II

I must not be the only person sensing something is wrong these days. Take a look at the consumer confidence chart for the last nine years:

Consumer expectations for the future are just as dismal - people expect their standards of living to continue to diminish as incomes fail to keep pace with price increases for food, energy, health care, and education costs for the overwhelming majority of Americans.

Notice that I haven't mentioned the one place in the economy where prices aren't going up - housing. That's because the Greenspan/Bush housing bubble created over the last few years that saw housing prices increase astronomically in many markets around the country is the root cause of so many of the economic problems we are facing today.

The theory goes like this: in the early part of this decade, Federal Reserve Chairman Uncle Alan Greenspan needed to create another bubble to replace the tech bubble. Though the economy was already tanking by the fall of 2001, the financial fall-out from the 9/11 attacks gave Uncle Alan all the cover he needed to decrease interest rates to historically low levels (1%) and keep them there for a long, long time. Cheap money solves lots of economic ills and there is little doubt that Greenspan's monetary policies, fully backed by the Bush administration, took the country out of the tech bubble and the 9/11 attacks and into a minor economic recovery.

The problem, of course, was that Greenspan had created another bubble to replace the last one - in this case, a credit/housing bubble. Couple the cheap money with lax lending standards and little accountability or oversight of the financial institutions and banking system lending that money and you get what we have today - banks and financial institutions dealing with lots of bad debt lent to people who shouldn't have been allowed to borrow money to buy houses they couldn't afford to buy. On top of that, Wall Street created all kinds of new "innovative" ways to chop up these debts and sell them to investors - including hedge funds, pension funds and ultimately even mom and pop investors - so everyone is getting to share in the fall-out from the bursting of the credit/housing bubble.

The Dow is down 19.9% in the last year and with futures showing a triple digit down opening, it looks like we will officially hit a "bear market" in the Dow today. Banks have been writing off billions of bad mortgages and while we have heard more than once that "the worst of the credit crunch has passed," it is becoming increasingly obvious that this is not so. Rumors swirled yesterday that investment bank Lehman Brothers could follow in brother Bear Sterns' footsteps and be put to a fire sale. Lehman's stock is down 70% in the last year. The Dow Jones Wilshire U.S. Banks Index was down 26% for the second quarter. Writedown rumors continue to swirl around Citigroup and a few other banks. There seems to be a lot of bad debt still in the pipeline that needs to be worked out before the credit crisis can truly be declared over and the financial system can heal itself.

To compound matters, the Federal Reserve's solution to the problem of falling housing prices, increases in homeowners defaulting on their mortgages and a slowing economy was to lower interest rates again and keep them there. The result has been a tanking dollar and sky-rocketing commodity prices.

Bill Fleckenstein sums up the current crisis quite well on MSN Money:

The aftermath of this housing/credit bubble is far different from that of the stock bubble. Now the lending institutions are swimming in bad debts. Homeowners have mortgages they can't pay, just as the assets (houses) behind those debts are dropping in price.

As if that weren't enough, consumers' paychecks are eroding, thanks to galloping inflation created by the money printing that fomented the housing bubble (and by the credit that Greenspan's replacement, Ben Bernanke, has subsequently thrown in to ameliorate the aftermath).

Thus $143 a barrel oil, $4.79 a gallon gasoline and record grain, corn, and soybean prices. With the Bush administration playing pre-election games with oil-supplier Iran (somebody has been leaking news of an imminent Israeli attack on Iran), you can bet oil and gas are going much higher in the near term.

Which brings me back to my memories of the 70's. Here we are with a president more unpopular than Jimmy Carter (23% approval in the latest LA Times/Bloomberg poll) in office, increasing tensions with Iran, American forces fighting overseas (remember those other two wars Bushie started in Iraq and Afghanistan that he never finished?) rising inflation, rising unemployment, rising oil, gas and food prices, falling incomes, falling home prices, a falling dollar, tanking consumer confidence and expectations for the future and an overall "malaise" around the country that has 80% of the country saying we are on the wrong track for the future.

Of course all this bad news means even worse news for the Republican Party which will be saddled with the blame for the economy (75% of people in the Times/Bloomberg poll blame Bush for the worsening economy.) Since this is an election year, you can bet that doesn't make the boys and girls in the White House and the RNC happy. And that's why you can bet that the Bushies will trigger some international event to try and take people's minds off the economic problems and overall malaise the country is suffering from. Cunning Realist thinks it's an attack on Iran that's coming. So does Sy Hersh. What better way t distract people from their problems than by ginning up another war against a Middle Eastern "Hitler".

Except that this attack, if it comes, will take oil well above $150 a barrel, maybe even to $200 a barrel. The LA Times looked at what $200 a barrel oil would do to the American economy and the consumer:

with oil closing above $140 a barrel Friday, more experts are taking those predictions seriously -- and shuddering at the inflation-fueled chaos that $200-a-barrel crude could bring. They foresee fundamental shifts in the way we work, where we live and how we spend our free time.

"You'd have massive changes going on throughout the economy," said Robert Wescott, president of Keybridge Research, a Washington economic analysis firm. "Some activities are just plain going to be shut down."

Besides the obvious effect $7-a-gallon gasoline would have on commuters, automakers, airlines, truckers and shipping firms, $200 oil would drive up the price of a broad spectrum of products: Insecticides and hand lotions, cosmetics and food preservatives, shaving cream and rubber cement, plastic bottles and crayons -- all have ingredients derived from oil.


With every penny hike in the price of gas costing American consumers about $1 billion a year, sharply higher pump prices would lead to "significant bankruptcies and store closings," said Scott Hoyt, director of consumer economics at Moody's

Consumer spending has held up surprisingly well in the face of skyrocketing pump prices -- bolstered in part, perhaps, by federal tax rebates. But the same day the government reported a 0.8% rise in May consumer spending, a research firm said consumer confidence had plunged to its lowest level since 1980 -- hinting at the catastrophic effect another big gas price surge could have on retailers and customers.

"The purchasing power of the American people would be kicked in the teeth so darned hard by $200-a-barrel oil that they won't have the ability to buy much of anything," said S. David Freeman, president of the L.A. Board of Harbor Commissioners and author of the 2007 book "Winning Our Energy Independence."

70% of the American economy is driven by consumer consumption. If the LA Times article is right and consumers wouldn't have the ability to buy much of anything with oil at $200 a barrel, economic conditions would get really ugly, really fast. And what could Helicopter Ben Bernanke do then? Take interest rates down to 0%? Surely that wouldn't help either the inflation problem, the tanking dollar or increasing commodity prices.

So will Bushie, DeadEye Dick, Condi and gang do it before they leave office?

If I had to place a bet on it, I'd say yes.

I mean, they forged the Niger documents and created all kinds of crapola about Saddam, didn't they? And they ignored the real threat to the U.S. ("Bin Laden Determined To Attack U.S.") while planning for the Iraq war. Then they used 9/11 as a perfect excuse for the Iraq misadventure.

So why wouldn't they create one more misadventure before they leave Washington?

Yes, if I had to bet I'd say something big surrounding Iraq is coming before the election.

But let's make the bet in euros.

The dollar isn't worth what it used to be, you know?