One of the most interesting links I found while researching last week’s post on Teach For America was the item on how TFA hiring in Connecticut was denying job opportunities to local residents. It occurred to me that the author was getting an on-the-ground look at a similar phenomenon I’ve observed with the oil and gas industry in Ohio (and presumably elsewhere): both TFA and fracking rely on short term, out of state labor.
(I know TFA recruits have the opportunity to extend beyond their initial two year contract, but the very fact of a two year contract sends a strong message that the job is not intended to be permanent.)
The degree to which this is happening makes aggregate reporting on job gains inadequate. Necessary but not sufficient. With fracking, for instance, the numbers are terrible - and what were considered dire warnings from activists a few years ago about the dubious economic benefits of it are now blandly accepted as conventional wisdom.
Last summer the Plain Dealer reported that “employment levels increased by less than 1 percent in 15 eastern Ohio counties where the highest number of horizontal shale wells have been drilled.” Then it followed that up a few weeks ago with an article that painted a very rosy picture of a dismal reality: Jobs are going to migrant workers, and the main economic impact is bumping up business to the hotels and restaurants that serve them.
As a side note, moving the goalposts appears to be a feature of crappy job boosterism. In the August PD article, note that we are once again just a step further down the resource extraction path away from JOBS: “Future job growth will depend on whether Ohio’s shale wells produce ‘natural gas liquids,’ or NGLs, which are used by industry and whether the price of ‘dry gas’ used for heating, power production and manufacturing increases beyond the current prices.” Meanwhile, an industry flack mumbles that jobs were never the point anyway: “I think the real indicator is sales-tax receipts that have grown in the eastern counties where this activity is taking place.”
So the relevant question is, are meaningful jobs created? I’d say a meaningful job has three characteristics: It employs locally at a living wage for the long term. As I’ve written before the oil and gas industry would like the public believe fracking does all three, and will be an anchor for communities much like steel mills once were. The reality is far different.
Jobs created for migrants or in a boom town - where there isn’t sufficient housing for the influx of new workers, and those lucky enough to have a roof over their heads often have no toilet or running water - don’t seem like much to celebrate. (To be fair, it’s been positive for at least one ancillary industry.) Similarly, TFA’s transition from plugging individual vacancies to wholesale replacement of local workforces seems like a really raw deal for the communities targeted by it.
This process has been happening for a good long while now. A scrap of folk wisdom from the Clinton years shows how many people intuitively understood that. Deals like NAFTA (which ought to be called free capital agreements since trade is incidental to their purpose (via)) destroyed hundreds of thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs, while new positions were created in the lower-paying service sector. The running joke went something like this: “I know they’ve created millions of new jobs. I have two of them.”1
That trend - which again, folks were very much aware of from the start and had no illusions to the contrary about - is our new reality. We should take that into account the next time we are assured that a good jobs report means that this time, for reals, pinky swear, the Great Recession is totally over. The jobs number by itself is not nearly enough.
We also need to know how much those jobs pay, who is filling them and for how long. It may not be possible to break it down to that level of detail, in which case fine. But such reports should be seen as of limited utility. People need steady work nearby at good wages, and a report that doesn’t address that isn’t (and shouldn’t be) of much interest.
1. Additional appearances:
- Here: “He said I created 11 million jobs. Well, I met a guy the other day that got three of them. “
- Here (PDF): “President Clinton has created millions of new jobs—I have three of them!”
- Here (PDF): “Oh sure, America is creating millions of new jobs. And I’ve got three of them.”
- And I remember seeing it in an editorial cartoon as well (that’s where I first read it) but don’t remember who or where.
Not being an educator, my knowledge of Teach For America (TFA) has been scant. Basically: it was a component of the Americorps program created during the Clinton administration, and plugged willing but un- or under-qualified young people into vacant positions in low income schools for two years. Identify schools that need teachers and have energetic, idealistic recent college grads work to make a difference. Sounds great.
It turns out TFA has taken on an new role in the last few years, though. Last week the #ResistTFA hash tag on Twitter started trending, courtesy of Students United for Public Education. SUPE supporters criticized TFA’s modest five weeks of training for recruits and questioned the adequacy of their preparation.
TFA defenders quickly responded. One asked “why do principals and schools still line up to hire TFA corps members when they have the chance?” Instead of considering that a lower paid and non-unionized workforce might be attractive for strictly administrative reasons, the author claims TFA recruits interview better because (among other reasons) “They don’t cry during interviews” and “If I check them out on Twitter, they’re not tweeting about loving beer or about how they want to be rescued by Prince Charming” (these lines were not, praise Jesus, written by a man).
Others endorsed TFA as a “pipeline for education reform”1 and cited a Department of Education (DOE) study (PDF) that argued for its effectiveness. There might be an element of self-fulfilling prophesy about this, though. In a long, thorough examination of the billionaires behind the attacks on public education, Joanne Barkan writes how DOE head Arne Duncan has his thumb firmly on the scales in favor of business interests:
Nothing illustrates the operation of Duncan’s “open for business” policy better than the administration’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top (RTTT). The “stimulus package” included $4.3 billion for education, but for the first time, states didn’t simply receive grants; they had to compete for RTTT money with a comprehensive, statewide proposal for education reform. It is no exaggeration to say that the criteria for selecting the winners came straight from the foundations’ playbook (which is, after all, Duncan’s playbook). To start, any state that didn’t allow student test scores to determine (at least in part) teacher and principal evaluations was not eligible to compete. After clarifying this, the 103-page application form laid out a list of detailed criteria and then additional priorities for each criterion (“The Secretary is particularly interested in applications that…”). Key criteria included
States were desperate for funds (in the end, thirty-four applied in the two rounds of the contest). When necessary, some rewrote their laws to qualify: they loosened or repealed limits on the number of charter schools allowed; they permitted teacher and principal evaluations based on test scores. But they still faced the immense tasks of designing a proposal that touched on all aspects of K-12 education and then writing an application, which the DOE requested (but did not require) be limited to 350 pages. What state has resources to gamble on such a venture? Enter the Gates Foundation. It reviewed the prospects for reform in every state, picked fifteen favorites, and, in July 2009, offered each up to $250,000 to hire consultants to write the application. Gates even prepared a list of recommended consulting firms. Understandably, the other states cried foul; so did the National Conference of State Legislatures: Gates was giving some states an unfair advantage; it was, in effect, picking winners and losers for a government program. After some weeks of reflection, Gates offered the application money to any state that met the foundation’s eight criteria. Here, for example, is number five: “Does the state grant teacher tenure in fewer than three years? (Answer must be “no” or the state should be able to demonstrate a plan to set a higher bar for tenure).”
- (C)(1) Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system
- (D)(2) Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance [this is followed by criteria for evaluating performance based on student test scores]
- (E) Turning around the lowest-achieving schools
- (F)(2) Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools
Standardized testing has become extremely controversial because, as Barkan writes: “Drilling students on sample questions for weeks before a state test will not improve their education.” If you believe rote memorization equals education, though, then imposing high stakes testing makes great good sense. Having done just that, the DOE then (p. 18) “obtained scores on state assessments from district administrative records” and used the results to vindicate TFA’s effectiveness. One might be excused for being a bit skeptical about the objectivity of such an assessment, however.
What is more and more beyond dispute is that even if TFA is not actively colluding with the privatization industry, it exists in what Charles Pierce called a marvelous environment for political coincidence. Starting with a bit of disaster capitalism in New Orleans, TFA has established a pattern of being the, ahem, pipeline of choice in the wake of mass layoffs. (In its more benign form TFA merely deprives local residents of employment opportunities.) The same thing happened in Chicago and is now poised to happen in Newark.
(TFA’s Fatimah Burnam Watkins responded to the Newark report by writing, among other things: “Positioning this grant announcement which is more than six months old as related in any way to the current school board proceedings is purposefully misleading.” Why on earth would a TFA-friendly school board announce layoffs before the new recruits were in pocket, or be so clumsy as to do so right on the heels of the grant? Anyway, fuller dissection here.)
The announced layoffs sent a shock through the community. Evidently some parents who were concerned that their children’s educational quality was about to get kneecapped did not always follow Robert’s Rules of Order in voicing their opposition.2 Superintendent Cami Anderson, apparently a graduate of the Mitt Romney school of public discourse, simply could not abide by such (insert breathless Southern belle voice) insupportable vexation:
Opponents of the layoff plan wanted to address Anderson directly at last night’s meeting. But the school district sent a letter to parents saying Anderson and the school district’s leadership team would no longer attend board meetings, saying the meetings had become too dysfunctional to be an effective communication tool to the public.
So residents can just consult the district web site or public access TV channel for the latest developments; no need to show up at any more meetings.
As we get an increasingly clear picture of the privatization/charter terrain, an unmistakable impression emerges (PDF, via): “While charter schools were originally developed by progressive educators in the 1990s, corporate elites and politicians from both major US parties have taken them up as an opportunity to merge public education with market-based assumptions.”
The model works like this: Mandate standardized testing, use TFA recruits to teach to the test, use the test results to “prove” the effectiveness of TFA, use the TFA pipeline to close schools and fire teachers, and replace both with charters staffed by lower paid, non-union TFA employees. (And please note that charters go tits up with all the orderliness and accountability of Freedom Industries.)
TFA could resist this trend if it wanted. It could refuse to send recruits to districts that have had (or are considering) substantial layoffs. It could offer to send recruits to public schools as assistants instead of replacements, which would be a huge benefit to schools. TFA chooses not to, though, and that speaks volumes. By all accounts it is content with the status quo (content enough not to buck it, anyway). In the absence of a clear and forceful refusal to cooperate, the only reasonable conclusion is that TFA is happy to collaborate with those who view schools as “ecosystems of investment opportunity.”
Climate change is a hard policy question to address because it pits those who believe in evidence against those committed to knowing as little as possible. And unfortunately, the dumbasses control a great deal of political territory, a gigantic ice sheet of stupid that never recedes enough for facts or data to gain purchase. The cretinous mass inched forward this week courtesy of Joseph Curl. His empty-headed triumphalism in the Washington Times is a nearly perfect illustration of the problem: climate change flat-earthers like him simply refuse to acknowledge arguments against their position or pay attention to new developments in the area.
One of the articles of (bad) faith that Curl and others hold dear is that climate scientists were predicting global cooling forty years ago, then flip-flopped and began warning of global warming. Curl references, without link, a 1971 Washington Post article titled “U.S. Scientist Sees New Ice Age Coming.” (Hilariously, Curl provides no description of the piece beyond what’s available at the 2-sentence free article preview. Either the Washington Times is really cheap or Curl is really lazy.) As characterized here (PDF) (via), the article quoted a scientist - singular - who basically said, if we keep seeing this trend continue in a linear fashion it could trigger a new ice age.
Do you know what that is not? It is not a clarion call by the entire scientific community to take immediate action. It was a tentative hypothesis put forward by one scientist. Yet among dimwits this seemingly obvious and gigantic distinction is invisible.
Climate dummies have for years crudely but successfully seized on a handful of items like this and continue to regard them with talismanic significance,1 as though thrusting them out and averting their gaze will successfully ward off approaching facts. This Newsweek article (PDF) (via) is another example. The actual quoted scientific bodies and reports in the article make extremely cautions warnings. But the reporter uses some provocative framing (“If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear” etc.) to speculate on some downright apocalyptic possibilities.
Yet instead of drawing a distinction between somewhat sensationalized reporting in the popular press and peer reviewed publication in the scientific press, it all gets mushed together as “cooling then, warming now, it’s all a scam hurf hurf hurf.” It doesn’t seem like a terribly difficult concept to grasp, but it continues to elude the dimmer bulbs among us.
Curl swerves hard to avoid thinking in the next section of his piece as well. He references, but does not point his readers to (is the man allergic to hyperlinks?), a Daily Telegraph piece that attempts to make hay out of 1) a one-year increase in Arctic ice cover and 2) disputing the scientific consensus that warming is happening. Here again we see the problems in attempting to engage the dull witted on the subject.
If one does not understand regression to mean (via) then an increase in ice cover after a record decrease will seem dispositive. Global warming: hoax! (See also.) How do you even begin a debate with someone who doesn’t have the most basic math literacy required to discuss the issue? There’s an old saying that if you point at the moon to a dog it will look at the end of your finger. That’s the kind of situation we’re talking about here.
As for the second point, the two sources quoted by the Telegraph were quickly debunked by facts and stuff. But try to point the likes of Curl to that and, well, never mind. The Telegraph story was the final word on the subject, additional information will not be processed, and presumably we will see this article gleefully cited by the next several generations of ignoramuses.
Having put the pointy headed academics in their place, Curl turns his attention to the liberal media Illuminati:
So what does the MSM do? Simple: Rewrite the parameters to make the “facts” fit their story line.
Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace finally got around to pointing that out Sunday. “When did ‘global warming’ become ‘climate change’?” the talk show host asked Kimberley Strassel of The Wall Street Journal.
“It became ‘climate change’ when you couldn’t prove that there was much global warming anymore, as the temperatures didn’t change,” she said. “So, suddenly we had to have this catch-all term, what was responsible [which] meant that any change in the weather somehow supported the theory.”
Exactly. And the MSM is ready to move on the new version of “facts.”
Perhaps it was called global warming because in the 80’s the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere was described as the greenhouse effect, and that term gave the best layman’s explanation of the phenomenon. Then, as climatology matured, scientists realized that “global warming” might be misleading2 because it would imply a uniform trend in all places. And they also discovered that there are a whole range of measures apart from global surface temperatures that could help understand the nature of the changes occurring.
Grappling with those facts, though, lacks the simple and straightforward fun of pretending they do not exist and acting like it’s all a big conspiracy.
Such commentary is marked by the complete absence of curiosity and an unwillingness to learn. There’s no sense of: hm, let’s analyze this text a little; let’s see what’s being said by a scientist, what’s being said by the scientific community in general and what’s being said by a reporter. Instead it’s all treated as an undifferentiated mass. Not: this data point exists; let’s see how (if at all) it fits in with overall trends. Just: case closed.
The point here is not to point and laugh at Curl’s stupidity. The point is to recognize that there are stupid people like Curl with high profile platforms they use to broadcast their stupidity. While the impulse for the not-stupid might be to say “God, not this again” and ignore the argle-bargle, the stakes are pretty high with climate change. It’s important, at least occasionally, to go through the tedious exercise of showing just how intellectually bankrupt articles like Curl’s are. Not because it will make any difference to those firmly committed to know-nothingism, but to persuade those who might be considering it that while ignorance might be bliss, it’s nothing to aspire to.
1. This kind of preoccupation with anomalies seems to be a thing for dumb people. See also how bogeymen like Bill Ayers and Saul Alinsky loom large in some conservatives’ imagination. Actual liberals don’t cite either as authorities or role models, yet still: Ayers! Alinsky!
Sometimes anomalies are valuable - namely, when a person or group with an ulterior motive briefly allows a carefully maintained persona to drop a little. Moments like that can be revealing, but are also rare enough that it makes sense to hang on to them. See, for example, Paul Weyrich’s line from way back in 1980: “I don’t want everybody to vote…our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
The difference between a reveal and a hobby horse, though, is subsequent developments. Weyrich’s ideology is all over the modern disenfranchisement effort. That’s why it makes sense to see his comments as a glimpse behind the mask in a way that, for instance, whatever is in Rules For Radicals is not.
kayfabe: Term in pro wrestling. Kayfabe was the unsaid rule that the wrestlers should stay in character during the show and in public appearances in order to maintain a feeling of reality (albeit suspended) among the fans.National politics never feels as much like kayfabe to me as when Democrats talk about the awful effect of big money. The most recent example came last week, when Senate Majority PAC spokesman Ty Matsdorf talked to
- Urban Dictionary
Greg Sargent helpfully translates (via): “What that really means is: Where’s the money, wealthy liberals?” That, and not changing the role of cash, is the point of charades like this. Washington Democrats will lob a few verbal brickbats at Citizens United, say the right things about public financing of elections, and darkly warn of the malign influence of the Koch brothers - but as soon as the latest episode is over, they are by all appearances as content with the situation as Republicans.
They don’t want to overturn the current big money system, just make sure it provides them something like parity with Republicans. A party that wanted to do the former would have responded differently to events of the last few years. Charles Pierce noted their coziness with the malefactors of great wealth and the nonexistent influence Occupy Wall Street has had on them. Digby linked to Pierce and then summed up the situation well: “They are astonishingly comfortable in that position. It is, after all, where the money is.”
If Matsdorf and company were truly worried about how to effectively respond to a deep pocketed conservative messaging machine, there’s an obvious answer. It would require breaking kayfabe, though. It is this: A simple, strong, and clear platform of economic justice. Identify popular stances that are also good policy and easy to communicate, unite behind them as a group and hammer away at the resulting platform to the exclusion of everything else.
For instance: Medicare is very popular. Raising the minimum wage is very popular. Taxing the rich is very popular. All are good policies, too. Here’s a simple, strong, and clear platform you could fit on a bumper sticker: Medicare for all; a living wage; tax the rich. A living wage being $15 an hour indexed to Congress’ cost of living increases, and taxing the rich meaning a new “super wealthy” top marginal rate of 70% starting at $5,000,000. (Look at all those zeroes!)
The “simple” part of the platform is important, too. Don’t try to bullshit people. Run only on those planks that have obvious and immediate benefit to citizens. Don’t talk about closing loopholes (after “reform” the tax code will be even more Byzantine and skewed in favor of those who can afford fancy tax lawyers), extending credits or creating God knows what kind of tax deferred vehicles to encourage saving. All that has the whiff of snake oil, and most people will be skeptical. Contrast that with the immediate and intuitive appeal of:
Medicare for all. A living wage. Tax the rich.
Do you know what that platform does? It negates money. People don’t need to be sold on it in any kind of marketing sense. They don’t need to be bombarded with it again and again. They just need to be made aware of it. You don’t need to saturate the airwaves with ads trying to persuade them. Just get the word out and the thing will sell itself. As an added bonus for Democrats, it is mightily antagonistic to those who are so lavishly funding their opponents. (And while we’re waiting for that corporate personhood amendment to get rolling, do you want to know the easiest way to get big money out of politics? Make being on its side a sure loser.)
I understand the idea of cutting oneself off from the big money base and living off the land is frightening. I also understand it’s easy for me to be cavalier about someone else’s job prospects. Still, uniting behind a simple and clear message of economic justice is such an obvious winner that it seems the only reason to reject it is out of devotion to the status quo. In other words, because all the caterwauling is just an act. Quick, before the cameras start rolling - who’s the babyface and who’s the heel again?
Previously: Report on the meeting, background, and the statement I prepared for it. In this last installment I’ll look at why we approached the meeting the way we did, and what we hoped to get out of it.
A group staging or participating in a public event should give some thought to how it plans to conduct itself. For instance, will it be compliant or disruptive? If the group believes the fix is in, the event sponsor is hostile and the whole thing is just a dog and pony show, disruptive may be the way to go.
The 2009 Congressional town hall meetings during the Obamacare debate were a good example of that. Show up, make lots of noise and drive home your points as vehemently as possible. These actions were arguably quite successful: While Obamacare ultimately passed, the confrontations may have served as a rallying point for conservatives in the following year’s wave election. Confrontation can come across as extreme and unreasonable, though, turning off neutral observers and keeping allies away. It’s a high risk/high reward strategy.
The other basic approach is compliance, and that too has risks and rewards. Compliance is probably best when one expects at least a sympathetic hearing, if not substantive results. No sense in alienating potential allies. The upside with compliance is coming across as sober, serious, and willing to work within the system. The downside is coming across as meek and ineffectual, and never actually being able to change the system. Depending on the situation, sometimes it’s best to be nice and polite; other times to make noise and rattle cages.
For the pipeline meeting, our group decided on the former. The commissioners have been very willing to listen to our members and to make time for us. I would say the pipeline meeting was an example of our efforts bearing fruit: citizens were able to express their concerns,1 and it was the first time the company answered questions before public officials. While it may have been late for this pipeline (see below), it’s something that could be repeated, hopefully earlier, with future ones.
Some might wonder why to bother showing up for a meeting like this. The pipeline is already about 80% built and is expected to be operational by summer. The meeting clearly happened very late in the process. Did it do any good? I think so, for a few reasons. The first is simple civic engagement. Citizenship is about more than showing up on election day to cast a ballot - it’s an ongoing process. We became aware of this project after it began, but still wanted to raise our concerns. To me, that’s part of being a citizen.
We also wanted to raise awareness for those who were still being approached about easements (particularly the shaky eminent domain assertion), and to the wider community. Pipelines are becoming a hot topic, and other residents of northeast Ohio might want to know about these kinds of grassroots efforts. We succeeded in that regard: our county paper ran two pieces on the pipeline in the following days, and Cleveland’s NBC affiliate WKYC ran a segment about it on their evening news.2 Other towns might want to have their own public meetings, and maybe learn from our example. Learn from our mistakes as well: we clearly would like to have had the meeting before the pipeline was nearly complete.
Then there is the simple act of going on the record. We know the state is enthusiastically in favor of fossil fuel extraction, and that the law has been fixed so that companies have little risk of local communities stopping them. But meetings like this can prompt a responsiveness from pipeline companies that “call our customer service help line” will not. If we can get just a modest improvement in how the thing is constructed, monitored and repaired, well, that’s better than what we’d have had otherwise.
If even that doesn’t happen, at least we will have a public record of our concerns. As I said in my statement, pipelines leak. Pipeline companies often do not detect leaks. There are real hazards associated with them. Should there be some substantial impact on our community because of it, at least we will be able to say: Yes, we knew that was one of the risks you posed. Don’t tell us no one could have known; don’t say it was completely unforeseen; don’t say some process had an unexpected blind spot or breakdown. We knew all of that from day one, we raised our voices about it, and that is precisely why we opposed it.
1. If you are going to speak in public, consider preparing both a full statement and an abbreviated one. Sometimes things change at the last minute. In our case we expected to have three minutes each but it was shortened to one. At the meeting I made a number of hasty edits - crossing out lines and paragraphs of my prepared statement, adding rough transitions and grammatical changes, etc - and still didn’t make it through the shorter version. If you take an analytical approach it’s good to at least have note cards, if not a printed statement. If you plan to speak extemporaneously and from the heart, at least think about the major topic(s) you want to cover.
2. WKYC has done a phenomenal job covering local oil and gas issues. I approached reporter Kristin Anderson after the meeting and thanked her station for that. I also told her the station has changed my opinion of local news. I’ve long had a jaded view of it, and written it off as devoted to stereotypical “if it bleeds it leads” sensationalism. WKYC, though, has shown that local TV news can provide invaluable coverage on the issues facing a community. Full credit to them for it.