I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sucking Up to the Rich, Reformy Style!

Much as I'd like to move on from the Star-Ledger's - and its Op-Ed Editor, Tom Moran's - immoral and stupid endorsement of Chris Christie for governor, I really can't let the following incident pass without comment. Because it pretty much exemplifies the problems with how the plutocrats who own this country have taken over not only education policy, but huge swaths of the mainstream press.

If you thought my post on the S-L's endorsement was rough, you should read Bob Braun's scathing takedown. Braun wrote at the S-L for decades, and was one of the few somewhat moderate liberal voices at the paper (although he could be a fierce critic of public employee unions and other "liberal" causes). I guess retirement has let Braun off of the chain, because he now speaks about poverty and education in a way you almost never read in our traditional media anymore:

What charter schools do is exacerbate the segregation of children by race, by wealth, by language, and by achievement. Those who, like this editorial’s writer, believe charters and voucher schools should replace conventional public schools are this generation’s equivalent of southern segregationists. Remember this—after Brown vs Board of Education, voucher schools sprung up across the south.  That’s happening in New Jersey, too, but the motive is a greed that is simply too alluring to worry about warehousing the neediest children  in resource-starved public schools.
Privatization makes money for enterpreneurs and those who slop at the trough of foundation money from people like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Eli Broad. Private businessmen are not creating profit-making charter management companies because they want to improve education. They are doing it because that’s where the money is—some $700 billion nationally. Charters and voucher schools are about greed, not learning. [emphasis mine]
Ouch - it's gotta sting when your former colleague basically calls you a combination of Bull Connor and Robin Leach, sucking up to segregationists and the moneyed classes simultaneously.

In fact, we know that Braun most certainly touched a nerve, because Moran himself stopped by Braun's blog and left a comment (apparently, his shift key was broken):

not surprised you disagree with, but am surprised by all the indignant personal insults. isn’t it just possible we are just two people who arrive at different viewpoints after a good-faith review of the facts?
any case, here is the study showing significant progress in newark charter schools, from standford university’s, credo. as you may recall, they did a study several years ago showing outcomes at charters were worse. they came back and found signs of significant progress. to dismiss this is just nuts. i don’t care about the ideological clash as much as i care about results.
as for the charter advocates being driven by the desire to make money, that strikes me as conspiracy thinking, and pure nonsense. dave tepper is the biggest one in new jersey. he has $6 billion in the bank, and earned nearly $2 billion last year. does it remotely make any sense that he would go thru years of hassle, give away millions, in the hopes that someday he can establish a for profit school and earn a good return? why would he need that? what is the evidence of that? isn’t it possible he’s trying to help, and that he read things like this stanford study?
anyway, to say endorsing christie is somehow immoral is just nonsense. in my view, christie is bad and buono is worse. disagree, fine, but spare me the moral superiority.
Note: Mr. Moran is chief editorial writer for The Star-ledger. [emphasis mine]
I guess it's time for yet another post explaining how the CREDO study does not say what the charter cheerleaders all seem to think it says - but let's save that for later. Instead, take a moment to ponder with me the paragraph above I've put in bold. A little background:

David Tepper is a hedge fund manager who is the money behind B4K, Derrell Bradford's NJ lobbying shop and the biggest pro-reformy, anti-union organization in New Jersey. I've already noted how Moran is weirdly obessed with bashing the teachers unions - particularly the NJEA - so he's naturally going to be sympathetic to B4K's message. But in this reply, Moran goes much, much further than mere policy or even union bashing.

Go back and look at Braun's post, and you'll find that he never mentions Tepper; Moran is the one who brings up the hedge fund manager. And he does so to make a transparently ridiculous argument: there's one rich guy in New Jersey who is pro-reformy and already has plenty of money; therefore, any profit motive in education "reform" must be "conspiracy thinking."

The illogic of this so transparent it's barely worth pointing it out. It is worth mentioning, however, where this willing incoherence is coming from: a deference to wealth. "Why would he need that?" says Tom, referring to the (non-existsent) claim that Tepper supports charter schools and other reformy privatizations of the public school system for his own enrichment. After all, Tepper is rich - so his motives must be pure - and, by extension, he must be right! Just like Bill Gates and Eli Broad and the Waltons and the DeVoses and Mark Zuckerberg and all the fine, wealthy, reformy folk who are morally superior to teachers unions...

Is there any other way to read this? Is this not some of the most shameless sucking up to the plutocracy you have ever read? It's one thing to put forward an argument for privatization based on its own merits (although you'd have to be an idiot to suggest that there isn't a group of investors licking their chops at the thought of turning public education into something akin to our current military-industrial complex).

But to write that you are pro-charter because rich people are pro-charter, and they don't have skin in the game... Man, I'm getting schumck-chills just rereading it.

Oh, am I being unfair? Am I taking one nauseatingly obsequious example out of context? All right - how about this?

This is the front of the Sunday op-ed section of the Star-Ledger from October 23, 2011 - almost exactly two years ago. The graphic accompanies Moran's hagiographic introduction of Tepper, a piece of "journalism" so devoid of balance, so ingratiatingly smug, that the accompanying graphic features a lean, mean David Tepper facing off against a gorilla - yes, that's right, a freaking gorilla - wearing boxing gloves embroidered with the initials "NJEA."

I'll assume, as the editor of the op-ed page, that Moran approved this lovely little drawing. But that begs a question: what kind of a "journalist" puts out this crap? I'll tell you: the same kind that doesn't bother to take a second to question how Tepper actually "earned" his money: through making a bet that the government was going to overpay for bank stocks during the fiscal crisis. Legal? You bet: that's the problem. But don't expect Tom Moran to waste any of his precious column space delving into this topic.

Expect Moran instead to take cheap shots at the weight of the Executive Director of the NJEA. Expect Moran to slam the former President of the NJEA on the basis of a quote he refuses to provide a transcript for, let alone put into context. Expect Moran to give space to a reformy, first-year superintendent (who has since been fired) to make the case that tenure is a huge threat to New Jersey's outstanding schools - without even doing the basic journalistic work of finding out if her anecdotes are true. Expect Moran to call teachers who don't follow the reformy line "liars."

This is how modern punditry works: question the motives of middle class workers while simultaneously extolling the inherent virtuousness of the ruling classes.

I wish I could say that Tom Moran and the Star-Ledger editorial board were outliers in their deference to the famous and wealthy when it comes to education policy; sadly, they are anything but. The same brown-nosing to the obscenely loaded is found in NBC's "Education Nation," which puts Melinda Gates on the air, pretending she is an "expert" in education. It's to be found in the vacuous coverage of rapper Pitbull's new charter school. It's to be found in the increasingly obnoxious TED talks that the digerati courtesans to the rich pretend are heralding "transformative" ideas. It's to be found in the reformy press's treatment of Eli Broad's superintendent's book club, as if it is an actual "academy" for educational leadership. It's to be found in the financial press's blithe dismissal of anyone who dares to point out that the Wall Street masters of the universe nearly took us to the point of no return in pursuit of their greed.

We live in a time where large portions of the corporate press no longer serve the people; they are, instead, vassals to power. Tom Moran has chosen which side he's on - fine. Let's see how long his little newspaper survives on a strategy of beating up the people who teach other people how to read.

"How's this, Mr. Tepper? Are we ignoring the facts on "reform" the right way, Mr. Newhouse?"

ADDING: I can't vouch for the veracity of this comment at Braun's blog, but I think it's worth at least considering:

David Santee

My name is David Santee and I am a retired hedge fund trader who worked for Dean Witter Reynolds/Morgan Stanley from 1982-2009. I am writing this in response to Mr. Tom Moran’s comment….apparently he is hard to contact during normal business hours. I take exception to his statement that David Tepper is “trying to help” the education process. David’s main focus in professional life was to make money for his customers, and make even more for himself. He is not in it “to help”. As a portfolio manager from 1987-2009, I was responsible for the managment of emerging companies and industries. Both Kaplan and Apollo Group were companies that were part of David’s spectrum. Apollo is the owner of the University of Phoenix, the world’s largest for-profit university. Kaplan is the naiton’s largest test prep company. Both companies are extremely profitable…and David has shared in that profit. Whatever plans David has for “education” has only one goal in mind….to make David even more wealthy. You failed to mention another former hedge fund director from FL who is now the state’s Superintendent of Schools…Christopher Cerf. Mr Cerf made quite a pretty penny when he was managing the Edison Group, the owners of the Edison Schools. Because Cerf’s name and background were brought up during a criminal indictment in Central Florida, he is no longer able to hold a Securities license in either FL or NY State. I do not know if there is a reciprocity agreement in NJ…apparently so, since his name does not turn up on the SEC list. [emphasis mine]
Well, OK then...


Jennifer Wall said...

What, if any, newspaper do you feel does any real reporting on NJ education? I've never been a SL reader (I'm in Bergen County--The Record is the go to paper, but it's also pretty useless in terms of education reporting).

Giuseppe said...

Excellent post by JJ. There is an all out war against public schools, public school teachers and their unions. Most of the media has an anti-union bias. Hate wing radio, NJ 101.5, Fox News, CNBC are rabidly and loudly anti-union. And now we have one of the most aggressively anti-union governors in recent NJ history. Correction, Christie has been loudly and crudely anti-NJEA, I don't remember him bashing the police or firefighter unions the way he has demonized, demeaned and swift boated the NJEA. All this NJEA and teacher bashing in a state with one of the most highly rated public school systems in the country. NJ is always near or at the top in the national school ratings.