Friday, April 22, 2016

What Happened to the Vote in New York?

Without fair voting, we have no democracy. Without a fair democracy, we see special interests ruling our political establishment, and we have an oligarchy. We have witnessed this firsthand as billionaires use their money and influence to push untested Common Core curriculum on our children, to push forward an education reform agenda that threatens to fire teachers and close schools, to push us closer and closer to going over the cliff and destroying public schools in favor of a privatized system that will be the next great profit market for the 1%. We have hope that our votes will matter, that we will be able to elect representatives who will listen to our voices. This is why each and every election, each and every vote, matters and we must zealously guard against those who would rob us of this constitutional right. 

I have voted in New York State for more years than I'd like to admit.  Never have I seen the irregularities that occurred during the recent presidential primary. What was most striking to me, is that the problems were not confined to a single type of error, but that there were multiple levels, different types, of errors that had the apparent singular effect of vote suppression.Yet when people discuss the events of April 19, comments are usually focused on the purging of voter rolls in Brooklyn and miss the bigger picture. Here is why I believe this to be a larger pattern of vote manipulation and suppression:
  • Voter purges were widespread and not limited to Brooklyn, though that is where the largest number of voters were wiped from all records, with reports of entire buildings and city blocks being erased. Media reports try to placate us with the public shaming and possible firing of the person held responsible. Diane Haslett-Rudiano, the Brooklyn Board of Election's Chief Clerk, apparently "skipped a step" in cleaning the rolls of those who had died or moved, leading to a "chain reaction" and wiping out 102,717 active voters. I do hope someone is investigating her financials to see if she has received any unexplained windfalls recently, because she has had this job for a number of years and it is hard for me to believe she could make such an egregious error without noticing her folly. News reports also tell us that this is "the only county that lost voters," in an apparent attempt to have us disregard the scattered reports coming from other areas. A friend of mine in Queens tweeted that her 90-year old Democratic mother, who votes regularly, had been purged from the rolls. One of my friends in White Plain witnessed a woman, who had proof of her registration with her, being denied the chance to vote and also being denied an affidavit ballot.
  • There were widespread reports coming from throughout the state, of voters whose party had been changed without their knowledge, including those who upon investigation discovered a forged signature on the form making the change. A friend of mine in Albany witnessed her neighbor being turned away because her registration had been changed without her consent. This is the same pattern of election fraud that occurred in Arizona, and my prediction is that this will continue to be a problem in all states with closed primaries (the only states where such a change would matter). How could this happen, and how could it be a pattern carried on from one state to another? How could forged signatures appear on forms that are filed with the Board of Elections? From these reports we can deduce that someone is hacking our political databases, doesn't that demand an immediate all-out FBI investigation? What political candidate or party benefits from these changes? Is there a way to track the hack? Are our voter records vulnerable? We know that in December 2015 a whitehat hacker discovered 191 million voter registration records on the internet, left open to anyone. An estimated 300GB of nationwide voter data that included name, address, phone number and party affiliation would have made it very convenient for those who wish to orchestrate a targeted attack on voter registrations. 
  • New York's archaic voting laws require people who wish to change their party to vote in the primary to have done so in October, six whole months before the primary date. That means that if in March you discovered, as so many did, that your party had been changed without your knowledge - you were out of luck pressing for a correction. This was partly the basis for a lawsuit filed by Election Justice USA on behalf of New York voters.
  • As if the voter registration/records problem is not enough, there are also reports of polling places in Queens and Brooklyn that were still not open HOURS after their 6 am opening time. Those who had to vote before work were out of luck. There were reports (at least two) of polling sites in Queens that had NO WORKING VOTING MACHINES, and one where there WERE NO MACHINES AT ALL. At these sites people were forced to make out a paper ballot and put them in a box, hoping someone would be honest enough to eventually feed them into a scanner in the right way and without tampering with the vote. There were also reports of people being notified of the wrong polling location. The locations of several polling places on the upper West side were changed.
  • Mailers that went out in March from the Brooklyn Board of Elections told people that the primary date was in September.
  • Election officials at the polling places gave out incorrect information. Some were told they did not have to vote for delegates. Erroneous information on the ballot in some locations told voters to select six delegates, when Bernie Sanders only had five. This would have persuaded voters to vote for one of the Clinton delegates.
As we have been told over and over, when voter turnout is high, progressive candidates have a better chance of winning. Voter suppression works in the interest of the status quo establishment, whether you are a Democrat, or a Republican. Though there were admittedly some issues with Republican voters, the majority of problems seem to have occurred in those who identified themselves as Democrats, and from the reports posted on the internet, many of those voters were Bernie Sanders supporters. Brooklyn, where most of these problems were centered, was Bernie's home ground and a place where he had overwhelming support. 28,000 people gathered at Prospect Park in Brooklyn to see Bernie speak, with a reported additional 20,000+ overflow. Don't tell me that voter suppression did not have something to do with the outcome of the race, at least in Brooklyn and perhaps in Queens as well. If you truly believe that, I've got a Brooklyn bridge I can sell you.

UPDATE April 24 2016: Regarding my comment that someone should investigate the financials of Diane Haslett-Rudiano: I was intrigued by internet reports that in 2014 she sold an upper West side property to Dana Lowey Luttway, the daughter of Representative Nita Lowey. Lowey is a Democrat and also a superdelegate pledged to Clinton. I did some light investigating and found some troubling things that deserve to be thoroughly investigated (Preet Bharara where are you?). First of all, the property, on 118 West 76th Street, stood abandoned for decades and was an eyesore that the neighbors called "the rat house." Secondly, according to Zillow the average price for similar housing (that are not rat houses) in that area is $4.7 million. Yet, Haslett-Rudiano sold this one for $6.6 million!  

Another puzzling piece. Haslett-Rudiano was involved as owner of another property, at 44 West 73rd Street. The property was reportedly sold to Kojo Global Property Developers. The ownership records are very confusing. Haslett-Rudiano bought the building, which was close to foreclosure, in 1975. A local blog gave an apparently erroneous report not too long ago that Haslett-Rudiano was seeking $5 million for the building, but others said she no longer owned it. The history of this property is very murky and confusing, with various owners and corporations claiming to own it and apparently two deeds created - one for the land and one for the building. John Kojo Zi was indicted on June 18, 2015 for deed transfer fraud. Apparently his MO is to go in and steal abandoned properties right out from under the legal owner, register it in someone else's name, and then buy the property from the new owner of record. Something else to investigate...

Friday, April 15, 2016

Eli Broad, Disruptor of Public Ed: His Ties to Hillary Clinton

Aren't you sick and tired of seeing students, teachers, and their schools bashed by billionaires who spend their money to attack public education?  Of all the deformer villains, Eli Broad belongs at the top of the list as one who purposefully plans and executes the destruction of public schools.  He brags of investing over $600 million in a "disruptive force" in schools that consists of reorganizations, firings, and other experimentation.  Broad superintendents and principals are trained to create chaos and subsequent "churn," attacking and firing teachers and their supervisors so they can be replaced with lower-paid and less qualified Teach For America interns or nonunion teachers, and inserting Broad-trained administrators who have aligned themselves with Broad's objectives. Those objectives include national one-size-fits all standards, deprofessionalization of teachers, the growth of for-profit charters that invasively weaken and take over public schools (with no financial accountability), and teacher accountability (i.e. designed-to-fail high-stakes tests). The result across America has been the firing of teachers, a narrowed Common Core testing curriculum, weakened schools (with some going into bankruptcy), closed schools, and destabilized communities.  

Broad's end game is the same as that of other deformers: Privatization of public education and advancement of neoliberal education policies that will benefit the 1%. His reach is extensive, with Broad followers "currently running dozens of state departments of education, large urban school districts, charter management organizations, and state-led education systems" (Broad Foundation 2013/2014 Report).  Former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan served on Broad's Education Division Board of Directors until February 2009.  

After Obama was elected, the Broad Foundation Report of 2009/2010 crowed that the election "marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform.  In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned...with an agenda that echoes our decade of investments -- charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time, and national standards -- the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted." The same report also claimed that Duncan had no less than five Broad alumni working with him in the U.S. Department of Education.

Broad's program includes the Broad Superintendents Academy, which is not accredited, and has no printed curriculum or public description of the policies that are taught.  Fellows are trained in Broad's theories of management, and given access to published guides that help them to orchestrate school closings and removal of teachers.  Broad fellows, known as "Broadies" or "Toadies" to school activists, have wreaked havoc across the nation.

Recently, Broad made a move to enroll half of Los Angeles Unified School District students into charter schools over an eight-year period. Widespread criticism coming from the community and teacher unions convinced him to tone down his aspirations and his contributions. Now the plan is to provide seed money, not only for new charters, but also for "good" public school districts as well.

Broad does not hesitate to use his money to line the pockets of politicians, nor does he resist the temptation to use his enormous wealth to promote the candidate he believes would be most helpful to his agenda. His ties to the Clintons are especially troubling. The Clintons have been "great friends" with the Broads since 1983.  Broad was co-founder of the "Ready for Hillary 2016" Super PAC that has now dissolved.  He also endorsed Hillary in 2008, and he has donated over a million dollars to the Clinton Foundation.

In 2007 the Clinton Foundation website lauded Broad's charter schools agenda, stating it would have a "far-reaching impact" in Los Angeles and would create "a tipping point" to "improve the educational opportunities for all children."

In November 2015 Clinton appeared to have a change of heart regarding the charter schools she had always favored.  During an interview while campaigning in SC, she stated that "most charter schools, they don't take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don't keep them." The swat-down from Broad came fast and furious when he rejected a request for a donation to the Clinton Super PAC Correct the Record. Hillary's media people quickly pumped out press releases that softened the remark, while Bill Clinton and campaign manager John Podesta contacted Broad. Whatever was promised, Broad came out of the discussions reassured that Hillary would support the expansion of charter schools and test-based teacher evaluations. The  Broad cash spigot once more began to flow Hillary's way. Broad's direct quote was, "I think when push comes to shove, she'll be more like Bill Clinton and perhaps Arne Duncan than we think right now." 

Hillary has ties to others who use their money to reform education and push charter schools while weakening public schools and teacher unions. Bill and Melinda Gates are the Clinton Foundation's largest donors and also have contributed heavily to Hillary's presidential campaigns. She was also on the Walmart Board of Directors, and was somehow able to ignore the fact that Walmart employees are paid subsistence wages that are so low they must supplement their income with food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing. The Waltons have also pushed their voucher plans and charter takeovers across the nation, but most forcefully in Arkansas. The Walton family gives copious donations to both the Clinton Foundation and Hillary's political campaigns.  

In today's pay to play political environment, Mrs. Clinton and her foundation have been paid generously by education deformers. Hillary seems to be playing both sides and where she finally lands may just be up for grabs to the highest bidder.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Who's Behind the High Achievement NY Curtain?

Education reform group High Achievement NY is at it again, spending hundreds of thousands on a media campaign that includes robocalls to New York State parents, advising them that state assessments are "crucial" for their children's future. They are pushing for "consistent assessments and unified standards." I will move past the distorted facts in their sales pitch, except to mention that they believe tests "fix" the fact that "two-thirds of our students graduate from high school without being ready for college or a career." Really? Two-thirds. Explain to us then please, HANY, why in 2010 nearly 70% of NYS high school graduates went straight into college. Hmm. Add to that the number who take a year off and go to college at a later time. Add to that students like my own son, who got a job straight out of high school but are now going to school nights to get that degree. NY also had four out of the top ten high schools with the highest SAT/ACT scores in the nation. But I diverge...

The purpose of this post is to pull back the curtain and let you know who is funding this massive campaign that aims to fix our "broken" system. Because, you know, it's all for the children. Let's start with their coalition members, beginning with Arva Rice, President and CEO of the New York Urban League, who previously was affiliated with Paul Tudor Jones (yes the hedge fund guy) and his Robin Hood Foundation. 

Then there is New York Campaign for Achievement Now (NYCAN), part of the larger 50-state education reform group. The funding stream for 50CAN includes Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bush Foundation, JP Morgan Chase, and the Walton Foundation, among others. A veritable who's-who of big money in the education reform game. The NY chapter adds more money from Gates, along with Bloomberg Philanthrophies, Kenneth M. Hirsch and William E. Simon. 

Include Association for a Better New York, founded by real estate tycoon Bill Rudin. Their self-stated goal is to "promote neighborhood revitalization." AKA gentrification. AKA keeping their fingers on the real estate prize in NY.

Coalition member Parents for Excellence in Bethlehem has bought the Common Core Gates funded spin. Co-President Kim Namkoong is a parent, also a mathematician and computer programmer. She is a face for the "How is My Kid Doing?" campaign that is funded by - you guessed it - the Council for a Strong America folks and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Bethlehem Parents for Excellence has a lackluster website (a surprise considering Namkoong's stated occupation) that does not list its donors. They advocate for common core and testing.

Membership includes reformy groups Educators4Excellence and StudentsFirstNY. Educators4Excellence, also funded by the Gates Foundation, is comprised of anti-union young teachers, many of whom are alumni of Teach For America.  See ed blogger Jonathan Pelto's research on the group here. StudentsFirstNY is that pro-charter, pro-voucher group that shares its physical address with New York Charter queen Eva Moskowitz' organization. NYS Families for Excellent Schools also shares that same address and is a hedge-funded PAC for education reforms. See Mercedes Schneider's detailed analysis of other HANY funding here.

HANY would not disclose specific information about their finances (shhh) but in 2014 said the bulk of the campaign money was going to come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Helmsley Charitable Trust. Gates and Helmsley have both donated millions to promoting the core. 

All this leaves me asking, why are so many corporate, business, hedge fund, pro-charter groups spending mega-money on a media campaign to promote the Core and the tests? Why do they care "so much" about other people's children? The business and money aspect, the fact that they are investors and market manipulators, gives us a clue. They want a share of the education market, the golden apple of opportunity that our children give them. Mega-money to be made by investing in charter schools, testing corporations, and publishers. Mega-money to be made by data-mining our children and manipulating their desires. Does that sound Orwellian to you? Why yes,yes it does. We cannot let big money have our children. Education policy should be promoted and created by educators, not businessmen. Spread the word.