Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Who's behind National School Choice Week?

Launched five years ago by the Gleason Family Foundation—which spent more than $4.3 million on the project in 2014, Nat'l School Choice Week has grown rapidly through the backing of advocacy groups and deep pockets of funders focused on promoting charters, vouchers, and tax credits that aid private schools, including religious and for-profit ventures. -- Dustin Beilke at PR Watch

According to the Center for Media and Democracy:
"The National School Choice Week website’s Partners page provides a who’s-who gallery of Koch network groups, corporations, and billionaires promoting privatization," said Lisa Graves, CMD’s Executive Director, adding: "although the week features many local events, it is backed by national entities, some of which are hostile to the idea of public schools and whose goals have included full privatization. No story about National School Choice Week is complete if it does not mention the special interests behind the choice agenda."
NCSW’s website lists numerous partners, including the Walton Family Fund, ALEC, SPN, the Freedom Foundation, FreedomWorks, Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the James Madison Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—many of which have ties to the Koch brothers’ political network. David Koch ran for Vice President in 1980 on a platform that included privatizing public schools, and his brother Charles started pushing school choice in the 1960s. Together they have funded an array of groups that spread that agenda.

As CMD has documented, the charter school industry has been fueled by more than $3.6 billion from the federal government over the past two decades in addition to billions from states and from wealthy choice advocates like the billionaire Walton and DeVos families. This surge in cash has created a league of lobbyists urging legislators to send more tax dollars to this industry.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Davos Blues

 Davos: ‘This week, some of the richest people on Earth will gather high up a snowy mountain in the world’s biggest tax haven.’ Photograph: Ruben Sprich/Reuters

"We’ve been conned by the rich predators of Davos", writes Aditya Chakrabortty in today's Guardian:
The great mistake made by the mainstream left and right, even by NGOs such as Oxfam, is in imagining that the super-rich, now enjoying such massive riches, are somehow playing by the same rules as the rest of us. That they are “wealth creators” providing jobs and investment for the rest of us, or that they might give up their tax havens. If that ever were the case, it isn’t now. A tiny minority has gained from massive tax cuts and legislative leniency about where they shove their money. They have siphoned off gains in salaries and profits wherever possible and enjoyed hundreds of billions flowing into their asset markets. Meanwhile, the rest of us who provide the feedstock for their revenues see our welfare states hollowed out, our wages frozen and our employers failing to invest. But none of that matters very much in Davos.

Friday, January 15, 2016

How Koch Bros. use their millions to buy influence over southern schools.

Charles Koch
A recent Facing South investigation revealed that right-wing industrialist Charles Koch gave more than $108 million to 366 colleges and universities between 2005 and 2014, with 85 percent of that money going to schools in the South.

The Koch money has funded academic programs, scholarships, professorships, conferences, lecture series, and economics centers, all for the purpose of promoting the free-market agenda embraced by Koch and his brother David, owners of the Koch Industries oil and chemical conglomerate. While other wealthy Americans, such as conservative businessman and Houston Texans owner Robert McNair and liberal financier George Soros, have donated big sums to universities, none match Charles Koch's sharp focus on promoting a particular ideology within the academy.

Read the entire Facing South report, here. 

The Koch's come by their power-grabbing piggery honestly. It seems that daddy was a German industrialist who helped the nazis on a giant oil refinery project. In the letter to company employees, David Robertson, president and COO of Koch Industries, said Fred Koch’s work for the Nazi regime was one of many international projects and predated World War II, according to Fortune Magazine.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What happened to the feds' probe of Chicago Public Ed Fund? Where'd everybody go?

Rahm and Griffin.
Back in April, 2015, we heard that the feds were in town, supposedly looking into the Chicago Public Education Fund (CPEF) and its involvement in the Barbara Byrd-Bennett/SUPES no-bid contract scandal. Remember? Subpoenas were flying and the names of some of the biggest players in corporate school reform were being dropped to the press.  Among those names were CPEF's billionaire board members, Bruce Rauner, Penny Pritzker,  Susan CrownMellody Hobson (wife of George Lucas), and the state's richest man, Ken Griffin

While the Fund wasn't the target of the investigation, and no-bid contracts with kickbacks are usually no big deal in Rahmville, it was reported that its board had given SUPES a $380,000 contract to train area network chiefs and their deputies. But when things started getting hot, they quietly discontinued their funding. 

Ace Catalyst reporter Sarah Karp, now with the BGA, made the point then, that if the Fund had been more transparent about its de-funding of SUPES, "taxpayers might have saved the $12 million of the more than $20 million SUPES was paid before its contract was cancelled".  But transparency is a no-no around CPEF's fancy downtown headquarters (nice view of the lake).  

As Karp puts it:
No one outside The Fund’s staff and board of directors knows how it decides which programs to support, what the results have been and how or whether the results are communicated to CPS.
So since April, there's not been a word in the media about CPEF or the investigation. Where'd everyone go? 

Griffin just sold his condo for $16M.
Rauner, now the governor, was at one time the CPEF board president. He denied any culpability in the SUPES affair, telling the feds that it was his pal Rahm Emanuel and not him, who brought SUPES, Gary Solomon, and Byrd-Bennett into town. 

Pritzker's off playing Obama's Sec. of Commerce, leaving Rahm holding the bag on school closings. She was a member of the school board that approved them along with the SUPES deal. 

And hedge-funder Griffin? (among Rahm/Rauner's largest campaign contributors). He took a bit of a hit when wife Ann divorced him. But he's still in the game, bigger than ever.

His most recent deal... Crain's reports that Griffin just sold his Chicago condo at the Waldorf Astoria for a mere $16M, the same price he bought it for 17 months earlier. The sale was the second-highest home sale in the Chicago area during 2015, after an $18.75M purchase at the Park Tower by an associate of Lucas and Hobson.

I'm sure this is all on the up-and-up, but it turns out that Griffin originally bought the place from ("an entity connected with") himself and then sold it to ("an entity connected with") himself. 

Sounds like a win-win. It always is for these guys.