The Obama Version of Meritocracy

Every time you hear Obama/Duncan talk about improving teacher quality, think about Obama's defense of banker bonuses in this interview with Business Week reported by Bloomberg:

President Barack Obama said he doesn't "begrudge" the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay.

The president, speaking in an interview, said in response to a question that while $17 million is "an extraordinary amount of money" for Main Street, "there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don't get to the World Series either, so I'm shocked by that as well."

"I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen," Obama said in the interview yesterday in the Oval Office with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. "I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system."

Obama sought to combat perceptions that his administration is anti-business and trumpeted the influence corporate leaders have had on his economic policies. He plans to reiterate that message when he speaks to the Business Roundtable, which represents the heads of many of the biggest U.S. companies, on Feb. 24 in Washington.

What Obama doesn't acknowledge, of course, is that the banking industry has looted America for the past two decades. He passes off this robbery as meritocracy.

Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winner in Economics and columnist for the New York Times, writes in his blog:

Oh. My. God.

First of all, to my knowledge, irresponsible behavior by baseball players hasn't brought the world economy to the brink of collapse and cost millions of innocent Americans their jobs and/or houses.

And more specifically, not only has the financial industry been bailed out with taxpayer commitments; it continues to rely on a taxpayer backstop for its stability. Don't take it from me, take it from the rating agencies:

The planned overhaul of US financial rules prompted Standard & Poor's to warn on Tuesday it might downgrade the credit ratings of Citigroup and Bank of America on concerns that the shake-up would make it less likely that the banks would be bailed out by US taxpayers if they ran into trouble again.

The point is that these bank executives are not free agents who are earning big bucks in fair competition; they run companies that are essentially wards of the state. There's good reason to feel outraged at the growing appearance that we're running a system of lemon socialism, in which losses are public but gains are private. And at the very least, you would think that Obama would understand the importance of acknowledging public anger over what's happening.

But no. If the Bloomberg story is to be believed, Obama thinks his key to electoral success is to trumpet "the influence corporate leaders have had on his economic policies."

We're doomed.

One comment on Krugman's blog makes a point especially pertinent to teachers: Washington works for the bankers, Obama's appeasing those in charge. America is ruled by predators and its citizens are the prey. Shockingly repugnant, but really hard to miss these days.

Likewise, Washington school policy works for the privatizers, and Obama/Duncan appease and promote those in charge. School policy is informed and ruled by predators: children and teachers are the prey.

Up to now, it has worked in Chicago, with hardly a whimper of protest, and now Duncan is charged with spreading the Chicago Plan across the nation. The only light in a very dark tunnel is that in the last few weeks, Chicagoans have come out in massive protest at each of the Chicago Public Schools Potemkin hearings on scheduled 2010 school closings under the Daley business consortium plan. Most people don't know about these protests because Substance News, the Chicago-based education newspaper of the resistance, is the only medium reporting on it.

Substance has attended all 14 hearings, documenting the community protests of school closings with news analysis and thousands of photographs. Today, education news in the Chicago Tribune includes the record number of Illinois students taking AP courses, a school lunchroom snafu, and the fact that snow closed the Baltimore County board of education offices. The Sun-Times reported on a plan to strip school councils of the power to pick principals, a school shooting in Tennessee, and the aftermath of one that happened in Chicago three weeks ago. They have not reported on the community protests. Not today. Not any day.

I live in Vermont. Why do I care about Chicago? For the same reason everybody else should: your schools will be next. What the Chicago media--and your local media -- choose not to cover is shockingly repugnant.

For starters, take a very close look at what your state and your school district is promising to do with Duncan's Race to the Top bribe.

Paul Krugman says we're doomed. I agree. But we shouldn't go down without a whimper. And preserving are local schools is a place we can start.