Don’t Get Me Started, Regulars and Shorts

Don’t Get Me Started: School vouchers, Burma, free speech

By John deJong

by John deJong What's wrong with vouchers?

Well, everything.

If you like the idea of your gas money going to Saudi Arabia to support radical Moslem madrasas, you'll love the idea of your education tax dollars going to support exclusive prep schools and Mormon madrasas. That's not what school voucher proponents would like you to think, but that's what will happen if Utah's voucher law passes in November's election.

Voucher proponents would like you to think the bill is designed to give students from economically disadvantaged homes a chance at a better education. If Utah's voucher bill were really intended to help poor children get a better education, the cap would have been $8,000 for low-income families and nothing for families with income over $100,000. As it is, vouchers start at $3,000 and dwindle to $500 per student for families with an annual income of $200,000.

It's possible that the bill's sponsors really think you can get a good education for $3,000 a year. No one's really tried the ultimate stack 'em-deep and teach 'em-cheap method for the bargain basement price of $3,000. Some private schools (mostly religious) claim to be in that ball park, but they undoubtedly make up some of the difference with religious donations.

The real problem with the voucher bill is the way it spends taxpayer money without any accountability requirements. There are no performance audit requirements for the private schools, so let the buyer beware and damn the tax payer. There are no financial reporting requirements. The unseen hand of the marketplace will insure that the worst schools will fail; but not until they've taken our money.

Private schools do not have to meet the state core curriculum requirements. So throw out all those history and math textbooks and bring on the "Teachings of Rulon Allred" and start building the curriculum for Polygamy 101 through Blood Atonement 689. You think I'm kidding? Only a little. These schools do not have to meet school accreditation requirements. Say hello to school libraries that could make the federal prison approved reading list look like the Library of Alexandria. The private schools do not have to adhere to teacher training or licensing requirements. If you've got a license to drive you've got a license to teach.

Public education is burdened with a blizzard of performance and financial requirements at both the state and federal levels. Voucher funds, on the other hand would have no such burdens. "Not to worry," they say, because the magic of the marketplace will take care of that. Schools that don't measure up-to what?-will fail. But how many millions of dollars and how many student years of schooling will be wasted?

Proponents of vouchers claim that public schools will actually end up with additional funds because only a portion of the funds currently allocated to each student would go with the student to a private school. The knife twist in that statement is "currently." The legislature could change that next year.

What voucher proponents really want is social capitalism, a system where every social policy is calculated to maximize the return on investment. They're already doing it with the environment, where the benefits of every regulation (lives saved or improved) are weighed (at cents on the dollar) against the costs of compliance to polluting corporations. And you know who's been coming out on the short end of that stick. By that criteria, it is wisest to invest in the front runners. In the case of the social rat race that just happens to be the children of the already well-to-do.

As we go to press, we learn that Vice-President Dick Cheney is coming to town a month before an off-year election. Raising money, I suppose. But for who? Could Cheney's visit be connected to vouchers? Utah's school voucher vote is seen by many as a national test case.

Having screwed up everything on the international front, the Bush administration would love to hit a home run (as the neo-cons would define it) on the education front. The Bush administration has been no friend of public education since day one. Their much bally-hooed No Child Left Behind was carefully designed to kill public education, or at least sap its strength by giving it a Sisyphean task, trying to achieve the impossible. Less than half of the money envisioned in the original law has ever been appropriated. Passing a strong vouchers bill in Utah would set the stage nation-wide for the finishing blow.

Public education is the heat under the melting pot of America. Let's turn it up, not off!

*John deJong is a former member of the Salt Lake City School Board, and their liaison on Capitol Hill for three years.

Support Burma, boycott China

Condoleeza Rice and George Bush think they can affect the situation in Burma by talking. Oh, and they won't give visas to officials from the repressive regime or their close relatives. Talk about carrying a little stick! It would seem to me that the best way to encourage regime change in Burma would be to give the trapped rats a way out. But what do I know about foreign policy?

So it's up to you. You can do something by walking. The next time you are in Walmart, or any place that specializes in products manufactured in the People's Republic of China, walk out the door, after you tell a manager about your decision not to buy products from China. I know, eliminating products made in China will be difficult. But if the China lobby hasn't already eliminated the requirement to label products with the nation of origin, you should easily be able to tell which products come from the People's Republic of China.

China may seem like the long way around to get to the hearts and minds of the military junta that has ruled Burma for 19 years, but China is just about the only ally the military junta in Burma has. Always more concerned about stability than democracy, China has taken actions that have effectively neutralized the economic boycott of Burma.

An interesting aspect to the current situation in Burma is the part the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank played in touching it off. The IMF and the World Bank recently pressed Burma to eliminate its subsidy of fuel, resulting in a 500% energy price increase and forcing the Burmese to pay the going world rate for energy. The IMF and World Bank would prefer that the subsidy money go into "economic development" projects such as dams, mines, fertilizer plants and other projects designed to facilitate siphoning off Burma's natural resources for the benefit of one corrupt regime or another and, of course, world bankers.

The junta's edifice complex may have also played a big part in the elimination of energy subsidies. The cost of building a new capital city 200 miles north of Rangoon may have sucked up the last of Burma's surplus from natural gas exports. In a telling aside, indicative of Burma's close relationship with Communist China, part of the new capital complex is a massive Internet and communications-technology center. Ostensibly Burma's answer to Silicone Valley, the complex could be Burma's attempt to achieve a total surveillance capability much like China's pioneering "Safe Cities" surveillance program that aims to redefine "big brother."

Is the unseen hand of "democracy-at-any-cost" advocate Paul Wolfowitz, former president of the World Bank, at work here? After all, you can talk till you're red in the face and not get as far as the one good economic shock will get you in toppling a regime. Provided it falls the right way.

The Bush administration really doesn't care about Burma. Sure, it's home of probably the most repressive, undemocratic regime on earth, but they don't have much oil, aren't mentioned anywhere in the Bible and don't have a large refugee community in Miami. So from a foreign policy perspective Burma's a non-starter.

In most dispatches from Burma, the older monks are portrayed as conservative and not really behind the protests. After 19 years of going along with the repressive regime, its amazing what they can't get done when they're reasonable.

The senior Buddhist monks aren't going to do it. The Bush admnistration isn't going to do it. So it's up to you. Let your dollars do the walking.

Free speech?

The recent appointment of former Bush administration Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University raises some important questions about free speech.

The arch conservative Hoover Institute defended the appointment on the grounds that Rumsfeld's "three decades of experience, of incredible public service, especially in recent years as it relates to this question of ideology and terror," made him qualified to advise a task force on ideology and terrorism. The Stanford University administration defended the appointment on free speech grounds.

It's ironic that someone with such "incredible" public service should be defended on grounds of freedom of speech. Much of what Rumsfeld did and said while in the Bush administration is truly incredible, in the dictionary sense of the word – "too extraordinary and improbable to be believed," "so implausible as to elicit disbelief," depending on which dictionary you check. With advisors such as Rumsfeld, is it any wonder that the alumnus the Hoover Institute is proudest of its Secretary of State Condolezza Rice?

That said, Rumsfeld is certainly qualified to offer advice on ideology, being the most rabid ideologue ever to occupy the office of Secretary of Defense. He also has unique qualifications when it comes to terrorists, since he can see them in places where no one else sees them.

Notably, the appointment is being opposed by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, emeritus professor of psychology at Stanford. Dr Zimbardo conducted the famous Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971 where students playing the role of prison guards readily adopted sadistic behavior towards students in the role of prisoners. One can see why he opposes the appointment of "the father of Abu Ghraib" as a distinguished fellow. It would be interesting to do an experiment where the guards were actually encouraged to be sadistic. Oh yeah, Rumsfeld did that in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Maybe Rumsfeld intends to write up the results of his experiments while he's a visiting scholar at Stanford.

This article was originally published on September 30, 2007.