Later On

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Thousands of Blacks Are Denied Voting Rights Because They’re Poor

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I didn’t know this. Kevin Drum writes:

I did not know this:

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are being denied the right to vote because they are poor. In nine states, Republican legislators have enacted laws that disenfranchise anyone with outstanding legal fees or court fines. For example, in Alabama more than 100,000 people who owe money — roughly 3 percent of the state’s voting-age population — have been struck from voting rolls.

AL.com adds a bit more detail:

In Alabama and eight other states from Nevada to Tennessee, anyone who has lost the franchise cannot regain it until they pay off any outstanding court fines, legal fees and victim restitution. In Alabama, that requirement has fostered an underclass of thousands of people who are unable to vote because they do not have enough money.

In a recent paper, Marc Meredith and Michael Morse calculate that in Alabama, the fees and fines levied on felons amount to an average of about $5,000 per person, and half of the money owed is in the form of legal fees. Here’s how those fees break down: . . .

Continue reading.

In Alabama, voting is a privilege, not a right. Voting is supposed to be a right.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2017 at 3:10 pm

Asimov’s Foundation analogy

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I just decided to reread the Foundation series, which I firt read in junior high, and thanks to modern technology, I had determined through an easy Google search the best order in which to read them:

  1. The Complete Robot (1982) Collection of 31 Short Stories about robots.
  2. The Caves of Steel (1954) His first Robot novel.
  3. The Naked Sun (1957) The second Robot novel.
  4. The Robots of Dawn (1983) The third Robot novel.
  5. Robots and Empire (1985) The fourth (final) Robot novel.
  6. The Currents of Space (1952) The first Empire novel.
  7. The Stars, Like Dust– (1951) The second Empire novel.
  8. Pebble in the Sky (1950) The third and final Empire novel.
  9. Prelude to Foundation (1988) The first Foundation novel.
  10. Forward the Foundation (1992) The second Foundation novel.
  11. Foundation (1951) The third Foundation novel, comprising 5 stories.
  12. Foundation and Empire (1952) The fourth Foundation novel, comprising 2 stories.
  13. Second Foundation (1953) The fifth Foundation novel, comprising 2 stories.
  14. Foundation’s Edge (1982) The sixth Foundation novel.
  15. Foundation and Earth (1983) The seventh Foundation novel.

Having determined that, I decided that I really wanted the Foundation part, so I bought the 9th book in the list and had it on my Kindle in 10 seconds if that. “Impulse purchase” doesn’t touch it.

At any rate, I was stunned to see Trantor as a clear analogue of the United States, and the specificity with which the mindset described in the book corresponds to the mindset of the US. I would say that the analogy is deliberate. (And maybe that’s well known—that I just figured it out doesn’t mean that it’s not a well-established reading.)

Hari Seldon, I take it, represents Asimov.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2017 at 12:39 pm

Brave Enough to Be Angry

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Lindy West has a strong op-ed in the NY Times:

Last month, an Access Hollywood correspondent asked the actress Uma Thurman to comment on abuse of power in Hollywood, presumably in light of the sexual assault allegations against the producer Harvey Weinstein. Speaking slowly and deliberately, through gritted teeth, Thurman responded, “I don’t have a tidy soundbite for you, because I’ve learned — I am not a child — and I have learned that when I’ve spoken in anger I usually regret the way I express myself. So I’ve been waiting to feel less angry. And when I’m ready, I’ll say what I have to say.”

Thurman is seething, like we have all been seething, in our various states of breaking open or, as Thurman chooses, waiting. We are seething at how long we have been ignored, seething for the ones who were long ago punished for telling the truth, seething for being told all of our lives that we have no right to seethe. Thurman’s rage is palpable yet contained, conveying not just the tempestuous depths of #MeToo but a profound understanding of the ways that female anger is received and weaponized against women.

In the past few months alone we’ve seen Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, pilloried by the far right for criticizing Donald Trump’s anemic response to Hurricane Maria (“We are dying here,” Cruz told the news media, “I am mad as hell.”) and the Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson deluged with abuse after she characterized Trump’s call to the military widow Myeshia Johnson as “insensitive” and “an insult.” Both Cruz and Wilson were directly targeted by the president on Twitter, then incessantly memed and regurgitated and redigested and rememed by his obedient online horde.

Just this week, Juli Briskman, a government contractor, lost her jobafter a photo of her flipping off the presidential motorcade went viral. Solange, Britney Spears, Sinead O’Connor, the Dixie Chicks, Rosie O’Donnell — I struggle to think of women who lost their tempers in public and didn’t face ridicule, temporary ruin, or both. And we don’t even have to be angry to be called angry. Accusations of being an “angry black woman” chased Michelle Obama throughout her tenure at the White House, despite eight years of unflappable poise (black women suffer disproportionately under this paradigm). The decades-long smearing of Hillary Clinton as an unhinged shrew culminated one year ago today when, despite maintaining a preternatural calm throughout the most brutal campaign in living memory, she lost the election to masculinity’s apoplectic id.

Like every other feminist with a public platform, I am perpetually cast as a disapproving scold. But what’s the alternative? To approve? I do not approve.

Not only are women expected to weather sexual violence, intimate partner violence, workplace discrimination, institutional subordination, the expectation of free domestic labor, the blame for our own victimization, and all the subtler, invisible cuts that undermine us daily, we are not even allowed to be angry about it. Close your eyes and think of America.

We are expected to keep quiet about the men who prey upon us, as though their predation was our choice, not theirs. We are expected to sit quietly as men debate whether or not the state should be allowed to forcibly use our bodies as incubators. We are expected to not complain as we are diminished, degraded and discredited.

We are expected to agree (and we comply!) with the paternal admonition that it is irresponsible and hyperemotional to request one female president after 241 years of male ones — because that would be tokenism, anti-democratic and dangerous — as though generations of white male politicians haven’t proven themselves utterly disinterested in caring for the needs of communities to which they do not belong. As though white men’s monopolistic death-grip on power in America doesn’t belie precisely the kind of “identity politics” they claim to abhor. As though competent, qualified women are so thin on the ground that even a concerted, sincere, large-scale search for one would be a long shot, and any resulting candidate a compromise.

Meanwhile, as a reminder of the bar for male competence, Donald Trump is the president.

Tuesday, voters — some angry, some hopeful despite themselves — went to the polls and told a different story: the first openly trans woman elected to the Virginia legislature, a surge of female Democratic candidates across the nation, many of them victorious.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2017 at 11:41 am

What a real president would have said about Mueller’s indictments

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The Washington Post editorial board points out:

HERE IS how President Trump responded to the news that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has brought charges against Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Mr. Manafort’s deputy and a foreign policy aide on Mr. Trump’s campaign:

Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus????? . . . Also, there is NO COLLUSION!

Here is what a presidential president might have said:

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2017 at 6:11 pm

Unsealed Documents Show That Kris Kobach Is Dead Set on Suppressing the Right to Vote

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Orion Danjuma, Staff Attorney, ACLU Racial Justice Program, reports:

For almost a year, Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas, has struggled to hide the truth about his efforts to lobby the Trump administration to make it much harder for Americans to vote. Part of that struggle ended today when a federal court ordered excerpts of Kris Kobach’s testimony disclosed along with other documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in our challenge to his restrictive voter registration regime.

The unsealed materials confirm what many have suspected: Kobach has a ready-made plan to gut core voting rights protections enshrined in federal law. And he has been covertly lobbying Trump’s team and other officials from day one to sell them the falsehood that noncitizens are swinging elections.

As the de facto head of President Trump’s election commission, Kobach has positioned himself to lead an all-out assault on the right to vote.

Here are three big plays from Kobach’s voter suppression playbook.

Play 1: Disenfranchise new voters with severe registration restrictions

Before Kris Kobach took office as secretary of state, Kansans could register to vote the same way that people do in virtually every other state in the country: by submitting a sworn oath of citizenship under penalty of perjury. In 2013, Kobach implemented a law he had pushed through the Kansas Legislature two years earlier, requiring people to track down a citizenship document — such as a passport or birth certificate — or be barred from the ballot box. The new system proved disastrous for ordinary voters.

Large numbers of citizens — disproportionately minorities — don’t have a passport or birth certificate on hand and don’t have the money to obtain replacement documents. By December 2015, more than 35,000Kansans had been disenfranchised — approximately 14 percent of all registration applications since the requirement went into effect. The National Voter Registration Act — popularly known as the Motor-Voter law — prohibits unduly harsh registration rules and requires that states make voter registration easy and straightforward.

Kobach’s severe documentation requirements violated the NVRA so we sued. In October 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit blocked the requirement for people registering at DMVs. The opinion by a George W. Bush-appointed judge found that Kobach’s law had caused a “mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right.” The court noted that before a state could impose such sweeping restrictions, there would need to be proof that significant numbers of noncitizens were actually registering to vote. But Kobach had no evidence of any real problem. He could only offer “pure speculation” that hordes of invisible immigrants were hiding out in voting booths.

Play 2: If the law doesn’t let you suppress the vote, pull some strings to get rid of the law

Without evidence or legal arguments in his favor, Kobach’s next move was to try to eviscerate the NVRA itself. As Kobach knew, and the ACLU had made clear in court, the NVRA would need to be completely rewritten for a state official like Kobach to have the authority to impose such severe restrictions on the right to vote: . . .

Continue reading.

Do read the whole thing. The GOP seems to be going all-out to destroy American democracy.

The GOP doesn’t want those likely to vote Democratic to be able to cast their ballot. That’s it, pure and simple. They really don’t care about the law, only about holding power.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2017 at 7:36 am

An absolute must-read: What Exactly Does The Steele Dirty Russian Dossier On Trump Contain?

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John Sipher is

a Director of Customer Success at CrossLead, a software and consulting firm. He retired in 2014 after a 28-year career in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. having served as a member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service.

He writes in Newsweek:

This article first appeared on Just Security.

Recent revelations of Trump campaign connections to Russia have revived interest in the so-called Steele Dossier.

The dossier is composed of a batch of short reports produced between June and December 2016 by Orbis International, a London-based firm specializing in commercial intelligence for government and private-sector clients.

The collection of Orbis reports caused an uproar when it was published online by the US website BuzzFeed, just ten days before Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Taken together, the series of reports painted a picture of active collusion between the Kremlin and key Trump campaign officials based on years of Russian intelligence work against Trump and some of his associates. This seemed to complement general statements from US intelligence officials about Russia’s active efforts to undermine the US election.

The greatest attention was paid to the first report, which conveyed salacious claims about Trump consorting with prostitutes in Moscow in 2013. Trump himself publicly denied the story, while Trump associates denied reported details about their engagement with Russian officials.

A lot of ink and pixels were also spent on the question whether it was appropriate for the media to publish the dossier. The furor quickly passed, the next news cycle came, and the American media has been largely reluctant to revisit the report over the months since.

Almost immediately after the dossier was leaked, media outlets and commentators pointed out that the material was unproven. News editors affixed the terms “unverified” and “unsubstantiated” to all discussion of the issue in the responsible media.

Political supporters of President Trump simply tagged it as “fake news.” Riding that wave, even legendary Washington Post reported Bob Woodward characterized the report as “garbage.”

For professional investigators, however, the dossier is by no means a useless document. Although the reports were produced episodically, almost erratically, over a five-month period, they present a coherent narrative of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

As a result, they offer an overarching framework for what might have happened based on individuals on the Russian side who claimed to have insight into Moscow’s goals and operational tactics. Until we have another more credible narrative, we should do all we can to examine closely and confirm or dispute the reports.

Many of my former CIA colleagues have taken the Orbis reports seriously since they were first published. This is not because they are not fond of Trump (and many admittedly are not), but because they understand the potential plausibility of the reports’ overall narrative based on their experienced understanding of both Russian methods, and the nature of raw intelligence reporting.

Immediately following the BuzzFeed leak, one of my closest former CIA colleagues told me that he recognized the reports as the obvious product of a former Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officer, since the format, structure, and language mirrored what he had seen over a career of reading SIS reports provided to CIA in liaison channels.

He and others withheld judgment about the veracity of the reports, but for the reasons I outline further below they did not reject them out of hand. In fact, they were more inclined for professional reasons to put them in the “trust but verify” category.

So how should we unpack the so-called Steele dossier from an intelligence perspective?

I spent almost thirty years producing what CIA calls “raw reporting” from human agents. At heart, this is what Orbis did.

They were not producing finished analysis, but were passing on to a client distilled reporting that they had obtained in response to specific questions. The difference is crucial, for it is the one that American journalists routinely fail to understand.

When disseminating a raw intelligence report, an intelligence agency is not vouching for the accuracy of the information provided by the report’s sources and/or sub-sources. Rather it is claiming that it has made strenuous efforts to validate that it is reporting accurately what the sources/sub-sources claim has happened.

The onus for sorting out the veracity and for putting the reporting in context against other reporting – which may confirm or deny the new report – rests with the intelligence community’s professional analytic cadre.

In the case of the dossier, Orbis was not saying that everything that it reported was accurate, but that it had made a good-faith effort to pass along faithfully what its identified insiders said was accurate. This is routine in the intelligence business. And this form of reporting is often a critical product in putting together more final intelligence assessments.

In this sense, the so-called Steele dossier is not a dossier at all. A dossier suggests a summary or case history. Mr. Steele’s product is not a report delivered with a bow at the end of an investigation. Instead, it is a series of contemporaneous raw reports that do not have the benefit of hindsight.

Among the unnamed sources are “a senior Russian foreign ministry official,” “a former top-level intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” and “a close associate of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.”

Thus, the reports are not an attempt to connect the dots, but instead an effort to uncover new and potentially relevant dots in the first place.

What’s most relevant in the Orbis reports?

Let me illustrate what the reports contain by unpacking the first and most notorious of the seventeen Orbis reports, and then move to some of the other ones.

The first 2½ page report was dated June 20, 2006 and entitled “Company Intelligence Report 2016/080.” It starts with several summary bullets, and continues with additional detail attributed to sources A-E and G (there may be a source F but part of the report is blacked out).

The report makes a number of explosive claims, all of which at the time of the report were unknown to the public.

Among other assertions, three sources in the Orbis report describe a multi-year effort by Russian authorities to cultivate, support and assist Donald Trump.

According to the account, the Kremlin provided Trump with intelligence on his political primary opponents and access to potential business deals in Russia.

Perhaps more importantly, Russia had offered to provide potentially compromising material on Hillary Clinton, consisting of bugged conversations during her travels to Russia, and evidence of her viewpoints that contradicted her public positions on various issues.

The report also alleged that the internal Russian intelligence service (FSB) had developed potentially compromising material on Trump, to include details of “perverted sexual acts” which were arranged and monitored by the FSB.

Specifically, the compromising material, according to this entry in the report, included an occasion when Trump hired the presidential suite at a top Moscow hotel which had hosted President and Mrs. Obama, and employed prostitutes to defile the bed where the President had slept.

Four separate sources also described “unorthodox” and embarrassing behavior by Trump over the years that the FSB believed could be used to blackmail the then presidential candidate.

The report stated that Russian President Putin was supportive of the effort to cultivate Trump, and the primary aim was to sow discord and disunity within the U.S. and the West. The dossier of FSB-collected information on Hillary Clinton was managed by Kremlin chief spokesman Dimitry Peskov.

Subsequent reports provide additional detail about the conspiracy, which includes information about cyber-attacks against the U.S. They allege that Paul Manafort managed the conspiracy to exploit political information on Hillary Clinton in return for information on Russian oligarchs outside Russia, and an agreement to “sideline” Ukraine as a campaign issue.

Trump campaign operative Carter Page is also said to have played a role in shuttling information to Moscow, while Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, reportedly took over efforts after Manafort left the campaign, personally providing cash payments for Russian hackers.

In one account, Putin and his aides expressed concern over kick-backs of cash to Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which they feared might be discoverable by U.S. authorities. The Kremlin also feared that the U.S. might stumble onto the conspiracy through the actions of a Russian diplomat in Washington, Mikhail Kalugin, and therefore had him withdrawn, according to the reports.

By late fall 2016, the Orbis team reported that a Russian-supported company had been “using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.” Hackers recruited by the FSB under duress were involved in the operations.

According to the report, Carter Page insisted that payments be made quickly and discreetly, and that cyber operators should go to ground and cover their tracks.

Assessing the Orbis reports

What should be made of these leaked reports with unnamed sources on issues that were deliberately concealed by the participants?

Honest media outlets have reported on subsequent events that appear to be connected to the reports, but do not go too far with their analysis, concluding still that the dossier is unverified.

Almost no outlets have reported on the salacious sexual allegations, leaving the public with very little sense as to whether the dossier is true, false, important or unimportant in that respect.

While the reluctance of the media to speculate as to the value of the report is understandable, professional intelligence analysts and investigators do not have the luxury of simply dismissing the information.

They instead need to do all they can to put it into context, determine what appears credible, and openly acknowledge the gaps in understanding so that collectors can seek additional information that might help make sense of the charges.

Step One: Source Validation

In the intelligence world, we always begin with source validation, focusing on what intelligence professionals call “the chain of acquisition.” In this case we would look for detailed information on (in this order) Orbis, Steele, his means of collection (e.g., who was working for him in collecting information), his sources, their sub-sources (witting or unwitting), and the actual people, organizations and issues being reported on.

Intelligence methodology presumes that perfect information is never available, and that the vetting process involves cross-checking both the source of the information as well as the information itself. There is a saying among spy handlers, “vet the source first before attempting to vet the source’s information.”

Information from human sources (the spies themselves) is dependent on their distinct access to information, and every source has a particular lens. Professional collectors and debriefing experts do not elicit information from a source outside of the source’s area of specific access. They also understand that inaccuracies are inevitable, even if the source is not trying to mislead.

The intelligence process is built upon a feedback cycle that corroborates what it can, and then goes back to gather additional information to help build confidence in the assessment. The process is dispassionate, unemotional, professional and never ending.

Faced with the raw reports in the Orbis document, how might an intelligence professional approach the jumble of information?

The first thing to examine is Christopher Steele, the author of the reports, and his organization Orbis International. Are they credible?

Steele was the President of the Cambridge Union at university, and was a career British intelligence officer with service in Moscow, Paris and Afghanistan prior to work as the head of the Russia desk at British intelligence HQS.

While in London he worked as the personal handler of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko. He was a respected professional who had success in some of the most difficult intelligence environments.

He retired from SIS in 2009 and started Orbis Business Intelligence along with a former colleague. Prior to his work on the Russian dossier for Orbis, he was best known for his investigation of the world soccer association (FIFA), which provided direct support to the FBI’s successful corruption case.

Steele and Orbis were also known for assisting various European countries in understanding Russian efforts to meddle in their affairs.

Like any private firm, Orbis’s ability to remain in business relies on its track record of credibility. Success for Steele and his colleagues depends on his integrity, reliability, and the firm’s reputation for serious work. In this regard, Steele is putting his reputation and his company’s continued existence on the line with each report.

Yes, as with anyone operating in the murky world of intelligence, he could be duped. Nonetheless, his reputation for handling sensitive Russian espionage operations over the years suggests that he is security conscious and aware of Russian counterintelligence and disinformation efforts.

His willingness to share his work with professional investigative agencies such as the FBI and the British Security Service also suggest that he is comfortable opening his work to scrutiny, and is seen as a serious partner by the best in the business.

The biggest problem with confirming the details of the Steele “dossier” is obvious: we do not know his sources, other than via the short descriptions in the reports.

In CIA’s clandestine service, we spent by far the bulk of our work finding, recruiting and validating sources. Before we would ever consider disseminating an intelligence report, we would move heaven and earth to understand the access, reliability, trustworthiness, motivation and dependability of our source.

We believe it is critical to validate the source before we can validate the reliability of the source’s information.

How does the source know about what he/she is reporting? How did the source get the information? Who are his/her sub-sources? What do we know about the sub-sources? Why is the source sharing the information? Is the source a serious person who has taken appropriate measures to protect their efforts?

One clue as to the credibility of the sources in these reports is that Steele shared them with the FBI. The fact that the FBI reportedly sought to work with him and to pay him to develop additional information on the sources suggest that at least some of them were worth taking seriously.

At the very least, the FBI will be able to validate the credibility of the sources, and therefore better judge the information. As one recently retired senior intelligence officer with deep experience in espionage investigations quipped,

I assign more credence to the Steele report knowing that the FBI paid him for his research. From my experience, there is nobody more miserly than the FBI. If they were willing to pay Mr. Steele, they must have seen something of real value.

Step Two: Assessing the Substantive Content . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, very precisely and thoroughly done.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 October 2017 at 2:13 pm

Betsy DeVos Doesn’t Understand How Markets Really Work

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Jack Schneider writes in the Washington Monthly:

The school choice movement has had stunning political success over the past thirty years. Charter schools and voucher programs, mere ideas when Ronald Reagan took office, are now major features of the public education landscape—today, all 50 states offer some mechanism for enrolling children in schools outside their neighborhoods.

Still, the choice movement has unfolded largely at the margins of American public education. That isn’t to say that school choice is a fringe issue. Anyone attuned to education policy debates knows that isn’t the case. But the charter sector comprises only a fraction of total public school enrollments, and voucher programs remain relatively uncommon. In large part, this is because the mainstream school choice movement recognizes that choice, alone, is not enough to ensure better outcomes. As a substantial body of research confirms, the impact of charter schools and voucher programs on student learning is not consistently positive, and often it’s quite negative. Certainly, there are positive stories to tell in particular cities or particular charter networks, but on the whole, it’s hard to argue that the school choice movement has been driven by demonstrably encouraging results. Consequently, most school choice advocates have been content to win small victories—adding charter schools or voucher programs into the existing education system.

Donald Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education changed that. For DeVos, choice isn’t a desirable feature, or even a necessary prerequisite for successful school outcomes. Instead, she sees choice as a sufficient condition. Guaranteeing every child a great education, in other words, requires only a robust free market in which parents can make choices and government stays out of the way.

This vision has been most bluntly outlined through a series of analogies that DeVos has drawn in public events. Speaking recently at Harvard, for instance, she advocated for school choice by discussing the challenge of finding lunch near her office in Washington, D.C. “Near the Department of Education, there aren’t many restaurants,” she observed. “But you know what—food trucks started lining the streets to provide options.” In other words, a monopoly became a competitive marketplace and, as hungry staffers flocked to nearby food trucks, the overall food improved for everyone. Even local restaurants, DeVos noted, “have added food trucks to their businesses to better meet customer’s needs.” The moral of the story: everyone wins in a system where people can choose.

This was not an off-the-cuff remark. DeVos was delivering a prepared speech at a high-profile event, and it echoed previous comments of hers. In March, for instance, DeVos said that “the entrenched status quo” in public education “has resisted models that empower individuals.” Government, she argued, should shift its funding from schools to students, allowing families to make choices in a free market.

This is an extreme interpretation of school choice, in which charter schools and voucher programs are mechanisms for tearing apart the public education system and replacing it with a choice-based marketplace. So, previous arguments against expanding school choice—arguments largely focused on what choice will do to the existing system—are largely irrelevant. After all, DeVos has no interest in the public education system. As she put it: “This isn’t about school ‘systems.’ This is about individual students, parents, and families. Schools are at the service of students, not the other way around.”

Perhaps, then, it is time to highlight a different set of critiques, which accept the premise of education as a marketplace and schools as consumer goods. Progressives may feel uncomfortable with the exercise, since it fundamentally conflicts with the idea of education as a public good. But what it reveals is that, for a free market devotee, DeVos maintains a relatively unsophisticated view of how markets actually function. The flaws in her vision aren’t just a matter of politics; they are a matter of fact.

Start with the fact that school quality cannot be evaluated through a single experience—the way a food truck can be. Products that can be evaluated this way are referred to by economists as “experience goods.” How much do I like this grilled cheese? Give me one minute and I’ll tell you. Education, on the other hand, is largely invisible and reveals its efficacy over time, making it a “credence good”—more like a surgical procedure than a sandwich. It can often take several months just to get a sense of a new school. In fact, some of us who are decades out of school are still sorting through our thoughts about how much we learned, how positive the social experience was, and whether we benefited in the ways we might have wished.

Scholars are also quick to point out that education is far more complex than most of the goods we shop for. As David Cohen has argued, education is a socially-supported process for cultivating human improvement—an ambitious and multifaceted enterprise that takes place over many years. This grand scope presents a measurement challenge, because it is impossible to distinguish the changes in a person due to schooling from the changes due to other factors—a problem that economists describe in terms of “attribution.” With simple products like food, attribution is easy: the taste of a sandwich can be attributed to its maker. But in complex goods like education, it can be much more difficult. To whom can we attribute a child’s love of reading? Her parents, who read to her nightly? Her preschool teachers, who emphasized phonemic awareness? Her local library, which stocks interesting new titles? Her book-loving friends? Her school?

A third difficulty facing DeVos’s choice-based model of education is what economists call a “principal-agent problem.” Such a problem occurs when one person (the agent) has the power to decide on behalf of another person (the principal) who will bear the impact of that decision. In a choice-based model, parents are the agents, acting on behalf of the child. Yet it is important to recall that parents do not spend their days inside schools—they rely on children for second-hand information about the value of the education they’re receiving—what economists call a problem of information asymmetry. And, in sharing what they know, young people might be compromised by a conflict of interest. Recall, for instance, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 October 2017 at 8:50 am

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