Business is better than government, states are better than feds, Hillary hated coal miners, and other stuff “everyone knows”…. (More)

“Their belief in charter schools is unshakable”

As everyone knows, business provides better and more efficient service than government. Just ask Stephen Goldsmith, who coined the so-called ‘Yellow Pages Test’:

The “Yellow Pages test” says that if a service can be found in the Yellow Pages of a phone book, government should consider buying it rather than producing it in-house.

Proponents insist this provides better services at lower cost, despite the inevitable profit margin for business owners, because “competition” and “innovation” will “drive down costs.” In practice, that usually means paying people less to do the same work, so the “savings” come out of the pockets of working families. But setting that aside, is private business really more efficient?

Consider that “a typical organization loses 5% of its revenues each year to occupational fraud,” which that study defines as employee theft, fraud, or embezzlement. That’s about on par with a 2011 GAO report that found a 4.7% “improper payment” rate across all federal agencies. And that includes both overpayments and underpayments, as well as payments that would have been correct but for paperwork mistakes.

Yet a 2014 Gallup poll found that Americans believe the federal government “wastes” 51 cents of every dollar spent. Why does “everyone know” that government is so inefficient?

Consider a recent PBS special praising charter schools:

But this month [June 2017] the Public Broadcasting System is broadcasting a “documentary” that tells a one-sided story, the story that Betsy DeVos herself would tell, based on the work of free-market advocate Andrew Coulson. Author of “Market Education,” Coulson narrates “School, Inc.,” a three-hour program, which airs this month nationwide in three weekly broadcasts on PBS.

Uninformed viewers who see this slickly produced program will learn about the glories of unregulated schooling, for-profit schools, teachers selling their lessons to students on the Internet. They will learn about the “success” of the free market in schooling in Chile, Sweden, and New Orleans. They will hear about the miraculous charter schools across America, and how public school officials selfishly refuse to encourage the transfer of public funds to private institutions. They will see a glowing portrait of South Korea, where students compete to get the highest possible scores on a college entry test that will define the rest of their lives and where families gladly pay for after-school tutoring programs and online lessons to boost test scores. They will hear that the free market is more innovative than public schools.

What they will not see or hear is the other side of the story. They will not hear scholars discuss the high levels of social segregation in Chile, nor will they learn that the students protesting the free-market schools in the streets are not all “Communists,” as Coulson suggests. They will not hear from scholars who blame Sweden’s choice system for the collapse of its international test scores. They will not see any reference to Finland, which far outperforms any other European nation on international tests yet has neither vouchers nor charter schools. They may not notice the absence of any students in wheelchairs or any other evidence of students with disabilities in the highly regarded KIPP charter schools. They will not learn that the acclaimed American Indian Model Charter Schools in Oakland does not enroll any American Indians, but has a student body that is 60 percent Asian American in a city where that group is 12.8 percent of the student population. Nor will they see any evidence of greater innovation in voucher schools or charter schools than in properly funded public schools.

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss reports on how DeVos’ highly-hyped charter schools worked in Michigan:

The results of this free-for-all have been tragic for Michigan children, and especially for those in Detroit, where 79% of the state’s charters are located.

A yearlong Free Press investigation found that 20 years after Michigan’s charter school experiment began, Detroit’s charter schools have shown themselves to be only incrementally stronger, on average, than traditional public schools. They have admirable graduation rates, but test scores that look nearly identical to those of public schools.

The most accurate assessment is that charter schools have simply created a second, privately managed failing system. Yes, there are high-performing outliers – a little more than 10% of the charter schools perform in the top tier. But in Detroit, the best schools are as likely to be traditional public schools.

DeVos and her family have not been daunted by these outcomes. It’s as if the reams of data showing just incremental progress or abysmal failure don’t matter. Their belief in charter schools is unshakable, their resistance to systematic reforms that would improve both public and charter schools unyielding.

Such “unshakable” beliefs are bolstered by a fundamental legal distinction. There’s no shortage of dark, shocking exposés about government services, but you rarely see such exposés of charter schools or other private businesses. That’s not because private businesses are better or more efficient.

It’s because the First Amendment gives near-absolute protection to criticism of government – as well it should – but gives much less protection to criticism of private businesses:

[In a lawsuit over publication of damaging corporate documents], to the corporate plaintiff, the publisher looks like nothing more than an accessory after the fact of a crime, a receiver of stolen goods who seeks thereby to profit. Meanwhile the publisher-defendant sees itself as a journalistic actor in the heroic tradition of Woodward and Bernstein, sporting an unprecedented fidelity to freedom-of-information absolutism. To say that the plaintiff and defendant disagree over whether the First Amendment applies understates their conflict.

As that University of Massachusetts Law School media law newsletter article notes, the constitutional protections of business-critical speech are vague and malleable. Indeed companies are increasingly suing people who post negative reviews online, so it was hardly surprising when Massey Energy sued HBO’s John Oliver for a 20-minute monologue criticizing the coal giant’s unsafe working conditions.

For decades, the God-King routinely threatened and often sued critics and many backed down rather than face litigation costs. (As that article notes, he rarely won when the critics could afford to back.) So it’s hardly surprising that he vowed to “open up libel laws” so he can sue his critics now. But, again, the First Amendment gives near-absolute protection to criticism of government – as it should – so it’s hugely unlikely that he can actually deliver on that promise.

Regardless, you can weave stories about a handful of bad teachers into an exposé of “failing public schools” without worrying that the school district, city, or state will sue. Weave a similar tale of “failing charter schools” … and you’ll have an army of lawyers crawling through your production notes. That legal distinction – not an actual superiority – is a big reason so many Americans think private business is better than government.

Oh, and that typically 5% of business revenue lost to employee theft, fraud, and embezzlement? It’s tax deductible.

“As a general rule the states do things better than the federal government does”

As everyone knows, states are more responsive and efficient than federal government. That same Gallup poll that found Americans think 51 cents of every federal dollar is “wasted” found less critical estimates for state (42% waste ) and local government (37% waste). Yet a 2015 study by the Center for Public Integrity gave 12 states “F” grades for corruption, and all but 3 states (Alaska, California, and Connecticut) received “D” or “F” grades. And a 2013 study by Adriana Cordis and Jeffrey Milyo found that corruption in local government is three times as common as corruption than in state government, roughly 150 convictions per year for local officials vs roughly 50 per year for state officials.

That same study found roughly 300 convictions per year for federal officials, but they note that their federal data includes the average 225 convictions per year for theft or mishandling of mail by postal workers. States don’t run postal services, so if you compare apples-to-apples – convictions for bribery, contract kickbacks, fraud, etc. – that’s about 50 per year for state officials, 75 per year for federal officials, and 150 per year for local officials. Scale that for the number of employees at each level of government … and they’re about on par.

So if state and local governments are every bit as corrupt as the federal government, why did Sen. Jim Inhofe say this:

Well, first of all, as a general rule the states do things better than the federal government does [things]. And that is essentially what the [Graham-Cassidy] bill is.

The answer, simply, is that Sen. Inhofe pulled that from the same place he pulled his snowball-based argument against climate change. Both came from the University of Everyone Knows … otherwise known as his rectal orifice.

“We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”

Just like Everyone Knows that Hillary Clinton hates coal miners. Never mind that what she said is exactly the opposite of what Everyone Knows:

Instead of dividing people the way Donald Trump does, let’s reunite around politics that will bring jobs and opportunities to all these under-served poor communities. So, for example, I’m the only candidate who has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right, Tim? [Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) was in the audience.]

And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce energy that we relied on.

As Vox’s David Roberts notes, the “we” in that italicized sentence was not government; it was the market forces that are already killing the coal industry:

What Clinton was obviously fumbling around trying to say is that lots of coal miners and coal companies are going to be put out of business by these market forces. By “we,” she just meant America – “we” are transitioning to cheaper, cleaner energy, and in the process, “we” are going to eliminate some dirty-energy jobs and companies.

Coal communities are going to continue hurting, whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency regulates anything. That’s why Clinton wanted to help them.

Roberts also explains how that ‘gaffe’ got spun through the wingnut right into the mainstream media:

The game works like this:

Right-wing operatives and media figures watch Clinton intensely. Anything she says or does that can be plausibly (or implausibly) spun to appear maleficent, they spin. A vast echo chamber of blogs, “news” sites, radio stations, cable news shows, and Facebook groups takes each one of these mini faux scandals and amplifies the signal.

If one of the faux scandals catches on enough and dominates right-wing media long enough, then a kind of alchemy occurs. The question facing mainstream outlets is not, “Why aren’t you writing about what Clinton said?” That question is easy to answer: It’s a nothingburger. The question becomes, “Why aren’t you writing about the scandal over what Clinton said?”

Reputable mainstream journalists don’t have to pretend that Clinton meant the ridiculous thing right-wing media says she meant. They can just report that “some interpreted Clinton to mean [ridiculous thing],” and hey, that’s technically true. The fact that a bunch of right-wing political and media hacks feigned outrage becomes the story.

And her ‘failure’ to ‘respond’ to that feigned outrage became yet another ‘scandal’:

Though it was nothing but a garbled sentence – nothing worse than what Trump does a dozen times a day, nothing worse than what America’s beloved uncle Joe Biden does in every speech – she gamely treated it like it was a real scandal, like it meant something. She wrote to Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to apologize. She flew to Mingo County, the heart of coal country, to apologize to coal miners directly.

Oh, and again, lest it be forgotten, she had that $30 billion aid plan.

But none of it had any effect. The media never stopped passing on the right-wing distortion, with some watery he-said she-said around it to establish, uh, objectivity. The coal gaffe will go down in history as a significant event in the campaign. Just like the email scandal, it went through the Thing, Scandal-About-the-Thing, Clinton’s-Reaction-to-the-Scandal-About-the-Thing cycle without ever having a shred of substantive merit.

Yet another example of how Everyone Knows stuff that’s pure hooey. So the next time you hear someone say “As everyone knows,” imagine that person with his/her head buried in a desert of ignorance. Or up his/her rectal orifice. Whichever image works for you.

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Image Credits – Original Photo: Shutterstock; Transform: Crissie Brown (BPICampus.com)

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Good day and good nuts