The Privatization of Childhood

Class War: The Privatization of Childhood

By Megan Erikson

Verso Press (2015)

Book Review

Megan Erikson’s 2015 book provides an elegant class analysis of the current push by Wall Street and Silicon Valley to privatize US education via voucher programs and private publicly-funded charter schools. Class War provides an in-depth examination of the dismaying effects of systematic privatization on the teachers and low income students who struggle on in brutally underfunded public schools.

Erikson’s basic premise is that the current purpose of the US educational system isn’t to educate but to permanently entrench social class divisions by sorting students into winners and losers.

For me the three basic points Class War puts across are

  1. US public schools are increasingly run like prisons, complete with metal detectors, cops, surveillance, attack dogs and random sweeps,
  2. Teachers are unfairly blamed for severe social problems that are beyond their control. Five decades of research conclusively concludes that classroom education accounts for less than 30% of a child’s education success and teacher performance only 7.5%. Achievement levels relate much more closely to exposure to complex language, access to medical care and a “healthy” home environment that provides access to books and challenging games.
  3. Claims by the CATO Institute and other conservative that increased federal education funding* won’t help are dead wrong. Research consistently shows that increasing the funding level per student**and reducing class size,*** increasing teacher pay, and providing better instructional materials (many New York City public schools fail to provide a textbook for every child) all improve achievement levels.

Erikson points to the irony of neoliberal billionaire reformers (like Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg) calling for an increase class sizes in public schools (currently 40 students per teacher in New York City, while they send their own kids to exclusive private school with class sizes of 10-16. Likewise Silicon Valley executives push for early access to tablets and laptops in public schools, while sending their own kids to Waldorf schools that ban classroom computer access prior to age 13.


*In most industrialized countries, 50% of funding comes from national government. In the US the federal share is only 10-15%. This means most public school are mainly reliant on local property taxes for funding. This translate into major financial problems in poor districts.

**In public school districts with high funding levels per student, results on global achievement tests are equal to those of high performing countries like Japan and Hong Kong.

***In most European countries, administrators reduce class size to increase achievement in students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the US, the exact opposite occurs.

 

Despite Continuous Recession Japan’s Homeless Rate 1/7 of US Figure

Meeting and Helping Japan’s Homeless Part 4

LWIF (2017)

Film Review

In part 4, filmmakers interview homeless men living in one the Emergency Centers run by various NGOs. They also look at a street feeding and outreach program run by a non-profit organization called Sanyukai.

Part 5 looks at figures documenting the improvement in Japanese homelessness. In 2017, the official Japanese government homeless count was 5,534 – a private research group with did actual nighttime counts came up with a figure closer to 15,000.

This makes Japan’s level of homelessness roughly the same as Canada’s (8 per 100,000 population)

The US has 55 homeless people per 100,000 population.

The new Japanese number contrasts with close to 60,000 homeless (estimated by private researchers) in 2003.

Filmmakers attribute most of this improvement to the governments expansion of their Livelihood Protection Program. In 1995 only 880,000 citizens received Livelihood Protection. At present that figure is 2.2 million. At this point, nearly any Japanese resident with a home address can qualify.

 

How Japan Solved Homelessness

Who Are Japan’s Homeless? Part 2

LWIF (2017)

Film Review

Part 2 of this series looks at the history and demographics of Japanese homelessness. The country’s homeless problem began during the economic crisis of the mid-nineties, when companies either went bankrupt or laid off most of their workers.

Twenty to thirty percent of Japan’s homeless residents have criminal records that make it difficult to find jobs. Others have become homeless fleeing aggressive loan sharks. Most are reluctant to apply for Livelihood Protection (Japan’s welfare program) because it makes it easier for creditors to locate them.

Japan’s urban residents have little or no contact with Japan’s homeless. The latter are nearly all men. The presence of homeless women and children on the street would be a great source of shame to government and society.

Japan’s homeless tend to bed down under tents, tarps, or cardboard boxes in urban parks, on river banks, or in train stations and other public buildings.

Part 3 concerns the Homeless Self-Reliance Law the Japanese government enacted in 2002. The new law created a number of Independent Support Centers to provide beds and meals on demand. This centers, which allow a maximum stay of four to six months, also provide, training, support and loans to help their residents find.

This government program is complemented by “poverty businesses,” non-profit organizations which have converted the dormitories of shuttered factories into emergency centers. Most allow a maximum two month stay, while they assist residents in applying for Livelihood Protection (ie welfare benefits).

 

Homelessness: Contrasting Japan and the US

Why Japan’s Homeless Are Different from North America’s – Part 1

LWIF (2017)

Film Review

This intriguing five-part documentary series contrasts Japan’s aggressive effort to reduce homelessness with the apparent indifference of the US government. In my view, the stark contrast makes an important statement about the shameful greed and corruption underlying the US political system.

Part 1: The series begins by examining why Japan has always had a much lower endemic rate of homelessness than the US:

  • Japan has much lower levels of drug abuse than the US,* although alcoholism and compulsive gambling are common problems contributing to Japanese homelessness.
  • Japan, which retained its mental hospitals when the US and other English-speaking countries closed theirs down (as a cost cutting measure) in the seventies and eighties.** The majority of America’s mentally ill either end up in prison or on the streets.
  • Japan has few, if any traumatized war veterans. The latter represent a sizeable proportion of the US homeless population.

*Japan has no paramilitary organization comparable to the CIA, which openly engages in narcotics trafficking as part of its strategy to destabilize regimes unfriendly to Wall Street interests.

**In the US, the community mental health movement Kennedy started never received full funding following his assassination. Instead the mental health centers he created to replace mental hospitals have experienced continuous budget cuts dating back to the Reagan administration.

Amazon: Taking Over the Global Economy

The World According to Amazon

Directed by Adrian Anon and Thomas Larfarge

Film Review

In this documentary, filmmakers express grave concerns about Amazon corporation assuming monopoly control over the entire global market place. At present the company has three million customers across five continents. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s first centibillionaire.

Amazon destroys two jobs for every one it creates. Owing the monopoly’s power to undercut all competitors, it is largely responsible for the closure (over 10 years) of 85 small businesses and 35,000 small and medium size manufacturers.

Amazon controls half of online US commerce and leads the market in sales of books, electronics, personal care products, DVDs toys, and clothing (which it also manufactures). It also sells drugs, insurance, video on demand, music streaming, video games, and cloud data storage. I was surprised to learn that 60% of Amazon’s profits derive from its 120 data centers, which host web servers in addition to providing cloud storage.

Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, Whole Foods, and Blue Origin, a private rocket manufacturer and spaceflight services company.

Bezos’ immense wealth affords him immense political power. Last year, he forced Seattle City Council to repeal a $275 per employee tax on the city’s largest companies to fund an emergency housing program.*

Largely thanks to Amazon, which has its headquarters there, Seattle has the highest per capita homeless rate in the US. At present, 1,000 people move to Seattle every week, most to work for Amazon. With no possible way for the city’s housing market to keep up, this pushes many existing residents (who can’t afford 10% year rent increases) onto the streets.

Bezos’ steady takeover of the global marketplace receives little mainstream media attention. The only serious push back he has received has been from striking German unions and from Dehli merchants determined to keep Amazon out of India. Owing to its immense monopoly power, Amazon can afford to operate (for years) at a loss in India. Dehli merchants, who are a major base of support for Narenda Mohdi’s BJP party, are busy organizing national bus tours to warn other small business owners of the risk Amazon poses to their survival.

Unlike Europe, where Amazon faces no major competition, both Flipkart (started by two former Amazon employees) and Paytm (a subsidiary of China’s giant e-commerce platform Alibaba) are both major competitors in India.


*Bezos, who initially agreed to the tax, changed his mind 24 hours after the city council enacted it unanimously.

Anyone with a public library card can see the documentary free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine to register.

America’s Homeless Middle Class

How Poor People Survive in the USA

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about homeless members of middle class America whose wages are too low to cover rent. Filmmakers visit San Diego, Los Angeles, Richmond Virginia, Appalachia and Waco Texas.

In San Diego they film a parking lot in which thirty people working as Uber drivers, security guards, secretaries, cleaners, carers and computer technicians sleep in their cars overnight. A charity provides them with portapotties, a water point, and an open air kitchen facility. One of the carers who sleeps there works nine hour days seven days a week.

In Los Angeles, which filmmakers refer to as the homeless capitol of the US (with 59,000 homeless), the documentary profiles a full time volunteer who builds wooden tiny houses (which have been legally banned by the city council) for people currently living tents.

In Richmond, filmmakers follow local sheriffs carrying out an eviction at gunpoint. They also visit one of the budget motels that have sprung up in the Richmond outskirts due to the city’s high number of evictions.*

In Appalachia, they visit one of the poorest counties in the nation, where volunteers run a daily food truck to distribute food to the area’s children. They also profile a military-style field hospital that provides once-a-year medical and dental treatment for the uninsured. The field hospital, held on a local sports field, is funded by a national charity and staffed by volunteer health providers.

In Waco, the filmmakers visit a church program that recruits candidates from all over the US to pay 60 dollars to experience sleeping rough first hand.


*In Virginia, a landlord can legally evict a tenant once their rent is five days past due.

 

The Deep State vs Jeremy Corbyn

This film (released about a week ago) is about the collusion between British intelligence and the mainstream media to block Corbyn from becoming prime minister on December 12 – despite overwhelming public support.

The film begins with vignettes from prominent British and international prominent Jews, such as Noam Chomsky, Bernie Saunders and Norman Finkelstein shredding the outrageous smear (repeatedly echoed by every media outlet, including the BBC) that Corbyn and the Labour Party are viciously antisemitic. As with Bernie Sanders the radical policies Corbyn promotes pose a grave threat to a powerful elite that includes the British banking and arms industry, as well as the pro-Israel lobby abetting the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation of Israel.

British intelligence has been using the mainstream media to peddle disinformation about the Labour Party since 1948, when MI5 faked a document linking them to the Communist Party.

Filmmakers go on to castigate the British media for failing to confront the outright lies expounded by Corbyn’s Conservative and Liberal Democratic opponents. This section includes a clip of one of Boris Johnson’s ministers calling for the UK to replace the National Health Service (NHS) with a US-style system of private insurance. Another clip depicts Corbyn displaying leaked documents from Johnson-Trump trade negotiations that include the  the right of the US to bid on private contracts to run specific NHS services currently run by the British government.*

The film ends by reminding us of the true purpose of rigged political polls (currently showing Johnson with a strong lead) – namely to demoralize Labour supporters and discourage them from coming out to vote. They point to 2017, when Conservatives ended up with a minority government, despite all the polls predicting a strong Tory majority.

*In the week since the film was released, the mainstream media (based on an anonymous source on Reddit) is blaming the Russians for leaking the documents to Corbyn.