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.

 

Why Growth is the Main Cause of Poverty

Growth Equals Poverty

Vendana Shiva (2013)

In this presentation, environmentalist and anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva challenges the Wall Street mythology that economic growth reduces poverty. Using her own country India as an example, she demonstrates how poverty (and inequality) increase in direct correlation to GDP increases.

The examples she offers clearly apply to the US, UK and New Zealand. All three countries are experiencing alarming increases in poverty and inequality as GDP increases. As in India, the quality and availability of health, education and other public services have declined steeply as “growth” has increased.

She goes on to demonstrate what GDP growth really represents: the privatization (ie theft) of natural and public resources by a small number of elites.

In India at present, 1/4 of the population lives in abject poverty and 1/2 of children are malnourished. Vendana blames the increase in hunger on the forced adoption of industrial agriculture and GMO crops. Monsanto and GMO advocates like Bill gates argue that GMOs will decrease world hunger. In India, where Monsanto has successfully lobbied to make it illegal for farmers to save seed, just the opposite has happened.

This due partly to Monsanto’s seed monopoly, which has caused an 8,000% increase in the cost of seed; partly to the high cost of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides GMO crops require; and partly to the destruction of soil, bees and biodiversity caused by industrial agriculture and GMO crops.

The Inside Story on Bill Gates and Microsoft

barbarians

Barbarians Led by Bill Gates: Microsoft from the Inside

By Jennifer Edstrom and Marlin Eller

Henry Holt (1998)

Book Review

Can be downloaded from from Open Library

Barbarians Led by Bill Gates, co-authored by former Microsoft programmer Marlin Eller, is mainly about Gates’ mercurial and inconsistent management style. While highly unflattering to Gates, Barbarians simultaneously refutes Justice Depart claims that Microsoft deliberately tried to squash competitors by stealing their innovations. The authors make out it was all just a coincidence – that Gates was too disorganized to carry out such a conspiracy. I don’t buy it.

Eller was one of the original programmers at Microsoft in 1982 when the company had only two hundred employers. They had more than 20,000 when he left. The programmer was principally involved in the development of Windows, the graphic interface Microsoft copied from VisiOn and the Apple Macintosh. The launch of Windows ultimately enabled Microsoft to monopolize the software market (competitors’ software wouldn’t run on Windows).

As Ellers describes it, the birth of Windows was a long painful saga, plagued by Gates’ mismanagement and numerous blind alleys costing the company hundreds of million. Microsoft had no systematic quality control over Windows. They seem to have mainly relied on customers to inform them of bugs and security flaws post release.

Eller repeatedly depicts Gates ordering his programmers to reverse engineer software created by other companies. Thus I find it hard to believe it was pure coincidence that Microsoft put Netscape out of business by creating Internet Explorer (which they copied from Netscape) – especially when Internet Explorer team left a giant “E” on Netscape’s front lawn the night before they launched Internet Explorer 4.0. Attached was a card that read

“Good people should feel so BAD! Best wishes – the Internet Explorer team.”

The book also details Microsoft’s longstanding legal problems, including numbers copyright infringement lawsuits and a longstanding battle with the Department of Justice over unfair competition and violation of anti-monopoly laws.***

The reader comes away with the sense that Microsoft’s only unique innovation was MS-DOS* and the BASIC programming language Gates created enabling computers to talk to one another. I’m inclined to agree with Justice Department claims that he used his wealth and monopoly power to pressure manufacturers to load Windows onto new computers. This, in turn, squeezed out competitors who designed software for other operating systems.


*Shortly before their 1999 acquisition by AOL in 1999, Netscape created the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation. The foundation, in turn, rewrote the source code for Netscape Navigator. The latter would be used to power Mozilla’s open source Firefox browser. Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO in 2000 and as chairman of the board in 2014.

**DOS (short for disk operating system) is an acronym for several computer operating systems that are operated by using the command line. MS-DOS dominated the IBM PC compatible market between 1981 and 1995, or until about 2000 including the partially MS-DOS-based Microsoft Windows.

***Microsoft’s battle with the Department of Justice is ongoing.

The Corporatization of the Internet

bill gates

Guest post by Steven Miller and Satish Musunuru

(Part 3 of a five-part series about the corporatization of Internet surveillance.)

Bill Gates Dismisses Open Source Pioneers as Communists

From the beginning, Bill Gates argued that no public discussion of who controls the Internet should even be permitted. He famously called open-source pioneers  “new modern-day sort of communists”. (6)  Bill Clinton opined that corporations were the best way to develop the Internet. Al Gore and Gates re-defined the web as the “Information Super Highway”.

Of course, we know that super highways often have tollbooths, where you pay for the privilege of driving your car. Clinton began the massive wave of privatization, of both society in general and of the Internet in particular, that flourished under George W Bush and is expanding even more with Barack Obama. Clinton’s de-regulation of Wall Street set the stage for the looting of American by Wall Street banks, the 1% and their corporate attack dogs. Rajiv C. Shah & Jay P. Kesan amply describe this in “The Privatization of the Internet’s Backbone Network” (7)

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated the entire electromagnetic spectrum of the atomic vibrations we use for communication. This energy spectrum is as fundamental as the sun, but it was given away to corporations for chickenfeed. This was a huge step encouraging the privatization of Nature and natural processes.

Then the insurance model, essentially the cable-TV model, was imposed on the Internet: you pay a corporation for access to something that could easily be accessible for everyone for nothing. After all it’s simply a process of how you configure the software.

This massive centralization was clearly the exact opposite to the original intent of the Internet. The few massive super-corporations that already controlled the airwaves became ever more powerful. The great Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano stated, “Never have so many been held incommunicado by so few”. (8)

The essential structure of the Internet is simply written down as code. It can be designed to benefit the public, or it can be configured to benefit private profit. Larry Lessig explains:

The architecture of the original Internet minimized the opportunity for control, and that environment of minimum control encouraged innovation…. At its birth, the Internet gave individuals great freedoms of speech and privacy.

But the story about liberty on the original Net had a sequel: what the architecture could give, it could take away. The inability to control was not fixed in nature. It was a function of the architecture. And as that architecture changed, the ability to control would change as well…. Technologies were being deployed to better monitor and control behavior, with the consequence, for better or worse, of limiting the liberty of the space. As the architecture changed, the freedom of the space would change, and change it did.” (9)

Privatization is therefore not something that just happens. It is engineered. This goes deeper. These days, people like to imagine the Internet as a vast network, spanning the globe, where gigabytes of information send pictures and blogs around the world in microseconds. However, the Internet is dwarfed by a larger, and far more sinister system of networks, the Intranet. The Intranet is the collection of corporate and military networks that are protected from the public by firewalls. These have expanded again into extranets – including collaborators from other private concerns into shielded activities. Needless to say, individuals have no access to their computers, but corporations and the NSA have access to yours.

Dan Schiller described the formative role of the Internet’s evil twin – the Intranet – back in 1999:

Corporate applications of Internet technology – intracorporate and business-to-business – comprise the true fulcrum of Internet system development. Corporate networks are the guiding hand of technical experimentation within cyberspace and comprise the leading site of its creative ferment. (emphases added)”   (10)

Fast forward to 2013 – the corporate control of digital technology today has a evolved far from the original vision of a vast global network where everything is open for everyone. We could have public servers at no cost – we have public airports and roads – but we don’t. Increasingly everything is in the Cloud, and corporations own and control the Cloud. Software components, like those Berners-Lee accessed for free, are now sold as apps. Corporations determine who can use them, for a price. Even if certain corporate products are free, it is largely because corporations stand to gain even more from the data they have about users using those products. Facebook is a good example here because while the social networking service is arguably free, the data that they collect and analyze on a daily basis is far more valuable.

Almost all of the data and intelligence reside on the cloud, which is a fancy way of saying massive data centers spread around the world, owned by massive corporations like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft. etc. These data centers account for up to 10% of the worldwide usage of electricity.

The computers and cell phones we now use constantly reach out to the cloud for even the smallest of activities. When we speak into a cellphone and see our words appearing on the screen, what’s happening is that our voice is sent over to the cloud, where it gets converted into English language words, and then sent back to the phone. It takes only milliseconds to do this and is not easily visible to the user. The cloud stores every word we ever say to the phone at least for a period of time. Such a simple act of converting spoken words to written words can actually be done on the phone itself, if it had the program, but it has become cheaper and more advantageous for corporations to do it on the cloud.

A more recent evolution is the development of “computers” with greatly devolved capacity, really just shells of computers, with little storage and an always-on connection to the cloud. Unlike normal computers, these computers cannot function without the Internet. They are simply a window into the cloud. If you lose one of these “computers” you lose only the hardware and none of the data because everything is stored in the cloud, which is owned by these private corporations. This is cited as a convenience to consumers but, as we see with the NSA, it can be potentially dangerous to live life in the cloud. Facebook claims they own everything ever posted on their platform – photos, videos, writings, songs, you name it.

Microelectronics drives all this and is changing the nature of property. In the 16th Century most private property was in land; all of it was tangible. Today lots property is intangible, including things like software, algorithms, and ideas. But private property is still the divine right of thugs. Thanks to the Supreme Court, we understand these thugs are “corporate people”. So what kind of people are these?

The great book, The Corporation, points out that corporations exhibit characteristics of a very specific kind of person – namely psychopaths! (11)  Like psychopaths, corporations are grandiose, manipulative, both charming and deceptive, unable to feel remorse and always refuse to accept responsibility. So we happily trust all of our technology and most of our military to the tender mercies of… psychopaths. You know, nice people like Ted Bundy!

We can draw some conclusions here:

  • As long as society allows the private ownership of information technology by corporations for profit, the unlimited positive potential of technology will be deformed to guarantee that profit, short-term, regardless of the long-term destruction of society and the planet.
  • Corporations control the Surveillance State, not vice-versa.
  • Corporations control every technology as private property. The sad lessons that Global Warming is trying to tell us, the utter corporate incompetence in the abuse of antibiotics, (just two examples!) shows that corporate control is inherently incompetent and short sighted.
  • Therefore only the expansion of real public ownership and control of technology, at every level, in every branch of the economy, can release the wondrous potential of technology without abuse. The world of the very near future is going to be either all corporate, with no public, or all public, with no corporations. Which future it will be is up to us.

Background and Notes

7)  “The Privatization of the Internet’s Backbone Network” by  Rajiv C. Shah & Jay P. Kesan (http://www.governingwithcode.org/journal_articles/pdf/Backbone.pdf‎)

8) Zinn, Howard. A people’s history of the United States: 1492-present. 2003

8)  Lessig, op cit p 140

9)  Lessig, op cit, p 140

10)  Dan Schiller. Digital Capitalism. 1999, p 17

11)  Bakan. The Corporation – The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. 2004. p 56  (You can also view the fine movie of the same name – on
DVD.)

 To be continued.

photo credit: Domain Barnyard via photopin cc

Reposted from Daily Censored

Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at nanodog2@hotmail.com

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Satish Musunuru draws upon his training as an engineer and his experience as a professional in Silicon Valley to understand the relationship between technology and corporate capitalism and how it has brought us to the ecological and societal crisis we find ourselves in. You can email him at guruji323@hotmail.com