Why are NYC Hedge Funders and Rupert Murdoch messing in a NOLA School Board Race?

New Orleans  In the days when New Orleans had a daily paper, it might have been a big issue that hundreds of thousands of dollars in out of state money has flooded one particular school board race.  Perhaps not, because those were also the days before Katrina when 100% of the schools in New Orleans were governed by our local elected school board so people and the paper and the interests it represents had to care about how the citizens and taxpayers voted.  Now of course, 80% of the schools are outside of the jurisdiction of the local school board or any electoral accountability in the post-Katrina state and federally manipulated privatization and charterizing of the public school system.  All of this money, including sizable contributions from New York hedge fund handler, Boykin Curry, and Joel Klein, Rupert Murdoch’s global henchman, seems largely determined to prevent citizens’ from acquiring any accountability in the name of charters and everything else be damned.

Now that I’m confident Obama’s “got this,” I started looking at my local races last night. I’m torn on a city council race between a fellow who is clearly the CBD and developer’s candidate and a lawyer backed by labor who tried to sue ACORN and me to try and take over the ACORN accounting system for a client four years ago.   Can’t pull the lever there, because I’m holding my nose with both hands!   But the big stack of mail waiting for me to plow through was about the school board races not the election for President or City Council or anything else.

Stand for Children, which is a new upstart in New Orleans funded by some of the same outside groups it seems to front for the charter movement, has sent me several mailings with their endorsements.  Since they have virtually no track record here and virtually no identifiable base, this is clearly an independent expenditure campaign being financed by some of the same billionaire/millionaire sudden interest in public schools.  Though the Times-Picayune, formerly our hometown daily paper, has almost no political juice now, relegated to putting out its endorsements on Sunday with no Election Day edition and not even bothering for the first time in my memory even endorsing a candidate for President, the Stand for Children and Times-Picayune endorsements tracked identically where they both endorsed.  I doubt this is coincidence since both seem joined in representing the prevailing business and elite interests in no accountability for charters gone wild.

The  race in the 3rd District has attracted the big bucks where there are three candidates, one of whom is the incumbent, because one the city’s charter queens, Sarah Newell Usdin, is running for a seat.   In trying to root out the story on Usdin, it seems she started her charters from scratch, like so many others, in the wake of Katrina.  The IRS 990 in her school’s last filing says she managed to pay herself almost $200,000 a year to manage these nine or so charters as the “founder” and chair of the board, and that figure doesn’t seem to include a $100,000 bonus she had her handpicked board give her for getting the contract renewed to run the charters.  The record for her charters seems like something she would not have wanted to get so much exposure.  One had to be closed for nonperformance, four had “Fs,” three had “D’s,” with one “C,” and one “B.”  Eeewww!

Education Week made these points even more clearly in a piece I stumbled on last night:

The amount of money–and the out-of-state sources for some of it–has prompted sharp criticism from Mr. Bonin and Ms. Harper Royal [her opponents], as well as from some voters and educators in New Orleans, and is reminiscent of a Louisiana board of education race last year that attracted hordes of cash from out-of-state supporters for one candidate.

“You just have to ask what are they doing in our politics,” said Roslyn Johnson Smith, a longtime school administrator in New Orleans who founded a charter school in the Treme neighborhood after the hurricane. “To me, it looks only like a fight over money and political control. It’s a business conversation, not a conversation about educating our children.”

What is really at stake here though is the fact the charter cheerleaders want to have seats on both sides of the negotiating table as they try to set the terms for coming back under the Orleans School System, which is inevitable.  Many of the charters, including Ms. Usdin’s, have been pushing a petition of demands on the school board for extralegal levels of unaccountability in order to try and access the taxing authority of the board which is held exclusively by citizens still.  Clearly the business and wealthy elites understand this well, so they are trying to get some “inside” help.

Education Week had this clear as well:

The board has authority to set tax rates and take out debt. It also must hire a new superintendent in the coming months and could begin taking control over city schools that had been swept into the state-run Recovery School District after Hurricane Katrina.

Ironically, one of the people the big money folks are trying to depose is a Republican board member and a huge fan of charters as well, but he seems to have not made muster because he thinks they should be “community-based” and controlled by the elected board.  The other candidate also has a special interest, making sure that “special needs” students have a place in a privatized, charterized public school system, which is also felt to be threatening to the charter movement it seems.

So, why all of the outside money?  Either of those candidates would have seemed acceptable to business?  Seems this is about manipulating the process to keep the school system out of the reach of the citizens again by stacking the deck in a different way.

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Hooray for Credo Challenging National Security Letters – Let’s Stand Behind Them!

Michael Kieschnick, the CEO of Credo

New Orleans   When I have to start with a disclaimer, you already know this is that kind of blog.  I have NOT talked to Michael Kieschnick, the CEO of Credo, a telephone service with over 100,000 customers and database of millions of activists, who has created what may be the model for consistent, large scale social enterprise, who is a long time personal friend and professional colleague.  Nor have I discussed this case with any Credo board members or other company employees.  Everything I know about this case is thanks to uber conservative, Rupert Murdoch, and his daily newsletter, the Wall Street Journal. 

And, it’s a good thing that I missed Michael on my recent visit to San Francisco, since according to reporter Jennifer Valentino-DeVries:

The CEO from Credo, Mr. Kieschnick, said he was willing to discuss NSLs in general terms in order to tell his customers that his company can’t protect their privacy in all situations.   It remains unclear whether Credo is the recipient of the NSL in the court fight in California. If Credo is the company, Mr. Kieschnick is taking a risk by speaking. The penalty for knowingly breaking the gag order with the intent to interfere with an investigation is up to five years in prison.

Had we had our usual visit when I’m was recently in the Bay Area, it would have been difficult for the subject not to come up, and I would have strained many a muscle trying to avoid stepping up to defend and praise both Credo and Michael!  Having missed him as he returned from a grueling family bike riding excursion in Canada, there are, thankfully, as usual, no boundaries on what I can say and do!   Of course I also don’t know for a 100% certainty that the telecom outfit that received a National Security Letter (NSL) and is challenging it in the courts in California is for a certainty Credo, but I would bet my last dollar that is the case, and will therefore proceed accordingly, so having said all of that, let’s get to it.

Here’s the backstory.  The FBI for sometime has had the ability to send NSLs without court orders or grand jury proceedings to telecoms for information involving their investigations from the routine requests to connect a name with a number to the more serious matters determining senders and recipients of emails and so forth.  The USA Patriot Act, passed by Congress in the wake of 9/11 more than a decade ago, put NSLs on steroids and shrouded them in unbelievably complex and intricate secrecy under the claim of its anti-terrorism work.   According to the Journal, the FBI sent almost 200,000 known requests for such information over the last nine years.

What Credo did which stands up and steps out from the herd of companies that have received such NSLs is actually go to court and challenge the fact that there is no judicial or grand jury review and authorization of such letters and crafted arguments about both their constitutionality and their chilling impact on freedom of speech guarantees.  Now what triggered knowledge of all of this “I spy” drama is the fact that in an act that would be hard to describe as anything other than pure and simply bullying and attempted intimidation, the Justice Department has filed a civil suit against this unknown company alleging that they are jeopardizing “national security” and the “sovereign interests” of the United States.    The issues are convoluted and byzantine because the FBI, DOJ, and others have tried and pushed them into a deep fog that almost seems to evade legal challenges.  Credo – which means I believe and that fits here as well – is represented by the San Francisco Electronic Frontier Institute, which is excellent on these issues, so “game on,” but for a better feel on how bizarre all of this is, don’t believe me, go to the source.

In an excellent piece of investigative reporting, Valentino-DeVries and the Journal went backward from the court papers in this case to narrow down the list to Working Assets, Inc, which owns Credo.  Most of us wouldn’t have had to work that hard if we had know about the court papers in the first place, but credit to where credit is due.

After watching and participating in many of Credo’s efforts to do the right thing and raise issues, small and large, because they mattered, it seems to me that Credo, and Michael’s leadership and risk taking, warrant support now as well.  I wish I had an idea that was not as lame as doing an on-line petition and e-mail response, but that’s been a Credo weapon of choice many a time, so it seems like it might have value as a way to show them support as well.   Lot of things on the plate today with a union leadership and stewarding school in New Orleans and it goes on and on, but stay tuned for us to get something up and running before the end of the day or don’t wait for us and jump on into the  mess, but keep your head down, since the bully boys are swinging wildly with their NSL sticks!

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