Tuesday, October 1, 2013

If Only Goldman Sachs Ran the Public Schools!

Alright, teachers: You’ve heard what the right-wing crowd has been shouting. The public school monopoly is bad! Teachers’ unions and tenure only protect lazy workers. Taxpayers get fleeced and the nation’s schools fail badly.

Only business methods can save the children.

That’s the argument, anyway. But I wonder:  why does anyone believe cash-crazy corporations will actually care about kids?

If we say that public schools should follow a “business model” then what is that model? We already know how one version works with for-profit colleges. They’d enroll cows in physics classes if only the cows would agree to pay the tuition.

What about the business model of JPMorgan, currently working on a deal with the Justice Department to provide $4 billion in relief to all the homeowners the company shafted in regard to their mortgages? The company is also considering an agreement that would involve $7 billion in penalties.

If you figure the average public school teacher today earns $56,000, this one company is about to admit to questionable practices equal to the annual salary of 196,428 educators—with a little left over to hire some substitutes.

Introducing business methods in the schools sounds wonderful if all you ever do is watch Fox News. But with business methods you get “business ethics.” And where business is involved the greatest good is piling up the greatest profit. Consider, for example, nine Japanese automotive parts manufacturers now having pleaded guilty to price fixing in the U. S. market. They are set to pay $740 million in criminal fines, bringing their total bill to $1.6 billion.

That’s another 28,571 teachers.

How about copying the drug companies, who sell their outstanding products for use on our children? Plenty of models to follow here: Johnson and Johnson, fined $70 million in 2011 for bribing doctors (and double points for doctors who took kickbacks). That fine alone would pay the average annual salaries of 1,000 school nurses.

Even better, in 2012, J & J paid a fine of $1.2 billion for deceptive marketing of Risperdal. Did we mention that our drug might increase the risks of suicide in teens?

No? We didn’t?

Sorry about your daughter.

You can pile up great examples just from the drug companies: GlaxoSmithKline hit for $3 billion in 2012 to settle claims of marketing antidepressants illegally and withholding information about health risks of one of its diabetes medications. Or: Bristol Myers Squibb, fined $515 million for marketing Abilify to treat behavior problems in children—then hiding evidence of potentially fatal side effects—oh, and getting doctors on board to push prescriptions anyway, offering “kickbacks and expensive vacations to luxury resorts.”

In fact, if you total up the ten biggest fines paid by the drug companies (Amgen, Merck, Pfizer and others) you have $11.579 billion.

Just for fun, let’s call that enough to pay 3,879 school nurses, 5,542 school counselors and another 196,428 teachers.

Need a few art instructors? How about copying the business model of Glafira Rosales, a New York City art dealer, who stood the concept of “artist” on its head and sold 63 fake art masterworks for a cool $80 million. That’s small potatoes compared to Merck or Pfizer but still enough to hire 1,429 elementary school art teachers.

Speaking of art, how about Steven A. Cohen of SAC Capital Advisors? That man does love his Picassos—spending $155 million recently to buy one of his pieces. Cohen’s company is under investigation and his hedge fund is looking at $2 billion in penalties for shady dealings. So far, SAC has paid a mere $616 million in fines, but even if we stick with that lower figure we can hire another 11,000 fifth grade science teachers.

Here’s one of my favorites—a lesson in ethics teachers might discuss with students next time they do character education. This past summer Henry’s Turkey Service was ordered to pay a judgment of $240 million in back wages after a jury found the company guilty of profiting for decades by supplying mentally disabled workers to an Iowa turkey plant at wages of 41 cents per hour. Even more impressive, ethics-wise, this was the company’s third trip to court, including a 2009 ruling that closed down a rundown Iowa bunkhouse where 32 employees lived. Those men had been there since the 1970s and hadn’t had a raise in all the time they were employed by the company.

The fine Henry’s paid equals the salaries of 4,286 special education teachers.

Another fine example of the business model we might copy in the schools would be Massey Energy. The company was docked $209 million recently for its role in the deaths of twenty-nine West Virginia miners in 2010. These deaths were ruled “entirely preventable” and found to be a result of a decision by top executives to keep two sets of safety records, one for the company and one to fake out federal safety inspectors.

Maybe schools could follow the business strategy of West Fertilizer Incorporated. The firm decided not to notify Homeland Security that it was storing 270 tons of volatile ammonium nitrate, even though the law requires a company to report if it has even a single ton. In April the company blew up its own facility and a good part of nearby West, Texas, and fifteen people were killed. And yes, three of four schools in the West Independent School District were flattened or irreparably damaged.

How about Wal-Mart: docked $81 million this past spring for dumping hazardous materials in local sewers and waterways?

And who can forget the awesome job done by British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico? Eleven workers were killed—and the company paid $4.525 billion in penalties, while Trans Ocean, also held partially responsible for the disaster, was billed $1.4 billion.

What about Wal-Mart (again) facing charges of bribing foreign officials under the Federal Corrupt Practices Act? No word on penalties yet: but in similar cases Siemens paid $800 million, Halliburton $579 million and BAE Systems $400 million.

Throw in Bernard Ebbers who once earned enough to be able to afford a $6,000 shower curtain and then got busted for engineering an $11 billion Ponzi scheme. Don’t forget Bernie Madoff, mastermind of the “scam of the century.” His machinations led to the loss of another $50 billion. Then you had Ken Lay who ran Enron into the ground and just so happened to wipe out $60 billion dollars in stock market value.

Many of the investors these scumbags cheated were…yes…public school workers.

Hey, what about News Corporation—which hopes to get into the business of selling computer tablets and software to America’s kids? Rupert Murdoch’s company admitted bribing London police officers to get tips and coughed up $139 million to settle just some of hundreds of charges of phone hacking of private cell phones, including that of a teenage murder victim.

Why not ask our physical education teachers to copy the methods of that business juggernaut, the National Football League? If you missed that heart-warming story recently, the NFL agreed last month to pay $750 million in damages to former players and their families related to catastrophic head injuries.

Honestly, it’s going to be really hard for schools to decide which business model to choose from. How about HSBC, the banking giant? The company was just ordered to pay a penalty of $1.92 billion for “allowing itself to be used to launder a river of money flowing out of Mexico and [for] other banking lapses.”

There’s always UBS, a Swiss bank, if you prefer—considering that the company was fined $780 million by the United States government, after officials admitted offering shelter to thousands of tax cheats—and fined again, $450 million, for rigging interest rates. Then there’s Bank of America, hit for $2.4 billion for questionable operations.

Can we also agree that where the “business model” is concerned the entire pornography industry is doing a bang-up job of creating jobs and profits! That’s another $10 to $14 billion.

Add up all these examples and you have $135.271 billion, not to mention some tasty pesticides in your drinking water and thousands of young women swallowed up annually as part of the booming sex trade.

Enough to pay another 2,415,556 teachers.

Let us count the ways to cheat in business! You have Kia and Hyundai faking gas mileage figures. Halliburton admits destroying evidence related to the company’s role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Novartis is under investigation both for bribing Chinese doctors and providing kickbacks to doctors in this country.

Certainly, the public schools are going to have a hard time topping the creative tactics of Goldman Sachs. This brilliant business model gives new meaning to the words: “The wheels on the bus go round and round.”

In 2010 Goldman bought up critical aluminum-storage facilities in Detroit and went into business supplying car manufacturers and beverage companies. In case you missed this story of hard-working business folk doing what business folk do best, you might not know that delays in aluminum shipments grew from six weeks to sixteen months. Goldman claimed to be hamstrung by a shortage of forklifts and drivers. Unfortunately, there were only enough forklifts and drivers to load 1,000 tons of aluminum in Warehouse A and ship it over to Warehouse B and unload. Then Warehouse B loaded and shipped another stack of 1,000 tons of aluminum over to Warehouse C and unloaded. Then C loaded and shipped a third stack of 1,000 tons to Warehouse A, and then the company filled out the paperwork to show that, hey, they shipped the 3,000 tons of aluminum required every day under an agreement with producers.

Naturally, prices rose and Goldman is estimated to have made an extra $5 billion in profit.

If schools here in Ohio would only copy Goldman’s strategy they could stop wasting time asking voters to pass levies!

Finally, the public schools might copy apparel companies like The Gap, which buys jeans from factories in Bangladesh because workers there—including children—earn a minimum wage of $37 a month and don’t have much recourse if they get crushed in collapsing factories.

What the heck! Why not let American businesses take over the public schools—and then we can even bring back child labor!

Remember, when it comes to putting profits before children, or children before profits, we already have plenty of examples to tell us how American companies might choose.

Author’s note: My father was a small businessman and the most honest individual I have ever known. I realize many business people are honest, upright individuals.

The same is true of most teachers.

Still, it’s a myth that the business model can save U. S. education.

Extra Credit Reading: You might also like: “Privatizing the Public Schools and the Loch Ness Monster Bonus.”

1 comment:

  1. This is a lively illustration of the actual future of education in this country if corporate takeover goes ahead unchecked. As a nurse, I watched in bewilderment & then horror as they took over health care, letting thousands die before some legislative boundaries were drawn, though not close to enough. If we allow education to pass the same way we will lose what makes us America. Thanks for a great article.