Ledger Logic – Billionaire Boys Club Edition

Tom Moran over at the Star-Ledger has outdone himself this time: an opinion piece under his own byline combined with an editorial he presumably wrote make for a one-two punch that knock fairness and logic on their asses.

Let’s start with Moran’s long, wet kiss to David Tepper, hedge fund multi-billionaire. After the predictable Horatio Alger claptrap about Tepper’s hardscrabble young life in Pittsburgh, Moran sees fit to devote one small paragraph to how this man made his money:

His style is to take huge risks. His firm, Appaloosa Management, made a killing after the financial crash by investing billions in failed banks. After the government bailouts, the value of the shares skyrocketed and his firm made $7.5 billion.

That’s not the whole story, as we have reported here at Blue Jersey (h/t DS Wright). Tepper took a position on bank stocks knowing the government was going to pay more than market value for them. By his own admission, his wealth came from a direct transfer of money from the federal government to his firm involving little risk at all.

Legal? You bet. Unethical? Well, probably not according to today’s standards on Wall Street. Devoid of any social value? I’d say yes, absolutely. This is the sort of deal the Occupy Wall Street movement is all about. This is the hottest topic in our national discourse at the moment.

But did it occur to Moran to maybe ask his subject about all this? No… because Tom and David want to talk about education. Too bad neither have a clue about the subject:

Tepper is a Democrat, but his school agenda lines up neatly with Christie’s. He wants tenure reform first, but also supports merit pay, more charter schools and small pilot programs in failing districts that would let parents use public money for tuition at private schools.

Moran cheerleads this agenda in his editorial:

Take tenure reform. It is supported by roughly two-thirds of New Jersey voters and has been blocked until now, mainly by the political muscle of the NJEA.

The problem with that statement is that no one in the “reform” movement wants to specifically say what they mean by “tenure reform.” Take, for example, Tepper:

Tepper’s views 
at a glance

Tenure: This is his priority by far. “Most teachers are good teachers. But if 75 or 80 percent are good, that’s not enough.” He wants struggling teachers to get help and bad ones to get pink slips. His main concern: Tenure Light, a reform that only nibbles at the margins.

What the hell does that mean? Where did he get the 75% to 80% number? Even the most adamant corporate reformers talk about firing maybe the bottom 5%. Is Tepper aware of the debate around this issue? Has he educated himself about this? Where did he get his figure? Does Moran care?

And what about the reporting Moran’s own paper has done about corruption and cronyism in New Jersey school districts – conyism that would be far, far worse without tenure? How would Tepper address this serious issue? Sorry, SL readers: asking Tepper about this might take time away from folksy stories about his childhood.

“He wants struggling teachers to get help and bad ones to get pink slips.” Who doesn’t? The NJEA wants exactly the same thing: no one wants bad teachers in the classroom. Of course the majority of people polled support this.

The question any competent journalist would ask, however, is: “How would Tepper do this?” Through unreliable standardized tests, against the advice of the vast majority of experts who have studied the matter?

Who knows? Certainly not the readers of the Star-Ledger. Tepper worries about “Tenure Light,” while we’re served up “Journalism Light”: a frothy concoction devoid of facts or meaning. It’s a heady quaff for the masses, brewed to distract us from questioning how this state and this nation got themselves into our current mess. Heaven forbid we start looking at a system that allows the already wealthy – like Tepper – to become insanely wealthy off the backs of the American taxpayer.

But Moran won’t be having any of that; indeed, he’s quite happy to have the David Teppers of the world buy their way into public policy:

Yes, in a perfect democracy, rich people would have no more influence than others. We are all for strict limits on political donations and believe the final answer is public financing of campaigns.

But here on Earth, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, we are charging in the other direction.

Oh, huzzah! Thank goodness multi-billionaires are willing to spend gobs of money to strip protections against cronyism from public workers under the false guise of helping children. It may not be “perfect,” but it’s better than an evil union influencing the issue!

Which is really what this is all about: sticking it to public worker unions. If Moran really cared about education, he’d have insisted Tepper flesh out his positions and talk specifics. Instead, Moran focuses his ire at the NJEA:

But NJEA officials seem to realize they blew it by taking a hard line against Christie’s call for a pay freeze and benefit reforms. They can read the polls. And they promise a reform agenda of their own, including tenure.

First of all, the NJEA never took a hard line against a pay freeze: they said all pay issues should be decided at the local level. And the freeze wouldn’t have come close to making up for Christie’s school aid cuts, a fact Moran has failed to apprehend time and again.

That aside: why does Tom Moran have so little concern for the small percentage of income Tepper pays in taxes compared to New Jersey’s public workers? I did some back-of-the-envelop calculations a while ago on the relative income and taxation of David Tepper and a New Jersey teacher, and came up with this:

Does this bother Moran? No, he’s more concerned a cop might goes to the dentist without running up his credit card.

This dichotomy is probably the best explanation for why Moran has bothered writing these embarrassing pieces: Tepper is rich, and therefore a man to be listened to on any subject he pleases. Forget that he has no experience or training in education. Forget that the “dream team” he has assembled is led by a former nightlife editor named Derrell Bradford who himself has no experience in education policy or practice.

Tepper is rolling in dough, and, therefore, entitled to have his say about any subject at any time. And if he wants to blame the plight of New Jersey’s poor children on teacher unions instead of the massive inequality perpetuated by a system that has fabulously enriched him… well, that’s the sort of story Tom Moran can’t wait to run!

Understand this: the Star-Ledger has it’s good moments. Bob Braun is one of the best journalists in the state, and the under-utilized Kevin Manahan is always worth reading.

But Moran’s pieces today were a new low point. Lord help us if he continues to shape this debate in this way.

Comments (15)

  1. William Weber (WjcW)

    You’re upset that he made bank trades any one of us were free to make?

    Is it your position that others were about to make those trades but were ‘too ethical’?

  2. 12mileseastofTrenton

    on the incestuous relationship between the editorial boards of New Jersey newspapers, particularly the Ledger and the Trenton Times, and the school privateers and their anti-union, anti-techer jihad.  This has been going on for years but has only accelerated as folks like Tepper, who apparently became an expert in education by making billions in hedge funds, have gotten involved.

  3. David Hungerford

    . . .  is making money. That’s it. It should be against the law for someone with loads of money to use his wealth to toy with the lives of millions of people. Instead it seems to be getting more and more legal. The only answer is people power versus the plutocracy.

  4. tom moran

    Whoever you are, Jersey Jazzman, take a deep breath. No need for personal insults. We can have a friendly discussion. Few thoughts:

    One, Tepper’s big bet on bank securities was not risk free. If it were, lots of people would have done it.

    Two, the NJEA most definitely did oppose the pay freeze. Yes, they left it up locals, but they urged a no vote, and they argued against it many times, including to me in person.

    Three, the NJEA has never proosed meaningful tenure reform. Their president, Barbara Keshishian, said in our editorial board that she doesn’t even know what a bad teacher is. Look, she’s doing her job protecting her members. But parents and students are understanably more interested in getting rid of bad teachers.

    Finally, why are you anonymous? Seems a little wimpy to me. And it always leads to the kind of bitter personal tone you bring.


  5. Tamar Wyschogrod

    There are a number of disturbing elements in both Moran’s column and the editorial, but the statements that bother me most are these:

    “The charge that Tepper and Fournier are trying to make money is beyond ridiculous. They know how to make money. They have not suggested turning schools over to private investors. By fanning such a silly conspiracy theory, the NJEA is only confirming that it has no shame.”

    Just because these guys aren’t proposing (yet) to go into the education business themselves does NOT mean their interference is disinterested. When people who are richer than god devote great big wads of cash to promoting policies that divert attention from the problem of vast wealth inequity (and related social problems like the difficulty of educating children in poverty) to place blame on organized labor, alarm bells should start ringing. What’s in it for them? Well for one thing, it props up the politicians who propose to address education problems with “solutions” like tenure reform rather than solutions that might require increasing revenues by raising taxes on the wealthy. It perpetuates the false notion that what’s good for the ultra-rich is good for all of us. And it provides good PR for those guys as edu-philanthropists without actually doing anything to address the real problem – poverty.

    “Yes, in a perfect democracy, rich people would have no more influence than others. We are all for strict limits on political donations and believe the final answer is public financing of campaigns. But here on Earth, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. ”

    That’s just…I mean…really? Plutocracy is inevitable, so just shut up and eat cake? Be grateful these guys are spending their money on education and not, say, destroying the economy for personal gain? (Oh, wait, they can do that, too.) That’s just a staggering statement. Sorry, no. This is still a democracy, dammit, and by organizing we can defeat the power of money. We can create a system of taxation and regulation whereby those who have benefited most from American freedoms live up to their responsibilities, and everyone gets a say in what solutions are implemented.

    The problem people like Tepper face in using the public education system to further their blame-the-unions-and-ignore-poverty agenda is that most people actually have an awful lot of experience with the system because they and/or their kids came through it. We know how many dedicated, effective teachers are out there, and we know that our kids do not turn into total failures because of one bad teacher. We know that schools with more affluent populations are always more successful than those with impoverished populations. We know that the big problems are related to that, and not to the small number of inadequate teachers who benefit from the tenure system. We’ve seen school success stories that fall outside the narrow tenure-reform-merit-pay-charters-and-vouchers world of Tepper and Fournier – success stories that involve integration, early childhood education, affordable housing, jobs.

    Unlike Mr. Moran, we have not drunk the Kool Aid.


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