I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

05 November 2010

Know Your Deformers: John Arnold

For a number of reasons too boring to recount here, I am an Enronista (if you will).  I have read each and every mass market book on Enron, including the really badly written ones by former employees unassisted by coauthors or ghostwriters.  I've seen the movie and read a number of technical papers about the company.  I've even read the Powers report and some of the similar investigative findings.  I can recount in great detail various financial shenanigans, badly-thought business plans, corruptions and deadly sins that led to Enron's ultimate failure and I have strong opinions about who the most guilty are.

All these details actually come in handy these days.  A number of Enron's financial crimes are largely the same ones committed by today's financial criminals.  I'm not shocked by the inability of our government  to indict, prosecute and ultimately imprison jerk-collar criminals: as yet, there have been eighteen guilty pleas and four criminal convictions in the Enron case.  Once the Supreme Court's latest ruling lets Skilling get free on a "too stupid to understand how my business works" argument ("honest services"), Andy Fastow and his Star Wars memorabilia will be the only Enrat left serving at a Club Fed.

But I digress.

Also, some of the Enrats have decided that their merry free marketeering will be just as fantastic for all in education.  Chief among these is John Arnold, whose eponymous foundation makes big grants to organizations like Teach for America and The New Teacher Project.  He's also handed big chunks of cash to Houston ISD to develop teacher performance assessments and is one of Michelle Rhee's top secret private funders drawn together to pay for the possible new salaries under her Blame the Teachers IMPACT contract.

You see, John Arnold is a big believer in pay as an incentive.  This is why he personally took eight million dollars - $8,000,000 - as a performance and retention bonus after Enron's collapse (while it was still trying to sell itself to Dynegy, whom it did not exactly tell about these fun time payments).  This totally incentivized him to...leave what was left of Enron and its trading book in less than a year.

Well, clearly Mr. Arnold knows retention bonuses don't mean anything, which is probably part of his problem with my due-process rights.

Mr. Arnold is also a gambler.  In less than three months, he managed to go from up $200 million to down $200 million while working as an Enron trader.  This apparently gives him real insight into gambling on unproven and statistically invalid methods of assessment.

If I were held to such a standard, I'd have lost my credential by now.  I have due-process rights, not dumb-process rights.

And most critically, Mr. Arnold has attitudes antithetical to a free public education system that wants the best for all its students.  His philosophy cannot allow for a system of participatory, community-based endeavor with an end goal of success for all.  It gets in the way of winning, you see.  I base this off statements John Arnold made in evaluating the performance of other traders.  Since you might not guess this by reading the statements, let me assure you that his comments were meant positively.

"...learning how to use the Enron bat to push around the market"
"market manipulator...force markets when it's vulnerable"
"further exploit our dominance"

...so much for a free market among the Enrats.  Mr. Arnold can't even be held to his own Randian nonsense.  He doesn't want a free market; he wants a market he controls - or at least one he can game.

The issue is not criminal conduct.  The issue is whether someone who prizes such a me-first, you-never attitude, who apparently deserves a performance bonus no matter what his performance is and who gambles with incredibly high stakes is someone whose philosophy is what we want in our schools.

Personally, I think Mr. Arnold's philosophy is the short-sighted, reptilian-brain impulse that underlies a lot of our current financial and societal problems.  I want our public schools to nurture learners who are creative problem solvers who approach those around them with empathy.  I want smart students who reflect on short-term and long-term outcomes for themselves and for the world around them.

These are skills that the Enron bat crushes.

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