Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Our myth's

Excellent piece in Esquire this month by Stephen Marche -

American Class System - We Are Not All Created Equal: The truth about the American class system

"Every instinct in the American gut, every institution, every national symbol, runs on the idea that anybody can make it; the only limits are your own limits. Which is an amazing idea, a gift to the world — just no longer true. Culturally, and in their daily lives, Americans continue to glide through a ghostly land of opportunity they can't bear to tell themselves isn't real. It's the most dangerous lie the country tells itself."...
"In the United States, the emerging aristocracy remains staunchly convinced that it is not an aristocracy, that it's the result of hard work and talent."...
"The Tea Partiers blame the government. The Occupiers blame the financial industry. Both are really mourning the arrival of a new social order, one not defined by opportunity but by preexisting structures of wealth. At least the ranters are mourning. Those who are not screaming or in drum circles mostly pretend that the change isn't happening."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Income Inequality

Good piece @ NYT today from Charles Blow -

Inconvenient Income Inequality:
"An Associated Press report this week on census data found that “a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.”"...
"Nearly 6 in 10 Americans still see themselves as the haves, while only about a third see themselves as the have-nots."

"Is income inequality becoming the new global warming? In other words, is this another case where the facts of an existential threat lose traction among a weary American public as deniers attempt to reduce them to partisan opinions?"

Delusional and convinced that any evidence otherwise is 'liberal propaganda'... The Essence of Normality, really is the refusal of reality.  To take liberty with Becker's work in 'Denial of Death' once again, while Decker argued we 'tranquilize ourselves with the trivial' so as to not face the ultimately reality (we're all eventually food for worms)... I would argue the same is true for other realities we don't want to face...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

RIP Christopher Hitchens

Joe Bageant, Hazel Dickens, and now Christopher Hitchens - all had unique, powerful, and rare voices -

Some Hitchens stories/quotes as told by his friends over the last couple of days:

 David Frum:
"When the nurses asked him, in that insinuatingly cheerful way they have, how he was feeling that day, he'd answer, "I seem to have a touch of cancer.""...

"Christopher was never a man to back away from a confrontation on behalf of what he considered basic decency."...

"If moral clarity means hating cruelty and oppression, then Christopher Hitchens was above all things a man of moral clarity."...

"Christopher did not offer a model of what to think. He offered a model of how to think - and how to live. Fully. Fearlessly. Joyously. And then, alas too soon, of how to die: without bluster but without flinching, boldly writing until the fingers moved no more."...

 Emile Hirsh:
"But even more than presenting a mere path, he inspired me to want to learn more about the world in the first place -- he provokes wonder in people over ideas and the act of thinking for oneself; inspires an urge to walk the path."...

"His very strong opinions against religion I believe came from what one could arguably call an almost spiritual place -- he wanted the truth so badly, he would accept nothing that his mind could not spot smacked of counterfeit."...

"But Hitchens made rockstars seem small, as well as politicians or celebrities -- because his power wasn't something that was easily quantifiable or electable, he didn't have to pander to crowds to gain acceptance for a rise in this or that poll."...

Matthew Chapman:

"(we) became friends after sharing 3 or 4 bottles of wine and several whiskeys one lunchtime in New York.

As a once heavy drinker, I could handle all this and was still lucid, but by around 5 o'clock I was beginning to have wild and dangerous thoughts about stumbling off into worse adventures, but cut with the equally appealing idea of going home and crashing out totally.

I went to the bathroom to look in the mirror. It wasn't that alcohol had affected my sight -- I could see my surroundings clearly enough. No, my face was out of focus, the face itself, and there was an insane look in the eyes that did not bode well. Going home was really the only option.

I went back upstairs and before I could make my excuses, Christopher said, "Sorry, Matthew, I just ordered a couple more Scotches but then I really have to go. I'm debating Al Sharpton on TV in 45 minutes." I managed to get home and watch. He was completely coherent, funny, and brilliant -- as always."

 Christopher Buckley:
"Lunch—dinner, drinks, any occasion—with Christopher always was. One of our lunches, at Café Milano, the Rick’s Café of Washington, began at 1 P.M., and ended at 11:30 P.M. At about nine o’clock (though my memory is somewhat hazy), he said, “Should we order more food?” I somehow crawled home, where I remained under medical supervision for several weeks, packed in ice with a morphine drip. Christopher probably went home that night and wrote a biography of Orwell. His stamina was as epic as his erudition and wit."

"As for the wit … one day we were talking about Stalin. I observed that Stalin, eventual murderer of twenty, thirty—forty?—million, had trained as a priest. Not skipping a beat, Christopher remarked, “Indeed, was he not among the more promising of the Tbilisi ordinands?”
I thought—as I did perhaps one thousand times over the course of our three-decade long tutorial—Wow.
A few days later, at a dinner, the subject of Stalin having come up, I ventured to my dinner partner, “Indeed, was he not among the more promising of the Tbilisi ordinands?” The lady to whom I had proferred this thieved aperçu stopped chewing her salmon, repeated the line I had so casually tossed off, and said with frank admiration, “That’s brilliant.” I was tempted, but couldn’t quite bear to continue the imposture, and told her that the author of this nacreous witticism was in fact none other than Christopher. She laughed and said, “Well, everything he says is brilliant.”
Yes, everything he said was brilliant. It was a feast of reason and a flow of soul, and, if the author of “God Is Not Great” did not himself believe in the concept of soul, he sure had one, and it was a great soul."

"The other bit is from Housman, and though it’s from a poem that Christopher and I recited back and forth at each other across the tables at Café Milano, I hesitate to quote it here. I see him wincing at my deplorable propensity for “crowd-pleasing.” But I’m going to quote it anyway, doubting as I do that he would chafe at my trying to mine what consolation I can over the loss of my beloved athlete, who died so young.
Smart lad to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose."
And as tweeted:
"Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity" Christopher Hitchens

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The parameters of debate

Speaking of the terms we're allowed to debate... when you hear Congressional Democrats or Republican's talking about tax rates they're talking a couple of percentage points and in general they have some slight difference in how they would off-set these cuts with cuts in spending.  In general, the elected "left" and elected "right" both agree, cut a bit off defense or education, cut the rate a percent or two.  Even amongst the talking heads you don't usually hear anyone outside of those parameters... thus, it's refreshing to hear this from Robert Reich:

Friday, December 9, 2011

The illusion of choice

One of the illusions is that our media offers choices... you can choose to watch Fox News and listen to Rush if you want the conservative side of the daily events, or you can watch MSNBC if you want to hear the liberal view of the daily events. And I've argued before that what conservatives have been very successful at is labeling all other options - CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN as 'liberal'.  Here's my essential rebuttal.  Bullshit.  Watch any of these channels, ANY OF THEM and you essentially get the same thing.  Corporate News.  As this Infographic points out - "6 media giants now control 90% of what we read, watch, or listen to."... in 1983 50 companies provided 90% of what we read, watch, or listened to... and those 6 companies, well they made over $250 Billion last year, I disagree with the commentary associated with the link I provided, in my mind if you think those corporations are going to let any story question their place in the world, you're just wrong.  They create the limits by which conversations can happen and keep them within certain margins... and those margins are remarkably narrow.

Source: Frugal dad

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

You probably wouldn't want to dance with me? would you?

Every town in America would drop their drawers and bend over if any big company showed them some love.  Hell, for that matter, that's essentially the qualifications to be a politician these days, will you bend over and show corporations a good time?  We're like the nerdy kid at the dance, walks up to the pretty girl with the big knockers and says, "uh, you probably wouldn't want to dance with me, would you?"... and the pretty girl and her friends all die laughing as we sulk back in the corner plotting our next move to be one of the cool kids.

We want to give them more tax cuts, give them our K-16 education system to train "workers" in the corporate image, build roads for them, bring them high speed internet access, go to war to open markets for them, and what's do they give us in return?

"Corporate America is sitting right on top of the solution to the nation's employment crisis, according to a new report from a group of University of Massachusetts economists. If America's largest banks and non-financial companies would just loosen their death-grip on a chunk of the $3.6 trillion in cash they're hoarding and move it into productive investments instead, the report estimates that about 19 million jobs would be created in the next three years, lowering the unemployment rate to under 5 percent." Read the rest HERE

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Look, something shiny!

Unemployment, deficit, war(s), etc. and Congress has a 9% approval rating... you would think they would all be running around trying their best to do something productive.  But no.  They are ONLY interested in winning the next election.  And they think one of the ways to do that is to continue the "Obama is different" theme they've used for the past 4 years.  They objected to Obama's Thanksgiving message.  Jon Stewart rightly bust their ass on the subject below.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wages and Profits

Great piece from Bob Reich tonight on Market Place Radio -

"New data from the Commerce Department shows employee pay down to the smallest share of the economy since the government began collecting the data in 1929. And corporate profits, the largest share of the economy since then.

Yet incredibly, some politicians think the best way to restart the nation's job engine is to make corporations even more profitable. That means reducing corporate taxes and cutting back on regulations.
These same politicians want average workers to have even less money. They're against extending the payroll tax cut or unemployment benefits. And they want to make it harder for workers to form unions."

Listen, or read, the commentary HERE

Buy his most recent book by clicking below...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ferriss - 4 Hour Chef

I've alluded to Tim Ferriss before (HERE and HERE and HERE), one of the skills sets he's mastered that is imperative for success in the new economy, (however we define success and/or new economy) is the ability to rapidly learn new skills.. I'm very excited that.his new book will cover that topic -"The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life."

Pre-order by clicking below...  (Buy it for what it teaches, but Tim is a masterful marketer, I can guarantee you there will be some added goodies for all of those that pre-order)

Main Stream Media -

I gave up long ago hoping that the media would follow either of the ideals to which I think they should aspire, which are:
  • Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and/or
  • Make the important interesting, instead of their current model which is to make the interesting important
But, I don't think it's too much to ask that when someone blatantly lies, especially someone who aspires to be President of the United States, that NBC, CBS, and ABC, at the very least, should ask the candidate about it... a simple, "You're taking X out of context, the entire quote is Y" and then ask for a comment.  But they don't, as Arianna Huffington points out HERE

As the piece points out, "Instead of a national conversation about what sort of person would approve such an ad, what we mostly got was just another "he said/she said" episode."  This is the key, our country has become so divided, thanks to the media, that every single thing is seen as a partisan issue.  The media HAS to call a lie a lie, it really is the least they can do, but the water has been so tainted by Fox, Limbaugh, etc., that 'you're either with us, or against us' has become the rallying cry in the public conversation and the media doesn't want to risk the advertising dollars to challenge the propagandist.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Financial Freedom

Around this time of year there are a flood of pieces about being frugal for the holidays... bake cookies, give your time, re-gift, and make your own, are all extorted as ways to save some money for the holiday season.  All of these ideas follow the formula of the majority of personal finance books which talk about keeping budgets and planning, packing your lunch, making your coffee at home, etc.

I've been thinking of late that such advice is wrong on many levels.  My simple thought on the idea is that where most people screw up their finances are in three places - housing, automobiles, and education - it's the big ticket items that take away our freedom, not the morning latte.

It's, in part, simple math.  The average mortgage payment in the U.S. in 2006 was almost $1700, the average car payment is roughly $400 a month, and the average student loan debt is $25,000 with a monthly payment averaging $275 a month.  Think of what you pay a month in non-income generating mortgage payments.  Instead of paying $1700 a month, what if you paid $850 a month? It would take you about 10 years of not buying latte's for what you'd save in one year of mortgage payments.  Instead of buying a $30,000 car, what if you bought a $5,000 used one?  Well, for that $25,000 in savings you could attend a movie a week with popcorn, drink, and junior mints for the next 24 years.

We've been told that success is a big house and a nice car, it's been ingrained in us from a very young age.  But, what if success is the freedom to do what you want to do when you want to do it?

(only somewhat related, but I liked this exchange in the movie The Tourist between Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie:
Frank Tupelo: Would you rather have me smoking for real?
Elise: I would rather you be a man who did exactly as he pleased.)

We've paid lip service to freedom, but we've bought into servitude and indebtedness.  Students today are leaving college with no option but to take whatever job they can find that pays enough money to pay off the student loans.  If you've got a big mortgage and car payments you can't get fired, you don't have that freedom, how does that affect your behavior and performance?  We complain about how busy we are and the stress, the anxiety of our lives, and the lack of money to go Christmas shopping, but we can't look ourselves in the mirror, and our friends/families/neighbors in the eye, and say - 1500 square feet and four good tires is more than enough, and well worth the price for the freedom it provides.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Buying a Kindle Fire?

Shop Amazon's New Kindle Fire

I'm thinking about getting a Kindle Fire... Thoughts?


Borrowed this picture from Dave Pollard's most recent post (HERE)... it reminds me of this quote from Neitzsche, "Society tames the wolf into a dog. And man is the most domesticated animal of all."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

If talent matters...

I've written about this before, nevertheless it's worth repeating... most companies that complain, especially in this environment, about their inability to find talent really mean that they can't find talent within the price point they want to pay.

A very successful businessman I witnessed make this point in a workforce development meeting.  Other business leaders were complaining that they just couldn't find people who could pass the drug test, or who had the work ethic, etc.  After listening to the complaint's for most of the meeting this gentleman spoke up and said, "I never have that problem."  They all turned around and looked at him, one spoke up and said, "Mr. X, explain to us why you don't?"... He replied, "It's easy, I get the best $10 an hour employee in town, I start everybody off at $15."

Four related pieces:
WSJ: Commentary: Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need “…the author has since posted a follow-up  - HERE

Monday, November 14, 2011

Making a few extra bucks...

I'm sure this was a one-time deal, it's not like these Congressmen would do this regularly... jeez louise  Pete Rose is vilified for gambling on baseball and our Congress bets the economy will crash while many are pushing policies to ensures it continues to crash, at least until after the 2012 election.

" The world's greatest deliberative bodies are exempt from insider trading laws, even though its members get quicker access to market-moving information than almost anyone else."..".Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-ALA), then ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, bet against the market as it collapsed in 2008. Schweizer finds "no less than forty options trades" in Bachus's records from July 2008 to November 2008. The trades made him wealthier; almost nobody else had the information he had, and could have made them.

"... What Bachus and his colleagues heard behind closed doors was stunning. As Paulson recounts, “Ben [Bernanke] emphasized how the financial crisis could spill into the real economy. As stocks dropped perhaps a further 20 percent, General Motors would go bankrupt, and unemployment would rise . . . if we did nothing.” The members of Congress around the table were, in Paulson’s words, “ashen-faced.”  Bernanke continued, “It is a matter of days before there is a meltdown in the global financial system.” Bachus was among those who spoke. According to Paulson, he suggested recapitalizing the banks by buying shares.  The meeting broke up. The next day, September 19, Congressman Bachus bought contract options on Proshares Ultra-Short QQQ, an index fund that seeks results that are 200% of the inverse of the Nasdaq 100 index. In other words, he was shorting the market. It was an inexpensive way to bet that the market would fall."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bonus Army/Marchers

In honor of Veteran's Day... A story I didn't know much about, 40+ thousand WWI veteran's who 'occupied' Washington D.C. in 1932 to try and get wages owed to them.  Hero's.   

On NPR: The Bonus Army: How A Protest Led to the GI Bill

Wikipedia- Bonus Army

Thursday, November 10, 2011


A promising approach to public schools being tried in NYC - New York schools enter the iZone -

"The iZone project - or Innovation Zone - is challenging state schools in New York City to rip up the rule book.
They're being told to find new ways to provide a more individualised education, to change the shape of the school day, explore what technology can offer and even ask whether pupils need to be in school at all.
"The challenge we face is nothing less than transforming our schools from assembly-line factories into centres of innovation," said the city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who warns that the US school system is falling behind international rivals"

Some education reading recommended by Uncollege - iZone's are saying that they understand the lessons of Holt, Gatto, etc.  I hope they are.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reading List - Zappo's and others

Interesting Reading List from Zappo's -Apparently they make these available to all employees.

Dan Pink wrote "Free Agent Nation", arguing that we're all essentially free agents in the market place, some of these strike me as essential readings in that regard...  There are similarities in the Zappo's list with those at UNCOLLEGE  and at PERSONALMBA 

We're now in the era of winging it...the education system is not effective, the corporations are figuring out how to make monies without the workers, so each individual is going to have to educate themselves and find their own path to create a life of our choosing.  Liberating in a sense, scary as hell in another. 

"Business Strategy
·       The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content.

·        Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow

·        SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

·        The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth

·        Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't

·        Believe Me: Why Your Vision, Brand, and Leadership Need a Bigger Story

·        The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)

·        Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

·        The Zappos Experience: 5 Principles to Inspire, Engage, and WOW

·        The Method Method: Seven Obsessions That Helped Our Scrappy Start-up Turn an Industry Upside Down

Employee Engagement & Leadership
·        Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

·       Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

·        The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary

·        The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

·        Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization

·        The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't

Happiness Studies
·        Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment

·        The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

·        Stumbling on Happiness

·        Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being

·        Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success

·        Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion

·        Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Personal Development
·        212: The Extra Degree

·        The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life (J-B Warren Bennis Series)

·        Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results

·        Comedy Writing Secrets: The Best-Selling Book on How to Think Funny, Write Funny, Act Funny, And Get Paid For It, 2nd Edition

·        Get Off Your "But": How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself

·        Outliers: The Story of Success

·        What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

·        Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life

·        You Don't Need a Title to Be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere, Can Make a Positive Difference

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Our Assumption...

When we see stories like this, our first instinct is to think... what a bright young man, he's extraordinary!  And I think he is, but not as extraordinary as we think he is.... I think the VAST majority of our children can do the same thing, if they can't, perhaps we're in big trouble anyway.

How Students Can Take Charge of Their Education - NYT - HERE

"I am an elementary school dropout. At the end of fifth grade I told my parents I was bored in school. They could have told me to stick it out, that doing so would “build character.” Instead, although my mom was a public school teacher and my dad an engineer – both products of the public school system – they allowed to leave school and try unschooling, the self-directed form of homeschooling.
While my peers sat in class through middle school and high school, I found mentors, took college classes, started businesses, lived in France, worked on political campaigns and helped build a library. I created my education by taking these traditional “extracurricular activities” and turning them into a cohesive academic program."

That DAMN Socialist...

"During Obama’s tenure, Wall Street has roared back, even as the broader economy has struggled.

The largest banks are larger than they were when Obama took office and are nearing the level of profits they were making before the depths of the financial crisis in 2008, according to government data.

Wall Street firms — independent companies and the securities-trading arms of banks — are doing even better. They earned more in the first 21 / 2 years of the Obama administration than they did during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, industry data show."

Washington Post - HERE

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Year's 7 Most Powerful Idea's

From the founder of TED, Chris Anderson, his list of The Year's 7 Most Powerful Idea's:

#1 Nic Marks, Founder, Centre for Well-being

We’re measuring the wrong success goals. Is the GDP really the best measure of human progress we can come up with? Marks has developed a new measure, called the National Accounts of Well-being, that's not only a more accurate but also a more meaningful assessment of societal progress based on expanded data sets. See Nic speak more about his ideas here.

#2 Daniel H. Pink, Author, A Whole New Mind

Money does not necessarily motivate creativity. If you're offered money as a reward, you'll work better and faster, right? No, says Dan Pink. He's recognized a crucial mismatch between what science knows and corporate 'carrot-and-stick' rewards. What really motivates us is the desire to do things because they matter because they're interesting. Watch Dan speak more on it here.

#3 Salman Khan, Founder, Khan Academy

The classroom flip can revolutionize education. Khan was a hedge fund analyst when he started posting video tutorials online. Now, over 2,000 of his videos are viewed by more than 100,000 students a day around the world. What if teachers used these videos as homework so kids could learn at their own pace, and used classroom time to help if someone gets stuck! See Salman speak more on it here.

#4 Stewart Brand, Founder, The Whole Earth Catalog

Urbanization could save the planet. The world's largest cities are home to over 20 million people each. And contrary to conventional wisdom, they're great for the planet. They promote innovation, reduce our carbon footprint, offer more educational opportunities-- and smaller, urban families can diffuse the population time bomb. See Stewart speak more about his ideas here.

#5 Jacqueline Novogratz, Founder, Acumen Fund

Patient capital is the smart way to tackle poverty. Can philanthropy harness the power of entrepreneurs who want to do good and be successful? Novogratz is alleviating poverty by investing in businesses capable of massive social change and giving them the time and assistance needed to reach profitability. Full disclosure: She is my wife. See Jacqueline speak more about her objectives here.

#6, Philip K. Howard, Chair, Common Good

Too much law is choking us. Law is the foundation for civilization. But too much of it is destructive. Healthcare, education and government have been strangled by impossibly complex legal restrictions. Howard has suggested four ways to simplify and restore trust in the law, in order to release our citizens' powerful energy and passions. Learn about Philips steps here.

#7 Dan Ariely and Daniel Kahneman, Behavioral Economists, Princeton and Duke Universities

Our brains are buggier than we realize. The notion of humans as rational agents has been thoroughly debunked in economics and evolutionary psychology, but that understanding has not yet filtered properly into the political realm. That has to change. Otherwise our lizard-brain choices on the media we watch and the politicians we elect will doom us. Watch TED speakers Dan Ariely and Daniel Kahneman.

Structural Adjustments - applied at home

Immanuel Wallerstein's 'World-System's Theory' talks about the relationship between the Core (ex. United States), Semi-Periphery (ex. Brazil), and Periphery (countries in Africa for example)... this relationship was one of exploitation by the Core of the others.  A piece of this was something called "Structural Adjustments", in which the Core (through groups like the IMF) would loan money to the periphery knowing that they couldn't repay, then we'd loan more (or forgive loans) with certain stipulations... we'll give you more money IF you'll open more markets to international companies, stop paying welfare, do away with common property, etc. 

The general pattern sounds exactly what has been applied now to parts, if not all, of the United States. 

I've written earlier about the US Postal Service (HERE)... the Daily Yonder had a piece this week about the "deal" that's being struck to "save" it HERE.  An excerpt:

"It would allow the Postal Service to tap into a multibillion retirement fund surplus to ease current financial problems. "

"Too many people still rely on the Postal Service for us to sit back and allow it to collapse," said Lieberman, whose committee oversees the Postal Service and plans to debate the bill next week.

"The Postmaster General made it very clear to us that he needs the ability to cut $20 billion from the Postal Service's annual budget. We're giving him and his employees ... the tools to achieve that significant amount of savings," he said."...

"Congress has used postal service retirement fund surpluses to fund normal government operations. The surplus amounts to $15 billion. The proposed bill would allow the postal service to use $7 billion to offer buyouts and retirement incentives to cut the workforce."

Arguing with Fools

Elizabeth Warren was called a "socialist whore" at an event this week... Story HERE @ AlterNet.  Where apparently the tea bagger also questioned the citizenship of the President.

Herman Cain doubled down on his love for his "brothers from another mother" the Koch's.  Also, @ AlterNet HERE

And congressional Republican's are voting on the motto "In God We Trust", which has been around since 1950... which Jon Stewart lampoons HERE

And if you're like me, just go to facebook and see the post of some of your "friends" -  the political and superstitious nonsense that they feel strongly enough about to share with others, is, well, simply nuts.

There's an old saying about arguing with a crazy person, essentially the advice is to not do it, because people watching can't tell which one is the crazy person... It's tempting to engage the loonies on the right, hell this blog does it often, but it can't be healthy or wise.

Friday, November 4, 2011

30 Companies

"A report issued today by Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that 78 out of 280 of America’s most profitable companies paid no federal income tax in at least one of the last three years.  Thirty of these companies paid a 'less than zero' rate between 2008 and 2010"
@ Huffington Post HERE

 @ Common Dreams HERE

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Faulkner's guidance

I wonder how those of us who blog can apply the guidance of Faulkner to what we write?

From William Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech-

     "Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed--love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, and victories without hope and worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.
      Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

Sunday, October 30, 2011


In some ways a remarkable story @ the NYTimes, yet in other ways it's exactly what we would expect.  As much as we brag about our charity and philanthropy... we're not a compassionate culture.  And these folks with their big houses and fine cars are, I'm sure, very well respected in their community. 

What the Costumes Reveal

"On Friday, the law firm of Steven J. Baum threw a Halloween party. The firm, which is located near Buffalo, is what is commonly referred to as a “foreclosure mill” firm, meaning it represents banks and mortgage servicers as they attempt to foreclose on homeowners and evict them from their homes. Steven J. Baum is, in fact, the largest such firm in New York; it represents virtually all the giant mortgage lenders, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

The party is the firm’s big annual bash. Employees wear Halloween costumes to the office, where they party until around noon, and then return to work, still in costume. I can’t tell you how people dressed for this year’s party, but I can tell you about last year’s."...

"Let me describe a few of the photos. In one, two Baum employees are dressed like homeless people. One is holding a bottle of liquor. The other has a sign around her neck that reads: “3rd party squatter. I lost my home and I was never served.” My source said that “I was never served” is meant to mock “the typical excuse” of the homeowner trying to evade a foreclosure proceeding.

A second picture shows a coffin with a picture of a woman whose eyes have been cut out. A sign on the coffin reads: “Rest in Peace. Crazy Susie.” The reference is to Susan Chana Lask, a lawyer who had filed a class-action suit against Steven J. Baum — and had posted a YouTube video denouncing the firm’s foreclosure practices. “She was a thorn in their side,” said my source.

A third photograph shows a corner of Baum’s office decorated to look like a row of foreclosed homes. Another shows a sign that reads, “Baum Estates” — needless to say, it’s also full of foreclosed houses. Most of the other pictures show either mock homeless camps or mock foreclosure signs — or both. My source told me that not every Baum department used the party to make fun of the troubled homeowners they made their living suing. But some clearly did. The adjective she’d used when she sent them to me — “appalling” — struck me as exactly right."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Busyness and Well-Being

In the 'West' most of us have heard from a young age that 'idle hands are the tools of the devil'... and we've heard, or been told, "don't just sit there, DO SOMETHING!"  We were raised to keep busy, it was a measure of, and we were told a precursor to, success.   Joe Bageant pointed out in one of his pieces (sorry can't find it right now, will keep looking) that in redneck culture you could be not nice, immoral, and a drunk... but, as long as you work hard you'll have a good reputation.  In fact, I think the way he said it was that the worst you could say about someone is that they were lazy.   Joe's caveat notwithstanding, in general, we've most often measured success by accumulation of money, especially money that we used to buy houses and cars, and the path to get these things is to stay busy.

Similarly, we measure the success of our country, our region, and our communities based on how many companies we have that make money, and if we don't have enough of those companies we obviously need to get more.

Part of this transition led by technology, globalization, and demographics may well be that the way we measure success will change.  Perhaps from "Busyness" to "Happiness", from "More" to "Better"... part of the challenge is that Happiness and Better are a helluva lot harder to measure, and jesus we like to measure stuff.  How much we weigh, how tall, how far, how much money, how many companies, how many widgets, how many points, how high a test score, unemployment, GDP, etc.  Counting helps to keep us busy, I suppose.

If you don't have enough time in the day to get everything done... ask yourself why?  What if you had no mortgage payment?  Are you working for your house(s), car(s), other trinkets?  (Personally, I am.  By most definitions I'm in good financial shape, no consumer debt on credit cards, no student loans, no car payments... but I don't need the house I'm in... I can move to a perfectly fine house in a nearby neighborhood and nearly pay for it with the equity in my current house... I'm going to try and do this).

What does your community need?  A new Olive Garden? Target?  major industry? "cooler" downtown? Trader Joe's and Whole Foods?... or perhaps, it needs more volunteers at the schools?  more neighborhood block parties? people helping people learn all kinds of new skills?

Two pieces I read this week, along these lines, that I thought were very good -

From Zen Habits - The Silliness of Busyness:

"You may be lost in the silliness of busyness if…
  • Your usual response to “how are you?” is “so busy”, “crazy busy” or “busy but good”
  • You spend time worrying about how busy you are going to be tomorrow
  • You get angry when your spouse or friends aren’t as busy as you
  • Your busy life keeps you up at night thinking about everything you didn’t get done
  • You make a point of letting people know that you stay at the office after hours
  • You check email several times a day
  • You zone out during conversations thinking about everything you have to do
  • You volunteer for things you don’t care about
  • You spend time complaining about how busy you are
  • You make list after list to make sure you don’t forget anything during your busy day
  • You allocate time each day to clean your desk or organize your stuff
  • You regularly eat in your car
  • You use a phone in the car because “it’s the only time you have to talk”
If you are anything like me, you are busy because you want to be or because you don’t know how to be un-busy. You are busy out of misdirected guilt because you think if you do enough, you will be enough. When you decide that it is ok to live life your way, you can stop being busy and start doing things that matter. You can talk about your meaningful day instead of ranting about your busy schedule. Decide today that you are enough, even if you never do anything, accomplish anything or produce anything ever again. You are enough."

From PhilosopherNotes - Flourish - downloadable at the bottom of the page @ Experience Life Mag.:

"Gross domestic product measures the volume of goods and services that are produced and consumed, and any events that increase that volume increase the GDP.  It does not matter if those events happen to decrease the quality of life.  Every time there is a divorce, the GDP goes up.  Every time two automobiles collide, the GDP goes up.  The more people who scarf down antidepressants, the more the GDP goes up.  More police protection and longer commutes to work raise the GDP even though they may lower the quality of life.  Economist, humorlessly, call these "regrettables."  Cigarette sales and casino profits are included in the GDP.  Some entire industries, such as law, psychotherapy, and drugs, prosper as misery increases.  This is not to say that lawyers, psychotherapist, and drug companies are bad, but rather that GDP is blind when it comes to whether it is human suffering or human thriving that increases the volume of goods and services.

This divergence between well-being and gross domestic product can be quantified.  Life satisfaction in the United States has been flat for fifty years even though GDP has tripled.

Even Scarier, measures of ill-being have not declined as gross domestic product has increased; they have gotten much worse.  Depression rates have increased tenfold over the last fifty years in the United States.  This is true of every wealthy nation, and, importantly, it is not of poor nations."
Martin Seligman from FLOURISH

Kristof - Crony Capitalism Comes Home

"But, in recent years, some financiers have chosen to live in a government-backed featherbed. Their platform seems to be socialism for tycoons and capitalism for the rest of us. They’re not evil at all. But when the system allows you more than your fair share, it’s human to grab. That’s what explains featherbedding by both unions and tycoons, and both are impediments to a well-functioning market economy."...

"So, yes, we face a threat to our capitalist system. But it’s not coming from half-naked anarchists manning the barricades at Occupy Wall Street protests. Rather, it comes from pinstriped apologists for a financial system that glides along without enough of the discipline of failure and that produces soaring inequality, socialist bank bailouts and unaccountable executives."

Read the rest HERE

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Education reform... continued

As Valerie Strauss points out in the Washington Post today (via this Steve Karp commentary), corporate school 'reform' is all about testing/grading, control, and, ultimately, money.  These reforms, to repeat myself from the previous post, are teaching the exact opposite skills our children will need to succeed in the world in which they will live.

What skills do we need to be teaching?  I've talked about that previously, HERE and HERE... here's another good skill to add to those - (from Re:Focus)

"The greatest thing any parent or teacher can give a child is the support to solve their own problems. The goal is not to force a kid who struggles to work harder at being like everyone else. The goal is help a kid who struggles to find a workaround for the specific thing that’s holding them back. The skills our children learn to overcome adversity when they are young will become their talents when they are older. And it is these talents that will invent and build the products and companies that will help and inspire the rest of us when they’re older."

So, where do we start?  How about we start with doing away with grades?

From Alfie Kohn latest piece - The Case Against Grades:

"Indeed, research suggests that the common tendency of students to focus on grades doesn’t reflect an innate predilection or a “learning style” to be accommodated; rather, it’s due to having been led for years to work for grades.  In one study (Butler, 1992), some students were encouraged to think about how well they performed at a creative task while others were just invited to be imaginative.  Each student was then taken to a room that contained a pile of pictures that other people had drawn in response to the same instructions.  It also contained some information that told them how to figure out their “creativity score.” Sure enough, the children who were told to think about their performance now wanted to know how they had done relative to their peers; those who had been allowed to become immersed in the task were more interested in seeing what their peers had done.

Grades don’t prepare children for the “real world” -- unless one has in mind a world where interest in learning and quality of thinking are unimportant.  Nor are grades a necessary part of schooling, any more than paddling or taking extended dictation could be described that way.  Still, it takes courage to do right by kids in an era when the quantitative matters more than the qualitative, when meeting (someone else’s) standards counts for more than exploring ideas, and when anything “rigorous” is automatically assumed to be valuable.  We have to be willing to challenge the conventional wisdom, which in this case means asking not how to improve grades but how to jettison them once and for all."


In times of drastic change - why can't we change?

We're in a dynamic, global economy where knowledge becomes obsolete very quickly.  This transition in our economy, with some interesting similarities to what happened between 1900-1920 (see link below), is completely changing the way we live, work, and learn.  Companies are becoming much more productive using technology and don't need as many workers.  Many people are finding they can work from home and/or telecommute, and even more are struggling to figure out just what to do.  Google, et. al. allows us to find rote facts in a matter of seconds,and  we can get online and watch a youtube video on everything from programming our DVR, to changing our oil, to making a French Omelet. 

Yet, somehow, the most important institutions find it impossible to recognize this new world and continue to act like it's 1938.  Our educational institutions are convinced that their job is to create a docile labor force that can sit quietly, do a repetitive task with some consistency, and memorize rote facts.  Last night I talked to a long time educator, and he said what every other public school teacher will tell you when no one is listening, "It's pitiful, we just teach to the test, if a kid has a question or a thought we don't have time to explore it, we have to get 30 kids ready to fill in the next bubbles on the test."  Yet, for the last 20 years every President has called for more testing, essentially doubling down on a failed model, doubling down on a system that is ruining the future of generations of children and our country.  So called 'reformers' are throwing out models for transformation that do nothing more than test prep more effectively (actually most of the models simply weed out most of the poor test takers and claim success).    I'm want to say their just being stupid, but when you consider most of the 'reformers' didn't go to these test factories and went to private schools, I actually believe they're being systematic in creating a world with clear have's and have not's.  It's also fascinating to look at where the leaders of today's most dynamic companies went to school, and as this NYT's piece from Sunday - Will Dropouts Save America - pointed out, how many of them dropped out of college.

There are other models out there that clearly help students develop skill sets much more closely aligned with what our world needs (people that love to learn and know how) -  Sudbury, Progressive, Waldorf, etc.  but, nobody is paying attention.  Implementing these different models, or creating public schools with similar characteristics, will require a radical shift of the populous at every level, from every political stripe, and they must put pressure on elected officials.   Perhaps, Occupy Wall Street can be the beginning of this movement?

"In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."
Eric Hoffer


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Taibbi - OWS's Beef: Wall Street Isn't Winning – It's Cheating

Good point by Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone... one of the right-wing's talking points about the Occupy movement has been that it is "class warfare" and that these are just people who "hate the rich" for their success.  But, as Matt points out, we don't hate the rich, we love them.  Ask a young person who their hero is and you'll be hard pressed to hear them name a poor person.  Essentially, we've been fed a diet of "he who dies with the most toys - wins" logic from the media for 30 years, the very idea that this is a culture that wants to have a war with their idols is silly....it's not the rich they protest, it's cheaters and a rigged game.

From Taibbi - Read the full piece HERE
"Americans for the most part love the rich, even the obnoxious rich. And in recent years, the harder things got, the more we've obsessed over the wealth dream. As unemployment skyrocketed, people tuned in in droves to gawk at Evrémonde-heiresses like Paris Hilton, or watch bullies like Donald Trump fire people on TV. Moreover, the worse the economy got, the more being a millionaire or a billionaire somehow became a qualification for high office, as people flocked to voting booths to support politicians with names like Bloomberg and Rockefeller and Corzine, names that to voters symbolized success and expertise at a time when few people seemed to have answers. At last count, there were 245 millionaires in congress, including 66 in the Senate.
And we hate the rich? Come on. Success is the national religion, and almost everyone is a believer. Americans love winners.  But that's just the problem. These guys on Wall Street are not winning – they're cheating. And as much as we love the self-made success story, we hate the cheater that much more.
We cheer for people who hit their own home runs in this country– not shortcut-chasing juicers like Bonds and McGwire, Blankfein and Dimon.
That's why it's so obnoxious when people say the protesters are just sore losers who are jealous of these smart guys in suits who beat them at the game of life. This isn't disappointment at having lost. It's anger because those other guys didn't really win. And people now want the score overturned."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

"Skills Gap"

These two pieces point out one of our great challenges - manufacturer's are making record profits, with fewer workers... and they're using a shell game to explain why they're not hiring, when in fact, thanks to technology and (in many cases government funded) training in lean manufacturing, six sigma, etc. they don't need more workers to make these profits - Both of which lead to the question - how will these 'extra workers' prove they are worthy recipients of that green paper that is necessary to live?

On MSNBC yesterday they had this story about the profit's of U.S. manufacturers' and  posted this chart  -

Roger Bybee, at In These Times, then does a great job writing about the myth that corporations have been effective at making a part of our national dialogue for years - which is - it's the people's fault that they don't get hired, they just don't have the right skills... Story here - Alleged 'Skills Gap' Takes Spotlight Off Who's to Blame for Massive Jobs Shortage - an excerpt:

"But in reality, this whole “Education, Training, and Skills” narrative serves to divert attention from the massive shortage of jobs and Corporate America's misdeeds to “failing” teachers and supposedly under-educated workers. Corporate America has failed to produce virtually any net gain in U.S. jobs since 1999; the period was the only decade when U.S. employment grew by less than 20 percent.
In short, the Education, Training and Skills "frame” on our economic problems plays several useful functions for the CEOs and the rest of the richest 1 percent. It takes the spotlight off CEOs' decisions to wipe out decent-paying job opportunities. As Gordon Lafer writes in The Training Charade,
Workers are encouraged not to blame corporate profits, the export of jobs aboard, or eroding wage standards—that is, anything that they can fight—but rather to look inward for the source of their misfortune and the seeds of their resurrection.
It also distracts from a few other things:
With 15 million Americans officially unemployed (the number rises to about 25 million when you include the discouraged jobless and those involuntarily working part-time), the relative number of positions going unfilled is infinitesimal in comparison. Just 5 percent of all current manufacturing jobs are unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants.
Conceivably, a firm commitment by Corporate America and the federal government to maintaining and expanding America’s industrial base, accompanied by an equitable sharing of the massive productivity gains accruing almost solely to corporations, would make work in skilled manufacturing once again attractive. But as illustrated by the direction of leading corporations like General Electric, major firms seem less committed than ever to keeping their manufacturing production in the US. Moreover, leading figures in both political parties resist the notion of an “industrial policy” to foster U.S. manufacturing, as economist Jeff Faux has emphasized.
When displaced workers successfully complete retraining programs, they are generally unable to find jobs comparable in pay and benefits to the ones they lost. "Out of a hundred laid-off workers," says New York Times economics writer Louis Uchitelle in his book The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences, "27 are making their old salary again, or more, and 73 are making less, or not working at all."
CEOs like Caterpillar’s Oberhelmer feel free to demand that our schools produce well-trained workers. However, corporations like Caterpillar and GE are unwilling to pay the taxes necessary to support quality education for all children. These and other corporations have skillfully avoided paying any federal taxes in some years, and paying minimal taxes in others.
Caterpillar’s Oberhelmer used a frequent corporate ploy in response to tax increases in Illinois. Despite massive increases in profits for the Peoria-based firm, he sent a letter to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn with a thinly-veiled threat to relocate the corporate headquarters because of a 2 percent tax increase for wealth executives.
Without corporations paying their fair share of taxes, how can they expect a top-notch workforce?
Let us be clear: more education, training, and skills for the unemployed will not produce job opportunities when Corporate America is unwilling to invest in new U.S. jobs, despite the deceptive arguments presented by corporations and allies like Friedman and Zakaria. Nor will public education be able to improve for the children of poor and working-class children when corporations like General Electric and Caterpillar use blackmail threats of relocation to reduce their taxes.
Lafer offers a cold splash of reality on the whole Education, Skills, and Training charade:
Whatever the problem, it seems job training is the answer. The only trouble is, it doesn't work, and the government knows it. . . . Indeed, in studying more than 40 years of job training policy, I have not seen one program that, on average, enabled its participants to earn their way out of poverty."

Friday, October 21, 2011

More on the Metamovements

The Metamovement: Moving Beyond Marches and People in the Street

Another interesting post from Dave Pollard on the Metamovement.  What happens next - will the momentum essentially fade away?  Or is it possible to build on some concrete actions steps, perhaps those suggested by Mr. Pollard below?

(Another potential actionable item, related to Pollards first, offered here by Cenk Uygur - How to Regain Our Democracy - )

A. Demands of Governments B. Street Actions C. Ongoing Local Initiatives
1. Re-empowerment of the people and communities Campaign finance reform; Reinstate anti-monopoly laws;  STV voting; nationalize essential goods and services industries Occupy the mainstream media, megapolluters, and the offices of corporate oligopolies and dysfunctional regulators (e.g. telcos, the Fed, Monsanto, Exxon, the Big 6 banks, ADM, Cargill, Koch, Wal-Mart)
2. Reining in corporate rights and privileges End to corporate ‘personhood’; replacing ‘free’ trade with ‘fair’ trade Marches Ongoing boycotts of the most egregious corporations (see e.g. list above left)
3. Debt forgiveness Mark all ‘underwater’ mortgages down to current market value of property; Student loan amnesty; Extinguish third world and oppressive international debts Blockades to prevent forced evictions (done in Madrid); Mass refuse-to-pay actions and mortgage burnings Buy up foreclosed homes and return them to the people (Sam Rose suggestion);
4. Banking and money system reform Reinstate anti-usury laws; Reinstate Glass-Steagall; break up the banks; nationalize the Fed Bank Transfer Day: Move your money from banks to credit unions November 5; Marches Create and support local currencies
5. Wealth and income redistribution Guaranteed annual income; increase capital gains taxes, taxes on passive (non-employment) income, excessive wealth and inheritance taxes, and speculation taxes; Reinstate progressive taxes on the rich and on corporations; Maximum income (beyond which tax is 100%) Campouts and “March of Shame” actions at the homes of the 1%
6. Free universal  health care (Varies greatly depending on Occupiers’ country)
Community-based preventative, diagnostic and self-treatment health programs
7. Free universal education (Varies greatly depending on Occupiers’ country)
Unschooling and community-based self-directed learning programs
8. Decent livelihoods Reform taxes, duties and regulations to encourage instead of discourage creation of local employment; Improve teaching of and support for new cooperative enterprise creation
Disseminate and offer free programs to teach and support the creation of new cooperative sustainable local enterprises that meet real human needs
9. Social security Guaranteed “living wage” pensions for all over 65 and for those unable to work or unable to find work

10. Making the economy sustainable Create national and international programs to move from a ‘growth’ economy to a steady-state economy ‘Buy Nothing’ and ‘Buy Local’ day information protests (staged at malls and other major retail locations) Local programs to help wean citizens off pensions, jobs and debt burdens that are dependent on the ‘growth’ economy; Community-based car-share, tool-share, swaps and other consumption-reducing and cost-saving programs; Re-learning how to make locally and repair/reuse products instead of buying new, imported ones.
11. Peace and social justice End wars in Middle East and covert anti-democratic actions elsewhere; close Guantanamo and other torture prisons; stop harassment of minorities and immigrants; legalize gay marriage; increase access to abortion and birth control Peace and pro-diversity (e.g. pro-immigration) marches Mass war tax resistance/ refusal
12. Ending environmental destruction End factory farming; Shut down tar sands and other megapolluters; Ban GM foods/seeds/agricultural chemicals; Introduce carbon taxes; Ban bottled water Blockade and occupy megapolluters, factory farms and GM facilities
13. Measuring what matters Replace collecting, publishing and using GDP and other ‘growth’ statistics for decision-making, with measures of well-being, resource waste, pollution, social justice, and equality; Have deceptive government data on ‘unemployment’ and ‘inflation’ replaced by independently calculated and audited data on true unemployment, underemployment, equity of wealth/income dissemination and real changes to the cost of living of the average citizen Mass dissemination (posters, placards, press conferences) of true measures of well-being, wealth and income distribution, pollution, inflation and un/underemployment Collect and widely publish (including sending to the mainstream media until they report them) true well-being, pollution, inflation and un/underemployment data
14. Food security End subsidies to Big Agriculture and replace them with subsidies to local, organic, fair trade foods; Regulate the private ownership, use and waste of freshwater; Tax unhealthy foods and keep them out of schools Buy Local, Buy Organic “Buy-Ins” to support local producers of healthy food Teaching about healthy foods and how to prepare them, and the dangers of unhealthy foods; Community kitchens and cooperatives to make healthy eating easier and more affordable