Saturday, March 31, 2012

More on the Postal Service

A thorough analysis from Jim Hightower on the move to destroy the Postal Service... which I've written about a couple times previously (HERE)

Hightower Lowdown - The Post Office is not broke--and it hasn't taken any of our tax money since 1971

"The anti-government ideologues have had to concede that profit's not the point, but still they groan that USPS is losing billions of dollars a year. Why should hard-pressed taxpayers be expected to keep shoveling money from the public treasury into this loser of a government agency?
They're not. IMPORTANT FACTOID NUMBER 1: Since 1971, the postal service has not taken a dime from taxpayers. All of its operations--including the remarkable convenience of 32,000 local post offices (more service outlets than Walmart, Starbucks, and McDonald's combined)--are paid for by peddling stamps and other products.
But wait, what about those annual losses? Good grief, squawk the Chicken Littles, USPS has gone some $13 billion in the hole during the past four years--a private corporation would go broke with that record! (Actually, private corporations tend to go to Washington rather than go broke, getting taxpayer bailouts to cover their losses.) IMPORTANT FACTOID NUMBER 2: The Postal Service is NOT broke. Indeed, in those four years of loudly deplored "losses," the Service actually produced a $700 million operational profit (despite the worst economy since the Great Depression).
What's going on here? Right-wing sabotage of USPS financing, that's what. In 2006, the Bush White House and Congress whacked the post office with the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act--an incredible piece of ugliness requiring the agency to PRE-PAY the health care benefits not only of current employees, but also of all employees who'll retire during the next 75 years. Yes, that includes employees who're not yet born! No other agency and no corporation has to do this. Worse, this ridiculous law demands that USPS fully fund this seven-decade burden by 2016. Imagine the shrieks of outrage if Congress tried to slap FedEx or other private firms with such an onerous requirement. This politically motivated mandate is costing the Postal Service $5.5 billion a year--money taken right out of postage revenue that could be going to services. That's the real source of the "financial crisis" squeez-ing America's post offices."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Big Miss...

Hank Haney, golf coach to Tiger Woods has a new book-The Big Miss (click below to order) -  that's caused a stir in many circles... Here's why I'll read the book - it fascinates me what makes the extraordinary tick - And I don't know Hank's motivations, but I hope it was the same. 

There are very few examples of the very best and brightest who strictly conform to societal norms and obviously Tiger violates a lot of what we call 'normal'...

I've been a fan of golfer Jack Nicklaus fan for 40 years... a couple months ago they were doing a Top 10 show on Golf Channel and one of the reporters said something like this, "Nicklaus has this trait, which is really annoying in real life, but imperative for a champion... nothing is ever his fault.  On the course it's always a spike mark, or the wind changed, or the crowd, or the equipment... but if it's always something elses fault, his confidence in himself stayed high"... then a couple nights ago I was watching replay of the LPGA stop and Judy Rankin made a similar observation about someone, and the European announcer at the event made the point that 'no one is easier to fool than yourself'... finally, in the latest GolfWorld Peter Thompson when asked about Nicklaus says, "I've never met a bigger ego, I'll leave it at that"

Read the history of the founding fathers and most were a bit nuts, it's a cliche I suppose, but the great artist, musicians, authors,  they too are not your average Joe's... therein lies the problems as fans, whether we are fans of politicians, sports celebrities, or artist, we all just want to relate to them and think they're "just like us"... I'd like to have a beer with them!  No, you probably wouldn't and they wouldn't like to have one with you...

Most of us were trained to be good factory workers in school, to mind our manners, respect authority, play by the rules, go to church on Sunday, say the pledge to the flag, and drink beer on Sunday and watch 'the game', to, in essence "tranquilize ourselves with the trivial", anybody who didn't follow that model was odd, different, an outcast, yet some of them started Microsoft/Apple, etc., some excelled at sports, some created great works of art, and others are doing 20-25 years in Maximum Security, or curled up in some facility in a fetal position throwing their feces at the interns who bring their applesauce... and that gap between throwing 100MPH strikes in the Big Leagues and feces at the interns is really small and really interesting to try and understand.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Philanthropy and Education "Reform"

Two very good pieces that talk about how corporations are shaping education policy in this country - it's amazing to me that so few give a damn and that the 'reformers' are championed throughout the main stream media and by every politician...

Stanley Katz - Beware Big Donors -

"Look at the most recent Forbes 400 (the magazine's annual list of the richest Americans), headed by Bill Gates (net worth $59-billion), Warren Buffett ($39-billion), Larry Ellison ($33-billion), the Koch brothers ($25-billion each), one of the Waltons (Christy, $24.5-billion), and so on. As of August 2011, more than 40 families had pledged themselves to the effort by Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to galvanize other billionaires to give away, inter vivos, the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. Many of them have already set up family foundations (and more will do so), and many of those new foundations have bounded to the upper reaches of the Foundation Center's list of the top 100 private philanthropies.
They are new foundations, and they are behaving in novel ways, departing from the more reflective, more patient, and generally less aggressive behaviors of the classic 20th-century foundations."... "What has been particularly interesting to note has been the commitment of the newer foundations to overt policy advocacy, which they see as a logical outcome of their strategic stance."..."The new strategic foundations behave as though they are entitled to make public policy, and they are not shy about it. Perhaps the most obvious, and important, example of the new philanthropic aggressiveness is the financing of organizations and projects concerned with the reform of public elementary and secondary education."
"What is obvious to me, as a historian of the emergence of private philanthropic foundations almost exactly a century ago, is how far we have traveled from the fears of the first foundations that they would be perceived as antiegalitarian and threatening to the democratic process. For years Rockefeller and Carnegie pussyfooted around financing economic and social efforts that might be perceived as politically sensitive. Ford got into trouble with Congress when it immersed itself in school reform in New York City and had to back down. But while Gates is often seen as antiunion and pro-charter school—politically contestable positions—it shows no signs of hesitating to push its overtly political agenda. Gates and Lumina are clearly untroubled to be, and to be seen as, players in education policy.
Universities—and their associations—have been silent on this development, perhaps reluctant to bite the hands that feed them. But shouldn't we all be concerned when public officials defer to private institutions when reforming higher education? Are we outsourcing parts of our education policy to the private philanthropic sector? I think so."
And a nice summary from Diane Ravitch @ Education Week about how these reforms are actually taking place... 

The Pattern on the Rug -

"The pattern on the rug grows clear. Teaching will become a job, not a profession. Young people will typically spend a year or two as teachers, then move on to other, more rewarding careers. Federal and state policy will promote online learning, and computers will replace teaches. Online class sizes will reach 1:100, even 1:200; the job of monitoring the screens will be outsourced, creating large economies for state budgets. For-profit companies will make large profits. The Common Core standards will create a national marketplace for vendors, as Secretary Arne Duncan's chief of staff, Joanne Weiss, predicted. Entrepreneurs will reap the rewards of the new American style of education. As profits grow, the cost of education will be contained. Public education will increasingly be handed over to businesses designed to maximize economic efficiency and produce dependable profits for investors.
The report last week from the Klein-Rice commission of the Council on Foreign Relations reveals how this manner of thinking about education has become the conventional wisdom. Public schools as we know them, the commission suggests, are a threat to national security. What's needed to protect us from foreign enemies is more competition and choice, more privatization of our public schools, more No Child Left Behind, more Race to the Top. Big commissions tend to reflect the status quo. This one does, for sure.
See the pattern on the rug? It grows clearer every day. It is not about improving education. It is not about helping our society become more literate and better educated. Follow the money. We are indeed a nation at risk."

Warm and Fuzzy Corporate Power

Really well done piece @ In These Times - GE's Warm and Fuzzy Ad Campaign Ignores U.S. Job Slashing -

A couple of excerpts:
"... GE racked up $14.2 billion in profits in 2010 while paying no federal income taxes was not well-received by the American public. GE not only avoided paying any taxes, but even managed to collect $3.2 billion in federal tax credits. This occurred against a backdrop of GE continuing to slash its U.S. workforce by 32,000 jobs, from 165,000 to 133,000 over the 2004-2010 period."
And how does GE respond?
" Kicking off with the Super Bowl, GE has been filling the airwaves with ads aimed not at selling GE products to consumers, but at reassuring U.S. citizens that GE's driving mission is to meet human needs, provide deeply-satisfying work to its employees, and revitalize America's manufacturing base."
"“The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.
—Alex Carey, author of Taking the Risk Out of Democracy."

How corporations keep the public tied to the corporate myth moving forward will be increasingly interesting to watch... used to be everyone at least knew someone that worked for GE,GM,Ford, etc. so when they ran an ad talking about how important they were, people had some frame of reference... but, as the corporations have figured out how to make record profits without large numbers of employee's, I suspect we will see more of the propaganda...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Holy Shit, What a Nightmare...

Interesting piece from Alternet/Dissent Magazine - Holy Shit, What a Nightmare! How Austerity Destroyed our Small Towns - two excerpts:

"The gap between comfortable and confident got much wider in the spring of 2011, when a Republican-dominated state legislature passed a battery of laws that tightened school standards, imposed a merit-pay system on teachers, limited their collective bargaining rights, and diverted substantial funds from an already struggling public education system to a private voucher program."
We're seeing this pattern in many of the Republican led states, the school systems are literally being starved to death, all the while the conservatives in control are promoting 'market led solutions'... which means charters... more often than not, corporate led, private charters... the conspiracy theorist in me thinks back to Grover Norquist wish that Government get so small it could be drowned in the bath tub, Grover's dream is damn near a reality.

The only thing more precarious than being an itinerant GM worker, it turns out, is working for a Japanese automaker. Maybe in Japan there’s still something called lifetime employment, but in Nissan’s Smyrna plant, forty miles east of Spring Hill, permanent insecurity comes with the job.

Like the other foreign automakers that have concentrated in right-to-work states in the South over the last thirty years, Nissan has kept the UAW out of Smyrna and its two other U.S. plants, in nearby Decherd, Tennessee, and Canton, Mississippi. Employment-at-will, which is how Nissan prefers its relationship to its 13,000 American workers, implies no long-term commitment in the event of injury, illness, layoff—one reason why so many of the workers on the line today are younger than LaDonna and Tony. Nissan is not a place that many people retire from. And, in 2006, the company made it a lot harder for those who might want to when it cut retiree health coverage and switched all new hires from a defined benefit pension to a 401(k). After Nissan bought out a third of its Smyrna workforce a few years ago, it started replacing many of them with temporary subcontracted employees starting at lower rates than direct hires.
Economic developers believe it to be a home run to locate that big plant in town, the South has been named the new Automotive Corridor in the United States... this illustrates why... the workers will continue to be squeezed, the middle class will continue to shrink, and all the while corporate leaders will scream for our education system to be more "Demand Driven"... because they demand a docile labor force that won't push back against a system that increasing is stacked against them and putting them and their families in no-win cycles right on the edge of poverty... 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Our moral hangups...

So, the Little League won't take a donation from a Strip Club - Story HERE

Having a son that is involved in Little League, and other youth sporting events, I know this... there are Pawn Shops, Pay Day Lenders, high interest rate Car Loans and Credit Card companies, and other sponsors who make their money hoping that people fail and preying on the misfortune of others... but, we draw the line as a society at taking donations from a company who makes money from men who pay to look at women's boobs? 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Arrogant Victims

On the Golf Channel recently they were talking about arguably the greatest golfer ever, Jack Nicklaus.  If you ask golf professional's what separated Mr. Nicklaus from his contemporaries most will answer something about his ability to focus, and think, his way around the golf course.  But, in this particular piece a reporter made an observation I found particularly interesting... in his opinion Mr. Nicklaus had a trait that was "a lousy trait to have as a person, but essential to have to be a champion golfer - nothing was ever his fault."  The wind picked up at the last minute, there was a spike mark in his way on the green, there was a sudden sound from the gallery... all of which were responsible for any poor shot he would hit, not him. Thus, he never lost confidence in his own ability.

George Monbiot has a piece reposted at Common Dreams about Ayn Rand and her influence on the "New Right"...

How Ayn Rand Became the New Right's Version of Marx: Her psychopathic ideas made billionaires feel like victims and turned millions of followers into their doormats

 "It is not hard to see why Rand appeals to billionaires. She offers them something that is crucial to every successful political movement: a sense of victim-hood. She tells them that they are parasitized by the ungrateful poor and oppressed by intrusive, controlling governments."

Just as Nicklaus was never at fault, neither are the conservatives... supremely confident in their own abilities, any failure is obviously the fault of the poor, the government, others... they are true victims.  It's equally true of the 1% and their conservative acolytes and minions in the 99%, albeit in different iterations.  Easiest to see in the whining of the 1% - Koch, Limbaugh, etc., and the 'pickle vendors' but not too much of a stretch to see it in the working poor conservatives, - "keep the government out of my medicare/away from my social security" - they are on an individual level supremely confident, and convinced if 'someone like them' (Sarah Palin) were elected President they too would hit life's lottery, seriously have you ever met a Palin supporter who wasn't supremely sure of themselves?  Thus, Rand's philosophy, when interestingly paired with Christian fundamentalism, and it's inherent self-righteousness, has become the guiding principle of the Republican Party... one in which logic and reason need not encroach.  The results, as Monbiot points out, are clear:

"Saturated in her philosophy, the new right on both sides of the Atlantic continues to demand the rollback of the state, even as the wreckage of that policy lies all around. The poor go down, the ultra-rich survive and prosper. Ayn Rand would have approved."

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Corporate Education

Godin, along with Dan Pink, Tom Peters and other "mainstream" business thinkers all cite the work of the great John Taylor Gatto who makes the case that the current education system was strategically designed on the Prussian model to develop an obedient class of workers, and citizens, at the turn of the century.  The original system was designed by industry and business leader, the "robber barons" like John Rockefeller, who famously said:
In our dreams, people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present eduction conventions of intellectual and character education fade from their minds, and, unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people, or any of their children, into philosophers, or men of science. We have not to raise up from them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for great artists, painters, musicians nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen – of whom we have an ample supply. The task is simple. We will organize children and teach them in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.
– John D. Rockefeller General Education Board (1906)
 It's important to note, that corporate "reformers" are again remaking education.  Led by the Walton's/WalMart, Bill Gates, Ely Broad, Rupert Murdoch, and others, they are attempting to privatize education through Charters, vouchers, and the Republican party is on board.  Diane Ravitch has been the most fierce critic of these efforts, here's her latest on the subject in the New York Review of Books - How, and How Not, to Improve the Schools -

The problems of American education are not unsolvable, but the remedies must be rooted in reality. Schools are crucial institutions in our society and teachers can make a huge difference in changing children’s lives, but schools and teachers alone cannot cure the ills of an unequal and stratified society. Every testing program—whether the SAT, the ACT, or state and national tests—demonstrates that low scores are strongly correlated to poverty. On the SAT, for example, students from the most affluent families have the highest scores, and children from the poorest families have the lowest scores. Children need better schools, and they also need health clinics, high-quality early childhood education, arts programs, after-school activities, safe neighborhoods, and basic economic security. To the extent that we reduce poverty, we will improve student achievement.
 I don't think it a leap to suggest that corporate reformers like WalMart don't want to tackle the poverty issue, they've made their fortune off the poverty and the compliance of an obedient class... and in this fight their being aided by those "pickle vendors" who are making a fortune off of the charter school movement... The reformers won't be satisfied until all students attend a private charter school that they've built and are profiting from, the results for the future of this country be damned...

Stop Stealing Dreams

Seth Godin has a new education manifesto called - Stop Stealing Dreams - go HERE to the site where you can download a free copy in various formats.   I would suggest if you want to understand the Tea Party and right wing ideologues, or for that matter much of the political 'debate' of the day, read Stop Stealing Dreams and think of how our education system has trained an obedient class or workers, all looking for someone to give them instructions and easy answers.  A couple of stories from Godin's manifesto that illustrate this point...  First this, on the ubiquitous multiple choice test:

          "In 1914, a professor in Kansas invented the multiple-choice test. Yes, it’s less than a hundred years old.
          There was an emergency on. World War I was ramping up, hundreds of thousands of new immigrants needed to be processed and educated, and factories were hungry for workers. The government had just made two years of high school mandatory, and we needed a temporary, high-efficiency way to sort students and quickly assign them to appropriate slots.
          In the words of Professor Kelly, “This is a test of lower order thinking for the lower orders.”
         A few years later, as President of the University of Idaho, Kelly disowned the idea, pointing out that it was an appropriate method to test only a tiny portion of what is actually taught and should be abandoned. The industrialists and the mass educators revolted and he was fired.
         The SAT, the single most important filtering device used to measure the effect of school on each individual, is based (almost without change) on Kelly’s lowerorder thinking test. Still.
         The reason is simple. Not because it works. No, we do it because it’s the easy and efficient way to keep the mass production of students moving forward."

And then this remarkable story of how a company adapted to the new market... an example which clearly shows the result of teaching generations to be good, compliant, obedient... 

      "Dr. Derek Cabrera noticed something really disturbing. The secret to LEGO’s success was the switch from all-purpose LEGO sets, with blocks of different sizes and colors, to predefined kits, models that must be assembled precisely one way, or they’re wrong.
       Why would these sell so many more copies? Because they match what parents expect and what kids have been trained to do.
        There’s a right answer! The mom and the kid can both take pride in the kit, assembled. It’s done. Instructions were followed and results were attained.
        LEGO isn’t the problem, but it is a symptom of something seriously amiss.
       We’re entering a revolution of ideas while producing a generation that wants instructions instead."

"This is the old approach to LEGO toys. It failed because it required too much risk on the
part of parents and kids—the risk of making something that wasn’t perfect or expected."