A Fundamental Flaw of Free Markets

This video is an explanation of the type of issue I often consider. Listening to it, it got me thinking about why this needs to be explained.

Going by the data I’ve seen, this explanation seems obvious. I honestly can’t see any other convincing explanation. Yes, some rich people are deserving, but many aren’t deserving of being as rich as they are or aren’t any more deserving (in terms of talent, intelligence, ambition, etc) than many less advantaged people.

So, why doesn’t this seem obvious to many conservatives? What keeps them from seeing it? I suspect many refuse to seriously consider the data because it contradicts their beliefs and assumptions. That is understandable. If they get all their news from Fox News, Wall Street Journal, and right-wing talk shows, they probably never (or, at least, very rarely) would even come across any data that contradicts their beliefs and assumptions. That is sad, but understandable.

Still, I doubt that this explains it all. There has to be many conservatives who are familiar with the data and yet still support the rich having advantages. Why?

Is it just team sports mentality, just rich people defending other rich people that they personally identify with as being part of their group? That makes sense psychologically. Poor people do the same thing, although less effectively since they less power.

Another explanation is that some people believe that, despite inequality being morally wrong or less than perfect, is still better than the alternative. Maybe it’s a belief that the egalitarian vision is dangerous. It’s better to have an imperfect system than to risk its destruction by trying to improve it. Certainly, some conservatives do believe this, but I find it a bit too convenient that they many rich conservatives just so happen to support the analysis that benefits them personally.

Yet another explanation is that some people are just cynical. They have theirs. Fuck everyone else. They are on top of the wall and so they kick the ladder away to ensure no one can challenge their position of power. I wonder about this. How many conservatives are this cynical? Or, if not quite this cynical, how many conservatives are to varying degrees motivated by cynicism?

I don’t ask this as a way to dismiss all conservatives and all rich people. I genuinely want to understand what motivates people, want to understand why inequality keeps growing in this country. I can’t believe it’s a mere accidental side effect of an otherwise moral system. There is a class war going on, but I don’t know how many people even see it. For those who don’t see it, what is their incentive in remaining blind to the suffering of others?

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Innovation, Social Liberalism, Cultural Diversity, etc

Here is Steven Johnson speaking about his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. I was watching the full version of this discussion at FORA.tv.

I could go into detailed analysis about these ideas, but I just wanted to point out some related ideas.

Johnson’s idea that cities have been the breeding ground of innovation because of all the social mixing. This seems to have started most clearly during the Axial Age when cultures began mixing like never before. Also, I’ve seen research that shows people who grow up with multiculturalism become more socially liberal as adults. There is something about being socially liberal, also supported by research, that relates to the trait of ‘openness to experience’ which is an attitude of being open to what is new, including new ideas and new ways of thinking. Interestingly, I’ve read that paranormal experiences are most often reported (more often experienced?) along the coasts and major cities (i.e., where liberals are concentrated)… and some research shows that religiosity is opposed to supernatural experience.

Some other related ideas and issues are America as a melting pot, the rise of the creative class, an increasingly global society, Jeremy Rifkin’s The Empathic Civilization, religious syncretism, paranormal experience. Et Cetera. I’m sure much else could be added.

Anyway, the central point in my mind is that the liberal vision of society has it’s benefits. One thing Johnson points out is that many of the American Founders were part of the cultural mixing that was going on in Europe (Paine, Franklin, and Jefferson all traveled in Europe). Specifically, Johnson points out the coffee houses that were popular in European cities at that time. These coffee houses were where people and ideas mixed together. As we all know, this led to much revolutionary fervor in the New and Old Worlds.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/what-drives-motivation-in-the-modern-workplace/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/cultural-shift-generations-race-technology/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/12/12/religious-syncretism-paranormal-experience-and-democrats/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/06/27/psychology-and-parapsychology-politics-and-place/

White Nationalist Recruiter Rebuffed At CPAC 2011

Here is a video that gives further support to a theory I’ve had.

The younger generation is more socially ‘liberal’ than past generations. Even younger Republicans are relatively liberal on social issues (which actually started back with GenX Reagan Republicans, personified by the fictional character of Alex P. Keaton from the tv show Family Ties). Other evidence of this shift is Meghan McCain who supports gay marriage.

As far as I can tell, the only reason social conservatism took over the Republican party was because of the Boomer generation. Social conservatism has remained so dominant for so long is because the Boomer generation was the largest generation followed by the extremely small Generation X. Only the new generation of Millennials is larger than the Boomers and so that is why we are only now seeing this shift to any great extent. GenXers, by themselves, couldn’t have much impact on changing social attitudes and GenXers don’t have the same desire to change social attitudes as is seen with the Millennials.

Millennials are the most multi-cultural, multi-racial generation ever to exist in US history. Along with being racially open-minded, they support a broad range of socially liberal positions. The only position they hold that is slightly socially conservative is their being somewhat pro-life, but at the same time they are very pro-sex and they don’t support repealing Roe vs Wade. Millennials are odd in being somewhat more ‘conservative’ in their lifestyles such as being focused on marriage and family. It’s just this lifestyle conservatism is more about personal choice instead of culture war. Millennials are very critical of politicized religion. Also, their conservatism is very much pro-government.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/02/09/a-portrait-of-generation-next/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/the-new-conservatism-genx-millennials/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/survey-on-love-sex-kids-gender-roles-reversing/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/us-demographics-increasing-progressivism/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/09/28/oreilly-polls-old-vs-young/

Then they came for the trade unionists…

Here is something that has been quoted many times before, but it deserves being quoted many times more.

First They came… – Pastor Martin Niemöller

Timbre Allemagne 1992 Martin Niemoller obl.jpgFirst they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

– – –

If only people understood those words, we wouldn’t have all these problems that continue to plague us.

People look around the world and think other people’s problems aren’t their problems. Who cares about the poor who are exploited and oppressed in other countries? Who cares about the working class and the unions? Most people see those who are different as the enemy. To business owners, the workers are the enemy. To non-union workers, union workers are the enemy. To well off whites, poor minorities are the enemy. To poor Americans, immigrants are the enemy. To fundamentalists, social gospel Christians are the enemy. Et Cetera. And history just keeps on repeating.

I was reminded of what Niemhöller wrote because of the recent attacks on unions by Republicans and corporations. Unions have been greatly disempowered since the Taft-Hartley Act and since the Reagan administration, but still even in weakened form they are the only defense the working and middle classes have left in fighting against the ever growing corporatism in America. Of the top 10 campaign contributors, all are corporate PACs besides 3 which are unions. With the unjust elimination of ACORN, the poor and working class need the unions more than ever. Organizations like unions and the former ACORN help inform the public about important issues and help to encourage the poor get to the voting booths.

There is one very important thing to note from the Niemöller quote. The Nazis didn’t go after Jews right from the start. No, they first went after the Communists and unions. The Nazis had to first eliminate the groups that represent average people, the groups that are the pillars of grassroots democracy. Once they are eliminated, any other group can be freely attacked without the possibility of organized resistance. Just look at Wisconsin right now. Besides unions, there is no other group that could organize average Americans to such an extent. Unions are the very last defense. Unions don’t just defend their own workers. Unions, in defending the working class, defend the rights of all.

I was recently reminded of a fact most people don’t know. Check out these maps:

Party Affiliation (2009)From ’08 to ’10

State of States Political Party Affiliation, 2008

State of the States Political Party Advantage Map, 2010

Many states (such as in the South) that people think of as solidly Republican in reality aren’t that solid at all. In conservative states, a divide exists that doesn’t isn’t found in liberal states. Poor people in conservative states tend to vote Democratic whereas the rich tend to vote Republican (however, both the poor and the rich in liberal states tend to vote Democratic). So, how do Republicans maintain control of states that have populations mixed between the two parties? It’s rather simple. The rich Republicans control the politics, control the media, control the corporate contributions. The organizations that represent the poor are few and getting fewer.

Here is an article about 2006 voting data and a map of unionization:

Want to know why Democrats won the election? Because union members and their families voted for them.

Here’s the breakdown – non union members split evenly according to the CNN exit polls 49% to each party. Union members went 64% Democratic, and 34% Republican.

This actually underestimates the case, because unions are more than half of the Democratic ground game. It’s not just that union members vote Democratic – it’s that union members work for Democratic candidates and against Republican ones. They knock on doors, they organize, they phone pool. Any decent union has a hardened corps of organizers from their day to day work, and around election time those guys fan out. They are tough, experienced, don’t fear rejection and are mostly solidly working class.

If you look at a map of the US by union membership, like the one above, what you’ll see is that it looks awfully familiar – where unions are strong, Dems win. Where they aren’t, they lose or struggle.

The South, in particular, has a long history of disenfranchising the poor and the minorities (both of whom vote Democratic, of course). Most Americans don’t vote because most Americans feel disenfranchised from the entire political process. This perception is partly true and partly false, but the corporate media wants people to believe it because the continued dominance of the rich is dependent on this perception. If this perception of disenfranchisement falters even for a moment, protests and revolutions (or, at least, political upsets) can happen.

I’ve often heard conservatives (including democratically elected politicians) criticize democracy calling it mobocracy (two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner). Let me break down this criticism. So, who is this ‘mob’? It’s the masses, the general public, the average American, the majority of adults who feel so disenfranchised that they don’t vote. Conservatives are afraid of the majority because they know the majority doesn’t support their views and policies (see: ). Conservatives are afraid of grassroots democracy like unions because they know grassroots democracy won’t benefit corporations.

One argument conservatives give is that unions have already served their purpose. Conservatives will initially try to deny what unions have accomplished, but when that fails they’ll argue that there is nothing left for unions to accomplish. However, from my liberal perspective, unions are the only thing stopping our society from returning to 19th century capitalism. So, what exactly was 19th century capitalism like? There are some positive examples like the Shakers (which is a socialist model of capitalism that conservatives don’t like) and there are many negative examples like the following (from my post ):

Each mining camp was a feudal dominion, with the company acting as lord and master. Every camp had a marshal, a law enforcement officer paid by the company. The ‘laws’ were the company’s rules. Curfews were imposed, ‘suspicious’ strangers were not allowed to visit the homes, the company store had a monopoly on goods sold in the camp.
The doctor was a company doctor, the schoolteachers hired by the company . . . Political power in Colorado rested in the hands of those who held economic power. This meant that the authority of Colorado Fuel & Iron and other mine operators was virtually supreme . . . Company officials were appointed as election judges. Company-dominated coroners and judges prevented injured employees from collecting damages.
[The Colorado Coal Strike, 1913-14, pp. 9-11]

I personally don’t want to return to a society where such capitalist systems existed. I’m fairly sure most Americans wouldn’t want to return to this either. And it’s good to keep in mind that this kind of capitalism (or similar variations) still exists in other parts of the world where unions don’t exist or don’t have as much political influence. So, I think it would be unwise to dismiss the role unions play in our society. Our grandparents and great grandparents fought and died for the rights we take for granted.

– – –

– – –

Ignoring history (which is never a wise thing to do), what can we say about unions in our present society? For example, does allowing teachers unions to have collective bargaining lead to negative impact on the public education system?

– – –

Anyway, how much power do unions actually have? A picture is worth a thousand words. Totals by Sector from OpenSecrets.org:

lobbying expenditures vs. campaign contributions

If money talks, politicians are listening to louder voices than unions.

Even so, unions are more likely to get heard by Democrats.

Top Democratic and Republican Donors in 2010

Top Overall Donors to Republicans:

Elliott Management (a Hedge fund company)
Koch Industries (note: the billioaire who is the main financier of the Teabaggers)
Every Republican is Crucial PAC
Associated Builders & Contractors
(so-called) “Freedom” Project (a Republican PAC)

NOTES: Top Republican supporters are billionaires, contractors, and hedge funds…and keep in mind this applies to the Teabagger movement as well. They are supported by the same billionaires, contractors, and hedge funds.

Top Overall Donors to Democrats:

ActBlue (composite of many, many small, grassroots donations)
Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Laborers Union
Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union
EMILY’s List (composite of many, many small grassroots donations)
Plumbers/Pipefitters Union
National Assn of Letter Carriers
Ironworkers Union
United Auto Workers
United Transportation Union
American Postal Workers Union
UNITE HERE
AmeriPAC: The Fund for a Greater America

NOTES: Top Democratic supporters are unions and grassroots donors.

Seems to me the contrast is really quite sharp: Billionaires vs. working and middle class.

Where unions are strong, do they make a society better or worse? Here is from a post I wrote comparing the US and Germany:

In this video, there was one particular point about Germany that stood out. Germany is 1/5 the size of the US and yet has the second highest trade surplus in the world (after China). They’ve accomplished this while having higher rate of unionization and higher pay. Interestingly, the US economy was also doing better when unionization and pay was higher in the US.

Unions in the US are considered socialists even though they represent the working class. In Germany, it’s required for worker representation to be half of board members of companies. In Germany, the industrial and financial sectors are highly regulated keeping jobs from being outsourced and ensuring main street benefits rather than just wall street. According to conservative ideology, this kind of socialist practices and union power should destroy the economy and destroy innovation and yet the complete opposite is the result.

This seems to support Noam Chomsky’s arguments. Chomsky thinks the world would be a better place if workers had more power to influence the companies they work for and influence the economy they are a part of. As a socialist liberal, Chomsky genuinely believes it’s good to empower the average person. It would appear Germany has done exactly this and has become immensely successful by doing so.

A major factor I discussed in that US and Germany post was about income inequality. Here is a graph showing both the data of union coverage and inequality:

Union coverage decreases inequality chart

For what it’s worth, here is a study about unions in three comparable countries:

In particular, unions tend to systematically reduce wage inequality among men, but have little impact on wage inequality for women. We conclude that unionization helps explain a sizable share of cross-country differences in male wage inequality among the three countries. We also conclude that de-unionization explains a substantial part of the growth in male wage inequality in the U.K. and the U.S. since the early 1980s.

– – –

I just responded to some comments from one of my previous blog posts () which touch upon a central issue in American politics. Here are my two responses:

I agree with you about the misleading notions of American “conservatives”. It would make life easier if they used a different term to label themselves. Looking at the history of Western conservatism, American conservatives don’t seem all that conservative. In Britain, the conservatives are the Tories. In early America, Tories defended Britain against the radical revolutionaries. I find it odd that American conservatives worship the founders who were radicals. Thomas Paine inspired the entire revolution and his writings were as liberal as they get.

I was reading Henry Fairlie’s view on Toryism. I realized that traditional conservatism more closely describes Democrats than Republicans. Democrats are the ones interested in conserving our present system. On the other hand, Republicans attack our present system. And, as you note, their fantasies about the past are actually radical visions that would entirely remake American society. They don’t want to conserve anything. If American conservatives actually wanted to conserve the past, they’d first have to read something other than revisionist history.

My suspicion is that the idiosyncrasy of American conservatism makes a bit more sense when taking into consideration the psychological research done on ideologies. Brain scans show that conservatives tend to have a larger part of the brain that deals with fear. Other research shows that conservatives have a stronger disgust response toward anything unusual or improper (such as rotting fruit).

America is unusual in that the status quo of our society isn’t the power of a particular church or of a royal lineage or of a specific ethnicity. The only status quo we have in this country is that of change. Ever since the first Europeans came here, it has been endless change. At a fundamental level, conservatives hate change and so American conservatives hate the status quo of the society they were raised in. They would like to create a status quo that never changes which, oddly, would require radically changing the present status quo. Conservatives seem like hypocrites because they are conflicted by their own psychological predispositions. In the US, they can’t win for losing. The country was founded on a radical liberal vision and has continued to radically change ever since. To be an American conservative is to hate the founding status quo of America.

(note: I admit ‘hate’ is a strong word. Let us just say conservatives are strongly conflicted by the founding status quo of America.)

I’ve just started a book titled Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye. It’s very fascinating. It’s odd that I don’t recall having learned much about Paine in my public education or even in various documentaries I’ve watched about early America.

There seems to be a love/hate relationship with Paine. His writings were what inspired the American Revolution and probably what kept it from failing, but his vision was so radically democratic that he fell out of favor with many of the others in the founding generation who just wanted to create a new ruling elite (which essentially is what they did).

It’s very interesting that this radical vision is at the heart of what defines America. Paine wanted to end slavery, wanted Native Americans to keep their land, wanted women, blacks, and the poor to have as much power as rich white men. He wanted America to become an example of genuine freedom that would inspire revolution all over the world. Paine was a bad ass. His vision is radical even by today’s standards.

America would not exist without Paine’s far left democratic vision. He inspired the revolution, inspired people to keep fighting, inspired people to support the fight for independence in all ways. The American people, especially the lower classes, were fighting for Paine’s vision of America. Paine dedicated his whole life to the cause of liberty. He never made any profit from any of his writings. He risked his life many times and even fought hand-to-hand combat. He was a hardcore revolutionary. He didn’t grow up with privilege. Unlike the most of the Founding Fathers, he was born working class and was an immigrant. Paine believed in the American Dream before there was a country called America.

Paine is the reason conservatives are endlessly outraged in America. Like many in the founding generation, conservatives are scared shitless about the vision that Paine proposed and that vision still exists as a seed waiting to sprout. Paine failed because the rich white males of the time were too afraid to embrace a truly free society. The Populists in the late 19th century attempted again to achieve that vision, but once again the ruling elite coopted the revolutionary energy for the purposes of the corporate elite. Now, we once again face the potential of Paine’s vision. People once again begin to remember what inspired the founding of this country in the first place. Those in power and those on the right will do everything they can to squash democracy. Everyone understands that democracy is the most dangerous vision that any human has ever conceived.

Maybe you’re right about liberals tending to focus on freedom from. When considering radical freedom, we can only know the past from which we are trying to free ourselves from. We can’t know where radical freedom will lead. It’s an experiment. Paine explicitly thought of America as an experiment. If you want safety and security, then you can’t have freedom. That is the hypocrisy of what America has become. Paine realized that even the ruling elite could only have as much freedom as everyone was allowed. Paine knew that the only way to have democracy was to have an educated public and the ruling elite knew the only way to control the masses was to keep them ignorant. But control can never lead to freedom.

Even the data proves this. In societies with high economic inequality, there are more social problems (see: ). The rich may be relatively better off than the poor in such a society, but the rich in such a society are relatively worse off than the rich in a society that has more equality. The rich people in an unequal society have, for example, more health problems (probably from the stress of living surrounded by poverty, crime, and social conflict).

Paine understood this centuries ago. The ruling elite at the time dismissed his radical vision. And the ruling elite today continue to dismiss his radical vision. Yet his radical vision remains. The potential of America continues to be wasted because of those who have power don’t have vision and those who have vision don’t have power. Paine began the revolution and the revolution is still happening. The reason America has never stopped changing is because a large segment of American society has always refused to give up on the vision Paine first described.

Many might consider Paine to have been naive for actually believing in freedom. But dammit I wish there were more idealists. The only thing that makes ideals unrealistic is the cynical ruling elite that always stands in the way. Why is democracy considered naive? Why is freedom seen as a threat?

To this day, the conservatives still fear the masses of the poor and minorities. If you look at the demographics of the Southern states, they actually aren’t solidly Republican by a long stretch. If all the poor and minorities voted, Democrats would win by a landslide in the South and all across the coutnry. Conservatives know this and that is why they do what they can to destroy organizations like Acorn and unions that represent the poor and disenfranchised. Most Americans don’t vote because the entire history of America has been about the ruling elite disenfranchising the masses. Even when they do vote, their votes might simply not be counted as happened in Florida. It’s fucked up.

If Paine was here, he’d start a new revolution. Paine was a Marxist revolutionary before there was a Marx. He realized that the fundamental issue is always class war. It was so when immigrants first came to America, many of whom were political dissidents, oppressed poor people, and indentured servants. And it’s still true.

– – –

Let me finish by pointing out a couple of things related to those comments.

First, here is a passage from the book I mentioned above (Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye, Kindle location 1129):

“in all countries where the freedom of the poor has been taken away, in whole or in part, that the freedom of the rich lost its defence,” he insisted that “freedom must have all or none, and she must have them equally.” Paine was not naïve. He knew freedom could be dangerous, but he pointed out that “if dangerous in the hands of the poor from ignorance, it is at least equally dangerous in the hands of the rich from influence.” Dismissing neither possibility, he suggested ways of addressing them. To prevent ignorance he recommended education. And to prevent political corruption he again demanded democracy: “numerous electors, composed as they naturally will be, of men of all conditions, from rich to poor.”

When people fear mobocracy, what exactly do they fear? Is it fear of the possibility of radical freedom that democracy envisions? Or is it fear that one’s vested interests would be undermined if everyone had equal education and equal opportunity? It’s true that ignorant masses are easier control, but a society can’t simultaneously serve both the realpolitik of control and the ideal of freedom. More importantly, Paine understood that to try to control others meant endangering one’s own freedom. A person can only have what they are willing to offer to others.

Second, the comments above (right before the quote from Kaye’s book) are from a blog post of mine () that touches upon this same issue of fear and mistrust of democracy. My point in that post is that this conservative response is based on an attitude of not having faith in the average American and not having faith in the strength of democracy. As such, conservatives don’t have faith in the fundamental vision of the American experiment. Here is how I ended that post (and with it I’ll also end this post):

The unions did manage to win in certain ways, but the liberal vision of the working class was integrated into the Federal government. Eventually, the Democrats became the party for unions and for the poor. This altered the dynamic causing the class wars to be less clear, especially as class has been mixed up with race and culture. The Democratic party has done some good things for the working class and so that is why the poor working class is loyal to the Democrats to this very day. The vision of Democrats is that the average person can actually be served by his representatives in Washington. The vision of liberalism is that democracy is strong and not easily destroyed.

Conservatives are less confident. They see democracy as constantly threatened and that is why they are much more partisan in their support of big government. It’s also why conservatives support big military despite claiming to be against big government. Conservatives live in fear of democracy being destroyed. Enemies are everywhere. The enemy threatens both from outside (Russia, Islamic terrorists) and from within (Communist witchhunts, social programs, gun rights). Conservatives don’t trust any governments. They only trust our own state government to the extent it might protect us from foreign state governments, but idealy they’d love to live in a world where state governments didn’t exist at all or else had very little power which means they wish they lived in early America.

My above commentary was inspired by this comment:

http://blog.beliefnet.com/crunchycon/2009/09/i-was-wrong-about-5000-year-le_comments.html

John-in-Exile wrote:

It is fascinating to me to have “The Naked Communist” resurface, even as a second work of fiction by a newly rediscovered author. When I was in high school (1960 to 1963) I listened to a series of radio lectures by (apparently) W. Cleon Skousen which culminated in a pitch for his book, The Naked Communist, which was going to expose the evil plans of the terrifying international communist conspiracy. I bought the book and read it and found myself nagged by one question that stayed with me for years. The core presumption of Soviet communism was that people would work hard for the well-being of the state, even with no personal payoff. That always seemed unlikely to me–in fact so unlikely that I always believed that Soviet communism was destined to fall of its own weight. The communist conspiracies were inconsequential because the system was certain to fail. I was then struck by the odd perception that the people most paranoid about the rise of this doomed ideology were the conservatives who should have been the most confident of the ultimate success of the American economic experiment. They were instead the least confident and the most fearful of being overwhelmed by the Soviet system.

When communism fell at last I was not surprised because it seemed to me always destined to fall. Why was my liberal mind more confident of our system than the conservatives that constantly pronounced us doomed to fall to the evil Soviets?

– – –

Conservatives don’t seem to have much faith in the American people or the American experiment. I understand having doubts and I even understand being pessimistic. But, faith or not, do conservatives care more about their ideology or about real people? I know many conservatives do actually care. So, why do they keep voting for Republican politicians who again and again implement policies that hurt average Americans? What is to be gained by attacking unions that protect the working class, social services that help the needy, and public schools that educate the next generation?

– – –


Strange Power Tricks

Here are two videos that I appreciated. I have no commentary to add… just wanted to share. The first is partly a response to the second.

And here are a couple of comments that I liked from the comments section of the second video:

zudthespud

changing the law to make your opponents unelectable is how democracy turns to dictatorship…

To quote a Rise Against song: “If we’re the flagship of hope and prosperity, we’re taking on water and about to fucking sink”

rocky19421

Only five states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:

South Carolina -50th

North Carolina -49th

Georgia -48th

Texas -47th,

Virginia -44th.

Wisconsin is ranked #2 in the nation.

Republican s do not want an educated electorate .

Investigations On WMD Lies That Led To Iraq War

That rant was quite satisfying. I’ve noticed lately a lot of frustrated ranting from progressive liberals, specifically from people who aren’t known for their ranting. The guy in the above video is someone I regularly watch and I don’t recall ever having seen him gone off on a rant like that. Another example of this is Thom Hartmann which I made a longer post about:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/life-is-stupid-humans-are-stupid/

I’ve grown tired of the weak sauce moderate centrists that have taken over the Democratic Party. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama seem like nice people. I respect them as far as my respect goes for most professional politicians of the moderate centrist variety, but I don’t respect them as liberals and for damned sure I don’t respect them as progressives… because they are neither.

I’d love to see Washington politics filled with passionate defenders of progressive liberalism. People like Bernie Sanders, Anthony Weiner, and Alan Grayson. I don’t care if I entirely agree with everything these people say and do. I just want people who have strong convictions that they are willing to fight for. I don’t want professional politicians who only care about maintaining their power by maintaining the status quo, who only care about advancing their careers.

I want a functioning democracy where citizens have real influence. I want civic participation like never seen before. I want people angry and out in the streets.

I know I’m part of the problem. Like most Americans, I’m apathetic and cynical. But, at least, I’m not ignorant. I know what is going on and I know I don’t like it. I want to live in a society where everyone matters, not just the rich and powerful. I want to live in a society where justice and fairness matters.

I don’t want to live in a society where the powerful get away with lying to the public, get away with blatant corruption, get away with war crimes. Is that too much to ask for? I don’t know. I too often feel isolated in caring about any of this. The media seems to intentionally isolate us. The mainstream media personalities usually just distract us from anything of consequence. When someone in the media actually says something true and says it with passion (which usually only happens in the alternative media), I feel part of myself wake up from apathy.

I want all of society to wake up. I was reading a book about the Populist Era where a person of that time was quoted. The person spoke of it in the terms of a whole generation waking up to the corruption as if the flames of the Holy Spirit brought forth a revival across the land. It’s amazing to read about that time. People were content and apathetic… and then all of a sudden they were fighting for a whole new vision of society. What wakes up a generation like that? What is the event that finally pushes people just too far and it somehow becomes collectively determined that they can’t, won’t take it anymore? How do people go from feeling like powerless individuals to feeling like a collective force to be reckoned with?

– – –

I was looking through my books about the Populist Era, but I couldn’t find the exact quote I was thinking of. Instead, I found a couple of passages from one book that describe clearly what was going on at the time.

Rebirth of a Nation
by Jackson Lears

Location 2964:

…had demonstrated what insurgents could do by connecting monetary reform to a wide range of egalitarian and anti-monopoly policies. They could challenge the notion that government was a private (white) men’s club; they could widen the public sphere by creating common ground among the indebted classes, linking farmers and laborers, even blacks and whites. Of course these alliances were shaky and easily toppled. But they provided political outsiders—people who had never imagined themselves acting effectually in public—with a glimpse of what an insurgency could do. As the historian Lawrence Goodwyn has argued, this was a crucial moment in the creation of a “movement culture”: a mass of insurgents becoming visible (to themselves and others) as political actors for the first time.

Farther west, the Farmers’ Alliances had embarked on a similar project. The organization began in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Kansas as a counterforce to the feelings of isolation and impotence that enveloped the countryside in the 1880s. Dividing into Northern and Southern Alliances, the farmers nevertheless soon began to see themselves as part of a huge and effectual national movement—and not merely another interest group scuffling for narrow gain.

Location 3035:

Indeed, Kansas was one of the states where the Farmers’ Alliance began to take on the characteristics of a regenerative mass movement—described by various observers as “a pentecost of politics,” “a religious revival,” and “a crusade.” Along with stump speeches by Macune and other orators, Farmers’ Alliance meetings featured long parades of wagons stretching for miles, decorated with evergreens to symbolize the “living issues” of the Alliance rather than the dead tariffs and bloody shirts of the existing two-party system. The plain people could see themselves acting politically en masse. In Kansas as elsewhere, farmers fired up by the experience of participatory democracy began to take matters into their own hands. The insurgent culture produced insurgent politics. In Harper County, Kansas, the Alliance demanded stricter usury laws; in Brown County they protested “the extortions of the binding twine trust” and proceeded “at once to the erection of a co-operative manufactory for binding twine.” This was how a democratic social movement was born.

Still, the Alliance had to overcome the power of regional and racial mistrust. Little more than twenty years earlier, Midwesterners and Southerners had been killing each other at Fredericksburg and Chickamauga. Old resentments died hard, as Garrison understood when he recommended the bloody shirt to Republican orators. At the same time, the two regions’ shared evangelical ethos began to acquire greater strength and political significance, bringing old antagonists together on common cultural terrain.

Masculinity & Presidency, Sexism & Politics

Katz: Sure. Well, the first thing I think that I look at in my work, and I think it’s really fundamental and basic, is that there is a persistent gender gap in voting patterns in the United States. And among white men in particular, white men have been voting radically disproportionately for the Republican nominee for president for the last 40 years. And working class white men, and there’s different ways of defining working class, but with a high school education, men with a high school education, voted in 2000 for George Bush by something like 27 points over Al Gore, and Kerry, about 25% voted for Bush over Kerry in 2004. Barack Obama cut into that pretty significantly in 2008, although he still lost the white men’s vote.

David: That’s right.

Katz: But he lost it by like about 16 percentage points, so he made some significant inroads into the white men’s vote. But if you look at white male voting patterns, the only way a Democrat can win at the national level, in the presidency, is if they win so… such a dramatic percentage of the women’s vote that it offsets their deficit among the white male vote.

David: That’s right.

Katz: And so how can we not talk about gender? Why are white men so dramatically voting for the Republican candidate for president? Now, some people, of course, for the last… since the Civil Rights Act have been talking about race as one of the central forces subtextually at work in presidential politics.

David: And it’s being talked about looking forward also because of the increasing Hispanic population and how that will play a factor.

Katz: That’s right. And of course, Obama being an African American, that brought to the surface a lot of discussions about race and politics and such that had always been there, but they were talked about even more explicitly, would white people vote for an African American for president, etc.

My thinking is that it’s not just that white men are voting as a racialized block for the Republican candidate, although that’s a big part of it, they’re also voting in a gender sense as men because since, especially since the late 60s and early 70s, and then increasingly after the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, the way that the two-party system has been sort of shaken out, if you will, in the gender binary is the Republican Party is the party of real men…

David: Right.

Katz: And the Democratic Party is the party of women and feminized men, and that has heterosexist implications as well.

David: Sure.

Katz: Because the party is seen as, the Democratic Party is seen as the party of gay rights, if you will, in addition to the men in the Democratic Party feminized in the national discourse. And I think this is a cultural/political analysis, right? I think that this is an incredibly important reason why lots of white men, including working and middle-class white men, vote against their economic interests, at least as some of us understand those economic interests.

David: No question about it.

Katz: Right. So this complicates the analysis of, say, Thomas Frank and others who have been trying to figure out why so many Americans, especially white Americans, have voted against their economic interests for the past generation.

David: You mentioned the issue of gay rights, and we saw that really incredibly directly and just at the forefront in the discussion of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I mean, I interviewed people who said the reason we shouldn’t have homosexuals serving openly in the military is because the American military is manly. And implicit in that, even though it’s not discussed, is that there’s something bad about, you know, femininity and women in the military. And when I challenged some of those people directly, it was made very clear that that is involved in that subtext, just barely underneath the surface. But other than that particular issue, what else is it that has driven this white male voting block towards the Republican candidate?

Katz: Well, in my book that I’m working on and just about to complete, I look at three issues. There’s so many issues, and so you have to really narrow it. But…

David: Yeah. Well, the major ones maybe are…

Katz: Yes. Yeah, sure. I looked at three issues that all involve violence, and they all involve important political issues over the past 40, 50 years. The first one is the cold war, the second one is the rise of street crime as a domestic political issue in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, and the discussion about, you know, violent crime, street crime, has a definitely racialized undertone to it, and then the rise of terrorism as a political issue in the late 20th century and into the 21st century.

All three of those issues, cold war, domestic crime, and terrorism, have to do with violence, and the president is a stand-in, in a certain sense, the symbolic leader of the country. He embodies, if you will, the national masculinity in a very important sense. People talk about the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the mourner-in-chief when national tragedy happens, the first family, the… I mean, he’s the one who everybody salutes to and everybody stands when he enters the room. He really does, in a certain sense, represent the country.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackson-katz/teachable-moment-in-tucso_b_809963.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackson-katz/rush-limbaugh-and-the-mob_b_279696.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackson-katz/white-men-and-the-gop-mas_b_124136.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackson-katz/the-hidden-race-and-gende_b_88580.html

 

Life is stupid. Humans are stupid.

Here is a video of Thom Hartmann doing an interview with a guy who is the stereotypical rich white guy who doesn’t care about anything other than his own wealth no matter what the costs to others or to society in general. I share Thom’s frustration.

That is the most discouraged I’ve ever heard Thom. I’ve always had great respect for him. He is as genuine as they come. Thom actually cares about people, actually believes in what America supposedly stands for.

Also, Thom is intelligent and very well informed. He has a brilliant mind and always seeks to base his opinions on facts. I remember a show where he read from a first edition of a book written by someone who witnessed the Boston Tea Party. He bought the book because he wanted to base his opinion on original source material. Facts matter to Thom, but he is far from being a disinterested intellectual. His sincerity and kindness reminds me of Noam Chomsky, another brilliant mind.

I was surprised to hear how frustrated Thom was in this video. I suppose for reasons of remaining open-minded Thom often interviews people on the far right. I’m always impressed by how respectful and courteous he normally is. He doesn’t become flustered or scream at his guests. He lets them talk and he responds fairly. So, the last comments he made really stood out. He said that he’d pray for this guy’s soul. I’ve never heard Thom say this to anyone before. I didn’t even know Thom was religious. But I do know that if Thom says he will pray for your soul he really will pray for your soul.

The above video was from yesterday, and today Thom is still frustrated… in fact, he seems to be even more frustrated. Watch this video. Thom is yelling. I have never seen Thom yell like this. I know yelling doesn’t necessarily help, but at some point a person can’t just mildly accept the lies being told right to one’s face. I wish more Americans would start yelling in anger at a system that destroys good people.

The reason Thom has been so frustrated is because of a letter he read in the video clip uploaded on his YouTube channel right before the one at the top of this post (which I just posted about). The letter was a suicide note from a 99’er going by the name Mark. It was written by someone who truly had felt frustrated with the policies of our government that constantly put profits before humanity. It reminds me of the suicide manifesto written by Joe Stack which was another rant against the American version of capitalism/corporatocracy:

The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according
to his need.

The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each
according to his greed.

What is interesting about both Mark and Joe is that they were people who weren’t just poor desperate folk. Mark was supposedly an educated many who had spent his life working, but had been chewed up and spit out by a tough job market that has no need for older workers. Joe was a businessman who believed in the American Dream, but became cynical when he realized the game was rigged against small business owners. The former simply chose his own death and the latter decided to make a bigger statement by killing others.

These two examples reminds me of yet another example of a man who felt desperate:

Gerald Celente has said, “When people lose everything and they have nothing left to lose, they lose it.”

I don’t know what any of this means. I don’t know if it will ever change for the better. All I can say is that I’m frustrated. I’m not desperate. I’m not facing unemployment and homelessness, but like everyone else I daily face a society that seems indifferent to me and to most people. If you aren’t rich, you don’t matter. You are just a cog in the machine. When you wear out, you will be discarded.

I’ve heard people I respect (specifically, Cenk Uygur) argue that capitalism isn’t immoral, it’s amoral. But either way does it really change anything. Yes, capitalism can only be as moral as the regulation that forces it to be moral. But those who control capitalism also control our government. The capitalist system may be amoral, but the people who have created our capitalist system are moral agents with often immoral agendas. Any system is built on human relationships. I think it’s false to say that any system can be amoral because all systems are an extension of decisions made based either on moral principles or immoral motives. Capitalism has become morally corrupt… which isn’t to say I advocate Communism. I don’t advocate anything other than to open one’s eyes.

All that I know is the system is broken. Nothing I can say is meaningful beyond simply pointing out the harsh reality. Any objective data or logical argument can’t even begin touch upon the real lives of real people. Endless numbers of people are suffering while a minority at the top is profiting. It really is that simple. My opinion doesn’t matter. No one’s opinion matters. People are suffering and will go on suffering. You can vote Democrat or Republican, but either way you’re just voting for the same rich corporatists.

Even that misses the point. The true ugliness of it all is that no single person is to blame and we all are to blame. Corrupt politicians and capitalists are mere results of a corrupt system, a corrupt society. It seems like there should be an answer, has to be an answer, but there is no answer, just suffering. And the men with the money think they are on top of the world, think no one can touch them. We all accept the way the world is until we can’t any longer. Everyone has a breaking point and no one knows where that breaking point is. We all are potential Marks and Joes, all potential suicides and homicides. It doesn’t matter if the rich laugh all the way to the bank. In the end, the joke is on us all. Life is stupid. Humans are stupid.

A 99’er Welcomes Death

A Disillusioned 99’er Shares His Disappointment With The American Dream, Welcomes Death

“Mark”, a member of the ever growing cadre of disillusioned, disenchanted and disgruntled millions of American unemployed, has written a letter shared by A Company of One, in which he explains the plight of 99’ers (those whose extended unemployment benefits are set to expire) in which he chronicles his plight and his terminal disappointment with the American system. One can only imagine how all the “99’ers” would feel if they did not have the benefit of living at least partially subsidized for 2 years in the socialist state of America. If Bahrain is any indication, where the government’s attempt to purchase the love of its people just failed today, pretty soon not even the 99 weeks of EUCs will do much to suppress what is an unmistakably rising anger among the broad US population.

From Mark’s letter:

To the unemployed, sick, disabled and poor:
Hello,

I’m unemployed over two years now, a 99er without any benefits for three months. I followed Unemployed Friends almost from its start, never posted until now, but am grateful for my time with you all. I did as asked with calls and e-mails, etc. I’ve a confession to make to you all. I’m a criminal.

I’ve obeyed the 10 commandments and all laws except: I’m unemployed and that’s now a crime, I’m poor and that’s a crime, I’m worthless surplus population and that’s a crime, I’m a main street American Citizen born and raised in the USA and that’s now a crime, and I’m euthanizing myself as I write this note — so arrest my corpse. This isn’t a call for help, the deed is done, it’s not what I wanted. Death is my best available option. It’s not just that my bank account is $4, that I’ve not eaten in a week, not because hunger pangs are agonizing (I’m a wimp), not because I live in physical and mental anguish, not because the landlady is banging on the door non-stop and I face eviction, not that Congress and President have sent a strong message they no longer help the unemployed. It’s because I’m a law abiding though worthless, long-term unemployed older man who is surplus population. Had I used my college education to rip people off and steal from the elderly, poor, disabled and main street Americans I would be wearing different shoes now — a petty king. Hard work, honesty, loving kindness, charity and mercy, and becoming unemployed and destitute unable to pay your bills are all considered foolishness and high crimes in America now. Whereas stealing and lying and cheating and being greedy to excess and destroying the fabric of America is rewarded and protected — even making such people petty king and petty queens among us.

Since the end of 2008, when corporate America began enjoying the resumption of growth, profits have swelled from an annualized pace of $995 billion to the current $1.66 trillion as of the end of September 2010. Over the same period, the number of non-farm jobs counted by the Labor Department has slipped from 13.4 million to 13 million — there is no recovery for the unemployed and main street. We taxpayers have handed trillions of dollars to the same bank and insurance industry that started our economic disaster with its reckless gambling. We bailed out General Motors. We distributed tax cuts to businesses that were supposed to use this lubrication to expand and hire. For our dollars, we have been rewarded with starvation, homelessness and a plague of fear — a testament to post-national capitalism.

Twelve years ago, I lost the last of my family. Ten years ago, I lost the love of my life, couldn’t even visit him in the hospital because gays have no rights. I fought through and grieved and went on as best I could. Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with Diabetes and Stage 2 high blood pressure with various complications including kidney problems, mild heart failure, Diabetic Retinopathy. These conditions are debilitating and painful. I am on over eight prescribed medications, which is very difficult without insurance and income. But I struggled on and my primary caregiver was very pleased with my effort overtime with my A1C at seven. Still these physical disabilities have progressively worsened, and I have had a harder and harder time functioning in basic ways. All the while, I give thanks to God because I know there are many more worse off than me — and I tried to help by giving money to charities and smiling at people who looked down and sharing what little I had.

I am college educated and worked 35 years in management, receiving written references and praise from every boss for whom I worked. Yet, after thousands of resumes, applications, e-mails, phone calls, and drop ins, I’ve failed to get a job even at McDonalds. I’ve discovered there are three strikes against me — most 99ers will understand. Strike one — businesses are not hiring long-term unemployed — in fact many job ads now underline “the unemployed need not apply.” Strike two — I am almost 60 years old. Employers prefer hiring younger workers who demand less and are better pack mules. Strike three — for every job opening I’ve applied, there are over 300 applicants according to each business who allow a follow up call. With the U3 unemployment holding steady at 9.6percent and U6 at 17 percent for the past 18 months, the chances of me or any 99er landing a job is less than winning the Mega Million Jackpot. On top of that, even the most conservative economists admit unemployment will not start to fall before 2012 and most predict up to seven years of this crap.

I believe the Congress and President have no intention of really aiding the unemployed — due to various political reasons and their total removal from the suffering of most Americans, their cold-hearted, self-serving natures. Had they really wanted to help us, they could have used unspent stimulus monies or cut foolish costs like the failed wars or foreign aid, and farm subsidies. The unspent stimulus money alone cold have taken care of ALL unemployed persons for five years or until the unemployment rate reached 7 percent if Congress and the President really wanted to help us — and not string us all along with a meager safety net that fails every few months. In any case, if I were to survive homelessness (would be like winning the mega-millions) and with those three strikes against me, in seven more years, I’ll be near 70 with the new retirement age at 70 — now who will hire an old homeless guy out of work for nine years with just a few years until retirement?

So, here I am. Long term unemployed, older man, with chronic health problems, now totally broke, hungry, facing eviction. My landlady should really be an advocate for the unemployed — she bangs on my door demanding I take action. A phone call and a “please” are not enough for her — she is angry. She is right to be angry with me, I am unemployed — as apparently everyone is now angry with us unemployed.

Two hundred and eleven and social services cannot help single men. Food banks and other charities are unable to help any more folks — they are overwhelmed with the poor in this nation. So I have the “freedom” to be homeless and destitute and “pursue happiness” in garbage cans and then die — yay for America huh? It’s the end of November and cold. A diabetic homeless older person will experience amputations in the winter months. So I will be raiding garbage cans for food, as my body literally falls apart, a foot here, a finger there. I have experienced and even worked with pain from my diseases — hardship I can face. I just cannot muster the courage to slowly die in agony and humiliation in the gutter.

I have no family, I have no friends. For the past two years, I’ve had nobody to talk with as people who knew me react to the “unemployed” label as if it were leprosy and contagious. I am not a bad person, in fact people really like me. But everyone seems to be on a tight budget these days and living in incredible fear. It is hopeless since we all are hearing more and more that we unemployed are to blame for unemployment, that we are just lazy, that we are no good, that we are sinners, that we are druggies, yet we are the victims who suffer and are punished while the robber baron banksters and tycoons become senators, congress, presidents and petty kings. So the only option left for me is merciful self euthanasia.

It is with a heavy heart that I have set my death in motion, but what I am facing is not living. So off I go, I have made peace with God and placed my burden on Jesus and He forgives me. This nation has become evil to the core, with cold-hearted politicians and tycoons squeezing what little Main Street Americans have left. It is not the America into which I was born — the land of the free and the home of the brave with kind folks who help neighbors — it is now land of the Tycoon-haves and the rest of us have-nots who march into hopelessness and despair.

Every unemployed person I have met over these past two years have been saintly. Sharing what little they have, and being charitable — being kind and patient and supportive. Isn’t it amazing that we Americans who suffer so much, have not taken to the streets in violence, riots or gotten out the guillotines and marched on tycoons and Washington in revolt as would happen in most other nations? But rather we plead with deaf politicians to please help us. We don’t demand huge sums — just 300 bucks a week, barely enough to cover housing for most. Most of all we say, please help us get a job, please allow us dignity.

I can’t help but juxtapose our plight to the tycoons and politicians. They are never satisfied with their enormous wealth, and always want more millions no matter whom it hurts. They STEAL from pension funds, banks, the people and government, and little Wall Street investors. Then rather than face punishment, they become petty kings in this world. They are disloyal to America, unpatriotic, and serve their own foreign UN-American greedy causes and demand more and more and more. I feel that this is not the nation into which I was born. I was born in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. America, where people give as much as they receive. America, where all people work for the common good, and try to leave a better and more prosperous nation for the next generation. America, where people help their neighbors and show charity and mercy. This new America is alien to me — it is an America of greed and corruption and avarice and mean spirited selfishness and hatred of the common good — it is an America of savage beasts roaring and tearing at the weak, and bullying the humble and peacemakers and poor and those without means to defend themselves. I am not welcome here anymore. I don’t belong here anymore. It’s as if some evil beast controls government, the economy, and our lives now.

I must go now, my home is someplace else. Goodbye and God bless you all. God bless the unemployed and poor and elderly and disabled. God bless America and the American people except the tycoons and politicians — may God retain the sins of tycoons and politicians and phony preachers and send them to the Devil.

Mark

 

US Education: Myth vs Reality (new data)

This new data brings new light to the issue of American education.

The main point that people have noted is that there is no evidence that education has declined over this past century, no evidence that there ever was a golden era of education. America never had the best education in the world, but on a positive note there has been improvement in recent years which undermines all of the endless criticisms we’ve heard in the media.

Because of my recent focus, I noticed the state comparisons. Sadly, my own state presently has a pathetically low education system when compared to the rest of the country. I’ve heard that Iowa used to have a quality education system. I don’t know what has caused this apparent decline. I was wondering if it might be related to the 2010 census data showing that Iowa has a decreasing population. As I recall, many who are moving away are of a younger demographic (young professionals seeking opportunities elsewhere).

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/reports/2011/0207_education_loveless/0207_education_loveless.pdf

http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2011/0207_education_loveless.aspx

Two myths of international assessments are debunked—the first, that the United States once led the world on international tests of achievement. It never has. The second myth is that Finland leads the world in education, with China and India coming on fast. Finland has a superb school system, but, significantly, it scores at the very top only on PISA, not on other international assessments. Finland also has a national curriculum more in sync with a “literacy” thrust, making PISA a friendly judge in comparing Finnish students with students from other countries. And what about India and China? Neither country has ever participated in an international assessment. How they would fare is unknown. [ . . . ]

Who’s winning the real race to the top? Both short- and long-term gains on NAEP are calculated with statistical controls for changes in the demographic characteristics of each state’s students. Eight states—Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania—stand out for making superior gains. At the other end of the distribution, Iowa, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Michigan stand out for underperforming. Five of the eight impressive states won grants, but three did not. And a few states won grants even though they are faring poorly in the race to boost student achievement. Some of the reasons why a program called Race to the Top could distribute grant money in this manner are discussed.

http://www.brookings.edu/interviews/2009/0827_education_loveless.aspx

Kojo Nnamdi, host: It was the golden era of American education, a time when schools taught kids exactly what they needed to succeed in life, when teachers were paid what they were worth and when American schools were the best in the world. It all sounds nice, but the problem is that it’s next to impossible to actually find this “golden” era in the historical record. Today, we’re getting history behind the headlines; how some debates on education reform rely on simplistic ideas about the past, how complaints about teaching to the test heart back to the early twentieth century, and how partisans have dukes it out over math and science for five decades. Joining us in the studio is Tom Loveless, senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He authors the annual Brown Center Report on American Education. Tom Loveless, thank you for joining us.

Tom Loveless: Thank you.

Kojo: I mentioned this idea of a “golden” era of American education even though it’s often somewhat vague. There is a way of talking about our current challenges that implies that we’ve lost something that our education has somehow, our education system somehow has deteriorated. In what sense is that true and in what sense is it misleading?

Tom: It’s mostly misleading; we didn’t really have good measures of how well kids were learning in schools until probably the 1950s and 1960s. We didn’t for instance start taking a national snapshot of student achievement until late 1960s, 1969. International tests, the very first comparison of international countries didn’t happen until the 1960s. So the idea that American schooling somehow had this “golden” age in the first half of the twentieth century, we just simply don’t know. And much of it is just methodology based on people having gone to school and having good feelings about it.

http://www.good.is/post/debunking-education-myths-america-s-never-been-number-one-in-math/

scantron

Back in 1964, American 13-year-olds took the First International Math Study and ended up ranking in 11th place. Considering that only 12 nations participated, including Australia, Finland, and Japan, our next-to-last performance was pretty abysmal. Other international tests American students have taken over the years have also never showed that we were in the top spot. It’s a myth that we’ve fallen from our glory days.

American students first took the PISA, which is administered every three years, in 2000. The United States has always scored in the middle of the pack, meaning, as Loveless told Education Week, “We once were terrible and now we’re mediocre. I think that’s a more accurate description, but we’ve never had scores that we should be proud of.”

Indeed, we shouldn’t be proud of our mediocrity, but there is a silver lining in the results: Between the 2006 and 2009 PISA tests, our scores “increased 5 points in reading, 13 points in math, and 13 points in science.” Loveless says in his report that this improvement was strangely ignored by the media, politicians, and the education reform chattering class, but it’s a notable increase because, according to a researcher from Stanford University, Eric Hanushek,

“an increase of 25 points on PISA over the next 20 years would boost United States GDP by $41 trillion. If the gains from 2006 to 2009 are duplicated when the PISA is next given in 2012, the goal of making 25-point gains in math and science will be met far ahead of schedule.”

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/features/view/feature/American-Kids-Arent-Getting-Dumber-They-Were-Just-Never-That-Smart-3189

So why was everyone up in arms just a few months ago when students in Shaghai beat out everyone else in the last Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam? In case you don’t remember, the media was in a frenzy last December, searching for reasons why Chinese students had possibly outperformed the US. Perhaps American students should spend more time studying exam subjects and less time playing sports, studying music, and engaging in other activities. Or maybe it’s our teachers who, compared to those in China, are underpaid and under trained. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Associated Press at the time that, “the results are an absolutely wake-up call for America. We have to deal with the brutal truth. We have to get much more serious about investing in education.”

Out of 34 countries, the US ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th (below average) in math on the 2009 exam. This sounds less than stellar, but Loveless’s new report, contradicts the panic these scores inspired, saying that “the US performance on PISA has been flat to slightly upward since the test’s inception and it has improved on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, another major series of tests, since 1995.”

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2011/02/myth_of_declining_us_schools.html

Loveless says no. “There was no sharp decline–in either the short or long run,” he says. “The U.S. performance on PISA has been flat to slightly up since the test’s inception, and it has improved on TIMSS [the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, another major series of tests] since 1995.”

This is not exactly good news, but context is important. If we have managed to be the world’s most powerful country, politically, economically and militarily, for the last 47 years despite our less than impressive math and science scores, maybe that flaw is not as important as film documentaries and political party platforms claim. And if, after so many decades of being shown up by much of the rest of the developed world, we are improving, it might be time to be more supportive of what we already doing to fix our schools.

Loveless is one of the nation’s leading experts on PISA and TIMSS. He has been part of the cohorts of specialists who advise those programs. In his report he says the first international test comparable to those two was the First International Math Study (FIMS) in 1964. It assessed 13-year-olds in 12 countries. The United States placed next to last, just ahead of Sweden.

We were beaten by Israel, Japan, Belgium, Finland, Germany, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France and Australia, in that order. Other age groups were tested with similarly disappointing results for the United States.

In the latest PISA and TIMSS tests, the United States did better, scoring in the middle of the pack. On PISA, the United States was up 5 points in reading, 13 points in math and 13 points in science. If we maintain that pace, Loveless says, we will boost the U.S. gross domestic product by at least $41 trillion in the next 20 years, according to an analysis of PISA results by Stanford University economist Eric A. Hanushek.

Loveless, a former teacher, cannot resist tarnishing the shiny reputations of our most celebrated international competitors, while he is on the subject. He declares that the often-heard assumption that Finland has the best educational system in the world, with India and China coming on strong, also is a myth.

This blogger has been dumping on the strength of the Chinese and Indian school systems for a long time. Loveless agrees that they are very large, very poor countries that are so ill-equipped for international tests that they have never participated in them as countries. Shanghai scored number one on the latest PISA, but that is no indicator of how China would do.

“Shanghai’s municipal website reports that 83.8 percent of high school graduates enter college,” Loveless says. “The national figure is 24 percent.” The American figure is about 66 percent.

Loveless is less dismissive of Finland, which has been scoring well for several years. But he says Americans who love the Finnish model of paying teachers higher salaries, decentralizing authority over educational decisions and eschewing high-stakes standardized testing should tune into the debate the Finns are having about their schools.

Finnish children were doing well on international tests before those reforms were adopted. That suggests that cultural and societal factors might be the more likely reason for their success. Many Finnish mathematicians say that the country is catering too much to PISA, which emphasizes word problems and practical applications of math, and neglecting to prepare students for college math.

Loveless says more than 200 university mathematicians in Finland petitioned the education ministry to complain of students increasingly arriving in their classrooms poorly prepared. “Knowledge of fractions and algebra were singled out as particularly weak areas,” Loveless says.

http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/591662/why_conservatives_want_to_destroy_public_education/

Spend any time exploring the world of ed reform, and the concept that gets sold to you again and again is choice. “School choice” is the term of art, within the ed reform movement, for private school vouchers.

Choice has to do a lot of work, because the evidence doesn’t. More study is absolutely necessary to evaluate the value of private school vouchers, just as more study is necessary when it comes to charter schools. But the extant evidence is not good. In fact, if you’re a champion of vouchers, it’s downright bad.Here’s recent bad news from Ohio. Here’s bad news from Milwaukee. The news from DC is, thus far, howlingly controversial; here’s some data (PDF). When it comes to DC, I personally am disturbed by the lack of quantifiable gains that aren’t educator dependent—that is, the fact that graduation rates are significantly higher but testable knowledge is not at least raises fair questions about the pressures for schools receiving vouchers to graduate students even if they have underperformed. (One of the consistent problems with school vouchers is the fact that they directly incentivize schools putting their fingers on the scale, and often with no accountability beyond the honor system.) These are just recent cases, but you can survey the available data and say with little doubt that a compelling empirical case for school vouchers doesn’t exist.

(A bit out of date but good overview on the flagging voucher movement from theWashington Monthly is here.)

Voucher proponents, in the face of this failure, have to sell hard on the idea of choice. Ross Douthat, in a typically goofy response to the repeated and public failure of school vouchers to produce better results, changed his mind doubled down, echoing Charles Murray in saying that producing results was never the point. (Hey, who says that advocating something is the same as claiming it’s effective public policy?) It’s all about freedom, giving people choices and making them happier, even if those choices don’t actually accomplish anything. But is choice in this individualistic sense even a virtue in this case? I would submit that it’s not, and in fact that it’s directly opposed to the essential social compact that modern governance relies on.

http://www.good.is/post/waiting-for-superman-can-stop-waiting-for-oscar/

wfs

In November, it came out that one of the scenes in Superman had been staged. Guggenheim wasn’t around to film Francisco’s mother Maria touring the Harlem Success Academy, a charter school with lottery based admissions. By the time Guggenheim filmed the scene, Francisco had already been rejected from the school. The ensuing dust-up and complaints that Guggenheim had faked part of his film to gin up emotions was negative press the film didn’t need.

The Washington Post also cites a litany of other problems withSuperman—all revolving around the film’s approach to education reform.

“Guggenheim edited the film to make it seem as if charter schools are a systemic answer to the ills afflicting many traditional public schools, even though they can’t be, by their very design. He unfairly demonized Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and gave undeserved hero status to reformer and former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Guggenheim compared schools in Finland and the United States without mentioning that Finland has a 3 percent child poverty rate and the United States has a 22 percent rate.”

And, not everyone was cheering for the documentary in the first place. Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch famously destroyed Superman in the New York Review of Books by pulling out data that disproved many of the film’s points.

http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2010/1216_charter_schools.aspx

The variety of charter schools is consistent with the original mission to provide new options to families and to promote innovative ways to organize a school and deliver a curriculum. But that same variety makes it difficult to draw conclusions about the instructional effectiveness of charter schools as a sector. Research findings vary widely, depending on the schools studied and the research methodology employed.

Nearly all large-scale studies that have examined the effectiveness of charter schools across many states have relied on statistical controls to handle differences in student background between students attending charter schools vs. regular public schools. Several of these studies find that students attending charter schools do no better than students attending regular public schools. [ . . . ]

In summary, the overall body of research on the academic effectiveness of charter schools suggests considerable variability in impact. Thus knowing that a school is organized as a charter school does not, in and of itself, say much about whether the school is good, bad, or mediocre. Some charter schools are unambiguously providing a more effective education for students than is provided by regular public schools serving similar students. Other charter schools are no better than the public schools with which they compete, and some are worse.

http://www.educationjustice.org/newsletters/nlej_iss21_art5_detail_CharterSchoolAchievement.htm

Research on charter schools paints a mixed picture. A number of recent national studies have reached the same conclusion: charter schools do not, on average, show greater levels of student achievement, typically measured by standardized test scores, than public schools, and may even perform worse.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found in a 2009 report that 17% of charter schools outperformed their public school equivalents, while 37% of charter schools performed worse than regular local schools, and the rest were about the same. A 2010 study by Mathematica Policy Research found that, on average, charter middle schools that held lotteries were neither more nor less successful than regular middle schools in improving student achievement, behavior, or school progress. Among the charter schools considered in the study, more had statistically significant negative effects on student achievement than statistically significant positive effects. These findings are echoed in a number of other studies.

http://www.notwaitingforsuperman.org/Articles/20100927-RAyersWashPost

http://www.notwaitingforsuperman.org/Articles/20101020-MinerUltimateSuperpower

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/teachers/why-teacher-bashing-is-dangero.html