Class Warfare Blog

April 23, 2017

There is No Real Anti-Science Movement

There was a March for Science across this country yesterday. It did not draw huge crowds but the participants were enthusiastic. Unfortunately, many of the participants seem to be close to declaring that there is a war on science or some other foolishness. There is not.

To show you this, consider the staunchest climate change denier. If they went to the doctor and were diagnosed with a serious disease and were offered a treatment produced by the finest medical science in the world, do you honestly think they would say “Science? I want none of that. Send for an exorcist.”?

A climate change denying businessman looking to upgrade his IT infrastructure looks at the proposals and decides “We want none of this ‘high tech nonsense,’ we want biblically-inspired computers.” Whadya think?

Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

The opposition to climate change is there because of economic interests that fear that taking it seriously will crimp their ability to make money. All of those politicians who say “the jury is not yet in on climate change” have no idea whether it is or it isn’t, but they are being paid to say it is not. The order President Trump made to have NASA stop studying the climate is not fueled by some “science is a waste of time and money” attitude on the part of the President. His party is being paid to do this.

Similarly, there is no scientific controversy over the Theory of Evolution. It is an established scientific paradigm. The religious have no problem with the theory (actually very few of them seem to even understand the basics); they have a problem with its findings. If the theory of evolution is true, then any creation story that contradicts it is false and, if you are from a religion that paints the Bible as being ultimate truth, you have a problem. The same thing goes for those religiously-minded who claim the earth is only 6000-8000 years old. To believe the scientific findings (the Earth is over 4,000,000,000 years old) is to toss one’s religion’s creation stories in the trash can and the beginning of “if the Bible got that wrong, what else does it get wrong?”

Science is all about living with doubt. Politics and religion are all about being absolutely sure you are right. Hence the conflict.

But do realize, it is the scientific results these people have a problem with, very specific results. On one hand, unborn children’s lives are sacred and on the other the Mother of All Bombs is a really cool outcome of war science. It is not “science” they question, only when science tells a narrative counter to one they cherish that they “oppose the science.” And since they can’t be bothered to learn the science to try to counter it (probably a futile effort anyway), they disparage it emotionally (I ain’t no kin to no monkey!) and politically (it is too expensive to invest a huge amount of money in uncertain science).

Targeted opposition to specific scientific findings is, however, feeding an anti-science attitude among those who do not want to get involved enough to see for themselves. I can’t see how this is helpful.

But, then, these are the same people who promoted an anti-government attitude (The government is tyrannical!) before they decided to run the government for their own benefit. I do not think they even bother thinking about the long term effects of their actions. There is too much money to be made in the short-term.

April 22, 2017

Through a Glass Darkly, Dirty and Distorted, Too

We are treated with a view of education from the privatizing crowd that is bizarre. They see a child sitting in front of a computer, learning their ABC’s and whatnot. They see robotic teachers teaching from scripts and then subjecting their charges to standardized tests. They see, well, profits mostly.

I am not as concerned that these people see this as “a good idea,” but that others, not “on the take” as it were, agree.

What this whole approach misses is that education is a social process. It doesn’t take place in a closet, but in a crowd. We do, though, have societal icons; one is of the lone wolf academic who studies on his/her own and does great things, such as portrayed in the movie “Good Will Hunting.” Because these are themes we enjoy seeing and hearing about (a little like winning the lottery: if it could happen to them, it might happen to me!), we see and hear about them a great deal (the lone scientist, the lone crime investigator, etc. against all odds blah, blah, blah). But they are not the norm.

Currently scientists are seeing that we tend to think better in groups, that no individual has all of the puzzle pieces but in communication with others, clusters of puzzle pieces get formed, and then clusters combine to make larger clusters.

It is not an accident that communication is a cornerstone of the scientific method. No, not the method that you were taught in school, that was a convenient fiction. You have to look between the lines. Just one person doesn’t have access to all of the facts. They also don’t have access to all of the imagination. Who creates the hypotheses, just individuals? And who creates the theories? Creationists seem to think Darwin created the entire theory of evolution. The truth of the matter is Darwin created a structural framework, that literally thousands and thousands of scientists have built, rebuilt and filled in. There are so many fingerprints on the theory of evolution now, that saying “Darwin was wrong” is irrelevant. The portion of the theory of evolution that is Darwin’s is but a small part of the whole now.

Education is not limited to human beings, but it is a social activity. While “students” can go away for a time and in solitude, consult educational technology (the most successful ed-tech so far is something called “books”), they must come back and interact with other human beings to clarify understandings, compare opinions, and justify arguments. Students are learning how to learn and participate and think in groups. They learn to write so other humans, not in their locality in either space and time, will understand them.

The problem with the voucher faddists, the charter school purveyors, and the ed-tech peddlers is that they think education is something that can be analyzed using a spreadsheet, with the most important column being “profit.” If you compare their approach with what is being done in, say, Finland, you will see what is wrong. In Finland, they are working to improve the ability of teachers and students to interact as directly as possible. Their classrooms have almost no “tech” in them. Children get out and play between classes because play is important, it is important to learning how to work with other human beings.

Everybody I know went to school. If they think about it for just a minute, they will recognize what I claim above is true. Which makes it even more shocking that so many of these “reforms” are being supported around the country. Are we that venal? Or are we that distracted (Oh, Facebook!)?

I do not know about you, but I have just deleted my Facebook account. The reason? No social ROI, just distraction, distraction, distraction.

April 11, 2017

If You Want to Understand Why American Education is Fucked Up—Read This

Filed under: Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:42 pm
Tags: , , , ,

(Hint: Follow the Money)

https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/08/standardized-testing-creates-captive-markets/

You May Want the Federal Government Run Like a Business But Do You Want It Run Like One of His Businesses?

A common GOP trope now is that the federal government, all governments really, should be run like businesses. This idea is quite silly but has caught on because of the general dissatisfaction with government, something brought about by a propaganda campaign against the government by the GOP. Interesting gambit that: drum up general discontent creating a climate for the solution you favor. (Can you spell Nazis, boys and girls?) Their solution, by the way, is not running government as a business but running government for business.

As a little experiment, list all of Mr. Trump’s executive orders and then force each of them into one of two categories: 1) good for the people (makes the government better or stronger) or 2) good for business owners. This, of course, is a false dichotomy as many of these things will ultimately prove to be bad for both, but just doing this will take the temperature of the current administrations actions. (Actually, most of the EOs are symbolic in nature and at the beginning of long paths to implementation of anything, but that is another topic.)

Back to my main topic. Mr. Trump runs his businesses by squeezing labor by employing undocumented immigrants, avoiding union contracts, etc. and by squeezing those who are in agreements with him: local governments all the way down to the vendors serving his businesses. He also uses the courts to create advantages for himself: for every bankruptcy he has actually begun, he has threatened many more. He has threatened to sue people so many times that he could be the senior partner in a law firm. When one has considerable capital and can hire lawyers, nuisance lawsuits provide a lot of leverage over people for whom the legal costs are ruinous or at least damaging. And, I do not think he could threaten bankruptcy for the federal government, but he could create economic chaos through government shutdowns, debt defaults, etc. All of these are the high drama, high profile scenarios Mr. Trump favors as his business style.

Businesses owners are often casual at best toward the externalities of their businesses. Externalities are the physical “commons” we all share responsibility for. So, historically, businesses have dumped their wastes into the air, into the water, and onto the land with no thought of taking responsibility for the problems those waste “disposal” processes create. Did businesses lead the charge to clean up our waterways? our air? our waste disposal sites? If you are old enough, you remember that the “business community” fought these actions tooth and nail and are still doing this. It was government that lead the charge. (I remind you the our governments are effectively “us” for the purpose of collective actions.)

It was government, especially the federal government, that passed things like the Clear Air Act and other sets of government regulations that have made our air quality far better than it used to be. When I was in the fifth grade on the San Francisco peninsula, I was sent home from school one day because of smog. LA was far worse as the SF peninsula was surrounded by water and had clearing winds. Such smog alerts no longer happen, thanks to government regulations. Then there was the regulation for unleaded gasoline to prevent lead poisoning (opposed by business), the regulation for unleaded paint to prevent lead poisoning, especially of children (opposed by business), the gas mileage standards (opposed by business), the acid rain regulations (opposed by business), … need I go on?

So, has Mr. Trump made us safer or healthier by his diktats? Let’s see, he has made it okay for coal companies to go back to dumping their toxic waster (laced with heavy metals, like mercury, etc.) back into streams, he has set aside higher gas mileage standards, he produced an EO that asks agencies to review any regulations that could “potentially burden the development or use” of oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources so that action could be taken to eliminate regulations. So much for wind and solar, who needs them and what’s a little pollution from coal power plants or nuclear ones; we can safely store radioactive waste, somewhere, we’ll figure it out. Doesn’t sound like a promising start, but then he did promise to “do away with burdensome federal regulations,” but not at any time being specific as to whom or what they are a burden.

So, if Mr. Trump’s Administration is being run like a business, who are the workers and who are the customers? If you are a worker, you will continue to be squeezed as that’s what Mr. Trump and his minions do in their businesses. Customers “buy” from a business, that is services or goods. If you pay taxes, then you are a customer. Do you expect better service? Mr. Trump has promised less of it (except military services and Homeland Security services). He has promised better service, but his budget proposal (actually Mr. Trump had almost nothing to do with the current budget proposal but it is traditional to attach the “ultimate cause” label to all presidents, so …), his budget proposal slashes services to “customers” right and left and then slashes the budgets of the agencies that are providing what remaining services there will be. How this equates to “better” is very hard to see.

So, do you think Mr. Trump is running the federal government as a business or for business? What do you think?

April 6, 2017

I Don’t Get It

The definition of “it” in the title is probably very, very long (very!). In this case it is our current debate about healthcare.

There is continuing support for certain functions of government to be paid by the government. Unlike knuckle-dragging conservatives, I do not see “government” as being some outside agency closely representing a skin cancer (something you want shrunk and or carved out), but as a representative of “us.” We are completely fine with “single payer” K-12 education. Citizens and non-citizens alike can register their children to attend a neighboring school and there the children receive an education with no further costs. (Yes, I do know there are myriad costs associated with a child in school, but those are not directly related to the education they receive.) This is, accurately, not a “single payer” system as multiple government agencies are involved, so maybe a better description is “government paid” for this schooling. We also have many other services that are “government paid.” For one, the military. For another, our government offices. When you go to your local councilman or alderman’s office for information or a complaint, there are no fees associated with those services. In all of those cases, the “government”—remember that means “us”—picks up the full tab.

The argument goes that those services are “essential,” that is we all need them and money should be a barrier to whether or not you receive those services.

Oh, there are also the police, fire services, the courts, etc. There are many things that fall into this category of “things we all pay so everyone can partake equally.” In some cases, this is the “many” protecting itself from the “few.” Many vaccinations are low cost, even free, to avoid the spread of diseases.

I don’t get why health care is not one of those things.

I understand that people, especially politically conservative people, have bought into a capitalistic “pay as you go” culture, uh, well, kinda sorta. The biggest proponents of “individual liberty/individual responsibility” are not all self-made people, many inherited money. If Donald Trump had invested all of the money he inherited in stock market index funds, he would have four times as much money now as he claims to have, according to some accounts. (So much for him being a good businessman, he has managed to lose only three quarters of his potential net worth. He is, at best, a mediocre businessman.) The Koch brothers inherited millions (and built upon those, yes). Mitt Romney, who claims that nobody helped him, was given two million dollars of “seed money” to help him get started as well as being given access to his really well-connected father’s associates. The Walton clan … well, daddy made the big pot for them.

For those without great wealth in this group are people who received help along the way from government (aka “us”) agencies. Help with their educations, help with business loans, help from other government agencies, etc.

But them poor people, they lack drive and ambition. They should go out and start a business. Really, you mean those business startups that have a 90% failure rate after three years? Where would they get the money to take that very risky venture? The banks? Wall Street? Venture Capitalists? (Sorry, laughing so hard my sides are aching.) If you haven’t noticed, over the last 30-40 years, businesses have stopped investing in their own business. They have accumulated trillions of dollars of cash reserves that are just sitting there. So, these are the people poor people are to emulate? (Step 1 Pile up a mountain of money. Step 2 Sit on it. Neoliberal Business Practices 101)

Poor people need to go out an get a job, then? Oh, do they mean the jobs conservatives have suppressed wages on for decades so they do not pay enough to meet a person’s expenses? Those jobs? All of the anti-union, anti-minimum wage rhetoric is not coming from poor people, it is coming from the same conservative ass holes who are insisting that everyone should “pay as you go.”

I do not want single-payer healthcare. (Currently I have Medicare and a Medicare supplement policy, and I pick up the slack those two do not cover, so there are at least three payers there, certainly at least two.) I want government paid health care. It is at least as important as an education for our kids, if not more so.

There’s more but my spleen just gave out.

* * *

Poverty is not due to a lack of character, it is due to a lack of cash. (I don’t know who said this first.)

March 20, 2017

The New Administration’s Budget

As vague descriptions of the new administration’s 2017-8 federal budget are being circulated, people are shocked, shocked I tell you, that that proposal eviscerates the Environmental Protection Agency and myriad other federal programs that actually help people (Meals on Wheels … gone, Support for Planned Parenthood … gone).

I do not see how anyone could be shocked at these long promised moves. This is the political party that has railed against and taken every opportunity to diminish labor unions, organizations that only exist to protect workers and their rights. It has also railed against Social Security and Medicare, the two most successful programs ever created to avoid poverty, especially in senior citizens.

They have reasons for doing these things, but if you watch carefully, you will see their lips moving, a clear sign they are lying. They are gutting these social programs for one big reason, their paymasters desire it. All of these efforts make working class people more compliant, less likely to strike back, and place as little opposition to what the plutocrats wish to do as possible.

The GOP said it wanted to, it tried to do it before, and now it is doing it. If you are surprised, you are an idiot.

Let me now … warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party….
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration.
It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms,
kindles the animosity of one part against another….

George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

In this new era of globalization, the interests of companies and countries have diverged.
In contrast with the past, what is good for America’s global corporations
is no longer necessarily good for the American people.

Ralph Gomory, Former IBM VP

Wake up people, the corporations own this administration.

March 15, 2017

Apparently It Is Never Enough

The oligarchs running our government could just rest on their laurels as they have won on every front, but apparently that is not enough. If you think things could not get worse, read this “Right-Wing Billionaires Have a Project to Rewrite Our Constitution, and They Are Shockingly Close to Pulling It Off.”

March 14, 2017

Betsy DeVos and The Christian Right’s “Big Ideas”

In Rolling Stone there is a big article on our new U.S. Education Secretary (Betsy DeVos’ Holy War by Janet Reitman). (How did Rolling Stone get from being an “entertainment” magazine to the only U.S. magazine with the balls to publish the truth?”)

Here is a condensation of one part of that article:
A staple in modern evangelical teachings is the concept of Christian spheres of influence – or what the evangelical business guru Lance Wallnau dubbed the ‘Seven Mountains’ of society: business, media, religion, arts and entertainment, family, government, and education – all of which urge the faithful to engage in secular culture in order to ‘transform’ it. The goal is a sweeping overhaul of society and a merging of church and state: elevating private charity over state-run social services, returning prayer to school and turning the clock back on women’s and LGBTQ rights. It would also be a system without a progressive income tax, collective bargaining, environmental regulation, publicly funded health care, welfare, a minimum wage – a United States guided by a rigorously laissez-faire system of ‘values’ rather than laws….

More than a few people have questioned my writing about religion in a Class Warfare blog. I tend to write mostly about fundamentalist religions, such as the DeVos family beliefs, because they are seriously at odds with reality. Tell me if you don’t think these people have a political agenda.

For example, look at the list of “features” of our society the DeVos family would rather we did without: a progressive income tax, collective bargaining, environmental regulation, publicly funded health care, welfare, a minimum wage, etc. Notice how these are all ideas that conflict with basic Christian ideology. These are very rich people, Ms. DeVos’ father created Amway, but I don’t expect them to sell all of their worldly goods and go follow Jesus any time soon. The Bible is full of regulations, pages and pages of regulations, including one to be a good steward of the land, hardly in line with the elimination of environmental regulations. Did not Jesus tell his followers to go forth and heal the sick and did he not complain when someone else did likewise (as long as it was in his name)? This is hardly compatible with the elimination of publicly funded health care. People don’t realize how much poverty and ill health there were in our senior citizens before Social Security and Medicare were implemented. These two government programs alone are responsible for pulling massive numbers of old folks out of poverty and desperation.

What the DeVos family and their ilk have done is made a new religion
out of being  politically conservative and rich.

What the DeVos family and their ilk have done is made a religion out of being politically conservative and rich. They are dead set against progressive income taxes and estate taxes as a form of “rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” Again, this is hardly Christian, but it is right out of the rich man’s plutocratic playbook.

And we now have that new time religion at the highest levels of the US federal government with an attitude of “Well I’m rich and if you aren’t, you can go suck eggs,” the embodiment of Christian charity.

March 13, 2017

We Have Met the Enemy … and It Isn’t Us

We have met the enemy and it is … our corporations. Consider first a couple of examples:

You have heard, I am sure, of the so-called “skills gap,” which is that American workers just do not have the skills needed for “today’s marketplace,” so we need to issue more foreign worker visas to fill the necessary jobs. One of the fields clamoring for more of these visas has been Information Technology (IT). IBM, a quintessential American IT company, hid the facts for many years but now it is clear. Between 2003 and 2010, IBM fired so many American IT professionals and hired so many engineers and computer programmers in India that the workforce of IBM India is now larger than that of IBM USA. IBM India had a mere 6,000 workers in 2003 but by 2010 had somewhere in the range of 100,000-130,000 workers. How did IBM manage this into the teeth of the worst global recession ever? It did it by firing over 30,000 workers here in the U.S.

IBM calls this “cross border job shifting,” which sounds ever so much more like a transfer than people getting fired here and others getting hired there. And IBM is not alone in doing this, so how can there be a shortage of IT workers in the US when there are so many Americans who used to hold the very same jobs that are claimed are “going wanting?” What is the real rationale for the demand to be issuing more visas for foreign workers? There is no shortage of highly qualified IT workers. This is simply a classic wage-suppression tactic. Bring in foreign workers and pay them less than you would American workers with the same qualifications. This makes it very much harder for Americans to get wage increases here and also harder to form unions that would look into such practices. Foreign workers do not want to anger their employers because if they lose their job, they lose their job sponsor, and it is back to India for them. They will not join a union, period.

Now, consider another quintessential American company, Ford. Can there be a more American story involving business that the creation of the Ford Motor Company from scratch? But in the late 1990’s, Alex Trotman, Ford’s then CEO, admitted “Ford isn’t even an American company, strictly speaking; we’re global.”

And if American companies like these do not consider themselves “American companies,” how much can we expect them to act on our behalf? When I was a young man, many corporations had multiple stakeholders. These corporations considered their customers to be one, along with their workers as another, and their communities, too. And, of course, also their shareholders. Modern business practices, spurred along by quack economists like Milton Friedman, had reduced the number of corporate stakeholders to one: the shareholders. Well, just one stakeholder if you do not count the executive’s self-interest in their own remuneration, which has skyrocketed while worker wages have been experiencing trickle-up growth.

As a union officer in the 1980’s and 90’s I participated in an experiment with management of our enterprise ($150 million annual budget) on creating a more cooperative governance structure. Part of that effort was coming to an understanding of relationships between and among the two groups. One facet of that learning was that “workers” (we all worked for the company) we all tended to imbue our work relationship with trust, that is we put our trust into our employer to some extent. This was not earned trust but, basically, we trusted our employer because we wanted to have a job in which we could trust our employer. This wishful thinking trust usually had no repercussions, but when something happen that a worker or workers did not like, they felt betrayed by someone they had trusted (trusted to do what was never specific, usually it was “the right thing”). Such “betrayals” existed in collective memory for decades. (I know this as when I was hired into this company I heard “stories” from other employees. I found out later that some of them were almost 30 years old.)

We are making that mistake now. We are told by representatives of these “American companies” that we should “trust the marketplace” and “trust them.” But their actions indicate that not only are they untrustworthy but they are not even American companies. Imagine how you would feel if a foreign company, say from China, wanted to come into your community and build a plant, one with a bit of pollution associated with it. Then think how you would view that intention were is an American company? Would your response be the same? Yet, these American companies no longer consider themselves to be American, and have acted accordingly for decades now, but we still “trust” them more than we do others.

These companies have no issue with firing you and hiring a replacement from overseas and ask you to train your cheaper replacement (happens all the time, happened to my ex-wife). These companies have no problem with going through bankruptcy to eliminate their obligation to pay into their worker’s pensions. These companies have no problem with manipulating our tax laws so that they pay no taxes, with the burden to make up the difference shifted to you and me. These companies have no problem in bribing our public officials to do their bidding instead of the people’s. And if you want to know why our recovery from the Mother of all Recessions was so weak, with employment struggling to get back to anything approximating normal, realize that business leaders see every crisis as an opportunity and in this crisis they used the opportunity to outsource even more jobs. They were hiring, just not in the U.S. That is how much loyalty they have to their bottom line and how much they have to you and me.

Ironically, we have just elected a corporate businessman President to fix this mess (drain the swamp). If this were not so ironic, so funny, I would be crying. When are we going to wake up? When are we going to invest our passion and our votes in organizations, like labor unions, that have proven track records for countering these un-American corporate interests?

Wake up people! It is very close to “too late.”

March 10, 2017

When They Told You “You Can’t Trust the Government” They Really Meant …

The GOP and corporate interests have waged a propaganda campaign over the past few decades with one of the primary messages being “You can’t trust the government.” They expanded from there to include “You can’t trust experts.” (What do they know about anything?) and “You can’t trust schools” (They are all failing.) and “You can’t trust teachers.” (They are just in it for the money. They need to be easier to fire.) and “You can’t trust government employees.” and many, many more of our social institutions. They didn’t even bother with “You can trust labor unions,” because they had already sold that trope to workers. Imagine that, working people were convinced that labor unions, the only force that could oppose the wage suppression efforts of corporations and their hired government, were not to be trusted. Amazing. Equally amazing is that these people are referring to them selves as “conservatives,” you know, those people who support our basic institutions and social structures over most anything else.

But, when they said “You Can’t Trust the Government” what they really meant was ““You Can’t Trust the GOP to Run the Government.” A case in point, one of many, is the Secretary of State of Mexico was visiting and had meetings scheduled at the White House. A member of “The Media” (Oh, “You Can’t Trust the Mainstream Media.”) called the U.S. State Department to find out why the Mexican Sect’y wasn’t meeting with our SOS; they were told “We were unaware he was visiting.”

Think about this: a political organization which has a platform that you cannot trust the government gets in charge of said government, which do you think they are more likely to do:
a. perform their duties to the best of their ability, or
b. mess everything up so people will be more disgusted and more untrusting of their government.

If you think the answer is “a” then the “best of their ability” is woefully short of the mark and constitutes a danger to all of us. If you thought the answer is “b” then we have elected gremlins to our highest offices.

In either case, boy, are we fucked.

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