Class Warfare Blog

April 29, 2018

Wither Public Education?

I was reading a comment recently that in the U.S. no one expects to be given housing or food and drink or medical care, but all parents expect their children to be given a good education. The “why” of this was immediately apparent … because we have already paid for it. Education is funded through property taxes and state taxes with a smidgen of federal funds thrown (but always with strings attached, so those are not funds to support ongoing efforts). If you are a homeowner and say that you are unfairly singled out for these taxes, please realize that those of us who do not own our homes (of which I am one) pay rent, which is used by the rental unit’s owner to pay his property taxes. And we all pay income taxes or other taxes to our states. We are also not paying just for our own kid’s educations, but everyone’s, as part of the commonweal.

So, in our “pay as you go” culture, we have paid for the “go” but it is currently under attack.

As a scientist and a trained meeting facilitator and a sports coach I know that the most important part of solving problems is the careful elucidation of what the real problem is. If you misidentify the problem, the odds of you solving it plummet.

With regard to public education, the problems have been misidentified for years. Starting roughly in 1983 with the publishing of a major (and very flawed) study given the title of “A Nation at Risk,” which launched the false narrative that American public schools were failing, a systematic false narrative about “the problem” was being proffered. The nation, at the time of that study, was in the throes of a recession, and the authors of the report blamed the schools, which is patently stupid because the lag period between youths being in public schools and being out in society where they can have a major impact on the economy has to be measured in decades. Nothing happening now could be caused by the state of schools now; twenty years ago, maybe.

In any case, since that time a major disinformation campaign has been continuously waged against public schools (they are failing and the sky is falling, too). The current object of that campaign is to “privatize” public schools so as to extract profits from them. The justification for the profits is as spurious as the disinformation about what is wrong with our schools. The justification is that “market forces,” aka “school choice,” will solve all of the problems. This is a belief in what I call “market woo” and really should be advanced by “experts” dressed up as witch doctors because it has as much value as does spiritual medicine. The real justification for the profits is the profits themselves. Being able to extract profits from the huge pile of money set aside to educate our kids is the primary motive and it has the oligarchs drooling.

As to the “real problem” with public schools I offer the following: if you segregate out public schools in relatively wealthy parts of the U.S., you will find that they perform at very high levels. Massachusetts public schools, for example, perform on international tests higher than the current darlings of those tests, e.g. Singapore, Finland, etc. This fact alone obliterates the claim that government cannot do public schools well.

Now, if you think I am going to follow this up with a claim that schools are underfunded, you will be quite wrong. They are often underfunded and that is part of the problem, but school funding alone will not make the schools that are not performing at a high level do so. (The wealthy cannot claim that school funding is not an issue when they are sending their own children to schools that have very high levels of funding.) Careful studies show that there are real roadblocks to performance in schools. (Hint: teacher competence is not a major concern here, even though that has been part of the misinformation smear campaign of the oligarchs.) The roadblocks are poverty, racism, and violence. In school districts where the students are chronically hungry and receive threats of violence on a frequent basis, we now have solid research showing that almost nothing else can be done to raise performance up to the levels of schools in which these forces are absent. Asking the schools to fix these problems is stupid. We can ameliorate them a little. We can escort students to and from schools, but they are being preyed upon in the neighborhoods as well. Fear for one’s physical safety is an all-consuming distraction. We can provide school breakfasts and lunches (and I recommend we do that for all students) and by so doing that we can ameliorate the effects of hunger on being able to concentrate in class. (My son wrote a history of school lunch programs, so we have a great deal of history with regard to what does and does not work in that, plus we have examples in other countries as to what is possible.)

It is now clear that the “reformers” claims of the value of vouchers and charter schools are bogus. These “solutions” were proffered as solutions for “the problem.” Since the problem was a false construct in the first place, the solutions were hardly likely to work and have been proven not to. They also have unleashed a tide of corruption as fly-by-night charter operations which have bilked states out of many millions of dollars. This has become such a common event that a premature closing of charter schools has become commonplace.

This is a con, pure and simple. The con artists (in order to extract our money) established “the problem” and “the solution.” (Any time the problem and solution come from the same source, you know it is a con.) The con artists did a good job of obfuscating who is behind the scam, but we can see it all now. And politicians, who are receiving “campaign donations” from charter schools(!!), are always willing to “serve the public” by giving us what we want: “school choice.” But we don’t want school choice, that is their solution. We want the good education for our children that we have paid for.

A careful consideration of the real issues shows that the “crisis” in our schools was not there in the first place. The real problems center on inconsistency. We demonstrate, on a daily basis that we can “do” public schools very, very well but we also demonstrate that we are willing to accept a very much lower standard of performance in some schools. Much of this attitude is racist and some is politically and religiously motivated, but it does not solve “the problem.”

If we want to continue the “pay as you go” system we have created, with all of its incentives, what is the incentive in crippling some of our citizens with a poor education, so they cannot earn enough to pay for a decent life for themselves and their families? The answer is that there is none, that the effort to undermine the education of the poor is fueled out of animus and this just has to stop.

We can start by “calling bullshit” on the public education reformers. If you need any ammunition, any of Diane Ravitch’s recent books will do (Reign of Error or The Death and Life of the Great American School System, etc.) And do realize that our democracy is teetering. While we should be making efforts to strengthen it, it is being undermined by authoritarian rich assholes and one of their leverage points is public education. Privatize that, let public schools wither away, and our democracy is in extreme peril.


October 30, 2017

A Viable Way Out of this Mess

I have been reading and hearing a lot of wishful thinking surrounding Mr. Trump of late. Most of the thinking focuses on removing the president through impeachment and trial or via the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

President Midas … er, Trump

Neither of these paths are at all attractive to my mind.

Consider the 25th Amendment route to removal of the President. In order for the scheme to work, a two-thirds majority in Congress of both houses, have to assent and that is after the Vice President and “a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments” have attested to the president’s unfitness for office as I am fairly certain Mr. Trump won’t off himself. Lots of luck with that as the Republicans hold solid majorities in both houses of Congress and most of the members have enough intellectual energy to light a match, so will probably shy away from voting on anything controversial that doesn’t involve a tax cut for the rich or the striking of Mr. Obama’s name from a post office or other edifice.

The impeachment path is even scarier. Gee, make Mr. Trump the center of attention … for months. Oh, he will hate that … not. And who is to say he won’t win? And nothing, absolutely nothing will get done for months.

The only viable path I can see out of this mess is to make Mr. Trump irrelevant. He continues to be President, head of state, head tweeter, etc. He gets to pardon the turkey, light the Christmas tree, etc. But otherwise, Congress ignores him and the military ignores him.

You see, if Mr. Trump is overtly removed from office, his supporters will be permanently opposed to anything we wish to do for the foreseeable future. They will rightly see this action as “not giving him a chance” and a “witch hunt,” etc. Mr. Trump is an outsider to Washington politics (all politics for that matter). He was elected because of that. If he is politically lynched it will appear to be a classic “the Empire strikes back” move of the “insiders” and Mr. Trump’s supporters will feel thoroughly dissed (correctly so).

This is not something that “we the people” will get over easily. I have argued that not only should Mr. Trump’s votes be counted as a vote against the status quo but also all of Mr. Obama’s. Think about it. This deeply racist country elects a Black president? Is there any greater statement of displeasure with the status quo.

The status quo involves the rich getting richer at an alarming rate at the expense of the rest of us. This has been going on for the better part of 40 years and people are really, really (really!) feeling it and they want it to stop. Even if you think that Mr. Trump’s selection had a snowball’s chance in hell of actually reversing the disparity of wealth in this country, that was basically what was fueling his election.

Removing him directly would therefore be a big, big mistake.

The few sane Democrats and Republicans have to get together behind the scenes and get a few things done but mostly they need to sit on their hands with regard to major agenda items as little good will come from their pursuit. Allow Mr. Trump his platform and move beyond him in the next election.

The Republicans will have little problem putting up some other candidate for president in 2020. The accomplishments of Mr. Trump will be mostly destructive (people can’t sue their banks, businesses are free to pollute, etc.) and the claim can be made that Mr. Trump wasn’t a real Republican (by the other candidates, not the party). It is curious that Bernie Sanders got hit repeatedly for not being a real Democrat when Mr. Trump was less involved with Republican politics than Sen. Sanders was with the Dems (who caucused with the Dems), yet Mr. Trump was never attacked as not a true Repub.

Possibly when Mr. Trump’s tax plan goes down in flames, or worse actually gets passed (What will the Repubs say when people’s taxes go up?), the Repubs will be motivated to sideline Mr. Trump.

October 6, 2017

Supreme Court Takes Up Gerrymandering

Filed under: Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 10:20 am
Tags: , , ,

There was an article in the NY Times today with the title “How Computers Turned Gerrymandering Into a Science” which coincides with a Supreme Court case regarding hyperpartisan gerrymandering of voting districts. The two are related; I will explain.

The Constitution requires there to be a census every ten years (the first was in 1790 and there were almost 4 million citizens) and immediately after each, the lines of all federal voting districts need be adjusted because our political representation is weighted by population. The House of Representatives districts are both by state and by population, but basically the current situation is roughly that the US population is divided by 435 and that gives a number of people that are needed to make a congressional voting district. Currently, there are five states that have only one congressman (but two senators!) while California has 53 congressmen (I think). In the states that have more than one congressman, voting districts are designated. A number of states have just two congressmen and allow the entire state to be the voting district for each (as it is for all senators). In states with many congressmen, geographical districts are created and the voters in those districts decide who they want to represent them, which is where gerrymandering comes in. There is very little in the way of guidelines for this process, so the political parties have developed more and more clever ways of redrawing districts to their advantage. This the GOP did after the 2010 census. It actively focussed on winning over state legislatures, which control the redistricting process and then invented new ways to create districts which create more legislative seats for them. Basically, if a state were divided 50:50 between the two major political parties, the thinking of the founding fathers was that each party would get 50% of the representatives. But, with sufficient information, one can draw districts in which one’s opponents are heavily concentrated in a few districts, but quite diluted in many, resulting in something nowhere near the 50:50 split desired by the system.

This is the source of both the Supreme Court case and the Times article.

The information to do this district manipulation has been available for a long time but the ability to process it and draft districts to ones advantage has been quite rudimentary with the ability to see many maps from which the most advantageous can be selected has only been available recently, with the advent of computer processing. This manipulation of the process has been used not just to advantage political parties (both are guilty of this) but to disadvantage voters of color, for instance.

This new level of district drawing abilities supplies us with a solution to this problem. Instead of handing the redistricting process every 10 years to the political parties in control of each state’s legislature, resulting in political and legal battles lasting the entire decade, we can have the entire process computerized. We only need to define the algorithms by which the computer draws it’s maps and these are basically principles, principles of fairness, principles of expediency, principles of geographic location, principles of continuity, etc.. So instead of a city of Democrats being lumped into a single district and the entire rest of the state carved up into Republican districts, the city can be segmented into districts, mixed with suburban votes, resulting in a distribution of legislators close to the distribution of voters in each party, what was originally intended.

When the Constitution was drafted this wasn’t possible. In fact the political parties didn’t exist per se and many of the framers did not want them and their influence in the first place. Well, we do have them and we need to curb their anti-democratic urges and now we have the ability to do this, easily, without resorting to bipartisan commissions, etc. This is something that should be as regular as the posting of the annual schedule of a sporting league and not a running political battle decade after decade, requiring the frequent intervention of the courts. This is a bureaucratic task, not a political one.


September 29, 2017

Major College Basketball Scandal Adds to Previous One

There is currently an ongoing FBI investigation into payola in college basketball which is going to result in a number of firings (already begun) and people going to jail (coming soon). In the FBI’s investigation, a shoe company and sports agents illegally funneled money to athletes and athlete’s families in the hopes of reaping a reward later.

Asked to comment, Hall of Fame NBA player and now commenter, Charles Barkley said amongst other things “the value of a free college education has been undervalued” as part of his criticism of the players involved. I happen to like “Sir Charles” because you never have to wonder what he is thinking; he will tell you. In this specific case, though, I disagree. You see the college education he speaks of isn’t “free.”

Basketball players receive “scholarships,” with the NCAA (one of the college sports governing bodies in the U.S.) limiting the number of scholarships to 13 in Division 1 teams (the most competitive). The scholarships often cover tuition, and room and board, and a miniscule per deum, which is what Charles thinks is undervalued by the athletes who took money on top of that. The “scholarship” is really in exchange for the athlete’s services. I had friends who were in college on scholarship, who then had an accident and couldn’t play and voila, they no longer had a scholarship. The scholarship is contingent on the performance. Get cut from the squad and often there goes your scholarship. So, it is not free, in fact it is quite expensive. I played Division II basketball in college at a school which did not offer scholarships. During the season (roughly half the year) I spent three to four hours a day practicing. (Today that is minimal as there are weight and flexibility programs and team meetings, etc. added in.) This is equivalent to working a full-time job for about four months. So, an “opportunity cost” is that one cannot use that time to otherwise gain wages. (Over four years that is a years wages, plus.)

Consider the University of Kentucky basketball program, which in 2014 grossed $40 million and made a $24 million “profit.” (This is just the most obvious program I could find numbers for. Smaller programs don’t make anywhere near this much money, but …) NBA teams pay out half of their gross as salaries to players. UK pays none of this as salaries. I don’t know whether the program reimburses the university for the tuition of the players, I think “not” but it doesn’t matter, as the $24 million in “profits” goes into the university coffers. If, as in the NBA, UK were to pay its players half of what the program grossed, they would be paying the 13 players $20 million dollars in total or $1,538,000 each (note they could afford that).

If one estimates tuition at UK at $25,000 per annum and living expenses at another $25,000, then the cost of the college educations for the entire team would be $1,300,000 or $238,000 less than each player made for the university that year! Each player made enough to fund the entire team’s college educations!

This is why generalities like “the value of a free college education has been undervalued” are not helpful, because the players aren’t spending $50,000 for their education, they are spending $1,538,000 each for their educations. How is that undervaluing the cost of their educations?

Note that the program still had $16,000,000 to cover expenses, including grotesque overpayment for the coach, and would have had a $4,000,000 profit anyway were they to have done this.

Now, some of you will surely say, but Steve, those “profits” go to support the university’s other teams, the ones, unlike football and basketball, which do not make a profit. So, you are saying that exploiting the football and basketball players is acceptable because it supports minor sports? Is that what you are saying?

I mentioned I played NCAA Division II basketball. One of my years, the team made it to what was then called the Small College “Final Four,” so it had some success. We played our home games in a gym that would house about 800 spectators and students got in for free with an ID card. We often only drew 300 for a game. None of the college’s sports offered scholarships and none of the sports made a profit. None of the games were shown on TV (the source of the bulk of the monies made by college programs). The college offered these programs as part of its educational programs (plus it was good marketing as it placed the college’s name in the newspapers). The uniforms were the same one’s the team used last year. The shoes we bought ourselves. The coach taught the team as part (not all) of his teaching load with a bit extra for the extra hours involved. When we traveled we had team blazers to wear in public, the same ones that had been worn for decades. I am not saying this to show the nobility of the effort, I learned a lot and had a great deal of fun while sweating a lot and bleeding a little. The only reason the “major” colleges spend so much on their programs is because of the TV money. They are competing for the TV money because it is so lucrative. The money “earned” off of the players sweat can be used to support all of the other programs, thereby relieving the university from having to pay for them. The way I played was the way it was in the early days of college athletics. Now, TV money has made universities greedy, to the point that the highest paid public employee in every state of the U.S. is now likely to be a major college football coach. The coaches cash in, but the players, well, they shouldn’t be corrupted into thinking their participation is a job, even though other students toil away on campus, doing jobs that need doing and they get paid. And the difference is?

Hey, if the program can’t afford it, then it can’t afford it, but for the major college programs which can, well this is the big scandal. If those kids, often Black kids from very poor families, got paid a small fraction of what they made for their schools, then there would be no incentive to take payola from shoe companies and shady sports agencies.

They work. They make money for their employer (virtually the definition of economic work) and they are woefully underpaid. Pay them.


September 14, 2017

How Will We Pay for It?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:58 am
Tags: , , ,

Now that healthcare as a right of citizens is becoming viable, there is much public hand wringing along the lines of the question “How will we pay for it?”

Hello? This is a stupid question.

Currently, people’s health insurance is provided by:
Employer  49%
Medicaid  20%
Medicare  20%, and
Other Public  2%.
Add all of those up and you get 91%

The 49% provided by employers (actually almost always a negotiated fringe benefit, so this is part of their employee’s compensation, so it is the employee’s money being spent by the employers) is provided through insurance companies which extract profits from the system. In a national system, the monies currently going to profits, can go to cover the 9% not currently covered. The only political problem is the redistribution of those monies.

The money formerly paid out as a employee fringe benefit to insurance companies, will be paid instead to the employees who will, in turn, pay taxes sufficient for their coverage. Considering the amount of waste, fraud, abuse, and profit taking in the private health insurance business, after their taxes are paid, there will be money left over in their household budgets. The only people who do not benefit in this are the insurance companies currently making too much money for processing too little paper. The people actually delivering the medical services will not change. (It’s called cutting out the middle man, people.)

To those who argue that this gives government too much control over people’s healthcare, tell that to the people getting Medicare and Medicaid, who are all happier with their coverage than other folks. And if you are going to make that argument, then you have to agree that the militaries of this country are socialist and we give too much control over the military to the government, and….

The government is “us,” people, just “us.” It is as good as us, as corrupt as us, as well-meaning as us.

August 9, 2017

A Modern Quandary

I have been reading “Sociology is a Martial Art: Political Writings by Pierre Bourdieu.” This is puzzling to me because I haven’t been having any trouble sleeping, so why would I want to read a sociology text? (Sorry, old joke.)

In a context different from the one I will address in this post ( his was the impact of television), Professor Bourdieu wrote “How can I reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number?” His concern was that the primary function of television seemingly was to dumb down even simple discussions. Here I want to address the topic of the anti-evolution crowd and the anti-climate change crowd.

Without specialized training, it is hard to follow the science in these fields. I have a graduate degree in chemistry and I am not versed in the nuances of either subject (although I guess I could create a small summary of each). So, without esoteric training, how are the citizens in a democracy supposed to assess the validity of such concepts.

We could start with having better basic education, explaining that a scientific theory is a mechanism that explains a great many facts as well as makes predictions available to expand out knowledge. Currently people use the word theory as a synonym for “wild ass guess.” “I have a theory about that …” they will say. No, they don’t. At best they have an hypothesis and more likely they have a guess that is poorly substantiated at best. To say one has a “theory” makes one sound better than to say “I have a guess as to….”

It also does not help that each topic has a cadre of sociopolitical opponents. If the Theory of Evolution is correct, all of fundamentalist Christianity and most of doctrinaire Christianity is off to a rubbish heap somewhere. Basically, if God didn’t created humanity magically, we couldn’t have “rebelled” against his authority, so there was no original sin, and hence nothing for the human sacrifice that was Jesus to absolve. (Bye, bye!)

Climate change has political opponents who have economic stakes at risk. The Koch brothers fund anti-climate change efforts to protect their oil refining, oil pipeline, and other industries, while David Koch supports NOVA science education programs on PBS, including programs on climate change (possibly as a suppressing maneuver?).

So, ordinary citizens are left to evaluate what appears to them to be a propaganda war. “Scientists” have lied to them before as have businessmen, so it is hard to decide which side of either of these debates is trustworthy.

I find the argument that climate change was invented for scientists to be able to secure grants for their work (It is a hoax!). Whoever invented this red herring obviously has never interacted with scientists, each of which has a big ego, and the first of them to discover such a plot would gleefully expose his colleagues to shame and humiliation for participating in it. Most scientists minored in gloating in college.

So, what’s a citizen to do?

I think part of the problem has to do with the evidence not being on display. I hear Christian apologists often ask the question: Where are the transitional fossils? This questions goes back to the time of Charles Darwin when there was a very sparse fossil record. The key facts that the public needs to know is that fossils do not form all that often, so are passably rare and that with regard to transitional fossils, fossils that show one species transitioning to another, there are large numbers of them available. Maybe a video (to reach the masses) needs to me made of the amount of evidence underlying the Theory of Evolution. The amount of evidence, from many, many different and unrelated fields of science is incredibly vast. Just a list of peer-reviewed articles supporting the theory scrolling on like the credits of a Hollywood movie (like they do on TV, at super high speeds) would take hours. Flashing photos of all of the fossils that apply to animals no longer in existence but which fit into the evolutionary family tree of Earth, would also take quite a long time (blink, blink, blink, maybe a running counter would help: 1, 2, 3, …, 3008, 3009, …).

The same could be true for Climate Change. We could run publicity shots of the smiling faces of the scientists in the field who support the tentative conclusion that humanity is contributing to the current round of climate change (blink, blink, blink, maybe a running counter would help: 1, 2, 3, …, 178, 179, …). Then the photos of those reputable scientists who oppose the current consensus on climate change could have their photos flashed (blink, blink, blink).

There is no way ordinary citizens could be brought up to speed on these topics through educating them, because even with the head start in such training I have, I do not want to put in the effort. Instead, I trust the scientists in their field to represent their findings correctly (to the best of their ability) and I trust the egos of their colleagues to prick any intellectual bubbles that are flimsy or unfounded.

Another route might be to create an independent evaluation board to provide basic explanations of science topics to legislators and citizens. The Town of Brisbane, Australia did this a while back (don’t know whether they still do) when they created the office of Town Scientist whose job it was to explain scientific topics to the town governing board and citizens of the Town of Brisbane. For the longest time the State of California had an independent political official whose job was to explain issues voters needed to address and that office was never politicized or demeaned, and it worked really well for quite some time (don’t know whether it still does).

This is a modern problem, because back when “governance” was by autocrats/monarchs, they didn’t give a fig about whether the people understood or not. Ironically, it was the advent of merchants (aka business people) who accumulated wealth (aka power) enough to make it important that a wider swath of a country’s population be made to understand governmental decisions. With the advent of modern democracy, issues are now submitted to the ballot and candidates for office are voted upon, too. We need to figure out how to “reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number” and we need to do it fast. Life ain’t gonna get simpler.

April 23, 2017

A Vision of Rational Decision Making Denied

In a comment on another site, I stated that I had an overarching goal for my teaching “career,” which was the promotion of rational decision making and that I retired from that profession a defeated man. In my last post I commented that “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.” We are social animals; we work better in groups. Now we find that we even think better in groups.

My work on rational decision making lead me to this same conclusion. You see, we invested in “interest-based decision making.” This came about as an investigation of less confrontational collective bargaining processes, but we realized it applied to all collective decisions.

I will not bore you with regard to the details of this process but I will point out two of the keystones. The first is that at the beginning of every decision-making process was a complete investigation of “the problem.” Before a problem could be addressed, everyone needed to know what it was and understand it, so this took up much of the “decision-making time.” It also paid immediate benefits. Groups did come together to “address an issue” only to find out that when they tried to clarify it, all involved decided it was not a problem. In one case labor and management came together to solve a problem only to find out that for management, there was no problem, that the problem that labor had to resolve. Management offered support but felt it was not a “stakeholder” in the issue, so should not be making any decisions about it. Labor concurred.

The second keystone was before solutions to identified problems were explored, the “interests” of all of the people involved had to be shared. These were the conditions and reasons that any solution had to satisfy to be viable. Typically, all solutions had to be affordable, had to not break laws, etc. But when exploring the interests of a group, interests like “being seen to be playing fair” arose, as did “fulfilling fiduciary responsibilities,” and “displaying competence.” This part of the process was called “putting the why before the what.” This was especially important for people just “wanting to have a seat at the table,” to be involved. Many people want to be involved, but if the do not have any interests a solution needs to satisfy, they aren’t a stakeholder and do not need to be involved.

This process seems, from the outside, to be cumbersome and it can be but is actually very efficient over time. Over time, the interests of groups become clear and known. People show up to interactions having clarified their idea and have brought any data they think pertinent (usually sharing it ahead of time) as to what problems are so that phase can be addressed rapidly. The big plus is that the solutions that come out of this process are just better. they are more accepted by the decision-making group, who share their acceptance widely and that gets people on board and buying in more rapidly. And better solutions need less tweaking and last longer, a definite bonus. Plus, it was easier to recognize good solutions, because to get that label, an idea had to solve the problem and meet all of the interests of the parties involved.

One example of such a solution is that my last employer, a $150 million a year enterprise, never negotiated salaries with labor. The reason? Each labor segment of the enterprise received a percentage of the income of the business. If revenue went up, everyone got raises. If revenue went down, salaries could go down, but in reality, people were motivated to find cost savings so that did not happen but the process was in place if it had to. As a labor negotiator, I was shocked that labor gave up negotiating salary because that was our “big hammer.” We would always save salaries until last and negotiate working conditions, et. al., first. If we were denied any progress in the early stages, the wage demands would get larger and firmer. This was Negotiating 101. But here I saw management and labor jointly trying to solve problems without the “big hammer” hanging over their heads, because they honestly wanted to be good partners and be part of the solutions, not part of the problems. Go figure.

Contrast this situation with the way we “solve problems” politically. We start with a solution. This is often a proposal or a bill. Then we “score the bill,” that is try to figure out what the costs associated with the “solution” are. Then we assess the political viability of the bill. Will there be enough votes to pass it? Will the President sign it? Is a veto override possible?

At no point is there any effort made in sharing the problem or clarifying it for a wider audience. Instead, some simple homily is offered. Often the titles of the bills are telling, “The American Patriot Act” and “The Affordable Car Act,” or “No Child Left Behind.” And that is it. A great deal of scurrying around to get “support” from this group or that is done, but next a vote is taken (or not).

This is amazingly obfuscatory. Historically, communication was poor, so we assumed that our legislators had our best interests at heart and that they understood what the problem and the solution were and would do the right thing. Right. We quickly saw that political deal making and pandering and profiteering held more sway than some “having our best interests at heart.” But we still go about this in the same fashion even though mass communication is firmly embedded in our society.

Imagine that for any problem that legislation might be offered to solve, there were a period in which the problem had to be clarified and explained clearly and publicly. Plus the interests of all parties involved would have to be stated. If some private group, like the AMA wanted to chime in, it would have to state its interests. If that list did not include some obvious interests we know they held, then it would be clear to one and all that that group had “hidden agendas.” Those issues could then enter the public debate. (Anyone who thinks that the AMA does not have an agenda to protect the employment rights of certified doctors and prevent any doctor not so certified from working, needs to think again. All professional societies have these interests.) Then after these two phases have occurred a work group would be constituted to write the legislation. (We think better together than apart.) We would not have dueling bills, we would have one. That no one party would get all that they desire is probably the norm. That better solutions would be had than just taking the ideas of one or two people and ramming them through, would also be the norm.

Part of the listing of interests, of course, would be a listing of the “campaign contributions” from all parties affected by the legislation to the legislators.

I guess you can see why I feel defeated. I have participated in both processes. One builds relationships, increases job satisfaction amongst decision makers, and creates better solutions that last longer. The other … doesn’t. It is not as if we do not know how.

January 7, 2017

A Thought About the Universal Basic Income, Feminism, and “Family Values”

I just had a massive collision in my mind while reading about the possibilities of having a Universal Basic Income. It was caused by three things colliding simultaneously (a very rare feat, even in physics): the idea of a universal basic income, the feminist idea of a wage for “homemakers,” and a smattering of conservative family values.

As you may recall, conservatives have this ideal family meme that appears to be out of the 1950’s. Mom and Dad live with their two children, a boy and girl, in a lovely home with green grass and a white picket fence defining its perimeter. Dad goes to work, Mom stays at home, raising the kids and caring for the home and Dad. They go, of course, to a protestant church and the kids attend good schools and all is well.

This ideal had a massive dent put in it during the reign of … wait for it … President Ronald Regan. It wasn’t exactly his fault, but Presidents get more of the credit and so get more of the blame, so that principle applies. The lifestyle of middle class Americans had become so eroded and RR had increased taxes enough on everyone (to pay for the tax cuts for the rich)—many people forget about Reagan’s massive tax increases, especially in payroll taxes (which do not affect the wealthy much)—that many “homemakers” found themselves in the workforce and no longer “at home moms.”

Feminists, on the other hand, showed us that women were trapped in this model family, in a role of caretaker for husband and children, with little power over their own lives and family directions. (Studies showed that as women earned more and more money starting in the Reagan years, they had more and more say over the family money.)

So, if conservatives really wanted to support their so-called “family values” (that is, were that support not a scam), why not give all women who have “under 18” children at home, a Universal Basic Income? This would recognize important work the government, that is all of the people, want done well—raising the next generation of citizens. It would clear a lot of people out of the job markets who really would rather not work (at least during this time), which would expand employment opportunities for other people. It would provide for the possibility of the better raising of kids, and it would reduce the wear and tear on mothers, eliminating their need to work, while allowing them to work if they wish but not requiring them to work, if they wish.

This would be “universal” only in that it would apply to all mothers.

And, yes, I can hear the conservative’s heads exploding that such a system would incentivize the lazy and shiftless to keep popping out babies in order to continue on the dole. Obviously, some standards of care for children need to be applied to avoid obvious abuse, but such situations would be rare, very rare, and the idea itself is colored by the imaginations of conservatives, because when they think of such hypothetical people, they are invariably black or brown. They will need to get over this and come up with useful ways to avoid having children abused for economic gain, something conservatives reserve for their charter schools.

Make it work, people! You can do it!

August 7, 2016

Fighting Against the Obvious

It was recently pointed out that a noted economist (Dani Rodrik) has often argued that “markets and states are complements, not substitutes.” Well, duh. It is clear, at least to sociologists if not economists, that without governments there isn’t enough trust in societies to engage in any sort of extensive commerce. Before government control of markets (modern markets, not medieval fairs) most market transactions were more akin to how major drug deals are portrayed in the movies … <cue the edgy music track>: two men with briefcases approach one another, one stuffed with cash, one with drugs. They inspect both to make sure that it was what was agreed upon and not adulterated (e.g. counterfeit currency, counterfeit or diluted drugs). All the while each has guards in place in case anyone wants to pull a heist. Most transactions, even for bunches of carrots were like this: face-to-face with items of equal value being exchanged.

“An obvious conclusion is that for there to be globalization, an expansion of
economic markets to include ever larger groups of countries, you need
more government, not less.”

Even with governmental controls, most transactions had some of this flavor. As late as U.S. Revolutionary times, England had laws requiring some of the commodity being bought being necessarily transferred when the contract was signed (a sheep, a sheaf of wheat, whatever was being bought). This made international commerce somewhat restricted.

Only with governmental security of the contracts, with the force only a government could supply, could make modern markets work at all.

An obvious conclusion is that for there to be globalization, an expansion of economic markets to include ever larger groups of countries, you need more government, not less.

The Republicans and Corporate Democrats (Is there much left of those two parties when you pull out those groups?) are all backers of “globalization” because their paymasters are. (It has been claimed that if the plutocrats didn’t want globalization, the term wouldn’t even exist.) The latest effort to instill more globalization is the TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership which is a pact often compared to NAFTA, the North America Free Trade Act. The TPP which will be rammed home shortly on a tidal wave of corporate money actually says very little about trade but, of course, it is still is referred to as a “free trade treaty” between the Pacific rim countries that are involved. So, if it isn’t about “free trade” what is it about? It largely is a corporate rights document, empowering corporations and disempowering governments. (It was written by the corporations themselves, with no help whatsoever from the uncooperative “public.”)

So, what the corporate backers of the TPP, and their lackeys in the GOP and Democratic Party, are trying to establish is the equivalent to “more globalization with less government.”

As has been shown by economists, not overtly because they, too, receive their funding from the plutocrats, these “treaties” are “good” for the economies of the countries involved. What they don’t bother to point out is who specifically is the reaper of those benefits of the benefits of such deals that accrue. It turns out that these treaties are hugely beneficial to corporations and rich people and hugely harmful for the poor and middle classes.

We often hear about the millions of jobs that have been lost to Mexico because of NAFTA. What we don’t hear about are the millions of jobs Mexico has lost to us. Our cheaper agricultural goods have wiped out many Mexican farmers who have then tried to get across the border to find work in the U.S., thus straining our immigration systems. The jobs move quickly from place to place, but we don’t have the same mobility. If your job moves to Viet Nam, will you follow it?

The TPP is of the same ilk. The rich will get much richer, after all they are few. And the poor and the middle class will become even poorer. But that is their lot in life, no?

This is a form of redistribution of wealth of which conservatives approve. This is why they are willing to ignore the obvious (more globalization requires more government, not less). It is all about the money and really nothing else and the rich, they just don’t have enough of it.

In all such cases in which a tiny majority runs roughshod over a much larger majority, it ends poorly, often with the tiny majority trampled by the many. Can this turn out any other way? When will we begin? (Personally I would like to spare them. They have proven, though, that they cannot be trusted with so much wealth. If we want to save them, we need to tax them back to civility.)

July 30, 2016

Will Anyone Notice?

In this country we have a centuries long commitment to educational fads. We no sooner dump one fad than to embrace another. We have a kind of Pony Express approach to education reform, which unlike the Pony Express, doesn’t really go anywhere.

So, for quite some time here in the U.S. the fad has been “technology in the classroom” which has been recently boosted by a commitment to quite unnecessary group testing which is often computer-based, even though the students being tested often do not have sufficient computer skills.

Well, a recent OECD study (“Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection”) has found that despite billions of dollars of frantic government spending, where information and communications technologies are used, their impact on student performance has been “mixed, at best,” in the words of the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher. “In most countries, the current use of technology is already past the point of optimal use in schools,” said Schleicher. “We’re at a point where computers are actually hurting learning.” and “Technology in the classroom has so far had little positive effect on childhood learning.”

It also found that children may learn best with analog tools first before later adding digital platforms, and that a few hours per week of classroom screen time may be optimal for children, beyond which learning benefits drop off to diminishing, or even negative, returns (my emphasis).

I suspect that in this country, our politicians will listen more to the commercial hawkers of “education technologies” than they will researchers and that we will continue to waste billions of dollars and megahours of student effort, thus harming students, for decades to come.

The irony is the general recognition in this country of the superior educational system of Finland, which bases its educational practices on research, American educational research in the most. But we do not follow, we lead … because we are e-x-c-e-p-t-i-o-n-a-l! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

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