Archive for July, 2013

A white culture of lawlessness?

July 31, 2013

white culture of crime

Click on Video of Violent, Rioting Surfers Shows White Culture of Lawlessness for more.

Click on “…the most violent ethnic group in America” for an earlier post of mine.

Just to be clear, the cartoon and my post are intended to be a satirical comment about how certain types of crime and criminals are treated more leniently than others.  I don’t actually believe that white people as a group are criminal.  Some of my best friends are white people.  In fact, I’m a white person myself.

Click on Mat Bors Archive for more of his cartoons.


Upward mobility in red vs. blue America

July 30, 2013

In what part of the United States do people have the best chance to get ahead—the conservative Republican areas or the liberal Democratic areas?  David Leonhardt of the New York Times, author of a much-read article about the geography of upward mobility, reported in a follow-up article that there’s little overall difference between Red and Blue America.

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The study found that among the 50 largest metropolitan areas, the ones that offer the best opportunities for poor people to get ahead are (1) the best,  Salt Lake City, (2) San Jose, CA, (3) San Francisco, (4) Seattle, (5) San Diego, (6) Pittsburgh, (7) Sacramento, (8) Manchester, NH, (9) Boston and (10) New York City.

The ones that offer the worst opportunities are (41) Milwaukee, (42) Cincinnati, (43) Jacksonville, FL, (44) Raleigh, NC, (45) Cleveland, (46) Columbus, (47) Detroit, (48) Indianapolis, (49) Charlotte, NC and (50) the worst, Atlanta.

Leonhardt commented:

The patterns make sense in light of the four factors the study cited as being strongly correlated with upward mobility rates: school quality; family structure; civic engagement, including membership in religious groups; and the size and geographic dispersion of the middle class. These factors do not strongly favor either conservative America or liberal America.

On the one hand, divorce tends to be less common in high-mobility areas, and Democratic states generally have lower divorce rates. But religious participation, another feature of high-mobility regions, is typically higher in Republican states.  Standardized test scores are generally higher in Democratic states than Republican ones, but several conservative states, like Kansas, Montana and the Dakotas, have high scores, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The study also found that some of the metropolitan regions with a notably small number of middle-class households (based on the national income distribution) and a high concentration of poverty are in blue-leaning states. Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore all make that list.


It’s true that upward mobility is less common in Deep South. (In the 11 states that made up the Confederacy, the odds of jumping from the bottom fifth of the income distribution in childhood to the top fifth in adulthood were only 6.6 percent, compared with 8.9 percent in the rest of the country.)

But mobility was also notably low in Democratic-leaning Michigan and in the swing state of Ohio.  As Paul Krugman noted in his column today, Atlanta and Detroit, which otherwise have little in common, both suffer from low mobility.  And while the Northeast and West Coast, Democratic strongholds, have high rates of mobility, some of the highest rates are in Utah, Wyoming and the Dakotas, none of which have voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in almost 50 years.



Why I like Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism

July 30, 2013

I’ve been interested for a long time in thinkers—seemingly with little in common—who understand that the knowledge of policy-makers is inherently uncertain and incomplete, that knowledge is widely distributed in society, and that a well-ordered must be able to draw on that knowledge.

My list includes W. Edwards Deming, John Dewey, Jurgen Habermas, Friederich Hayek, Jane Jacobs, Karl Popper and the organizers of the Occupy Wall Street movement.   I have long been interested in libertarianism and anarchism because, even though I am neither a libertarian nor an anarchist, I believe they understand this central truth better than conservatives, liberals and socialists do.

twocheersThe newest addition to my list is James C. Scott.  In a previous post, I reviewed his book SEEING LIKE A STATE, which I like a lot.  But for people with limited time, which includes most people these days, I recommend TWO CHEERS FOR ANARCHISM in which Scott presented his ideas in a more readable form, as a series of vignettes and anecdotes.  I read it a few months ago, but I thought it so profound and wise that I re-read it.

He touched on many topics, ranging from everyday life to the nature of political and social change.  He celebrated common sense, local self-government and the creativity of ordinary people, and warned about how we modern Americans have been accustomed to obeying orders and submitting to hierarchies.

He gave two cheers for anarchism rather than three because he does not think that government and hierarchy are always wrong.  But he affirmed the anarchist values of individual freedom, voluntary co-operation and mutual aid and pointed out that even  justifiable restrictions on freedom come at a price.


A critical look at Two Cheers for Anarchism

July 30, 2013

Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six East Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play by James C. Scott;
Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2012. 169pp.
ISBN 9780691155296

Reviewed by Peter Stone

In Two Cheers for Anarchism, political scientist/anthropologist James Scott makes the case for the ‘anarchist squint,’ which is less a theory and more a way of looking at the world. ‘What I aim to show is that if you put on anarchist glasses and look at the history of popular movements, revolutions, ordinary politics, and the state from that angle, certain insights will appear that are obscured from almost any other angle’ (xii). I make no claims to being a master anarchist squinter, but I cannot deny that since I first picked up Scott’s book, everyday life has provided me with many examples illustrating the strengths—and weaknesses—of Scott’s book.

twocheersA few months ago, for example, I encountered a news story about a Dublin grandfather who gave his grandson a voucher from the entertainment store HMV as a Christmas gift.  When grandfather and grandson went to redeem the voucher, the company (which was in the midst of financial collapse) refused to honor it.  The outraged grandfather took three computer games off the store’s shelf—roughly equivalent in value to the voucher—and walked out of the store with them.  Store security followed him, but no arrest was made (arresting the grandfather would hardly have improved the company’s already-tarnished public image), and HMV subsequently decided to honor such vouchers again  (‘Irish Grandfather Defies HMV Voucher Policy,’

This incident seems to bear out well a disturbing and yet undeniable point made by Scott.  Liberal political institutions were supposed to generate channels for correcting injustices and enabling positive social change.  Those institutions were meant to ensure that if ordinary people had grievances, they could find a way ‘within the rules’ to get them addressed.  But things haven’t quite turned out that way, even in more-or-less well-functioning democracies.

It is a cruel irony that this great promise of democracy is rarely realized in practice.  Most of the great political reforms of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been accompanied by massive episodes of civil disobedience, riot, lawbreaking, the disruption of public order, and, at the limit, civil war.  Such tumult not only accompanied dramatic political changes but was often absolutely instrumental in bringing them about (16-17).

‘We are obliged,’ Scott concludes, ‘to confront the paradox of the contribution of lawbreaking and disruption to democratic political change’ (Scott’s emphasis; 17). Sometimes, this involves social movements or large-scale rioting, but quite often it requires ‘what was once called “Irish democracy,” the silent, dogged resistance, withdrawal, and truculence of millions of ordinary people’ (14).  Without the Irish granddads of the world, and the brand of ‘democracy’ they practice, liberal democracies would not function nearly as well as they do.


James C. Scott on Seeing Like a State

July 30, 2013

I’ve posted a lot about dysfunctional organizations, both governmental and corporate.  I recently finished reading a brilliant book, SEEING LIKE A STATE: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, which shows that the things that bother me are not aberrations caused by the Bush and Obama administrations or by current corporate management, but are part of a long historical process.

seeinglikeastateThe author, James C. Scott’s, described how our institutions and ways of thinking evolved to give  rulers the means to monitor their subjects in order to control them.

Not many centuries ago, most people didn’t have surnames and given names, just local nicknames.  In the little town I grew up in, most people were better known by their nicknames than the names than the names on their birth certificates.  This may have been confusing to outsiders, but we knew who we were.

In order for individuals to be taxed and conscripted into military service, it is necessary for the ruler to know who they are.  That is why everyone must have a name that is a unique (for all practical purposes) identifier and, nowadays, an identification number as well.

Odd as it may now seem, there was a time when governments did not have records of everybody’s address (not every location had an address), marital status, criminal record and employment history.   People did not carry identification papers and were not required to show them.

But governments want their subjects to be visible, and over time this process accelerates.  There are benefits to this, of course.  But the more that governments have on file about us individually, the harder it is to escape the web of control.  The  culmination of the process Scott describes is the National Security Agency’s goal of having a data base that includes every human being on the planet.

Administrators’ growing knowledge leads to the pitfalls of what Scott called Authoritarian High Modernism (which Nassim Nicolas Taleb called the Soviet-Harvard illusion)—the application of  theory without a reality check.


The Constitutional remedy for voter suppression

July 30, 2013

      Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, some of the Republican-controlled state governments are going all-out to find ways of discouraging voting, especially by people in categories likely to vote Democratic.

There is a remedy for this already in the Constitution.  The Fourteenth Amendment states that when adults not convicted of a crime are denied the right to vote, then that state’s congressional representation should be diminished accordingly.  Here is the wording.

…When the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial Officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion or other crime, the basis of such representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

This by the way is the only provision of the Constitution that makes a distinction between the rights of men and the rights of women.  Susan B. Anthony objected to it for this reason, and she quarreled with her good friend Frederick Douglass for supporting it.  All this was resolved by the Nineteenth Amendment, stating that the right to vote cannot be abridged on account of sex.

This provision was never enforced.  In the years from 1880 to 1960, voter suppression in the South was much worse than it is now.  The laws and policies that kept black people from voting also kept poor white people from voting.  Fewer people voted in the 1928 presidential election in the 12 states of the former Confederacy than voted just in New York state; if this provision had been taken seriously, these states would have had less representation in Congress than New York.

I doubt the Roberts Supreme Court would be willing enforce it now.  Still, it would be interesting to see what would happen if voter suppression increases and somebody files a lawsuit.


Money really is a root of evil

July 29, 2013

My mother always thought that in an election, all other things being equal, you should vote for the richest candidate.  Her idea was that if somebody already was rich, they would have less reason to steal.

But studies by Paul Piff, a social psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, contradict this.  He found that people in upper economic classes were more likely that ordinary people to cheat, lie and break the law.

Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals. In studies 1 and 2, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies (study 3), take valued goods from others (study 4), lie in a negotiation (study 5), cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize (study 6), and endorse unethical behavior at work (study 7) than were lower-class individuals.  Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.

via Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior.

 Just feeling wealthy, even with Monopoly money, gives people a greater sense of entitlement and lessens consideration for others, Piff found.

The old Stoics believed that wealth and good fortune were as at least as great a test of character as poverty and misfortune.  They were right.

Click on Rich More Likely to Behave Unethically and Yes, Virginia, Rich People Are Not the Same as You and Me for more.

Upward mobility isn’t the most important thing

July 29, 2013
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It’s good if hard-working talented people can rise in the social scale.  But measures of social mobility shown on the map and the New York Times link in the previous post are not measures of objective well-being.  They only show how many Americans improve their income ranking compared to other Americans.  They do not show how well we Americans as a whole are doing.

Improvement in income ranking is a zero-sum game.  For everybody that rises to a higher percentile in income rank, at least one other person must fall.  Nothing wrong with that—but how Americans are sorted into winners and losers is a different question from whether Americans as a whole have an opportunity to better their condition.

The United States in the early 19th century was justly reputed to be the best country in the world for working people, at least for white working men.  The American dream was not just that an unschooled rail splitter like Abraham Lincoln could become President of the United States.  It was that all rail splitters could earn a sufficient living to support their families, and could expect their children could have better lives than they did.

It’s better to have fluid economic classes than hereditary poverty and wealth.  But it is more important to have a system in which all hard-working, law-abiding people can have a decent standard of living and realistically hope for a better future for their children.   It matters little if a select few can aspire to wealth if the economic system is set up so that a large, fixed number of people are going to be poor.


Where you live and how far you can rise

July 29, 2013
inequality map 630

Click to enlarge.

The New York Times published a much-discussed article showing that the odds of American children rising to a higher income bracket than their parents vary widely depending on where they’re born.  There’s enough food for thought in the article and the accompanying map to keep social science researchers busy for a generation.

Click on In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters to read the full article.  The map with the original article is interactive, so if you’re an American, you can see how much income mobility there is in the metro area closest to you.

It isn’t hard to understand why there is little opportunity in some of the former one-industry towns of the Midwest Rustbelt, where the one industry has closed.  The Deep South has long been a region where hereditary wealth is respected and leaders try to attract new industry with promises of low wages and no labor unions.  But that is just as true of Texas as it is of Georgia, and Texas doesn’t seem to follow the Deep South pattern.

It’s more interesting to speculate as to why some communities offer so much more opportunity than others.  Is there a common factor that links San Francisco and Salt Lake City?  What do you think?

[Update]  I forgot to mention that the researchers concluded that poor people have a greater chance of moving up when they are intermingled with middle-class people rather than living in concentrations of poverty.  Other things that are correlated with upward mobility are predominance of two-parent families, good elementary and high schools and high membership in church and civic organizations.

High taxes on rich people and tax credits for poor people don’t seem to have much effect, they found; the presence of ultra-rich people and institutions of higher learning doesn’t seem to matter much.  Researchers said counties with high concentrations of African-Americans appear to have less upward mobility for both black and white residents.  This is from the New York Times article.  Click on the link to read it.


An agnostic teaches his daughter about religion

July 28, 2013

John Scalzi is a science fiction writer who has a web log.  Some time back he posted these wise reflections about what he teaches his daughter about religion.

The reason I encourage her to learn about religion, and Christian faiths in particular, is because the large majority of people on this planet follow a religion of some sort, and here in the United States, the large majority of those who are religious are Christians of one sort or another.

I’m an agnostic of the non-wishy-washy sort (i.e., I don’t believe in a god nor believe one is required to explain the universe, but I acknowledge I can’t prove one doesn’t or never did exist) and always have been for as long as I can remember thinking about these things.

John Scalzi

John Scalzi

I don’t see being an agnostic meaning one has to be willfully ignorant about religion, nor do I see my role as an agnostic parent being one where I shield my daughter from the reality that she lives in a religious society.

Where my daughter is on her own journey of discovery regarding faith is not for me to discuss publicly, but I can say that I believe more information is almost always better. 

So when she wants to know about a particular religion or explore some aspect of faith, I encourage her to do so; when she comes to me with questions about religion, I either answer her questions (being that I know a fair amount about most major religions) or help her find answers.

Athena is well aware that I am an agnostic, and what that means, and we’ve explored that aspect of faith (or lack thereof) as well.  I won’t tell you what questions she asks about religion, faith, agnosticism and all of that, but I will tell you that she asks good questions, and for my part I answer them as truthfully and as fairly as I can.

There are a number of people who have come to agnosticism or atheism because of conflicts with or disillusionment about religion, and in particular a religion they were born into and grew up in, and others who are agnostic or atheist who feel that religion and the religious impulse must be challenged wherever they find it.

For these reasons among others I think people assume those people who aren’t religious are naturally antagonistic, to a greater or lesser degree, to those who are.

But speaking personally, I don’t feel that sort of antagonism; I don’t look at those who believe as defective or damaged or somehow lacking. Faith can be a comfort and a place of strength and an impetus for justice in this world, and I’m not sure why in those cases I, as a person without faith, would need to piss all over that.


Wild and wonderful scarecrows of Japan

July 27, 2013



The Syrian conflict and gas pipeline routes

July 26, 2013


Is the revolt in Syria part of an age-old conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims?  Iran and Iraq have Shiite majorities, Hezbollah represents the Shiites in Lebanon and Syria’s government has long cultivated the Shiites.  The rebels in Syria are Salafi Sunni Muslims supported by the Sunni Muslims of Saudia Arabia, the Gulf oil sheikdoms and the Muslim Brotherhood.

But if it is part of an age-old conflict, why does this conflict lie dormant for generations and then suddenly flare up?  Pepe Escobar of Asia Times has an explanation.  He wrote that the religious conflict is being instigated to block plans by the governments Iran, Iraq and Syria to build a pipeline from the Mediterranean to the rich Persian Gulf natural gas field lying between Iran and Qatar.

Yellow lines show proposed pipeline route.

Yellow lines show proposed pipeline routes.  Dark lines are existing pipelines.

The Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline is an economic threat to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms, who are the main financiers of the Syrian revolt.  It would enable Iran to export oil even if the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf were closed.

The proposed pipeline also is contrary to the economic interests of Turkey, whose government supports the Syrian revolt.  Turkey has access to the natural gas of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.  The Turkish government’s goal is to extend a pipeline to the heart of Europe and offer an alternative to Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas.  The Nabucco pipeline could serve Iran, but the Turkish government for now has decided to deny access for now.


What is the national interest of the United States in this?  An Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline would not necessarily compete with U.S. companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.  The gas would only be available to customers that could be reached by the pipeline.  But there would be no detriment that I could see to U.S. consumers.

The U.S. objection is that it would hamper the U.S. not-so-cold war against Iran, which is being waged largely in support of Israel and Saudi Arabia and partly in revenge for the U.S. national humiliation in the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979.  I don’t think economic warfare against Iran is in the interest of the American people.  I think the policy of the United States should be to wind down that war rather than extend it.


Nassim Nicholas Taleb on age and wealth

July 25, 2013
Nassim Taleb

Nassim Taleb

As you age, or get richer, you have more duties than privileges, especially if you have the physical, financial or intellectual means.  There is nothing more debasing than a rich old person trying to hide his age and chasing culinary (and other) pleasures; there is nothing more dignified than an experienced aged person who is now a resource for society (broad or narrow), with the respect-worthy role of the “elder”.  And in general, no privilege without obligation, and no obligation without respect.

             ==Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Hat tip to AZspot.

How to keep unemployment low

July 24, 2013


Click on The New Sick-onomy: a look at the U.S. employment situation by Dan Alpert on his Two Cents web log for a good explanation of the facts behind the unemployment figures.

Click on Summary of U.S. Real Unemployment – June 2013 for an alternative figure by Leo Hindery Jr.  [Added 7/27/13]

Click on Deception in Counting the Unemployed for a profile of Leo Hindery and his ideas by Steve Clemons for The Atlantic.  [Added 7/27/13]

Click on Leftycartoons for more Barry Deutsch cartoons.

Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop

July 23, 2013


Radley Balko has good web log, The Agitator, about the abuse of police power.  Now Balko has written a book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop: the Militarization of America’s Police Forces, which was published his month.  Salon ran some excerpts.  They’re worth reading.

‘Why did you shoot me?  I was reading a book’

‘Oh, God, I thought they were going to shoot me next’

‘There’s always a good time to use a Taser’

Life’s little victories

July 22, 2013





Click on The Official K Chronicles and (Th)ink Website for more from Keith Knight.

The maldistribution of guilt

July 21, 2013

One of the things I decided at a young age was that although I would take moral responsibility for my actions, I would never let anybody make me feel guilty about what I am.

This was partly a reaction against my early religious upbringing.  I learned many good values in my church, such as respect for the dignity and worth of all persons and the duty to stand up for what is right when everybody else disagreed.  But I also took away a belief that guilt holds positive value.

At age 13 and 14, I believed, because I failed to love other people as myself and failed to love God with all by heart, soul and mind, I was a sinner and that it was because of sinners such as me that Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross.  I noticed that in the Gospels Jesus was forgiving of repentant sinners, but condemned people who took satisfaction in following religious rules.   I concluded that the best thing I could hope to be is a repentant sinner, but repentance was of no value if I took satisfaction in being repentant.

I do not claim this is an accurate account of Christian teachings.  But it is what I believed at age 13 and 14, and I do not think I was unique in these beliefs.

guilt2Guilt has a positive function.  If you feel bad about doing bad things, and good about doing good things, you are motivated to do fewer bad things and more good things.  But if your sense of guilt is so highly developed that you feel bad about feeling good, you are trapped in a Catch-22 vicious circle.

Guilt, like many other things, is badly distributed.   Some people have much more than is good for them, but those who need it the most have none at all.

I knew a woman, a person of no explicit religious beliefs, who came as close as anybody I know to being a saint.  She spent decades of her life as a volunteer teacher in New York state prisons, ministering to society’s outcasts just as Jesus did.  From time to time she would talk about how rewarding she found her work and the relationships with the inmates.  Then she would bring herself up short.  She thought that if she found pleasure and satisfaction in her volunteer work, her reason volunteering was selfish and had no moral merit.   Neither she nor anybody else benefited from this kind of reasoning.

I am highly suspicious of anybody to tries to persuade me to do or believe something based on the guilt I supposedly should feel for being white or middle-class or American.  This approach leads me to believe that the persuader has no valid argument.

I think that white guilt—the feeling of guilt for being a member of the white race—is a subconscious version of Christian original sin.  It is based not on what you do, but what you are.

I have listened to liberal white people in workshops confessing that they are all a bunch of racists.  I think such conversations reflect the subconscious notion that feeling guilty has moral value in and of itself, regardless of whether the feeling leads to constructive action.   If you are concerned about civil rights, it should be because you want everyone’s basic rights respected, not because you are trying to get rid of negative feelings about yourself.

Bertrand Russell on action and thought

July 21, 2013

russell-vicky-cartoon-sHalf the useful work in the world consists in combating the harmful work. 

A little time spent in trying to appreciate facts is not time wasted.

        ==Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

What is the purpose of the public schools?

July 20, 2013

CT ct-met-back-school220.jpgIf I had the power to change things, I’d change the prevailing idea of the public schools—the idea that the national purpose of education is to train the work force of the future so as to make this country economically competitive with other countries, and that the individual purpose of education is to give your children a competitive advantage over other people’s children.

If the purpose of education is to gain an individual competitive advantage, it is not enough for your children to succeed.  Other people’s children have to fail.  From that standpoint, the disparity between the schools of the well-to-do and the schools of the poor are not a problem.  If there was less of a disparity, the well-to-do would have less of a comparative advantage.

I don’t intend this as a slur against the well-to-do.   I intend it to show why you shouldn’t think of education in terms of the economic advantages it confers.

The purpose of public schools should be to help children to understand the world they live in.  Yes, of course, this includes the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.  Yes, of course, this includes the skills and habits needed to hold down a job.  It also should include enough about history, civics, literature and science that they are in a position to judge the information and values of our mass entertainment and advertising culture.

Maybe I look at the past through a distorting golden haze (I’m 76), but it seems to be there was a time when these were goals to which we Americans aspired.

How I’d change the public schools

July 20, 2013

If I were President of the United States, I would convene a commission to advise me on governmental policy toward the public schools.  A clear majority of the commission members would be public school teachers with at least 10 years’ experience, who all had won state “teacher of the year” awards.  The rest of the commission members would be people who attended public schools and whose children attend public schools.

teacher public school Billionaires such as Bill Gates are pushing “reforms” such as charter schools and high-stakes testing, both of which are untried experiments.  The purpose of an experiment is to test a theory, and it is foolish to act on the theory before the results are in.  The billionaire reformers want schools to be more entrepreneurial, but a defining characteristic of entrepreneurs is that most of them fail.  That’s why the successful ones deserve our respect.

They may be right in assuming that educational credentials are no measure of classroom competence, but that’s a different thing from assuming that youngsters fresh out of college know more about teaching than people who’ve been doing it for years.


What Teachers Know by Nancy Flanagan for Education Week.

I’m a proud public school teacher; Here’s a glimpse at what I do by a teacher who posts as teacherbiz.

Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools by Joanne Barken in Dissent magazine.

An educational reform that seems obvious

July 20, 2013

If I had the power, I’d give public school teachers who teach in high-crime and high-poverty areas the equivalent of combat pay, so that their wages would be equal to the wages of teachers in affluent, safe suburbs.

Daredevil tire changers in Saudi Arabia

July 19, 2013

These videos show Saudi Arabs changing tires on cars going at full speed on two wheels.

Don’t try this at home.  If you want to see how to drive on two wheels, look at the video below.  But, I urge you, don’t try it yourself.


When higher education becomes a racket

July 19, 2013

The following is from the Albany Times-Union.

The State University of New York at Cobleskill is a dropout factory that lures sub-par students to help it meet the bottom line.

At least that’s how it was portrayed in a federal courtroom this week.

newcoby_logoAs recently as 2007, 70 percent of the school’s entering freshmen never made it to their sophomore year, according to recent testimony in a federal whistle-blower trial. That means of roughly 1,200 freshmen, 840 dropped out.

The revelations came in the middle of the two-week trial in which former arts and sciences dean Thomas Hickey accuses the school of actively recruiting and stringing along students it knew would fail or had no hope of completing degrees in order to get their tuition dollars. Hickey said that included many black students; he also claims he was stripped of his dean position after he raised a red flag.

He called retaining failing students, many with mounting loan debt, to fund school operations a massive “fraud,” and his lawyer, Phil Steck, said it is “low-level corruption.”


Evidence shows that Anne Myers, former vice president for academic affairs, wrote a number of emails in which she said she would lower academic standards to keep students enrolled because the school had bills to pay.

In one email about sub-par students, she said: “We are admitting them to make budget.”

There’s nothing wrong with giving young people a second chance at education if they failed to get a good education in high school.   The problem is that:

  • A college degree is seen as a requirement for getting a decent job, so colleges are filled with students who need the credential of a college degree, but aren’t necessarily interested in getting a college education.
  • College tuition is so high that most young people have no choice but to go deeply into debt to pay college tuition.  Enrolling in college becomes a high-stakes gamble on whether your improved career prospects offset your debt burden, and, inevitably, some people lose.
  • Unethical college administrators admit students that they know aren’t capable of doing college work in order to collect their tuition.  When the mission of the college is to maximize revenue, education suffers.

I think American state governments should create a system of community college and state universities that would provide free or affordable college education to anyone who is capable of doing college work.  This is not a utopian dream.  It was reality when I went to college in the 1950s.  Students who need remedial education should be able to get it in community colleges, and they should bed able to get it without mortgaging their futures.

Click on One and done at Cobleskill to read the full Times-Union article.   Hat tip to Rochester Business Journal for the link.

Click on Bad Education for a broader picture of exploitative higher education in n + 1 magazine.

A new way to nickel-and-dime low-wage workers

July 18, 2013


This is from a report by the New York Times.

A growing number of American workers are confronting a frustrating predicament on payday: to get their wages, they must first pay a fee.

For these largely hourly workers, paper paychecks and even direct deposit have been replaced by prepaid cards issued by their employers.  Employees can use these cards, which work like debit cards, at an A.T.M. to withdraw their pay.

But in the overwhelming majority of cases, using the card involves a fee.  And those fees can quickly add up: one provider, for example, charges $1.75 to make a withdrawal from most A.T.M.’s, $2.95 for a paper statement and $6 to replace a card. Some users even have to pay $7 inactivity fees for not using their cards.

These fees can take such a big bite out of paychecks that some employees end up making less than the minimum wage once the charges are taken into account, according to interviews with consumer lawyers, employees, and state and federal regulators.

Devonte Yates, 21, who earns $7.25 an hour working a drive-through station at a McDonald’s in Milwaukee, says he spends $40 to $50 a month on fees associated with his JPMorgan Chase payroll card.

Click on Paid via Card, Workers Feel the Sting of Fees for the full New York Times article.

Click on More Than 286K People Ask McDonald’s Franchisees to Stop Paying Employees With Debit Cards for more.


McDonalds tells employees to budget better

July 17, 2013


McDonalds has teamed up with Visa to advise restaurant employees on how to lead a good life on a McDonalds wage.

mcdonalds.employeesSome of the things the employees would have to do are (1) hold two jobs, (2) pay nothing for heat or air conditioning and (3) get health insurance for $20 a month.

What were McDonalds’ executives thinking?  Did they actually think their advice was realistic?  Or was this an ill-conceived public relations ploy and, if so, who was it aimed at?

Click on Practical Money Skills Budget for the McDonalds-Visa financial planning web page.

Click on McDonalds Tells Workers to Toil 70 Hours a Week, Use Ripoff Payroll Cards as Part of “Financial Literacy” for Yves Smith’s detailed breakdown and analysis on naked capitalism.

Click on A Model World for Jim Henley’s briefer breakdown and analysis on Unqualified Offerings.


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed and well-fed.
    ==Herman Melville (1819-1892)


[Update 7/19/13]  Click on Minimum wage workers teach economics to the economists for what it means to live on minimum wages.