Category Archives: Parallel Universes

Won’t Back Down From The Hunchbacks

The parent trigger law originated in Los Angeles. The heaviest hitters in the quest to dismantle public education funded it from its inception: Broad, Gates and Walton. The law allows parents of children in public schools to turn the institution over to private (charter) management with a 51% vote. There is no provision in any parent trigger law allowing parents of charter students to vote to turn the institution over to public operation.

After its success in southern California, the American Legislative Exchange Council picked up on it and sought to bring parent trigger laws to other states. They have been successful in getting some incarnation of the law passed in seven of them.

With the sponsorship of the likes of Broad, Gates, Walton, ALEC  and DFER, it is obvious that parent trigger laws are merely a new vehicle by which megabillionaires can ransack the public school systems of the United States for private profit.  One would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to see it this way.

This ransacking of public institutions is the cornerstone of Neoliberalism, a political and economic ideology that has defined the United States for the past 35 years. Its godfather is the late economist Milton Friedman. Its international adherents include third world despots like Augusto Pinochet. Its ideological foundations are underpinned by such third-rate minds as Ayn Rand and her concubine, Alan Greenspan.

It is a naked worship of the rich and powerful. It is the belief that the rich and powerful should control every aspect of our lives.

Unfortunately, the United States has a pesky written Constitution and a Bill of Rights that still guarantee some semblance of popular sovereignty. Unlike Pinochet, the Neoliberals in America cannot merely ram their policies down our throats with tanks.

This is why the parent trigger law is such a grand idea for the Neoliberals. It comports nicely with the trappings of popular democracy by having parents vote. It gives parents a once-in-a-lifetime vote that they can never reverse and turns their children’s schools into institutions over which they will have no say ever again.

It is a maniacal, Machiavellian device. Anyone with a basic familiarity with education policy and recent American history can see it for exactly that.

The good thing is, we live in the United States, where neither history nor education policy exist in the minds of most people.

Enter the upcoming movie Won’t Back Down. The two men behind the movie, Rupert Murdoch of 20th Century Fox and Philip Anschutz of Walden Media, are two of the most retrograde forces in the United States today. Murdoch, of course, has given us such culturally elevating fare as Fox News and the New York Post, not to mention criminal wiretapping. Philip Anschutz is an oil man who funds every anti-gay group in the country, wants evolution to be taught in schools and funds Scott Walker of Wisconsin. He was the man behind the film Waiting for Superman.

Waiting for Superman was billed as the brainchild of Davis Guggenheim. Guggenheim had earned his liberal stripes by producing the movie An Inconvenient Truth. As we know, it featured one of the liberal heroes of our age, Al Gore, lecturing about one of the biggest liberal causes of our age, global warming. When Guggenheim released Waiting for Superman, it was merely assumed by most that its pro-charter, anti-union message was the liberal take on education.

Maybe it was the liberal take on education. But what it really was at its core was the Neoliberal take. Guggenheim might not be a Neoliberal, but Philip Anschutz certainly is. Guggenheim merely delivered a partially staged, over emotional, under intellectual “documentary” case for the Neoliberal idea that anything public is bad and anything run by billionaires is good. It is a funny thing, since it is those billionaire oilmen like Anschutz most responsible for the degradation of our biosphere against which An Inconvenient Truth so passionately inveighed.

Anschutz knows that showing his face publicly to advocate for Neoliberal policies would doom his cause. The public would see him for the utterly deformed character he is. His very presence is a public relations nightmare for Neoliberalism.

This is why Won’t Back Down is his latest way of pushing the Neoliberal agenda. In the place of his emotionally hunchback presence is a cast of beautiful young actors. They have played out a Hollywood script on the big screen that will no doubt evoke visceral support for parent trigger laws. The parents in the movie surely will want the best education for their children. The teacher unions will surely be more interested in protecting their incompetents than teaching. The unions are so entrenched and insidious that nothing but the indomitable will of a few plucky parents can get them to bow. Surely there will be some billionaire hero in the movie somewhere, some enlightened scion of the upper classes willing to provide the type of great school that the children of these plucky parents deserve. In the end, the parents get their great school and the closing credits will probably run to the inspiring tune of Tom Petty’s rendition of Won’t Back Down.

Applause throughout the theater. Applause and tears. Once again, those teachers and their unions are holding us back. They are just so evil and powerful. The billionaires are our saviors. Right under everyone’s radar goes the obvious immense power and influence of billionaires in our country. Never once will that click to anyone. The billionaires will save the day.

The Neoliberal message of billionaire worship will shine through. Ayn Randian lickspittles are going to made out of, what, a million, two million, five million movie-goers. Instead of rolling the people with armored tanks like they did under Pinochet, the Neolibs in the U.S. are rolling us with armored propaganda. It is the American way.

And tonight in Los Angeles is the start of this process with the so-called Teachers Rock event. It is billed as an event in support of teachers. It is being held in perhaps the biggest hotbed of liberal tolerance outside of Frisco: Hollywood. It will feature some of the most powerful liberal do-gooders in the nation: Hollywood actors. It is going to benefit some really do-goody sounding charities like Donorschoose and Teach For America. The beautiful people will be out in force tonight in support of, what, teachers? It is the promotional event of Won’t Back Down, the “movie”.

And behind the beautiful velveteen curtain, behind the million-dollar Hollywood smiles is the deformed, retrograde, hunchback figure of Philip Anschutz. Anschutz the gay hater, ape denier and environment killer. He is using Meryl Streep and Morgan Freeman like he used the cast in Won’t Back Down, like he used Davis Guggenheim. He is using the liberals to cloak the Neoliberalism that is his not-so-secret dream.

And of course it is Rupert Murdoch too. Murdoch the wire-tapper, monopolist and propagandist. And it is the Waltons, the union-busters, small business killers and labor exploiters.

America thinks they are getting the beautiful people of Hollywood. Rather, they are getting that other stratosphere well out of reach of Hollywood, the hunchback, shadowy, Neoliberals of the megabillionaire class. America tonight is not getting the 1%. They are getting the .1%, and they will applaud their own undoing until the very end.

The Disuniting of America

An interesting article I read not too long ago describes some problems with the study of history in the United States today.

The author starts by describing a recent case heard by Montana’s Supreme Court. The court upheld the state constitution’s ban on corporations donating directly to political campaigns. In order to justify its decision, the justices cited many works of history in order to recreate the thinking of the time period in which the ban was instituted, which was almost 100 years ago. As a history teacher, it is good to see courts using history to come to what seems like a just ruling.

However, according to the author, most of the books to which the justices referred were all published before 1977. The reason, according to him, is that books of political history have been hard to come by since that time. Instead, the study of history has been dominated by gender and race. To him, this is an unmitigated tragedy and a blow to the more traditional historical concentrations, like politics, war and foreign relations.

My own feelings on this issue are mixed. History, by its definition, tends to be a conservative field of study. I remember the tragedy of 9/11 taking place during my second year as a history teacher. People were walking around saying “this is the worst day in American history”. Although their feelings were justified given the magnitude of the tragedy, I thought back to things like Pearl Harbor or the Battle of Antietam and realized that there were days when our country had it worse. 9/11 was certainly the defining tragedy of our era, sort of Generation X’s version of the Kennedy assassination, but I will never concede that it was the worst day in our history.

Because history tends to be conservative, it is true that high school and college curriculums used to focus on the doings of dead white men. In order to counterbalance this, the 1960s and 1970s saw a new wave of historians, writers and researchers focused more and more on the struggles of ethnic minorities and women. The pinnacle of this movement is probably represented by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. A walk through the history section of the bookstore, or a quick scan of history classes offered at universities, shows a thriving movement of historical study as seen through the lens of minorities and women.

On the one hand, I believe this movement was necessary because minorities and women were indeed made invisible in the history curricula of old. On the other hand, I sympathize with the sentiments of those who believe that the ethnic and gender movement in historical study has gone too far. The people who believe that it has gone too far are not all right-wingers either. The eminent historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote a book entitled The Disuniting of America towards the end of his life where he bemoaned what ethnic and gender studies have done to history. More recently, one of my favorite historians,  and probably the greatest living expert on early American history, Gordon Wood, has made no secret of his distaste for the same. Conservatism cuts in many ways. Both of these men, while sensitive to the need to include minorities and women in all historical accounts, are merely defending what they see as the dissolution of the traditions that have made history a valuable subject and art form.

A story from my own experience can perhaps demonstrate what these scholars are criticizing. Years ago I had to take one of those graduate level education classes for my permanent state license. Most of my classmates were elementary school teachers in their early-mid twenties, most of them women. One of our assignments required us to give a presentation of a unit we would teach to our classes. One of my aforementioned elementary school teacher classmates gave a presentation about a unit on early American history. I do not remember all of what she presented. What I do know is that, over and over and over again, she said to us “and the Founding Fathers got their idea of the Constitution from the Iroquois.” or “did you know that it was the Iroquois who gave the Founding Fathers the idea for the Constitution?” She said it with rapt enthusiasm. You could tell that she expressed the same type of enthusiasm when she taught it to her own students.

Whenever students come into my class with plain wrong ideas of American history that they picked up from elementary and junior high school, I always think about that teacher. She was referring to the Iroquois Confederacy and how it bears resemblance to the federalist structure of the Constitution, or the division of powers between state and federal government. This was a popular thesis during the 1980s, a time when many ethnic and gender reinterpretations of American history were coming out. Here is the problem: there is not one shred of evidence to conclude that the Founders were at all inspired by the Iroquois. Now, this does not mean that the Iroquois did not have an enlightened and effective system of decision-making, one that united many tribes of the northeast United States. It simply means that there is no evidence of direct influence of the elegant system of the Iroquois on our own elegant system.

The Founders who were at the Constitutional Convention bequeathed to us thousands of pages of writings: transcripts from the convention, newspaper articles debating pros and cons of specific measures and personal correspondences. Together, they give us a wonderful glimpse into the time period. This means not only the things they debated, but the assumptions they held. A close reading gives us a sense of the intellectual universe they shared. One thing is painfully clear from their writings: they moved in an intellectual universe that was heavily European. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, buried himself in histories of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as studies of British common law and the British constitution (which is not a written constitution as we know it), in order to prepare himself for the Constitutional Convention. He was also intimately familiar with the workings of each colonial government, which themselves were heavily influenced by England. Furthermore, the Founders shared the European arrogance towards Native Americans in thinking they were savages with very little to contribute to civilized life, including the workings of civilized government. In short, not only were the Founders not inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy, they had no motivation to be inspired by them.

This is where Schlesinger and Wood believe the ethnic and gender movement in history has gone too far. In a mad dash to give a more prominent place to groups who have traditionally been ignored, our bookshelves and our curricula have been littered with specious and questionable historical theories. By teaching her students that the Iroquois influenced the Founding Fathers, that teacher gave her students an incorrect impression of American history. While we as teachers of inner city students might feel a need to make minorities and women an important part of our curriculum, we also have to keep in mind that the end goal of history is not to boost self-esteem. We merely cannot pervert and distort facts to come to wrong conclusions just to make ourselves and our students feel good about themselves. By doing this, we lose the art, the interpretation and the pursuit of truth that the study of history is meant to be.

In fact, there is no need at all to lie or distort history to give women and minorities a prominent role. Any history teacher that knows the subject will be easily able to provide examples of the contributions of all types of groups to the American story. Lying or stretching the truth only ends up doing a disservice. It is intellectually dishonest. Even worse, what if the student later finds out the truth about a lie they were taught about a woman or minority group? The damage can have long-lasting impacts.

The bright side is that there are still political, military and diplomatic histories out there. They are tougher to find for sure, but these traditional histories are still around for anyone determined enough to track them down. What is more, owing to the push for greater inclusion since the 1970s, these more traditional types of histories are sure to have the women and minority characters that histories of a previous era might have lacked. Gordon Wood himself is a prime example. His breathtaking renditions of early American history seamlessly include the roles of dead white men and women, as well as those dead people of color. Looking at most of the histories associated with the Oxford History of the United States, I would say most of them do the same thing. What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe is especially adept at weaving the experiences of white men, upper class women, free blacks, enslaved southerners, Native Americans and Hispanics into an era of American history that has traditionally been associated with one racist white man: Andrew Jackson.

Students often ask me “when are we going to learn about my people?” This is the type of divisive tribalism that has been engendered by the overreach of the ethnic and feminist movements in the study of history. There is so much I want to say to the student who says this. “Why don’t you study it yourself?”, “who are your people?”  or “what does it mean to have a people?” However, what I often say is “all people are our people”. Anyone who has read history to any extent realizes that it is impossible to separate these people from those people. There are usually six degrees of separation between any two cultures. Somewhere along the way, cultures have borrowed ideas, goods and practices from other cultures, who have adapted it from other cultures. It is common for a student from, say, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic to blurt out “what were my people doing at this time?” when studying ancient Rome. They are shocked to hear that Puerto Rican or Dominican culture as they know it was still a long way off from being forged. That lesson will have to wait until Columbus’ major mistake of 1492.

I fear that this is one of the destructive legacies of the ethnic and feminist movement in history. As the title of Schlesinger’s book, The Disuniting of America, suggests, studying history in this way encourages us to see people as part of an identity. We atomize history into black history, feminist history, Hispanic history, Asian-American history and we lose sight of the fact that we inhabit this country and this planet together. Critics like to call people who study history in this manner “Marxist”, but I doubt Marx or any champion of the working class would approve of dividing people in this way. I would label this merely “liberal” because it is in step with the identity and culture war politics in which elitist liberals of today excel. It is a great way to get the poor classes to divide from each other, argue over what group gets which month and take our minds off of the class oppression that transcends all ethnic and gender identities.

This brings me to another point made in the article I cited in the beginning. The author bemoans how university history departments across the country hire a disproportionate number of Democrats. How he can be sure that this is the case is beyond me. I will concede, however, that most historians I know of and read seem to have a leftist bent. The author ascribes this to discriminatory hiring practices. For my part, I think things are a lot less sinister. Quite simply, historical facts tend to have a leftist bias. As I have heard others express it before, “facts tend to lean to the left.”

It is tough to imagine how one can call themselves an historian and a Republican in 2012. Being a Republican today not only requires the traditional GOP faith in markets and the private sector, but it requires an entire reading of American history that bears no resemblance to any history book I know of. What historian is going to believe, in good conscience, that the Founding Fathers were Christian fundamentalists  who believed cutting taxes for the wealthy and allowing corporations to do as they please was the “American way”? In Nixon’s era, it was possible for one to be an historian and a Republican, since the GOP had yet to go off the deep end at that point. Today, however, you either know something about American history, or you are a Republican/Libertarian.

During the 1970s, well after the protests of the 60s had revealed that the intelligentsia was overwhelmingly leftist, wealthy right-wing interests established an entire infrastructure of their own dedicated to spinning an alternate reality. This included the creation of private colleges dedicated to the teachings of right-wing extremism, like Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. It also included the establishment of think-tanks dedicated to spinning an entire web of right-wing reality, like the Heritage Foundation. These organizations were established because it was feared that the leftist intelligentsia had a hold on the minds of youngsters. During the 1970s, progressive government had been in the saddle for decades, or so they seemed to believe. The youth of tomorrow promised to imbibe the leftist program thanks to liberal universities, then they would go on to be tomorrow’s leftist voters. There needed to be an alternative way of seeing history and public policy, one that could compete with the leftists who controlled the education system. This movement to establish a parallel, conservative universe has been wildly successful. It has been one of the major reasons why ultra-conservative government has been in the saddle since Reagan.

So I believe it when the author of the article says that leftists are in history departments across the country. Liberal arts departments are some of the only places where leftists can wield any type of influence any more. The halls of government are cut off to them, as are the major media outlets. Sadly, the defunding of state universities and the paltry opportunities people have to make a living with liberal arts degrees are choking off even this small enclave for leftists.

What all of this represents, from the way we study history to the way universities hire, is a fracturing of America’s social fabric. The culprits are liberals who partake in identity politics and conservatives who live in a hermetically sealed fantasy world.

What Happened to all the Astronauts?

When the moon was made out of cheese.

ETS recently released a report about the lack of civic engagement of the American child. (Click to watch the video here.)

It asks the question: despite the fact that history is a core subject in most schools, why are only 25% of students proficient in civic knowledge? Apparently, only 24% of 4th graders know why we have a Constitution and 22% of 8th graders know what the Supreme Court does.

These certainly are alarming statistics. It is ironic that ETS, which stands for Educational Testing Services, is bemoaning the decline of civic engagement. While ETS is not nearly as objectionable as Pearson or Wireless Generation, it could be argued that the entire regime of standardized testing that ETS represents has helped along the disenfranchisement of the American citizen. The narrowing of the curriculum to which testing lends itself enables subjects like history, which should be studied and assessed as whole cloth, to be chopped up into isolated bits of trivia. This testing regime goes part of the way towards explaining why children lack civic knowledge

The narrowing that we see today threatens to do away with history as a subject altogether. One of the bromides of education reform is that schools need to prepare students for the 21st century economy, which promises to be a highly technological affair. This means stressing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. ETS is rightfully concerned about the health of American democracy. Yet, the education reformers of today are more concerned with keeping the United States economically competitive. They have shown little regard for activating the American people as citizens. Rather, they are single-mindedly obsessed with activating the American people as the low-paid technological workforce of the future.

Part of this is nothing new. There was a wave of science and math education after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957. Our leaders believed the Russians were beating us technologically during the Cold War. Not to be outdone, President Kennedy promised to land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s by riding a spate of investment in STEM education.

There was a major difference between that wave of STEM and the current wave. When the first people landed on the moon, they planted an American flag because it was the culmination of a civic exercise. The resources of an entire nation had been working towards that moment. It may have been “one giant leap for mankind”, but there was no doubt who out of mankind’s representatives took the credit for that leap: those that lived under the Stars and Stripes. In short, we invested in STEM as a civic exercise.

Today, the justification for STEM education is naked economic interest. We must be able to keep up with our global competitors not as a matter of civic pride, but because we are in danger of losing our spot in the marketplace. There is no talk anymore of producing the next generation of astronauts. Astronauts were intergalactic conquistadors working in the service of a country; a country that was advancing knowledge for all mankind. Today, we tell kids to study STEM because the economy of tomorrow demands it. There is no purpose other than the profit motive.

History and civics were necessary to produce astronauts. Even if the version of America that children learned was sanitized, at least there was the idea that America was worth knowing. People had to have an idea of what that flag on the moon represented.

On the other hand, history and civics is irrelevant in the global marketplace. Business today knows no borders. Products, capital and labor cross national boundaries with ease. In fact, allowing future generations to imbibe the lessons of freedom and justice that come with any sanitized reading of American history might make the low-paid functionaries of tomorrow less than compliant. There is no place for civics in the current Neoliberal regime of education reform. The only subjects worthy of study are the equations and formulas of STEM. The only way to measure learning is the bloodless data of high-stakes testing. The only purpose behind this effort is cold economic calculation.

So, while history is still a core subject in most American schools, it is a subject that is devalued in the sterilized world of education reform.

This leads us to other reasons why the civic spirit is lacking in American children. While it is a cause for concern that less than a third of schoolchildren know about the Constitution or the Supreme Court, it is safe to say that the proportion of adults who know these things is not much higher.

To a great extent, the United States has always been an anti-intellectual place. On the other hand, the era in which we currently live marries good old American anti-intellectualism to widespread Gen X apathy.

Since the 1970s, it has become the norm for voter turnout to hover around 50% even for presidential elections. Congressional and local races are generally much lower. A change happened during that nervous decade. The Pentagon Papers, Watergate and the increasing vulgarity of popular culture gave rise to widespread cynicism among the electorate. All leaders were bums. All politicians were the same. It did not matter which politician’s slop the electorate eats up, for it all winds up the same flavor in the end.

To a great extent, the cynicism in the electorate gets at something real. No matter how well-liked a politician is, there is always the understanding that we are being gamed. Bill Clinton left office with high approval ratings, yet by that time he had already proven to be a philanderer who had committed perjury. His moniker of “Slick Willie” was almost an endearing term. He was the slimy politician that Americans loved to love.

Contrast the benign “Slick Willie” to Richard Nixon’s dark nickname of “Tricky Dick”. By the time he left office, “Tricky Dick” was a term of derision. Nixon was the slimy politician that Americans loved to hate. This is because “Tricky Dick” came from a generation of American citizens who expected more out of their government than they do now. Many people may not have voted for the POTUS, but he was still everyone’s POTUS and deserved respect. People had faith in their government. They were civically engaged.

So America’s children can be forgiven if they do not know about the Constitution or the Supreme Court. Adults tend to only know these things as broken promises. The most enlightened among the electorate know them as noble experiments of a genteel age that have been betrayed by a generation of self-seekers and social climbers. It is not that American adults are ignorant of these things; it is that they have an instinctive mistrust of what they have become.

Is it any wonder that America’s children, who can pick up so readily on the unspoken assumptions of the adults around them, betray the same lack of civic spirit the electorate as a whole demonstrates?

How can we revive the civic spirit? It will not come with more high-stakes tests, even if those tests are in civics. It will not come with new curriculum or new project-based methods of teaching civics. It will not come with making American history and government a double period class in the fashion that math and science have labs.

No, reviving the civic spirit in children will only be possible once it is revived in the adults. There used to be a time when the government exercised its power of public domain over the television airwaves to cover issues of public moment. There used to be a time when the reporters actually investigated instead of accepting the words of politicians and business leaders at face value. There was a time when Americans tuned in to see their astronauts launch into outer space.

Today, all we have on the television is Snookie’s pregnancy or the Kardashians’ bad hair day. All we have in the papers is partisan yellow journalism.

There was a time when a person (albeit, usually a white man) would be able to work for the same corporation for 30 years and then live off a decent pension in old age, supplemented by Social Security. There was a time when Americans felt as if they were getting ahead, before the age of credit cards and debt slavery. There was a time when, with government help, parents would be able to put their kids through college to get the education that was going to improve the life of the next generation.

Today, Americans move from one low-paying job to another. Creditors call their houses seven days a week to remind them of how behind they really are. A college education is no longer the magic bullet for intergenerational progress.

All the while, politicians are telling everyone that things are fine. The economy is always improving, or always on the verge of improving. The Dow Jones is up. Business leaders see bright days ahead if we just give them another tax cut and tighten our belts a little bit longer.

Americans have lost stock in America. Our children sense this and know better than to put any stock in it in the first place.

Sanctimonious Scions of Society (Why “Good” People are so Bad)

Corporate Buddha meditates under a tax shelter.

A great article in the New Republic describes the arrogant corporate mindset that permeates Google and other Silicon Valley outfits:

SEARCH INSIDE YOURSELF is a Zen-like curriculum in “emotional intelligence” that has been taught at Google University to Google employees since 2007. Its central concept is “mindfulness,” a kind of serenely focused attention, and it consists in a series of meditations and mind-body exercises—“wisdom practices in a corporate setting”—that are designed to enhance “stellar work performance, outstanding leadership, and the ability to create the conditions for happiness.” The irony of refining the attention of people whose business is to disperse and even destroy attention is of course lost on Meng, who soulfully includes a prescription for “mindful e-mailing” (“begin by taking one conscious breath …”). Meng does a meditation “every time I walk from my office to the restroom and back.” The restroom, indeed. “Mindfulness,” he explains, “is the mind of just being. All you really need to do is to pay attention moment-to-moment without judging. It is that simple.” (The denial of significant complexity is inscribed in the book’s vrai-naïf style: “Difficult conversations are conversations that are hard to have.”) Owing to Meng’s course, employees at Google get promoted, come to work more often, and have fun. As an example of someone who grasps that “your work is something you do for fun,” he gives—in one of the many unself-aware passages in this manual of self-awareness—Warren Buffett. More than fun, “your work will become a source of your happiness.” And of the company’s happiness, too.

I am pretty sure that Siddhartha did not meditate under a bodhi tree so that corporations can train their workers to be “non-judgemental” and “present”.

The article gets at a fundamental shift taking place in American society: the workplace has become people’s entire lives. Corporations like Google are training their workers to find spiritual fulfillment within the work place, making things like a social life and a family superfluous.

If one has to work 80 hours a week in order to get ahead in the company or, more commonly, to merely maintain their position, then there really is no room to have a family.

Not only does this mindset pacify an overworked labor force, it imbues those who work in Silicon Valley with a vacuous sense of self-importance:

 “Even though I am still very shy, I find myself able to project a quiet but unmistakable self-confidence, whether I am meeting world leaders like Barack Obama, speaking to a large audience, or dealing with a traffic police officer. … In most situations, when interacting with people, I let my ego become small, humble, and mostly irrelevant, while focusing on bringing kindness and benefit to whomever I am interacting with. … I am amazed by how much my simple aspiration for world peace has resonated with so many people.” The man who wrote those words must be insufferable. I have never met him, but I have read his book. It is called Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace), and he is Chade-Meng Tan, an engineer at Google, Employee Number 107, known officially as the “Jolly Good Fellow (which nobody can deny),” whose job description is “enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace.”

The man humbles himself so that he may be exalted.

The engineers in Silicon Valley merely reflect the leading edge of a trend that has been overtaking the entire workforce. Whether one works 80 hours a week or not, those of us who work for a living are having our entire lives dominated by who signs our checks.

With employees being asked for the passwords to their Facebook accounts, or teachers being terminated for what they say on personal time, the American worker has had their civil rights trumped by the prerogatives of employers.

The workplace has become the centerpiece of our entire existence.

In Silicon Valley, where workers are at least decently compensated for their work, we see a scary sanctimony that seems to be becoming more pervasive among the members of the 1 percent.

Being non-judgmental is just plain stupid. Judgement is a fundamental human capacity, something that exercises the more advanced reaches of our brains. One of the first things I tell my classes at the start of the year is that they will be doing a lot of judging. They will have to analyze evidence and information in order to come to inductive answers to questions.

It is sad that this non-judgemental craze has taken public schools by storm over the past 20 years. Kids are trained from kindergarten to not judge or to be “tolerant”. It is designed to have the same impact on them that this faux-Buddhism has on Silicon Valley workers: to silence their inner moral voice in hopes of fostering “group think”. Everything everyone says is great. Every idea is equally valid because, after all, who are we to judge?

This is why so many pernicious and destructive ideas are so easily accepted in the United States. We have been trained to subdue our critical, questioning side. Evolutionists and Creationists, Democrats and Republicans, everyone’s ideas are “equal”.

Yet, when the richies are seized by this idea, it is accompanied by an insufferable do-gooder mindset that paves the path to hell. The article describes Google engineers who are so enthralled with their own enlightenment that they believe whatever services they market to the people must be good. After all, it was designed by “present”, “non-judgemental” people, so the product must be totally benign.

This is the same mindset that runs through all of the education reformers. Whether it is Bill Gates or Salman Khan (is it a coincidence that both of these guys have ties to Silicon Valley?), there is a sanctimonious sense that they truly believe they are working for some higher purpose.

And what about those who disagree with their ideas? Oh, they are just judgemental and petty. They are motivated by selfish ends, like those teacher unions who only look out for themselves. Our morals are superior, so it is justified that we roll right over all critics and protests without a second thought. Do these people not understand that we are trying to save the world?

The scariest people are the ones who are the most convinced of the righteousness of their cause. Sycophants are not only found in religious circles. They are found in Silicon Valley, where people believe they have reached Nirvana. They are found in liberal circles, where cultural identity issues merely mask the class oppression upon which wealth for the few is sustained. They are found on Wall Street, where the religion of economics inoculates even the brightest day-trader to the fundamental destruction wrought by their actions.

Beware of rich people bearing gifts. After they tyrannize their own souls, they will stop at nothing to tyrannize all of ours.

Monday Morning Picture Round-Up

Liberals, Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David: comedic genius, limousine liberal.

The gay marriage controversy is easily resolved. If I were President of the United States, I would issue an executive order legalizing gay marriage in every U.S. state and territory. My decision would be accompanied by a brief speech explaining that, in the United States of America, the government should make every effort to ensure the rights of consenting adults to build a life together in any way they see fit. It is a fundamental American value that government should guarantee “the pursuit of happiness” as an “unalienable” right.

The Emancipation Proclamation, internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and prohibition of stem cell research all flowed from executive orders. Presidents have used the executive order to make sweeping changes to American society before. There is no reason why gay marriage could not or should not be resolved in the same way.

Most importantly, I would legalize gay marriage so fast in order to focus on what I consider more pressing matters.

Yet, over the past several years, activists have been filing lawsuits, judges have been handing down rulings and lawmakers have been working on legislation to legalize gay marriage. President Obama, facing reelection this November, recently came out in support of it. The media has been abuzz with this politician and that politician coming out for or against. In short, a healthy amount of the nation’s resources and attention has been husbanded to the gay marriage controversy. More than one respected source has alluded to gay marriage as either the civil rights struggle of our era, or the gravest threat to American values.

And yet, one wave of the presidential hand can make all of this go away.

A friend of mine said she read a statistic somewhere that most of the legislation that has been introduced and debated by this current Tea Party Congress revolves around abortion or women’s reproductive rights.

This is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Gay marriage, abortion, marijuana and other such issues have been on the lips of our elected officials for a reason: they distract our attention from the grave structural problems that plague our civilization.

Childhood poverty has reached levels not seen since the late 1800s. The American worker, despite skyrocketing productivity over the past 35 years, has not seen their wages keep up apace. The average CEO makes around 300 times their average worker. Many multi-billion dollar corporations pay no taxes. There is no more class system in the United States, only an economic caste system. The financial sector is still largely unregulated; the student debt bomb being the next terrorist device set to explode because of it.

Our elected officials will give impassioned speeches about gay marriage, but when it comes to children living in households where their parents make less than 3 dollars an hour, they are totally silent. Indeed, the longer they can string these culture war issues along, the more they can make speeches about them and ensure that our structural class problems remain invisible.

As much as I would love to blame conservatives for trying to foist their religious fundamentalism onto the rest of us, the lion’s share of the blame must go to those who pass as “liberals” in this day and age. This includes not only so-called liberals in government, but self-styled liberals of the rank-and-file.

In order to test this, find yourself someone who you might consider a liberal and suggest to them that our country has more pressing matters to attend to than gay marriage. You will be met with moral outrage, if not a full-blown accusation of homophobia.

It is symptomatic of what has become of the entire liberal edifice over the past 35 years.

For example, somewhere along the way, the most prominent black leaders started worrying about “the n word” and which corporations were promoting blacks to middle management positions. All the while, almost a third of America’s black population live below the poverty line and the life expectancy of black Americans remain far below the national average. In essence, the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world became preoccupied with issues relevant to the black middle class or, in other words, those with the disposable income to give to their organizations.

One can only hope that Tavis Smiley and Cornell West have breathed new life into the black civil rights movement.

In the same manner, gay marriage has been the issue du jour of the white liberal class. Whether gay, straight or transgender, liberals around the country have mobilized for the fight for gay rights. For me, it is self-evident that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the right to get married. I consider myself a well-wisher of the gay marriage movement.

I can only say that if gay marriage is your number one political concern, you must have a pretty good life.

The people who pass as liberals in this day and age have played right into conservative hands. Liberal leaders have taken their most impassioned stances and scored their biggest victories in recent years on culture war issues. They have scored these victories because, in the end, conservatives have largely allowed them to do so. Allowing gays to marry will not make any deep structural changes to our broken socioeconomic system. That means that, while it is a loss for conservatives, it is a loss they can live with.

We live in an era of decadence, which literally means a “falling apart”. Both the liberal and conservative elite have reached a consensus that radical reform of our system is unacceptable, so they have resigned themselves to tinkering along the edges. While gays will be allowed to marry and marijuana will someday be legal, the economic caste system that rots our democracy will go unchanged.

While the people of France recently elected a new president in the hopes of altering the direction of the European Union, our president is campaigning on gay marriage. While the people of Greece turned many of their austerity hawks out of government, our leaders are garnering votes over the question of whether man came from God or ape. We are, without question, the single dumbest and most vegged out nation in western civilization.

This goes a long way towards explaining what has become of the Democratic Party in recent years. They are a conglomerate of special interests: gays, minorities, environmentalists, etc. Each interest single-mindedly pushes their agenda to the forefront and, at varying times, is successful at getting their pet issue at the center of the public debate. By bringing their issues into relief, the fundamental traditions on which the Democrats used to stand (the New Deal and the Great Society) fizzle away.

Whether one votes Democrat or Republican, the outcome is the same: the economic caste system stands unperturbed. Liberals should not cheer their superficial victories. They should instead mourn the fact that the culture wars are the only wars they have the heart to wage.

Louis CK Discusses Corporate Takeover

A smart discussion with Louis CK on the Opie and Anthony show. It is at the point where comedians make the most valuable insights on American society now. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have more news than Fox. Louis CK has more to say in this 25 minute segment than Rush Limbaugh has said in his entire radio career.

It s ironic how this discussion took place on satellite radio, an irony they point out in this discussion.

I like the part when they talk about being able to fix your car on the side of the road. You used to be able to pull over to the side of the road, fiddle with some some parts and get it working again. Parts used to be hefty and last forever. Now everything is computerized, making it impossible to fix your car on your own. Car parts now are light and flimsy, guaranteed to break after a year or two.

And all of those auto jobs were moved out of Michigan in the name of “progress”.

We all are being forced to belong to corporations. Life itself is being arranged around the demands of a corporate elite. What is marketed as “progress” to us means progress for a very small group of people.

Corporate School Reform, The Final Frontier

I remember my 3rd grade teacher, Ms. 011101101110.

It was announced earlier this week that Philadelphia’s school system is being scrapped. 64 schools will be closed by 2017. To replace them, the restructuring plan calls for building more privately-run charter and cyber-charter schools. The central office of Philly’s school system will be drastically downsized as well. The system will be highly decentralized, giving way to a hodgepodge of “achievement networks”.

This was all brought about by steep state budget cuts that put Philadelphia’s school system in the red some $218 million. In New Orleans, it took the moral indifference of Mother Nature in the form of Hurricane Katrina to privatize the school system. In Philadelphia, it took the moral indifference of lawmakers.

You would think that the implosion of a major urban school system would warrant some sort of national media coverage. Yet, there has been widespread national silence on the issue. I am especially surprised by the silence of President Obama and Uncle Arne Duncan. Their silence, I gather, is tantamount to tacit approval.

Yesterday, Michigan’s House of Representatives approved a bill lifting the cap on online charter schools in the state. Yet, the performance of cyber-schooling in Michigan, not to mention around the country, is abysmal. It is telling that Michigan’s legislature is ramming this law through now, before the end-of-school-year data becomes available that will surely damn the entire idea of online learning.

Here in our beloved New York City, Mayor Bloomberg’s puppet Panel of Educational Policy met last night to discuss the 24 schools it intends to close at the end of this school year. 146 people signed up to speak, most of them teachers, parents and students from the affected schools who pointed out the injustice of these closures.

These school closures and the promise of future budget cuts in NYC promise to increase the number of online classes students take in the future. The public school classroom is under assault all across the country.

This is one of the more dangerous fronts of the education reform movement. While high-stakes testing has been the most visible part of the assault on public schools, online learning promises to be the much more insidious threat in the long run. It is the fastest growing part of the education sector.

That is because online learning is cheap. No buildings, chairs or chalk are needed. Teachers can teach “classes” of 1,000 students. Someone familiar with the online learning wave taking hold in the Midwest explains the scam:

“I’m all for efficiencies in the education system, but if the cyber charter schools can figure how to educate a child for $6,500 in Wisconsin and they’re still receiving $10,000 per student, I want that $3,500 to go back into the student’s education, not the pockets of some corporate shareholders or executives. This is a funding model that is cheating students.”

Online schooling is the ultimate goal of every corporate reformer. Vouchers and brick and mortar charter schools are halfway stages towards the complete computerization of public education. It is the cheapest education to provide and leaves the most possible room for private profit.

This is where Salman Khan’s Khan Academy comes in. The corporate reformers will probably not be able to pull off the complete computerization of public schooling. Too many parents will demand actual teachers, not to mention an actual building to which to send their children while they go to work. Khan’s “flipped classroom” provides this option. Despite his and his sycophantic followers’ claims that they do not aim to replace blood and bone teachers, the flipped classroom model takes delivery of content out of their hands. Videos provide the content and teachers provide guidance on the enrichment activities that follow the videos. Of course, the activities are all designed by Khan’s team of non-educators. The teacher’s role is merely to follow the script and help students through the pre-packaged curriculum. It is the ultimate deskilling of the teaching profession.

This is where the current era of teacher bashing is tending. By breaking teachers down in the public’s eyes, they are preparing the public to accept the idea that pre-fab videos will do just as well or better at actual teaching. Computerized learning has the added benefit of being on the “right” side of history. This is the wave of the future, after all, it is best just to shut up and embrace it.

Those who have never actually taught will never see the craft involved in teaching. Rather than beat a dead horse, please read my post entitled 60 Minutes Worships Salman Khan and So Do You. Of course, if you are already brainwashed by Khan’s smile, the unquestioning adulation he receives in the media and his association with Bill Gates, then there is really nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. After all, I am a teacher and my opinions on teaching cannot be trusted. I am out to protect my job, since no human being can ever possibly be motivated by any purpose other than self-interest. I cannot possibly be motivated by a desire to defend a craft that is as old as humanity itself, or by the knowledge that online learning will exacerbate the educational caste system in this country. After all, Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee send their children to flipped classrooms, not elite private schools with small class sizes and veteran teachers, right?

Let us hope the backlash against this educational barbarism is at hand. The National Opt-Out movement is a great start. We need to opt our children out of online learning as well.

Ron Paul: American Hero

Ron Paul defends the Constitution. He is the only politician (aside from maybe his son) who knows what is in the Constitution and knows what the Founding Fathers were thinking when they were writing it. The same goes for his followers. They are the only ones who care about American values and freedom. If you disagree with them, it is because you are stupid and un-American.

Take a look at the father of the Constitution, James Madison. No Founding Father was better prepared for the Constitutional Convention. No Founder contributed more ideas to that illustrious document. Like Ron Paul, James Madison hated imperialist war, military spending and central banks.

That is until the year 1812. You see, Native Americans had the nerve to attack the white people who came to settle on their hunting grounds in the Ohio River Valley. They were aided in this by the British. What did James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, do about it? He went to Congress and received a declaration of war.

It was clear, however, that the militias called for by the Second Amendment made lousy soldiers. They did not respond to discipline and had a habit of running away when British redcoats came into sight. What did President Madison, Father of the Constitution, do about this? He beefed up the professional military. This not only included the army, but the navy as well. Second Amendment be damned, we needed a military.

After 2 years of fighting, we finally convinced the British to evacuate the Ohio River Valley and stop helping the Native Americans. This opened up the west to white migration. Native Americans would now have to fend for themselves against the flood of settlers coming from the east. Yes, James Madison, Father of the Constitution, opposed imperialist war just like Ron Paul.

All of that war sure cost a lot of money. Not to fear, since James Madison, Father of the Constitution, had a trick up his sleeve. It was called a central bank. Yes, he established the Second Bank of the United States to help us pay down our war debts. That was not its only function. Since our population was becoming more far-flung, the bank Madison created helped fund a bunch of infrastructure projects that helped tie the country together.

You see, Ron Paul is the true heir to the Constitution. He opposes imperialist war, military spending, central banking and federal support for infrastructure. James Madison would not have had it any other way.

Let us also not lose sight of the fact that this was all done so that people could eventually get to land that other illustrious Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, had purchased from France. You see, Jefferson had this weird dream that he would use government funds (my tax money!) to buy land so that he could then give it out to people who wanted to settle it.

But this would only be after he would use some more of that government money to construct public schools on that land. Jefferson had this illusion that the United States should be a democracy and that publicly funded schools would be a vital part of that democracy. People with equal land and equal educations would be, well, equal.

So, you see, Ron Paul is the only person in touch with the vision of the Founding Fathers. He does not believe in government handouts or public education, just like Thomas Jefferson. That is why he named his son after that great American hero of the Revolutionary Era, Ayn Rand. We all know that Ayn Rand also supported central banking, internal improvement, equal land and public education.

Ron Paul is an American hero. His ideas are clearly inspired by America’s founders: Ayn Rand and August von Mises. Like Madison and Jefferson, he is a Christian fundamentalist from Texas who does not believe in evolution. Like George Washington and Patrick Henry, he worships corporations and believes they should be able to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it.

Welcome to the cult-following world of Ron Paul, where American history and values are so precious that we can’t be bothered to actually read about it for ourselves.

You should also check out American History, According to Ron Paul, Sort Of

The Real Welfare Recipients

What do you notice about the majority of states on this list that receive the most federal funding? Yup, they are some of the reddest states in the country.

The top freeloading state in the union in 2005 was New Mexico. Reading the State of New Mexico’s Wikipedia page confirmed my guess as to why they receive such government largesse:

Federal government spending is a major driver of the New Mexico economy. In 2005 the federal government spent $2.03 on New Mexico for every dollar of tax revenue collected from the state. This rate of return is higher than any other state in the Union.[15] The federal government is also a major employer in New Mexico providing more than a quarter of the state’s jobs.

Many of the federal jobs relate to the military; the state hosts three air force bases (Kirtland Air Force Base, Holloman Air Force Base, and Cannon Air Force Base); a testing range (White Sands Missile Range); and an army proving ground and maneuver range (Fort Bliss – McGregor Range).

In addition to the National Guard, New Mexico has a New Mexico State Defense Force. Other minor locations include the New Mexico Army National Guard Headquarters in Santa Fe county and the National Guard Armory in far northern Rio Rancho in Sandoval county.

Other federal installations include national observatories and the technology labs of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL). SNL conducts electronic and industrial research on Kirtland AFB, on the southeast side of Albuquerque. These installations also include the missile and spacecraft proving grounds at White Sands. Other federal agencies such as the National Park Service, the United States Forest Service, and the United States Bureau of Land Management are a big part of the state’s rural employment base.

They are awash with military installations and little green men.

The funny thing about this is New Mexico is the state of Gary Johnson, a man who has become the second-biggest Libertarian hero behind Ron Paul. During his stint as governor, Johnson slashed state spending and balanced the budget. He gained a national following, generally among small government types, as a symbol of fiscally responsible leadership.

I suppose small government is not possible without large government.

The second biggest recipient on the list is the poorest state in the country, Mississippi. Their standing as number 2 in 2005 is probably due to Hurricane Katrina.

The home of Sarah Palin, Alaska, is the third biggest mooching state on the list. Alaska has a wealth of natural resources. Their oil and gas companies depend upon a healthy stream of federal funds to drill for more. A 2010 article outlines Alaska’s love affair with federal money:

Each person in Alaska receives approximately $20,351 in federal funds each year. Compare that amount with Nevada residents who receive only $7.14 per year.  The large amount of federal funds that go to Alaska allow them to go without a state income or sales tax.  Besides a generous amount of federal dollars for defense spending within the state, the state also receives a disproportionate amount of federal subsidies for oil and gas exploration.  Many Alaskan residents actually receive a yearly check, which comes from the massive revenue generated from Alaska’s oil and gas reserves.  Some would argue that far from being “independent,” the state actually is heavily dependent on the federal government it so maligns.

Wow, it seems that Alaska is one giant den of welfare recipients. Is this the independent and can-do American spirit that Sarah Palin spoke so much about on the 2008 campaign trail?

Louisiana was the fourth state on the list. Just like Mississippi, Hurricane Katrina seems to account for its standing in 2005.

West Virginia rounds out the top 5. One beneficiary of federal funds seems to be the coal industry:

In reality, the coal industry is heavily subsidized by the federal and state governments, enjoying explicit subsidies of billions of dollars a year, plus the indirect subsidy of free pollution that costs the United States 10,000 lives a year, destroys the land and water of mining communities, and destabilizes our climate. In September 2009, the Environmental Law Institute identified coal industry “subsidies of around $17 billion between 2002 and 2008”.

So, taking a look at 3 of the top 5 states who benefit the most from federal tax dollars, we get a picture of who the biggest welfare recipients are in the United States: the military-industrial complex and polluters.

And who pays those federal taxes? It certainly is not the wealthiest corporations who, thanks to loopholes and the Bush Tax Cuts, pay absolutely nothing. No, it is you and I, the working people of this country who fund imperialist war and environmental degradation.

What do 4 of these 5 states have in common? Take a look at this map and see for yourself:

Just a word about the only blue state, New Mexico:

The key voting bloc in this state is Hispanics, which makes up a plurality of the state’s total population with 45%. George W. Bush enjoyed good popularity with Hispanic voters and received over 40% of the Hispanic vote nationally in 2004. As a result, Bush had the ability to nip John Kerry by approximately 6,000 votes in New Mexico in 2004. In the previous election, New Mexico had been a very close swing state. Al Gore won the state by only 300 votes in 2000, which was even narrower than the controversial results in Florida. However, after the 2004 presidential election, support for Bush in the Hispanic community collapsed. During the 2008 election, New Mexico was regarded as an Obama-leaning state despite the fact that John McCain was from neighboring Arizona and held similar views on illegal immigration to those of Bush. Ultimately, McCain was only able to obtain 30% of the Hispanic vote.

The Republican base in New Mexico consists of the more rural southeastern part of the state which, while thinly populated, votes heavily Republican. Democrats are strongest in the state capital, Santa Fe and its close-in suburbs. The city of Albuquerque and the southwestern part of the state are also Democratic, but to a far lesser extent. On a larger context, Southern New Mexico is typically more Republican while Northern New Mexico is traditionally more Democratic, while Albuquerque and other areas in the center tend to swing both ways.

There are 4 major military bases in New Mexico. And where are 3 of the 4 bases located? That’s right, in the southeastern (Republican) part of New Mexico: Curry and Otero counties. The reddest parts of the state are the biggest beneficiaries of federal largesse.

And the states that receive the least bang for their tax buck are: New Jersey, Nevada, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Minnesota. And what do all of these states have in common? Take a look again:

So the bluest states in the United States subsidize the reddest states.

And yet, the reddest politicians rail against government handouts and how those handouts destroy the individualist spirit of the country.

They certainly do, just not for the reasons they imply.

Speaking of American tradition, 3 of the 5 states who subsidize all of this welfare are from the oldest (eastern) parts of the country.

And the two largest welfare recipients? From the youngest (western) part of the country.

There is your American tradition.

The political narrative in this country has been stood on its head.