Tag Archives: economics

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.

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.

Noam Chomsky on Anarchy

Anarchy means a lack of government. This has been construed by many to mean that we should smash the state immediately.

Amazingly, many people who believe this cite Noam Chomsky as one of their muses. If you listen to Chomsky here, you see very clearly that anarchy, classic anarchy, is much more sophisticated than just abolishing the state.

The reason is obvious: getting rid of the state as it stands now means giving ourselves over to corporations. Getting rid of the state is exactly what libertarians and certain Republicans want to do. They want to make government so irrelevant that there is nothing but unaccountable, corporate power.

The greatest American anarchist was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson believed that a nation of equal landowners educated in public schools would have the resources and brain power necessary to live harmoniously together. After a few generations of homesteading and educating, there would be no need for the state at all. It would merely whither away as an irrelevancy.

This was the big philosophical reason behind Jefferson’s push for the Louisiana Purchase. He believed it would give the country enough land to divide up equally between citizens. It also explains Jefferson’s support for public education. He was trying to lay the groundwork for anarchy.

Or is this communism? Maybe communism and anarchy go hand-in-hand here, where one is the condition of the other. If this is the case, then it would seem as if socialism would mark a preparation period for this anarcho-communist utopia.

Anyway, I think this is sort of what Chomsky is saying in this video.

Occupy Outer Space

Elon Musk, visionary, hero or deity?

Last night, “60 Minutes” kicked off the show with a story entitled “Space X: Entrepreneur’s Race to Space”. The story featured Elon Musk, head of a company called Space X, who the story lauds as a visionary in the field of space travel. Musk envisions his company making regular space flights to the point where it becomes affordable and widespread. He wants the human race to be interplanetary colonizers because it is obvious that the earth on which we currently live is headed for doom. Currently, Musk has a $1.6 billion contract to make regular trips to the international space station. He is the only private contractor to send a spacecraft into orbit and retrieve it.

This segment was very similar to the segment 60 Minutes aired last week about Salman Khan. They both tell stories about visionaries with big plans for humankind. Both of these visionaries work out of the private sector. They both hope to transform functions currently handled by moribund government bureaucracies.  Both stories tugged at the heart strings, painting their respective stars as selfless servants of the human race. Both stories only made glancing mention of their critics, who were dismissed out of hand as close-minded curmudgeons.

Musk has received criticism from Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, the first and last men on the moon. Musk was shown towards the end of the segment with tears in his eyes over the fact that his “heroes” have been so dead-set against his visionary company. He cannot understand why they do not see that Space X represents the future of space travel. It would be tough for anyone to see why they would have a problem with Space X if all they had to go on was this 15 minute segment.

While space travel is not my area of expertise, it seems that Armstrong and Cernan are concerned about its corporatization. They testified before Congress last year that they believed the Obama administration lacks vision when it comes to the space race. Obama has put the government’s money on private contractors like Space X to make regular space flights to the International Space Station. For two guys who landed on the moon thanks to a massive government investment in science and technology, Obama’s program “destines our nation to become one of second- or even third-rate stature”, in the words of Neil Armstrong.

Gutting NASA in favor of privatizing the space program was a trend that started under Bush 43. With all of the celebration of Elon Musk as a visionary, the truth is that the private sector revolves around turning profits. What Armstrong and Cernan are getting at is the problem behind giving space travel over to the marketplace. They come from an era when space travel was a patriotic venture; something American citizens could get behind. Now it is being relegated to the domain of dollars and cents, with all of the corner-cutting that entails.

The biggest story of all is how people can still, after the last three decades of corporatocracy, claim that corporatizing a venerable public institution like NASA or the education system is tantamount to “progress”. There is nothing new under the sun here. Rather than a forward step, corporatizing space travel is an outgrowth of the same old worship of the private sector we have seen from both political parties and every major media outlet.

What the protests in Greece, the occupations around the United States and the upheaval in the Middle East have shown is that the next generation is crying out for something collective. They have been reared on the ethos of the private, of the bold CEO, of the visionary business leader and they see that it has led nowhere but inequality and repression.

Like the media so often does, they have turned the narrative on its head. While thousands of young people around the world are fighting to hold public space and build public institutions, 60 Minutes has shown that they know little more than the same old formulaic “visionary business leader” trope.

The youth are already starting to occupy education. Maybe the next occupation should be in outer space.

School Reform is Educational Reaganomics

An article from the Huffington Post this past weekend, entitled Education Reform is a Vote for the Economy, describes one of ed reform’s central tenants:

“But there’s another “E” missing from the equation that actually feeds — or starves — even the best economy. It’s called Education, and its reform is the imperative for a nation that continues to lag in achievement and finances.

In every state and community, education reform is the battle cry for those most afflicted by the nation’s 2,000 failing high schools, and for the approximately 70 percent of kids who are not learning at either national or international benchmarks….”

This quote is inspired by the idea that children are the future; that schools should prepare children for the future; and that good schools give children the skills they need to be successful in the future economy. Given all of this, a nation full of well-prepared children stands the country in good stead to be competitive in the global marketplace.

This is the premise from which business leaders work when they claim schools are failing. They see children graduating high school without the skills that make them employable by America’s companies. To prove this, they quote statistics that show people with only high school diplomas making little money or as part of the long-term unemployed. If only the education system better prepared their graduates, their prospects for success would improve.

It really is a hallowed American assumption, echoing Horace Mann’s words about education being the “balance wheel” of society. Children are not failing in school. Schools are failing children. Enter the reformers, who promise to restore public education to its true role of being America’s balance wheel. It would not be a stretch to say that the prevalence of this assumption throughout the country is part of what gives education reform so much public support.

There is something Reaganesque about this idea.

Ronald Reagan became president as an acolyte of economist Milton Friedman. Friedman’s calls for lower corporate taxes, deregulation of business and union busting were folded into a program that Reagan dubbed “supply-side economics”. It was called that because these policies aimed at increasing corporate productivity and innovation, leading to an increase in the volume and quality of the supply of goods and services. This increase would lower prices and improve the quality of life for everyone.

Supply-side economics, or Reaganomics as some called it (“voodoo economics” in the words of George H.W. Bush), stood in stark contrast to the economic orthodoxy of the day, which was Keynesianism. Since the days of FDR, the country had operated under the assumption that ensuring consumers had money was of utmost importance. People with money meant consistent demand. Consistent demand gave business the confidence to keep producing. Progressive taxation, business regulation and strong unions would ensure a healthy level of demand. If times got rough, the government should step in to be the employer of last resort to buoy demand.

Two visions of economic policy, one focusing on the supply side and the other focusing on the demand side of the economy. In the 1970s, Richard Nixon said “we are all Keynesians”. Since the days of Reagan, it is safe to say that our nation’s leaders are all Friedmanites.

This includes education reformers.

Education reformers clothe their policies in a concern for the supply-side of the labor market. They work from the assumption that improving the quality of labor will improve the economy overall: more people will be employable, corporate productivity will increase and innovation will blossom. The United States will catch up with Europe and stay ahead of China. As economists would say, it is all about improving the quality of the nation’s “human capital”.

If the start of the Great Recession showed us anything, it is that supply-side economics is not sustainable. When the mortgage market melted down, there were those who pointed the finger at people who had taken out mortgages they could not repay. They coupled this with finger-pointing at people who lived by credit cards, refused to save money and generally lived beyond their means. We were reminded that pennies saved were pennies earned. These criticisms miss the point.

People had no choice but to live beyond their means. Real wages for the working class have stagnated or declined since the Reagan era, despite the increased productivity of the American worker. The average American is now working more hours for less money than they did 35 years ago. At the same time, the wealthiest have seen unprecedented gains in wealth.

The growth of suburban sprawl, technology and inflation has made it more expensive to merely participate in the world of work and family. We now need cars, cell phones, computers and a host of other things in order to stay piped in to the world around us. Try looking for a job without a reliable car, a cell phone with an unlimited plan or an internet connection. The demands of the modern age require that most members of the working class live beyond their means.

Concentrating on only the supply side of the economy has proven to be a recipe for savage inequalities. Society has disinvested from the American worker (demand), in order to invest in the American business owner (supply). Now education reform seeks to focus only on the supply side of the future American workforce. Without investing in what those future workers, who are our children, demand, we merely stand to exacerbate those inequalities.

The demand side of the future labor market is the future jobs market. Of course people with only a high school diploma are hit the hardest by the Great Recession. This is not because they are not competitive or unemployable because our schools do such a horrible job of educating them. It is the fact that the real unemployment rate in this country could be upwards of 22%, when considering people who have given up on looking for work or people who are underemployed. There simply are not enough jobs out there to absorb the labor force we have. This provides a large labor pool from which employers can hire. The proliferation of people with college degrees out there means they will usually get chosen above high school graduates, even if it is for relatively low-skilled work.

Seeing it this way, there is no reason to believe that improving the public education system will improve the chances of high school graduates to find jobs.

Talking about education reform as a solution for our economic woes makes no sense. What is worse, it deflects attention away from the lack of jobs in the economy.

What is probably the scariest of all is the nature of education reform being proposed. The same Huffington Post article goes on to say:

“There are solutions to these true economic deficiencies (yes, education is vital to a healthy economy!) ranging from more choices in public and private education, teacher and parent empowerment, higher standards, better content, online delivery, tenure reform and more.”

Talk about speaking out of both sides of your mouth. How does “teacher empowerment” jive with “tenure reform”? How does “better content” jive with “online delivery”?

What this really is saying is more charter schools, parent trigger laws, online classes, standardized exams and union busting. People in business know better than anyone the types of jobs that will be around in the future. The fact that they are stressing bubble-in exams, rote online learning programs and a docile teaching force is a glimpse into the types of jobs that will be around in the future: low-skilled, low-paying and unimaginative, the types of jobs where workers are interchangeable and replaceable. It is imperative they crush any thought or imagination in children. It is imperative that they deskill and devalue the teaching profession so the workers of tomorrow do not have any role models with the ability or capacity to speak freely.

Supply-side education is as wrong-headed and insidious as supply-side economics. Yet, at the very least, the manner in which its supporters wish to accomplish its goals says a lot about what they have in store for America’s future.

Education Reform and Reproductive Rights (via At The Chalk Face)

Shaun Johnson of AtTheChalkFace fame draws a connection between education deform and the battle currently being waged over reproductive rights:

I’m about to make another parallel: certain powers seek to regulate and monitor classrooms as they currently do women’s uteruses. There, I said it. The current struggle for reproductive rights, and the giant cultural leap backwards we are about to take, effectively mirrors the smothering paternal surveillance of teachers and their work. Let me explain.

History tells us that teaching and working with children has not been a chosen profession for a lot of men. Currently, only one out of every four K-12 teachers are men and the ratio drops to only one in 10 at the elementary level. The typical reasons have been low status of the profession, low salary relative to other careers available to men, gender stereotypes, and fear of child abuse accusations. To put it simply, working with kids is not seen as a very manly thing to do.

Men, however, typically dominate the bodies that control what teachers do, such as legislatures, departments of education, school boards, administrative posts, policy-making organizations, and analysts at think tanks. The recent paragon of no-nonsense education reform is the wealthy privateer, perhaps a software billionaire or hedge-fund manager. Be honest, can you think of any philanthropist of education that isn’t a man? I can’t.

A profession dominated by women and populated by children is perfect for paternal powers to exercise their lust for control, surveillance, punishment, and public humiliation, all in the name of the generic umbrella “reform.” This is why Secretary Duncan’s new grant competition RESPECT, which aims to boost teacher preparation and quality, is an embarrassment of Biblical proportions. Greater flexibility through accountability, progress through constant measurement, and collaboration via competition are oxymoronic principles that will continue to undermine the professional status of individual teachers.

Well said.

I would like to add that all of the talk about the teaching force being drawn from the bottom of the intellectual bell curve fits in nicely with this thesis.

Leaders cannot openly berate women for being intellectually inferior like they did back in those days when they said women should not be able to vote because they would make dumb choices. So they take to attacking teachers as “stupid” instead, reflecting not just a little bit of unabashed sexism.

I pride myself on being a teacher, always have. Now the deformers are trying to punish me for it.

For your information, I went to the Bronx High School of Science before I was counseled out in the 9th grade for being a screw-up. I finished up at Brooklyn Technical High School, got ridiculously high marks on my SATs,  graduated magna cum laude from college and then went right into teaching.

While not all of the people that were in the teacher education program with me in college were bright, the ones that are still teaching today are. The others mostly went off into the business world.

Teachers are not invited to shape education policy because they are seen as  a bunch of dumb women. They need daddy Duncan and uncle Gates to tell them what is best. After all, they are from the “real world” (see: business world, which is probably the biggest fantasy world of all) and can make the hard-nosed decisions that the softy feminine teachers would not make.

Like closing inner-city schools and shuffling around all the children for yet the 50th time in their scholastic careers.

Like new evaluation regimes that use cold, hard, masculine data.

Like forcing every student in every grade to take bubble-in tests.

These are tough decisions but someone has to make them. Who better than a bunch of men who cut their teeth in the “real world”?

Even Michelle Rhee is celebrated for being icy and stoic, her more masculine traits.

Despite what some might think, data, numbers and needlessly complex value-added equations are not “real” by any stretch. Much like all the numbers that showed banks were recording record profits on the eve of the financial crisis, they have zero connection to reality.

The problem with education reform is that it seeks to turn children into myopic, short-sighted and amoral automatons. Not coincidentally, these are the same traits possessed by the  banksters (all men) who pushed our economy off the cliff in 2008.

Men from the “real world” should stay out of education, just like they should stay out of policy over what happens in a woman’s uterus.

Students for Education Reform and the War on Teachers

Pawns for billionaires.

The origins of this organization called Students for Education Reform:

Frustrated with the pace of educational change, Bellinger and Morin started Students for Education Reform (SFER) while they were undergraduates at Princeton in 2009. They set out to mobilize college students and get them to advocate for education reform in the voting booth and in state capitols. SFER has obviously tapped into something potent because the organization has grown to 71 chapters in 28 states.

Yes, I am sure they did this all on their own. This has nothing to do with all the hedge fund and Gates money pouring into every nook and cranny of the education system: school districts, political campaigns, unions, think tanks and teacher colleges. This has nothing to do with their professors who get generous grants with this money prodding them into creating astroturf organizations like SFER.

The last sentence of the article says it all:

SFER is growing so fast that Bellinger and Morin have, ironically, put their own education on hold so they can work full-time on it heading into 2012.

Yes, because normal college students from working families who are not being funded by a a billionaire apparatus have the luxury of “putting their education on hold” to go on political crusades.

Columbia University has a chapter of SFER as well and here are some videos they made thanking Governor Cuomo (What? No kudos to the union?) for the new teacher evaluations:

These students want to be teachers after they graduate. That is too bad for them, since they are pushing a system that will assure that neither they, nor anyone else, will be able to stay in the profession for very long.

On they other hand, I doubt they will have anything to worry about. These Ivy Leaguers will not stay in teaching for more than a few years. They will go on to work for think tanks and media outlets who seek more education “reform”. Their futures are being determined by their Wall Street masters.

The truth is, there is plenty of money for education in this country. All of these statistics that show how much we spend per student in the United States are nonsense because the students never see that money in the form of better materials or highly paid teachers.

First, when that money does manage to funnel down to the student level, it is grossly maldistributed between school districts. Those areas with higher property taxes get much more money than inner city areas. Second, most of the money in education today is bound up with an exploding number of six-figured “consultants” who work at district levels far removed from classrooms. Or the money is being funneled through no-bid contracts that go to testing companies and data companies who produce things not to help students, but strictly to evaluate teachers. Or that money is going to charter schools, namely the six-figured CEOs of those schools who spend most of the rest of that money on marketing and glossy fliers. There are billions of education dollars out there and a pittance of that goes to actual education.

Yet, we want to squeeze teachers and drive them out of the system. A comment left by someone on this blog today says everything you need to know about what education reform is all about:

I actually long for that day when today’s teachers get so frustrated they leave the profession. It happens in nursing all the time and that dynamic makes way for innovative nurses who can handle the stress and still provide quality care. The fact that teachers are a protected class and that their unions are characterized by constant hysteria that keep teachers excepted from routine administrative measures that everyone in the private work force has to deal with–evaluations being one example–is helping stir growing resentment even against good teachers. Maybe with a mass exodus, we can accomplish things like the realization that education degrees are not the only degrees that make good teachers, and help restore subject competency, which is sorely lacking with today’s “education” graduates.

I would hate to tell this person that, as far as NYC, D.C. and many other major urban  school districts are concerned, that day has come and gone. Most teachers in Bloomberg’s Department of Education were hired on his watch that started 10 years ago. Guess what? Schools are no better.

At the end of the day, it is about taking pennies out of the pockets of teachers by attempting to deprive us of our livelihoods just so it can be transferred into the pockets of charters and the hedge-fundies that run them.

What kind of country is this when working people claim public sector workers like teachers, police and firefighters (but they only mention teachers) should be relegated to the same insecure lifestyle of private sector workers? There was a day when many private sector workers had similar protections like due process
that prevented them from being tossed out of a job simply because their bosses did not like their face.

And that is what tenure is by the way. It is not a guaranteed job for life as so many misinformed people claim it to be. It means that you must go through a process before being terminated. What’s so hard to understand? These people do not get that the protections that public sector workers get sets the tone, the baseline, for the rest of the workforce. Calling for the wholesale slaughter of teachers is to call for your own slaughter.

As the rapacious railroad magnate Jay Gould once said: “I can always get one half of the poor to kill the other half.”

Wake up.

The Farce of Rising Gas Prices

When gas prices went up in the 1970s, there were definite geopolitical reasons.

In 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reduced oil exports. They did this in response to the United States’ support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Oil supplies went down, prices went up. Simple economics.

In 1979, Iran had its revolution where they overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah Reza Pahlavi in favor of the Ayatollah. The unrest disrupted oil production and, even after it resumed, the anti-U.S. Ayatollah was in no mood to roll out barrels of oil for greedy Americans. Supply went down, prices went up. Simple Economics.

But, within the span of the past 4 years, there have been two major spikes in oil prices: first, on the eve of the 2008 election and now on the eve of the 2012 election.

Prices are going up despite the fact that Americans are using less oil due to environmental regulations, hybrid cars and people being more conscious of their “carbon footprint.” In other words, demand is down, so why are prices going up?

One explanation is that, while America’s demand is decreasing, the demand of developing countries like Brazil and China is increasing.

This explanation does not cut it. Increases in global demand might push prices upward gradually over the long term. They do not usually create a spike in prices.

A spike in prices indicates some sort of sudden shock or event in oil producing regions that disrupts oil production. This is where the protests in the Middle East or unrest between Iran and Israel could be handy excuses.

For example:

Pro-democracy movements across the Middle East last year prompted markets to speculate that supplies could be cut off. That speculation helped drive up the U.S. gas price from about $3 a gallon on Christmas Day 2010 to around $3.30 last Christmas.

The emphasis is mine.

That is because unrest in the Middle East does not cut it as an explanation anymore. The unrest has yet to drastically reduce the supply of oil on the market. Geopolitical factors in the 1970s reduced the physical supply of oil, causing actual spikes in prices.

What we have now are imaginary reductions in oil supplies. It is the fear of  a reduction of supply, a fear in the minds of the suits on Wall Street.

It goes something like this: over the past 35 years, the wealthiest Americans have gotten much more wealthy. They are so wealthy, in fact, that they have billions of dollars just sitting there doing nothing. Now, in a time like this, you would want them to use that money to create jobs (they are the “job creators”, after all).

This was the fundamental problem during the Great Depression. It was not that money had disappeared, only that it has coagulated at the top, clogging economic activity throughout the country. The aim of the New Deal was to act like a giant plunger, pulling the money from the top through taxation in order to use it to create jobs and get the economy flowing again.

But we live in a post-New Deal, post-Keynesian world.

So the job creators are allowed to sit on gobs of money and do absolutely nothing with it. Nothing, that is, except speculate.

Wealthy people have always speculated. But we live in an age where high volume speculation in commodities like oil is relatively new.

Here is Matt Taibbi:

The issue here, which I covered somewhat in Griftopia and in “The Great American Bubble Machine,” revolves around the influx of speculative money into the commodities markets. Because of various changes to the way commodities were traded — including a series of semi-secret exemptions handed out to commodities speculators, allowing companies like Goldman Sachs to popularize commodities speculation — there was, by the summer of 2008, a cascade of investor money pouring into commodities, mostly all betting on a rise of commodity prices. Much of this might have been due to money flowing out of mortgages and into the “safe” haven of commodities, with exploding energy prices being an unwelcome side effect. While there was less than $20 billion of speculative activity in commodities in the early 2000s, by 2008 that number had jumped up to well over $200 billion, with virtually all that money being “long” money, i.e. bets on a rise in prices. All of that new money turned into a battering ram pushing prices through the roof. We are seeing the same phenomenon this year. (2011)

In short, when you keep financial institutions deregulated and keep taxes low on the super wealthy, this is what you get.

The “job creators” have had plenty of money and room to invest in the people of the United States. Instead, they are investing in commodities. There was a time when the commodities market was just for producers and consumers to protect themselves against the vagaries of dealing in products that rely on nature (oil, wheat, etc.). It was a highly specialized and, therefore, small market, meaning it was relatively stable.

But with the injection of billions of Wall Street dollars, commodities have become as volatile as stocks. When Wall Street gets scared, we literally end up paying the price.

And these are the people that are quickly getting their hands on the education system, from Kindergarten up to grad school. Education futures coming to a commodities market near you.

Separation of Church and State and the Tyranny of the Private Sector

While religious congregations of poor people get evicted from New York City public schools in the name of throwing up the barriers between church and state, President Obama is bending to forces that want to tear those barriers down. On Friday, he backtracked on his original proposal requiring religiously-affiliated businesses to pay for birth control services as part of their employees’ health insurance package. Instead, he proposed that the insurance companies pay for those services themselves.

This is, of course, a political move on the president’s part. The original proposal stirred up religious conservatives who balked at the idea of businesses being forced to cover services they consider morally wrong. He did this despite the fact that his poll numbers among Catholics were little impacted by the controversy. The vast majority of Catholics that oppose Obama have most likely always done so, while the same can be said for the Catholics that support him. Bending to his opponents in this way will not bring them over to his camp. There is probably little he can do on any front to bring them over. If history is any guide, Christian fundamentalists of all stripes: Catholic, Protestant and Mormon, are the most intractably conservative voters around. Obama once again finds himself pandering to the other party’s base.

The pollsters have made entirely too much of how this issue might impact Obama’s support among Catholics. Within that group of Catholics is a wide swath of Hispanics, America’s largest immigrant group. They support Obama not because of religion, but because Hispanic immigrants (not to mention immigrant groups stretching back to the days of Andrew Jackson) have traditionally supported the Democratic Party. Catholics who oppose Obama on purely religious grounds do so because they have always opposed the Democratic Party. This explains why Obama’s poll numbers in the Catholic community have remained relatively static throughout this entire controversy.

Like abortion, this really should be a non-issue. This is not about religion. It is about women being able to have control over their own bodies. While certain businesses might have religious affiliations, this does not mean all of their employees share those affiliations. Obama’s detractors really want businesses to be able to use their power as employers to make religiously-motivated decisions about the healthcare coverage of the people they employ. Considering many of these institutions are providing healthcare because of “Obamacare” (a federal law that uses federal funds), this really would constitute a violation of church/state separation.

The irony should not be lost on anyone. Poor people in New York City get their congregations evicted from public school buildings and the Catholic Church is nowhere to defend them. Wealthy employers want the right to use federal money to deny birth control to their employees on religious grounds (on what other grounds can you reject someone’s access to birth control?) and the Catholic Church is in their corner. While it is unlikely the religious conservatives will get their way on this issue, the controversy surrounding it points to a larger problem of just how tyrannical the American workplace has become over the past 35 years.

Thanks to the erosion of labor unions and OSHA laws, employers have been accustomed to wielding the type of power over their employees rivaled only by the sweatshop owners of the late 1800s. They can hire and fire at will, institute mandatory overtime and employ illegal immigrants who they use and abuse with little oversight. (Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed is a particularly great book on this matter). The fact that people like Rand Paul can even comfortably broach the issue of repealing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, under the guise that it violates the rights of business owners, proves how high the tide of employer power has risen.

Supporters of these policies are careful to use the language of free markets, tying the freedom of business owners to do as they please to some vague notion of American liberty. In reality, the increasing power of the American employer has been used as the battering ram to destroy all of the gains workers have won during the Progressive Era and the New Deal, not to mention the gains of individual citizens during the Civil Rights Era. This is what the Reagan Revolution was all about. It is a testament to the absolute victory of this Revolution that both Republicans and Democrats have been on board, and remain on board, in the destruction of the American citizen and worker.

And on no single issue are Democrats and Republicans more in agreement than education reform. Despite Obama’s attempts to distance himself from the No Child Left Behind law of his predecessor, his Race to the Top program is merely NCLB on steroids. States can only opt out of NCLB’s requirements if they institute, among other things, more charter schools. As Norm over at Ed Notes reminds us today, charter schools provide the same sort of tyrannical workplace found throughout the rest of the economy. They are privately run (non-profits are a boom industry, despite their benign designation) and require their staff to work long hours for less money than their counterparts in public schools. Just like the rest of the private sector today, there are no unions to prevent any of this from happening. This tyranny reaches down to the ranks of the children, who are counseled out of charter schools if they prove too difficult to educate. It is the trademark of the Reagan Revolution: hand over more power to private entities that have no obligation to respect the rights of workers or their patrons. In this way, all of the democratic gains of the past 100 years vanish.

That is why public sector unions are so important. They are the last rampart against the destruction of all of these hard-won gains. When unions like our own United Federation of Teachers roll over and play dead, they disappoint the entire American workforce, public and private. This demonstrates the need for public sector unions to be militant. Just as the pro-private sector policies of the Reagan Revolution have thrown the country back 100 years, unions also need to reset themselves 100 years. Those were the days when the International Workers of the World (“The Wobblies”) were not afraid to meet the intractable demands of management with the intractable demands of the working class. It was their activism, as well the activism of countless groups like them, that forced government to institute the worker protections of the Progressive Era and the New Deal. What the unions of today need, every single one of them, is a coup d’état that wrests control away from the comfortable functionaries who have made themselves fat from making concessions to the demands of the Reagan Revolution. In their place, we need a cadre of leaders who militantly defend every last right workers today still have while ruthlessly fighting to regain all of the rights we have lost.

The entire birth control controversy in which the president has been mired is about a whole lot more than the separation of church and state. It touches upon issues of workplace tyranny that this country has yet to face honestly.