August 30, 2016

Psalm of the Fast Lane

From our overstocked archives

The Lord is my mentor; I shall want it all.

He feedeth me in world-class restaurants and leadeth me beside the sparkling mineral waters.

He restoreth my house and bringeth me in the path of good access.

Yea, though I jog through the valley of the shadow of high rises I shall fear no viable competition; thy clout and thy bottom line shall comfort me.

He shall prepare a game plan against mine enemies, and shall bloweth dry my head and my Volvo shall runneth over to Bloomingdales.

Surely perks and power lunches shall follow me all the days of my life and 1 shall dwell in an upscale neighborhood forever and ever.

For thine is the power and the glory -

But not for long, sucker. I'm right behind you.

Sam Smith, 1986

Whilstleblowing links

Project on Government Oversight
Government Accountability Project
Thomas Drake
Bill Binney
Chelsea Manning
Edward Snowden

Why a guaranteed income will work

Popular Resistance - A World Bank analysis of 19 studies found that cash transfers have been demonstrated to improve education and health outcomes and alleviate poverty… An MIT/Harvard analysis of seven cash transfer trials found “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work.” The Brooks World Poverty Institute found that money transfers to the poor are used primarily for basic needs. Basic Incomes have been shown to lead to reductions in crime and inequality and malnutrition and infant mortality.

In the U.S., the Alaska Permanent Fund has thrived for 35 years, even with anti-socialist conservatives in power. Texas has long employed a “Permanent School Fund” to distribute funds from mineral rights to the public education system. Wyoming has used a similar “Mineral Trust Fund” to help eliminate state income taxes. Nebraska distributes low-cost electricity from a publicly owned utility. Oregon has used the proceeds from wind energy to return hundreds of dollars to households. Vermont has proposed “Common Assets Trust” to raise money from taxes on pollution and pay dividends to residents. A pilot basic income experiment is set to begin in Oakland.

Numerous Native American communities have instituted guaranteed income programs, both in the form of shared benefits from casinos and as “land trusts,” which recognize the common ownership of natural resources. Notably, according to a Duke Universityanalysis, the establishment of the Eastern Cherokee Indian Land Trust has resulted in fewer behavioral and emotional problems among the community’s children, relative to neighboring communities. In adulthood, recipients had less depression, anxiety, and alcohol dependence.

Even the concept of providing grants to homeless people seems to work. In both Utah and California, trial programs have led to stable living conditions for dozens of formerly homeless people, with few conflicts or behavioral issues within the communities, and at a significantly lower cost than the alternative of temporary shelters — especially if people without homes are given jobs, as in a new program in Albuquerque.

Kaepernick has a pretty good precedent

The Root\ - Jackie Robinson, in his 1972 autobiography, I Never Had It Made, described the moment when he realized that he could not “stand and sing the anthem,” nor “salute the flag,” which calls to mind recent statements made by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Robinson strongly indicted this nation on charges of racism, classism and bigotry:
There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.
Kaepernick shared a similar sentiment after his game against Green Bay:
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

August 29, 2016

Our hidden asset: multiculturalism

Sam Smith

One of the troublesome things about the talk about race these days, is how little attention is paid to how you get ethnic relations to be based on the positive advantages of cultures healthily involved with one another rather than just avoiding an offensive collection of acts, symbols and language. It increasingly seems like legal or procedural matters have taken a massive lead over human and natural ones and hardly anyone seems to speak of how being in a culturally varied society can make us all feel better.

One reason this bothers me is that I am a child of the 1950s – the Silent Generation - that no one notices anymore and which is one of two adult generations not to have produced a president. It was while I was in college that the civil rights movement got going, and that my university had its first tenured woman professor. By the time I had reached thirty, the presumptions taught to, and presumed by, young white males had been thoroughly overturned by blacks, women, gays and latinos.

And, although we get little credit for it, the Silent Generation adapted to this change with significant passivity. It would, in fact, be hard to find a young generation that lost so much promised power so quickly, and yet so peacefully.

For those of us who welcomed the change, if we did anything different, it was to separate ourselves from the values of our parents’ generation rather than to do much about them.

Our cultural leaders included the Beats and while we were, in a sense, the warmup band for the 1960s, our perceived role was reaction rather than action.

This unintentionally made some of us far more friendly to other cultures not out of moral purpose but because we were looking for a better way to live. For example, one of the reasons I liked my ninth grade anthropology class – then one of two such high school courses in the country – was that it showed how my culture wasn’t the only way, an important discovery for a ninth grader uneasy with his own society. And my musical tastes had already gone strongly jazz – a vastly underrated pal of multi-culturism - with my favorites including Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and Ella Fitzgerald.

In college, the most daring thing I did was to wear a beret and sunglasses and play black driven styles of jazz in a band and on the college radio station. Watching MIles Davis play with his back to the audience in a large auditorium seemed to to symbolize the time – one in which you could declare your relationship with society but without really changing it.

I also argued that women should be allowed to join the radio station and had my first place in a sailing race taken away from me by the New England intercollegiate Sailing Association for using a Radcliffe friend as my crew. I just couldn’t understand the male-obsessed prep school culture I found at Harvard. But my reaction was not really a moral one, just my thinking it was sort of stupid. Didn’t these guys know better how to deal with girls?

This wasn’t much, but even such modest acts constituted rebellion in the 1950s. And as I majored in anthropology my search for other ways of living continued.

It wasn’t until five years after graduation that I got directly involved in civil rights but the reason was in part because I had already become personally comfortable with black culture and couldn’t figure out why others were not.

I became a journalist and an activist but one of the few times I can recall being seriously dismissed or denigrated for my ethnicity was when Stokely Carmichael told us in a SNCC meeting that whites were no longer welcomed in the movement. Still, within a few years, I was back helping to form a bi-ethnic third party in the city. At one point there were two blacks for every white in DC. I was, I came to think, like a Jew in New York City. Part of minority to be sure, but still treated well and I tried to do the same to others.

Washington’s ethnic make-up was not a problem but an asset, especially to a white guy routinely breaking the thought code of the formal city. In color we were different, but blacks helped show me how to handle the establishment types.  

I tell this story not to prove a point – everyone’s tale is different – but to illustrate how important the non-regulatory aspect of decency is. Experiencing mix-culturalism as a jazz musician, a basketball player, or a soldier can create a comfort that laws and social dictates never can. Yet we hardly ever even talk about it.

The idea that multiculturalism is a gift and not a problem gets rarely mentioned by the media or even by its advocates. We have become obsessed with the problems of getting there and the cruelty of those who stand in the way.

This doesn’t mean you don’t confront evil. It means that one of the ways you do so is by creating visible alternatives that makes the wrong seem not only wrong but absurd. As St Francis of Assisi said, "Always preach the gospel. Use words if necessary."

It means building what it is you’re fighting for. And living a better future even as you’re fighting for it.

One of the things I learned over the years was that progress is often a product of stories and experiences rather than regulation, vague principles, theories and abstractions. Washington moved ahead as a bi-ethnic city because real people did and said real things – like our Mayor Walter Washington refusing  Edgar Hoover’s demand that he kill rioters in 1968. We have to live what it is we want, even before we achieve it.

All over America this is happening. But we’re not talking about or celebrating it. If we want a thriving multicultural society we need to enjoy its results as well as deal with the problems before these results are achieved.

And we need to include everyone, remembering, for example, that there are three times as many unemployed white males as there are black males. Yet too many liberals speak glibly of all whites as “privileged.” Multi-culturalism can be in your backyard, too.

One of those who helped me understand multiculturalism was the noted black journalist Chuck Stone who took me under his wing when I was in my twenties and he was a top aide to Rep. Adam Clayton Powell. . Stone believed in building what he calls "the reciprocity of civility." His advice for getting along with other Americans: treat them like a member of your family.

We are all part of multicultural America. Some handle it far better than others, but for the latter to succeed fully we must help others appreciate not just its problems but to enjoy its many assets.

Morning Line

Based on the average of recent polls:
Nationally, Hillary Clinton is 3 points ahead of Trump, a statistical tie. She is 5 points better than her worst to date. Her average of 41% is 5 below her best to date.

Clinton is leading with 221 of the needed 270 votes, down her best of 275.. Another 152 electoral votes are possibly Democratic. Only 54 electoral votes are definitely in the Trump column. Another 70 are possible.

In the Senate the Democrats stand to gain four seats and the GOP none. The Dems could possibly win another three.The Dems need to win four seats (or three plus a Democratic Veep) to control the Senate.

In governorships, Democrats & Republicans should each pick up 1 this year. Democrats have already gained another, . Republicans are leaning ahead in 2 races, Democrats in one.

Is supporting TPP an act of treason?

The Atlantic, 2015 - It is January 2017. The mayor of San Francisco signs a bill that will raise the minimum wage of all workers from $8 to $16 an hour effective July 1st.  His lawyers assure him that neither federal nor California minimum wage laws forbid that and that it is fine under the U.S. Constitution.

Then, a month later, a Vietnamese company that owns 15 restaurants in San Francisco files a lawsuit saying that the pay increase violates the “investor protection” provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnershipagreement recently approved by Congress. The lawsuit is not in a federal or state court, but instead will be heard by three private arbitrators; the United States government is the sole defendant; and the city can participate only if the U.S. allows it.

It is not a far-fetched scenario. The TPP reportedly includes such provisions, as a means of solving a thorny problem. In the United States, the courts are, by and large, independent and willing to fairly decide challenges to arbitrary government laws and rulings, no matter who the plaintiff is. The same is not consistently true in less developed countries.

The solution proposed in the TPP is to allow foreign investors to bring claims for money damages over violations of the TPP’s investor protection provisions before a private arbitration tribunal that operates outside the challenged government’s court system. One arbitrator would be chosen by the investor, one by the country being challenged, and a third by agreement of the other two arbitrators.

The arbitrators are often lawyers who specialize in international trade and investment, for whom serving as arbitrators is only one source of their income. Unlike U.S. judges, they are not salaried but paid by the hour, and they can rotate between arbitrating cases and representing investors suing governments.

Despite the fairness of our court system, the U.S. government has consented in prior trade agreements, and in a leaked version of the still-secret TPP, to allow foreign investors to bypass our courts and instead move to “investor-state” arbitration. Thus, challenges based upon TPP to our duly enacted laws and other regulatory actions would be decided by three individuals who are not government officials and need not be American citizens. And they would have the final word as to whether the federal government will be compelled to pay damages, because there is no judicial review in any U.S. court of the merits of these arbitral rulings.

An international court that undermines nationhood

Buzzfeed - Known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS, it is written into the treaties that govern international trade.
It’s supposed to be a reliable, impartial forum to resolve conflicts between international corporations and the countries where they operate. But it is not a level playing field.
When countries try to regulate pollution or fight corruption, corporations have used this court to demand hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in retribution. And the odds are stacked in their favor.

110 Republican leaders who won't be voting for Trump

NY Times

The real Senator Byrd

The Trumpites have been attacking Hillary Clinton for getting along so well with Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia who had once been a member of the KKK. Here is what the NAACP had to say on the topic IN 2010:

The NAACP is saddened by the passing of United States Senator Robert Byrd. Byrd, the longest serving member of congress was first elected to the U.S. House from in 1952 and was elected Senator in 1958. Byrd passed away this morning at the age of 92.

"Senator Byrd reflects the transformative power of this nation," stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "Senator Byrd went from being an active member of the KKK to a being a stalwart supporter of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and many other pieces of seminal legislation that advanced the civil rights and liberties of our country.

"Senator Byrd came to consistently support the NAACP civil rights agenda, doing well on the NAACP Annual Civil Rights Report Card. He stood with us on many issues of crucial importance to our members from the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, the historic health care legislation of 2010 and his support for the Hate Crimes Prevention legislation," stated Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy. "Senator Byrd was a master of the Senate Rules, and helped strategize passage of legislation that helped millions of Americans. He will be sorely missed."


Common Core attacks education again

Steve Singer, Bad Ass Teachers Association -  Bad ideas are like unlucky pennies – they keep coming back again.Take the New Math. Or maybe I should say the New New Math.
Common Core State Standards suggests we teach children a new way to do arithmetic. We should focus on multiple ways to reach an answer with an emphasis on understanding the concept behind the problem rather than just manipulating numbers.
It sounds fine in theory – until you think about it for five minutes.
When learning a new skill, it’s best to master a single, simple approach before being exposed to other more complex methods. Otherwise, you run the risk of confusion, frustration and ultimately not learning how to solve the problem.
Take directions.
If you’re lost and you ask for directions, you don’t want someone to tell you five ways to reach your destination. You want one, relatively simple way to get there – preferably with the least amount of turns and the highest number of landmarks.
Maybe later if you’re going to be traveling to this place frequently, you may want to learn alternate routes. But the first time, you’re more concerned about finding the destination (i.e. getting the answer) than understanding how the landscape would appear on a map.
This is the problem with Common Core math. It doesn’t merely allow students to pursue alternate methods of solving problems. It requires them to know all the ways the problem can be solved and to be able to explain each method. Otherwise, it presumes to evaluate the student’s understanding as insufficient.
This is highly unfair to students. No wonder so many are failing.
Sadly there’s some history here that should have warned us about the perils of this approach.
Common Core isn’t the first new math approach to come along. In the 1960s we had a method actually called “The New Math.” And like Common Core, it was a dismal failure.
Like the Core, it proposed to focus more on conceptual understanding, but to do so itneedlessly complicated matters at the grade school level.
It introduced set theory, forcing students to think of numbers as groups of objects rather than abstractions to be manipulated. In an advanced undergraduate mathematics course, this makes perfect sense. In first grade, it muddles the learning tremendously.
To make matters even more perplexing, it mandates students look at numbers with bases other than 10. This is incredibly confounding for elementary students who often resort to their fingers to help them understand early math.
Tom Lehrer wrote a very funny song about the new math which shows how confusing it can be. The methods used to solve the problem can be helpful but an emphasis on the conceptual underpinning at early ages perplexes more than it helps
.... Children are not computers. You can’t program their minds like you would a MacBook or iPhone. In many ways, including math instruction, Common Core ignores these facts.
Perhaps we don’t need a new math. Perhaps we simply need policymakers willing to listen to education and childhood experts instead of business interests poised to profit off new reforms regardless of whether they actually work.

August 28, 2016

The GOP's secret war on voters

Greg Palast -Rolling Stone has unearthed a confidential list of voters who are marked to be purged, up to a million at risk by November.  Who? Mostly, voters of color, i.e. Democrats.

In the just-released issue of Rolling Stone, a year-long investigation by Greg Palast and a team of experts, “The GOP’s Secret War on Voters,” exposes a scheme by 29 Republican state voting officials to purge the voter rolls of those who don’t have a Republican tint to the their skin.

GOP officials, taking off from Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that "people are voting many, many times," are targeting voters who are allegedly voting in two states – or registered in two states and can therefore vote illegally a second time in November.  While voting twice is a felony crime, and less than 2 voters a year have been convicted of this crime, the GOP purge operation is removing tens of thousands of innocent voters as you read this.

As these double voters are suspects in a massive criminal conspiracy, the lists were kept confidential. But the Palast team got them anyway.

According to database experts who have statistically analyzed the lists, the program is "dangerous" and "seriously biased against minorities." Already, swing states with tight Senate races, Ohio, North Carolina and Arizona, are quietly removing voters through this racially poisonous purge operation.

Invitation of the month

Thanks to John Gear