September 17, 2014

Department of Good Stuff: Good news

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Real economics

 

UN secretary general to join climate demonstrators

Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General - The Climate Summit that I am convening one week from today has two goals: to mobilize political will for a universal and meaningful climate agreement next year in Paris; and second to generate ambitious steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen resilience. We are anticipating an impressive turnout of leaders from government, business, finance and civil society. Most important, we are expecting significant commitments and progress

... Finally, the week will open and close with two remarkable public gatherings on the streets of our host city, New York – the People’s Climate March on Sunday the 21st , and the Global Citizen Festival on Saturday the 27th of September. I will link arms with those marching for climate action.  We stand with them on the right side of this key issue for our common future. I will also take part in the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park to thank thousands of young people for helping us to fight hunger, protect the planet and promote the rights of women and girls. At this time of turmoil, the next two weeks will highlight again the indispensable role of the United Nations in tackling global threats and seizing opportunities for common progress.

Obama telling us one thing about ground troops, his generals another

Nation - President Obama has repeatedly declared there will be no combat troops on the ground in Iraq to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. But a Senate hearing Tuesday with top US military officials revealed that pronouncement is on very shaky ground—there is now no question ground troops are under active consideration at the highest levels of government.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in his opening remarks he isn’t ruling out asking Obama for ground troops. “To be clear, if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the president.”

Dempsey also testified that the president asked him “to come back to him on a case-by-case basis” on the subject of ground troops.

The real economy

Census Bureau & Federal Reserve

Ten ways to cut poverty

Talk Poverty

Common Core trashs critics in ad

Curmudgucation

[Update: The video has gone away. The Youtube account "Common Core," a group of filmmakers from around the country, has shut down after only three days.]

As your grandad would not say, "OMG!"

The media group 617 has produced a video in support of the Core that is apparently intended to embarrass its opponents into silence. It has decidedly not worked out that way-- you will have a hard time finding the video, which seems to have suffered its own attack of embarrassment, but you can read about the reaction over at Missouri Education Watchdog. They were not pretty.

The video features a Cartoon Old Guy, who's insulting on so many levels. He's dismissive of the kid. He is wrapped up in his own stupid stories. He can't remember the teacher's name (aging brain function-- hilarious). He's ethnic. He's an ignorant war vet of some war-- he looks like a stereotypical WWII vet, but that would make him ninety-ish. Could be Korea, which would make him seventy-ish. He thinks Gates runs Apple (har!) and he measures the value of his grandson's ability to "figure" in how it can calculate money. Oh, and he plays the lottery.

He's worried about the Common Core stuff he's heard about on TV, and I'm wondering where on TV he's hearing bad things about the Core, because Core proponents have that media pretty well locked up.

The message here? Common Core critics are uninformed fools. Note that the nice teacher lady does not actually offer a single piece of fact-based data about the Core to contradict Old Bat-brained Granddad. She doesn't have to (though she might have mention that Hector will have to put a stop to figuring out math problems in his head). He's so obviously a dope that we are meant to simply discount his complaints because, well, he's a dope. He is truly the most wondrous animatronic straw grampaw ever.

Pocket paradigms

Laws should be handled like prescription drugs, but many of our politicians think of them as being more like popcorn or M&Ms -- something to munch on. This is unfortunate since much of America's success to date can be traced to one simple rule: don't make too many rules. Much of America's failure to date has come from ignoring this rule. -Sam Smith

Word

To those who have hunger, give bread. To those who have bread, give a hunger for Justice. - Latin American grace

Recovered history: How newspapers can save themselves

From 50 uyears of our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2009  - It's been about 17 years since I last offered any advice to Don Graham of the Washington Post. He wasn't interested. Oddly, about a year later, the circulation of American newspapers, including the Post, began a slow decline that continues to this day.

This morning, however, I was so struck by the thin size of the Post that I actually compared the number of pages of the major sections from the previous week: there were five less. So now I actually feel sorry for the guy and would like to pass on a few more ideas:

- Newspapers early surrendered the image battle to TV when, in fact, TV only shows images for a few seconds at which point they are gone forever. Newspapers should go back to the approach to photos that made Life Magazine so appealing: images that made you stop and look either because of the quality of the photo or because of the story that a series of photos told. When, for example, was the last time you let a photographer edit your page design?

- Dump the Pulitzer porn such as your recent series on black men. That dreary combination of abstractions, stats and not all that interesting stories makes for poor journalism, especially over breakfast. Besides, you can't make up for years of ignoring the problems of black men with an occasional series even if it does win a prize.

- Put news on your front page. I define news as something that has happened, something that is happening or something that is going to happen. News is not what someone said about what is happening nor what someone perceived was going to happen nor what the editors thought the impact of something happening would be on its readership.

- The one exception to filling the front page with news would be a story or two that are just interesting, which is to say ones about which readers will ask their friends, "Did you see that story about. . ?"

- Use the "holy shit" principle of news editing. If your reaction to a story is "holy shit" and the story is true, many of your readers are going to feel the same way.

- Run more and shorter stories. You can get the edge over both the Internet and TV through quantity rather than just style of news. And the more names the better.

- Run more local stories, more stories affecting different ethnic groups, and more stories about sports people play rather than just watch.

- Go back to pyramid style reporting or at least get to the point within the first paragraph or two.

- Stop burying stories that affect ordinary readers in the business and real estate sections and put them in the front of the paper where they belong.

- Run more stories that affect ordinary readers. Handle your news from the viewpoint of your readers rather than from that of your advertisers, sources, or journalistic staff - few of whom live in some the toughest yet newsworthy parts of town.

- Have a labor section as well as a business section. After all, you have more employees than employers in your circulation area.

- Slash the number of stupid, spinning, or sophistic quotations from official sources used in your paper.

September 16, 2014

What American exceptionalism is really about

Bill Blum, Anti-Empire Report - Frances Fitzgerald, in her famous study of American school textbooks, summarized the message of these books: “The United States has been a kind of Salvation Army to the rest of the world: throughout history it had done little but dispense benefits to poor, ignorant, and diseased countries. The U.S. always acted in a disinterested fashion, always from the highest of motives; it gave, never took.”

And Americans genuinely wonder why the rest of the world can’t see how benevolent and self-sacrificing America has been. Even many people who take part in the anti-war movement have a hard time shaking off some of this mindset; they march to spur America – the America they love and worship and trust – they march to spur this noble America back onto its path of goodness.

Many of the citizens fall for US government propaganda justifying its military actions as often and as naively as Charlie Brown falling for Lucy’s football.

The American people are very much like the children of a Mafia boss who do not know what their father does for a living, and don’t want to know, but then wonder why someone just threw a firebomb through the living room window.

This basic belief in America’s good intentions is often linked to “American exceptionalism”. Let’s look at how exceptional US foreign policy has been. Since the end of World War 2, the United States has:
  • Attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically-elected.
  • Dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries.
  • Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.
  • Attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries.
  • Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries.
  • Led the world in torture; not only the torture performed directly by Americans upon foreigners, but providing torture equipment, torture manuals, lists of people to be tortured, and in-person guidance by American teachers, especially in Latin America.
This is indeed exceptional. No other country in all of history comes anywhere close to such a record.

Obama is fourth president in a row to announce plans to bomb Iraq

Orazz

Department of Good Stuff: Education

Race to the Bottom: Harvard Business School

Naked Capitalism - Three years ago, Harvard Business School asked thousands of its graduates, many of whom are leaders of America’s top companies, where their firms had decided to locate jobs in the previous year. The responses led the researchers to declare a “competitiveness problem” at home: HBS Alumni reported 56 separate instances where they moved 1,000 or more U.S. jobs to foreign countries, zero cases of moving that many jobs in one block to America from abroad, and just four cases of creating that many new jobs in the United States. Three in four respondents said American competitiveness was falling.

Harvard released a similar survey this week, which suggested executives aren’t as glum about American competitiveness as they once were…

Companies don’t appear any more keen on American workers today, though. The Harvard grads are down on American education and on workers’ skill sets, but they admit they’re just not really engaged in improving either area. Three-quarters said their firms would rather invest in new technology than hire new employees. More than two-thirds said they’d rather rely on vendors for work that can be outsourced, as opposed to adding their own staff. A plurality said they expected to be less able to pay high wages and benefits to American workers.

Robert Reich, Alternet - For thirty years after World War II, as American corporations prospered, so did the American middle class. Wages rose and benefits increased. American companies and American citizens achieved a virtuous cycle of higher profits accompanied by more and better jobs.

But starting in the late 1970s, a new vision of the corporation and the role of CEOs emerged – prodded by corporate “raiders,” hostile takeovers, junk bonds, and leveraged buyouts. Shareholders began to predominate over other stakeholders. And CEOs began to view their primary role as driving up share prices. To do this, they had to cut costs – especially payrolls, which constituted their largest expense.

Corporate statesmen were replaced by something more like corporate butchers, with their nearly exclusive focus being to “cut out the fat” and “cut to the bone.”

In consequence, the compensation packages of CEOs and other top executives soared, as did share prices. But ordinary workers lost jobs and wages, and many communities were abandoned. Almost all the gains from growth went to the top.

The results were touted as being “efficient,” because resources were theoretically shifted to “higher and better uses,” to use the dry language of economics.

But the human costs of this transformation have been substantial, and the efficiency benefits have not been widely shared. Most workers today are no better off than they were thirty years ago, adjusted for inflation. Most are less economically secure.

....For years, some of the nation’s most talented young people have flocked to Harvard Business School and other elite graduate schools of business in order to take up positions at the top rungs of American corporations, or on Wall Street, or management consulting.
Their educations represent a substantial social investment; and their intellectual and creative capacities, a precious national and global resource.

But given that so few in our society – or even in other advanced nations – have shared in the benefits of what our largest corporations and Wall Street entities have achieved, it must be asked whether the social return on such an investment has been worth it, and whether these graduates are making the most of their capacities in terms of their potential for improving human well-being.

1600 US troops in Iraq allegedly will keep theiir boots off the ground

Washington Post - There will be 1,600 U.S. troops in Iraq by the time President Obama’s current plans are fully in place — but none of those are considered combat troops, which means the U.S. is not officially reengaged in the war there, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress on Tuesday.

“Instead, these advisers are supporting Iraqi and Kurdish forces in supporting the government’s plan to stand up Iraqi national guard units,” Mr. Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

How to make it clear that you've quit your job