Archives for category: Economy

The Progressive.com managed to get a copy of ALEC’s agenda for its 41st annual meeting in Dallas.

ALEC wants to eviscerate Medicaid, support fracking, and expand charter schools in hopes of destroying America’s great public school system.

All for the corporations and the 1%, nothing for the people.

They are shameless.

Unbelievable. Microsoft lays off 18,000 workers while pressing Congress to expand the number of visas for engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and other workers. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and casino operator Sheldon Adelson wrote an article calling for Congressional action to increase H-1B visas.
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Senator Jeff Sessions responded with rage, directed mainly at Gates and at the the tech industry as a whole. He said: “”What did we see in the newspaper today?” said Sessions, “News from Microsoft. Was it that they are having to raise wages to try to get enough good, quality engineers to do the work? Are they expanding or are they hiring? No, that is not what the news was, unfortunately. Not at all.”

Sessions said:

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“What is the situation today for American graduates of STEM degrees and technology degrees?” said Session. “Do we have enough? And do we need to have people come to our country to take those jobs? Or, indeed, do we not have a shortage of workers, and do we have difficulty of people finding jobs?”

“Sessions recently sponsored a forum that assembled some of the leading academic critics of the H-1B program. The group assessed the consequences of hiking the H-1B cap from 85,000 to 180,000, as proposed in the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill.

“They warned of increasing age discrimination since most of these foreign workers are young, as well as make it harder for U.S. STEM graduates to find work. A cap hike could hurt wages as well. Critics say schools now produce many more STEM graduates than there are jobs for them.

“Microsoft wasn’t the only company to get in Sessions’ crosshairs. He cited a letter by more than 100 large corporations sent to Congress late last year, urging immigration reform. The signees included many companies, such as Hewlett-Packard and Cisco, which have had recent layoffs.

“And just as it is not always true what is good for General Motors is good for America, likewise, what may be good for Mr. Adelson and Mr. Microsoft and Mr. Buffett is not always in accord with what is good for the American people. I know that. They are free to express their opinion, but I am going to push back,” said Sessions.

Lisa Graves was one of the creators of the website ALECExposed. She has followed the money, and she here describes a dangerous threat to American democracy by the billionaire Koch brothers, ALEC, and others who seek control by the super-rich. They want to bust unions and privatize schools. Graves says that progressives must stand together. I agree. That’s why I grow frustrated when union members attack their unions. Of course, they should fight to win democratic control of their unions. But when they begin hurling insults and invective at their allies, they do the work of their common foe.

Graves writes:

“Two of the richest men in the entire world are plotting to dominate our elections this fall, from congressional races to school board seats.

“Their scheming to shove America further to the far right should be a serious wake-up call for anyone who cares about our nation’s soul.

“As Charles and David Koch promised their billionaire buddies, they’ve assessed how the quarter billion dollars they helped raise and spread across the country failed spectacularly in the 2012 elections. And, they’ve made adjustments to their battle plans to win more this time…..

“If unions and their leaders want to stand up to the Koch machine – which has sought to gut union power for decades – I say right on. Nurses, teachers, and factory workers ought to have a chance to negotiate with power for better wages and working conditions than each could negotiate with their powerful employer alone.

“Thank goodness they’ve all stood up to the Kochs’ neo-Bircher worldview, in their own ways.

“Thank goodness they understand that civil society — indeed, our very democracy — is what’s at stake.

“I stand against the cult of greed peddled by the Kochs.

“I’m utterly opposed to the Koch-y brand of Ayn Rand’s dystopian propaganda and the updated version of this kind of every-man-for-himself economic Darwinism peddled by Rand Paul in blue jeans. I don’t want America’s great dream for our people to be shrunk into a members’ only club, letting the richest few rule with the less lucky stuck as servants struggling to survive.

“A civil society — a true democracy – recognizes that investing in our shared future makes our nation stronger.

“A healthy democracy fully funds our public institutions that serve all of the American people and helps those living on the brink, as part of our social contract in recognition of our common humanity and the fact that we all face illness and aging out of work….

“It’s about having truly public schools that provide our children with empowered teachers trained in the art and science of teaching rather than inexperienced and un-certified stand-ins trying to do it on the cheap so a corporation can pay better dividends to stock speculators.

“The right-wing alternative to truly public schools that the Koch deregulation machine has helped spawn is “charter” schools paid for with our tax dollars.

“We’ve seen too many charters run by fly-by-night operators feeding kids religious gruel or designed by corporations to enrich Wall Street speculators through cutting what’s spent on kids, teachers, and classrooms but a healthy budget for slick ads blanketing the airwaves and underwritten by taxpayers.

“Charles and David Koch have spent decades trying to get rid of “government” schools, as touted in David’s run for the White House in 1980. That’s why it’s now practically a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates to list the Department of Education among the government agencies they are in a race to eliminate.

“We need all hands on deck to stop them.

“That’s one of the reasons why attacks on the DA or union leaders like Randi Weingarten as a false equivalent to the Koch cabal are so misplaced. They are not equivalent because the goals of the Kochs matter and investing in an alternative to the Kochs’ agenda matters, a lot…..

“But, as the person who launched ALECexposed with my team in Madison, I can tell you that Weingarten has been totally stalwart in standing up to ALEC and its anti-public education agenda, which is fueled by the Koch family fortune and other rich families — along with corporations that profit from privatizing public schools, of course.

“The American Federation of Teachers has been rock solid in the fight against ALEC, consistently devoting staff time week in and week out for three years to expose ALEC, due to her personal commitment. The ongoing public campaign on ALEC would not have had the success it has had without AFT’s work and her leadership, and without the work of many devoted colleagues across the country, including the National Education Association and other organizations, bloggers, and concerned citizens nationwide…..

“I know we need a more progressive America.

“And progressives need to get better at using their power to persuade each other and to win better policies.

“But attacking genuine progressives for banding together to take on the Kochs or for not being pure enough is foolish sport. And the right loves it when progressives fight. It makes their effort to tear down the left so much easier.

“So, let’s get real.

“Because there’s a real-world war going on to kill our public schools, outsource our public institutions to private companies not accountable to us, and destroy key government constraints on corporate power…..”

The fabulously wealthy Koch brothers have developed a plan to teach their libertarian ideas to high school students. It is sort of like tobacco companies teaching students that smoking is good for you.

They have used their vast resources to identify like-minded teachers, to train them and to supply course materials. Their program, called Young Entrepreneurs, is growing in Kansas, Missouri, and other states.

What do they teach? “Lesson plans and class materials obtained by The Huffington Post make the course’s message clear: The minimum wage hurts workers and slows economic growth. Low taxes and less regulation allow people to prosper. Public assistance harms the poor. Government, in short, is the enemy of liberty.”

The course didn’t take hold at an elite private school but public schools seem eager for the support and resources.

Another way to sum it up: Greed is good. Look out only for yourself.

This reader commented on a post called “Is the Charter Movement Imploding?” That post reviewed some recent egregious charter school scandals.

He wrote:

“One purpose of school privatization is to bring about “deregulation” of the education system. wherever and whenever deregulation has been permitted to proceed, the result, for public goods and services, has been disastrous. The financial collapse of 2008 was the direct outcome of deregulation. Deregulation was supposed to lead to greater efficiency in the provision of housing and in financial services. Instead it wiped out trillions in individual and social wealth; it nearly destroyed the American economy; and it created a deep, deep well of misery and suffering. The high priests of neoliberalism who called for deregulation should have been made to eat their hats. Their bogus theorizing did not lead to the paradise they promised; instead it put many people in hell. All deregulation of finance achieved was the enrichment of predators and parasites, who preyed on the vulnerable and the desperate by scams, deception and outright criminal acts.

“The deregulation of public education, by leave of privatization, is creating similar opportunities for the unscrupulous and untrustworthy. Because there are no hard and fast criteria for opening a charter school (except a religious commitment to corporate education reform), it’s obvious that this wide open “wild west” frontier where public money is there for the taking was bound to attract venal and criminal types, who have no business at all being around children. Connecticut is notable, because the gap between rich and poor communities is extremely stark, and the State is under legal pressure to make school funding more equitable. But the powers that be in Connecticut are closely connected to the Wall St Hedge Fund Crowd (some of the very people who brought about the 2008 economic collapse), and it is this power which is strongly pushing school privatization. The Hedge Fund Predators don’t care who gets a charter school, just so long as charter schools are created. And the Democratic Governor Malloy is all too willing to oblige his patrons. Malloy is a low character with high ambitions. He would sell his mother to advance his career. But seeing as no one is interested in buying his mother, Malloy has decided to sell out minority children in Connecticut’s poorest cities.

“Deregulation of financial services led to the destruction of many poor neighborhoods, as people were given mortgages they could not manage. The mortgages were given because they were ultimately insured by the Federal government. Private investors got stinking rich by fraud and deception. Homeowners got foreclosed. And the general public picked up the tab for unethical and criminal profiteering. As the Charter school movement continues to grow, you can see the same sorry pattern. Charters are given to crooks, incompetents and charlatans. Some of them make out like bandits. Children in the charters are often given a dreadful education. Neighborhood schools are ruined. Profiteering is at the public expense, as hardly any charter school could survive without public funding. I would not say that the Charter school movement is imploding, but this prospect can’t be ruled out in the future, as deregulation is just another name for ongoing and deepening chaos.”

According to a guest post for EduShyster by high school teacher Keith Benson, The taxpayers of Camden, New Jersey, will spend $82 million to build a practice facility for the Philadelphia 76ers at the same time it is laying off hundreds of school teachers. The new facility will provide 50 low-wage seasonal jobs. This clarifies the priorities of the political leaders of Camden and New Jersey. Education last. Students last.

As Benson writes, “At every turn, the mayor and the *leadership* of Camden start with the assumption that the solution to our city’s problems lies in the hands of outside others. Hence our city leaders are now placing their hopes in corporate-led charter school chains, like Mastery Charter Schools, UnCommon Schools and KIPP (please YouTube some clips of their respective pedagogical techniques), to be staffed with mostly white Teach for America corps members who will only temporarily fill the role of teacher to children desperately needing quality educational leaders and stability. This despite the fact our public schools serve a citizenry mired in generational and concentrated poverty (due largely to historic discriminatory housing and employment policies and inherent structural inequality) that greatly affects students’ scholastic outcomes.”

And so it goes.

Regular reader and commenter Lloyd Lofthouse explains why we need unions:

Let me add something one of my uncles told me. He was 96 when he died about ten years ago.

As a young man, he remembered going to the railroad yard hoping to get work to earn enough to buy food. There was no union then. He said hundreds got up early every morning to show up. The manager in charge of loading and unloading the trains would stand in the opening of one of the box cars and throw ten, fifteen or twenty chips over the heads of the crowd of hopeful workers. Those who caught the chips and kept them got to work sixteen hours that day for about 25 cents.

The next day was a repeat.

This was in the United States during the Great Depression.

Without labor unions working as a collective voice for the workforce, most of the rich and famous will make sure the world we live in returns to that time. Study history as Back2basic suggests and you will learn from it. Mankind doesn’t change and power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. History repeats itself if we allow it.

I read an article recently that compared business methods and this article said that about 4 out of every 5 business are run like dictatorships and the workers are not treated with respect or paid a fair wage with benefits.

Businesses like Costco that are not unionized, Wholefoods, and Trader Joe’s that treat their workers with respect and pays them a living wage with benefits are the exception. Costco has even been criticized by Wall Street because of how much they pay their employees (like $12 or $14 an hour instead of the minimum wage). The stock holders grumble that if Costco paid their employees less, the stock holders would make more from the stocks. If you doubt this, Google it. Costco’s CEO basically told Wall Street to “F” off without using the “F” word. Companies like Costco have a high retention rate compared to corporations like Wall-Mart.

Why is it that some of the 1% who have the most money have spent HUGE fortunes on propaganda and lobbyists in state capitals and Washington DC for decades to destroy the labor unions? What do they have to gain?

Negative opinions of labor unions come from that propaganda and if you believe them and you are not a billionaire or millionaire, what does that say about you?

The answer may be found in this Abraham Lincoln quote: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Who is greedy—the Koch brothers who are worth more than one hundred billion dollars (combined) and are willing to pollute the air, water and soil to increase their wealth or the union worker who is paid maybe $25 an hour with a retirement and health plan that cuts into the profits and wealth of people like Bill Gates, the Walton family or Eli Broad?

Without labor unions, the worker has no voice. The only voice heard will be from someone like Bill Gates.

Paul Thomas uses “Hamlet” and allegory to make the point that the myth of rugged individualism is over, that we are ruled by an oligarchy, and that we must redirect our belief system to recognize reality.

He writes:

“The U.S. is trapped in our false myths—the rugged individual, pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps—and as a result, we persist in blaming the poor for being poor, women for being the victims of sexism and rape, African Americans for being subject to racism. Our pervasive cultural ethos is that all failures lie within each person’s own moral frailties, and thus within each person’s ability to overcome. We misread the success of the privileged as effort and the struggles of the impoverished as sloth—and then shame those in poverty by demanding that they behave in ways that the privilege are never required to assume.

“We refuse to step away from the gaze on the conditions and actions of the individual in order to confront the failures of our society: the Social Darwinism of our capitalist commitments to competition and materialism.

“To place this in pop culture terms, the U.S. has too long been a Superman culture, the most rugged of rugged individuals, and it is time to replace that myth with a commitment to the X-Men (while not perfect, the X-Men mythology is grounded in community and a moral imperative about the sacred humanity in every person regardless of his/her status at birth, an imperative that rejects the tyranny of the norm).

“Once we recognize that community and solidarity are powerful, we will collectively change the paradigm, and like Hamlet, we will tear away false promises of the oligarchs, recognizing that the privileged ruling class in the U.S. (like kings in Hamlet’s Denmark) are substantially one level below excrement (“how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar”); and thus, the promise of a free people, the promise of democracy can be served only if we recognize our shared interests as workers, as humans, as the majority, and ultimately as the moral grounding too long ignored by the billionaire class we now serve.”

Anthony Cody is confused by the contradictions of the corporate reform movement. “On the one hand, we have a seemingly utopian project with bold pronouncements about the boundless capacity of all students – even those with serious learning disabilities – to succeed on ever more difficult tests. On the other hand, we have tests that are apparently intentionally designed to fail in the realm of two thirds of our students.”

Cody considers the views of Bill Gates, who has finally admitted that student motivation plays a role in whether students learn.

Cody points out that student motivation is affected by their sense of their own future. Yet as Gates himself admits:

“Well, technology in general will make capital more attractive than labor over time. Software substitution, you know, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses… It’s progressing. And that’s going to force us to rethink how these tax structures work in order to maximize employment, you know, given that, you know, capitalism in general, over time, will create more inequality and technology, over time, will reduce demand for jobs particularly at the lower end of the skill set. And so, you know, we have to adjust, and these things are coming fast. Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower, and I don’t think people have that in their mental model.”

So if there are fewer jobs, a shrinking middle class, and fewer opportunities for social mobility, students face a bleak future. How can they be motivated in an economy where their prospects are dim?

Cody writes:

“Gates is suggesting we increase taxes on consumption by the wealthy, and use those revenues to provide a sort of subsistence level payment to the poor. He opposes an increase in the minimum wage because it might raise employer costs, which they would then try to cut by laying people off.

“Gates is unconcerned about income inequality as an issue. He defines poverty as abject starvation and homelessness, and hopes employers can be convinced to keep on employees because they do not cost very much.

“The motivation of 50 million K12 students in the US is directly related to the degree to which their education leads to a brighter future. We have a big disconnect here when the future does not, in fact, offer much chance at access to college or productive employment. And as Wilkinson and Pickett established in their book The Spirit Level, the level of inequality societies tolerate has a dramatic effect on the mental state and wellbeing of its citizens…..

“As I wrote earlier in the week, there seems to be an attempt to use ever more difficult Common Core aligned tests to certify as many as two thirds of our students as unworthy of such opportunities.

“This brings to mind a dystopian future where an underclass of Common Core test rejects is allowed to subsist with the bare minimum payments required to keep starvation at bay, while a shrinking cadre of insecure workers maintain the machinery that keep the lights on and the crops harvested.

“The fundamental problem of the current economy is that we have not figured out a means by which the top 1% can be persuaded to share the prodigious profits that have flowed from technological advances…

“I cannot reconcile how this future of growing inequality and a shrinking workforce intersects with the grand utopian vision of the Common Core. So then I go back and have to question the validity of the promises made for the Common Core, since the economic projections Gates is making here seem sound….

“These economic problems will not be addressed by Common Core, by charter schools or any other educational reforms. They will not even be addressed in a significant way by what we might praise as authentic education reforms, such as smaller class sizes or more time for teacher collaboration – though these are worthwhile and humane things.
Imperfect as they have been, public schools have been an institution under mostly democratic control, funded by taxpayers, governed by elected school boards, and run by career educators. Market-driven education reform is bringing the cruelty of commerce into what was part of the public sphere, attempting to use test scores to open and close schools like shoe stores, and pay teachers on test score commissions as if we were salesmen.

“The rhetoric of the corporate reform project draws on the modern movement for civil rights, and even Bill Gates asserts that his goal is to fight inequity. But elites have rarely, if ever, designed solutions that diminish their privilege, and this is no exception. It appears that corporate education reform has devised a means to affix blame for inequity on classroom teachers, even as technological advances make it possible to transfer even more wealth into its sponsors’ bank accounts, with fewer people being paid for the work that remains necessary. The promise that the Common Core will prepare everyone for the American dream is made a lie by the intentionally engineered failure rates on Common Core aligned tests.”

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University, writes that the increasing inequality in the U.S. is neither inevitable nor necessary. Other nations have experienced economic growth while assuring greater equality. We could as well, but the super-rich have managed to capture control of enough politicians to prevent any legislation that might increase their tax rates and assure a fairer society “with justice for all.”

Stiglitz writes:

“So why has America chosen these inequality-enhancing policies? Part of the answer is that as World War II faded into memory, so too did the solidarity it had engendered. As America triumphed in the Cold War, there didn’t seem to be a viable competitor to our economic model. Without this international competition, we no longer had to show that our system could deliver for most of our citizens.

“Ideology and interests combined nefariously. Some drew the wrong lesson from the collapse of the Soviet system. The pendulum swung from much too much government there to much too little here. Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.

“But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of “free” markets and deregulation.

“The American political system is overrun by money. Economic inequality translates into political inequality, and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality. In fact, as he recognizes, Mr. Piketty’s argument rests on the ability of wealth-holders to keep their after-tax rate of return high relative to economic growth. How do they do this? By designing the rules of the game to ensure this outcome; that is, through politics.

“So corporate welfare increases as we curtail welfare for the poor. Congress maintains subsidies for rich farmers as we cut back on nutritional support for the needy. Drug companies have been given hundreds of billions of dollars as we limit Medicaid benefits. The banks that brought on the global financial crisis got billions while a pittance went to the homeowners and victims of the same banks’ predatory lending practices. This last decision was particularly foolish. There were alternatives to throwing money at the banks and hoping it would circulate through increased lending. We could have helped underwater homeowners and the victims of predatory behavior directly. This would not only have helped the economy, it would have put us on the path to robust recovery.”

Educators see the results of what Stiglitz describe in the unwillingness by politicians to provide equality of educational opportunity. Our Secretary of Education is a champion of privatization who prefers competition to equity and doesn’t care about segregation. State legislatures are cutting school budgets. Class sizes are growing. Teachers pay for school supplies. Public education is dying in urban districts like Philadelphia and Detroit, as rich white bankers pump money into privatization. Some see public education as a sector ripe for profit and plunder. In some states, such as Ohio, Michigan, and Florida, the for-profit charter industry has captured control of the government and suffers little or no regulation.

Stiglitz concludes:

“The problem of inequality is not so much a matter of technical economics. It’s really a problem of practical politics. Ensuring that those at the top pay their fair share of taxes — ending the special privileges of speculators, corporations and the rich — is both pragmatic and fair. We are not embracing a politics of envy if we reverse a politics of greed. Inequality is not just about the top marginal tax rate but also about our children’s access to food and the right to justice for all. If we spent more on education, health and infrastructure, we would strengthen our economy, now and in the future. Just because you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it again.

“We have located the underlying source of the problem: political inequities and policies that have commodified and corrupted our democracy. It is only engaged citizens who can fight to restore a fairer America, and they can do so only if they understand the depths and dimensions of the challenge. It is not too late to restore our position in the world and recapture our sense of who we are as a nation. Widening and deepening inequality is not driven by immutable economic laws, but by laws we have written ourselves.”

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