Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Myth of the Self-Made American: Why Progressives Get No Respect ANS

Here's another new article by Sara Robinson.  It's about denial by conservatives and that we need to set the record straight.  Note my comment in response. 
Find it here:

The Myth of the Self-Made American: Why Progressives Get No Respect

Sara Robinson's picture

By Sara Robinson

October 29, 2010 - 2:03pm ET

One of the biggest problems facing the Democrats going into this election is that they're getting absolutely zero respect for everything they've done for the average American over the past two years. Tax cuts, health care reform, financial reform, expanded veterans' benefits, direct funding of student loans -- the list is long, and one that, by rights, should get the Democrats re-elected handily.

The problem is that the average voter has no idea that any of this ever happened. In fact, if you ask most Americans (even a lot of Democrats), they'll tell you that Obama raised their taxes.

This ignorance is on full display at your average Tea Party gathering, which is full of people who will proudly insist that they're entirely self-made. "I did it all myself," they'll snarl, quivering in spittle-flecked outrage. "I didn't get any government handouts. Nobody ever did anything for me -- so why are all my tax dollars going to support those shiftless welfare cheats who aren't willing to work like I did?"

The magnitude of the self-delusion is gobstopping. Did Mr. Self-Made Man grow up in a VA or FHA-funded house? Attend a public school or college? Go to school on the GI Bill, Pell Grants, or student loans? Does he claim a mortgage interest tax deduction every year? Does he support his retired parents out of pocket, or does Social Security do it for him? Does his employer get government contracts or subsidies that make his paycheck possible? Does his business depend on a sound currency, enforceable contracts, or reliable transportation systems?

It's like his rich Uncle Sam, the benefactor whose generous bequests paid his way into the middle class, has been written totally out of his entire life story. Forget gratitude; these social contract deniers insist loudly that none of that ever happened. At all. They pay taxes; but they've never seen a cent returned to them for anything. And they write their "self-made" myths accordingly.

Unfortunately, this is just a symptom of a much larger problem, one that progressives need to resolve if we are to prevail in the future. The bizarre fact is that most Americans who've made it into the middle class got there with the help of seriously life-changing government investments and subsidies -- and yet, ironically, if you ask them if they've ever used a government program in their lives, they're very likely to tell you: Nope. Never. I did it all on my own.

Suzanne Mettler, a professor at Cornell, actually documented this effect in a 2008 study. She asked people who'd been the beneficiaries of 19 specific government programs -- including some of the most popular and widespread programs in the country -- whether or not they'd ever used a government social program. Here's what she found:

Pct. of program beneficiaries who report they have not used a g

There it is, in black and white. Sixty percent of people who get home mortgage interest deductions (one of the most important and lucrative middle-class subsidies going) don't see this as a form of government help to their households, even though many of them wouldn't be homeowners at all without it. Fifty-three percent of the people who got through college on student loans -- and 40 percent of GI Bill beneficiaries -- also think they've paid their own freight. And 44 percent of Social Security recipients don't think that Social Security is a government program -- which comes as no surprise to those of us who remember the ubiquitous calls during last year's health care fight to "get your fllthy government hands off my Social Security."

What's going on here? How can so many people receive so much, and yet remain in such obstinate denial about where it all came from?

A big part of the problem, says Mettler, is that some government programs are simply more visible to the average voter than others. The visible ones tend to be the ones that are administered directly by a government agency, and show up in the budgets as clear line items. In particular, the programs that benefit the poor are often right out there on the table, where voters can see them and activists can ignite them into political issues: welfare, food stamps, government subsidized housing, education, Head Start.

But these programs are just a small fraction of America's overall social spending. The bulk of our tax money goes to other programs -- such as the mortgage interest deduction, student loan programs, and military spending -- that are hidden from easy public view in what Mettler calls "the submerged state." This spending is usually done in ways that are not directly visible to voters. A lot of it is corporate welfare, designed to prop up favored industries that are so powerful that no change is possible unless they're somehow bought off with new profit opportunities or subsidies. These industries have a strong interest in keeping this spending out of the public eye and off the political table, where it might be challenged. An important subcategory includes government-funded programs that are run through private companies, like prisons or pre-reform student loans (or, for that matter, Obamacare). The money comes straight out of Uncle Sam's pocket, but the beneficiaries never see his hand directly.

The big disconnect occurs because so many of the programs that benefit the middle class fall into this category. Take the mortgage interest deduction. This is, in effect, a subsidy that keeps America's real estate and building trades sectors in business -- and, as we've painfully discovered, was also of huge interest to the banks as well. But even though every homeowner in America profits handsomely from this subsidy, most Americans don't understand very much about it. It's just a line item on their income taxes. And there's strong pressure to keep it that way. If the magnitude of this subsidy somehow moved into general awareness, it might be challenged. It would be subject to political debate. And that's the last thing the builders and bankers want.

The 58 percent of our federal spending that goes to defense is almost certainly the biggest skeleton in the "submerged state" closet. A lot of that spending goes to businesses, large and small, around the country. If you're a Congress member protecting jobs in your district (including your own), there is absolutely no upside to making an issue out of this. And, again, the beneficiaries are largely middle-class households, who fail to see the very real connection between these "government programs" and their own paychecks.

Mettler argues that any real reform that involves these hidden non-state actors must begin with explicitly making the invisible visible to the eyes of the public. It takes time and effort to bring the machinery of the submerged state up into the light of day, but it's necessary -- and effective. Obama's effort to restore direct federal funding of student loans was a good example of this. The banks were making billions each year off this program, at the expense of millions of students who should have been getting that money instead. He was able to pull this off because activists and journalists had already spent several years hauling the ugly wreck of a policy up into public view, which weakened the ability of banking lobbyists to defend their position. By the time Obama arrived, they were weak enough that he could demand -- and get -- a complete end to this lucrative subsidy.

Making the invisible visible is also essential if we're going to counter the Tea Party's self-serving, denial-wracked narratives, and open the way for Democrats and progressives to get the credit they deserve for the good that they do. We need to start pointing out, loudly and often, all the covert-but-effective ways that government investment and intervention has made the middle class possible.

Specifically, we need to drive home the fact that anybody who calls themselves an American cannot, in the same breath, declare that they are in any sense entirely "self-made." This is indeed the land of opportunity. But those opportunities exist only as long as we work together to create them; and willfully denying that is an insult to every other American who sacrificed to make your opportunities possible. It's like saying your parents had nothing to do with raising you. You'd expect them to be hurt, offended, and angry at your lack of gratitude. The rest of us who contributed to your success aren't wrong to feel insulted, too.

Progressives know the truth: Nobody in America ever did it alone, for themselves. For the past 220 years, we've done it together, for each other. Bringing that interdependence back out into the light and putting at the center of our politics shifts the entire dialogue in ways that can help the progressives over the long haul, in at least three ways.

First, it reaffirms the democratic social contract. From the arrogant Wall Street bankers who still think they deserve bonuses for tanking the economy to the furious white men of the Tea Party, people who've convinced themselves that nobody ever gave them anything are justified (at least in their own minds) in deciding that they don't owe anything to anyone else, either. And as long as they can keep the "self-made" lie going, they'll also go on believing that they're totally exempt from the whole social contract on which a democracy runs.

Second: It calls the conservatives' politics-of-rage game. The self-made myth allows the conservative movement to keep feeding on the fury of aggrieved people who falsely think they're getting nothing for something, even while they're standing on a pile of wealth that we helped put under their feet. Setting the record straight on exactly what they did get for their tax dollars removes a lot of the justification for this outrage, and makes them look like the tantrum-throwing spoiled brats they are.

Third: It demands that people give credit where credit is due. Nothing changes until those of us who've paid our share of taxes, worked hard and played by the rules, struggled to raise sound families and build decent communities, and served our country at home and abroad start demanding acknowledgment, respect, and a proper "Thank you" for everything we've each contributed to make so much mutual success possible. And the real patriot is the one who always makes sure that Uncle Sam himself is the very first one to stand for applause.

Putting the lie to the "self-made" myth is critical to restoring the progressive ideas of common wealth, common sense, and the common good to a central place in our political story. It's time to hand the country's real "entitlement classes" the full, complete, annotated bill for everything they've received from the government's hand -- and demand that they never again forget to thank the 300 million of us who made it all possible.

Help us spread the word about these important stories...

Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future
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Next step?

By Kim Cooper | November 1, 2010 - 1:12am GMT

Great! Now, how do we do this?



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Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Trillion-Dollar Vision of Dee Hock ANS

Here is the beginning of a seven page article.  It's very interesting, but long.  It's about a new way to organize a business.  so read this and if you want to read the rest, go here:   

The Trillion-Dollar Vision of Dee Hock

By: M. Mitchell WaldropOctober 31, 1996
The corporate radical who organized Visa wants to dis-organize your company.

"We are at that very point in time when a 400-year-old age is dying and another is struggling to be born -- a shifting of culture, science, society, and institutions enormously greater than the world has ever experienced. Ahead, the possibility of the regeneration of individuality, liberty, community, and ethics such as the world has never known, and a harmony with nature, with one another, and with the divine intelligence such as the world has never dreamed."

Not the fire-and-brimstone gospel preaching of a tent revivalist -- but preaching nonetheless. This is the workplace gospel of Dee Ward Hock, a 67-year-old retired banker with a powerful message of change, hope, and possibility, and the promise of a shining synthesis of chaos and order, a "chaordic organization."

Peter Senge, author of "The Fifth Discipline" and a leader in organizational redesign, brought in Hock last year to help reconceive his MIT Center for Organizational Learning, a consortium of 20 companies dedicated to cutting-edge work in corporate adaptability. "Dee is one of the most original thinkers on the subject of organization that I've come across," Senge says.

Alan Wright, education director for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, who recently started working with Hock to organize a statewide movement for educational reform, says, "I see Dee as a leader in bringing innovative ideas to this field." And at the National 4-H Council, the not-for-profit youth arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension Service, which started working with Hock over a year ago, Vice President Donald Floyd says, "We've done all kinds of consultants, and we've done a lot of heavy-duty facilitator stuff. But this is different."

When he talks, Dee Hock is charismatic and compelling. But people listen to him for one reason: credibility. Unlike most visionaries -- or management consultants -- Hock has put his ideas into practice. More than 25 years ago he oversaw the creation of a business that was organized according to the same principles of distributed power, diversity, and ingenuity that he advocates today. And that business has prospered -- to put it mildly.

Since 1970 it has grown by something like 10,000%. It continues to expand at roughly 20% per year. It now operates in some 200 countries worldwide. It serves roughly half a billion clients.

And this year, its annual sales volume is expected to pass $1 trillion.

This is one of Dee Hock's favorite tricks to play on an audience. "How many of you recognize this?" he asks, holding out his own Visa card.

Every hand in the room goes up.

"Now," Hock says, "how many of you can tell me who owns it, where it's headquartered, how it's governed, or where to buy shares?"

Confused silence. No one has the slightest idea, because no one has ever thought about it.

And that, says Hock, is exactly how it ought to be. "The better an organization is, the less obvious it is," he says. "In Visa, we tried to create an invisible organization and keep it that way. It's the results, not the structure or management that should be apparent." Today the Visa organization that Hock founded is not only performing brilliantly, it is also almost mythic, one of only two examples that experts regularly cite to illustrate how the dynamic principles of chaos theory can be applied to business.

Fascist America: Is This Election The Next Turn? ANS

Here is Sara Robinson's latest article.  It's a followup to a series from last year, about possible coming fascism in America.  I've included the comments, and, if I can find it again, I'll highlight a phrase I particularly liked in the comments. 
Find it here:  

Fascist America: Is This Election The Next Turn?

Sara Robinson's picture

By Sara Robinson

October 22, 2010 - 12:34am ET


In August 2009, I wrote a piece titled Fascist America: Are We There Yet? that sparked much discussion on both the left and right ends of the blogosphere. In it, I argued that -- according to the best scholarship on how fascist regimes emerge -- America was on a path that was running much too close to the fail-safe point beyond which no previous democracy has ever been able to turn back from a full-on fascist state. I also noted that the then-emerging Tea Party had a lot of proto-fascist hallmarks, and that it had the potential to become a clear and present danger to the future of our democracy if it ever got enough traction to start winning elections in a big way.

On the first anniversary of that article, Jonah Goldberg -- the right's revisionist-in-chief on the subject of fascism -- actually used an entire National Review column to taunt me about what he characterized as a failure of prediction. Where's that fascist state you promised? he hooted.

It's funny he should ask. Because this coming election may, in fact, be a critical turning point on that road.

The Fascist America series of three articles (the other two are here and here) was built out of Robert Paxton's Anatomy of Fascism -- a landmark work of scholarship that lays out that specific conditions and prognosis of fascism as a political form. Paxton defined fascism as:

...a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

Paxton laid out the five basic lifecycle stages of successful fascist movements. In the first stage, a mature industrial state facing some kind of crisis breeds a new, rural movement that's based on nationalist renewal. This movement invariably rejects reason and glorifies raw emotion, promises to restore lost national pride, co-opts the nation's traditional myths for its own purposes, and insists that the country must be purged of the toxic influence of outsiders and intellectuals who are blamed for their current misery.

(Sound familiar yet?)

In the second stage, the movement takes root, turns into a real political party, and seizes a seat at the table. Success at this stage, Paxton writes, "depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner."

(Paging the Party of No....)

In the face of this deadlock, the corporate elites forge an alliance with rural nationalists, creating an unholy marriage that, if it continues, will soon breed a fascist state. And, of course, this is precisely what's happening now between the Koch Brothers, the oil companies, Americans for Prosperity, and the Tea Party.

The majority of history's would-be fascist movements have died right at this stage -- almost always because of the basic authoritarian ineptitude of their leadership, which ensured that they'd never gain anything more than a small and temporary handful of seats at the political table. The successful fascisms, on the other hand, were the ones that held together and to gained enough political leverage that capturing their governments became inevitable. And once that happened, there was no turning back, because they now had the political power and street muscle to silence any opposition. (Fascist parties almost never enjoy majority support at any stage -- but being a minority faction is only a problem in a functioning democracy. It's no problem at all if you're willing to use force to get your way.)

According to Paxton, there are three quick questions that let you know you've crossed that fail-safe line beyond which an emerging fascist regime has too much power to be stopped:

1. Are [neo- or protofascisms] becoming rooted as parties that represent major interests and feelings and wield major influence on the political scene?

2. Is the economic or constitutional system in a state of blockage apparently insoluble by existing authorities?

3. Is a rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the control of traditional elites, to the point where they would be tempted to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge?

If the answer to all three is "yes," you're probably on for the rest of the ride, which can run for at least a decade or two before it burns through.

A year ago, I noted that we were already three for three on these questions. Now, the "yes" answers are far more resounding. With over 70 Tea Party candidates running for major state and federal offices on the ballot this November, it's fair to say that the 2010 election is shaping up as a national referendum on the Tea Party's future viability. And if they succeed at winning enough of these races, it may very well be the last vote on the subject we ever get.

The Alternatives
There are only a few ways this plays out. A few scenarios:

1. The Tea Party is rejected outright by the voters on November 2. A handful of their candidates do win their races; and for the next few years, the Democrats have a grand time pointing out their sheer wingnuttitude, bolstering a compelling case against electing any more of them in the future. The party begins to lose momentum, and in a few years is defunct.

2. The Tea Party elects a credible number of these 70-odd candidates -- enough to make a solid showing and establish its political bona fides, but not enough to get anything serious done. If this happens, progressives need to work fast and hard. If this right-wing tide continues to build as we head into the 2012 election, we'll still be cruising straight into a fascist future -- just not quite yet. There's time to stop it, but the momentum is not on our side -- and stopping it only gets harder with every passing week.

3. A solid majority of the Tea Party candidates win their races, cementing the movement's lock on the GOP and turning it into a genuine political power in this country. They've already promised us that if they take either house of Congress, the next two years will be a lurid nightmare of hearings, trials, impeachments, and character assassinations against progressives. (Which could, in the end, backfire on the GOP as badly as the Clinton impeachment did. We can hope.) Similar scorched-earth harassment awaits officials at every other level of government, too. And casual violence against immigrants, gays, and progressives may escalate as the Tea Party brownshirts become bolder, confident that at least some authorities will either back them up or look the other way.

In this scenario, the fail-safe point -- the point beyond which no country has ever turned back from the full fascist nightmare -- may well be behind us when we wake up on November 3. From there, the rest will play out in agonizing slow motion; and the character of the rest of this decade will hinge almost entirely on whether the corporatists, the militarists, or the theocrats ultimately get the upper hand in the emerging regime.

Really? Are you serious?
It's fair to wonder if the Tea Party deserves to be taken this seriously. After all, there's always been this faction in US politics -- the 10-12% rightwing authoritarian hard core that fueled McCarthyism and the Bircher movement and the Moral Majority; that voted for Goldwater and then George Wallace and even put KKK leader David Duke into office for a time. The far right has always been with us. It's one of the constants in our political landscape.

But they've always been a fringe movement, and it's mostly kept to itself. What's different now is that all the crazy ideas of the radical right -- climate and evolution denialism, banning contraception, sovereign citizenship, End Times theology, white nationalism, all of it -- have been catalyzed by the magic of the Internet and widespread economic disaster into one coherent mass subculture that, according to a Wall Street Journal poll released yesterday, has attracted a full 35% of the country's likely voters. According to Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates, the Tea Parties are a broad movement that brings together several preexisting formations on the political right:

-- Economic libertarians who worry about big government collectivist tyranny

-- Christian Right Conservatives who oppose liberal government social policies

-- Right-wing apocalyptic Christians who fear a Satanic New World Order

-- Nebulous conspiracy theorists who fear a secular New World Order

-- Nationalistic ultra-patriots concerned that US sovereignty is eroding

-- Xenophobic anti-immigrant white nationalists who worry about preserving the "real" America.

This unification of right-wing forces around radical far-right ideas has never happened on anything like this scale in modern American history. And it's why we need to recognize the Tea Party as something unique under the political sun -- and seriously evaluate the future that awaits us if it becomes any more powerful.

That future is a painful thing to contemplate. I've been called an alarmist for even daring to use the F-word to describe the situation we're facing. But that's one of the universal hallmarks of fascism: by the time everybody finally wakes up and realizes that they're in it, it's usually too late to do anything about it. Here's how Milton Mayer described his experience of this as the Nazi thrall descended in Germany:

In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, 'It's not so bad' or 'You're seeing things' or 'You're an alarmist.'

And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can't prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic.

And yet the day comes when it's all too clear, Mayer writes -- and on that day, it's too late to stand up.

Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven't done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

There are only a few days left before the election. Whatever you do between now and then will be a small matter -- a matter of making a few phone calls, of knocking on some doors, of following up with friends. And yet any compromise now could be the one we will remember with breaking hearts five years from now, when the country we knew is gone, and our future has been seized by people who represent the worst of everything we are.

Be the one who sees where this is taking us. Be the one who stands while you still can. The future these people have in mind for us is one that dozens of countries have already lived through; and all of them will carry the scars for centuries. It's not fascism yet; but if the Tea Party manages to get its hands on the levers of power, it will be.

Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future Discuss (9 Comments)
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not mentioned is the authoritarianism on the other side

By Bob Fleischer | October 22, 2010 - 5:29pm GMT

I agree with this article and what troubles me even more is that there are inklings of authoritarian rule on the other side, on the part of the Obama administration. The assassination orders, the use of states secrets privilege, indefinite detention without trial, rendition to other nations, secrecy in immigration and other hearings, increased wiretap powers, and legislative deals worked out with powerful private interests are all the mechanisms of fascism, which will all be in place, in working order, for whatever power steps up to take command.

Continued sliming won't work

By Scott Amos | October 22, 2010 - 10:59pm GMT

Tea Partiers are not fascists. The only one who even sounds thuggish is Carl Paladino - and he has no chance of winning.

» You may be right.

By Greg Sousa | October 24, 2010 - 11:53pm GMT

Mr. Amos, I think we're in agreement. Tea party patriots are not really fascists, at least that's not their intent. Rather, they are merely unwitting accomplices.

The Hideous Beauty of a Big Tent

By Jay Moor | October 23, 2010 - 12:30am GMT

"Tea Partiers are not fascists." Tea Partiers have defended themselves against this charge and against that of racism, also. Sara makes the point that the TP is a big tent, into which both thugs and racists -- as well as maleable morons, corporate shills, xenophobes and other unhappy, fearful or unethical types -- have been invited. While any one scary personality trait cannot be applied to all TPers, one or more traits are exhibited by a number of different TP members. These represent up-to-now politically incorrect or illegal behaviors that have been shunned by our society for several decades. With the TP, they suddenly find a venue for expression -- usually couched in coded but pretty transparent language.

I doubt that the Tea Party, a brotherhood that welcomes near- or clear-sociopaths of various types can purge itself of any of these elements. That inability to self-cleanse is built into its design and is therefore its strength. The right wing strategy for attaining autocratic control of the USA and its governmental, financial, human and environmental resources is built around an Atwaterian and Rovian system of lies and demagoguery, of blindsiding a society that expects a certain level of fair play in its political processes. Progressives have yet to recognize that we are in an asymmetrical political war that we are losing badly because the opposition strategy is alien to our thinking.

When the stakes are so high, it is logical to expect that a minority of bad people would find a way to circumvent the agreed upon rules in order to exploit the good faith of the majority. If we understood as much about human nature as the TP controllers, we would have predicted that eventually the new robber barons and greedy elite would figure out how to change the rules in their favor -- even without our knowing it. So much for our own intelligence and our ability to learn from experience or even logic.

We can only hope that enough righteous citizens eventually recall our fundamental values and principles and work to reeducate our dumbed-down and frightened populace. We are now running on ethical fumes. It has been pointed out that today's Freshmen entering university were born in 1991. All they really know about what America means they learned from the Bush administration and the continuation of his authoritarian policies under Obama.

The commodification of our educational system was another piece on the right wing's invisible game board that we have failed to defend against. Public education is critical to creating a base of good citizens with shared values. Instead of fighting hard for it, we caved in on taxes and privatization, pushing civic-mindedness out to the woodshed. It's our own fault that we are well down the road to fascism and increased violence against scapegoats and minorities.

Fascist Threat

By seabury lyon | October 23, 2010 - 11:45am GMT

I have no special credentials other than having lived for more than 70 yrs and being a news/politics junkie since I built my first radio on our family farm in 6th grade. I can only respond to Robinson's article and Moor's comment with a full-throated RIGHT ON!!!

I haven't been this worried about the survival of our democracy since the "duck and cover" drills at school in WW II -and then in the 60's as the cold war heated up with the convincing threat of nuclear annihilation.

I live in a very rural community of about 300 full-time residents and was recently yanked back to those terrors I felt as a kid. I got into a chat last spring with a local fellow whom I like and consider as "a good guy". We got to concerns about the terrible state of our political climate and he responded without missing a beat that he "wouldn't be surprised at all to see armed conflict in America soon because of it".

My blood ran cold but I managed to ask where he gets information that would lead him to that conclusion. He replied "oh y'know the usual guys... Limbaugh, Beck, Savage... they know what's really happening to this country... we've got a little group around here if you want to stop by for early coffee... really good guys".

Sorry for the length of this note, but I'm worried sick and I need help to focus on the real, ROOT CAUSE for this impending calamity to head it off. I think about this way more than I want to, but I NEED to. I think the real Root Cause is found in the body of an unholy alliance Robinson points to: corporatists, militarists and theocrats.

Combining the deep pockets and amply demonstrated greed of nonhuman, non-humane corporations with the power and reach of our military and now paramilitary forces is bad enough. Add the emotional gunpowder of theocratic opportunists and we're looking into the muzzle a beast familiar to those of us who remember, or read enough. But it's now an updated and uniquely powerful beast. Even our ability to communicate about it through our national media is being attacked by it behind a smoke screen of corporate and ideological propaganda.

There is a powerful antidote provided in our Constitution, Declaration and Bill of Rights -but are there enough of us who will make the time to read them, know them and focus action based on them in an effective defense? That's what keeps me up at night, and writing long, anguished comments like this.


Thank you for being an alarmist

By Mark Erickson | October 24, 2010 - 12:37am GMT

I immensely enjoyed and was educated by your previous series on fascism. Using Paxton's criteria is essential to avoid ignorant name-calling. At that time, I thought, yes, it is possible. But with a year of events behind us, getting to know Tea Party candidates for office, and further probing of who and what the Tea Party is have calmed my worries about the possibility of a new American fascism. I'd argue that the three quick questions have "no" answers at this time.

For question #1. First, the most important point that we've now found out is that the Tea Party is the base of the Republican Party. They are the conservative foot-soldiers that the GOP uses for every election, tosses them a bone when they win power, and then ignores them until the next election. The "non-partisan" myth of the TP is just that they are against the elites of both parties. Their ideologies are in perfect alignment with conservative Republicans.

Second, the Tea Party isn't a political party. At the grass roots, it is several national or semi-national organizations that are funded by Republican operatives, trying to capture and direct a free-for-all hoge-poge of local activists. And these national orgs are basically competing against each other for market share. At the candidate level, Tea Party is just a another code word to signal voters that they are conservative Republicans who hate government. These candidates have all entered the Republican primaries. I'm only knowledgeable about the US Senate TPers, but I would be shocked if any US House TPers are running on a third party ticket or as a write-in. Maybe at the State level, but I doubt it.

Third, again discussing the US Senate candidates, even if all of the Tea Party candidates are elected, they still wouldn't have a major influence on the political scene. Yes, our system gives ridiculous power to every individual Senator, but try to name one policy that those TPers would unite on and get through just the Senate that isn't already a GOP priority. And it's not just the lack of cohesion between these candidates, but the lack of a coherent policy vision from any of them.

It is almost trivial that some of them are whack-jobs. Even if none of them were, the TP wouldn't be a major influence on politics outside of primary races against establishment GOP candidates. As an aside, the only TP US Senate candidate that scares me is Joe Miller. Even before the hand-cuffing incident, he fits the bill as a proto-fascist.

#2. The economic and constitutional systems aren't blocked. An example of economic blockage would be mass extended strikes or lock-outs, trade wars, big businesses allowed to fail, severe labor shortages that require large scale immigration, etc. Sure, it's hard to pass controversial laws, but that's not a blocked system. None of the three branches are undermining the others and federalism isn't under attack - you can ignore the Tenthers. And if the election of 2000 didn't cause our constitutional system to implode, nothing sort of civil war will. Powerful people just have too much to lose from even the threat of revolution.

#3 Mid-term elections haven't had more than 40% turnout since 1970. A stunning turnout would be 50%. That's not massive political mobilization. And the TP certainly is not threatening to escape the control of elites. Hell, elites are financing them. And who would the "tough helpers" be? The militia movement is dangerous from a lone terrorist, but suppressing dissent? No way.

Again, thanks for your vital work. I just don't see it right now. I'll check back in after the election and I would be very interested in more info on House TP candidates.

You contradict yourself.

By Jason Gonella | October 24, 2010 - 11:04pm GMT

The fact that you included libertarians in your description of the component factions of the tea party should actually undermine your argument that the tea party represents a fascistic development in American politics. There are many indicators that would support your argument, but including libertarians in any indicator that does is self-contradictory.

Of course there are elements other than libertarians in the Tea Party movement. If it was purely libertarian then Sarah Palin and Glen Beck would not be involved in it.

You should be looking to libertarians as fellow travelers, we've been warning about an upcoming fascism for a long time now ... but we said it no matter which indistinguishable party was currently dominant which means half the time we were useless to you.

examples of fascism?

By Alex von T | October 26, 2010 - 12:35pm GMT

The problem I have with assertions of "fascism" is that it is associated with the horrific evils of Nazi Germany. I think there are social and legal safeguards against this. The term inflames the debate and detracts from the credibility of the party making the argument. Unless one gets more specific and gives other examples of fascist regimes and talks about how that history could be repeated here, i.e. by what processes and with what results, it's not a meaningful argument.

I think there is a real danger of fascism. That means attacks on minority rights and political dissent (including imprisonment and disappearing), expensive and pointless wars to distract opposition with claims about national security, and ultimately a collapse of the nation's status in the world when society rises up to resist and the resources used to bully other countries and its own citizens are expended. But it's kind of a distraction to raise fears of concentration camps and genocide. Overstating the case causes reasonable people to reject the argument, which is not helpful.

Obviously the right-wingers will use propaganda buzzwords like "totalitarianism" to label their opponents, and obviously this is ridiculous. Totalitarianism involves the suppression of debate by eliminating dissent and channels of dissent. Nothing like this happens in America (or any democracy, even in Italy where the prime minister owns a media network). False claims of moral equivalence are a standard tactic used to deflect criticism.

a few short comments and a question

By Kim Cooper | October 30, 2010 - 1:39pm GMT

Sara said, "The future these people have in mind for us is one that dozens of countries have already lived through;..."
What countries are we talking about here? Just curious.
Alex said, "Totalitarianism involves the suppression of debate by eliminating dissent and channels of dissent. Nothing like this happens in America." I disagree with this: the dissenting opinions have been largely silenced by the mere fact of all the major media outlets being owned by right wing corporations with right wing agendas. In modern MoneyAmerica, there is no need to suppress when you can just buy them out.

I see the current problem is that the people on the left seem to be anti-strategy. We just don't like thinking ahead, planning, or being organized. We don't like to think and act strategically. So the right strategizes circles around us. It's not that we are incapable, it's that we are unwilling. We would rather be "gentlemen" and lose. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why": Where does homosexuality come from? ANS

This is an author interview, but it's interesting.  It's on the state of our scientific knowledge about gayness. 
Find it here:   

Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 15:01 ET

"Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why": Where does homosexuality come from?

Does birth order affect sexual preference? Why are some animals bisexual? A new book probes a heated topic

By Schuyler Velasco

What makes a person gay? Is it genetics, upbringing, or some combination of the two? Over the past few decades, a slew of scientific research has bolstered the notion that sexuality is, at least in part, innate. Studies of the sexual behavior of various animal species have shown that homosexuality is not just a human phenomenon. Then there is the curious finding that the number of older brothers a male has may biologically increase his chances of being gay.

Now Simon LeVay, a former Harvard neuroscientist, has written, "Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation," a comprehensive, engaging and occasionally quite funny look at the current state of the research on the topic. LeVay is one of the leading authorities in the field: Back in 1991, he discovered that INAH3, a structure in the hypothalamus of the brain that helps to regulate sexual behavior, tended to be smaller in gay men than in straight men. It was a watershed moment in our understanding of sexual orientation (the study was published at the height of the AIDS epidemic, when the disease was widely regarded in religious circles as divine punishment for the sin of being gay) and the first scientific finding to support the idea that gayness might be more than just a lifestyle.

Salon spoke with LeVay over the phone from his home in West Hollywood about sexuality and the developing brain, gay sheep, and how science can help prevent anti-gay bullying.

Why do you think this debate is so important?

The fact is, a lot of anti-gay attitudes have been tied to the notion that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice. The biology tends to run against that, plus it's just absurd, because if it were a choice, people would remember making it -- and they don't. When people are talking about a lifestyle choice, well, of course it is a choice in the sense that people choose to make what they want out of these feelings of sexual attraction that they have. There are plenty of gay people who've gotten heterosexually married and had kids. Even Oscar Wilde did that. There are also plenty of straight people who engage in gay sex under certain circumstances.

But I don't think anyone chooses to experience the underlying attractions. At that level, I think the biology really argues against the point of view that the Christian right has presented, of homosexuality as being nothing more than straight people saying to themselves, "Oh, I think I'll try that gay thing this weekend." That's the sort of level that they sometimes want to reduce us to.

You devote a section of the book to sexual orientation in other species. Why is that important to our understanding of it on a human level?

The most famous example are these so-called gay sheep. There was a group of sheep breeders in Idaho who couldn't breed some of their prize rams. They put them together with the females and they just wouldn't perform. So they took the rams to an animal psychologist who studied them for about a year and said, "Look, you've got gay sheep here." It seems that about 5 percent of rams have that preference.

Chuck Roselli and his colleagues at Oregon Health Sciences University looked at their brains and found something very similar to what I found in my study. The structure in this part of the hypothalamus, which actually has a different name in sheep, is also smaller in these male-oriented homosexual sheep than in the female-oriented sheep. That was a confirmation of my work in the sense that it got away from the whole disease angle. I had to collect brain samples from gay and straight men, and at that time most of the gay men had died of AIDS. So some people thought it was a disease that was affecting this part of the brain, rather than sexual orientation. The fact that these sheep were completely healthy gets very much away from that kind of interpretation.

Does naturally occurring homosexuality happen elsewhere in the animal world, in the wild?

Much more common are animals that are to some degree bisexual. They will, on some occasions, mate with same sex partners and, on other occasions, other-sex partners. For example, in bonobos, our oversexed primate relatives, you see all kinds of sexual behavior depending on social circumstances. Animals use sex for purposes beyond reproduction: for forming alliances, swapping sex for material things like food and so forth. And you see same-sex pairing in many bird species.

In breeding colonies of seagull species where there's an excess of females, you'll have female/female mating. It's not really the case that you've got individual animals that have a predisposition to be homosexual or heterosexual. It's a tricky thing to actually find what we call "homosexuality" in the wild, because you really have to follow animals for long periods of time. They're all having sex with each other, but you've got to figure out which of them actually prefer doing that.

Yeah, and you can't exactly ask them

(Laughs) Exactly. Humans seem to be sort of unusual in that many of us are strongly predisposed to be sexually attracted to either males or females.

Why is that?

Well, we don't know, but I think the answer will emerge from the study of brain development.

You point out that even though the research is more and more support of the idea that gays and lesbians are born gays and lesbians, that they should be accepted even if it were a choice. Which I think is a really good distinction to make, because the drawback to the biological argument is that it can start to sound apologetic in a way.

Yes, it can sound apologetic, and one can also say, "Oh, what about bisexuals? Maybe they're not entitled to protection because they do have a choice." Or maybe sexual orientation is more fluid in women than in men, so, do we give more rights to men? It starts to get a little ridiculous if you really parse it out in detail.

One of the groups that I'm very popular with is PFLAG, because they have traditionally borne the "blame" for their kids being gay. So they see my biological line as getting them off the hook, in a sense. I usually say to them, well, in the 10 years or so until we all realize how cool it is to be gay, you'll be changing your tune, saying "Oh, I made my kid gay by reading him a chapter from 'Great Gays in History' every night or something like that." I really think that there are plenty of reasons why gay people should be welcomed in the world. Parents should be blessed to have gay kids.

Given that gay people don't reproduce in nearly the same numbers as straight people, how do gay genes survive?

The usual idea is that a gene predisposing some individuals to homosexuality might promote the reproductive success of others, and the two effects might balance out. It might be that a gene predisposing a man to be gay might make a woman even more attracted to men than she otherwise would be, so that she would engage in more heterosexual sex and thus become pregnant more often. There are a couple of studies reporting that women who have gay male relatives (and who may therefore carry the same "gay gene") do indeed have more children than women without any gay male relatives. The answer will remain speculative, however, until the actual genes have been identified and their mode of action worked out.

The idea that birth order affects sexual orientation in males on a biological level, and that gay men are more likely to have older brothers, is a relatively new one within this field. How do we know that it's not just a social effect?

At first I tended to think it was social, because there have been all these studies on the influence of birth order on mental traits. But that really does not seem to be the case at this point, based primarily on a study [by Tony Bogaert] looking at boys who were adopted out of their birth family. It seems to be the actual birth order of the biological family that matters, not the actual experience of growing up with or without an older brother.

The mother generates some sort of antibodies against the initial male fetus, which interact with the developing brain of later pregnancies with male fetuses, in such a way as to make that fetus more likely to be gay later on. Researchers think that this "older brother" effect accounts for up to about a quarter of the total causation of homosexuality. They are in the process of actually pinning down the biological mechanism involved, so maybe in a year or two we'll have some more direct evidence.

The concept of gender nonconformity comes up in the book a lot: that many people who are gay tend to have traits that are typically associated with the opposite sex. How is this explained in biology?

You have to be really careful, because this is definitely an area of stereotyping, calling a gay man queeny, or lesbians butch. But it does seem that there's a kernel of truth to the idea that being gay or lesbian is not an isolated trait, but part of a package of gendered traits that go together. And what I think is behind that is that during fetal life, the brain is differentiating in a more masculine direction or a more feminine direction under the influence of sex hormones circulating in the fetus's body, mostly testosterone. So it produces people who are not just different from the mainstream in terms of who they want to have sex with, but also in many other aspects. You see that, for example, in that gays and lesbians tend to be overrepresented in certain occupations. And again, you're very much near a stereotype. If people think I'm trying to say that every gay man should be a male nurse or something, and every lesbian should be a professional golfer, then no, that's completely ridiculous.

Issues of bullying and the struggles of growing up gay are kind of center stage right now, with the recent rash of suicides and things like Dan Savage's It Gets Better project. How do you think the work in this field is going to play a role in avoiding these sorts of tragedies?

First of all, yes, it's just horrible what has happened to these kids. When you see these boys and realize what a normal cross section of teenagers they are, it's pretty horrifying. But the way people think about gay people right now, in comparison with a generation ago, the differences are spectacular. Happy, out, gay kids are living like normal teenagers in a way that was not possible a short while ago.

But these kids who are gender-nonconformist at 7, 8, 9 years old, do provoke a tremendous amount of bullying. One thing that this research says is that you have to go to earlier ages and think about what the experience is like for children. The biology points us in a direction of recognizing these children as "born gay" with an entitlement to respect for that difference, just in exactly the same way that a racial group should be entitled to that kind of respect and protection.

But is that problematic in its own way, since we don't really know before puberty whether or not someone is gay or straight, and especially since people with these nonconformist gender traits often ultimately turn out straight? Is there a danger in singling them out for something they won't even realize until much later?

I think gender-nonconformist children should be protected and respected for what they are, not what they may become in the future. Most experts believe that the important thing is to support the child as he or she is. So my advice -- and I'm in no way an expert in this field -- would be for parents to accept their child's gender-nonconformity, and to point out that a grown man or woman can be anything from a ballet-dancer to a marine, and can be in relationships with men or women or both, but not to celebrate "our gay son" or whatever. Parents also do well to point out how mean people sometimes can be, and how the child can take steps to minimize the hurt.

There's a common fear that if a gay gene could be isolated, then it could be eliminated. Is that something that's feasible?

It's not feasible right now, because no gay gene has been identified. We know that genes play a role, but we don't know which genes they are. Now, if it should be found that there is a gene or a small number of genes, each of which has a major effect on sexual orientation, then yes, you could certainly imagine that at some point in the future it might be possible to, say, if you had a bunch of embryos, choose one that was predisposed to have the sexual orientation that you wanted it to have. For most people, I suspect, that would be straight.

This is not true just for sexual orientation, but for our entire makeup as human beings. A lot of this is going to eventually come down to a genetic menu that people might be able to pick and choose from, thanks to the Human Genome Project. It's a major ethical dilemma that we are going to have to face in the next decade.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Tea Party Hilarity ANS

Here is a fiery article about tea-baggers and their hypocrisy in railing against government bailouts but living themselves on government bailouts.  Bad word alert.  It's  from The Rolling Stone.
Find it here:   

Posted: October 12, 2010 4:16 P.M. EDT | By Matt Taibbi

More Tea Party Hilarity

Photograph by Donald Bradley/ Kansas City Star

Quelle surprise! So it turns out that one after another of the Tea Party candidates is in one way or another mooching off the government. The latest series of hilarious disclosures center around Alaska's GI-Joe-bearded windbag Senatorial candidate, Joe Miller, who appears to have run virtually the entire gamut of government aid en route to becoming a staunch, fist-shaking opponent of the welfare state.

Miller's pomposity and piety with regard to government aid programs has all along been in line with the usual screechingly hysterical self-righteousness Tea Party candidates bring to such matters, railing against Obamacare and other "entitlement" programs and promising to end the "welfare state." That makes it all the more delicious now that he and his family have been exposed for taking state medical aid, unemployment insurance, farm subsidies, hell, even for using state equipment to run a private political campaign. 

Back in June, Miller was saying this about his Republican primary opponent Lisa Murkowski, blasting her for supporting a state health care program:

As you are aware, just last week the Anchorage Daily News reported that the Denali KidCare Program funded 662 abortions last year. Senator Murkowski has been a champion of this program, voting against the majority of her Republican colleagues for CHIPRA (HR 2) in January of 2009.

Of course it now turns out that back in the Nineties, Miller himself and his three children (with one on the way; he now has eight) were at one point receiving assistance via a program almost exactly like the Denali KidCare program, which is only for low-income earners. Various reports note that Miller received this assistance after he'd bought a house and been hired by a prestigious law firm; he also got low-income hunting and fishing licenses during that time. It's also come out that he received some $7,000 in farm subsidies and that his wife received unemployment insurance benefits.

So now of course Miller, who said he and his family "absolutely" used Alaska's state medical program, is backtracking and saying that he's not against the modern Denali Kidcare program, only against the "expansion" of it. But even more telling was his longer answer about the program, as reported in the Anchorage Daily News:

Miller said what he's advocating is complete state control of the programs. "That doesn't mean we cut off the programs. That is ultimately a state decision. And I think there is a use; in fact the most effective use is probably those programs that help transition the populations from more of a situation of dependency" to one where they can be economically independent, Miller said.

You see, when a nice white lawyer with a GI Joe beard uses state aid to help him through tough times and get over the hump – so that he can go from having three little future Medicare-collecting Republican children to eight little future Medicare-collecting Republican children – that's a good solid use of government aid, because what we're doing is helping someone "transition" from dependency to economic independence.

This of course is different from the way other, less GI-Joe-looking people use government aid, i.e. as a permanent crutch that helps genetically lazy and ambitionless parasites mooch off of rich white taxpayers instead of getting real jobs.

I can't even tell you how many people I interviewed at Tea Party events who came up with one version or another of the Joe Miller defense. Yes, I'm on Medicare, but… I needed it! It's those other people who don't need it who are the problem!

Or: Yes, it's true, I retired from the police/military/DPW at 54 and am on a fat government pension that you and your kids are going to be paying for for the next forty years, while I sit in my plywood-paneled living room in Florida watching Fox News, gobbling Medicare-funded prescription medications, and railing against welfare queens. But I worked hard for those bennies! Not like those other people!

This whole concept of "good welfare" and "bad welfare" is at the heart of the Tea Party ideology, and it's something that is believed implicitly across the line. It's why so many of their political champions, like Miller, and sniveling Kentucky rich kid Rand Paul (a doctor whose patient base is 50% state insured), and Nevada "crazy juice" Senate candidate Sharron Angle (who's covered by husband Ted's Federal Employee Health Plan insurance), are so completely unapologetic about taking state aid with one hand and jacking off angry pseudo-libertarian mobs with the other.

They genuinely don't see the contradiction, much in the same way that some Wall Street people genuinely can't see the problem with their company, say, taking $13 billion in bonuses in the same year that they accepted $13 billion in state bailouts. You wave a pitchfork at them with little post-its of the relevant figures taped to the ends, and ask them to confess – and they can't, because they literally don't see your point.

After all, these bankers will protest, we needed to pay out those billions in bonuses to stay competitive! It's not like we're just taking the money willy-nilly, like those dreadful people in ratty army coats who shop with food stamps in the bodega downstairs!

The rationalization continues: If I can't help my department heads buy Porsches, they say, the whole system collapses, and the system is what's important. It's not like simply handing out money to people who can't pay their mortgages, which of course is real waste. As Berkshire Hathaway investment titan Charles Munger put it, it's those people who have to " suck it in and cope." But bailouts for companies like the ones Munger invests in, like Wells Fargo and Goldman, that's preserving the system – and we should all "thank God" for that kind of state aid.

The reason these arguments are inherently ridiculous is that if you live in America, you have a pretty good chance of being in some way or another dependent upon government aid. Whether it's aerospace or military contracting or farm subsidies or grants in academia, medicine or the arts… most of us are in some way living off of this spending, directly or indirectly. Defense spending in particular has been a primary engine of American capitalism for more than half a century now. And government subsidies of agriculture and financial services have begun to rival defense largesse.

All of which would normally make it unfair for any journalist to go after a politician for taking government aid. After all, pretty much everybody has in some way or another lived off the government in his life – whether by working in a firm that takes government contracts, or attending a state school, or getting into a college thanks to affirmative action programs, or serving in the military or law enforcement, or collecting Medicare or food stamps or unemployment.

But these Tea Partyers make themselves fair game with their preposterous absolutist stance on government. If you call Obamacare radical socialism and unemployment insurance a parasitic welfare state program­well, guess what, asshole, you're going to get rung up when we find out you had your whole family living off state medical aid and farm subsidies.

Even beyond that, though, is the way that Tea Party candidates and activists demonize the consumers of "entitlement" programs, branding them as lazy parasites who are taking from hard-working folk by supporting "redistributionist" politicians. You probably heard about the story of David Jungerman, the Kansas farmer who created a billboard that read as follows:



Of course it now turns out that Jungerman himself took over a million dollars in farm subsidies since 1995.  When asked about the apparently contradiction, Jungerman offered the Miller defense:

"That's just my money coming back to me," Jungerman, 72, said Monday. "I pay a lot in taxes. I'm not a parasite."

In Tea Party legend the "parasites" would I suppose be people who don't pay taxes, or pay few taxes, and receive government support in excess of what they pay. Maybe they mean the 39-odd million Americans (about 1 in 8) who are now receiving food stamps. In the Hobbesian jungle the Tea Partyers would prefer we all live in, it's true, most of those 39 million people (including the just under 50% of all children, and 90% of black children, who will at some point in their lives eat a meal bought with food stamps) would indeed be sucking wind instead of eating cheese.

These are the parasites they're probably talking about. You know, children. Meanwhile, a slick grownup yuppie politician with a GI Joe beard and a breeder wife and eight kids, leeching off the state at every turn and gunning for a U.S. Senate salary and pension on an anti-welfare platform, he's just a hardworking citizen who simply needed a lift during a "transitional" period. Man, did they break the mold when they made these assholes.

Fwd: [uusm_socialjustice] Important info re: Prop 26 (sneaky politics!) ANS

Andrea sent this to me, it's from the UU Legislative Ministry.  They know what they are talking about....

Please read this important message from the Rev. Earl Koteen of Berkeley:

Hi Everyone,

I'm spreading the net wide on this notice because I just received a mailer yesterday that hit new heights of deception on Prop 26.  Many of us who've been fighting Prop 23 are concerned that our efforts will be undermined if Prop 26 passes.

Prop 26 has been called the Polluters Protection Proposition.  The mailer, from Californians Vote Green (CVG), claims just the opposite, that 26 would "make polluters pay."  Googling I found that this was no mere typo, but intentionally deceptive.  Please see this Open Slate article ( link) on past CVG deceptions and who's behind CVG, and please notify your constituencies.


Rev. Earl W. Koteen
Consulting Minister for Climate Justice
Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry California
Andrea Rosenfeld

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Burying the Lede ans

Here's the latest from Brad Hicks.  It's about funding schools, and there were so many interesting comments that I included them all. 
Find it here: 

The Infamous Brad

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Burying the Lede

  • Oct. 17th, 2010 at 10:43 AM
Brad @ Burning Man
Because I watch the local NBC news and The Rachel Maddow Show, I've been seeing non-stop ads for their upcoming reality show "School Pride" about armies of volunteers swarming public schools to clean, repair, and upgrade them. And every time I saw one of those ads, I asked the same question: who's paying for it?

The Sunday NYT has a puff piece about the new series (Brian Stelter, " 'School Pride,' Reality TV Brings School Makeovers," New York Times, 10/14/10) that doesn't get around to addressing that question until the seventeenth paragraph, the fourth from the last: "For the most part NBC handled the TV production costs, while sponsors covered the renovation costs and made donations. Like other reality shows, product placement abounds, with Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, and General Motors all playing starring roles for their contributions to the schools."

Translation: if we had higher taxes, so that every school could afford to buy all these building materials, computers, software, supplies, and vehicles, our schools wouldn't look like they do. Is this really terribly shocking? Once counties and states learned that they had to bid against each other in a destructive race to the bottom, first eliminating property taxes on corporate property and then, when that wasn't enough, handing out huge chunks of local taxpayer funded corporate welfare, in order to bid against each other for the too-few jobs that the corporations were auctioning off to the lowest bidder, pretty nearly every school except for the ones in a few very wealthy districts ran almost completely out of maintenance money.

And counties had no choice in the matter: run-down schools or high unemployment, it's not even all that hard to see which of the two hurts not just the county, but the kids as well, the more. So we learned to put up with schools that look, not just like prisons, but like long-abandoned prisons. When people move out to the exurbs for "good schools," it's not just to escape the feared black male students who might hurt (or worse, befriend) their precious white snowflakes, it has the bonus attraction of having school buildings that were built more recently, so they haven't had as much time to decay.

So I'm not terribly surprised that wealthy and powerful corporations donated money and materials to a fellow wealthy corporation, enough money and materials to remake just a couple of the country's thousands of decayed schools. They can count on that fellow wealthy corporation to package the school makeovers in such a way as to find some way to blame labor unions and lack of volunteers, not three decades of anti-tax blackmail and corporate welfare, for the state of our schools. And if they're very lucky, they can hope that remaking those five or ten schools or however few it is will stave off the pressure to raise the taxes it would take to fix the rest of them, and thereby make the issue go away for a little while longer.

Color me "not impressed."
  • Mood: okay okay
  • Music:Throbbing Gristle - Tiab Guls (Doomed: Dark music for tortured souls [SomaFM])

Comments     [BAD WORD ALERT]

( 22 comments ­ Leave a comment )
[info] nebris wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
"the feared black male students who might fuck their precious white snowflakes"
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Brad @ Burning Man
[info] bradhicks wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2010 11:13 pm (UTC)
Re: fixed
Don't be unfair; that's not all that they're afraid of. Not only do they "know" that all black males are sexually voracious predators who can't resist white girls, they also "know" that all black males are drug-dealing gang members who might recruit their precious white snowflakes into gangs or forcibly make them take drugs.

If they don't say these things out loud, they think them; if they don't let themselves think them out loud, they're at a loss as to explain why they just "don't feel safe" and "don't feel like it's a good environment for their kids" as soon as there's more than one black male in the school, can't explain why they only feel safe when their kids are "around people who are our own kind" if they don't mean it racially.

(In case it's not obvious, no, I don't think that all white people think this way. Just so many of them as to power white flight to this very day. Why, right here in the St. Louis metro area, St. Charles County stopped growing and people started moving to meth-lab covered Jefferson County "for the schools" right at the point where St. Charles County passed the 5% black mark. Nobody moves to meth lab country "for the schools. Nobody moves to meth lab country "for the property values." They move to meth lab country because it's only 1% black; they feel safer with their kids going to school in an almost completely unfunded semi-rural school district where an amazing percentage of the other kids' parents are meth dealers, that's how fucked up white flight is.)

See also Richard Benjamin's excellent, well-researched, insightful, thought-provoking, and side-splittingly hilarious Searching for Whitopia, which I can't recommend highly enough. A good, fast read, I think most of you would enjoy the heck out of it.
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[info] whip_lash wrote:
Oct. 18th, 2010 01:01 am (UTC)
Re: fixed
they're at a loss

I doubt they are. Most of them can probably explain it mathematically. That's one of the tools that standardized testing has given us: you can see that for each additional percentage x of minority students, test scores drop by percentage y.

What you think when you notice that may be racist, but needn't necessarily be. If you're liberal you can think (partly correctly, in my view) that standardized tests are flawed and that any real achievement gap exists in part because of a history of discrimination. And if you're conservative you can think (partly correctly, in my view) that minorities tend to be poor, and that except for recent immigrants, poor people tend to stay poor in part because of a culture of low achievement especially in education.

Should people of good will of either political persuasion try to make the local school better rather than running? Of course. Is it easy to do that when it's your kid's education on the line? Nope.
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[info] whip_lash wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
Translation: if we had higher taxes, so that every school could afford to buy all these building materials, computers, software, supplies, and vehicles, our schools wouldn't look like they do.

Not sure if you have kids, but I assure you that affluent school districts do have all of these things.

So your transalation actually reduces to: If poor people had more money, poor people would have more money.

That's not a jab or a political point, as far as I'm concerned, by the way.
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Brad @ Burning Man
[info] bradhicks wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
Fair enough; we're mostly agreeing with each other there. But, for one thing, there aren't that many affluent districts in America. I don't have a count handy, but the St. Louis greater metro area has probably twenty or so school districts, and two of them, Ladue and to a lesser extent Parkway, have enough affluent residents that the property taxes can cover maintenance costs and routine upgrades even after all the corporate welfare giveaways are funded. The state's vastly larger number of rural school districts don't even have that many; there probably isn't a single rural district in Missouri that can afford to fully fund their maintenance budget.

But, secondly, just raising wages for poor people wouldn't help enough, if poor people's property didn't also appreciate. Centuries from now, some of the historians arguing over the dismal state of late-dark-age (20th and 21st century) schools will bring up the historically stupid and completely indefensible decision made all the way back in the 17th century, here in America, to have all school funding be local and almost all of that funded off of property taxes. A better system for guaranteeing that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer would be hard to design, even if you were doing so on purpose.
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[info] kraygern wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2010 04:51 pm (UTC)
"Once counties and states learned that they had to bid against each other in a destructive race to the bottom, first eliminating property taxes on corporate property and then, when that wasn't enough, handing out huge chunks of local taxpayer funded corporate welfare, in order to bid against each other for the too-few jobs that the corporations were auctioning off to the lowest bidder, pretty nearly every school except for the ones in a few very wealthy districts ran almost completely out of maintenance money."

Can you explain more about how schools have been forced to "bid against each other", i.e. bid for what and from whom, and how this system was implemented in the first place?

How does corporate welfare directly ties into a shortage of school funding: i.e. what types of corporate welfare do you speak of?
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[info] greymalkini wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2010 05:05 pm (UTC)
They competed to reduce taxes and tax-write offs. If county A offered 10% tax and county B was taxed at 5%, guess which one people would be moving to?

I think the welfare he is talking about are the tax breaks various states and counties would offer to corporations to open an office in the area.
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Brad @ Burning Man
[info] bradhicks wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2010 07:11 pm (UTC)
Not JUST tax breaks, it's frequently outright cash grants. For example, to get my old company, Mastercard International, to move from St. Louis County to St. Charles County (and to keep them from fulfilling their threat to move to Texas) they were given, flat out-right, at taxpayer expense, $190 million; a company that manufactures money for a living had their corporate campus built for them at taxpayer expense.

(I was out of town for a year and a half on business, working for myself, at the time. When I came back, and found this out from my state representative, I actually lost my temper over it and screamed at him, something I'd never normally do.)
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[info] subnumine wrote:
Oct. 18th, 2010 12:40 am (UTC)
And it has been far more than thirty years. New Jersey, with 566 competing municipalities, has been worse than most, but the effects of repeatedly competing for the favors of corporations have been seen at least since 1920.
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(Anonymous) wrote:
Oct. 18th, 2010 03:29 am (UTC)
Maybe municipalities need to unionize?

Oh, wait. That's why it's supposed to be called the UNITED States.
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[info] whip_lash wrote:
Oct. 18th, 2010 12:49 am (UTC)
Centuries from now, some of the historians arguing over the dismal state of late-dark-age (20th and 21st century) schools will bring up the historically stupid and completely indefensible decision made all the way back in the 17th century, here in America, to have all school funding be local and almost all of that funded off of property taxes.

Well, in Texas, we've already addressed this (by court order). The legislature implemented a plan popularly known as Robin Hood, which is pretty much what it sounds like. Rich districts (we actually have lots of these; affluent areas tended to make sure they got their own district) send a chunk of their cash to poor ones.

The result was kind of predictable if you think about it. Rich districts lowered their property taxes so that they wouldn't have to be rich districts and pay the luxury tax. Poor districts got some money, but not as much as they were expecting; about enough, in a number of spectacularly publicized cases, to squander on ludicrous administrator salaries and outright graft.

The rich districts made up the difference with donations and still have enough for things like, in nearby Southlake, a natatorium with Olympic-sized indoor pool attached to the high school (it's technically a community center, I believe, and so not a part of school funding).

Grapevine-Colleyville, the nearly as affluent district next to Southlake where my sister taught for a while, has a high-school Cisco certification program with a nicer lab than the community college where I did the same program. At Diamond Hill, a Fort Worth ISD school in a Hispanic Barrio where my sister also taught, she had to help the kids buy school supplies.

Robin Hood is one practical example of why I'm always skeptical that wealth distribution actually does any good beyond preventing outright starvation, let alone that the good outweighs the harm. I will freely admit I don't know of a better answer in the case of schools however.
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[info] kimchalister wrote:
Oct. 19th, 2010 04:20 am (UTC)
Brad -- what system would you suggest for paying for schools? (I agree that local property taxes isn't working well.)
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Brad @ Burning Man
[info] bradhicks wrote:
Oct. 19th, 2010 04:27 pm (UTC)
1) Raise the progressive income tax and the capital gains tax by the amount that the nation collects in property taxes for schools right now, and distribute that amount to each school on a per-student-enrolled basis, with a small multiplier based on the percentage of students qualified to be enrolled in the free student breakfast and lunch programs.

2) Make it illegal for local communities and local charities to fund the schools beyond that; if they want better schools, throw the money into the pot to be distributed among all students.

Most people would call this radical and unworkable; I admit that it's unlikely to pass any time soon. Critics of this idea (which, by the way, isn't far off from one that the courts have come close to ordering in several states, including my own, because of state constitutional guarantees of an education for every child) will say that it's natural for parents to want the best for their children, and that this infringes on parents' natural right to give their children every advantage they can. To which I say: are poor parents' children not citizens? And what moral justification can you give, what legal justification can you give, what merit among rich kids can you point to, that justifies the government giving rich kids a better education than poor kids?

(And yes, while I'm at it, I would also outlaw private schools. As a private school graduate myself, I've seen what a blight on the country they are.)
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[info] simulated_knave wrote:
Oct. 20th, 2010 02:46 am (UTC)
You mean the way Canada does it, IIRC?
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[info] simulated_knave wrote:
Oct. 20th, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)
Well, education's provincial, so the equivalent would be raising state taxes, but the point stands.
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[info] phillipalden wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
Here in California we're spending more on prisons than we are on education - something the Governor and other state politicians would rather the public not know.

And the majority of those prisoners are in there for non-violent drug offenses.
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[info] kraygern wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
The prison/security industrial complex is big business in America, but especially California where I'm also from. Many of the 'tough on crime' and 'for the children' laws pushed are often backed by prison guard unions, private prison operators, and prison construction and security firms.
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[info] phillipalden wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
Sadly, voters kept approving those so-called "get tough on crime" laws - without considering the ruined lives and the outrageous amount of money spent on prisons.

The Governor and many state legislators are "in bed" with the prison guard's union - a connection that Californians should be more aware of.

I love my home state, but it's seriously messed up in many ways.
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[info] silveradept wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2010 08:17 pm (UTC)
For people who have looked at school systems with any sort of critical eye, I suspect this premise is not news. And NBC's presentation will shower the corporations with praise and not point out that white flight combined with corporate tax breaks is what got those schools into that situation in the first place.
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[info] harmfulguy wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2010 10:54 pm (UTC)
After Gene Crannick's house burned down because he'd missed his "pay to spray" bill, the Professional Left podcast proposed that he put a sign out front saying, "Your Tax Cuts At Work". I think decaying schools (and other abandoned public works) would be an even better place for such signs.
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(Anonymous) wrote:
Oct. 18th, 2010 09:20 am (UTC)
It seems as though current leaders are treating our education system the way conquerors treated the Sumerian irrigation system. Why feed the cow when you can run off with the cheese?

(analogy shamelessly stolen from this article (, which I highly recommend)
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[info] samael7 wrote:
Oct. 18th, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC)
Only somewhat related, the story reminded me of a plaque I saw at Versailles, thanking John D. Rockefeller (the person, not his foundation or legacy trusts) for financial assistance in restoring parts of the chateau and grounds in the early 20th century.

I wonder if there will be a plaque at those schools for Wal-Mart and Home Depot. I'm thinking "probably, with brand logos."

I don't have any very deep or well-formed thoughts about the comparison. It's just that I know history repeats itself, and I'm trying to figure out "how much."
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