Monday, February 24, 2014

ANS -- 5 tycoons who want to close the wealth gap

Here's a cheery article about rich guys who want everyone to do well, not just them.  It makes economic sense as well as being more ethical. 
Find it here:  

5 tycoons who want to close the wealth gap

Hannah Dreier, AP Business Writer 4:47 p.m. EST February 23, 2014

Unlikely constituency looks for ways to help the middle class make economic gains.

warren buffett

(Photo: Nati Harnik, AP)

Story Highlights

  • Advocates point to their belief that economy doesn't function efficiently when wealth gap is wide
  • Since about 1980, the rich have become richer while the middle class stagnates or falls behind
  • Members of the 1% now make at least $1.7 million a year while median annual household income has dropped to $50,017

As the middle class struggles to make gains and President Obama strives to shine a spotlight on the issue of income inequality, an unlikely constituency is looking for ways to close the nation's growing wealth gap: A handful of top U.S. business tycoons.

These advocates point to notions of fairness and admit to twinges of guilt, but the core concern driving all of them ­ left, right and libertarian ­ is a belief that the economy doesn't function efficiently when the wealth gap is wide. They are proposing solutions that range from pressuring fellow entrepreneurs to pay workers more to simply giving their money back to the government to redistribute.

Since roughly 1980, the wealthy have been prospering while the middle class stagnates or falls behind. Members of the 1% now make at least $1.7 million a year and grab 10% of the national income, while the median annual household income has dropped, landing at $51,017.

The gap is growing wider. Income for the highest-earning 1% of Americans soared 31% from 2009 through 2012, after adjusting for inflation. For everyone else, it inched up an average of 0.4%.

As U.S. society has grown more unequal, rich men and women have set up clubs and foundations to encourage economic parity, and they are actively lobbying for change.

The figure of the fairness-conscious billionaire has a precedent, said Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton. During the Gilded Age, at the end of the 1800s, tycoons took steps to increase equality and help the working class.

"Names like Carnegie, Mellon and Rockefeller ­ the (Warren) Buffet and (Bill) Gates of their days ­ grace universities, museums and medical centers in part because the originators of those fortunes gave back," Norton said. "In the same way that some businesspeople are now taking steps to address climate change due to its effects on costs and revenues ... the notion that inequality can be bad not just for ethical reasons, but for financial reasons, is one that is increasingly embraced by businesspeople."

Here's a look at some of these opponents of the widening gap between the poor and, well, themselves:

Buffett: Billionaire pied piper

The most visible of the superrich Robin Hoods is investor Warren Buffett, who has persuaded dozens of billionaires to give away large portions of their fortunes. Buffett, 83, is the second-richest American, according to Forbes magazine, with a net worth of $58.5 billion. He heads Berkshire Hathaway, which owns everything from the insurance company GEICO and Dairy Queen to underwear maker Fruit of the Loom.

For years, he has advocated policies to close the wealth gap, saying reforms are necessary for the nation's continued prosperity. Buffett has famously complained that he pays a lower tax rate than some of his most menial-wage employees. That's because, like many moguls, much of his income comes from capital gains and dividend payments, which are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary wages. His activism gave rise to Obama's proposed "Buffet rule," which would ensure that anyone making more than $1 million per year pay at least the same rate as middle-income taxpayers.

MORE: Warren Buffett's top 10 favorite stocks

The self-made Omaha, Neb., magnate has also for years targeted unequal wealth accumulation. Buffet advocated for a progressive estate tax before members of Congress, saying in 2007, "Dynastic wealth, the enemy of a meritocracy, is on the rise. Equality of opportunity has been on the decline. A progressive and meaningful estate tax is needed to curb the movement of a democracy toward plutocracy."

Buffett, who did not immediately respond to questions submitted via his assistant, has played a key role in encouraging his peers to redistribute their wealth by choice. In 2010, he launched the Giving Pledge program in which wealthy entrepreneurs publicly promise to donate at least half of their riches to charity. Adherents including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Unz: Republican who favors wage hikes

Not all members of the super-rich taking up the issue of inequality are progressives. Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley millionaire and registered Republican who once ran for California governor, is advocating the highest minimum wage in the country for his home state. Unz rose to fame when he spearheaded a 1998 ballot proposal that dismantled California's bilingual education system. He later became publisher of The American Conservative, a libertarian-leaning magazine.

Lately, he has become obsessed with the idea that a wage hike is the best way to advance the conservative ideal of reducing dependence on government programs. Frustrated with the gridlock in Congress, Unz is pouring his own money into a November ballot measure that would increase the minimum wage in California to $12 an hour in 2016.

At that level, he said in an interview with The Associated Press, "every full-time worker would be earning almost exactly $25,000 and every full-time worker couple $50,000. Under normal family circumstances, those income levels are sufficiently above the poverty threshold that households would lose their eligibility for a substantial fraction of the various social welfare payments they currently receive, including earned-income tax credit checks, food stamps and housing subsidies."

MORE: Wealth gap -- a guide to what it is, why it matters

Unz, whose fortune comes from founding Wall Street Analytics, argues that by not paying a living wage, companies are forcing the government to subsidize them through massive welfare spending. An advocate for the free market, Unz opposes any kind of subsidy. The wage proposal has led him to work with strange bedfellows, including Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate and former independent presidential candidate, and progressive economist James Galbraith.

Unz, 52, trained as a theoretical physicist, has an IQ of 214 and has written scholarly papers on the Spartan naval empire. His political rivals and allies alike have made much of his nerdy demeanor. But his unorthodox background seems to have given him the confidence to go against the conventional wisdom of his party.

"The thing that's really shocking is that the Republican response to the problem is to call for increased welfare spending. From a free-market perspective, businesses should compete without subsidies," Unz said. "If they can't compete, then maybe they should go out of business."

Hanauer: Helping people buy what Amazon sells

Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer believes the growing wealth gap threatens the economic system that has given him his wealth. One of the early investors in Amazon, Hanauer started the Internet company aQuantive, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2007 for $6.4 billion.

But Hanauer said he doesn't consider himself a "job creator." If no one can afford to buy what he's selling, the jobs his companies create will evaporate, he reasons. In his view, what the nation needs is more money in the hands of regular consumers.

"A higher minimum wage is a very simple and elegant solution to the death spiral of falling demand that is the signature feature of our economy," he said in an interview with the AP last summer.

Hanauer, 54, advocates raising taxes for the rich and hiking the minimum wage to the unheard-of heights of $15 an hour. He has co-authored a book and launched an organization called The True Patriot Network to help push such proposals. In 2012, he advanced his ideas in a TED talk ­ one of the wonky, provocative lectures that have become a required feather in the cap of web-savvy thought leaders. But TED organizers refused to post Hanauer's lecture on the web, because they said it was too partisan.

Silberstein: Quiet advocate

Steve Silberstein made his fortune in the early days of computers by co-founding Innovative Interfaces, a software company that creates technology for hundreds of college and university libraries. He sold the company, settled in a secluded town in Marin County, Calif., and became a philanthropist.

Now, at 70, he is a low-profile member of a movement to organize institutional investors in opposing what he and others say are exorbitant executive salaries.

Silberstein advocates a policy that would tie corporate tax rates to the difference in compensation between the CEO and an average worker. A company with a CEO-to-worker-compensation ratio at the 1980 level of 50-to-1 would pay tax at the current rate of 35%; companies with a larger pay gap would be taxed at a higher level, and those with a narrower gap would pay a lower rate.

Silberstein took a step into the spotlight when he produced the documentary "Inequality for All," featuring former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich. It premiered last year at the Sundance Film Festival.

"He's one of the quiet leaders of the entire movement toward wider prosperity," Reich said. "An increasing number of wealthy business people are becoming concerned that the economy can't function without a strong middle class to keep it going."

Silberstein told the AP his views are not so different from that original American industrialist, Henry Ford, who famously paid his factory workers enough to purchase one of the cars that came off his assembly line.

"As a result he became rich," Silberstein said. "If the economy goes well, everybody does well, including the wealthy."

Like many left-leaning executives troubled by the wealth gap, Silberstein insists that his ideological views play only a small part in his concerns.

"It's a problem, and everybody is losing as a result. It's self-interest and the interest in my country, too," he said.

Hindery: Titan who wants to pay more taxes

Leo Hindery Jr., the New York City media and investing mogul, is one of hundreds of wealthy people directly asking Congress to raise their taxes as a member of Patriotic Millionaires. The group was formed in 2010 to advocate for the end of Bush-era tax cuts for people making more than $1 million a year. Hindery is also a member of Smart Capitalists for American Prosperity, and he was among a group of entrepreneurs who went door-to-door in the halls of Congress in early February asking for a higher minimum wage.

A managing partner of the media industry private equity fund InterMedia Partners, Hindery was previously chief executive of AT&T Broadband and of the YES Network, the cable channel of the Yankees. He says he's turned down raises to ensure that he never makes more than 20 times the salary of his employees. He is also one of the biggest Democratic fundraisers in the nation.

The 66-year-old argues that giving rich people tax breaks makes no economic sense because people like him don't put their extra dollars back into the economy.

"Do you think I don't own every piece of clothing, every automobile? I already have it. You spend money. Rich people just get richer," he told the AP.

Hindery credits his Jesuit upbringing with giving him the tools to look beyond his own economic advantages.

"How can we believe in the American dream when 10% of the people have half the nation's income? It's immoral, I think it's unethical, but I also think that it's bad economics," Hindery said. "The only people who can take exception to this argument are people who want to get super rich and don't care what happens to the nation as a whole."

AP Economics Writer Paul Wiseman in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report

Sunday, February 23, 2014

ANS -- Occupying the State of the Union

Here is yet another article by Doug Muder (I'm catching up on my reading).  This one is about the lasting effect the Occupy movement has had on all of us.  It has changed the conversation.  That's positive.
Find it here:    

Occupying the State of the Union

The conventional wisdom about Occupy Wall Street is that it failed. It made a splash and generated headlines, but ultimately it elected no candidates, passed no laws, and didn't even leave behind a memorable lost-cause proposal like the Equal Rights Amendment. So it was all a big waste of the activists' effort and our attention.

By contrast, the Tea Party did elect candidates and has influenced all kinds of laws, especially at the state level. Without the Tea Party, the government wouldn't have shut down last October. You may not consider that much of an accomplishment, but it is proof of continuing influence. The Tea Party may eventually even displace the Republican establishment and take over half of the two-party system.

What has Occupy done to rival that?

But all along, Occupy visionaries like David Graeber were defining success differently:

For the last quarter millennium or so, revolutions have consisted above all of planetwide transformations of political common sense. … What they really do is transform basic assumptions about what politics is ultimately about. In the wake of a revolution, ideas that had been considered veritably lunatic fringe quickly become the accepted currency of debate.

The French Revolution, for example, failed to hold power, "but afterward, institutions inspired by the French Revolution … were put in place pretty much everywhere." Suddenly, it was obvious that monarchy was obsolete. Not only did people around the globe believe that, they believed that they had always believed it.

Now consider President Obama's 2014 State of the Union and the responses from Cathy McMorris Rodgers (for the Republican Party), Mike Lee (for the Tea Party), and Rand Paul (who seems to be a party unto himself). Maybe it's not surprising that President Obama would talk about inequality and how difficult it is to stay in the middle class:

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have  barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead.

But here's the interesting thing: The responders accepted that framing of the problem, they just tried to shift the blame.*

Bear in mind how conservatives used to respond whenever liberals tried to make inequality an issue: Wealth has nothing to do with poverty. Wealth is conjured out of the aether by creative capitalists, not usurped from the common inheritance or distilled from the blood and sweat of the laboring masses. So talk about poverty if you must, but don't talk about wealth and poverty in the same paragraph, because they're totally separate phenomena. This was still the conservative conventional wisdom two weeks ago, when David Brooks argued (in his own italics):

to frame the issue as income inequality is to lump together different issues that are not especially related.

More than just conservative dogma, some version of that argument has been the conventional wisdom of Very Serious People for decades. It has been fine for liberal politicians to talk about the plight of the poor or the struggles of the middle class, but if they combined that downward-looking and sideways-looking compassion with an upward-looking head-shake at the explosion of wealth among the few, mainstream pundits would start lobbing phrases like "class warfare" and "redistribution of wealth" ­ warning shots that come just before "Why don't you go back to the Soviet Union, comrade?".

But post-Occupy, everybody knows about the 99% and the 1%. And it's no longer anti-American to point out that the 1% (and mostly the .01%) have owned all the productivity growth of recent decades.

[] []

Mike Lee's Tea Party response doesn't deny any of this, but instead tries to pin it on government and President Obama:

This inequality crisis presents itself in three principal forms: immobility among the poor, who are being trapped in poverty by big-government programs; insecurity in the middle class, where families are struggling just to get by and can't seem to get ahead; and cronyist privilege at the top, where political and economic insiders twist the immense power of the federal government to profit at the expense of everyone else.** … [W]here does this new inequality come from? From government – every time it takes rights and opportunities away from the American people and gives them instead to politicians, bureaucrats, and special interests.

Rodgers points to the same problems, but calls them by a different names and promises that vague, unnamed Republican "plans" will solve them.

our mission – not only as Republicans, but as Americans, is to once again to ensure that we are not bound by where we come from, but empowered by what we can become. That is the gap Republicans are working to close. It's the gap we all face: between where you are and where you want to be. The President talks a lot about income inequality. But the real gap we face today is one of opportunity inequality… And with this Administration's policies, that gap has become far too wide. We see this gap growing every single day.

And this is where the spin becomes obvious, becomes the metaphor changes: The gap "between where you are and where you want to be" would seem to be in front of you, between you and the people whose examples inspire you to be more successful. Republicans are going to help you bridge that gap, so that you can be rich too.

But as Rodgers gets down to cases, it's clear she's talking about a chasm opening up behind middle-class voters, threatening to suck them into poverty as it has already claimed so many of their friends and family:

We see it in our neighbors who are struggling to find job, a husband who's now working just part-time, a child who drops out of college because she can't afford tuition, or parents who are outliving their life's savings. Last month, more Americans stopped looking for a job than found one. Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the President's policies are making people's lives harder. Republicans have plans to close the gap.

Even Rand Paul has to recognize the hollowing out of the middle class, though (unlike the others) he sticks to the old-time religion that the rich will save us, if only we let them keep getting richer. (It never worked before, but it will if we give it one more shot.)

Parents worry about their children growing up in a country where good jobs are few and far between. More than ever before, Americans wonder how they'll afford to send their kids to college, and what will happen if they lose their job. … Prosperity comes when more money is left in the private marketplace. … Economic growth will come when we lower taxes for everyone, especially people who own businesses and create jobs.

Another piece of conservative dogma has been to blame the poor for failing; their laziness, crime, drug addiction, and general irresponsibility is dragging down the rest of us. And if people are falling out of the middle class ­ losing their jobs, getting their homes foreclosed, failing to send their kids to college ­ well, that's their own damn fault. We aren't failing them; they're failing us.

Recall the opening shot of the Tea Party's rebellion, Rick Santelli's famous rant a few weeks after Obama took office. Backed by a cheering mob of traders on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Santelli challenged the new president:

How about this, president and administration: Why don't you put up a web site to have people vote on the internet to see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages? Or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road, and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water? … [Gesturing to include all the traders***] This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills? Raise their hands! [boos from the crowd]

Tuesday night no one was blaming the "losers" for falling out of the middle class, or fantasizing about picking the bones of their foreclosures. Instead, everyone sympathized with growing middle-class anxiety: how hard it is to find good jobs, how hard it is to pay for college, how insecure you feel even if you currently have a good job. Everyone acknowledged that Americans are losing faith in the old nostrums: work hard, study hard, say no to drugs, get married, buy a house, pay your bills … it just doesn't seem like enough any more. You might do all that and still lose out, even as billionaires get ever richer.

Everyone but Rand Paul is acknowledging that some kind of gap needs to be bridged, that some people have more of this vaguely defined "opportunity" that you wish you had. Mike Lee is even denouncing "privilege at the top", though he blames this privilege on government favors rather than the normal workings of capitalism.

It's important to realize what we're seeing: an early stage in the "transformation of political common sense". People who believed and may still believe that OWS was horribly misguided and failed completely ­ those same people see the world differently now. The problem isn't that a few "losers" are dragging the rest of us down. The problem is that there's a 99% and a 1%. We're arguing about what caused that and how to fix it, but we all see the problem now.

Thank you, Occupy.

* Ultimately they'll lose that argument, because the facts are clearly against them. Look at the graphs: This problem didn't start with Obama. It started in the Carter-Reagan years. If your explanation doesn't account for that, you're just spinning.

I explain it by Carter and the Democrats in Congress turning to the right: de-regulation, lower capital gains taxes, free trade deals, and turning a blind eye to union-busting. That all started slowly under Carter and then really took off during the Reagan administration. The long version of this story is in Thomas Edsall's The New Politics of Inequality from 1985, but William Anderson of the conservative Mises Institute noted the same thing in 2000:

Republicans like to point to the failures of the Carter Administration and then claim that Ronald Reagan brought us into the present era. Alas, while I prefer Reagan to Carter, I cannot say that the above statement is true. Granted, much occurred during the Reagan Administration that was good, but if truth be known, many of the important initiatives that enabled those boundaries to expand came from Carter's presidency.

I agree completely, if you reverse the value judgments and define "the present era" as the Second Gilded Age.

** Perversely, the purest examples of cronyism are due to a trend conservatives champion: privatizing public services like prisons or public schools.

*** I love the assumption that the well-compensated wheeler-dealers on the CME represent "America" and the people who "carry the water". I think it's arguable that American productivity would go up if the Earth swallowed the Chicago Mercantile Exchange whole. The people who really "carry the water" are the ones who grow stuff and build stuff and deliver services. The water-carrier is the single mother who cuts your hair (and who may need Food Stamps to feed her son), not the venture capitalist who conjured up millions by franchising Supercuts.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

ANS -- What the CBO Really Said about ObamaCare and the Economy

Here's an article by Doug Muder about the CBO report and what it really said.  If you have just been getting your information from the "news" and haven't read the thing yourself, you will be surprised at what it actually says.  The comments are more about the affordable care act, or Obamacare. 
Find it here:  

What the CBO Really Said about ObamaCare and the Economy

File this under: "Liberal media? What liberal media?"

I doubt the Congressional Budget Office expected The Budget and Economic Outlook 2014 to 2024 to be front-page news. They put out these ten-year look-aheads every six months or so, and they don't usually get much reaction.

But say some news outlets decided to pay attention. You might expect ­ the CBO probably expected ­ reporters to focus on the summary. After all, that's why people write summaries to 182-page government reports with eight appendices. In particular, you might expect articles to focus on the summary's first line:

The federal budget deficit has fallen sharply during the past few years, and it is on a path to decline further this year and next year.

[] That sounds like a big deal. Very Serious People have been telling us for years (or more accurately, since Inauguration Day 2009, when they suddenly stopped believing Dick Cheney's "deficits don't matter" maxim) that the deficit is going to destroy our entire society. We're going to turn into Greece, locusts will devour our fields, toads will rain from the sky, and so forth. So the fact that this situation is rapidly improving ought to get the VSPs attention.

The numbers are striking: The combined Bush/Obama budget of FY 2009 (October, 2008 to October 2009) had a $1.4 trillion deficit. (Bush's first proposal for a FY2009 budget had an $407 billion deficit, which had grown to a projected $1.2 trillion by the time Obama took office, due to the economic collapse at the end of Bush's term. Obama's stimulus pushed the deficit the final $200 billion on its way to creating 3.3 million jobs, according to a previous CBO study.) FY 2013 ended in October with a $680 billion deficit, and the CBO projects deficits of $514 billion in FY2014 and $478 billion in FY2015.

At that level, this year's deficit would equal 3.0 percent of the nation's economic output, or gross domestic product (GDP)­close to the average percentage of GDP seen during the past 40 years.

So unless you think we've been in a Deficit Emergency for the past 40 years, we're not going to be in one this year or next.

But that's not what caught everybody's attention. Instead of looking to the CBO's summary for the story, the media (led by the right-wing media) looked to Appendix C "Labor Market Effects of the Affordable Care Act: Updated Estimates". Because, you know, appendices of government reports are always so fascinating, especially the third appendix.

But even if you only read the appendices, you still have some choice about what the story is. Appendix B, for example, says:

CBO and JCT [Joint Committee on Taxation] estimate that the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA will markedly increase the number of nonelderly people who have health insurance­by about 13 million in 2014, 20 million in 2015, and 25 million in each of the subsequent years through 2024 (see Table B-2).

So despite all the scary (and debunked) headlines about cancelled policies and increased premiums, the ACA will make substantial progress on its main goal: Millions more people will have health insurance.

But the cost of that coverage will explode the deficit, right? Well, this report reiterated a previous conclusion:

Considering all of the coverage provisions and the other provisions together, CBO and JCT estimated in July 2012 (the most recent comprehensive estimates) that the total effect of the ACA would be to reduce federal deficits.

But maybe you're worried about the " insurance company bailout" Republicans have been denouncing, which the rest of the world calls "risk corridors". If so, you'd focus on this part of Appendix B:

CBO now projects that, over the 2015–2024 period, risk corridor payments from the federal government to health insurers will total $8 billion and the corresponding collections from insurers will amount to $16 billion, yielding net savings for the federal government of $8 billion.

So the "bailout" is a re-insurance plan that the government expects to make an $8 billion profit on.

But anyway, what does Appendix C say?

CBO estimates that the ACA will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor … The reduction in CBO's projections of hours worked represents a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.

It's not hard for me to imagine why this might happen: My wife is a (currently healthy) over-55 two-time cancer survivor, and prior to ObamaCare she couldn't possibly have gotten insurance on the individual market at any reasonable rate. She happens to like her job, but many people in similar situations might decide to retire early (now that they have that option) rather than hang on until Medicare covers them. Similarly, my college roommate has been frozen into his job for the last couple decades, because his son was born with major medical problems that a new employer's insurance company might write off as a pre-existing condition. Other people might prefer to work part-time, but have been hanging on to full-time jobs for fear of losing their health coverage. Or maybe extended Medicaid or S-CHIP coverage or an ObamaCare subsidy could shift the balance in a struggling household towards having one parent stay home with the kids.

That's the kind of thing the CBO is talking about: "workers … choose to supply less labor". It's a good kind of thing.

So naturally it got covered like this by the conservative media:

Fox News: ObamaCare could lead to loss of nearly 2.5 million US jobs, report says

Washington Times: ObamaCare will push 2 million workers out of labor market: CBO

National Review: The CBO just nuked ObamaCare

And not much differently by the mainstream media:

The Hill: O-Care will cost 2.5 million workers by 2024

UPI: ObamaCare to cost 2.3 million jobs over ten years

And even a 180-degree false CNBC headline: CBO says ObamaCare will add to deficit, create reluctant work force ­ later corrected to allow that ObamaCare "may not add to federal deficit" rather than the accurate "the total effect of the ACA would be to reduce federal deficits".

CBO director Paul Elmendorf testified before Congress Wednesday morning, and set the record straight. The CBO believes that ObamaCare will increase demand for labor over the next few years, creating jobs rather than killing them.

When reporters began to understand that they'd been scammed into repeating Republican talking points, many of them blamed the Obama administration. National Journal's headline: " The White House is Still Terrible at Explaining ObamaCare". You see, it's not up to reporters to check facts and inform their readers rather than mislead them. How can they be expected to print the truth when no one spoon-feeds the story to them properly? And why didn't the White House (which doesn't control the CBO) anticipate the report, anticipate that Appendix C would be the story, and anticipate that Republicans would twist its statements into pretzels? Shouldn't they have been prepared for this?

That's your liberal media in action.


  • []  Nancy Browning On February 10, 2014 at 9:57 am
  • Permalink | Reply I love your analysis and agree with all of it except that if your wife of over 55 and less than 65 (Medicare-eligible-age) would retire that she'd get a great rate and not need to work. I am just over 55 and retired, and I did have one of the plans that covered me completely after a $5000 deductible for about $200/mo, and now, my prospects are over $500/mo for a similarly high-deductible policy that won't qualify for my HSA (Health Savings Account). I know I am an exception in many ways, to have to work now that I have retired in order to pay for my health insurance, but please don't have two lines in your blog stating that the ACA will help everyone; I am glad it helps the poor, but I am just a middle of the middle class American and it has definitely hurt me.
    • []  weeklysift On February 10, 2014 at 10:41 am
    • Permalink | Reply Whatever you're paying, it can't compare to what an insurance company would want to insure a two-time cancer survivor (including coverage for a possible recurrence). I'm not sure we could have found insurance at all, pre-ACA, if my wife hadn't been insured through her employer.
  • []  Joe Irvin Conover On February 10, 2014 at 10:13 am
  • Permalink | Reply Can't find those two lines where Doug says the ACA will help everyone. Where are they?
  • []  Nancy Browning On February 16, 2014 at 10:03 am
  • Permalink | Reply In response to your (and another's) comment about my post, here are the two lines that I found inaccurate in your blog: (1) "So despite all the scary (and debunked) headlines about cancelled policies and increased premiums…" [There were cancelled policies like mine that were perfectly good otherwise, and my premiums will go up by at least 250%), and (2) "She happens to like her job, but many people in similar situations might decide to retire early (now that they have that option)..." [I am very happy that she {your wife} and others with cancer and other serious health conditions can now afford healthcare; that was not what I was referring to in my prior comment. I take issue with "might decide to retire early," which they might be able to do if they make little per year, but not if they are making enough that they won't be subsidized because most people can't afford $500-700/month for insurance.]
    • []  weeklysift On February 17, 2014 at 7:02 am
    • Permalink | Reply On the first point, I will not argue with you about your own situation, which you obviously know better than I do. However, the cases that have made headlines have almost all been debunked, including the one in the Republican response to the SOTU. In the segment you quoted, the word "debunked" is linked to an article that did the debunking:
      I still think you're missing my point about early retirement, which has nothing to do with subsidies. It is not unusual for people to retire before 65 if they are in good financial condition. But if you have a pre-existing condition, you may only be able to get health coverage through your job. People in that situation can't retire, even if they have sufficient savings. It has nothing to do with subsidies.
      Ditto for working part-time rather than full-time. In many jobs, only full-time workers are eligible for health insurance. If you have a pre-existing condition, that may be the only way you can get health insurance, so you'll stay full-time even if you could get by financially on 20-30 hours a week. Again, it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with subsidies.
  • []  Nancy Browning On February 17, 2014 at 9:50 am
  • Permalink | Reply Thanks for replying. I totally agree about pre-existing conditions, which I have (though not of the life-threatening variety). I was just saying it's pretty hard or "impossible" to retire unless you have a great deal of money and have to pay $500-$700 per month. Yes, it is more possible than if you couldn't retire at all. But because of this problem for early retirees, I know people who will opt for no insurance next year. Anyway…I think we basically understand one another. Thanks again.

ANS -- 9 Things I Think About Education and the Common Core

Here's some common sense thinking-through of the Common Core controversy.  All you teachers out there -- what do you think of Doug's analysis?  (Article by Doug Muder)
Find it here:   

9 Things I Think About Education and the Common Core

The problem isn't the standards and it's not even the tests. It's what people want to do with the scores.

For months, friends have been asking me, "What do you think about the Common Core?" (You get that kind of question when you write a political blog.) The first time I responded "Huh?" Then I started googling around, and my ignorance turned into confusion: The Common Core itself is little more than two lists ­ one for Mathematics and one for Language Arts ­ describing the knowledge and skills that children should be acquiring in various school grades. Nothing on either list is obviously controversial. No "learn how to perform a wide variety of sexual acts" or "master methods for invoking Satan with or without human sacrifice".

But if you wander into the wrong discussions, the vitriol is intense and it's very hard to hold a discussion on track. You see, the CC is not just a set of standards for education; it's Step #1 of half a dozen contradictory conspiracy theories. That's because the CC sits in the intersection of at least four different culture wars.
  • local control vs. national standards. Parents like the idea that they can walk into the office of somebody ­ a principal or a local superintendent ­ who has the power to fix whatever they think is wrong with their kids' school. But Americans in general hate the United States' poor showing in international comparisons, so many of us wish we could impose higher standards nationwide.
  • public schools vs. privatization. To one side, public schools represent community, the common good, the sense that we're all in this together, and our shared commitment to any child who wants to learn. To the other, the public school system is the quintessential failed government bureaucracy. The sooner it gets replaced by a system of competing entrepreneurial private schools, the better.
  • basic skills vs. progressive education. Is the point of K-12 education to instill a firm grounding in the 3 R's? Or is it to awaken (or at least not stifle) a child's creative intelligence so that s/he can cope with a future whose requirements we can't predict? (I'm old enough to remember a previous version of this battle: New Math. That controversy spawned this classic Tom Lehrer song, which he introduces by saying: "In the new approach, as you know, the important thing is to understand what you're doing, rather than to get the right answer." The audience laughs nervously.) This taps into an even deeper religious battle: Should we be teaching our children the eternal truths laid down by God and tradition? Or does culture progress in such a way that what used to be central may now be trivial, and what seems wrong to us may someday become right?
  • individualized education vs. standardized testing. Each child and each classroom is a unique bundle of talents and interests. Each day is roiled by waves of happenstance that a wise teacher is creative enough to use rather than fight. (The kids can't stop watching the bird building a nest on the ledge outside the window, so today's the day to jump ahead in the syllabus ­ or invent a new unit on the fly ­ and talk about birds.) But how can we root out the bad, lazy teachers or identify the dysfunctional, under-performing schools unless we rigorously define what the kids are supposed to learn when, and have objective tests that determine whether they're learning it?

In addition, there's a battle-of-the-billionaires going on. The Gates Foundation is pushing the CC, while the Koch brothers are fighting it. Neither of these big-money interests believes in public schools in anything like their current form, so there's a third front represented by anti-CC pro-teacher liberals like Diane Ravitch.

So whether the venue is liberal or conservative, Common Core discussions have a way of wandering off into bizarre stereotypes and dystopian futures. It's easy to forget that you're talking about two lists of knowledge and skills (that don't mention Satan).

Where I'm coming from. Like everybody, I have my own biases: I went to high school during the era of experimentation in the 1970s, and my public high school (in the small town of Quincy, Illinois, which Time in 1975 described as " an unlikely place for an educational mecca") was ­ for the short time I was there ­ a national leader in new ideas. I went through Quincy High's Project to Individualize Education (PIE), which today sounds like a hippie fantasy, even in Quincy. I organized my own schedule week-to-week, took tests whenever I felt like I had mastered the material, and had enough free time to write a novel during my senior year. (It's not very good; if you ask to read it I will claim it's lost.) I was also the student newspaper's reporter at Quincy's annual education conferences, where I (briefly) got to meet legends like John Holt.

I never bought into Holt's big theories about un-schooling society, but I did retain this much: Everybody is interested in something, and everything is interconnected. So the best kind of education starts with what kids want to know and leads them to what they need to know.

My other prior opinions are influenced by my sister's experiences. She recently retired from a career teaching elementary school in both public and private systems. She left with a lot of teaching still in her, but the public school system in Chattanooga had squeezed all the joy out the profession.

Finally, one of my friends from grad school has taken a public position in favor of the CC: Sol Friedberg is known to the world as the chair of the Boston College math department, but he's known to me as the guy I drove from Chicago to San Diego with in a $200 car. (During that trip he convinced me that I ought to pay more attention to the woman I've now been married to for nearly 30 years.) His op-ed on CC appeared recently in the LA Times.

So bearing all that in mind, let's think this through from the beginning. My first four conclusions are positive.

1. There's a legitimate national interest in education. Public schools began in a low-mobility era when every small town educated its own future citizens and even its own leaders and professionals. The local factory knew that its workers were coming from the public schools, and the old people all had grandchildren there.

Today it's different. My sister and I took our good educations and left town, while my parents' doctor came from India and their grandchildren grew up in Tennessee. Today, the local public school is a special interest that mainly matters to parents and teachers. So left to the local political process, all but the richest communities will underfund their schools. Local curriculum decisions will revolve around religion and political ideology rather than the interests of children, because more voters have religious and ideological passions than have a connection to the local kids.

But not even the United States can import all the smart people it needs, and we can't have government-of-the-people if the people are ignorant. So those kids being taught anti-science nonsense in Louisiana or stuck in dead-end schools in inner-city Baltimore are going to choose your presidents and maybe even do your brain surgery. So it's your business.

2. On a large enough timescale, national standards make sense. Whatever state they're from, high school graduates compete for places in the same colleges, or for jobs in an increasingly globalized market. It makes sense for "high school graduate" to mean one thing, rather than fifty or fifty-thousand different things. I don't think we want every local school board debating what kids need to know about trigonometry.

Given the mobility of our society, year-by-year standards make sense too. Schools shouldn't be McDonalds franchises, but when you have to take that new job in New Mexico, your fifth-grader should continue to be a fifth-grader.

The stuff that drove my sister nuts was the finer-scale scheduling: being told not just where her students should be at the end of the year, but what she had to cover week-by-week and even day-by-day.

3. No set of standards is perfect, but these are fine. Ignore whatever commentary you've heard; just go look at them. Sure, good students, good teachers, and good schools will aim higher, and the top colleges will expect more. But if all kids came out of high school with this much math and language skill, that would be tremendous.

4. It makes sense to test how well students are reaching these goals. The CC standards themselves are just a list of knowledge and skills, but two state consortia are building tests around them: Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and  Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

I don't have any problems with national tests. My problem starts with how the results get used.

5. The standards-adoption process has been undemocratic. The Obama administration all but made Common Core a requirement to qualify for Race to the Top money, which the states desperately needed at the bottom of the Great Recession. And Race to the Top wasn't debated and passed on its own merits, it was folded into the stimulus.

So on paper it looks like states are choosing to adopt these standards and the tests that go with them. But there has never been an appropriate public discussion, either in Congress or in the state legislatures.

6. High-stakes testing is a bad idea. You can use a traditional metaphor (watched pots) or a scientific one (Heisenberg effect), but the idea is simple: Sometimes watching things too intently screws them up.

In the school-reform movement pushed by the Gates Foundation, tests rule the world. Tests close schools, hold students back, and fire teachers and principals. Even the jobs of mayors and governors ride on test scores. This is where things start to go wrong: The whole system is filled with test-score anxiety, and more time gets spent on how to take tests than on the Civil War. Everyone ­ students, teachers, principals, all the way up to superintendents and governors ­ has incentive to cheat, or at least not to catch cheaters. If you can find a way to shuffle low-scoring students out the door, so much the better.

And if your job or your school is in danger, why would you waste time teaching anything that's not on the test? That's when principals start micro-managing the classroom and asking teachers: "What test questions did you cover today?"

This process got dramatized in one of the subplots of Season 4 of The Wire: A former cop starts teaching math in a Baltimore school. The story starts down the familiar To Sir With Love super-teacher path, but just as Prez starts getting through to his kids, he's reprimanded and forced to go back to robotically training them to take the state test.

7. We're using test scores to scapegoat public schools and their teachers for social problems we'd rather not deal with. My church is in an upscale Boston suburb that has a lot of educated parents, so those are the public-high-school kids I run into. I'm always impressed with how much they know and how well they can think. If they were typical American students in a typical American high school, we wouldn't be talking about school reform at all.

But think about kids who grow up poor. Their mothers are less likely to have appropriate pre-natal care and nutrition, and more likely to suffer from either drug problems or exposure to toxic chemicals. So right off the bat, poor kids have more learning disabilities. As toddlers, on average they continue to have worse nutrition and less medical care. They are more likely to enter school with undiagnosed sight or hearing problems, not to mention those learning disabilities, which are also probably undiagnosed. They are likely to be raised by less articulate parents in homes with fewer books, so they reach public school knowing far fewer words. Then we crowd them together with other students with similar disadvantages, in schools that aren't as well equipped as schools professional-class kids go to. If poor kids overcome all that and make average progress during the school year, in the summer they again live with fewer books, fewer piano lessons, and fewer trips to the museum, so they are behind again by fall.

It's obvious how to fix all that, but nobody wants to pay for it. Nobody wants to pay for pre-natal care or check-ups for toddlers or childhood nutrition or pre-school enrichment programs. Nobody wants to give schools in poor neighborhoods significantly more funding than schools in rich neighborhoods get, even though they need it. Nobody wants to merge their rich school district with the poor school district on the other side of the boundary line. Nobody wants to pay for summer programs or year-round schools. And so on.

It's much easier to blame the schools in poor neighborhoods and claim that lazy teachers are using poverty as an excuse.

But when you compare our schools to a world-class system, like say Finland's, the schools themselves are only part of the story. Finland is a socialist country, so it puts enormous resources into making sure kids don't grow up poor.

8. Super-teachers won't save us. Somebody's study says that great teachers can move a class 1.5 grade-years, while bad teachers might only get half a grade-year of progress. From there comes the notion that three great teachers in a row could completely wipe out the gaps between black and white or rich and poor.

My Lutheran elementary school gave us achievement tests every year, and the principal showed me my score chart just before I graduated from 8th grade. In sixth grade, my scores jumped two-and-a-half grade levels. And yes, I had a good teacher that year. But it's also true that my scores the previous year had been flat, so the jump had just restored the normal trajectory of my education. I sincerely doubt that two more years of great teachers would have raised my test scores by five grade levels.

So can a great teacher get a 1.5-year jump out a class? Maybe, sometimes. Would three in a row get a 4.5-year jump? I doubt it.

9. We won't get super-teachers by firing the teachers we have. Baseball statistics geeks should understand this. One of the most advanced baseball stats is Wins Above Replacement (WAR). An earlier generation of statistics measured players against the average major-leaguer, but then somebody noticed that teams can't just whistle up an average major-league shortstop whenever they need one. Some teams go entire decades without managing to fill some key position with an average player. So stats geeks started measuring against the replacement level: the kind of shortstop you can call up from the minor leagues or sign after some other team releases him. They're not nearly as good as average, but you can always find them.

The same idea works here. If you fire a below-average teacher, you can't automatically assume that the replacement will be an average teacher. The replacement level might be considerably lower than the average.

The underlying assumption behind the fire-teachers strategy is that teachers are unmotivated, and so need to be made to fear for their jobs. What other profession do we treat this way? Some doctors are certainly better than others, and there are probably patients who die because their doctor wasn't as good as the best. So should we fire all but the best doctors? Would that motivation push the replacement doctors to be excellent? I kind of doubt it.

Conclusion. So here's what I think about the Common Core: We could do a lot worse. We should have year-by-year national standards, and we should have tests that measure how well we're achieving them. That's not the battle to fight.

The right battle is over what to do with the scores. The Gates program, which influenced both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, is fundamentally misguided. What-test-question-did-you-cover-today education is not good education. (No school trying to attract the children of the rich would work that way.) Get-the-scores-up-or-else is no way to motivate teachers either to work harder or to improve their craft.

You've got your conspiracy theory and I've got mine. (I think profit-making corporations want public schools labeled as failures so they can get their hands on the billions we spend on education. But that's a topic for another article.) Common Core is Step #1 in both of them. But I don't think things get sinister until Step #2.

Friday, February 21, 2014

ANS -- Small World, Big Idea

Here's an upbeat article about housing the homeless, in real but tiny homes.  You will notice when you read it that both the Unitarian Universalist church and Occupy are mentioned. 
Find it here:    

Small World, Big Idea

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Quixote Village opened Dec. 24 on 2.1 acres in an industrial park near Washington's capital. Jeremy Bittermann for The New York Times
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OLYMPIA, Wash. ­ On Christmas Eve, Kevin Johnson received the following gifts: a bed and mattress, a blanket and sheets, a desk and chair, a toilet and sink, towels and washcloths, toothpaste and floss, and a brand-new house.

Mr. Johnson, a 48-year-old day laborer, did not find that last item beneath the Christmas tree, although it nearly would have fit. At 144 square feet ­ 8 by 18 feet, or roughly the dimensions of a Chevrolet Suburban ­ the rental house was small. Tiny would be a better descriptor. It was just half the size of the "micro" apartments that former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposed for New York City.

This scale bothered Mr. Johnson not at all, and a few weeks after moving in, he listed a few favorite design features. "A roof," he said. "Heat." A flush toilet! The tents where he had lived for most of the last seven years hadn't provided any of those things.

In what seemed like an Oprah stunt of old, Mr. Johnson's friends (21 men and seven women) also moved into tiny houses on Dec. 24. They had all been members of a homeless community called Camp Quixote, a floating tent city that moved more than 20 times after its founding in 2007.
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Camp Quixote, a floating tent city, became Quixote Village.

Beyond its recent good fortune, the settlement was ­ and is ­ exceptional. Quixote Village, as it is now called, practices self-governance, with elected leadership and membership rules. While a nonprofit board called Panza funds and guides the project, needing help is not the same thing as being helpless. As Mr. Johnson likes to say, "I'm homeless, not stupid."

A planning committee, including Mr. Johnson, collaborated with Garner Miller, an architect, to create the new village's site layout and living model. Later, the plans were presented to an all-camp assembly. "Those were some of the best-run and most efficient meetings I've ever been involved in," said Mr. Miller, a partner at MSGS Architects. "I would do those over a school board any day."

The residents lobbied for a horseshoe layout rather than clusters of cottages, in order to minimize cliques. And they traded interior area for sitting porches. The social space lies outside the cottage. Or as Mr. Johnson put it, "If I don't want to see anybody, I don't have to."

It is rare that folks who live on the street have the chance to collaborate on a 2.1-acre, $3.05 million real estate development. Nearly as surprising is that Quixote Village may become a template for homeless housing projects across the country. The community has already hosted delegations from Santa Cruz, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle; and fielded inquiries from homeless advocates in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Salt Lake City; and Prince George's County, Md.

In a few other cities, "micro-housing" is close to sheltering populations of the chronically homeless. OM Build, a subsidiary of the economic-justice movement Occupy Madison, runs a workshop to construct 99-square-foot wood cabins on wheels in Wisconsin's capital. After appealing to the City Council for the right to park these structures on lots like church property, Occupy Madison began a $50,000 crowdfunding campaign to build 10 more dwellings. A prototype finished last fall cost $5,000, said Bruce Wallbaum, a workshop organizer. "We could probably do it cheaper, but we're trying to do a home," he said, "not a shed or an RV."

Some advantages to building small are obvious. Ginger Segel, of the nonprofit developer Community Frameworks, points to construction costs at Quixote Village of just $19,000 a unit (which included paying labor at the prevailing commercial wage). Showers, laundry and a shared kitchen have been concentrated in a community center. When you add in the cost of site preparation and the community building, the 30 finished units cost $88,000 each.

By comparison, Ms. Segel, 48, said, "I think the typical studio apartment for a homeless adult in western Washington costs between $200,000 and $250,000 to build." In a sense, though, the difference is meaningless. Olympia and surrounding Thurston County hadn't built any such housing for homeless adults since 2007.

Most of that demographic, an estimated 450 souls, is unemployed. While the residents of Quixote Village are expected to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, 15 of the 29 individuals reported a sum of zero. Ms. Segel added that the average annual income for the rest of the residents ­ including wages, pensions and Social Security payments ­ is about $3,100 each.

Regular affordable housing is a luxury these folks cannot afford. "This, to my knowledge, is the first example of using micro-housing as subsidized housing for very poor people," Ms. Segel said. "It's such an obvious thing. People are living in tents. They're living in cars. They're living in the woods."

The "woods" is both an abstraction and a real place. See the fir trees behind Quixote Village, on the far side of the freight rail tracks? Last summer, Rebekah Johnson (no relation to Mr. Johnson) subsisted out there in a tent with her former boyfriend, just off a bike trail.

"He went to jail, and I just couldn't stay out there anymore," Ms. Johnson, 34, said. "If you leave, someone is going to steal your stuff. You're not very social with people."

Solitude did not suit Ms. Johnson. On a recent Saturday morning, she was sitting in the community center, calling out to everyone who walked by, while also tucking into a plate of French toast, working on a 500-piece puzzle and flipping through a vampire-hunting novel by Laurell K. Hamilton.
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Residents wanted a horseshoe layout rather than a cluster and traded interior space for sitting porches. Jeremy Bittermann for The New York Times

Ms. Johnson, who last worked as a cashier, ran through a list of the other places she had stayed recently. There was jail, where she landed after her arrest for meth possession. And before that, a drug house. "And before that I was in a three-bedroom apartment," she said. "I went from living in a home with my children to living in the woods alone."

Her oldest child, 15, now stays with his father. "My younger two kids live with my parents," she continued. "I'm working on going through treatment so I can get my children back." She went to see "Frozen" with them recently, and they toured her new cottage at Quixote Village just before she moved in.

Custody may be a long way off, Ms. Johnson admitted, but she was trying to look at her circumstances another way. Her children were never going to come see her while she was out in the woods.

Jon Waddey, who lives a few cottages away, describes Quixote Village "not as an end, but a means." He had been cooking in a restaurant that closed, and bottomed out in jail on a felony heroin possession.

Even after starting methadone, he was in no state to look for another job. "I had a huge beard," he said. "I needed a place to shave and shower. I just needed a place to feel human."

At other homeless shelters, the staff rummaged through your bags, breathalyzed you and kicked you out from morning to evening time. "It's a horrible feeling having no place to be," Mr. Waddey, 41, said. At a facility like that, "you're really made to feel where you're at."

Of his new cottage, he said: "I absolutely love it. I have my little writing desk, my reading desk, a lovely view of the trees. In a way, that's what I've always wanted."

A few weeks after settling into Quixote Village, Mr. Waddey was starting to investigate how long it would take at the Evergreen State College to finish his long-deferred undergraduate degree. At night, he was making his way through the John le Carré BBC mini-series "Smiley's People," and cooking for friends in the community kitchen.

"I think cooking is one of the most fundamental things you can do," Mr. Waddey said. "To feed people and see how happy it makes them."

The classic image of a tiny home is a grown-up dollhouse, a spot to play make-believe. The scale is humble, but the architectural detail is rich: eyebrow windows, stick-style trusses. This is the jewel box you'll see on a website like Jay Shafer's Four Lights Tiny House Company or in a dream-book like Lloyd Kahn's "Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter." It stands somewhere on a lost coast, or in a hermit's hollow: private Edens, places you'd like to be.

The tiny houses of Quixote Village, by contrast, stand 10 feet apart in what looks like an industrial park. Check that; the site actually is an industrial park, two miles west of the state capital. Parked across the street is a fleet of gas-delivery trucks.

This is the vacant land that Thurston County gave to Quixote Village on a 41-year lease (at $1 a year). It wasn't easy to find an agreeable site, said Karen Valenzuela, 64, a county commissioner who supported the project. The next-best location, she said, was "a piece of property adjacent to our county waste and recovery center ­ known as the county dump."
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Theresa Bitner is a resident.

Before construction began, the planners discovered that you could practically reach the water table with a straw. All this drainage had to go somewhere. And so, during Olympia's galoshes season, which appears to be eternal, the water collects in three retention ponds qua mud pits.

The residents hate these overgrown puddles, Mr. Miller admitted. "I like to joke that you have waterfront property," he said.

The original design called for the community center to have a loft and library, visitors' quarters and an infirmary. Ultimately, all these items went the way of "value engineering."

Likewise, the first drawings of the cottages show handsome cedar-plank siding and cork flooring. The finished units ended up with board-and-batten and bare plywood floors. Almost impossibly, the dimensions shrank, too. Within the five-inch-thick insulated walls, the mattress, bathroom and closet fill up almost half the interior dimensions of 123 square feet. If these houses were any tinier, you could fit them in a bottle.

"I've done plenty of high-design projects, and that's not what this is at all," Mr. Miller said. "It's about providing houses for people who were in tents a month ago."

Another thing Mr. Miller cut: about half his fee. He had previously volunteered as an overnight host when the tent city quartered at his church, First United Methodist, as part of a seven-church rotation that saw Camp Quixote move every 90 days.

It was these same congregants who, after forming relationships with the residents, became the staunchest advocates for a permanent housing site. Jill Severn, a member of the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation, was one of them. "When you pack a City Council meeting with 30 homeless people and 120 nice church people," she said, "they can't say no."

Ask the residents about Ms. Severn, 66, and they will describe her as a Trotskyist, a second mother and a saint. All true ­ or true-ish. By her own account, she has also done stints as an overnight talk-show host, a garden writer, a union organizer, a speechwriter to two Washington governors and an author of the state's middle-school civics textbook.

As the (now former) board chairwoman of Panza, Ms. Severn called on several of those vocations to bring Quixote Village into existence. In 2011, for instance, she cooked a home meal for Hans Dunshee, 60, the Democratic chairman of the Washington State House Capital Budget Committee.

Ms. Severn's lobbying campaign was effective. "She got me drunk," Mr. Dunshee said. Their supper conversation eventually led to a $1.5 million allocation in the capital budget. Joking aside, he praised Quixote Village's penny-wise approach as a kind of pilot project.

Frank Chopp, 60, the Democratic speaker of the house, was another backer. "Fifty percent of the homeless have some kind of mental illness," he said. "The best way of responding to that is housing. It doesn't have to be much. Just get them out of the rain, and out of the street."

Still, no one would mistake the homeless for a powerful or popular constituency. Funding 30 cottages is not the kind of act that wins elections.

Mr. Dunshee said: "Speaking as a politician, I don't think there's any political value in this. You wake up feeling, I did something decent."
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Showers, laundry and a shared kitchen have been concentrated in a community center, with a blackboard to share information.

The whole unlikely story of Quixote Village can feel like a Frank Capra movie ­ reshot through a radical lens by, say, John Sayles or Ken Loach. Ms. Severn said, "In fifth grade, I fell in love with democracy: that people should vote and make choices."

The weekly residents' meeting, which comes after dinner on Wednesday nights, strikes her as the quintessence of direct democracy.

Mr. Waddey said: "I've left meetings very touched by something someone said. Or very mad. They may be wild, but they're democratic."

A top agenda item in the new location: why, oh why, is there no cable TV?

Villagers like Arin Long, 28, have been struggling with a related aspect of living in an industrial park. "Point blank: there's nothing to do," Ms. Long said. "Especially for drug addicts who are getting clean. And that's everybody."

She has tried collaging, beading and sewing new pink curtains for her cottage. (What was wrong with the original set? "Look at them!" she said. "They're retro ­ not my style.") And yet, unexpectedly, Ms. Long said, she has found herself daydreaming about the old Camp Quixote and sleeping rough.

There were trenches to dig when it rained ­ and it always rained ­ and tarps to tie down in the wind. "I miss that stuff," she said. "It's labor. It keeps you busy."

At the same time, other residents like Theresa Bitner, 24, and Brie Wellman, 21, have embraced domesticity without reservations. Their beds are warm, their books are dry and raccoons aren't getting into their clothes.

Ms. Bitner and Ms. Wellman have been a couple for seven years, since high school. "We bonded over mixed-media art," Ms. Wellman said.

Though they keep separate cottages, the couple bunks at Ms. Bitner's. And the décor reflects the life they are now free to make together. To the left of the door hang Ms. Wellman's spatter-art canvases, inspired by Jackson Pollock, she said. There's a fairy altar on the window sill and a stack of novels on the desk.

"We're both bookworms," Ms. Wellman said.

Ms. Bitner said, "I like anything by Neil Gaiman."

When (if?) the rain stops, they'll be sowing an herb garden in the dooryard. Their jittery black cat, Loki ­ "formerly feral," Ms. Bitner said ­ could use a dose of catnip. It's a commitment to stability, too: If you plant a garden in April, you might as well hang around until September's harvest.

Mr. Johnson was thinking of growing roses, and maybe grapes, a decidedly long-term crop. But then he had managed to stick with Quixote from its very first week, through all the upheaval and turmoil. "You wouldn't have liked me six years ago," he said. "I drank. I'm not a good drunk. I've learned to think about someone other than myself. I don't beat people up anymore. It's weird. I never thought that way before."

The old Camp Quixote ceased to exist on Dec. 24, Mr. Johnson said. And it was high time for their homeless community to redefine itself. No one who lives in Quixote Village is homeless.

A version of this article appears in print on February 20, 2014, on page D1 of the New York edition with the headline: Small World, Big Idea. Order Reprints |Today's Paper | Subscribe

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Here's another one that has been hanging around on my computer for a while.  It's easy to read and makes a very good point.  Not just follow the money, but follow the moneyed....
Find it here:  

Gin and Tacos



As a kid I made annual trips to Oak Brook, IL in mid-November with my family to knock out the Christmas shopping. Oak Brook was home to the Fancy Mall. People of the suburbs understand the typography of malls; there is the standard mall against which others are judged, the Good mall (with a Banana Republic instead of a Gap), the Bad mall (read: patronized by black people and mostly Foot Locker derivatives) and then the Fancy Mall containing exotic and expensive stores unknown to peasants. Oak Brook was a logical location for Fanciness, being the global headquarters of McDonald's. It will not surprise you to learn that those McDonald's folks have some serious money. Accordingly, Oak Brook is crammed with seven-figure homes and the kind of high end retail and "corporate campuses" that wealth attracts.

The funny thing about Oak Brook to me – I was a perceptive little bastard, and greatly unpleasant to be around no doubt – was that for a place built on the fortunes of a fast food megacorporation, there didn't seem to be any fast food places. An eight year old, when picturing the World Headquarters of McDonald's, envisions the biggest Playland on Earth or perhaps a McDonald's with an eight lane drive-thru and seating for 1000. But It was just a bunch of well maintained if totally bland office buildings. There wasn't even a regular McDonald's in sight. In fact there were hardly any fast food restaurants at all.

The irony that I grew to understand with age is that upper-middle class people who have made great sums of money building the McDonald's empire are, almost without exception, people who would not be caught dead in a McDonald's. Nor would they consent to having one in their neighborhood, with its gaudy, plasticky exterior dragging down property values and attracting Undesirables. They don't eat that stuff and they would never feed it to their kids. There are no McDonald's restaurants in swanky neighborhoods for the same reason there are no car title loan places or drive-thru liquor stores – because these establishments were invented by the well-to-do as a means to screw poor people for profit. I often say half-jokingly that if you see a product, service, or social institution that is enthusiastically supported, but not used, by rich white people then it's a safe bet that it exists to screw you.

Which, in an analogy that probably makes sense only in my mind, brings us to the School Reform industry. Why is it that the very wealthy are so vocal these days about reforming public schools that they would never send their children to anyway? Why are they so enthusiastic about "charter schools" and for-profit education models when they and their kids continue to go to elite, expensive private schools? Do you think the CEO of Kaplan, now extracting money from the masses under the guise of "Kaplan University", is going to send his kids to Harvard or to the school run by the company that has made him so rich?

I'll believe that McDonald's thinks its products are healthy when I see some statistics about how often its white collar employees eat there. I'll believe that online schools, for-profit colleges, and charter schools are superior educational options when I see a university president or EduCorporation executive with a degree from one or with kids enrolled in one. A cynic might suggest that their tremendous enthusiasm for replacing traditional publicly funded education – which, to be certain, has plenty of problems – with privatized alternatives has less to do with academic excellence and more to do with money. They don't want to pay for public K-12 institutions and they want to figure out a way to line their own pockets with the money funneled toward higher education.

Education reformers are a mix of well intentioned if somewhat naive young people and hard, cynical predators who know a cash cow when they see one. Next time you encounter one, ask them where they went to school. More importantly, ask them where their kids are enrolled. More often than not, the names of expensive private schools and elite public schools will roll off their lips in much greater numbers than any of the bogus alternatives they hawk to their social inferiors. That, in a dramatic oversimplification, tells you everything you need to know about School Reform.
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ANS -- Robert Reich: Fear Is Why Poor States Vote Against Their Economic Interest

Here's a very short article about how the corporations get people to vote their way even if it kills them.  This has been sitting in my computer since the day of Joyce's accident, so I'm just getting to it now... Oh well. 
Find it here: #

Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 09:36 AM PST

Robert Reich: Fear Is Why Poor States Vote Against Their Economic Interest

by GleninCA Follow for GleninCA []
Last week, there was a massive toxic spill in West Virginia leading to undrinkable water for hundreds of thousands of West Virginans and pictures of the disgustingly polluted water like the one above (Photo credit: @ashmarkee).

For years many Democrats have wondered why poor and middle class Americans vote for conservative politicians that don't share their economic interests, especially in our country's poorest states like West Virginia. Is it some twisted ideology? Something to do with race or religion? It could be all of those things, but oddly enough, jobs could also be a factor. Or more specifically, the fear of losing those jobs. In a Facebook post today, Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explains:
Last week�s massive toxic chemical spill into West Virginia Elk River illustrates another benefit to the business class of high unemployment, economic insecurity, and a safety-net shot through with holes. Not only are employees docile, eager to accept whatever crumbs they can get. The public is also quiescent and unwilling to cause trouble.

The spill was the region�s third major chemical accident in five years, coming after two investigations by the federal Chemical Safety Board in the Kanawha Valley, also known as �Chemical Valley,� and repeated recommendations from federal regulators and environmental advocates that the state embrace tougher rules to better safeguard chemicals. But state and local lawmakers turned a deaf ear.

As Maya Nye, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a citizen�s group formed after a 2008 explosion and fire killed workers at West Virginia�s Bayer CropScience plant in the state, told the Times: �We are so desperate for jobs in West Virginia we don�t want to do anything that pushes industry out.� Exactly.

For years political scientists have wondered why the citizens of West Virginia and other poorer states vote against their economic interests, hypothesizing it�s because economic issues have been preempted by others like guns, abortion, and race. But as wages keep sinking and economic security disappears, it�s also because people are so desperate for jobs they�ll vote whatever way industry wants them to. Bottom line: A strong and growing middle class is the best bulwark against corporate irresponsibility.

Originally posted to GleninCA on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 09:36 AM PST.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement and Dream Menders.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


That last one was a satire. but all but the crack about Nelson
Mandela seemed pretty apt..... I just thought there are starting to
be rumblings of revolution, even if they are satire.....

ANS -- Lorde’s Suppressed Grammy Award acceptance speech (Full Transcript) 26 January 2014

This is the suppressed speech.  Interesting....
Find it here:   


Lorde's Suppressed Grammy Award acceptance speech (Full Transcript) 26 January 2014

Queen Bee Sting: Grammy audience told to read more

Queen Bee Sting: Grammy audience told to read more


Thankyou soo much everyone for making this song explode because this world is mental. (Laughter). Planet Earth is run by psychopaths that hide behind slick marketing, 'freedom' propaganda and 'economic growth' rhetoric, [1] while they construct a global system of corporatized totalitarianism.

As American journalist Chris Hedges has identified, a corporate totalitarian core thrives inside a fictitious democratic shell. [2] This core yields an 'inverted' totalitarian state that few recognize because it does not look like the Orwellian world of Nineteen Eighty-four . [3]

This corporate totalitarian core is spreading outward from America. Planet Earth is being rapidly militarized by the world's major and significant states, including their police forces. [4] Meanwhile, state surveillance is becoming universal [5] and torture is outsourced to gulags. [6]

Can we not imagine that in past times, simple folk found it hard to work out exactly how they were being manipulated by the Royal monarchies, and the Papal monarchy, who claimed a 'divine right to rule'? Ordinary people from classical times through to the demise of Ancien Regime could not see how the rivalrous network of elites and oligarchs were linked, not least because the illiterate masses were indoctrinated to believe in their humble lot, to obey divinely-endorsed authority and to live in fear of damnation.

So, in today's mental world, it should become clearer now that Planet Earth is ruled by super-wealthy people, who use their outrageous fortunes to steer the trajectories of whole societies for their own material and political gain. [7] These oligarchs are, in fact, colluding for economic gain and conspiring to augment more political power. [8] Armies of professional, political, religious and military elites serve them. [9 Together, they comprise a highly-networked transnational capitalist class that has been traced in studies by: Peter Phillips and Brady Osborne; [10] William K. Carroll; [11] David Rothkopf; [12] Daniel Estulin; [13] and Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter. [14]

As Canadian journalist Naomi Klein has argued in her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, 'free markets' were slickly marketed in the 1980s and 1990s with the idea that they would deliver individual freedom and prosperity for all. [15] Klein also wrote that the use of military violence to facilitate the spread of 'free markets' in the field-testing stage from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s has continued into the 2000s. Her view is supported in Eugene Jarecki's documentary Why We Fight, which compellingly showed that America fights wars to make the world secure for its corporations. [16] So, get reading and viewing! (Lorde giggles and half the audience rises to their feet applauding. The other half remain fixed in their chairs. Some reluctantly clap).

Thankyou soo much everyone for giving a shit about our song, 'Royals'. May you all find the balls to help construct a world based on resilient community, bona-fide freedom, and peace. To do that, we will need to redeploy the psychopaths that currently run the world to the planet's prisons. [17] Peace cannot happen with reconciliation. That was Nelson Mandela's mistake. [18] The first step to peace is justice firmly served.


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Snoopman News: The revolution in your mind will not be televised!
See the full story "Clipping Queen Bee's Wings: Lorde's real Grammy speech suppressed" at
And also:
The inside story behind Lorde's meteoric rise: "Queen Bee Mentor: The professor who fed Lorde's mental buzz"
Speech Source References

[1] Snoopman. (2013, August 31). A Poorly Understood 'Bargain': How Democracy and the 60s Movements became Orphans in the 'Free Market' Era. Snoopman News. Retrieved from

[2] Hedges, Chris. (2014, January 6). The Last Gasp of American Democracy. Truthout.

[3] Orwell, George. (1993). Nineteen Eighty-Four (5th ed.). London, England: Compact Books. (Original work published 1949).

[4] Chossudovsky, Michel. (2014, January 29). Imperial Conquest: America's "Long War" against Humanity. Global Research. Retrieved from

[5] WashingtonsBlog. (2013, December 18). Former Top NSA Official: "We Are Now In A Police State". Retrieved from ; World Socialist Web Site. (2013, December 18). "Almost Orwellian": US Judge indicts NSA spying. Retrieved from; Burghardt, Tom. (2013, November 10). The U.S. Secret State and the Internet: "Dirty Secrets" and "Crypto Wars" from "Clipper Chip" and ECHELON to PRISM. Global Research. Retrieved from

[6] Lendman, Stephen. (2013, November 12). America's Global Gulag: Challenging Wrongful Convictions Global Research. Retrieved from ; Lendman, Stephen. (2013, July 19). US Courts Approve Indefinite Detention and Torture. Global Research. Retrieved from

[7] Engdahl, F. W. (2009). Gods of Money: Wall Street and the Death of the American Century.Wiesbaden, Germany: edition.engdahl; Rowbotham, M. (1998). The Grip of Death: A Study of Modern Money, Debt Slavery and Destructive Economics. Charlbury, England: Jon Carpenter; Winters, J. A. (2011a). Oligarchy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[8 Edwards, Steve. (2012). It's the financial oligarchy, stupid: A study of Anglo-American news coverage during the 2007-2008 financial crisis and bank bailouts Retrieved from

[9] Winters, J. A.(2012, February 27). Oligarchy in the U.S.A.: The wealth defense industry protects the richest of the rich. In These Times. Retrieved from

[10] Phillips, Peter & Osborne, Brady (2013, September 13). Exposing the Financial Core of the Transnational Capitalist Class. Global Research. Retrieved from

[11] Carroll, W. K. (2010). The Making of a Transnational Capitalist Class: Corporate Power in the 21st Century. London: Zed Books.

[12] Rothkopf, D. (2008). Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They are Making. London, England: Little, Brown.

[13] Estulin, D. (2009). The True Story of the Bilderberg Group (North American Union ed.). Walterville, OR: Trine Day LLC.

[14] Shoup, L. H. & Minter, W. (1977). Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy. New York, NY: Authors Choice Press.

[15] Klein, N. (2007). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Camberwell, Australia: Penguin Books.

[16] Jarecki, Eugene (2006). Why We Fight. [Motion Picture]. Sony Pictures Classics.

[17] Snoopman. (2013, August 31). A Poorly Understood 'Bargain': How Democracy and the 60s Movements became Orphans in the 'Free Market' Era. Snoopman News. Retrieved from

[18] (2014, January 28). The Audacity of Obama: A Black Wolf in Corporate Clothing. Snoopman News. Retrieved from

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