Schooling ≠ Education

Surrounded by moral quandaries and crises, we look up from fast food containers unable to ponder greater questions beyond the value menu. Did these questions sneak up on us, or have they been there all along and we just eliminated the practice of engaging them? Cornel West and Jeremy Tate bring light and a bit of heat in the WAPO on the removal of classics at Howard University:

Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture. Those who commit this terrible act treat Western civilization as either irrelevant and not worthy of prioritization or as harmful and worthy only of condemnation.
Sadly, in our culture’s conception, the crimes of the West have become so central that it’s hard to keep track of the best of the West. We must be vigilant and draw the distinction between Western civilization and philosophy on the one hand, and Western crimes on the other. The crimes spring from certain philosophies and certain aspects of the civilization, not all of them.
The Western canon is, more than anything, a conversation among great thinkers over generations that grows richer the more we add our own voices and the excellence of voices from Africa, Asia, Latin America and everywhere else in the world. We should never cancel voices in this conversation, whether that voice is Homer or students at Howard University. For this is no ordinary discussion.

Howard University is not removing its classics department in isolation. This is the result of a massive failure across the nation in “schooling,” which is now nothing more than the acquisition of skills, the acquisition of labels and the acquisition of jargon. Schooling is not education. Education draws out the uniqueness of people to be all that they can be in the light of their irreducible singularity. It is the maturation and cultivation of spiritually intact and morally equipped human beings.

So much of higher education has folded in the face of market pressures, political interference, and fraud that it finds itself all but unrecognizable to former guises. Not wanting to be recognized as what you are can leave you paralyzed when you’re unwilling to defend against impotent charges like teaching social justice. Such charges are softballs and should be parked deep in the cheap seats. But lack of engagement – reading, writing, arguing – makes us afraid of politics, and bullies. We abandon the classical education model at our peril, leaving everyone unable to navigation complexities and only further clearing the path to the bottom-line. Only 99 cents!

Trade school is not an admonition.

Image: Cardinal Sin by Banksy

The Entitlements entitlement

social securityWho is entitled to endlessly concoct reasons to tear apart a perfectly functional social safety net? Republicans, apparently:

With a little-noticed proposal, Republicans took aim at Social Security on the very first day of the 114th Congress.

The incoming GOP majority approved late Tuesday a new rule that experts say could provoke an unprecedented crisis that conservatives could use as leverage in upcoming debates over entitlement reform.

The largely overlooked change puts a new restriction on the routine transfer of tax revenues between the traditional Social Security retirement trust fund and the Social Security disability program. The transfers, known as reallocation, had historically been routine; the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said Tuesday that they had been made 11 times. The CBPP added that the disability insurance program “isn’t broken,” but the program has been strained by demographic trends that the reallocations are intended to address.

On the one hand this is sneaky, and on the other it is completely duplicitous. That’s all the hands we have. The retirement fund and the disability fund can be made completely solvent with an easy and frequently used reallocation. The entire conceit of a “broke’ government – concerned citizens in rural towns across the country love to erect these billboards denoting how we are out of money – is simply a rationale constructed to support policy ends otherwise unsupportable. Alongside the fact that no republicans actually campaign on this and such a scheme as outlined in the article must come cloaked in euphemism and  only quietly discussed.

All the while, real opportunities to correct budget priorities are beyond discussion. Entitled to be wrapped in a flag, indeed.

But the real question is, why do we even want to take care of people?

Image:Following the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935, a visiting nurse visits a rural family. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, courtesy


Good faith vs. Bad

Sometimes, within the context of a supposed competition and especially one between competing ideas, it’s instructive to remember that the two sides might not even be playing the same game. One example.

Students at Harvard and other universities are agitating for the university to divest themselves of investments in the fossil fuel industry. Last week the President of Harvard Drew Faust issued a statement saying thanks but no thanks harvard will no do no such thing. Here’s a response from Divinity School student and climate activist Tim DeChristopher (who served a two-year federal sentence for civil disobedience):

Drew Faust seeks a position of neutrality in a struggle where the powerful only ask that people like her remain neutral. She says that Harvard’s endowment shouldn’t take a political position, and yet it invests in an industry that spends countless millions on corrupting our political system. In a world of corporate personhood, if she doesn’t want that money to be political, she should put it under her mattress. She has clearly forgotten the words of Paolo Freire: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and powerless means to side with the powerful, not to remain neutral.” Or as Howard Zinn put succinctly, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”

She touts all the great research on climate change that is done at Harvard, but she ignores the fact that the fossil fuel industry actively works to suppress or distort every one of those efforts. To seriously suggest that any research will solve the climate crisis while we continue to allow the fossil fuel industry to maintain a stranglehold on our democracy is profoundly naive.

Emphasis mine. One side is trying to convince the public that climate change is real, the other is working, and largely succeeding, at stifling debate. Climate change denialists aren’t even that – they can’t and won’t debate the issue on the merits, and the public should take note. What they choose to do is attack the open system whereby society can debate what is happening to it and decide what to do. This course is at least as pernicious as the effects of the dirty energy of which it is service, as it provides for a comprehensive anti-democratic attack on the objective of self-government itself.

Public Financing of Elections

The competition remains open, and fierce, but this has to be the single worst blow to representative government since at least the Iran-Contra scandal, BCCI, the Keating Five, Long Term Capital Management ever:

This, as much as anything else, is why our Congress is both dysfunctional — legislators have no clue what they’re voting for or against most of the time — and so attentive to the priorities of the very wealthy.

Newt Gingrich completely dismantled the internal institutions that used to provide Congress with objective information and research, both because that information frequently contradicted conservative dogma and because he knew that doing so would force Congress to rely on outside (ideological) organizations for information, which would strengthen the corporate-funded policy shops and think tanks that powered the conservative movement. Now nearly everything Congress “knows” about policy comes directly from self-interested, industry-funded groups. Simultaneously, as Lorelei Kelly recently wrote, congressional staff began shrinking, which means expertise was, once again, outsourced — now, increasingly, lobbyists perform the educational function that well-versed staffers used to.

In a way, the practice of representatives unstudied on the issues but nonetheless voting to effect our future circumvents the need for corporate whoring by thoroughly corrupting the entire operation, thereby rendering the need for further duplicity redundant. Efficiency! Kind of.


I know there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on… what with all the face-eating bacteria and flesh-eating humans, but there is actually something else going on. The ‘business of America is business’ reality is actually taking over the country. The University of Virginia, founded by the revered Thomas Jefferson, is about to become the unofficial Citizens United test case for just how much can be run into the ground looted and sold bankrupted just like a business:

For as much as this has been described as “remarkable” and “unprecedented,” I can’t help but see it as the microcosm of a dynamic playing out in our politics and across our public institutions. The constant denigration of government and public service, coupled with the often unjustified veneration of business, has led to a world where successful capitalists are privileged in all discussions. In an earlier time, we understood that the values and priorities of the market weren’t universally applicable; of course you wouldn’t run a university like a business. It has different goals, serves different constituencies, and more important, has a broad obligation to serve the public.

The same goes for government. The Postal Service has never been a money-making operation, but that’s never been the point; as a country, we agreed that everyone should be connected, even if it doesn’t pay for itself. The value of public-spiritedness trumped the goal of profitability. You could say the same for Social Security, Medicaid, Pell Grants, Amtrak, etc. These programs should be judged by whether they accomplish the goals of our society—a safety net for the poor, help for the young, assistance for the old—and not whether they meet the metrics of a business. If they need reform to meet their goals, then we should move in that direction. But handing to them to the private sector, or running them like a business, won’t automatically solve their problems or make them better.

For the last thirty years, however, we’ve deferred to capitalists and businesspeople in nearly all decisions. A handful of rich people think they know how to run the economy? Great, we’ll let them take care of it. A few billionaires think they know what’s wrong with our education system? Well, we should listen to them!

It’s almost like 1876 all over again, except instead now with more updated, completely content-free b-school jargon.

Movin’ on Down

As an unplanned follow-up on yesterday, apparently the young’uns think the William of Rights used to be Bill Somebody. Or they think bill is a verb. Either way, #civicsfail:

Fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights on the most recent national civics examination, and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches, according to test results released on Wednesday.

At the same time, three-quarters of high school seniors who took the test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, were unable to demonstrate civic skills like identifying the effect of United States foreign policy on other nations or naming a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.

The Department of Education administered the tests, known as the nation’s report card, to 27,000 4th-, 8th- and 12th-grade students last year. Questions cover themes including how government is financed, what rights are protected by the Constitution and how laws are passed.

As I slowly drew my finger to wag in the direction of our young citizens of tomorrow, I remembered some of my own schoolin’ and put it back in the hypocrisy holster. Sure it’s easy to blame them – except that they didn’t create an education system more concerned with turning them into workers and consumers than into citizens. I didn’t either. But they hear all the time that they are consumers and should address every single thing as such. Civil liberties? Unless that’s some kind of all-night sale at Failmart, how would they come into contact with the concept? Shorter me: How can they be expected to know things they are not being taught? Hmm?

These kids have a problem, in that many of them are largely ignorant of important issues and hence are ill-equipped to make decisions about them and double-hence, more likely to be manipulated. But they are not the problem. It’s their elite overlords, who think there are two sides to deathpanelsbirthcertificatedeficitsocialism!, that are the problem.


This is a good point to share with your friends who tell you, while nodding, that the government should just get out of the way and let private enterprise solve today’s problems.

Burton Richter, Nobel laureate in physics

The President talked about Sputnik, which inspired the Eisenhower administration to sharply increase investment in education, and in all areas of science and technology.  The President mentioned the role of government in innovation, but Congress does not seem to have appreciated what the federal role has been.  Simply put, industry does not innovate; industry turns federally funded innovations into products.   Nobel laureates said it in 2009.  The National Academies of Sciences said it in 2010.  The American Enterprise Institute, Brookings and the Breakthrough Institute said it recently in a report called “Post-Partisan Power.”

America’s corporate leaders also said it recently in a report from The American Energy Innovation Council.  Every basic technology in one of the products of the decade, the iPhone (and the Blackberry before it), came from government funded research; the internet, the GPS system, large scale integrated circuits, and even the touch screen, (see “Where Good Technologies Come From“)

Without industry there would be no product.  Without government funded R&D there would be no innovative technology to turn into products.  To both Congress and the Administration I would say back the pieties with the funds required to realize them.

And this goes double triple Hammer time for new clean energy solutions.

Via . Earth

Money to Buy Mediocre Lies

Not even the best money can buy, but kinda middling ones.

The extent to which lying is an operative political strategy in your lifetime, of your government, by your representatives, cannot be overstated or stated often enough. Even if you think you know this, You don’t. And if you don’t know Frank Lutz is, John Chait reminds you:

Luntz’s latest memo advising Republicans on how to fight financial reform,obtained by Sam Stein, is a classic of the genre. The unstated argument of the memo is that, being determined to oppose legislation that most Americans support, Republicans should simply pretend they are arguing against something completely different. Luntz makes it clear that the public demands reform. “You must be on the side on change,” he writes. “Always.” (There is no pretense anywhere in Luntz’s paper that Republicans do, or even should, have a reform plan of their own.)

He likewise insists Republicans never call the reform bill “reform”: “It’s not ‘reform.’ This is not a reform bill. It is the ‘Stop the Big Bank Bailout bill.” Of course, Luntz does not try to explain why the reform bill is not reform. Indeed, his paper is entitled, “The Language of Financial Reform.” It calls to mind the French absurdist Rene Magritte’s painting of a pipe, labeled, “This is not a pipe.”

And we’ve been there before, of course. But then again, we thought we remembered about lying.

A Fool and His Primer

So… mrs. green and I speak often about how newspapers will be able to support themselves going forward, now that their revenue model has gone up in Craig’s List smoke. The supposition is that at some point, through collusion or other such cartel-like agreement, the larger and dependable online sources of actual reporting will have to start charging for content. This allows that some of them will be able to charge for content, with the inferred assumption that this is true as long as they don’t destroy their brand.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A ‘LIGHT-SWITCH TAX’…. In an apparent effort to be an even more shameless hack, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) argues in a Washington Post op-ed today that “all American families will get stuck with a new ‘light-switch tax’ on electricity bills that is in the president’s budget.”

It’s not just Gregg. While President Obama cut taxes for the vast majority of Americans, a standard Republican talking point is that Obama is also raising taxes on everyone who uses electricity. The new GOP catch phrase popped up about a week ago, when the House Republican Conference said in a press release that the administration supports “a light switch tax that would cost every American household $3,128 a year.”

As is too often the case, the difference between Republican rhetoric and reality is overwhelming.

The extent to which established and dependable media sources commit to undermining their brand will have as much effect on their long-term viability as the bad decision-making of the corporate owners.

Also note the tendentious application of tax rhetoric to what is, sad to say, only an imagined attempt to create incentives to influence energy demand. It’s like the ‘death tax’ BS. Republicans can and do choose to see everything through the prism of taxes, but this childlike construct requires a grand gesture at the outset – primarily setting up the government as some separate, antagonistic entity, out to get you and your hard-earned winnings.

In the interest of brevity, a foolish and naive primer: We support the country, literally, by funding the government. It’s patriotic, sure, but also practical. We use it for all kinds of things we can and do disagree about – fighting wars, picking up the trash, putting out fires, educating our youngsters. Yet, through the magic of funding activities like these, we discover the handy ability to encourage or discourage behaviors by charging ourselves more or less for doing or not doing certain things – from littering to using lead paint, for example, but also having children, buying a home.

So despite this ‘light-switch tax’ scare-mongering, and it will get worse, taxing carbon emissions will be the route away from carbon-centric energy sources and toward affordable renewable energy. Whatever the costs, we will create a funding regimen that ultimately rewards sustainability. That’s not optimism – it’s what the system is supposed to do. The country is us – we fund the government.

It’s Like Blue, Pink and Yellow, Only Different

Inside this Newsweek story about AIG, via Atrios, is a nugget that gets at our own larger house of cards, into which they are few ways in – but once you’re in, they are literally no ways out. To wit:

Most of this as-yet-undiscovered problem, Gober says, lies in the area of reinsurance, whereby one insurance company insures the liabilities of another so that the latter doesn’t have to carry all the risk on its books. Most major insurance companies use outside firms to reinsure, but the vast majority of AIG’s reinsurance contracts are negotiated internally among its affiliates, Gober says, and these internal balance sheets don’t add up. The annual report of one major AIG subsidiary, American Home Assurance, shows that it owes $25 billion to another AIG affiliate, National Union Fire, Gober maintains. But American has only $22 billion of total invested assets on its balance sheet, he says, and it has issued another $22 billion in guarantees to the other companies. “The American Home assets and liquidity raise serious questions about their ability to make good on their promise to National Union Fire,” says Gober, who has a consulting business devoted to protecting policyholders. Gober says there are numerous other examples of “cooked books” between AIG subsidiaries. Based on the state insurance regulators’ own reports detailing unanswered questions, the tally in losses could be hundreds of billions of dollars more than AIG is now acknowledging.

Think concentric economies of scale without the redundancies. When one ring goes beyond what it’s able to support on it’s own, it leverages an outer ring to “insure” itself against loses. I don’t know any other way but to use the scare quotes around insure, and neither do they.

This insurance examiner happened to be from Mississippi, so take that area as a case in point. When you hear about all the beach front property that gets threatened or actually destroyed from storms, huge dollar amounts invariably get tossed around. Small enclaves of precarious oceanfront property could theoretically be insured against loss, say by a local firm or even Lloyds of London (if they still exist), if the property owners had sufficient capital to pay incredibly hefty premiums to insure property that is, for all intents and purposes but especially in plain old chances-of-anything-happening kinds of risk, built in the wrong place. Lovely perhaps, but fleeting. (For more on this, see love, definition of)

Now, for one thing, this would likely limit the number of houses and towns built in precarious geographical areas, and we wouldn’t want to do that –  celui sera UnAmurican. But anyway… stop anywhere here along the way, economically speaking, and the vista is much the same. Once you go beyond those who can afford to build, live and rebuild in danger-prone areas and extend the opportunity to the rest of anyone who wants the lovely, the insurance companies can’t guarantee these investments, even though they will write policies saying that someone* will. We send the risk spiraling outward, trying to leverage the power of the outer rings. But even there, the big firms can’t even write down their actual liabilities – because they wouldn’t be able to cover them in the eventuality of anything catastrophic across scales happening, otherwise known as the events they’re writing insurance to cover.

*Now, what if we stipulated from the outset that this someone was the government, aka the taxpayers? And what if as a part of such ventures other responsibilities were attached the ‘parties of the first part’ that raised the bar for how we go about insuring things? What if, in other words, everyone had to be honest about all of this, what would be different? Less beachfront property? Would the U.S. be a third-world backwater without the necessity to Pyramid-scheme at every opportunity? This is what we would have ourselves believe, that without such security and assurances, such as it is, we would wouldn’t be so prosperous.

I’ll leave it to you to re-assess the shifting definitions of those last few words in light of recent events.