Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Once upon a time...

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Once upon a time not so very long ago and a place right close by, there was a land conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal. Now, reality is, this land was never really the shining city upon a hill as some folks liked to claim but even with all of its problems, it still managed to make the phrases "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free" enough substance to be a bit more than a slogan on a statue.

Now? Eh, not so much.

Back just a few decades ago, the US had the reputation for Social Mobility, helped greatly after WWII by the GI Bill. The basic access to a public education also helped this mobility (contrary to Rick Santorum's belief.) Nowadays, this has "turned on its head" (via the New York Times):

WASHINGTON — Benjamin Franklin did it. Henry Ford did it. And American life is built on the faith that others can do it, too: rise from humble origins to economic heights. “Movin’ on up,” George Jefferson-style, is not only a sitcom song but a civil religion.

But many researchers have reached a conclusion that turns conventional wisdom on its head: Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe. The mobility gap has been widely discussed in academic circles, but a sour season of mass unemployment and street protests has moved the discussion toward center stage.
It is not just education and Socia Mobility where the US has problems nowadays. The World Health Organization ranks the US Healthcare system 37th just behind Costa Rica and Dominica and just ahead of Cuba and Slovenia.

The US also has a much larger income inequality than most of hte rest of the so-called developed countries (via CNN):
The U.S. has a higher level of income inequality than Europe, as well as Canada, Australia and South Korea, according to data gathered by the World Bank.

And, while many nations have seen income inequality rise within their borders, the United States has experienced a more rapid increase in recent decades, widening the wealth gap even more.

I guess we shouldn't worry too awfully much though. Just the last couple of days, Glenn Greenwald and Jim White at Emptywheel have both pointed out areas where the US is trend setting for other nations and blazing the trail for them to follow. First up is Glenn reporting on Israel following the US lead on the use of renditions while strike>Marcy Jim White talks about the blind eye shown by Reuters and the NY Times towards Iran's embrace of the Bush Doctrine.

So much for "Shining city on a hill," "conceived in liberty..." and all those other noble sentiments we once learned were the hallmarks of life in the US.

And because I can:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Santorum steps in it

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As you may know, I read a lot of news articles. While I don't often write about the participants in the GOP Clown Car, when I saw this article at the LA Times this afternoon, I was moved to respond:

In the nation’s past, he said, “Most presidents homeschooled their children in the White House.… Parents educated their children because it was their responsibility.”

“Yes, the government can help,” he continued, “but the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic.”

He said it is an artifact of the Industrial Revolution, “when people came off the farms where they did homeschool or had a little neighborhood school, and into these big factories … called public schools.”
Let me state for the record that my mother was an English teacher and a librarian. She taught in both public and private schools. Her sister was an elementary school teacher. My father's sister taught math at the local high school in my hometown. I have numerous cousins on both sides of my family who were and are teachers. All of this is irrelevant to Little Ricky's Revisionist history.

A quick check of der Google for "literacy rates in the US over time" brought these results with the very first item being a "National Assessment of Adult Literacy" report from the National Center for Education Statistics. This link goes to a section on Illiteracy from 1870 to 1979 including a table broken out at least partially by race.
The data in this table for the years 1870 to 1930 come from direct questions from the decennial censuses of 1870 to 1930, and are therefore self-reported results. The data for 1947, 1952, 1959, 1969, and 1979 were obtained from sample surveys; they exclude the Armed Forces and inmates of institutions. The statistics for the census years 1940 and 1950 were derived by estimating procedures.
According to that table, in 1870, 20 percent of the overall population was illiterate (11.5 per cent of Whites and 79.9 percent of Blacks and other races). In 1952 (the year I was born) the figures were 2.5 percent overall with 1.8 percent of Whites and 10.2 percent of Blacks and other races. In 1979, those figures were .6 percent of the total population with .4 percent of Whites and 1.6 percent of Blacks and other races. It is directly because of public school education that those figures improved so dramatically over the years.

About a year ago, I wrote a post titled Teachers Are Not the Enemy. In reality, neither are public schools. But public schools are being used as scapegoats for the failings of politicians who refuse to raise taxes for any reasons and who try to force teachers to become miracle workers.

Oh and Ricky? If you dislike public education so very much, you might want to refund the school fees you scammed out of the public school district in Pennsylvania while you were "homeschooling" your children in Virginia.

And because I can:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Is the Greece Crisis a Preview of Coming Attractions?

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Let me start this by stating right up front that I do not pay near enough attention to happenings around the world and the Greek debt crisis is just one of those issues that I am aware of without really knowing all the ins and outs of the situation.

Nevertheless, I saw a headline this weekend that has me in full on WTF mode. Saturday morning a NY Times headline said "Greek Premier Faces Impasse Over Demand to Cut Private Wages.":

ATHENS — Lucas Papademos faced his most difficult test as Greece’s interim prime minister on Friday when his three-month-old government reached an impasse over proposed demands by the country’s foreign lenders to reduce private-sector wages drastically in exchange for the aid the country needs to prevent default.
Now, I can understand why lenders would demand wage cuts for Public Sector employees. I can think it is incredibly stupid, short-sighted, and penalizing the wrong group of people but I can understand the logic behind it. But Euro zone leaders and banks requiring private sector wage cuts before restructuring debt for Greece just makes no sense at all.

A bit further down in the article though I do get a small hint here:
It was unclear exactly what sort of wage cuts the troika was demanding. Some news reports said the lenders were seeking changes that would reduce most private-sector salaries by as much as 25 percent; others said the group was insisting on a cut in the minimum wage that, at least directly, would affect fewer than 300,000 people.

The goal of any pay cuts would be to help make Greek workers, who are generally less productive than workers elsewhere in Europe, able to compete more effectively inside the euro zone, where countries share a common currency that does not allow devaluations to help even out differences in labor costs.
My bold. And I think that is the goal right there. Cut minimum wage. Even though (assuming this wiki is correct), the Greek minimum wage works out to roughly $11,454 per annum (compared to the US minimum wage which works to $15,080 per annum - $7.25 per hour x 40 hour week x 52 weeks).

Today, I saw this article from the Wall Street Journal (if the article does not come through completely, check Der Google for the headline "UPDATE:Greece Close To Announcing 20% Cut In Minimum Wages-Sources" to get the full article):
Pressure on Greece has been piling up from its euro-zone partners to accept a new round of painful austerity if the country is to get a EUR130 billion bailout loan that will keep the country from defaulting next month when EUR14.4 billion in bonds have to be redeemed.

Germany and France urged Greek leaders on Monday to "live up to their responsibilities" by agreeing to the new cutbacks.


Demands for cuts to the country's public-sector payroll were also on the table. The international creditors have asked for job cuts in the police and the armed forces, and there are even proposals to lay off teachers who work on temporary contracts, as part of the targeted 150,000 civil servants whose jobs will have to be eliminated by 2015.
Reuters reported the issue this way:
In Brussels, the European Commission defended the troika's demand for a cut in the minimum wage.

Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj said the Greek minimum wage averaged 871 euros a month, compared with 748 euros in Spain, which is not under an EU/IMF rescue program, and 566 euros in Portugal, which has received a bailout.
So apparently, the whole point is to drive wages of Greeks to as low as the lowest other nations in the Euro. David Dayen at FDL News put it this way earlier today with the headline "Greece Asked to Destroy Itself In Exchange for Bailout":
Greek bailout talks have deadlocked again, but at the moment the culprit is not the hedge funds seeking a higher payout on the distressed debt they bought, but the “troika” of the EU, ECB and the IMF. They gave Greece a Monday deadline to accept bailout terms. And those terms, frankly, are totally insane.

The deal calls for Greece to run a primary budget surplus (not counting interest payments on debt) in 2013 of over 2% of GDP, rising to over 4% by 2014. That implies massive cuts to public spending in the middle of a 5-year recession, if not a depression. As Antonis Samaras, leader of the New Democracy Party, told the Financial Times, “They’re asking for more recession than the country can take.” Samaras also has highlighted that the troika seeks cuts in private sector wages as part of the deal, of up to 25%. There would also be a 35% cut in supplementary pensions.

If Greece fails to agree to this today, the troika will likely suspend debt payments, forcing the country into default. European leaders said explicitly that they would not fund a continuing bailout unless Greece agreed to the troika’s demands.
This is where the tin foil comes into play for me. The "Preview of Coming Attractions" is telling me that if/when the Greek minimum wage gets pushed down, it will intensify the push here in the US to lower the minimum wage. Even if it is almost impossible to make it on a minimum wage as it is, it won't stop those who push this level of gibberish.

But hey, doG forbid, any banksters get a smaller than expected bonus. Why that truly is a sign of the coming apocalypse.

And because I can: