Thursday, March 10, 2011

America's Education Meltdown

"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" -- former president George Bush

You can get all A's and still flunk life. -- Walker Percy


Now that Wisconsin has moved ahead with the elimination of collective bargaining practices for teachers as a new state policy and not as a means of cutting spending, WI Republicans also admit their motivation is a nationwide political tactic against Democrats -- and the pawns in their game are your schools.

Tennessee -
"We will bend public education to our awe, or break it all to pieces."

Indiana -
"The fight over these bills is why House Democrats are, in essence, on strike. They remain in an Urbana, Ill., hotel, refusing to give Republicans the quorum they need."

Idaho -
“Good teachers do not need tenure.”

Michigan - "
Gov. Snyder's budget plan amounts to a $470-per-pupil cut in state aid that will cause financial upheaval in some school districts."

Florida - "
The proposal would scrap the traditional model that bases teacher salaries and firing decisions on seniority. At least half of teachers’ pay would be tied to student performance, and all teachers would receive annual instead of continuing contracts.

Worth noting too -- the constant push for schools to achieve high scores on standardized tests in order to receive funding and evaluate students and teachers has created a system where the test scorers are told to make sure and give schools higher scores:

The legitimacy of testing is being taken for granted," he says. "It's a farce."

"Though the efficacy of standardized testing has been hotly debated for decades, one thing has become crystal clear: It's big business. ... In 2009, K-12 testing was estimated to be a $2.7 billion industry."

See Also: A look at states and their current legislative agendas on Education policies.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Stacked Against The American Worker

The current trend of targeting large reductions in employee benefits for health care and retirement should be yet another sharp signal to the American workforce, along with the targeted elimination of employee unions and retirement systems in general (see previous post here).

And the signal continues to be: workers should not have rights. An insistence on living wages and benefits are hurtful to companies, cuts into shareholder profits, and even the phrase "workers rights" invokes that stench of Socialism and Communism.

And despite a near-steady unemployment rate nationwide of 9% or higher, overall productivity has been rising in the last few years at a steady clip. Workers who want to keep their jobs must produce more and keep longer hours. And company owners surely are reluctant to increase their payrolls and hire workers when - hey! Productivity, earnings and output are on the rise!

American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.66 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or non-inflation-adjusted terms. Corporate profits have been going gangbusters for a while. Since their cyclical low in the fourth quarter of 2008, profits have grown for seven consecutive quarters, at some of the fastest rates in history..." (via Digby)

The company mind-set continues to hem in workers at every turn: if you expect companies to pay a greater share of the tax base, then all products will cost consumers more and will compel companies to send more jobs overseas to locations that don't require living wages, benefits, or a work week of 40 hours.

In Congress, leaders say they have a "mandate" from the public to gut federal spending ... but ...

The Bloomberg poll finds most Americans more concerned with job creation than deficit reduction -- imagine that -- but when it comes to ideas to actually reduce the budget shortfall, the only popular ideas are cutting foreign aid, withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, and raising taxes on households earning more than $250,000 a year.

What's unpopular? The entire GOP agenda: 66% of Americans don't want cuts to community renewal programs, 72% don't want cuts to medical and scientific research, 77% don't want cuts to education programs

This recent narrative that teachers, unions, the elderly, the sick, the educated, and the poor are the ones destroying the economic status holds no water. Also in doubt - that the Federal government is broke:

The U.S. government is not broke,” said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy for Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. in New York. “There’s no evidence that the market is treating the U.S. government like it’s broke.”

The U.S. today is able to borrow at historically low interest rates, paying 0.68 percent on a two-year note that it had to offer at 5.1 percent before the financial crisis began in 2007. Financial products that pay off if Uncle Sam defaults aren’t attracting unusual investor demand. And tax revenue as a percentage of the economy is at a 60-year low, meaning if the government needs to raise cash and can summon the political will, it could do so." (also via

Business is seeing record-level profits, record low taxation - about the only remaining place they can go is after worker pay and benefits. What is becoming very clear - there is less of a Right and Left political battle and more of battle between ultra-rich and a diminished middle class.

What's the American worker to do?

In Tennessee, state legislators like Sen. Bill Ketron are pushing bills (and really pushing panic) supporting the development of a state currency to replace the dollar.

And there's the fact that Wisconsin is claiming a "budget crisis" as a reason to remove collective bargaining for teacher pay and Tennessee is pushing the exact same removal of teacher bargaining but instead of "budget crisis" the cause is labeled "education reform".

The fact is, the goal here is to eliminate influence from organized workers while giving a greater voice to owners, and as noted last year, workers and voters might best be served if their elected officials simply wore the corporate logos of the businesses they represent.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Rep. Roe Embraces Big Oil, Derides Current Technology, As An "Energy Policy"

As mentioned here last week, Congressman Phil Roe voted to keep over $40 billion in tax subsidies for giant oil companies and just days later he issues a "press release" on U.S. energy policy which can be boiled down to three words: Drill, baby, drill.

In his ongoing slavish devotion to oil and fossil fuels, he dismisses other energy sources:

Over the long run, I believe alternative energy sources, like wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, hydroelectric and agricultural products and technologies are part of the solution. However, it’s important that we recognize that many of these technologies are, at best, years from being widely available and not yet commercially viable, which means that we will continue relying on more traditional energy sources for quite some time."

Someone forgot to inform him of his own state's innovative steps in solar power alone, which has brought over $2 billion in investments and thousands of jobs at one new project alone from Hemlock:

"This is a “watershed of economic development in Tennessee,” said Matt Kessner of the Economic Development Council. “New jobs in the development of sustainable energy.”

After a two-year global site search, Dow Corning and the Hemlock group opted to make an initial $1.2 billion initial investment in the construction of a new polycrystalline silicon (polysilicon) manufacturing and development facility. Polysilicon is key to the development of solar industry. Groundbreaking on the new plant is expect early in 2009, creating up to 1,000 jobs in construction and related crafts during the building phase; the facility is earmarked to open in 2012.

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen joined Hemlock’s CEO and President Rick Doornbos in making the announcement. “It’s the right company in the right community at the right time,” Bredesen said of what will ultimately be a $2 billion investment. “What they make is what has to happen to make solar energy. The numbers are staggering.” Bredensen noted that t is not simply the immediate creation of new job but the ability to also attract related industries and suppliers to the state and the region."

There's also.the $200 million solar energy plant in Clinton, TN

And Sharp Electronics new solar plant in Memphis.

As for providing anywhere near the massive $40 billion in tax subsidies of big oil for new technology and development of solar and wind power - the federal programs are paltry.

No, Rep. Roe just wants more coal and oil, with less and less regulation for safety, bemoaning the reality that fossil fuel companies don't want to pay for cleaner and safer operations out of their own deep and rich profits.

Reading his press release, it sounds like he's really ready now to take on the old ideas of the 1970s, like Jimmy Carter's bold plan of turning down the thermostat:

Energy independence is one of the greatest goals we can achieve as a nation. The solution to reduce rising energy costs involves looking forward, not backward. Bringing down the cost of energy will not happen overnight, but is essential to consider ways we can all make our own use of energy more efficient."

Someone needs to inform him the actual date is 2011 in America.