Category Archives: Deep Politics

Poor school buildings turn out poor students


As the lobbyists in Washington and state houses across the country continue their drive to privatize education, poor families who can’t afford the costs of private schools are forced to send their children to aging and increasingly run-down public schools.

Meanwhile, Republican politicians and corporate Democrats are further cutting the budgets of school districts, blocking construction of new schools and reducing funds to maintain existing buildings.

And if you thing the privateers are inflicting terrible damage on the students of these cost-starved schools, you’d be right.

From Cornell University:

Social scientists have known for several years that kids enrolled in run-down schools miss more classes and have lower test scores than students at well-maintained schools. But they haven’t been able to pin down why.

A Cornell University environmental psychologist has an answer.

Lorraine Maxwell, an associate professor of design and environmental analysis in the College of Human Ecology, studied more than 230 New York City public middle schools and found a chain reaction at work: leaking toilets, smelly cafeterias, broken furniture, and run-down classrooms made students feel negatively which lead to high absenteeism and in turn, contributed to low test scores and poor academic achievement.

“School buildings that are in good condition and attractive may signal to students that someone cares and there’s a positive social climate, which in turn may encourage better attendance,” Maxwell said. “Students cannot learn if they do not come to school.”

Maxwell found that poor building conditions, and the resulting negative perception of the school’s social climate, accounted for 70 percent of the poor academic performance. She controlled for students’ socioeconomic status and ethnic background, and found that while these student attributes are related to test scores, they do not tell the whole story. School building condition is also a major contributing factor, Maxwell said.

“Those other factors are contributing to poor academic performance, but building condition is significantly contributing also. It’s worth it for society to make sure that school buildings are up to par,” she said.

Her study [$39.95 to read, thanks to the academic publishing bandits at Elsevier] “School Building Condition, Social Climate, Student Attendance and Academic Achievement: A Mediation Model,” appears in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

In an earlier, related study, Maxwell asked a handful of middle-school students what difference they thought a school building makes.

“I will never forget one boy,” Maxwell said. “He said, ‘Well, maybe if the school looked better, kids would want to come to school.’ And that sparked me to think, ‘OK, they notice.’”

There’s more, after the jump. Continue reading

Conventional Wisdom: Humor & Weimar America


As the GOP convention winds to a close, a video take on the event and the election.

We begin with a brutally frank assessment of the Republican convention from Lewis Black, during a guest sport on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

And he’s got the best idea yet on what to do with the two November contenders:

Lewis Black On The Election: “It’s A Social Experiment”

Program notes:

The comedian and star of “Back in Black” on Broadway suggests that by choosing between two deeply unpopular presidential candidates, voters are participating in a grand social experiment.

The election as emerging fascism fueled by both parties

Next up, a Paul Jay interview with journalist and former Berkeleyan Robert Scheer on the emerging fascism of Weimar America, and the way both parties have worked to bring it about.

From The Real News Network:

Robert Scheer: Neofascist Trump or Corporate Hawk Clinton Are No Choice at All

From the transcript:

JAY: So let’s start with question one. Is this just a kind of eccentric right populist, and another variance of the Republican Party? Or is this something that’s gone further into what you can call a new authoritarianism, developing neofascism, or such?

SCHEER: Well, it’s precisely a neofascism, and I think we should explain, particularly to younger people, what we mean by this. Because it’s not just throwing around some frightening word. But we’ve had this phenomenon. We have it right now in Europe. We have it where you’re–basically what you’re, what you had under the rise of Mussolini and Hitler, in Italy and Germany.

And what you’re really talking about is scapegoating real problems, there are real problems, you don’t get fascist movements taking over, rising to power, without people being in pain. Hurting. The economy in shambles, their aspirations are limited, they’re worried about their future. And we have a situation now in the United States that is increasingly resembling a kind of post-Weimar Germany. It’s neofascism, it’s not fascism. But basically, people are perplexed: why is life not getting better? Why is income disparity more glaring? Why did my $38 an hour job in [inaud.] or mining disappear, and now I have to work for $7, $8, $9 an hour. What about the benefits I thought I had? What about my ability to send my kid to college?

So we have lowered expectations in America. We have a great sense of pain. And it’s not, you know, just one region and one group of people. And it’s in that atmosphere that you can basically have one of two narratives to respond. You had the Bernie Sanders narrative that said yeah, we got real problems, here. Income inequality is getting worse. The good jobs are not there. The benefits are not there. And we’re going to propose a progressive alternative. And that’s why Bernie Sanders, you know, almost knocked Hillary Clinton out of the box, because Hillary Clinton represented the establishment that had enabled this kind of pain out there.

On the Republican side, Trump did something amazing. He wiped out the whole Republican establishment. He did it up from Maine to Alabama. And he was able to do it across the country because people are hurting. They’re not fools, they’re not desperate to back a fool. What they are desperate about is having a good life for their kids, for themselves, and they’re worried. And so this demagogue of the right comes along with a neofascist message, and by that I mean precisely blaming the undocumented worker, you know, blaming people who don’t have your religion, or gay people, or minorities, or something of that sort. Blaming them for the problems that people with power have caused.

And that’s the key ingredient of neofascism, is to distract people from the real origin of the problems, and make them think it’s the undocumented Mexican worker, which is absurd. They’re not the people who have destroyed housing in America. They’re not the people who did the collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps and all the junk that Goldman Sachs and others did that brought the economy down. And to blame some guy who’s crossed the border, or some woman who’s crossed the border and is trying to clean a house or help raise a kid there for your problems. . .is absurd.

And Michael Moore declares Trump will be the winner

And he gives a plausible rationale for his analysis in this special convention of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

Also featured in Tony Schwartz, the man who really wrote Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal and who has proclaimed that Trump’s victory in November would herald the end of civilization:

Bill Maher Live RNC Special Edition: July 20

Program notes:

Bill Maher and his guests – Michael Moore, Dan Savage, Joy Reid, and Tony Schwartz – discuss the 2016 Republican National Convention during this special edition of Real Time.

Snowden: ‘This is not about me. This is about us.’


Visitors to the Roskilde Festival, the massive music festival held ever year in Denmark, were greeted by an unexpected guest lats month, Edward Snowden.

From the festival:

Amongst the sense of community, exotic food, colourful camps, unique live shows and much more, there is something else that stands out clearer than most other things from the festival for thousands of guests: Edward Snowden’s talk about digital surveillance related to the festival’s focus on equality.

Focus on digital surveillance

The famous whistleblower’s talk – via satellite from Moscow – followed a much-debated prank conducted by the activist art group The Yes Men that involved them setting up fake signs stating that the festival would be collecting and indefinitely storing all text and phone conversations while on festival grounds.

Before the nature of the signs was revealed, many festival-goers showed both despair and anger. This was exactly what The Yes Men had hoped to achieve with the stunt: to put emphasis on digital surveillance as a topic that needs to be discussed on a much broader scale.

The whole process has been documented by The Yes Men. Their 12-minute film about digital surveillance, the data stunt and Edward Snowden’s talk at Roskilde Festival 2016 is out now.

And with that, here’s the video, just posted by festival organizers:

Edward Snowden and The Yes Men surprise crowd at Roskilde Festival

Program notes:

At Roskilde Festival 2016, activist art group The Yes Men set up signs at the festival site saying that the festival would collect, store and pass on data from the festival-goers whenever they texted and talked on the phone.

But the message on the signs was of course untrue: it was all part of an art project thought up by the satirical activist and art group The Yes Men in collaboration with Edward Snowden. They wanted people to be aware of the consequences of digital surveillance. The festival-goers were in for a surprise…

Resisting the Greek capitulation to the banksters


Greek’s have seen austerity at its worst, inflicted by the joint powers of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

The austerians are acting in the interest of the banks of Germany and France, lending institutions that bankrolled arms deals that profited the military/industrial complexes of the lender nations.

While Greek official corruption was clearly involved in some of the deals, the bribe payments came from German companies eager for profits from the sale of weapon systems, warships, and other materiel necessary for the new Cold War.

A succession of Greek governments signed off on massive cuts in public salaries and pensions, restrictions on the national public health system, and the sell-off of ports, railroads, islands, and other public assets.

Finally, the Greek people said “Enough!,” and in and in January 2015, they voted in a new government headed by a previously marginal party, a coalition of the Left named Syriza [previously], swept to power on a platform calling for an end of the payments.

With party leader Alexis Tsipras becoming chancellor, Syriza seemed on track to mount the first real resistance to the ave of austerity programs imposed on nations of Ireland and Southern Europe in the wake of the crash caused by the institutional corruption of Wall Street and the City of London.

Seven months after taking power, Syriza called a referendum on the issue of whether or not Greece should accept the latest austerity mandates from the Troika. When the votes were tallied, 61 percent of the Greek electorate declared no to further austerity.

Two months later the leaders of the anti-austerity movement were gone, and Tsipras was ready to surrender once again.

In this interview with The Real News Network, one of those leaders talks about those critical events, and the launch of a new party to continue the resistance to the money lord of the North:

Odious Debt and the Betrayal of the Popular Will in Greece

From the transcript:

DIMITRI LASCARIS, TRNN: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting from Lesbos, Greece, for The Real News.

This week, The Real News is in Lesbos to cover the Crossing Borders Conference on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.

This afternoon we’re joined by Zoe Konstantopoulou. Zoe Konstantopoulou is the former speaker of the Greek Parliament. She was elected to that position in February of last year with a record number of votes from her fellow MPs, including, surprisingly, the support of the right-wing New Democracy Party. But her tenure as speaker of the Greek Parliament was short-lived. Her position was vacated in October of last year after the SYRIZA government decided to implement an austerity program that was even more severe than [the one that] over 60 percent of the population of Greece had rejected in a referendum in July of last year.

>snip<

LASCARIS: Now, last year, after the referendum in which over 60 percent of the Greek population effectively voted to reject an austerity program that was even less severe than what was ultimately implemented, the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, called a snap election and there was a rebellion of the left wing of the SYRIZA party, and they formed another party called Popular Unity, which I understand you supported in the election that was held in September.

KONSTANTOPOULOU: I cooperated as an independent candidate with Popular Unity.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Obama pushes world closer to nuclear war


While a lot of folks are worried about the bellicose personalities of both major party presidential candidates, don’t forget the current incumbent, who has been busily pushing the world ever-closer to the brink of nuclear war through his Game of Zones plays in Asia and Europe.

While the Obama Administration’s “Asian pivot” has resulted in the first U.S. arms sales to Vietnam since the American humiliation four decades ago and Obama has relentlessly pushed Japan into the imminent scrapping of the pacifistic provisions of that country’s constitution, provisions imposed by the U.S. 60 years ago.

And now the Obama administration is beefing up U.S. forces on the Russian border, bring the threat of nuclear war to its highest level since the peak of the Cold War according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The latest moves in Europe have even upset governments in Western Europe, who see Russian more as a trading partner than as a military threat, says University of Missouri-Kansas City economist and European historian Michael Hudson in this interview with Jessica Desverieux of The Real News Network:

US-NATO Border Confrontation with Russia Risks Nuclear War and Loss of European Partners 

From the transcript:

DESVARIEUX: So, Michael, we just heard President Obama pledging his allegiance to protecting Europe. Does Europe really need protecting, though?

HUDSON: Well, as soon as Obama made those words, there was a fury of European statements saying that Obama and NATO was making Europe less secure. The French prime minister, Francois Hollande, says that we don’t need NATO. NATO has no role to play in our Russian relations. That leaders of the two major German parties, both the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, said that NATO was warmongering. Gorbachev came out and said the world has never been closer to nuclear war than it is at present. William Perry, the former head of the Pentagon in the mid-90s, said that NATO was threatening and trying to provoke atomic war in Europe.

And one of Russia’s leading military strategists said here’s what the problem is: NATO wants to move bombers and atomic weapons right up to the border of Russia. That means that if they launch over us, we have only a few seconds to retaliate. President Putin a little while ago had given a speech saying that Russia doesn’t really have a land army. In fact, today, no country in the world, in the Northern Hemisphere, at least, has a land army that can invade anywhere. Try to imagine America being invaded by Canada, or by Mexico on its borders. You can’t imagine it. Impossible. No democracy can afford a land army anymore because the costs are so high that the costs of mounting a land war will just impoverish the economy.

As a matter of fact, what NATO is trying to do is to goad Russia into building up an army so it can undercut its economy by diverting more and more resources away from the economy towards the military. Russia’s not falling for it. Putin said that Russia has no intention of mounting a land army. It is unthinkable that it could even want to invade the Baltics or Poland. But Putin did say we have one means of retaliation, and that’s atomic bombs. Atomic weapons are basically defensive. They’re saying, we don’t need an army anymore. Nor does any country need an army if they have an atomic weapon, because if you attack us we’ll wipe you out. And we’ll be wiped out, too, but you’re never going to be able to conquer us. And no country, really, can conquer any other country. Russia can’t conquer Europe.

So the effect, Putin and the Russian leaders have said, look, if they suppose that an American plane goes a little bit off, like, you know, the ships try to provoke things, we don’t know whether it’s an atomic attack at all. We can’t take a risk. If there’s a little bit of a movement against us, we’re going to launch the hydrogen bombs, and there goes Berlin, Frankfurt, London, Manchester, Brussels. That’s why you’re having all of these warnings. And Europe is absolutely terrified that Obama is going to destabilize. And even more terrified of Hillary getting in, who’s indicated she’s going to appoint a superhawk, the Cheney protege Flournoy, as Secretary of Defense, and appoint Nuland, Victoria Nuland, as Secretary of State.

And all throughout Europe — I’ve been in Germany twice in the last two months, and they’re really worried that somehow America is telling Europe, let’s you and Russia fight. And basically it’s a crisis.

Quote of the day: The Imperial Olympic$


From Pacific University political scientist and scholar of the politics of sports Jules Boykoff, writing for Jacobin [emphasis added]:

Since at least the 1980s, the Olympics have been big business. Corporate sponsors flock to the games to bask in the five-ring glow.

NBC forked over $4.4 billion to broadcast the Olympics from 2014 through 2020, and recently paid another $7.65 billion to extend their contract through 2032. Already the network has raked in a record-setting $1 billion in ad revenues for this summer’s games.

But well-connected local developers make out like bandits too. The Olympics are all about real estate — not the jobs, tourists, or tantalizing “legacies” that Olympic boosters use to sell the games. The public pays for expensive development schemes that fill private entities’ bank accounts. As urban geographer Christopher Gaffney puts it, “The flaccid Olympic mantras, superstar pedestal climbers, stadiums, and legacy promises are mere distractions from the realpolitik of urban development.”

The Olympics create a state of exception — a sort of “jock doctrine” — where elites can commandeer the city with uncommon speed and ease. As Rio mayor Eduardo Paes put it back in 2012 — supposedly as a joke — “The Olympics pretext is awesome; I need to use it as an excuse for everything.” He added, “Some things could be really related to the games, others have nothing to do with them.”

Take Rio’s Olympic golf course, a brazen transfer of public resources into private pockets. Mayor Paes helped site the project in the wealthy western suburb Barra da Tijuca where billionaire developer Pasquale Mauro could make a killing. During the Christmas holiday in 2012, Paes called an emergency session to pass a law allowing Mauro to build the course inside Marapendi Nature Reserve — home to a number of threatened species — and to ring it with 140 luxury condominiums. As long as Mauro footed the $20–30 million bill for the golf course, he could sell each condo at $2 million or more.

You don’t need a calculator to figure the monster profits. And thanks to Paes, pesky environmental impact reports and public hearings didn’t slow down the project. It was full steam ahead for the mayor and his cronies.

Austerity on the march in Portugal and Brazil


The austerians, the folks who impose a “new fiscal order” on nation-states in order to assure the ongoing profits of banksters and corporateers, are exercising their reign across the globe, forcing governments to public abandon healthcare systems, public spaces, public sector pensions, and other institutions that had characterized the post-World War II political and social landscapes.

The rhetoric the austerians use is inevitably pretentious and portentous, declaring, in effect, that the plight of the poor in developed in late-stage developing nations is essentially their own fault, and that programs designed to lift them from poverty are really sloth-inducing handouts.

The bottom line, of course, is the bottom line. Not the bottom line of the social contract, but the bottom line on corporate and banksters spreadsheets.

Austerianism, in short, makes the world save for corporatocracy.

Two classic examples can be found in events unfolding in two nations an ocean apart, yet united by a common language.

Austerity on the march in Portugal

Portugal, one of the PIIGS nations [along with Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain] of post-Bush crash Europe, has never recovered from the crash, and state financing has been critical to keeping the country viable.

But enough is enough, the austerians have decreed.

From United Press International:

European Union finance ministers supported sanctioning Spain and Portugal for breaking targeted budget deficits Tuesday.

The EU’s economic and financial affairs council decided Spain and Portugal should be sanctioned for breaking rules that countries’ budget deficits must remain within 3 percent of gross domestic product.
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“The Council found that Portugal and Spain had not taken effective action in response to its recommendations on measures to correct their excessive deficits” the European Council said in a statement on its website on Tuesday. The Council’s decisions will trigger sanctions under the excessive deficit procedure.”

According to the EU, Portugal and Spain have 10 days to appeal the decision. And the commission has 20 days to recommend fines that could amount to 0.2 percent of GDP.

But top EU officials have indicated the sanctions are likely to be symbolically set at zero, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In other words, Portugal has just been served notice.

Austerians and the Brazilian coup

The government of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, while less than perfect, had been struggling to keep the social contract alive, but that didn’t suit the Brazilian plutocracy, the spiritual descendants of the colonial land and cattle barons who exploited the native population and were the largest buyers of African slaves, outstripping the American South by far.

They used their bought-and-paid-for legislators to oust Rousseff through a vote of impeachment for crimes that, events have subsequently made clear, could be more rightly charged to them than to Rousseff.

And now, challenged with potential criminal charges for their own looting, they are busily engaged in the sell-off of the Brazilian commons, opening up endangered landscapes for industrial agriculture, displacing native populations, and generally grabbing up as much as they can whilst the sun still shines.

The latest grab, via teleSUR English:

Brazil’s unelected interim President Michel Temer said his government is considering the privatization of two of the country’s busiest airports in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

“It is possible that we will privatize Congonhas and Santos Dumont, which should give a good sum” of money, Temer said in an interview with the Folha de S.Paulo website, referring to Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo and Santos Dumont in Rio de Janeiro.

The interim government, imposed by the Brazilian Senate, is considering two options for privatizing the airports: one would keeping the government airport authority Infraero as a minority partner while giving most control to private companies, while the other would keep Infraero as the biggest stockholder with 51 percent of shares while private companies would manage the airports.

In both cases such moves would lead to thousands of people losing their jobs, as private contractors would seek to bring in new staff with new contracts and less oversight by the state.

Temer said the sale of state assets and major privatization plans is meant to generate sufficient revenues to meet the fiscal target for 2017, which foresees  a deficit of around US$42 Billion.

So who are the Brazilian lootocrats?

Glenn Greenwald has conducted a fascinating interview with U.S.-born Portuguese-speaking journalist Alex Cuadros, who covered the Brazilian plutocracy for Bloomberg.

Author of the just-published Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country, a book on Brazil’s financial elite, he describe the relevance of the Brazilian experience for folks in the U.S.

From the Intercept:

[T]he relationship between Brazil and its billionaires is relevant to an American reader. There was something about studying this relationship in a country that’s not my own, where I don’t have nearly as much baggage, that made it easier to see how it works. But really it’s a relationship that exists in most countries today. In the end I think that the Brazilian billionaire tradition is simply an extreme version of a natural relationship between wealth and political power.

There are some differences. In Brazil, partly because the state has always had a large presence in the economy, a lot of wealthy families owe their fortunes to personal connections to the government or even outright corruption. This clashes with the American ideal of the self-made man who gets rich thanks only to his own talent and hard work.

But of course, if you look at the richest people and companies in the U.S., they tend to defend their fortunes by putting their money to work in the political system, swaying the rules in their favor through lobbying, campaign donations, and other, less transparent contributions. Obviously there’s a difference between outright graft and legal forms of influence, but the desire and the effect are often similar: to allow the very rich to claim a larger piece of the economic pie without necessarily making the pie larger.