Category Archives: Education

Bad new for whoever wins: Financial crisis ahead


While Democrats are nursing hopes of control of one or both houses of Congress, victory might contain a poison pill that could redound to the Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans benefit two years down the road.

Make no mistakes. The warning signs are already quite clear, as embodied in this series of 10-year graphs we’ve assembled from the marvelous resources of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:

First up, housing prices are soaring again, already reaching well above the levels of the 2007-9 Great Recession [indicated by the shaded areas of the charts], a crash triggered by shady mortgage lending by the nation’s leading banks [click on the images to enlarge]:

And as housing prices rise, so does mortgage debt, which has also topped pre-Great Recession levels as the Trump Administration slashes protection passed under the Obama administration::

Credit card debt is also soaring:

Yet another form of debt is also rising as states and the federal government slash colleges and university  funding, sending tuition rates through the roof:

The next graphs is particularly ominous.

While Donald Trump claims that under his administration, unemployment levels have hit record lows.

But that’s only because soaring numbers of folks have simply given up and dropped out of the labor force:

For our final graph we look at the growing amount of U.S. debt held overseas, trillions of dollars that could explode in the face of Donald Trump’s self-declared trade wars:

And now, with this graphic introduction we turn to a very important documentary from VPRO Backlight, a creation of producer Marije Meerman for Dutch public television and a warning of dark times ahead:

Lessons from Lehman and the Coming Crash

Program notes:

Have we learned the Lessons from Lehman and could we have predicted the Coming Crash? Ten years ago, the crash on Wall Street took us by surprise when Lehman Brothers’ bank went bankrupt. The financial crisis that followed this crash on Wall Street was like a chain reaction; a pole dancer with her five mortgages turned out to be connected to the huge gap in the Greek national budget. Is it possible to predict the coming crash? What are the lessons learned from the collapse of Lehman Brothers? Can we predict the coming crash of Wall Street by looking back to the last 10 years and take a lesson from Lehman?

Sometimes, it is important to look back in order to predict what we might be heading for. Ten years ago, we were taken by surprise when Lehman Brothers’ investment bank went bankrupt. In the followinf months, banks needed saving. Millions of tax payers money was used. Worldwide, banks, villages, cities, and even countries went bankrupt or were hanging by a thread. Few, if any, bankers were convicted. Crypto currencies like bitcoins thrived on the growing suspicion towards banks and governments. Finally, central banks around the world set up buying asset purchasing programmes in order to create cash out of nothing. A strategy to pump money into the financial system, hoping to keep it afloat. What have we learned from this crash and its consequences? Over a period of ten years, VPRO Backlight reported on the snowballing financial crisis. It turned out that a journalist, a former banker and an economist had predicted the 2008 credit crash and are now warning against a new crash. We pay them another visit to find out what they had seen, where many others were blind.

If we look hard enough, can we see why we are now in the calm before the next crash?

With: Nomi Prins [author and former banker for Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers], Ann Petifor [economist] and Isabella Kaminska [journalist for the Financial Times] with cameos by Jim Rogers [super investor], Roger Ver [bitcoin-evangelist], Joris Luyendijk [journalist], and Yanis Varoufakis [former Greek Minister of Finance].

Two insightful documentaries on gender politics


From Australia’s marvelous Special Broadcasting Service’s Dateline come two insightful documentaries on the politics of gender.

Back in April, 2016, in his early days on the campaign trail, Presidential candidate Donald Trump said transgenders folks “should ‘use the bathroom they feel is appropriate’ and agreed that the transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner could use any bathroom she chose at Trump Tower in New York.”

But then Ted Cruz, the guy whose dad he accused of a role in the John F. Kennedy assassination, fired a bigoted broadside, and Penthouse Predator did a quick one-eighty.

Such are the post-Post-Modern politics of gender in the Land-of-the-Free-and-The-Home-of-the-Brave™.

The first documentary looks at a multi-national violent male supremacy outfit spawned right here in California by started in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder and former commentator Gavin McInnes as bigoted Republic rhetoric rose to a self-righteous roar, enabled by the violent rhetoric endorsed and uttered Trump.

Defending Gender part 1 – Proud Boys

From the program notes:

Dateline reporter Dean Cornish travels to the USA to see why the Proud Boy’s controversial views are speaking to thousands of young men. The group believe masculinity is in danger – and they’re not alone. Proud Boy membership has exploded and they now have chapters in Australia.

Reclaiming manhood is one of the central pillars of the Proud Boys. The group’s founder Gavin McInnes says there’s a war on masculinity.

“The plight of the Western male is, right now, there’s a war on masculinity going on in the West and it starts in kindergarten, when children are punished for being rambunctious; boys are punished,” he tells Dateline.

“I think being a man requires four things. You have to have broken a heart. You have to break someone’s heart. You have to beat the shit out of someone, and you have to have the shit beaten out of you”.

Iceland leads the way to a different world

On 24 October 1975, the women of Iceland held one of the most remarkable general strikes of the last half of the 20th Century.

From Iceland Magazine:

On October 24 1974, Icelandic women observed what was called Kvennafrídagurinn, [The Women’s Day Off], known outside Iceland as the Icelandic Women’s Strike. It was estimated that at least 90% of Icelandic women participated by not going to work and by doing no housework. An estimated 25,000 women gathered for mass a demonstration in downtown Reykjavík. The total population of Iceland was only 216,695 at the time. Mass meetings and demonstrations were also organized in smaller towns around Iceland.

The year 1975 had been declared the International Women’s Year by the United Nations. Icelandic women’s rights organizations, including representatives of the Redstockings, a group of radical feminists and women’s rights activists, agreed that a women’s general strike would be a powerful event. By walking off their jobs and refusing to do unpaid housework women could draw attention to their contribution to the economy and society.

>snip<

The action succeeded in paralyzing the Icelandic economy, forcing businesses and government offices to shut down. The next days local newspapers ran stories about men who had to do the dishes for the first time, bring their children with them to work and prepare dinner. Stores ran out of simple foods which only need boiling, like sausages [bjúgu] and hot dogs.

The impact of the strike was significant, as it helped change public opinion. A law was passed in 1976 banning wage discrimination on the basis of gender. The gender pay gap stood at more than 40% at the time: Women were paid less than 60% of what men were paid. According to the most recent data from Statistics Iceland the average wages of women are currently 74% of the average wages of men. The unexplained gender pay gap is smaller, or 4.5%.

In their second documentary, the folks look at SBS Dateline look at the status of women in Iceland today, the country now ranked at top of the U.N.’s gender equality list.

Defending Gender part 2 – The Best Place to be a Woman

From the program notes:

In this week’s Dateline, SBS World News presenter Janice Petersen travels to the island country to explore how it became world capital of gender equality, and looks at what impact this is having on the idea of masculinity in society.

We meet women who sparked Iceland’s feminist revolution in 1975, working mums, stay at home dads, the CEO of a gender-neutral kindergarten trying to reverse gender stereotypes and promote gender equality, and attend a sex education class with teens learning about sexual violence and consent.

Iceland is on its way to eliminating the gender pay gap completely by 2022.

So, what is the country doing differently to make the most equal society in the world? And what can Australia learn?

The art of craft, digital screens, and a surgical fail


Terry Gilliam, the only American in the Monty Python crew, is one of our favorite directors. As the creator of such films as Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Brazil, Time Bandits, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Gilliam offers a unique, visually complex, and often dystopian take on the existential crises of the age.

In his latest film, 2013’s The Zero Theorem, Gilliam filed a remarkable scene that captures perfectly our addiction to all those portable screens we carry, you know, the ones now proven to play a causal role in blindness due to macyular degeneration.

One scene from The Zero Theorem perfectly captures out digital addiction, and while we were unable to find a copy in English, language isn’t all that important. Just watch and you’ll see what we mean. And if you have to sprechen the Deutsch, so much the better:

But when it comes to adverse health impacts caused by our fixation on screens, their dampening effects on personal interactions and blindness may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Is our digital addiction literally handicapped surgeons?

Roger Kneebone is a trauma surgeon with eclectic interests. In addition to heading London’s Imperial College Centre for Engagement and Simulation Science, he also runs the Royal College of Music–Imperial College Centre for Performance Science.

Kneebone has just raised a major ruckus with a shocking claim, one that hints of a looming healthcare crisis.

From The Times of London:

Trainee surgeons do not have the dexterity to sew up patients because they have spent too much time in front of screens, an expert has said.

Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College London, said schools should ensure that pupils received a rounded education, including artistic subjects that forced them to use their hands.

“It is a concern of mine and my scientific colleagues that whereas in the past you could make the assumption that students would leave school able to do certain practical things — cutting things out, making things — that is no longer the case,” he said.

More from BBC News:

“It is important and an increasingly urgent issue,” says Prof Kneebone, who warns medical students might have high academic grades but cannot cut or sew.

>snip<

Prof Kneebone says he has seen a decline in the manual dexterity of students over the past decade – which he says is a problem for surgeons, who need craftsmanship as well as academic knowledge.

>snip<

“A lot of things are reduced to swiping on a two-dimensional flat screen,” he says, which he argues takes away the experience of handling materials and developing physical skills.

Such skills might once have been gained at school or at home, whether in cutting textiles, measuring ingredients, repairing something that’s broken, learning woodwork or holding an instrument. Students have become “less competent and less confident” in using their hands, he says.

“We have students who have very high exam grades but lack tactile general knowledge,” says the professor.

And still more from Quartz:

We use smartphones so much, they have given way to terms like “text claw” or “cell phone elbow”—both popular names for cubital tunnel syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome—as well as “smartphone tendonitis.” That said, there is also evidence that smartphones and the requisite increase in thumb-and-finger use are making our brains work harder. That’s no help to surgeons who need the medical students lithe and supple.

While we await independent scientific verification of Kneebone’s assertion, we suspect he’s onto something.

And if he’s right, it may just be the tip of a much vaster iceberg.

Quotes of the day: On FDR’s unfulfilled vision


Franklin Delano Roosevelt, like Donald Trump, was born into wealth and power. While the rump wealth came from , the son of wealthy parents whose fortunes dated back to colonial days [the Roosevelts descended Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam [New York], while his mother’s family, the Delanos, arrived on the Mayflower.

A cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, unlike Trump, grew up with a sense of noblesse oblige, the belief that haves bear an obligation toward have-nots.

Educated at all the best schools — Groton, Harvard, and Columbia Law — he abandoned a lucrative law career to enter politics, serving as New York state senator, then as Assistant Secretary f the Navy during World War I, two terms as governor of New York, and finally as the only man elected to serve four terms as President of the United States.

He entered the White House in 1933 as the Great Depression was tearing the nation apart.

Once in office, he introduced seeping reforms, embodied in his New Deal agedna, including the creation of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, asnd the Federal eposit Insurance Corporation.

He lea the nation through the planets second great global conflagration, and played a seminal role in creation of the United Nations.

But his greatest vision would remain unfulfilled,m an agenda he laid out in his 1944 State of the Union Address, given on 11 January 1944.

With the war’s end in sight, he spelled out his agenda in a call for second Bill of Rights, the Economic Bill of Rights:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

I ask the Congress to explore the means for implementing this economic bill of rights- for it is definitely the responsibility of the Congress so to do. Many of these problems are already before committees of the Congress in the form of proposed legislation. I shall from time to time communicate with the Congress with respect to these and further proposals. In the event that no adequate program of progress is evolved, I am certain that the Nation will be conscious of the fact.

After winning  a fourth term in 1944, he returned to his agenda in his final State of the Union address on 6 January 1945:

An enduring peace cannot be achieved without a strong America– strong in the social and economic sense as well as in the military sense.

In the state of the Union message last year I set forth what I considered to be an American economic bill of rights.

I said then, and I say now, that these economic truths represent a second bill of rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all–regardless of station, race or creed.

Of these rights the most fundamental, and one on which the fulfillment of the others in large degree depends, is the “right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation.” In turn, others of the economic rights of American citizenship, such as the right to a decent home, to a good education, to good medical care, to social security, to reasonable farm income, will, if fulfilled, make major contributions to achieving adequate levels of employment.

The Federal Government must see to it that these rights become realities–with the help of States, municipalities, business, labor, and agriculture.

His death and replacement by the much more conservative Harry S Truman spelled the defeat of his agenda.

Our final quotation shws just how much we have failed. It comes from Lelani Farha, the United Nations Special Rapporteur to the Right to Adequate Housing in a new report focusing on one aspect of FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights, revealing just how much the U.S. has failed in the fulfillment of Roosevelt’s agenda laid out 74 years ago:

Attempting to discourage residents from remaining in informal settlements or encampments by denying access to water, sanitation and health services and other basic necessities, as has been witnessed by the Special Rapporteur in San Francisco and Oakland, California, United States of America, constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment and is a violation of multiple human rights, including the rights to life, housing, health and water and sanitation. Such punitive policies must be prohibited in law and immediately ceased. Following expressions of concern from the Human Rights Committee, the United States federal Government introduced funding incentives for municipalities to rescind by-laws that criminalize homelessness. More robust measures, however, are required.

Charts of the day: The secret of Trump’s success


We begin with a question and answer from Martin Longman, writing in the Washington Monthly:

How do you say that someone is a billionaire but he’s not an elite?

Well, you can say that if the billionaire talks at your level and your level is not elite. Many people might not realize that Trump is resonating with them in large part because he doesn’t use any hifalutin language that makes them feel inadequate in some way, but at least some of them are aware of this and don’t mind mentioning it as one of things about Trump that they find appealing.

Strangely, it makes them want to have a beer with him even though he doesn’t drink beer and claims to have never touched a drop of alcohol in his life. It makes them think that he understands and cares about their problems even though Trump was a millionaire by the time he was eight years old and has shown no sincere signs of caring about anyone but himself in his entire life.

It might be exasperating for college graduates, but Trump’s mangling of the English language and his fifth grade way of expressing himself has helped him form a strong bond with a lot of people who actually want a president that doesn’t challenge them intellectually.

The secret may be that Donald Trump is a man of few words, words he pounds out in endless streams of intolerance, resentment and sheer malice.

The numbers tell an interesting tale

Consider the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Formula, and the associated Automated Readability Index and the Fog Count.

Back in the 1970s, the U.S. Navy grew concerned that technical manuals used to train sailors were too complex for trainees, so they looked for ways to evaluate texts. They took the three measures and modified them after evaluating the accessibility of existing texts based on tests of recruits at four naval training facilities.

The tests went on to become so popular that they’re now integrated into software programs like Microsoft Word.

Basically, the test focus on two areas, the was actually developed for the military in the 1970s as a way to check that training materials were appropriate and could be understood by its personnel. It is used as a measurement in legislation to ensure documents such as insurance policies can be understood.

There are a number of competing algorithms. They use different approaches, but all try to do one of two things, measuring the text according to the educational grade level needed to grasp the content of a text, and a second measure, reading ease. Which sets the grade level according to nationwide statistics.

Factba.se is the free consumer version of commercial software developed by FactSquared designed to process texts, PDFs, video, and audio to and anaylze the resulting data.

They turned their skills on the verbal output of Trump and his nine memediate predecessors and discovered that Agent Orange is unique, speaking at the lowest grade level, using both the smallest vocabulary and words of the fewest syllables:

In terms of word diversity and structure, Trump averages 1.33 syllables per word, which all others average 1.42 – 1.57 words. In terms of variety of vocabulary, in the 30,000-word sample, Trump was at the bottom, with 2,605 unique words in that sample while all others averaged 3,068 – 3,869. The exception: Bill Clinton, who clocked in at 2,752 words in our unique sample.

The following graphics from the Factba.se report tell the tale.

First up, the grade level attainment needed to understand the pronouncements of fifteen consecutive Chief Executives [click on the images to enlarge]:

And next, two charts reflecting [top] the average number of syllables in words employed presidentially and [bottom] the size of the vocabularies deployed:

Our final graphic comes from Branding in a Digital Age, a presentation by Marshall Kingston, Senior Brand Manager at Tetley, the British-born, Indian owned global tea giant:

Kingston writes:

If you think that’s his natural vocabulary you’re wrong, Trump uses repetition, short sentences, he repeats himself constantly ad uses the most basic form of a word instead of nuances. Our tendency is to think that consumers are becoming more. . .well read and want the cold hard facts. But simplicity is actually more memorable, more comprehendible and more compelling to the decision processing part of our brain.

In other words, Trump is following a rule also developed, like those used to create those charts we’ve just seen, by the U.S. Navy, and more than a decade earlier, the KISS Principle, for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Some observations from academia

Then consider this, from a 7 January 2017 Washington Post story:

Trump is a “unique” politician because he doesn’t speak like one, according to Jennifer Sclafani, an associate teaching professor in Georgetown University’s Department of Linguistics.

“He is interesting to me linguistically because he speaks like everybody else,” said Sclafani, who has studied Trump’s language for the past two years. “And we’re not used to hearing that from a president. We’re used to hearing somebody speak who sounds much more educated, much smarter, much more refined than your everyday American.”

>snip<

Sclafani, who recently wrote a book set to publish this fall titled “Talking Donald Trump: A Sociolinguistic Study of Style, Metadiscourse, and Political Identity,” said Trump has used language to “create a brand” as a politician.

“President Trump creates a spectacle in the way that he speaks,” she said. “So it creates a feeling of strength for the nation, or it creates a sense of determination, a sense that he can get the job done through his use of hyperbole and directness.”

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an American-born Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University, is an expert on bombastic authoritarianism, evident in countless academic papers and a shelf full of books on the subject [including the forthcoming Strongmen: How The Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall].

In a 4 November 2016 New Yorker interview, she compared Trump to Benito Mussolini, the vigorously verbose Il Duce:

“These people are mass marketers. They pick up what’s in the air,” Ben-Ghiat said. The film reel was to Mussolini as Twitter is to Trump. “They give the impression of talking directly to the people,” she said. They can be portentous and relentlessly self-assertive. In a way, authoritarians have to be, Ben-Ghiat explained, since they’re selling a paradox: a savior fashioned as the truest, most authentic expression of the masses. Trump summed it up baldly at the Convention: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it.” The authoritarian makes the contradiction fall away, like an optical illusion.

She expanded on her views in an 10 August 2016 essay she wrote for the Atlantic

Italians learned in the 1920s what Americans are learning in 2016: Charismatic authoritarians seeking political office cannot be understood through the framework of traditional politics. They lack interest in, and patience for, established protocols. They often trust few outside of their own families, or those they already control, making collaboration and relationship building difficult. They work from a different playbook, and so must those who intend to confront them.

The authoritarian playbook is defined by the particular relationship such individuals have with their followers. It’s an attachment based on submission to the authority of one individual who stands above the party, even in a regime. Mussolini, a journalist by training, used the media brilliantly to cultivate a direct bond with Italians that confounded political parties and other authority structures and lasted for 18 years.

Trump also cultivates a personalized bond with voters, treating loyalty to the Republican Party almost as an afterthought. It’s why he emphasizes the emotional content of his events—he “feels the love,” or fends off “the haters.” Early on, he introduced a campaign ritual more common in dictatorships than democracies: an oath pledging support to his person, complete with a straight-armed salute. Securing this personal bond is a necessary condition for the success of future authoritarian actions, since it allows the leader to claim, as does Trump, that he embodies the voice and will of the people.

Mussolini’s rise to power also exemplifies another authoritarian trait America has seen during this campaign: The charismatic leader who tests the limits of what the public, press, and political class will tolerate. This exploration begins early and is accomplished through controversial actions and threatening or humiliating remarks toward groups or individuals. It’s designed to gauge the collective appetite and permission for verbal and physical violence and the use of extralegal methods in policing and other realms. The way elites and the press respond to each example of boundary-pushing sets the tone for the leader’s future behavior—and that of his followers.

Implications and lessons learned

As President with strong Congressional support and a stacked Supreme Court, the real estate developer and pop culture figure has used his ill-gotten gains to forge a populist cultural phenomenon.

He grasps the art of the unifying message, spelled out in visceral barroom language, rather than the bureaucrat phrases so often mouthed by his opponents.

Trump wasn’t going to do a restructuring of the roles and hierarchies of federal agencies. No, he was vowing to drain the swap, three short syllables that were o so memorable.

Like 20th Century fascist leaders, he flies across the realm, holding rallies, selling uniforms to make his followers readily recognizable — both to themselves and to others. Instead of Hitler’s Brown Shirts and Mussolini’s Black Shirts, TrumpTrolls sport red MAGA hats. But the leaders of all three groups hail followers who beat journalists.

In a system already rigged against folks who feel power should be based in the people, rather than in corporations and financial giants and the plutocrats who reap all those ever-grander and increasingly offshored profits.

To combat Trump and the system that put him in office, the Left needs a unifying, simply yet powerfully expressed message: Public good trumps private profit, and the Americans whose labor produce so much of that wealth are entitle to a greater share.

We need to recognize that soaring economic disparities create anger and uncertainty, states of arousal that make us vulnerable to manipulation, a task made easy by website cookies, email records, telephone tracking, television sets with embedded systems to spy on viewers, omnipresent surveillance cameras — just of tools available to governments, politicians, lobbyists, and others eager to find ways to identifying and manipulating our vulnerabilities for the private profit of the privileged phew.

As skilled general and rulers of old lined realized, your worst enemy is the best teacher, and Donald J. Trump is a pedagogical prodigy for those who would only listen and learn.

How about a first simple message to Dirty Don:

Kick Him Out!

Chart of the day: Mortgaging their futures


From Naked Capitalism comes a stunning graphic of the monster that is eating the futures of America’s young:

America’s banksters are consuming the wealth of a generation, to the tune of $4 trillion, according to a study by Demos.

Their key findings:

  • Our model finds that an average student debt burden for a dual-headed household with bachelors’ degrees from 4-year universities ($53,000) leads to a lifetime wealth loss of nearly $208,000.
  • Nearly two-thirds of this loss ($134,000) comes from the lower retirement savings of the indebted household, while more than one-third ($70,000) comes from lower home equity.
  • We can generalize this result to predict that the $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt will lead to total lifetime wealth loss of $4 trillion for indebted households.
  • The wealth loss will be greater for households with larger-than-average levels of student debt: students from low-income families, students of color, and for-profit students.

Way back when we started college, tuition was either  cheap or non-existent, and an aspiring student could figure that a summer job and maybe some part-time work during the school year would cover all her costs.

But thanks to the combination of tax cuts at the federal and state levels and the GOP push for privatization, college has ceased to be a birthright for the middle class, much less the poor.

A country that feeds on its poor is headed towards collapse.

Kids in religious countries lose in science, math


A new study of the impact of religion on the minds of growing children reveals a disturbing finding: When religion dominates, kids fare poorly in science and mathematics.

The study offers a hint of things to come in the United States, where the government is now controlled by a party eager to hand off education to church schools while simultaneously declaring an allegiance to improving the nation’s economic competitiveness.

With the Department of Education headed by a confirmed Christianist who made her billions off private schools, the outlook is bleak for our children.

From Leeds Beckett University:

The more religious people are, the lower children in that country perform in science and mathematics, according to new research at Leeds Beckett University.

The research [$35.95 to access] , published today in the academic journal Intelligence, reveals that more religious countries had lower educational performance in science and mathematics.  The study also shows that levels of national development and time spent on religious education played a role in students’ attainment.

The research, led by Gijsbert Stoet, Professor of Psychology at Leeds Beckett, alongside David Geary, Curators’ Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, is relevant for the government’s announcement in the budget that it will be investing £320 million into new free schools, including faith-based schools.

Professor Stoet explained: “Science and mathematics education are key for modern societies. Our research suggests that education might benefit from a stronger secular approach. In that context, the current UK policy of investing more money in faith-based should be reconsidered.

“The success of schools and education in general directly translates in more productive societies and higher standards of living. Given the strong negative link between religiosity and educational performance, governments might be able to raise educational standards and so standards of living by keeping religion out of schools and out of educational policy making.”

The researchers combined data from the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA), OECD’s Education at a Glance, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the World Values Survey, the European Social Survey, and the United Nationals Human Development Report.

Analysis of the data sets allowed conclusions to be drawn about international levels of religiosity, schooling and educational performance, and levels of human development (measures in regard to health, education, and income).

Levels of religiosity were determined using representative questionnaires carried out around the world in the World Values Survey and the European Social Survey among the adult population. Levels of school performance in mathematics and science literacy were based on scores from children aged between 14 to 15 years old.

Considering the relationship between religiosity and educational performance, the findings suggest that by engaging with religion, this may lead to a displacement of non-religious activities.  Although relatively few countries have data on the time spent on religious education, it appears that the time spent on religion has a negative correlation with educational performance in mathematics and science.

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A Muslim girl fights for her individuality


And we mean fight literally.

A wonderful documentary from Jayisha Patel of Australia’s SBS Dateline, a look at Fareeha, a remarkable young Indian women skilled in a very untraditional martial art struggling to make her way to the national championships.

It’s a story about a person from Hyderabad whose dream is to become a police officer so that she can protect young girls in a nation riven by religious and sexual violence.

Her struggle reveals tensions universal in modern life, created when cultural norms created in an era of slow travel and limited technology were evolved at a time when organized religion dominated all aspects of civic and familial life.

While the West dubs the struggle triggered by America’s armed imperialism Islamist, what has happened in the U.S. and Europe might be called a Christianist insurgence. While authoritarianism in the Mideast and North Africa is fueled by an authoritarian interpretation of the Koran and sayings attributed to the Prophet, while the authoritarianism of the West is inspired by an authoritarian interpretation of the Bible, relaying heavily on particularist selection of passages from practices proscribed by Torah and a vision of the imminent future taken from Revelation.

The cultural norms   struggles against are not so different than the gender-based laws many Republicans dream of enacting.

And when you look at how the Christianists really want to control women and their roles, is it really that different from what the Islamists want?

In that context, enjoy a remarkable, true story about a triumphal struggle.

From SBS Dateline:

India’s Wushu Warrior

Program notes:

What happens when cultural tradition clashes with a young person’s dream? Dateline meets a Muslim girl whose passion for martial arts is raising difficult questions for her family.

Chart of the day: EU second language learning


From Eurostat, a look at how many European second school students are studying languages other than their own [click on the image to enlarge]:

blog-lingo

More from the report:

French: second most popular after English

Learning a foreign language at school is very common in the European Union (EU), with more than 17 million lower secondary school pupils (or 98.6% of all pupils at this education level) studying at least one foreign language in 2015. Among them, more than 10 million (58.8%) were studying two foreign languages or more.

English was by far the most popular language at lower secondary level, studied by nearly 17 million pupils (97.3%). French (5 million or 33.8%) came second, followed by German (3 million or 23.1%) and Spanish (2 million or 13.6%).

These data are issued by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. Currently there are 24 official languages recognised within the EU. In addition there are regional languages, minority languages, and languages spoken by migrant populations. It should also be noted that several EU Member States have more than one official language.

Luxembourg, Finland and Italy on top for learning several foreign languages

In 2015, all or nearly all lower secondary school pupils learnt at least two foreign languages in Luxembourg (100%), Finland (98.4%), Italy (95.8%), Estonia (95.4%) and Romania (95.2%). In contrast, fewer than 10% of pupils were studying two or more languages in Hungary (6.0%) and Austria (8.8%).

English, French and German: top 3 foreign languages studied in the EU

English is by far the main foreign language studied during lower secondary education in the vast majority of Member States. In particular, all pupils attend English classes in Denmark, Malta and Sweden.

French is one of the two main foreign languages studied by all pupils in Luxembourg and is also the top foreign language studied in Ireland (by 60.4% of pupils) and Belgium (52.8%). In addition, French is the second most popular foreign language studied at lower secondary level in nine Member States, with the highest shares of learners recorded in Cyprus (89.2%), Romania (83.6%), Portugal (66.6%), Italy (65.4%) and the Netherlands (55.6%).

Besides being studied by all pupils in Luxembourg, German ranks second in eight Member States, with the highest shares being registered in Denmark (73.6%), Poland (69.2%) and Slovakia (53.6%). Learning Spanish is notably popular in Sweden (43.7%) and France (39.0%), while Russian, the only commonly studied non-EU language, came second in the three Baltic States – Lithuania (66.2%), Estonia (63.6%) and Latvia (59.7%) – as well as in Bulgaria (16.9%).

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic. . .

Things are much more provincial here in the U.S., as the Pew Research Center noted in a 2015 report:

[T]he U.S. does not have a nationwide foreign-language mandate at any level of education. Many states allow individual school districts to set language requirements for high school graduation, and primary schools have very low rates of even offering foreign-language course work. Some foreign-language learning standards can be met by taking non-language classes. For example, California requires one course in either the arts or a foreign language (including American Sign Language) for all high school students. Oklahomans can opt to take two years of the same foreign language or “of computer technology approved for college admission requirements.” Conversely, New Jersey students must earn “at least five credits in world languages” or demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English before they can graduate high school.

Perhaps because of these varying standards, few Americans who claim to speak a non-English language say that they acquired those skills in school. Only 25% of American adults self-report speaking a language other than English, according to the 2006 General Social Survey. Of those who know a second language, 43% said they can speak that language “very well.” Within this subset of multilinguals who are well-versed in a non-English language, 89% acquired these skills in the childhood home, compared with 7% citing school as their main setting for language acquisition.

It reminds us of an old joke we heard back in college some 44 years ago:

Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

A. Trilingual.

Q. What do you call someone who speaks two languages?

A. Bilingual.

Q. What do you call a person who speak one language, and that badly?

A. An American.

Headline of the day: Th’ar rilly edumacated!


From the Guardian:

US Department of Education gets WEB Du Bois’ name wrong in tweet

  • Tweet erroneously calling African American author and activist ‘W.E.B. DeBois’ is latest Black History Month embarrassment for the Trump administration

From the Story:

The US Department of Education suffered an embarrassment on Sunday, when a tweet published to its official account misspelled the surname of the African American author and civil rights activist WEB Du Bois.

“Education must not simply teach work,” the tweet said, “it must teach life. W.E.B. DeBois.”

The error, coming in during Black History Month, did not go unnoticed. Chelsea Clinton, daughter of beaten presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, asked: “Is it funny sad or sad funny that our Dept of Education misspelled the name of the great W. E. B. Du Bois?”

The department later issued an apology: “Post updated,” read a tweet followed by a corrected version of the “DeBois” tweet. “Our deepest apologizes [sic] for the earlier typo.”

The apology was subsequently corrected. The first tweet was not immediately deleted.

UC-San Francisco fires U.S. workers, hires abroad


It’s a story that would’ve added fuel to the anti-immigrant hysteria of the Trump campaign, but at its heart its all about a state firing its own citizens and replacing them with cheap labor.

Replacement workers ostensibly hired because of a shortage of American workers able to fill those positions from which American workers are being hired and replaced with cheap labor that happens to come from India.

It’s a story about libertarian chickens coming home to roost, the spawn of Proposition 13, the corporate tax giveaway sold to California’s as s savior of the homes of the elderly.

Proposition 13 was the long con, devised by Howard Jarvis, a man whose aim was to destroy government [we know because he told us so].

From the Los Angeles Times:

Using a visa loophole to fire well-paid U.S. information technology workers and replace them with low-paid immigrants from India is despicable enough when it’s done by profit-making companies such as Southern California Edison and Walt Disney Co.

But the latest employer to try this stunt sets a new mark in what might be termed “job laundering.” It’s the University of California. Experts in the abuse of so-called H-1B visas say UC is the first public university to send the jobs of American IT staff offshore. That’s not a distinction UC should wear proudly.

UC San Francisco, the system’s biggest medical center, announced in July that it would lay off 49 career IT staffers and eliminate 48 other IT jobs that were vacant or filled by contract employees. The workers are to be gone as of Feb. 28. In the meantime they’ve been ordered to train their own replacements, who are employees of the Indian outsourcing firm HCL Technologies.

The training process was described by UCSF managers by the Orwellian term “knowledge transfer,” according to Audrey Hatten-Milholin, 53, an IT architect with 17 years of experience at UCSF who will be laid off next month.

“The argument for Disney or Edison is that its executives are driven to maximize profits,” says Ron Hira of Howard University, a expert in H-1B visas. “But UC is a public institution, not driven by profit. It’s qualitatively different from other employers.”

By sending IT jobs abroad, UC is undermining its own mission, which includes preparing California students to serve the high-tech industry.

Headline of the day: The truth shall make you flee


From the London Daily Mail, another day in TrumpAmerica™:

‘We’ll put a f***ing bullet in your face’: Professor who was caught on camera telling students Donald Trump is a ‘white supremacist’ goes into hiding after receiving death threats

  • Professor goes into hiding after being filmed criticizing Donald Trump in class 
  • Olga Perez Stable Cox was caught on camera at Orange County College
  • She was heard calling Trump a ‘white supremacist’, and Mike Pence ‘anti-gay’  
  • Cox’s teachers union said the veteran teacher has been forced to hide away
  • The 30-year teacher has received more than 1,000 emails and phonecalls

Troikarchs demand still more austerity from Spain


Spain, one of the European nations hardest hit by the Wall Street-created Great Recession, must apply more austeirty, declared the International Monetary Fund, one of the three pillars of the troika overseeing loans to the most-afflicted European nations.

Austerity, of course, means yet more draconian measures inflicted on those least able to afford them, and n the case of Spain,, mandated measures include yet more cuts to education and continuation of hikes in valued-added [sales] taxes, that most regressive of all measures of mining the populace for wealth.

From El País:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called on Spain to raise reduced rates of value-added tax (VAT), special taxes and environmental levies, including those on fuel. What’s more, it is calling on the government to look into the efficiency of spending on education and health. The aim of all of these changes is to bring down the deficit and public debt, the size of which, says the global organization, is leaving the Spanish economy “highly vulnerable to external disturbances.”

“We are not suggesting austerity,” said Andrea Shaechter, the IMF economist in charge of monitoring the progress of the Spanish economy, at a press conference at the Bank of Spain on Tuesday. “The adjustment can be gradual and be carried out via tax hikes,” he added, using the example of sales tax. “Compared to the rest of Europe, there is a large margin in terms of the reduced rates of Value Added Tax [in Spain], such as the rate collected by restaurants.”

In its analysis of the Spanish economy, the institution headed up by Christine Lagarde says that the country’s public deficit could end up coming in above original forecasts. “Immediate attention should be focused on restarting a gradual fiscal consolidation with the aim of setting the high volume of public debt on a steady descending course,” the IMF concludes.

The way to do this, according to the IMF, is through tax rises. “Spain can allow itself a rise in revenues,” the report argues. “By gradually reducing the number of VAT exemptions, the amount it collects would approach those of other EU countries. What’s more, and especially in these times of low energy prices, there is room to raise special taxes and environmental rates, as well as dealing with the inefficiencies and differentiated treatment of the tax system,” it argues. The IMF believes that this would see the tax burden pass from work to consumption, which would help growth.

Chart of the day: Religion and education


From the Pew Research Center, a look at average formal schooling attainment among the world’s religions:

blog-ef

French central bank warns of a global slowdown


Thee global economic is engaged in a slow-moving crash.

When you consider the reasons, it’s inevitable.

While the rich are getting richer , everyone else is stuck or heading down [see our earlier posts].

And the rich are getting richer because their wealth is invested heavily in the  parasitical FIRE sector, the finance, insurance, and real estate markets,

Real economic growth, based on the consumption of goods and services, can’t happen without growth in the wages of the working and middle classes, the driving factors leading to consumption of those tangible goods and broadly used services.

But corporate mergers are producing cuts in pay and benefits, with cash assets stripped away and pocketed by plutocratic plunderers, rather than being shared with those folks whose labors produced all that wealth and could use their enlarged share of the pie to actually grow the economy [and, yes, we’re well aware that endless economic growth is itself problematic in the longer run].

And to buy what goods they can, people are increasingly forced to turn to debt, either through bank loans or credit cards, paying ever-higher rates of interest to the FIREy plutocrats.

And with education being privatized or subjected to reduced state subsidies, ever larger numbers of young people are being forced to take loans to attain educations once taken for granted.

And the FIRE folks get richer again.

And now for the warning, via Agence France Presse:

France’s central bank trimmed its growth forecasts for 2016 and 2017 on Friday, citing a deterioration in the global economy and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

The Bank of France revised its 2016 and 2017 growth forecast down to 1.3 percent, having previously expected growth of 1.4 percent this year and 1.5 percent next year.

It also predicted growth of 1.4 percent in 2018, down from its previous figure of 1.6 percent.

“In 2017 and 2018, the downward revision of our GDP growth projection… is mainly due to the deterioration in the international environment,” it said in a statement.

“The projection is thus particularly affected by less favourable foreign demand prospects.., notably as a result of the impact of Brexit on the UK economy and of its dissemination to the euro area economies.”

Understanding the predatory FIRE sector

For more on the current slowdown and its causes and the predatory nature of the FIRE section, watch this very informative German television interview with University of Missouri-Kansas City economist Michael Hudson, perhaps the most incisive commentator of the modern economic conditions:

Michael Hudson: How Private Debt Makes the Rich Richer

Program notes:

Michael Hudson talks about the causes of inequality in the 21st century

Our author Michael Hudson summarizes some important theses from his book “The Sector – Why Global Finance Is Destroying Us”.
The interview took place on the occasion of the 16th International Literary Festival in Berlin for a symposium titled “Inequality in the 21st Century. Progress, capitalism and global poverty. “ The authors, Angus Deaton, David Graeber and Michael Hudson, presented the most important theses of their current books.

Michael Hudson Bio: Michael Hudson is one of very few economists – globally – who perfectly predicted the 2008 financial crisis.

Michael is President of The Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends (ISLET), a Wall Street Financial Analyst, Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and author of Killing the Host (2015), The Bubble and Beyond (2012), Super-Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (1968 & 2003), Trade, Development and Foreign Debt (1992 & 2009) and of The Myth of Aid (1971), amongst many others.

ISLET engages in research regarding domestic and international finance, national income and balance-sheet accounting with regard to real estate, and the economic history of the ancient Near East.

Michael acts as an economic advisor to governments worldwide including Iceland, Latvia and China on finance and tax law.

California teacher banned for Black Lives Matter pin


And in California, too — albeit in the conservative Central Valley.

Pathetic.

From teleSUR English:

A California high school substitute teacher was banned from the Clovis Unified School District after wearing a Black Lives Matter pin to class last month, local media reported Saturday.

“They said it was a violation of their policy of being neutral regarding political issues, but I don’t consider it a political statement. It is a moral statement,” David Roberts told local newspaper the Fresno Bee. “I was very surprised because I didn’t think it was a violation of anything.”

After working as a substitute teacher for the district for more than 15 years, Robert has now been banned from working in any of the district’s schools according to an incident report issued last month and seen by the newspaper.

The report claims that Roberts was wearing a “political” button which offended some of the students while also accusing the substitute teacher of not following the lesson plan, which he denied.

“A pin that reads ‘Black Lives Matter’ is not a political button. It is a peaceful request to end this violence,” Roberts said asserting that his firing from the district was solely related to the button.

Aussie students hoist the Pharma Bro’s petard


Remember Pharma Bro?

That’s the nickname of Martin Shkreli, the greedy investor who plunged into the depths of infamy when he upped the price of a vital malaria drug by 30 times when it bought the only company that makes it.

Well, it seems some Australian students found a way to make the pils, which Shkreli priced at $750 a pop for a mere two bucks.

In other words, you could buy 375 of their pills from what one of Pharma Bro’s would cost you, before an internal furor forced him to cut the price to a mere $375.

Besides malaria, the drug is used to treat toxoplasmosis [previously], a disease caused by exposure to cats, and parasitical infections sometimes found in AIDS patients.

Well, it looks like the price will be coming down, and very soon.

From euronews:

The man who became a global figure of greed after hiking the price of a life-saving drug by 5000 percent in the US, may have just met his match.

Last year, US entrepreneur Martin Shkreli bought Turing Pharmaceuticals and almost immediately increased the price of the medicine Daraprim in the US from $13.50 to $750.

Now a group of school students in Australia has replicated a key-ingredient in the medicine for just $2.

Daraprim is an anti-parasitic drug used to treat malaria and HIV patients.

One of the students taking part in the experiments, Brandon Lee said: “It was a lot of trial and error, the process. We had to repeat a lot of the reactions and try different reaction conditions in order to see which materials in which things would react to make the Daraprim. But, yeah, it was a rollercoaster of emotions sometimes. I think because we are high school students we are able to relate to a larger audience, able to relate to the general public and show that even ordinary high school students like us, are able to make this drug for a pretty low price.”

Chart of the day: How much do Americans earn?


From the U.S. Census Bureau, a look at how much Americans earn, and how much those earnings differ by age, gender, and education for those who year 12 months a year:

blog-earnings

Israeli shapes a U.S. law enabling campus purges


How would Americans like it if, say, North Korea dictated a law barring criticism of that country on U.S. campuses.

We imagine lots of folks would get righteously upset.

But an Israeli propagandist and former Deputy Prime Minister has done just that.

From the Intercept:

After Donald Trump’s election emboldened white supremacists and inspired a wave of anti-Semitic hate incidents across the country, the Senate on Thursday took action by passing a bill aimed at limiting the free-speech rights of college students who express support for Palestinians.

By unanimous consent, the Senate quietly passed the so-called Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, only two days after it was introduced by Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Tim Scott, R-S.C.

A draft of the bill obtained by The Intercept encourages the Department of Education to use the State Department’s broad, widely criticized definition of anti-Semitism when investigating schools. That definition, from a 2010 memo, includes as examples of anti-Semitism “delegitimizing” Israel, “demonizing” Israel, “applying double standards” to Israel, and “focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations.”

Critics have pointed out that those are political — not racist — positions, shared by a significant number of Jews, and qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

According to the draft, the bill does not adopt the definition as a formal legal standard, it only directs the State Department to “take into consideration” the definition when investigating schools for anti-Semitic discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Now why do we say that the law is the creation of an Israeli propagandist?

That’s because those key words — demonizing, delegitimizing, demonizing — are the formula created by Israeli political propagandist, Natan Sharansky, a former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs and a good friend of Sheldon Adelson, the zealous Ziocon and Las Vegas casino magnate, and newspaper publisher who poured $25 million into a Trump-supporting PAC and sits on Trump’s inauguration committee.

Sharanksy,’s formulation is a brilliant semantic coup, employing words of such vagueness that they can be applied to virtually any critic of Israeli policies.

We know that, because they have been applied to us, repeatedly, first when reporting on the actions of a campaign launched against the Berkeley Daily Planet, a paper that came under fire from a motley crew of militant Ziocons angry because the paper published letters critical of Israeli government policies toward its Palestinian population.

Hillary Clinton lead the way

Attesting to the brilliance of Sharansky’s word-spinning is the fact that it was adopted as the adoption of that very definition of antisemitism by the State Department under Hillary Clinton.

Surely it’s legitimate to criticize the actions of a government which clearly applies double standards by seizing land and homes of non-Jewish citizens while not taking the same actions toward the property of its Jewish citizens.

Similarly, one could question’s Israel’s legitimacy, given that the state was created as the result of an accord between by the British and French governments without the consent of those who lived their, the majority of them not Jewish.

As for demonizing, what word could be more vague?

Trump-inspired hate floods the nation’s classrooms


Not only are incidents of overt racism and hatred on the rise in the nation’s schools, fear is leading teachers not to talk about it.

From the Southern Poverty Law Center:

In the first days after the 2016 presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project administered an online survey to K–12 educators from across the country. Over 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools have responded. The survey data indicate that the results of the election are having a profoundly negative impact on schools and students. Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected, and most of them believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.

Also on the upswing: verbal harassment, the use of slurs and derogatory language, and disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags.

Teaching Tolerance conducted a previous survey in March, when we asked teachers how the primary campaign season was affecting our nation’s students. The 2,000 educators who responded reported that the primary season was producing anxiety among vulnerable students and emboldening others to new expressions of politicized bullying. Teachers overwhelming named the source of both the anxiety and the behavior as Donald Trump, then a leading contender for the Republican nomination.

Since Trump was elected, media have been awash in reports of hate incidents around the nation, including at schools. Some detractors have characterized the reports as isolated, exaggerated or even as hoaxes. This survey, which was distributed by several organizations (see About the Survey for a complete list), via email and social media, offers the richest source of information about the immediate impact of the election on our country. The findings show that teachers, principals and district leaders will have an oversized job this year as they work to heal the rifts within school communities.

The survey asked respondents a mix of easily quantifiable questions and also offered them a chance to describe what was happening in open-ended questions. There are over 25,000 responses, in the form of comments and stories, to the open-ended questions. It will take time to fully analyze and report on those comments. This report provides a high-level summary of the findings.

Here are the highlights:

  • Nine out of 10 educators who responded have seen a negative impact on students’ mood and behavior following the election; most of them worry about the continuing impact for the remainder of the school year.
  • Eight in 10 report heightened anxiety on the part of marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and LGBT students.
  • Four in 10 have heard derogatory language directed at students of color, Muslims, immigrants and people based on gender or sexual orientation.
  • Half said that students were targeting each other based on which candidate they’d supported.
  • Although two-thirds report that administrators have been “responsive,” four out of 10 don’t think their schools have action plans to respond to incidents of hate and bias.
  • Over 2,500 educators described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric. These incidents include graffiti (including swastikas), assaults on students and teachers, property damage, fights and threats of violence.
  • Because of the heightened emotion, half are hesitant to discuss the election in class. Some principals have told teachers to refrain from discussing or addressing the election in any way.

Read the rest.