Article 43

 

Revelations

Monday, January 15, 2018

Finlands Universal Basic Income Trial

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What We Can Learn From Finlands Basic Income Experiment

By Tim Ward
Futurism
July 26, 2017

Finland’s Failed Experiment?

Universal basic income (UBI) is a hot topic in the world today. So far, however, very few experiments have been conducted to ascertain precisely how best to implement such a system. For that reason, a small-scale UBI experiment in Finland has drawn much attention as one of the few real-world examples we have of how UBI could work.

The trial BEGAN earlier this year and is being managed by Kela, the national social-insurance institute. Kela selected 2,000 Finns between the ages of 25 and 58, each of whom was receiving some form of unemployment benefits, to receive 560 (about $645) per month.

In theory, this project would give the world new insights into the logistics and consequences of introducing a UBI system. However, the trial has been riddled with issues and mistakes from the start due to improper planning and a troubled political environment, and now, it is little more than a lesson of how not to run a UBI experiment.

Among the most serious errors was a slashing of the sample size to just one-fifth the number suggested in the original proposition. This extremely small dataset is not enough to be scientifically viable.

Additionally, the trial kicked off during a period of economic turmoil in Finland. The country’s economy had suffered three recessions since 2008, and this state-sponsored UBI project was launched in a time of economic austerity.

Although the results of the project, which will be announced in 2019, may give us some insights into the viability of future UBI programs, even those who designed the Finnish experiment are skeptical of its validity. Olli Kangas, Kelas coordinator for the program, TOLD THE ECONOMIST that it was currently in a state of neglect, comparing politicians’ actions to “small boys with toy cars who become bored and move on.”

A Worldwide Question

Universal basic income has been proposed as a solution to two issues that are currently shaking society: poverty and the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into the jobs sector. In an INTERVIEW WITH THE GUARDIAN, Stephen Hawking warned that the latter will cause “job destruction deep into the middle classes,” and ELON MUSK HAS ASSERTED that there will be fewer and fewer jobs that “a robot cannot do better” as the technology develops.

The idea of a UBI system is to automatically award every citizen with a state-sponsored wage, which could then be augmented by further work. This would provide those displaced by robotic systems with a way to support themselves on the most basic level.

Although Finland’s lackluster experiment remains the largest state-sponsored experiment to date, various governments are considering conducting their own UBI trials.

India, the world’s largest democratic country, has endorsed the system claiming in a report that it is “basically the way forward” - and is now considering the best way to introduce it to its populous. The state of Hawaii, which also recently accepted the terms of the Paris Agreement despite Donald Trump’s federal withdrawal, has also announced on Reddit that they will “begin evaluating universal basic income.”

The system is not without its skeptics, however. Experts question who would provide the money to fund such projects, asserting that a universal basic income of $10,000 a year per person could add approximately $3 trillion to national spending in the U.S.

Individuals such as Mark Cuban and Robert Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University, have suggested that we should optimize existing benefits systems. Gordon told the MIT Technology Review that his idea is to make ԓbenefits more generous to reach a reasonable minimum, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and greatly expand preschool care for children who grow up in poverty.

We won’t know for sure how effective a UBI could be until someone actually implements an experiment large enough to provide meaningful data, and right now, Finland doesnt appear to be that entity.

SOURCE

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Money for nothing: is Finland’s universal basic income trial too good to be true?

Europe’s first national experiment in giving citizens free cash has attracted huge media attention. But one year in, what does this project really hope to prove?

By Jon Henley in Helsinki
January 12, 2018

One year on from its launch, the world remains fascinated by Finland’s groundbreaking universal basic income trial: Europe’s first national, government-backed experiment in giving citizens free cash.

In January 2017, the Nordic nation began paying a random but mandatory sample of 2,000 unemployed people aged 25 to 58 a monthly L560 (475). There is no obligation either to seek or accept employment during the two years the trial lasts, and any who do take a job will continue to receive the same amount.

With the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bernie Sanders all proponents of a universal basic income (UBI) model, Finnish officials and participants have been inundated with media requests from around the globe. One participant who hoped to start his own business with the help of the unconditional monthly payment complained that, after speaking to 140 TV crews and reporters from as far afield as Japan and Korea, he has simply not been able to find the time.

But amid this unprecedented media attention, the experts who devised the scheme are concerned it is being misrepresented. “It’s not really what people are portraying it as,” said Markus Kanerva, an applied social and behavioural sciences specialist working in the prime ministers office in Helsinki.

“A full-scale universal income trial would need to study different target groups, not just the unemployed. It would have to test different basic income levels, look at local factors. This is really about seeing how a basic unconditional income affects the employment of unemployed people.”

While UBI tends often to be associated with progressive politics, Finland’s trial was launched - at a cost of around 20m ($17.7m) - by a centre-right, austerity-focused government interested primarily in spending less on social security and bringing down Finland’s stubborn 8%-plus unemployment rate. It has a very clear purpose: to see whether an unconditional income might incentivise people to take up paid work.

Authorities believe it will shed light on whether unemployed Finns, as experts believe, are put off taking up a job by the fear that a higher marginal tax rate may leave them worse off. Many are also deterred by having to reapply for benefits after every casual or short-term contract.

“It’s partly about removing disincentives,” explained Marjukka Turunen, who heads the legal unit at Finland’s social security agency, Kela, which is running the experiment. Kanerva describes the trial as an experiment in “smoothing out the system.”

To maintain privacy and avoid bias, Kela is not contacting any of the 2,000 participants for the duration of the two-year trial. A handful have given interviews to journalists (several have said they feel less stressed thanks to the scheme), but no official conclusions are yet being drawn from these anecdotal experiences.

According to Kanerva, however, the core data the government is seeking on whether, and how, the job take-up of the 2,000 unemployed people in the trial differs from a 175,000-strong control group - will be robust, and usable in future economic modelling when it is published in 2019.

Unintended benefits

The idea of UBI had been circulating in left-of-centre political circles in Finland since the 1980s, mainly as a way to combat the economic and social consequences of falling industrial employment by freeing all from students to the elderly; stay-at-home parents to the unemployed - to make meaningful contributions to society by, for example, volunteering.

Appealing both to the left (who believe it can cut poverty and inequality) and, more recently, to the right (as a possible way to a leaner, less bureaucratic welfare system), UBI looks all the more attractive amid warnings that automation could threaten up to a third of current jobs in the west within 20 years. Other basic income schemes are now being tested from Ontario to rural Kenya, and Glasgow to Barcelona.

But there is little consensus so far on what UBI should look like in practice, or even on the questions that need to be answered first: which model to adopt, what level of payment, how to combine UBI fairly with other social security benefits, and how the tax and pension system should treat it.

For UBI purists, the fact that the monthly Finnish payment roughly equivalent to basic unemployment benefit - is going to a strictly limited group, and is not enough to live on, disqualifies the Finnish scheme. But while it may not reveal as much as a broader trial would have, the schemes designers are confident it will shed new light on several key social policy issues.

For example, Kela hopes additional data that is being collected as part of the trial from healthcare records will provide useful information on whether the security of a guaranteed unconditional income, paid in advance so beneficiaries can budget for it, might have a positive impact on anxiety, prescription drug consumption or doctor’s visits.

One participant has said she is less anxious because she no longer has to worry over calls from the job centre offering a job she can’t accept because she is caring for her elderly parents, Turunen said. “We may be able to see from the trial data whether it has had unintended benefits - such as reduced medical costs.”

The trial data may also allow the government to spend less on bureaucracy by simplifying Finland’s complex social security system - currently, it offers more than 40 different means-tested benefits - which is struggling to cope with a 21st-century labour market of part timers, short-term contracts and start-ups.

The benefit system is simply “not suited to modern working patterns,” Turunen said. “We have too many benefits. People don’t understand what they’re entitled to or how they can get it. Even experts don’t understand. For example, it’s very hard to be in the benefit system in Finland if you are self-employed - you have to prove your income time and time and time again.”

Perhaps most significantly, “the trial marks a real breakthrough for field experiments,” according to Kanerva. Rolled out in record time and after a brief, one-line pledge in the governments platform, it had to function alongside all existing social security laws and clear numerous legal obstacles - including Finland’s constitution, which requires all citizens to be treated equally.

“It was a huge effort to get it over the line,” Turunen said. “The government was determined it must be based on specific legislation - most experiments are not and that it had to launch in January last year ... It was quite a task.”

The Finnish experiment’s design and objectives mean it should perhaps not really be seen as a full-blown UBI trial at all, cautioned Kanerva: People think we’re launching universal basic income. Were not. W’֒re just trialling one kind of model, with one income level and one target group.

But as experts around the world increasingly debate how a bold but ill-defined concept might actually work in practice, the Finnish experiment will at least “produce meaningful results - albeit in a limited field,” according to Kanerva. In an area where convictions are often more abundant than facts, It has forced people to talk specifics.

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Posted by Elvis on 01/15/18 •
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Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Bad Moon Rising Part 70 - The End Of Empire 2

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“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
- John Adams

American Calamity Get Ready for the Day of Reckoning

By Phil Butler
New Eastern Outlook
December 3, 2017

The America we once knew is gone forever. The 21st century has dawned just as the true light of liberty fades into shadow. The sooner the world recognizes this, the better off humankind will be. RussiaGate, Bill and Hillary Clinton revelations, Donald Trumps quasi-populist misdirect, and a great nation turned amoral, this and much more forewarn of a cataclysm.

Ill tell you about the instant I gave up on America ever being great again. When my oldest friend failed to reach me on Skype a few weeks back, a strange reconnect on his device put me in the position of a fly on the wall with he and two other high school friends. At first, I thought my old friend and I were connected as per usual, on a conference call. Then, when I realized I could hear them without the trio hearing me, the real American tragedy unfolded. The realization struck me hard, I’ll tell you. Listening to old pals discuss my new book that debunks many RussiaGate lies, Putin’s Praetorians met with nasty and harsh criticism without my chums having even read what is inside. Their obtuse and unfair criticism made me finally realized Vladimir Putin and the Russian people have no chance whatsoever - no chance of ever being friends with the United States of America. Three intelligence college graduates, professional men, demonstrated the utter ignorance of a people. Some of my closest friends shouted in my ears that day; the propaganda worked - CNN has already won.I know this is a harsh reality for many of you to accept. Losing hope is not something to take lightly. But get ready, the war will come eventually.

When Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election the hopeful among us considered his victory a successful populist revolt against the Washington swamp of globalists. Trump swore to us he would take on the technocrats and the elites in favor of the “forgotten of America” and the new president sold himself as a man of the people. However, billionaires are not ordinary people, and we should all have remembered this. Many of us voted Trump just to keep a certified psychopath from winning, but Trump and Clinton are nothing more than symptoms of a far more WIDESPREAD CONTAGION. Now let me describe the infectious host my country has become, and a bit on how Lady Liberty will finally succumb.

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is the modern and digitalized Rome. Just why we we’re not taught this in grade school, it escapes me. After all, we always believed our teachers and trusted them to tell us the truth. The unarguable fact that Americans have been the most privileged people on Earth since World War II. But we were told for decades that our privilege was due to our industriousness, our intelligence, and because God had blessed us. In the 1950s and early 1960֒s this may have really been true. For those who recall that we made stuff back then, and that we conformed more often to our religious convictions, my meaning here is clear to you. We Americans benefitted largely because of our hard work back then, and not sometimes because of brilliant industrialists too.  Then the two Kennedy brothers were shot and killed, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were assassinated, and Lyndon Baines Johnson and his boys carried us into Vietnam. In the meantime, those of us too young (or chicken) to fight in southeast Asia, we got our fill of Woodstock, a popular anti-war movement and the hippie revolution, and decades of drug culture that nobody talks about much these days. But this component of the American metamorphosis is far too important and massively deep to discuss here. It should suffice those from that era to know, that Iғ know what you know. This was the moment the American people dipped themselves in the narcotic of too much self-love and when we began to exceed and excel in moral promiscuity. Today an entire nation is drowning in a sea of vanity that originated back then. We saw this moral lasciviousness when the last President, Barack Obama spat out our exceptionalismԓ right in the worlds face. Let’s now take a candid look at this how collectively extraordinary we Americans have been.

A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage . . . . Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elite, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I’ll not even attempt to describe the rise of consumerism in America following WW II, nor can anyone explain in such limited space how the average American benefitted from our role in that war. As the only major nation untouched (literally) by the massive destructive force of the world war, the United States quickly became a nation blessed with a giant middle class. And with this burgeoning middle class came a youth culture that will absolutely melt down when the next big crisis comes. This foreboding moment can be understood if we look at American society’s rise to affluence in the 60s, 70’s, and even the 1980s, as compared to the disenfranchised in the country today. But I said I would not delve too deeply into this part of Americanism. What makes the United States even an unique country in modern times is how the world lost while America consumed. Make no mistake about it, the real American exceptionalism cost every man, woman, and child on Earth an incalculable price. Citizens of my country have used fully one-fourth of every resource utilized since World War II, and the ongoing wars and corporate shenanigans perpetuated the damage. Up until the 21st century, the curve of American gluttony rose sharply in between 1900 and 1995. A PAPER (PDF) entitled; “Consumption of Materials in the United States, 1900-9950”, from the USGS by Grecia Matos and Lorie Wagner discusses this in depth. Here is the short version from the paper on materials use:

“During this century, the quantity of materials consumed has grown, from 161 million metric tons in 1900 to 2.8 billion metric tons by 1995, an equivalent of 10 metric tons per person per year.”

The report details our consumption from many directions including environmental impacts, and so on. Nowhere is our exceptional appetite for world resources more prevalent than in our energy use. THIS REPORT from 2011 shows how America went stark raving mad using coal, natural gas, petroleum nd nuclear energy after WW II. For comparative purposes, Americans used about 10 quadrillion btus of petroleum in 1945, as compared to just over 40 quadrillion btuᒒs at the peak in 2005-2006. On energy, its fair to assert here that all those energy wars the so-called conspiracy theorists writeabout are real news stories, rather than fake concoctions. But let’s forget about American politicians opening up North America for a toxic fracking future for the moment. This Scientific American STORY points to Americans as the least sustainable society on Earth. From the article Sierra Clubs Dave Tilford tells us:

“The average American will drain as many resources as 35 natives of India and consume 53 times more goods and services than someone from China.”

The final take here is telling. The United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, uses more than 25% of the world’s fossil fuel resources, by burning up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the worlds natural gas. Another way of looking at our “exceptional self-destructiveness” is to think how many “worlds” it would take to support humanity, if everyone consumed like we do. But this my point is the fact that our addictive and suicidal behavior costs all of humanity. America’s unique exceptionalism will very soon lead to a horrific cataclysm for out sick culture. I’ll frame for you now:

Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms such as you have named - but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot. Robert A. Heinlein, Friday

Drugged on the self-aggrandizing drugs of excess, lude and lascivious lifestyles, and utter godlessness, the United States is all set for an apocalypse few in my country see. Before I describe how this cataclysm will likely play out, let me introduce an economic surety. Debt and constricted growth are about to cause a gigantic bubble to burst.

Most readers may not know that the worlds central banks are about to be decimated. The balance sheets of most of these banks have gone from an indebtedness of $6 trillion in 2007 to over $21 trillion today. To make matters worse, the rate of debt expansion exceeds a pace of $200 billion every month. In the UK, the Bank of England prints money on a pace to equal that of the European Central Bank (ECB) and even the Bank of Japan in a hopeless effort of Quantitative Easing (QE) that involves buying the bonds - or debts of governments and investment grade companies. Subsequently, bond prices have shot sky high, while yields are now at record lows. A further indication is contained in a rather innocent PRESS RELEASE about UBS Wealth Management’s UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index 2017. According to this news San Francisco and other real estate markets are ripe for a second devastating housing bubble catastrophe. Also included in the report are; Amsterdam, Stockholm, Munich, Vancouver, Sydney, Hong Kong, New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. I could go on and on presenting indicators such as the massive $750 billion dollar trade deficit America runs. But pointing out the reality of Americas $20 trillion dollar national debt is useless for swaying even one typical consumption addict to pay attention. Like my pals who refused to even crack open a book before condemning a friend, most Americans are simply too ignorant and self-involved to give facts a glance. When the lie of CNN or Bloomberg will do, as long as the cheap gas flows, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again (MAGA)” slogan is a fairytale. America has not been great in a very long time, and she never will be great again. Now let me show you who knows this.

Like Rome, the heyday of Americas empire was been based on expansion and growth. Propped up with militarism and the legendary military industrial complex, Washington has played Wall Street’s gambit for many decades. The recent villainizing of Russia and her president Vladimir Putin is not about the spread of democracy, it’s about Putin standing in the way of privatizing like that which occurred under Yeltsin. Putin is in a fight against the American supported liberal world order bent on gobbling up Russia’s massive resources to fuel further American (plus EU & British) addictions. Without new markets and resources America will very soon be out of gas literally. So, assuming I am correct here, what happens when a land of consumer zombies runs out of gas (or food)? This Fortune Magazine ARTICLE speaks of an education economics bubble about to destroy lives and dreams on a scale never witnessed. The foreboding article touches on but one facet of a fractured American society - the society presidents, senators, and congresspersons swore would benefit from high tech jobs and new age technologies. Now that I’ve painted a small portrait of dread, insert all the twenty-something and thirty-something smart phones you saw in use yesterday in town! You forty-something and fifty-something readers, can you sense the domino effect when the entitled youth cannot get cell service or buy a cappuccino? For further reading on this catastrophe, see Zero Hedge and read RON PAUL’S ASSESSMENT of the imminent doomsday. My conclusion here is pretty short and sweet:

“Of the twenty-two civilizations that have appeared in history, nineteen of them collapsed when they reached the moral state the United States is in now.” Arnold Joseph Toynbee

Vladimir Putin is the barometer everyone should watch. And Vladimir Putin has all but given up on reconciliation with the west. This report from World Socialist Web outlines reports that suggest Putin is ramping up in preparations for the coming war. At the recent Sochi meetup, the Russian president had this to offer on Russias economy being prepared:

“The ability of our economy to increase military production and services at a given time is one of the most important aspects of military security. To this end, all strategic and simply large-scale enterprise should be ready, regardless of ownership.”

Putin’s recent moves, his ongoing pragmatism during these new crises, and the “all or nothing” approaches of western governments toward Russia tell us all we need to know here. Putin is admittedly testing the capability of Russia’s economy to defend in an all-out war with the west. Read Alex Lantier’s article above, then correlate everything you can find on global defense in the last few months. Putin is only following suit after NATO recently discussed improving infrastructure for war-making. In Moscow the thinkers know once the petro-yuan replaces the dollar, that general chaos will rein in America. And the American globalists know this too. Now imagine a dollar being worth ten cents. Imagine store shelves empty and several million more foreclosures. Imagine Apple not selling iPhones for two months. Visualize what happens in America if another big recession hits now. The kid who was 12 when 2008 rolled around, is now 21 with a college degree and a mountain of student loan debt, working at McDonalds to pay for an $800 dollar smart phone. Fox News just reported on the 5 dead and 20 wounded in Chicago over the Thanksgiving weekend, and Trump’s policies have been a shot in the arm for Wall Street. If the big bubble bursts the disenfranchised will turn to cannibalism. Putin and the Washington swamp knows this too.

So, when America does finally succumb to the death throes we’ve seen happening the last thirty years or more They’ll push the button, you bet they will. Zombies could care less about Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Palestine, Syria and Yemen. You unplug the intravenous joy and it’s over. And this is the truth of an America since 1955. Find yourself a cave here on Crete, fort up and get ready. Its coming.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/05/17 •
Section Bad Moon Rising • Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Monday, October 02, 2017

The New Reality Of Old Age In America

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By Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post
Sept. 30, 2017

Richard Dever had swabbed the campground shower stalls and emptied 20 garbage cans, and now he climbed slowly onto a John Deere mower to cut a couple acres of grass.

"I’m going to work until I die, if I can, because I need the money,” said Dever, 74, who drove 1,400 miles to this Maine campground from his home in Indiana to take a temporary job that pays $10 an hour.

Dever shifted gently in the tractor seat, a rubber cushion carefully positioned to ease the bursitis in his hip - a snapshot of the new reality of old age in America.

People are living longer, more expensive lives, often without much of a safety net. As a result, record numbers of Americans older than 65 are working now nearly 1 in 5. That proportion has risen steadily over the past decade, and at a far faster rate than any other age group. Today, 9 million senior citizens work, compared with 4 million in 2000.

While some work by choice rather than need, millions of others are entering their golden years with alarmingly fragile finances. Fundamental changes in the U.S. retirement system have shifted responsibility for saving from the employer to the worker, exacerbating the nation’ s rich-poor divide. Two recent recessions devastated personal savings. And at a time when 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day, Social Security benefits have lost about a third of their purchasing power since 2000.

Polls show that most older people are more worried about running out of money than dying.

“There is no part of the country where the majority of middle-class older workers have adequate retirement savings to maintain their standard of living in their retirement,” said Teresa Ghilarducci, a labor economist who specializes in retirement security. “People are coming into retirement with a lot more anxiety and a lot less buying power.”

As a result, many older workers are hitting the road as work campers also called “workampers” - those who shed costly lifestyles, purchase RVs and travel the nation picking up seasonal jobs that typically offer hourly wages and few or no benefits.

Amazons “CamperForce” program hires thousands of these silver-haired migrant workers to box online orders during the Christmas rush. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Walmart, whose giant parking lots are famous for welcoming RV travelers, has hired elderly people as store greeters and cashiers. Websites such as the Workamper News list jobs as varied as ushering at NASCAR tracks in Florida, picking sugar beets in Minnesota and working as security guards in the Texas oil fields.

In Maine, which calls itself “Vacationland,” thousands of seniors are drawn each summer to the state’s rocky coastline and picturesque small towns, both as vacationers and seasonal workers. In Bar Harbor, one of the states most popular tourist destinations, well-to-do retirees come ashore from luxury cruise ships to dine on $30 lobsters and $13 glasses of sauvignon blanc җ leaving tips for other senior citizens waiting on oceanfront tables, driving Olis Trolley buses or taking tickets for whale-watching tours.

The Devers have noticed this economic divide. They found their campground jobs online and drove here in May, with plans to stay until the season ends in October. On a recent day off, they took a bus tour near Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, where the tour guide pointed out the oceanfront Rockefeller estate and Martha StewartҒs 12-bedroom mansion.

The ones who go on these ritzy, ritzy cruises to all these islands in Maine, “I don’t know how they got all that money. Maybe they were born into it,” said Jeannie, 72. “And then you see this poor little old retired person next door, who can hardly keep going. And hes got his little trailer.”

On Election Day last November, the Devers expressed their frustration. For more than 50 years, they had supported mainstream candidates in both parties, casting their ballots for John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. This time, they concluded that the Democrat, Hillary Clinton, would be no help to them. And they found the Republican standard-bearer, Donald Trump, too mouthy.Ӕ

So, for the first time in their lives, they cast protest votes, joining legions of disaffected voters whose aversion to Clinton helped propel Trump into the White House. Richard voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson. Jeannie left her presidential ballot blank.

We are all talking about this, but not politicians. Helping people build a nest egg is not on their agenda,Ӕ Jeannie said. We are the forgotten people.Ӕ

This job is a blessing

The Devers first hit the road in their 33-foot American Star RV when Jeannie turned 65. Since then, they have worked jobs in Wyoming, Pennsylvania and now Maine. In addition to their $10-an-hour paychecks, the couple receives $22,000 a year from Social Security, an amount that has barely budged while healthcare and other costs have soared.

If we didn’t work, our money would run out real quick, Richard said.

On a recent Friday, the Devers met for lunch back at their RV, Richard’s plaid shirt and suspenders dusty from mowing the drought-dried grass. Jeannie had spent the morning working the front desk in the campground office, where she checks people in and sells bug spray, marshmallows and other camping essentials.

As usual, she had arrived a half-hour early for her 9 a.m. shift to make sure everything was tidy for the first customer. Full of cheer and wearing white sneakers, she shies from talking about her macular degeneration and arthritic knuckles. “This job is a blessing,” she said.

“President Trump is one year younger than Jeannie and, she said, has more money than we can even imagine.” She muses that he probably will hand a lot down to his kids - another generation of rich people who, Richard and Jeannie believe, tend to be born that way.

The Devers know how hard it is to make it on your own.

In 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were running for president, Richard started repairing homes and Jeannie made root beer floats in a drugstore back home in southern Indiana, near the Kentucky border. Later, they ran a business that put vinyl siding on homes and a little start-up called Southwest Stuff that sold Western-themed knickknacks.

They raised two children and lived well enough but never had much extra cash to put away. After a lifetime of working, they have a small mobile home in Indiana, a couple of modest life insurance policies and $5,000 in savings.

The Devers are better off than many Americans. One in 5 have no savings, and millions retire with nothing in the bank. Nearly 30 percent of households headed by someone 55 or older have neither a pension nor any retirement savings, according to a 2015 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

From the camper’s compact refrigerator, Jeannie pulled a tub of meatloaf she had cooked in her crockpot a couple of days earlier.

“Are you good with just a sandwich?” she called to Richard.

“Just a sandwich, thanks,” he said, emerging from the bedroom in a fresh plaid shirt, bought for $2 at Goodwill. His blue-striped suspenders dangled below his waistband.

Without a word, Jeannie leaned over and slipped them over his shoulders a daily task that keeps getting harder for the man she married 55 years ago.

A Wall Street gold mine

While most Americans are unprepared for retirement, rich older people are doing better than ever. Among people older than 65, the wealthiest 20 percent own virtually all of the nations $25 trillion in retirement accounts, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Employers have gradually shifted from traditional pensions, with guaranteed benefits for life, to 401(k) accounts that run out when the money has been spent. Those accounts work best for the wealthy, who not only have the extra cash to invest but also use 401(k)s to shelter their income from taxes while they are working.

People with little financial know-how often find 401(k)s confusing. Millions of people opt not to participate, or contribute too little, or take money out at the wrong time and are charged huge fees.

Even people who manage to save for retirement often face a grim calculation: Among people between 55 and 64 who have retirement accounts, the median value of those accounts is just over $120,000, according to the Federal Reserve. So people are forced to guess how long they might live and budget their money accordingly, knowing that one big health problem, or a year in a nursing home, could wipe it all out.

The system has been a gold mine for Wall Street. Brokerages and insurance companies that manage retirement accounts earned roughly $33 billion in fees last year, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Ted Benna, a retirement consultant who is credited with creating the modern 401(k), called those fees ғoutrageous. Many people ԗ especially those who need the money the most donגt even know they are paying them, he said.

Compared with the old system of company pensions, the new retirement system does not serve the average American well, said Ghilarducci, the labor economist, who teaches at the New School in New York.

It’s as if we moved from a system where everybody went to the dentist to a system where everybody now pulls their own teeth, she said.

The rich help the rich

A few miles up the road from the Devers, Joanne Molnar, 64, and her husband, Mark, 62, live in their RV and work at another campground.

For 21 years, Joanne worked as a manager for a day-care company in Fairfield, Conn. She said she paid regularly into a 401(k) account that, at one point, was worth more than $40,000.

By the time she left the company in 2008, however, its value had fallen to $2,000.

Molnar said the company’s owner thought he was doing his 100 employees a favor by managing their retirement accounts. But he didn;t know what he was doing, she said. Instead of being angry with him, sheҔs furious with the 401(k) system.

“It stinks,” she said.

As Joannes retirement account was further battered by the Great Recession in 2008, the Molnars sold Mark’s share of his piano-restoration business and their home in Connecticut, which had lost value but kept attracting higher and higher property tax bills.

They bought a 25-foot RV for $13,000 and started looking for work near their three sons, one of whom lives near Bar Harbor, and their six grandchildren. After finishing at the Maine campground this fall, they plan to look for work in Texas or Wisconsin, near their other children.

Like the Devers, the Molnars say they are frustrated that the problems of older Americans do not seem to register in Washington.

The little people are drowning, and nobody wants to talk about it,” Joanne said. “Us middle-class, or lower-class, people are just not part of anything politicians decide.”

Last year, the Molnars grew more optimistic when they heard Trump promising in campaign speeches to help the “forgotten people.” Like a majority of older voters, Joanne voted for Trump. She said she thought maybe a businessman, an outsider, would finally address the economic issues that matter to her.

But the Molnars said that with each passing week of the Trump presidency, they are growing less hopeful.

“We’ll see. I’m just getting a little worried now,” Joanne said. “I just think he’s not going to be helping the lower class as much as he thought he would.

The recent battle to repeal Obamacare was “kind of scary,” she said, noting that Trump supported legislation that would have slashed Medicaid and left more people without government-subsidized insurance. Although the effort failed, Joanne and Mark remain nervous.

“The rich help the rich, and I’m starting to think that not enough will fall down to us,” Mark said, as he methodically bolted together one of 170 new picnic tables.

Mark signed up to begin collecting Social Security this summer. Even with those monthly checks, he figures hell have to work at least 10 more years.

FORGET THE GOVERNMENT. It’s got to be ‘We the People,’ he said. ”WE’RE ON OUR OWN.” You have to fend for yourself.

It’s not fun getting old

At the end of a long day at work, Richard and Jeannie Dever met back at their RV. After mowing the grass in the hot sun, Richard, who is just shy of his 75th birthday, was sweating under his baseball cap. He was tired.

It’s not fun getting old, he said.

Asked whether he was more worried about dying or running out of money, Richard thought about it, then said with a shrug, “I guess its a toss-up.”

Jeannie took off her sneakers and rested her swollen ankles. Richard recently cut back to 33 hours a week, but she was still working 40 hours, sometimes a few more.

A few days earlier, she had spent four hours cleaning a trailer where the guests had used a fire extinguisher to put out a small stove fire. She got down on the linoleum floor and lay on her stomach to reach the dust under the stove.

In the years ahead, Jeannie said, she hopes to find a job where she can sit down.

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Posted by Elvis on 10/02/17 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America • Section Personal
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Monday, July 03, 2017

The Awakening Part 12

image: depressions

Mass Murder is Capitalist Misery - Economy Meets Psychology

By Harriet Fraad
Democracy at Work
July 1, 2017

Economic conditions, social conditions and personal mental health are as intimately connected as Siamese twins. There is clear evidence of their interpenetrating connection. Unmistakable signs point to the fact that the mass of US citizens are economically, socially, and psychologically in bad shape. I will briefly look at each area: economic conditions, social conditions and emotional conditions, and how they relate to each other. I will also look at how those factors play out in the everyday lives of Americans.

The new word for the proletariat in America is the ”PRECARIAT."

IN THEIR ECONOMIC LIVES and in their personal and family lives Americans live on the brink of disaster. A majority, 63% of Americans do not have $500 TO COVER A LIFE EMERGENCY.

Almost of us cannot cover an emergency that costs $400. If we break a tooth or get picked up for a misdemeanor crime like stealing a pair of sneakers, we cannot cover the bail cost and could end up in jail. The minimum recommended to cover emergency expenses is at least 3 months of living expenses to cover losing a job, having a divorce, getting sick, things like that. Most Americans are nowhere near such security. In fact, most Americans are ONE PAYCHECK AWAY from the street.

Now let’s look briefly at social conditions.

In our social connections, we Americans are not doing much better. We cannot necessarily TURN TO A FRIEND in an emotional emergency, no less turn to them to BORROW MONEY. Families also can no longer necessarily help. They too live on the brink. Americans are increasingly ISOLATED . According to Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone (2009), there are fewer Americans connected to any group at all from PTAs to blood drives to political organizations than were in bowling leagues alone in 1970. Unfortunately, social and personal isolation is now worse.

The economic and social anchor cables which tied American personal life to a secure foundation are now frayed to breaking.

Personal life is fraying as well.

Americans fastest growing new life style is LIVING ALONE. If they marry the fastest growth is in couples without children. Most children will grow up without their two biological parents. Fully 42% of US kids are born to unmarried mothers. Family connection was American’s most basic institution for close personal connection. Families cannot hold together. If American single mothers and their children had the social supports that all other wealthy industrialized nations give their citizens, this would not be the disaster from which US mothers and children suffer. However US single mothers and their children are the most poverty stricken, deprived Americans. Poverty does not predict happiness now or in the future.

What happened?

In brief-In the 1970s, highly sophisticated multi-national communications systems allowed US corporations to outsource highly paid, often unionized jobs to poor nations with no protections or feeble protections for both workers and the environment. Corporations outsourced millions of jobs to China, India, Pakistan other nations. US companies thus reaped huge profits. For example, Chinese workers making Ivanka Trump’s apparel earn about 44 cents a day. Apparel makers in Pakistan earn just about $2.00 a day.

By the mid 1970s, American capitalists had the whole world to exploit. They no longer had to pay American white men 2 bonuses, one for being white and another for being male in what was then a scarce, racist, sexist labor market.

Without the well-paying family waged jobs that used to be available to white men, the structure of US middle class life began to fracture. Minorities and women were never given the wages that could support a middle-class family life. Once white men’s wages froze, millions of women entered the workforce alongside of their minority sisters. Even with 2 incomes wages were too low to make it into the formerly possible American dream of a better life for each generation. Women who worked outside the home were no longer willing nor able to do the full second shift of caring for men, home and children alone. They were no longer willing, and economically could not afford to be the full-time home based personal servants that white men were accustomed to. Home life splintered. These are the results of corporate capitalist outsourcing, computerizing, mechanizing and robotizing to make more money. The mass of the American people NOW SUFFER lower paid jobs, with worse job conditions.

With the huge profits US corporations made, they bought our media and our politicians. Those servants of the wealthy disguised the roots of American middle class collapse. In 1970, we were the most egalitarian nation in the Western industrialized world. Now we are the least egalitarian nation in the Western industrialized world. That powerfully effects our emotional and mental health.

According to meticulously researched reports on the fruits of economic inequality (See: Wilkensen and Pickett, Stuckler and Basu as well as the World Health Organizations report by their Mental Health Foundation) inequality is terrible for mental health.

There are 9 scourges of inequality. They are:

The erosion level of trust between people.

Lack of trust leads to disconnection from others and the breakdown of social bonds.

The increase in certifiable mental illness including addictions which are a form of mental problems

Eating disorders and obesity

Lower life expectancy

Homicides including mass murders, a dramatic form of murder

Suicides

Imprisonment rates and

The loss of social mobility.

The US leads the Western developed world in all of these areas. We are in trouble. I will look at 3 areas which present dramatic new developments in America.

One is mental illness and addiction. Another is homicides. A third is lack of trust. Each presents a uniquely American development.

Mental illness

One in five Americans is taking at least 1 psych drug. We are only 5% of the world population but we use 66% of the world’s psych drugs. There are at least three reasons why. One is that people’s hopes of economic and personal stability and happiness are dashed and they are lost and understandably sad. A second is that instead of reaching out to join with others and share collective hopes and work to realize them, we have become depoliticized and isolated A third is capitalist marketing of psych drugs. We are the only Western industrial nation that allows direct to consumer drug advertising. We also lead the world in the kind of market driven health care that rewards doctors with money for prescribing brand name drugs.

Another way that people look for a refuge for their misery is with self-prescribing, also known as addiction. At this time America is in the throes of a serious problem with heroin and opiates. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the US. There are even more opiate and opioid deaths than deaths from car accidents. Who is using and dying now? Drug addiction used to be an epidemic disproportionately effecting African Americans in the inner city. Now the epidemic is white. It effects just those people most devastated by the loss of the American dream, suburban people who are, or used to be in the middle class and rural whites whose local communities are taken over by corporations and agribusinesses. Typical addicts are the young man who planned to inherit his parents Mom and Pop diner which is now McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Friendly’s, etc. - the couple who planned to take over their parents shoe or clothing store or grocery which are all now huge Walmarts. The blue collar rural workers, painters, roofers etc. whose livelihoods are stolen by corporate capitalist conglomerates running huge businesses. The middle aged white man who planned to retire and was fired because his capitalist boss outsourced his factory. The workers in the US Rust Belt who counted on decently paid jobs at factories like GM. Another part of the scourge of US addiction is the huge and highly profitable pharmaceutical industry. Most heroin users begin with prescriptions for pain killers opioids which are aggressively marketed to doctors. Prescribing rates for pain killers have doubled in spite of the addiction warnings. There are enough prescriptions for opiates to give every American his/her own bottle of pills. Fully 48,000 American women have died of pain reliever overdoses.

Since these pills are expensive many switch from their prescribed pain pills that got them hooked, over to heroin which is cheaper.

Americans are suffering. Advertising giants and a corrupt market driven healthcare system converts their suffering into profits. Pills do not solve problems. They can effect brain chemistry, but so does psychotherapy and social connection. Therapy and social connection do not leave people comfortably numb. They do not usurp the brain’s powers to self soothe and solve problems. They do make a profit. Here again capitalism shows its bloody hand.

Homicides

A second area of the cost of inequality and mental health breakdown which I will briefly consider is homicide. Here again we are the leaders among all of the western industrialized nations. Part of the DELUGE OF US VIOLENCE is from our uniquely unchecked gun sales. Americans are 20 times more likely to die from gun homicide than the people of any other OECD nation.

The marketing agents for big gun corporations had the smart idea of marketing guns as emblems of manhood and proof of 2nd amendment rights at a point when male gender provider roles are challenged by low wages and basic rights are challenged by corporate dominion over America. Manhood and rights assertions are certainly smarter advertisements than “Buy guns. Make us rich.” The NRA lobby allows the daily slaughter.

Mass murder is a uniquely frequent American specialty. It involves killing several people who are strangers. It does not count the many men who kill their families, girlfriends, etc. The US had 30 mass killings in the last month I studied Sept. 2017, In that month no other wealthy industrialized nation had any mass killings, NONE. The killers were all American men who were either disappointed in love or fired from work, or both. Gun violence was their way to reclaim their manhood in a blaze of murderous glory. Gun manufacturers are the richer for it. These murders began under Reagan in the 1980s when inequality had its presidential champion and corporations were boosted over the rest of us through lower taxes and anti-union drives. They are a symptom of American inequality and corporate capitalist domination.

Lack of trust

A third area of American mental health tragedy and capitalist inequality is lack of trust. Any collective action requires trust. One area where Americans have lost trust is trust in government. A good way to explore this is to look at the minimum participation wealthy nations offer, voting. Among the wealthy nations, the US has the lowest number of eligible voters turning out for presidential elections. In our last presidential election, The US had 55% a little more than half of eligible voters believe enough to trust that their participation in our government counted to cast their vote. In contrast, in Belgium, 87 % voted. In Denmark, Sweden and Norway, 80% voted. In other wealthy nations like France, Germany, Sweden, over 70% voted. The US is the only one of these nations that allows private and corporate donations in elections.

Almost half of Americans may perceive that their government is bought and they no longer have a voice. They have given up the little influence left to them. That was clearly illustrated during the Bernie Sanders campaign when a majority of millennials mobilized to vote for Bernie with whom they felt they would be empowered. Fully 175,000 volunteers turned out in the first week of BernieӒs campaign. For that moment, their trust that they counted allowed them to be active. When he was betrayed by the established Democrats, half of them didnt bother to vote.

People lost the trust that they made a difference.

Americans became disconnected when corporate America took over in the 1970s. Robert Putnam in his book, Bowling Alone showed us that there were more Americans in bowling leagues alone in 1970 than there were in all organizations in America in 2009. People need to trust their collective power and they need to trust their own agency to join any group. Too many Americans have lost their trust.

One aspect of our lost trust is trust in ourselves, and in our own judgement. Our trust may be eroded in part because because we are barraged by lies. Advertising is everywhere promising benefits of beauty and happiness it does not deliver. Beer adds show you connecting to handsome young people and making romantic connections which beer cannot bring. The Coca Cola promising good social times rots your teeth and does not connect you. The medications showing relief from stress do not mention that you can become dangerously addicted. The cars show you as the power in the metaphorical driver’s seat but you are not. Adds lie. They erode our trust.

We have lot our trust in even the closest relationships. The fastest growing kind of US household is people living alone (See: Eric Klinenberg’s Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone).

For the first time in US history the majority of US women are single by choice. They do not trust that they can be safe and thrive in marriage. More Americans now remain unmarried. Half of them marry and then divorce. They cannot accomplish a co- respective, sustaining connection. Of those who do marry, the fastest growing kind of couple is those without children. People cannot trust that they can provide for themselves no less children, in their precarious lives in capitalist America.

There is an even more damaging lack of trust which is closely related to mental illness. Americans have lost trust in themselves to make the kinds of work and love and politics that are hopeful and positive. Capitalist advertising thrives on shaming us about our looks, our smells, our personal adequacy. Do you feel X, buy Y, and then Y does not deliver. Magazines and most television presents touched up faces and bodies of people with bouncy surface personalities and trivial problems, not those from which Americans seriously suffer. I am convinced that one reason Lena Dunhams TV HBO series, “Girls,” was so popular is that the women presented were neither beautiful nor necessarily thin, nor free of mental problems. “Girls” presented a relief from goals we cannot achieve and standards we cannot meet.

Self-confidence is eroded for the at least 80% of us for whom the possibilities of basic economically stable and fulfilling careers, marriages and relationships are precarious and difficult. People become afraid to even try. They lack trust across the board.

What can we do in the light of American economic, social and personal pain? How can we restore basic trust in ourselves, each other and our power to shape the future?

There are many things we can do. As connections have withered since 1970, one kind of organization has burgeoned. In every little town across America there is one kind of organization that keeps growing, the 12-step program. We can learn from these programs [5] which range from OA, Overweight Anonymous, to SA, Sex Abuse Anonymous, to GA, Gamblers Anonymous, ACA, Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families, on and on. They thrive outside of the money economy. They have no authoritarian leaders. Every voice counts.

Why does the 12-step model attract so many? It works, either long-term or temporarily, because everyone has a voice that is heard. It works because people acknowledge that they have a problem that can only be solved with the support of a group. It also works because people find a sponsor that supports them in their struggle. The “spirit” they invoke for is sometimes referred to as God, does not have to be a deity but the open inquisitive spirit of a child reaching out to the world, a biophilic spirit, rather than the necrophilic spirit of rigid unlistening, hierarchical and un accountable authority. Twelve Step programs do not allow for social, political, or economic contributions to personal pain and addiction. That is why so many leave after initially attending. The social, political and economic factors of life are as salient as the personal. Uniting the causes of American’s pain is something the Left must do. However, the twelve steps have a lot to teach us.

We can adapt the 12 step programs to the context of a Left movement. Below, I state each of the 12 steps and a variation that we can use to build a powerful Left that extends across our nation:

1a. We admitted that we were powerless against alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

1b. We understand that one person alone cannot solve the chronic societal and personal problems that are making our lives very difficult to manage.

2a. We came to believe that only a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

2b. We have come to believe that only a collective, which is a power greater than our individual selves, can move us and our nation forward to a healthier, more democratic place.

3a. We made the decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

3b. We decided to commit time and energy, will and belief in the future to work together for change.

4a. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

4b. We took a serious and thorough moral measure of ourselves, noting the ways we collude with societal forces in our own exploitation, and noting our embrace of practices and beliefs about ourselves and others that make us vulnerable to being manipulated and exploited. This is an important step. We need to be aware that we are not just victims or victimizers, we are also collaborators. We are not helpless. We can also act-for better or for worse. What we need to do now is unite around basic principles and create programs to achieve goals for the benefit of all.

5a. We admitted to God and to ourselves and to other human beings the nature of our wrongs.

5b. We have admitted to ourselves and out loud to others, the ways we have collaborated in our own victimization and the victimization of others.

6a. We are ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

6b. We are working to move beyond certain dysfunctional behaviors by taking action to better our own and others’ lives. Some members of our collective take support from their religious or spiritual beliefs, as a private matter. Everyone’s contributions enrich our group’s development and efforts to create a broad unified movement.

7a. We humbly ask HIM to remove our shortcomings.

7b. We ask for, and are ready to give, the much-needed support that will help us unlearn collusion and internalize the new knowledge and wisdom that comes to us through our efforts, and which is so necessary for our growth. We also ask for, and will give, support to help us rebound from the disappointments likely to occur among our triumphs.

8a. We will make a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all.

8b. We are studying to fill the gaps in US history, the better to grasp both the similar and different realities lived by the diverse peoples who have populated our nation from the very beginning. We are studying the systemic arrangements: economic, political, social and psychological; the terrains of class and color, poverty and wealth, privilege and persecution, the marvelous and shameful, the horrible and the beautiful. We do this not just to discover, learn and acquire knowledge for its own sake, but to more inform our thoughts about the dignity of life, creating change and building the future.

9.a We will draw up a list of all persons we have harmed and make amends directly to them wherever possible, except if to do so would injure them or others.

9b. We continue to take a moral measure of ourselves, as individuals and as a nation. When we are wrong, we admit it.

10a. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

10b.We work to promote and to demand from our government-federal state and local- fair and just domestic policies that support Americans efforts to live heathy and productive lives. We also work to promote and demand humane and non-exploitative foreign policies that encourage peaceful relations between nations and the well-being of all humanity and our planet earth.

11a. We seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.

11b.We seek- through experience, study, meditation, imagination, discussion, and listening to each other- greater understanding, knowledge and consciousness of the human condition and all life, the better to connect with others in developing a well-functioning, life-affirming, democratic society.

12a. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we try to carry this message to alcoholics, drug abusers, sex abusers and those abused, etc. and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

12b.Having come to realize, by taking these 12 steps, that certain structural characteristics of US society hinder American’s pursuit of happiness; having also realized the ways in which some of our own actions reinforce those hindrance, we have experienced an invigorating, moral, ethical, political, and personal awakening.  Feeling the changes within ourselves, we are motivated to reach out and engage sympathetically and supportively with whomever we can. We ask each other here to do the same. Our collective plans hope and cultivate action. Our collective is powerful. We can and will reap a sustainable future

Of course, there are many WAYS to proceed. We need the courage to trust that we can reach out, connect, form groups that are democratic and try to rescue ourselves and our country from the economic, social and personal pain from which the majority of Americans suffer.

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Posted by Elvis on 07/03/17 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Monday, June 26, 2017

Land Of The Walking Dead

image: zombies

Manufactured illiteracy and miseducation: A long process of decline led to President Donald Trump

A deep-rooted crisis in education, and a long cultural and political decline, is what got us here. There’s hope!

By Henry A. Giroux
Salon
June 24, 2017

Donald Trump’s ascendancy in American politics has made visible a plague of deep-seated civic illiteracy, a corrupt political system and a contempt for reason that has been decades in the making. It also points to the withering of civic attachments, the undoing of civic culture, the decline of public life and the erosion of any sense of shared citizenship. As Trump has galvanized his base of true believers in post-election demonstrations, the world is witnessing how a politics of bigotry and hate is transformed into a spectacle of demonization, division and disinformation. Under President Trump, the scourge of mid-20th century authoritarianism has returned not only in the menacing plague of populist rallies, fear-mongering, threats and humiliation, but also in an emboldened culture of WAR, militarization and violence that looms over society like a rising storm.

The reality of Trump’s election may be the most momentous development of the age because of its enormity and the shock it has produced. The whole world is watching, pondering how such a dreadful event could have happened. How have we arrived here? What forces have allowed education, if not reason itself, to be undermined as crucial public and political resources, capable of producing the formative culture and critical citizens that could have prevented such a catastrophe from happening in an alleged democracy? We get a glimpse of this failure of education, public values and civic literacy in the willingness and success of the Trump administration to empty language of any meaning, a practice that constitutes a flight from historical memory, ethics, justice and social responsibility.

Under such circumstances and with too little opposition, the Trump administration has taken on the workings of a dis-imagination machine, characterized by an utter disregard for the truth and often accompanied by the president’s tweet-storm of primitive schoolyard taunts and threats. In this instance, George Orwells famous maxim from “Nineteen Eighty-four,Ignorance is Strength,” materializes in the administration’s weaponized attempt not only to rewritehistory but also to obliterate it. What we are witnessing is not simply a political project but also a reworking of the very meaning of education as both a crucial institution and a democratizing and empowering cultural force.

Truth is now viewed as a liability and ignorance a virtue. Under the reign of this normalized architecture of alleged common sense, literacy is regarded with disdain, words are reduced to data and science is confused with pseudo-science. All traces of critical thought appear only at the margins of the culture as ignorance becomes the primary organizing principle of American society. For instance, two-thirds of the American public believe that creationism should be taught in schools and a majority of Republicans in Congress do not believe that climate change is caused by human activity, making the U.S. the laughing stock of the world. Politicians endlessly lie, knowing that the public can be easily seduced by exhortations, emotional outbursts and sensationalism, all of which mimic the fatuous spectacle of celebrity culture and reality TV. Image-selling now entails lying on principle, making it easier for politics to dissolve into entertainment, pathology and a unique brand of criminality.

The corruption of both the truth and politics is abetted by the fact that much of the American public has become habituated to overstimulation and lives in an ever-accelerating overflow of information and images. Experience no longer has the time to crystallize into mature and informed thought. Opinion now trumps reason and evidence-based arguments. News has become entertainment and echoes reality rather than interrogating it. Popular culture revels in the spectacles of shock and violence. Defunded and corporatized, many institutions of public and higher education have been all too willing to make the culture of business the business of education, and this transformation has corrupted their mission.

As a result, many colleges and universities have been McDonald-ized as knowledge is increasingly viewed as a commodity, resulting in curricula that resemble a fast-food menu. In addition, faculty are subjected increasingly to a Walmart model of labor relations designed to REDUCE COSTS AND INCREASE LABOR SERVILITY. Students are relegated to the status of customers and clients.

In addition, public education is under siege to an almost unprecedented degree. Both political parties have implemented reforms that teach for the test, weaken unions, deskill teachers, and wage a frontal assault on the imagination of students through disciplinary measures that amount to pedagogies of repression. Moreover, students marginalized by class and color find themselves in schools increasingly modeled after prisons. As more and more security guards and police personnel occupy schools, a wider range of student behaviors are criminalized, and students increasingly find themselves on a conveyor belt that has appropriately been described as the school-to-prison pipeline.

On a policy level, the Trump administration has turned its back on schools as public goods. How else to explain the president’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education? DeVos, who has spent most of her career attempting to privatize public schools while acting as a champion for charter schools. It gets worse: As a religious Christian extremist, DeVos not only supports religious indoctrination in public schools but has gone so far as to argue that the purpose of public education is “to help advance Gods Kingdom.” Not exactly a policy that supports CRITICAL THINKING, dialogue or analytical reasoning, or that understands schooling as a public good. DeVos is Trumps gift to the billionaires, evangelicals, hedge fund managers and bankers, who view schools strictly as training and containment centers, and as sources of profit.

On a larger scale, the educational force of the wider culture has been transformed into a spectacle for violence and trivialized entertainment, and a tool for legitimating ignorance. Cultural apparatuses that extend from the mainstream media and the diverse platforms of screen culture now function as neoliberal modes of public pedagogy parading as entertainment or truthful news reporting. As teaching machines, these apparatuses as C. WRIGHT MILLS once predicted - have become the engines of manufactured illiteracy while producing identities, desires and values compatible with the crudest market ideologies.

Under these circumstances, illiteracy becomes the norm and education becomes central to a version of zombie politics that functions largely to remove democratic values, social relations,and compassion from the ideology, policies and commanding institutions that now control American society. Welcome to the land of the walking dead.

I am not referring here to only the kind of anti-intellectualism that theorists such as Richard Hofstadter, Ed Herman, Noam Chomsky and Susan Jacoby have documented, however insightful their analyses might be. I am pointing to a more lethal form of manufactured illiteracy that has become a scourge and a political tool designed primarily to make war on language, meaning, thinking and the capacity for critical thought. Chris Hedges captures this demagogic ATTACK ON THOUGHTFULLNESS in stating that the emptiness of language is a gift to demagogues and the corporations that saturate the landscape with manipulated images and the idioms of mass culture.ד Freedom now means removing ones self from any sense of social responsibility so one can retreat into privatized orbits of self-indulgence, unbridled self-interest and the never-ending whirlwind of consumption.

This updated form of illiteracy does not simply constitute an absence of learning, ideas or knowledge. Nor can it be solely attributed to what has been called the “smartphone” society. On the contrary, it is a willful practice and goal used to actively depoliticize people and make them complicit with the political and economic forces that impose misery and suffering upon their lives. At the same time, illiteracy bonds people: It offers the pretense of a community bound by a willful denial of facts and its celebration of ignorance.

How else to explain the popular support for someone like Donald Trump who boldly proclaims his love for the “poorly educated?” Or, for that matter, the willingness of his followers to put up with his contemptuous and boisterous claim that science and evidence-based truths are “fake news,” his dismissal of journalists who hold power accountable as the opposition party, and his willingness to bombard the American public with an endless proliferation of peddled falsehoods that reveal his contempt for intellect, reason and truth.

What are we to make of the fact that a person who holds the office of the presidency has praised popular “rage addict” ALEX JONES publicly, and thanked him for the role he played in his presidential election victory? Jones is a conspiracy trafficker who runs the website InfoWars. He has suggested that the 9/11 attacks were an “inside job” and that the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut was faked.

Illiteracy is no longer restricted to populations immersed in poverty with little access to quality education; nor does it only suggest the lack of proficient skills enabling people to read and writewith a degree of understanding and fluency. More profoundly, illiteracy is also about refusing to act from a position of thoughtfulness, informed judgment, and critical agency.

Illiteracy has become a political weapon and form of political repression that works to render critical agency inoperable, and restages power as a mode of domination. Illiteracy in the service of violence now functions to depoliticize people by making it difficult for individuals to develop informed judgments, analyze complex relationships and draw upon a range of sources to understand how power works and how they might be able to shape the forces that bear down on their lives. As a depoliticizing force, illiteracy works to make people powerless, and reinforces their willingness to accept being governed rather than learn how to govern.

This mode of illiteracy now constitutes the modus operandi of a society that both privatizes and kills the imagination by poisoning it with falsehoods, consumer fantasies, data loops and the need for instant gratification. This is a mode of illiteracy and education that has no language for relating the self to public life, social responsibility or the demands of citizenship. It is important to recognize that the prevalence of such manufactured illiteracy is not simply about the failure of colleges and universities to create critical and active citizens. It is about an authoritarian society that eliminates public spheres that make thinking possible while imposing a culture of fear in which there is the looming threat that anyone who holds power accountable will be punished. At stake here is not only a crisis of education, memory, ethics and agency but a crisis that reaches into the very foundation of a strong democracy.

In the present moment, it becomes particularly important for progressives, educators and concerned citizens to protect and enlarge the formative cultures and public spheres that make democracy possible. The relentless attack on truth, honesty and the ethical imagination makes it all the more imperative for the public to think dangerously, especially in societies that appear increasingly amnesiac Ӕ that is, countries where forms of historical, political and moral forgetting are not only willfully practiced but celebrated. All of which becomes all the more threatening at a time when a country such as the United States has tipped over into a mode of authoritarianism that views critical thought as both a liability and a threat.

Not only is manufactured illiteracy obvious in the presence of a social order and government that collapses the distinction between the serious and frivolous, it is also visible in media platforms marked by the proliferation of anti-intellectual discourses among a range of politicians and anti-public intellectuals who are waging a war on science, reason and the legacy of the Enlightenment. How else to explain the present historical moment, with its collapse of civic culture and the future it cancels out? What is to be made of the assault on civic literacy and the institutions and conditions that produce an active citizenry at a time when massive self-enrichment and a gangster morality are operative at the highest reaches of the U.S. government, all of which serves to undermine the public realm as a space of freedom, liberty, dialogue and deliberative consensus?

One of the challenges facing the current generation of leftists, progressives and cultural workers is the need to address the question of what counts as education, and what it should accomplish in a society that is slipping into the dark night of authoritarianism. In a world in which there is an increasing abandonment of egalitarian and democratic impulses, what will it take to educate young people and the broader polity to challenge authority and hold power accountable? Such a vision suggests resurrecting a democratic project that provides the basis for imagining a life beyond a social order immersed in massive inequality and endless assaults on the environment, a social order that elevates war and militarization to the highest and most sanctified national ideals.

At issue here is the need for educators, progressives, artists and other cultural workers to recognize the power of education both in schools and the wider culture in creating the formative spaces being mobilized against the ideas of justice and democracy. At the same time, there is a need for the left and others to fight for those public spheres that offer alternative modes of identity, thinking and social relations that support democratic socialism and radical democracy.

At the very least, this requires that education be regarded as central to politics, and that cultural apparatuses such as the mainstream media, digital culture and Hollywood films be perceived as powerful teaching machines and not only as sources of information or entertainment. Such sites should be viewed as spheres of struggle that need to be removed from the control of the financial elite and corporations who use them as work stations for propagandizing a culture of vulgarity, self-absorption and commodification while eroding any sense of shared citizenship and civic culture.

There is an urgent political need for the left and progressives to understand and combat an authoritarian society that uses education to weaponize and trivialize the discourse, vocabularies, images and aural means of communication in a variety of cultural sites. Or, for that matter, to grasp that a market-driven discourse does not and cannot provide the intellectual, ethical and political tools for civic education and the expansion of the social imagination.

On the contrary, the pedagogical machinery of capitalism uses language and other modes of representation to relegate citizenship to the singular pursuit of unbridled self-interests, to legitimate shopping as the ultimate expression of ones identity, to portray essential public services as reinforcing and weakening any viable sense of individual responsibility, and to organize society for the production of violence as the primary method of addressing a vast array of social problems.

One of the most serious challenges facing progressives, educators and diverse cultural workers is the task of grasping education as a crucial political tool that can be used to enhance the capacities of people to translate their hidden despair and private grievances into public transcripts. At best, such transcripts can be transformed into forms of public dissent or what might be called a moment of rupture, one that has important implications for public action in a time of impending tyranny and authoritarianism.

In taking up this project, individuals and cultural workers can attempt to create the conditions that give the wider public an opportunity to acquire the knowledge and courage necessary to make desolation and cynicism unconvincing and hope practical. In a world in which there is an increasing abandonment of egalitarian and democratic impulses, what will it take to educate young people and the broader polity to challenge authority and hold power accountable?

In the age of financial and political zombies, the ability of finance capitalism to cloak itself in a warped discourse of freedom and choice has been weakened. Its willingness to separate toxic economic, cultural and political policies from their social costs has ruptured neoliberalismגs ability to normalize its worldview. The contradictions between its promises and its harsh effects have become too visible as its poisonous policies have put millions out of work, turned many black and brown communities into war zones, destroyed public education, undermined the democratic mission of higher education, flagrantly pursued war as the greatest of national ideals, turned the prison system into a default institution for punishing minorities of race and class, pillaged the environment and blatantly imposed a new mode of racism under the fanciful notion of a post-racial society.

The crisis of capitalism and the production of widespread misery has opened up new political opportunities to reclaim education as a central element of politics and resistance. Education as it functions on multiple levels and through diverse registers matters. It is one of the most powerful sources for changing consciousness, desires and agency itself.

PIERRE BOURDIEU was right to argue that leftists must recognize that the most important forms of domination are not only economic but also intellectual and pedagogical and lie on the side of belief and persuasion. Bourdieu’s concerns about leftists underestimating the pedagogical and symbolic dimensions of struggle are more relevant today than ever, given the accelerated political merger of power, culture and everyday life.

Too often leftists and other progressives have focused on domination as mostly an economic or structural issue and in doing so have forgotten about the political role of education and consciousness-raising in providing a language and narrative in which people can recognize themselves, make identifications that speak to the conditions that bear down on them in new ways, and rethink the future so as not to mimic the present. Yet matters of subjectivity, identity and desire are not only central to politics, they are the crucial underpinning through which new theoretical and political horizons can be imagined and acted upon.

In an age in which authoritarianism is dismantling the foundations of democracy across the globe, the ideological and subjective conditions that make individual and collective modes of agency possible and capable of engaging in powerful and broad-based movements of resistance are no longer an option.
They are a necessity.

Henry A. Giroux is University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest and Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy at McMaster University. He is the author of numerous books, including “America at War With Itself” and “Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism.”

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Posted by Elvis on 06/26/17 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Constitutional governments and aristocracies are commonly overthrown owing to some deviation from justice …...the rich, if the constitution gives them power, are apt to be insolent and avaricious.… In all well-attempered governments there is nothing which should be more jealously maintained than the spirit of obedience to law, more especially in small matters; for transgression creeps in unperceived and at last ruins the state, just as the constant recurrence of small expenses in time eats up a fortune. - Aristotle

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