Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

Reaching For The Impossible

March 17, 2020

The NY Times headlined “Bernie Sanders Wants to Fight On. He Has His Reasons.” (Sydney Ember, 3-16-20). Politico headlined “‘Who is going to advise him to drop out?’: Bernie may not be ready for quick exit” (Holly Otterbein and David Siders, 3-17-20). Both articles investigated and speculated as to what could be the reasoning resisting a quick exit. Through interviews with campaign staffers, political operatives and analysts the articles arrived at the tried and true conclusion that it must have something to do with leverage – the ability to get certain concessions within the Democratic platform and policies based on the strength of committed delegates. It was pointed out that already Joe Biden has made some concessions to Sanders originated proposals (free college education, health care). But the answer to why the man tilts at windmills was left untouched. In an essay entitled “Teaching the History of American Radicalism in the Age of Obama” (1-2-17) Eric Foner offers a studied insight. The writing is from a book entitled “Battles For Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History” which is composed of his essays spanning 40 years published in The Nation. Mr. Foner is a historian (professor) at Columbia University. The History of Radicalism essay describes the final class of this name which Foner regularly taught at Columbia. First, a contextual review of difference, the Bernie Sanders difference in lived aspirational outlook: “A revealing moment came at a press conference at the end of November 2008, when he [Barack Obama] was asked how he reconciled his campaign slogan, “Change We Can Believe In,” with the appointment of an economic team largely composed of the same neoliberal ideologues who had helped bring about the financial crisis. “The vision for change,” Obama replied, “comes…first and foremost…from me.” As I mentioned to my class, one can compare Obama’s top-down remark to a comment attributed to the early twentieth-century socialist Eugene Debs: “I would not lead you to the promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out.” Debs understood that movements, not just political leaders, make social change possible. Obama has never really learned that lesson. To be sure, he sought to cultivate an identification with history by embracing the civil rights movement, though this is hardly a controversial stance at a time when Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is a national holiday and even Glenn Beck claims his legacy. But even then, Obama embraced a sanitized version in which the movement represents a fulfillment of basic American ideals, not the unfulfilled “revolution of values” that King hoped to see. Obama doesn’t invoke the radical King who spoke of “democratic socialism,” launched the Poor People’s Campaign, and supported the antiwar movement.” It is undeniably clear, from such a context, where Sanders is found. However, it is the last paragraph of Foner’s essay that illuminates as to why a quick exit is incompatible with Bernie Sanders: “On the first page of the course syllabus, I always include the words of Max Weber, a rebuke to those who believe that critics of society should set their sights only on “practical” measures: “What is possible would never have been achieved if, in this world, people had not repeatedly reached for the impossible.””

Uncanny Prophet

December 1, 2019

uncanny |ˌənˈkanē| adjective: strange or mysterious, especially in an unsettling way

prophet |ˈpräfət| noun: a person who advocates or speaks in a visionary way about a new belief, cause, or theory

“The illusion of America as the earthly paradise, in which everyone recovers original goodness: which becomes in fact a curious idea that prosperity itself justifies everything, is a sign of goodness, is a carte blanche to continue to be prosperous in any way feasible … we are entitled to defend ourselves by any means whatever, without any limitation, and all the more so because what we are defending is our illusion of innocence.” (Thomas Merton, in a letter to Leslie Dewart, September 1962)

No Collusion

July 18, 2019

When one won’t learn in the school of theory, one is forced to live it in the school of hard knocks. For the nearly two years prior to the release of the Mueller report, Americans were inundated with a “no collusion” branding sales pitch from their president and master jingle-ist (as well as jingoist). After the release of the Mueller report Mr. Jingle doubled down on “no collusion.” Many begged to differ, interpreting the report’s findings otherwise, advocating for immediate action. In the end, the jingle permeated American culture and became one with the jingoist (as well as originating jingle-ist). Sigh. Emboldened by this subtle yet extensive marketing strategy, Dear Leader took a varied track this past week. Going overtly racist, then not backing off but doubling and even tripling down on his attack of four US citizens, the master jingoist, as well as jingle-ist, entered the echo chamber of one of his “re-election” rallies in Greenville NC, 7-17-19 (he’s been officially running for re-election since the day he was sworn in as president). The following day USA Today headlined: Donald Trump blames supporters for ‘send her back’ taunts against black lawmaker (Michael Collins, David Jackson, John Fritze, 7-18-19). “”I didn’t say that,” Trump said, referring to the “send her back” chant. “They did.” Asked why he did not stop the chant, Trump said: “I think I did – I started speaking very quickly.” The chant followed an attack by Trump on Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., early in his rally. The first time the chant broke out, Trump continued his speech and did not tell the audience to stop. The second time supporters began chanting, Trump stood back from the lectern, paused in his remarks and listened as the crowd repeated the words nearly a dozen times.” Analysis finds that the master jingoist has been more than successful with branding his “no collusion” jingle.

“In Greek mythology, Echo was an Oread who resided on Mount Cithaeron. Zeus loved consorting with beautiful nymphs and often visited them on Earth. Eventually, Zeus’s wife, Hera, became suspicious, and came from Mt. Olympus in an attempt to catch Zeus with the nymphs. Echo, by trying to protect Zeus (Zeus ordered her to protect him), endured Hera’s wrath, and Hera made her only able to speak the last words spoken to her. So when Echo met Narcissus and fell in love with him, she was unable to tell him how she felt and was forced to watch him as he fell in love with himself.” (Wiki)

Playing By The Rules

February 13, 2019

The MarketWatch article headlined: Ocasio-Cortez says the system is broken, and the internet goes wild (Shawn Langlois, 2-11-19). The article was mostly about Twitter followers and who has how many. The past years’ obsession with how many followers, and how it makes for news, belies the fact that the headline is not news. Dear Leader employed the same tactic, different grammar, saying the system was “rigged”, the outcome “fixed.” The internet likewise went wild. The rhetorical trope of a “broken system” seems to be mostly preaching to the choir (assuming anyone is actually singing). In this Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez differs little from the history of political wannabe’s as well as already bees. In all sobriety Analysis finds it lacks creativity, let alone solutions. After all, it is solutions we seek from our political leaders, not simply another reflection on what we all know are the problems. Analysis feels it is pertinent to bear in mind that the nature of democracy resides precisely with the demos establishing or determining the “rules” of government, not otherwise (a government of the people and by the people). If the rules suck, are inappropriate or out of sync with conditions, a democracy changes them without the violence inherent with other forms of governance. The “rules of the game” are decided by the participants when and while democracy is exercised. In fact, one could almost say that democracy exists only when there are no rules (as opposed to the divine right of kings, religious autocracies or traditional dictatorships). Sandra Laugier considers just that in an essay entitled Disobedience as Resistance to Intellectual Conformity (Critical Inquiry, Winter 2019). Sandra, a French philosophy professor, studies the works of American thinkers like Thoreau, Emerson, Dewey, and Cavell. “Dissent is not the undoing of consent but a dispute about its content, a dispute within it over whether a present arrangement is faithful to it. The alternative to speaking for yourself politically is not: speaking for yourself privately. . . . The alternative is having nothing (political) to say.” (Stanley Cavell) This is only possible if the rules are not pre-set, which is not the same as saying “the system is broken.” It doesn’t presume a pre-existing system to begin with, with preordained rules already set in place determining what is possible (public speech or “nothing political to say”), when it is acceptable, who can say it, etc. Laugier challenges American readers with “Emerson and Thoreau rejected the society of their time for the same reasons that the United States had sought independence from England and proclaimed the rights to freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence (1776) establishes that “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” It is here and now, every day, that I decide whether to assent to my society; I have not somehow assented once and for all. It is not that my assent is measured or conditional but rather that it is constantly under discussion, in conversation—it is shot through with dissent.” And “a dispute about [its] content” cannot predefine the content. Laugier reminds us “The problem is knowing to what one has consented. Disobedience rattles the idea, found in various forms of contemporary political life, that there are rules of debate and public life.” And again a little later “Conceptualizing disobedience means not only thinking that there are no predetermined rules for how society operates (many would agree with this) but also, and above all, that there are no rules limiting the acceptability of claims or their form. Drawing on Emerson and Thoreau, Cavell calls into question the idea, found in many contemporary political doctrines, that some claims are impossible, inappropriate, or misplaced because they fall outside of these rules. To disobey is precisely to challenge the idea—which periodically reemerges in contexts of serious or violent conflict—that in every expression of a claim there are lines that must not be crossed or else the entire functioning of society will be harmed.” Analysis finds this to be something to keep in mind when considering the candidacy of the many who are running in the upcoming primary election for Newark council or court positions. Ask them. Are they offering to move game tokens around a board or willing to challenge critical and urgent problems that touch us all? Insist on an answer.

The Bubble

January 30, 2019

Harry Shearer’s weekly radio broadcast, Le Show, has a segment entitled “News from Outside the Bubble” where he reads accounts of the news from overseas publications. For American devotees of U.S. politics, the equally polarized politics of a country like Poland would be puzzling, to say the least. Accounts of “liberals” would include the U.S. pro-choice position, but also embrace free market capitalism while “conservative” would agree with pro-life positions while promoting the welfare state (universal health care, state funded retirement, etc.). The existing polarization is even more vicious than here in the U.S. with the recent public and real time publicly broadcast murder of the mayor of Gdansk. A recent article in the NY Times by Tina Rosenberg (1-29-19) spoke of steps to remediate the insanity. Entitled: The Magazines Publishing One Another’s Work, “Polarization is everywhere. But it’s being challenged in Poland by a handful of magazines across the political spectrum. They’ve begun sharing articles, to show readers a variety of viewpoints.” In a nutshell, every few weeks the editors of 5 magazines from both ends of the political spectrum have agreed to publish one magazine’s essay on an issue of national concern in conjunction with the other 4’s responses to that featured essay. All 5 publications would run not only the main essay, but all the responses. Readers of the magazines would get out of their bubble by finding the alternative views presented alongside their preferred journalism. Not as radical as Sinclair’s Fox 28 and ABC 6 appearing on CBS 10, NBC 4 and WOSU 34 but more like The Atlantic, National Review and Newsweek, etc. agreeing to publish each other’s articles of faith. Newark News Analysis wondered how this would look locally. The problem is not as much one of “the bubble” being the published outlook of choice (with regard to political affinity) but more like “the bubble” being the inaccessibility to outlooks of difference, period. Recent news brings that situation to the fore. Tristan Navera headlined Park National Bank names new president (1-28-19) for Columbus Business First. “The Newark-based bank said in a release that its board will vote at its April meeting to make Matthew Miller president effective May 1.” Not news for Newark’s hometown paper, The Advocate. Also not news was the account that “The bank also reported its net income rose by 15 percent to $26.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2018, compared to the same period the year before. Its profit for the full year rose 31 percent to $110.4 million.” As well as the final “As of December, the bank had 11 community banking divisions, totaling $7.8 billion in assets.” (In the banking industry, assets are primarily comprised of money loaned to, and owed by customers) Polarization is eroded by shared pertinent facts. An Advocate published news article, Knights Inn hotel closes 6 months after numerous violations found, by Kent Mallet (1-24-19) appears to disclose important local activity addressing public concern. The onus of this concern was categorically “The mayor [Mark Johns] said the property has already attracted interest for another use. “There is a developer exploring the prospect of re-developing the property,” Johns said. “That property would not be operated as a hotel if these plans go through.” The closing of Knights Inn, combined with construction delays at two other hotels, leaves the Newark-Heath area lacking in available lodging, according to Dan Moder, executive director of Explore Licking County.” The same paper headlined  Knights Inn problems top Advocate’s August stories (9-4-18). That story extensively covered the low income people trapped in a form of indentured servitude requiring full time work to pay off the rent for living there. The Knights Inn closes in the middle of winter and Mallett can’t say what became of the tenants!? In past postings this blog has excoriated the Newark city administration (as well as The Advocate) over the citizens initiative that passed regarding the decriminalization and (de)prosecution of small amounts of marijuana possession. The “one size fits all” approach spilled over into the legalized medical marijuana zoning provisions. A Growing Chorus of Big City Prosecutors Say No to Marijuana Convictions headlines Shaila Dewan for the NY Times (1-29-19). ““If you ask that mom whose son was killed where she would rather us spend our time and our attention — on solving that murder, or prosecuting marijuana laws — it’s a no-brainer,” said Marilyn Mosby, the state’s attorney for Baltimore. She vowed at a news conference to no longer prosecute marijuana possession, regardless of quantity or prior criminal record, and said she would seek to vacate almost 5,000 convictions. Ms. Mosby’s move places her in a vanguard of big-city prosecutors, including Kim Foxx in Chicago, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. in Manhattan and Eric Gonzalez in Brooklyn, who are moving away from marijuana cases, declaring them largely off limits and in some cases going so far as to clear old warrants or convictions off the books.” ““How are we going to expect folks to want to cooperate with us,” Ms. Mosby said in an interview in her office on Monday, “when you’re stopping, you’re frisking, you’re arresting folks for marijuana possession?”” In the 1-29-19 Advocate that headlines United Way officials: Billions needed for opioid fight; meth abuse rising, Craig McDonald writes “Dingus [Deb Dingus, executive director of LC United Way] agreed about meth abuse: “We see it here, too.” She added, “By the time we federally address the drug of choice, the drug of choice has changed on the street.”” How are we going to expect folks to want to cooperate with us if we’re criminalizing marijuana possession? The news from outside the bubble is that, locally, the bubble is manufactured for local residents to reside in unquestioningly. It is not a bubble of choice or preference, rather it is one of learned resignation.

 

Voter Suppression – A Transparently Slippery Slope

November 6, 2018

Tuesday November 6, Voting day 2018. Judge Rules Against Georgia Election Law, Calling It A ‘Severe Burden’ For Voters (Shannon Van Sant for NPR, 11-3-18). Gasp! A ‘Severe Burden’ to vote? “In a 2013 ruling, Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which stipulated that states like Georgia, with a history of racial discrimination, had to get changes to voting measures approved in advance by the federal government.” There’s those ‘activist judges’ making law again. The results? “In Iowa, the Republican secretary of state is phasing in a new voter ID law, and in Dodge City, Kan., a federal judge has denied a request to reopen the city’s longtime polling site in the city. The location of the new polling site is outside the city limits, and more than a mile away from the nearest bus stop, making travel there difficult for some potential voters.” Another good reason to get out of Dodge? Brilliant. Newark hasn’t had any reliable bus service since the last century. Butt weight, there’s more. “The debate over voter suppression in the midterm elections extends to multiple states. In North Dakota the Republican-controlled government has implemented a controversial new law requiring residents to show identification with a current street address. But as Ruben Kimmelman reported for NPR, “Many residents of Native American reservations — who tend to vote for Democrats — do not have street addresses. They have Post Office box numbers, and those don’t qualify.”” Well, ya can’t live in a post office box, or on multiple friend and family couches, or tent under a bridge or in a public park. Obviously makes everything peachy keen as in Georgia: “The “exact match” law flags voter registrations that have discrepancies with other official identification documents used by the state. Mismatches can occur under the law for such reasons as missing hyphens, accent marks and middle initials. Those who are flagged can still vote if they settle the discrepancy by providing proof of identity.” One X, or two? Well, at least we don’t have such pedantry in Ohio. Here, a registered voter just needs to get to a polling place. And, as we all know, everyone drives so everyone has a photo ID to show the poll worker who asks a few questions from off of the photo ID, like “Is that you?” “What is your home address?” “What is your middle name?” “What is your date of birth?” “How do you pronounce your name?” “Please sign the screen…” Of course the screen is on the surface of a folding table and the cursor doesn’t work if it touches the screen (so no pen to paper technique allowed) and the registered voter is bent over at the waist (you’ve been to the Y and done your regular bendy stretchies, haven’t you?), trying to write their “official” signature in mid air, a fraction of an inch in front of the screen (no touching, no leaning on the table to steady your hand). That virtual signature is then “exact matched” to the one done with pen and paper from GOK when you registered to vote (Gawd Only Knows). What could be simpler? Analysis finds that time does strange things to a registered voter’s physiology. Today Phil Mickelson is known more for his psoriatic arthritis than his game. Whose handwriting, let alone signature, hasn’t “evolved” after a lifetime of signing odious checks and mundane documents (in duplicate!)? Analysis finds contemporary voter suppression to be a transparently slippery slope, from virtually inaccessible polling places to hand waving signatures in front of a screen.

The New Normal

October 16, 2018

10-15-18 NY Times ran an op ed video entitled If You’re Not Scared About Fascism in the U.S., You Should Be. It starred and was by Jason Stanley, with the video by Adam Westbrook and Japhet Weeks. It is only about  5 minutes. Stanley makes it clear throughout that he is a professor of philosophy at Yale and has studied Fascism a lot. OK, the last ten years (he’s not that old). He gives insights about what makes for fascism and why it’s concerning. Analysis shows that what makes for Fascism IS what is concerning! Professor Stanley gives the following “indicators” of Fascism: Usually, if not always, a male leader. There is an emphasis, and reliance, on a mythic past (MAGA), There is a need, and reliance, on creating division within the state (people, culture, etc.). And finally, there is an unrelenting attack on the truth (Giuliani’s “Truth isn’t truth.”). Stanley ends the short flick with the acknowledgement that “When Fascism starts to feel normal, we’re all in trouble.” Analysis can’t lay claim to Jason Stanley’s bona fide’s though it has written about Fascism several times and referenced Stanley’s colleague, Timothy Snyder, in passing. Analysis believes that the kernel of Fascism can be summed up with even more brevity than that of the learned philosophy professor. We’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives, usually in our youth, even early youth. “Do what we want or you will get hurt.” Stings, doesn’t it? Today’s Washington Examiner headline reads “Trump threatens to pull aid from Honduras if caravan isn’t stopped.” The caravan is in Guatemala, not Honduras (though it was in Honduras before entering Guatemala). No need to go into the details. The NY Daily news ran “Trump’s long history of mocking the appearances of women” after he called his former mistress “Horseface.” And then there’s the archival video of offering to pay a million bucks to Senator Warren’s charity if she took a DNA test, only to find the latest video showing him claiming he never said that. Denials of this sort are not exceptional, more the rule like the Daily News suggests. And rules are the norm, the new normal. “When Fascism starts to feel normal, we’re all in trouble.”

Inured To Work

March 20, 2018

In his final year in office Governor John Kasich has befuddled political news aficionados by actively promoting the consolidation of Ohio’s Department of Education with the Governor’s Office of Workforce Training (House Bill 512). He has denigrated the independence of the Education Department and called for control of education to be within the purview of the governor. Since he is in his final year, and his children are likewise in the last of their K-12 education, what is the intention or rationale behind such an aggressive position? Adrian Ma, reporting for WOSU, headlined Ohio School Board Opposes Education Consolidation Bill (3-14-18). “Members of the Ohio Board of Education [which the Governor dissed in his promotion] have approved a resolution speaking out against a bill being considered in the General Assembly.” “Both the Ohio Education Association (OEA) and the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) released statements in opposition to the bill Wednesday.” “Speaking to the Board of Education, OEA Vice President Scott DiMauro said even though the bill’s intent is to consolidate to improve collaboration between the agencies, but K-12 officials have to collaborate with more than just higher education and workforce development. DiMauro said they also have to work with local districts, the state Medicaid office, mental healthcare and addiction specialists and many more.” 3-19-18 The Plain Dealer’s Patrick O’Donnell headlined Computers are now grading essays on Ohio’s state tests. “No, not just all those fill-in-the bubble multiple choice questions. The longer answers and essays too. After Ohio started using American Institutes for Research in 2015 to provide and score state tests, Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs have increasingly taken over grading. Computers are now scoring the entire test for about 75 percent of Ohio students, State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria and state testing official Brian Roget told the state school board recently. The other 25 percent are scored by people to help verify the computer’s work.” “According to the department, some students copied large portions of the questions or of the passages that they had to read into their answers.  That led the computer to give them zeroes on the question – either as apparent plagiarism or simply because the student offered little original thought in the answer. That’s a sticky point because the tests ask students to show what parts of the passage led them to their answer.” “The most clear guidance so far: An update this month of all the ways students can earn a zero on a question. “A score of zero also is earned when there is a significant amount of text copied directly from the prompt and/or reading passage, with little to no original writing from the student,” that new guide states. “Copying limited text from the prompt is allowable but, as a rule, at least 30 percent of a response needs to be original to demonstrate understanding and earn points.”” Analysis can’t help but ask how the AI program determines writing to be original (since AI is based on data in/data out, that is past examples of “writing” determine the algorithm)? Wiki gives “In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is an unambiguous specification of how to solve a class of problems.” Fair or unfair? We’ve all become captive to algorithm solving our problems, taken this to be “naturally” equitable. Is it? Speaking with Harry Shearer (Le Show, 11-26-17) Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons Of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality And Threatens Democracy, explained how they are really rather biased, depending on how the plan is put together. Analysis would liken this to be analogous to routing a road map to a given destination by various sources – AAA, Google, Travel and Tourism Bureau, etc. Speaking with Guy Raz on the TED Radio Hour (1-26-18) she elaborated: “I mean, look – it’s really important to understand the difference between accuracy and fairness. So it used to be that life insurance companies made black men pay more for life insurance than white men simply because they were going to die sooner. That lasted for a long time before the regulators in question were like – wait a second – that’s racist. And it’s racist because we have to ask the question why. Why are black men living less than white men? And is that their fault that they should take responsibility for and they should pay for, or is that a problem that society itself should take on and fix? So it wasn’t an inaccurate fact that black men lived less time. But the question was, how should we deal with that? And that’s a question of fairness, and it’s a question that we all have to grapple with together. And many of these questions are of that nature. So yes, it’s true that people who live in this ZIP code are more likely to default on their debt. Does that mean we don’t loan them any money, or do we make a rule that people of this age who have a job, who finish college or whatever – what do we decide is fair? And that’s a really hard question. Data science has done nothing to address that question.” “This is Roger Ailes. He founded Fox News in 1996. More than 20 women complained about sexual harassment. They said they weren’t allowed to succeed at Fox News. He was ousted last year, but we’ve seen recently that the problems have persisted. That begs the question, what should Fox News do to turn over another leaf? Well, what if they replaced their hiring process with a machine learning algorithm? That sounds good. Right? Think about it. The data – what would the data be? A reasonable choice would be the last 21 years of applications to Fox News – reasonable. What about the definition of success? Reasonable choice would be – well, who’s successful at Fox News? I guess someone who, say, stayed there for four years and was promoted at least once – sounds reasonable. And then the algorithm would be trained. It would be trained to look for people to learn what led to success. What kind of applications historically led to success by that definition? Now think about what would happen if we applied that to a current pool of applicants. It would filter out women because they do not look like people who were successful in the past. Algorithms don’t make things fair if you just blithely, blindly apply algorithms. They don’t make things fair. They repeat our past practices, our patterns. They automate the status quo. That would be great if we had a perfect world, but we don’t. And I’ll add that most companies don’t have embarrassing lawsuits. But the data scientists in those companies are told to follow the data, to focus on accuracy. Think about what that means. Because we all have bias, it means they could be codifying sexism or any other kind of bigotry.” Which brings us back to the lame duck Governor enthusiastically promoting consolidating the Department of Education into the governor’s Office of Workforce Training, although his children (and grandchildren) will be unaffected. In A People’s History of the United States (pg. 73-74) Howard Zinn writes: “The philosophy of the Declaration [of Independence], that government is set up by the people to secure their life, liberty, and happiness, and is to be overthrown when it no longer does that, is often traced to the ideas of John Locke, in his Second Treatise on Government. That was published in England in 1689, when the English were rebelling against tyrannical kings and setting up parliamentary government. The Declaration, like Locke’s Second Treatise, talked about government and political rights, but ignored the existing inequalities in property. And how could people truly have equal rights, with stark differences in wealth? Locke himself was a wealthy man… As adviser to the Carolinas, he had suggested a government of slave owners run by forty wealthy land barons. Locke’s statement of people’s government was in support of a revolution in England for the free development of mercantile capitalism at home and abroad. Locke himself regretted that the labor of poor children “is generally lost to the public till they are twelve or fourteen years old” and suggested that all children over three, of families on relief, should attend “working schools” so they would be “from infancy… inured to work.”’

Internationalism,It’s More Informative Than You Think

February 22, 2018

February 22, 2018 disparate professionals walked off the job in equally disparate locations on the globe. “Public schools across West Virginia are closed Thursday as teachers and other school employees hit the picket lines, demanding higher wages and better benefits. According to Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA), teachers in all of the state’s 55 counties are participating in the planned two-day walk-out, and a group will march Thursday morning to the capitol building in Charleston. Organizers expect thousands of teachers to participate.” “The work stoppage comes after Gov. Jim Justice signed legislation late Wednesday night granting teachers a 2% pay increase starting in July, followed by 1% pay increases over the next two years. “We need to keep our kids and teachers in the classroom,” Justice said in a statement after signing the pay raise bill. “We certainly recognize our teachers are underpaid and this is a step in the right direction to addressing their pay issue.” But the bill did not address further concerns of teachers, including issues with the teachers’ public employees insurance program, the rising costs of healthcare, and a tax on payroll deduction options, according to Campbell [Christine Campbell, president American Federation of Teachers – West Virginia]. The pay raise, which amounts to 4% over the next few years, is a reduction from an earlier version of the bill that proposed a 5% total increase in wages, Campbell said, also remarking that teachers in surrounding states make anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 more than teachers in West Virginia.” (West Virginia teacher walk-out closes all public schools, Sarah Jorgensen for CNN, 2-22-18) Writing for Great Britain’s Independent, Simon Calder headlines Air France Strike Grounds Dozens of UK Flights, Leaving Hundreds of Passengers Stranded, 2-22-18. “Tens of thousands of Air France passengers have been stranded by a coordinated one-day strike involving pilots, cabin crew and ground staff. The airline’s management has offered a basic increase of one per cent to staff, but the unions are demanding a six per cent rise. They are also unhappy about job losses and staff workloads.” Statista.com (the statistics portal) shows that worldwide, the airline industry showed profits for the last 8 years with each of the last three years nearly tripling that of the previous 5. Projections for 2018 are to be even larger. The wage increase for either public sector or private sector workers was 1%. Any coincidence? Before you answer that, consider the third meeting of the International Trade Union Network of Solidarity and Struggle 2018 recently held outside Madrid Spain; covered by Cole Stangler for In These Times, 2-20-18 (Meet the coalition building a global union movement against capitalism). “a four-day conference in late January attended by nearly 300 labor activists from 25 different countries and 35 different groups”. “A spirit of radicalism and internationalism runs deep within the Network of Solidarity and Struggle, a loose alliance organized by three national-level unions: Solidaires in France, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) in Spain and CSP Conlutas in Brazil. All of these unions are on the left of their countries’ respective labor movements. “We need to function as a class, and for us having contacts is fundamental,” said José Manuel Muñoz Póliz, general secretary of the CGT, which claims to have grown to nearly 100,000 members in recent years and defines itself as anarcho-syndicalist. “The resolutions that are being passed here won’t be defended by political parties or governments: They’re being defended by workers.” Póliz said ties among union activists in different countries make the movement stronger as a whole — whether that’s by sharing information about broader threats like privatization and employer-friendly legal reforms or by adopting common actions and tactics. Because of the network’s commitment to working-class autonomy, he said it is more effective than the larger, more mainstream international union federations like the European Trade Union Confederation, whose agenda, he believes, is weakened by ties to parties and governments.” “Yet, activists at the conference insisted the U.S. labor movement stands to gain from a stronger dose of internationalism. According to them, it isn’t just a question of principle, but of practical advantage. In the day-to-day tussles between multinational corporations and labor unions, the latter often suffer from information deficiencies that hurt campaigns.” (sounds like something straight out of Hardt and Negri!) This in the age of information, information technologies and multinational media corporation control of information distribution (as well as misinformation dissemination). Though, on the same day, Dear Leader suggested paying teachers packing heat a premium bonus, the 1% pay increase offered WV professional educators differed not from the 1% increase a private corporation offered to its professionals. The only difference is in our ability to know that it is so. Internationalism, it’s more informative than you think.

The League

August 6, 2017

One of the bright spots in the news of Licking County this past week pretty much flew under the radar, for all intents, unheralded. The online Newark Advocate (8-3-17) listed “Letter” under the news labeled “Granville.” Clicking the item revealed a page headlined “Letter: League of Women voters forming”. Analysis surmises it must have been a letter to the editor of The Granville Sentinel, a Gannett subsidiary. Notable is: “A chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV) is forming in Licking County. The history of the LWV goes back almost 100 years nation wide. It once had a strong and active presence here until the local chapter disbanded in the 1990s.” and “The LWV is always firmly non-partisan with regard to candidates, but on some policy issues it takes a stand after reaching consensus based on research and discussion.” Policy issues would primarily be issues around voting rights, voting access and organization which are an integral part of the league’s 100 year history. Unmentioned by the letter is the absence of participation by young Americans in the organization (both women and men), leading to a decline in League membership as well as League sponsored events nationwide. You can only rely on the elderly (though they don’t think of themselves as such) for so long before fatigue or natural attrition sets in. Other local organizations, such as the NAACP, The Poverty Think Tank, etc. face a similar challenge. This has not been a factor with commercially sanctioned civic organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, who rely on the profit incentive to solicit and retain members. Of course, commercial organization implicates paid administration whereas those running the League at the start-up, local level are volunteers. A vibrant local chapter of the League is able to organize, publicize and activate educational community issue forums as well as candidate debates. A “Candidate debate” differs markedly from the “meet the candidate” events sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, primarily in terms of organization and sanctioning. No League member “benefits” from “sponsoring” the event (usually held at a public space rather than a hotel, private facility). Candidates agreeing to participate receive their party’s representative on the question screening panel. Questions are submitted before hand, screened by the League organization with input from the party reps – GOP, Dem, Green, independent, etc. The questions are screened for purposes of filtering out blatantly promotional, biased, or gotcha questions, sometimes edited to maintain intent but neutralize presentation. Candidates receive advance copy of the debate format, but not the questions themselves. This stresses the importance for their being knowledgeable of the substance as well as their own positions in responding to the questions. It also facilitates spontaneity. The monitor runs the debate but has no input on the questions themselves (as opposed to the Chamber’s previous format of having the Advocate editor present questions and stimulate responses. Many Advocate advertisers, as well as the Advocate itself, belong to the Chamber). There is a separate time keeper allotting each candidate equal time in toto (use up too much time in a single grandstanding response means you lose it in your closing statement). In this manner, unlike “meet the candidate” debutante events, League candidate debates are rather rigorous, something Licking County might find quite refreshing. The letter ends with “If you would like to be included in the communications about forming a LWV chapter in Licking County, please call Rita Kipp at 740-525-2287.”