Thursday, January 19, 2012


"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

This nation is in a perpetual loop, in a perpetual tail-chasing posture, a living, concrete example of Einstein's definition of "insanity," as quoted above.

We enter trade agreements that benefit the one percent, or disproportionately benefit those nations with whom we have agreements.

We continue to risk our future to one energy source, fossil fuels, the latest incarnation of that risk, Canadian tar sands, despite grave climate-change concerns, and "earthquakes, in diver places".

I could go on and on, citing one example after the other of this nation's acquiescence to special interest, and its willingness to stay the course--the ship of state veering only when it serves the needs of expediency, or to brandish our bogus American exceptionalism: a self-congratulatory indulgence that could, potentially, list the ship dangerously, inviting the disastrous outcome of this cruise ship.

If you believe the ship of state is listing now, give it another decade or two. What's that old saying, "You ain't seen nothing yet!"

It's not that I harbor pessimism, it's that I see things the way they are, not the way I wish them to be. That's my relative position, not my absolute one. From my absolute position, there's nothing we need do, there's nothing we need say, but focus on what we're being--for it's what we're being that we end up creating.

Regrettably, the sands of time aren't as plentiful as the Canadian tar sands, somber grains gathering ominously along the bottom of our national hourglass, as time runs out on our steadying the ship of state, as it lists starboard, lurching precariously to the Right.

After seeing the video below, I wanted to bring it to your attention, even if you've seen it before, so that we may discuss its proposals on how this nation may avoid walking the plank on one key component of our continued national prosperity--the education of our children, resulting in a well-educated adult population

As part of his 30 Million Jobs Tour, Dylan Ratigan identifies areas of concern--factors that need to be addressed to keep the ship of state from foundering over time, proposing a national initiative, rather than state-sponsored ones, deviating substantially from right-wing solutions that call for the abolition of the Department of Education, and a shift of power to states.

Without a national initiative, Dylan sees a permanent underclass emerging, made up mostly of blacks, Mexican Americans, and other poverty-laden groups, adrift in lifeboats, without land in sight, or rescue-ships on the horizon.

I recommend watching the video. It's not very long, but you may have to endure a short commercial at the beginning. I've appended a transcript of the video, but it won't show the visuals, diagrams that connect the dots, clarifying how we got to this state, and what factors continue to roil the seas upon which this nation must sail, as it struggles to stay on course, and keep the ship's listing to a minimum.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

We're back at chegg. a go-to place for students to develop an efficient way to learn and a cheaper and rational way to use it using it cannology and innovation to bring down the costs students face after they pay tuition. first, the students need to make it through elementary and high school 37 we spend more on education than any other nation. but for all that money, there's little to show for it. worldwide rankings, we're 25th in math. 17th in science. so we're taking a page out of our book "greedy bastards" and connecting the dots to trace the money trail in our schools.

the money trail begins in your own backyard. funding for american schools is based on your property taxes. which means schools in low-income areas get the smallest share of resources. so while there's massive resources allocated to the wealthiest, the poor get the least when it comes to education. i call this reverse hot spotting. because those who need it most aren't getting the resources we need, the poorest are neglected in a way to permanently damage their brain development. we know that a child's brain forms 700 synapses per second. that's 700 times a second to process senses, use language, and develop vocabulary and relational and reasonable skills. if that opportunity is missed, that child will be playing catch up literally for the the rest of their adult lives. the same model is true all the way through high school graduation.

if you're lucky enough to afford it, college would be next. but our universities value prestige over learning and mastery. it's a classic "greedy bastards" behavior. they put prestige and profits over skill mastery. and talk about student loan debt. $830 billion collectively across our nation. the bankers are offering easy credit that traps graduates for decades. it's a debt for diploma system. there are proven solutions to all of this. but the "greedy bastards" are so hell bent on paying off, that they refuse to let anything threaten it. it becomes a vicious and destructive cycle for our country. poverty, which creates low property taxes to fund schools, which means little money for poor schools, leads to limited problem solving skills, limited adapt blt, higher levels of unemployment, which lands those folks back in poverty.

but there's a way to fix it. we must end the reverse hot spotting and overallocate to those most desperately in need of help and start funding schools through a national tax structure. if we use it correctly to overallocate to our problems, we can direct assets to those most in need. as suzie buffett explains, it's been proven to work, but politicians refuse to take notice.

it doesn't work in an election cycle. it's going to take 15 years to show it works. it's not very interesting to the politicians.

another fix, we need to force our universities to stop valuing prestige over learning. it won't be easy. you know how university pride runs deep. we have to stop rewarding test taking abilities and encourage a culture of experimentation which will come with mistakes and failures. but those are exactly what we need to ultimately achieve the skills and mastery needed to learn in the fastest-changing world in the history of human civilization. the khan academy has proven this classroom flip is successful right through the university level. finally, we must call out the universities, which means adopting the first letter of. we must refuse schools. two students on the internet before they apply or pay tuition. this is how vici values can restore values while receiving the modern tools of the digital age.

if you want to take another look at this and connect the dots on your own time, go to "greedy bastards".com. they are explained inside the book itself. we show you how to get results and change things as well. and as martin mentioned last hour, "greedy bastards" is going today bu at number nine on the new york best sellers list. we have you to thank for that. thank you so much for enlisting with us in this mission to change the conversation to issues-based problem solving. next up here, we've talked to people who do it right. there's a prime example of a great idea that may be using the opposite of hot spotting as the quest to bring high speed rail to california jumped the tracks.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"The Road Not Taken"

Robert Frost penned a poem, one of my favorites, that explored the poet's decision to take one road at a fork, and not another.

Whether your life is filled with forks in the road, or not, we can all commiserate with those who have them, as they force introspection, and reflection.

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

The latter road, as described in the poem, stands out as one that's rarely taken when two competing positions collide--racism and stupidity, for example--both representing the fork in the road, becoming rivaling perspectives for how an act, a behavior, or an attitude may be viewed by those exposed to the same information and to the same set of facts.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

Although I've privately wrestled with whether a set of facts represented racism or stupidity, I've never agonized over whether I should call a set of facts racist. Whites rarely quibble as to what should be called racist and what should be called stupidity, more inclined to call racially-insensitive acts the result of stupidity than racism.

Agreeing with Frost, these whites almost never reconsider their first position, "the road not taken"--that it's stupidity rather than racism that prompted an action by their fellow whites--postponing indefinitely a more thorough examination: "I kept the first for another day!/ Yet knowing how way leads on to way,/ I doubted if I should ever come back."

Blacks, during their earthly travels, find more forks in their roads, than whites (Is this act born of racism or stupidity?), as whites are usually spared this kind of dilemma; yet, whites never tire of telling us what it is that we should believe--and, oftentimes, what they want us to believe is that "stupidity" explains their white counterparts actions or behavior, and not "racism," the most likely choice, and the most likely characterization of the facts.

When I purchased my current home, my white real-estate salesperson presented such a fork in the road. From a tract of homes, she selected the one that she felt represented our income and our taste.

I did my own research, using the real estate broker's web site as my source, copying relevant information about each home in the tract, the number of rooms, square footage, and lot size.

When I told her that I wanted to see each house in the tract before committing to the one she selected, she turned red, suspiciously eyeing the papers I held in my hand.

"What do you have there?" she asked roughly. Before I could reply, she snatched the papers from my hand, and, while rifling through them, asked, "Where did you get these?"

"From your web page," I said, struggling to stay calm, as I knew, with a little more provocation, I was going to either walk away, or find another salesperson.

Reluctantly, and with great exasperation, she walked me through each house. On one house in the tract, I made an offer. No, it wasn't on the one she had selected, but on the one I felt had a better view of the mountains.

She was livid. "The builder doesn't take offers," she said. I insisted. Her anger boiled over, mainly because, as she pointed out, she had already drawn up the paperwork for the house of her choosing, and now I was having her repeat her effort.

Finally, she relented, saying, "Now I'll have to start all over again."

The builder accepted my offer, which I knew he would, and, by accepting my offer, reduced her commission. This was not my purpose, but I wasn't distressed because of it.

When the house was making its way through escrow, unbeknownst to me, my wife had promised to invite this salesperson to dinner when the sale was finalized. When she restated her invitation, I was standing nearby.

"When we move in," my wife told the white salesperson, "I'm going to have you over for dinner."

"Okay," she said, "but I don't eat innards."

That was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, that and a few other racially-insensitive things she had said and done during our brief relationship, splitting the road into a fork that ran as far as the eye could see.

The fork appeared abruptly: Was this a show of racism on the salesperson's part, or gross stupidity?

The article that spurred this blog entry has already made its rounds on several blogs, with some readers taking one road or the other, as to whether the act of some Georgia school teachers represented racism or stupidity.

Some of the comments came from whites, and some from blacks, which at times took an uncomfortable turn, as racism is not an easy topic for many, although most had an opinion one way or the other, all looking for travelling companions where the road forked, now that they had committed themselves to one road or the other.

The title reads, 'If eight slaves pick 56 oranges...' Georgia school under fire for racist, violent math homework [1]

Parents of elementary school students in Georgia are outraged after their children brought home math homework referencing slavery and beatings.
In an attempt to mix social studies with math, students of Beaver Ridge Elementary school in Norcross were asked to calculate such questions as how many oranges and cotton slaves could pick.

[My first thought: Was the question written with Frederick Douglass in mind?]

'I'm having to explain to my 8-year-old why slavery or slaves or beatings are in a math problem. That hurts,' Terrance Barnett expressed to WSB-TV.

Here's another example from the test:

Whether you find the following to be either "racist" or a show of "stupidity," is fine by me. That's not my argument. You're entitled to your view. My position on this, however, remains the same, as it was formed after much thought, and over many years of reflection and rumination:

Given this nation's racist history, and the fact that blacks have, more often than not, been the hapless recipients of racism, when I hear or see racially-insensitive things, my default position is that they're prompted by racism. I don't accept the burden of determining for others whether these things are racist or not, which fork in the road--racism or stupidity--would better describe, or sum up the facts. That's not my burden. That burden belongs to the other, those who did the racially-insensitive things.

Blacks shouldn't be asked to shoulder this burden, and we shouldn't accept it, if asked.

Let the burden rest with them, and not us. Let those in society who behave racially insensitive, show, prove, demonstrate that a racially-insensitive act is not racism. In the case under review here, we're talking about teachers, for god sake! People who know world history and American history, and the various legacies of race.

Would these teachers have said something similar about Jews caught in the throes of the holocaust? I don't think so. For blacks, the legacy of slavery is what the holocaust is to Jews--highly reprehensible, and highly inhumane.

I always assume that white's racially-insensitive acts, behavior, and attitudes are the result of racism, and not stupidity, refusing to ride the horn of a dilemma, taking the road I've traveled often, when faced with a fork that leads to the left and to the right.

Whites, and some blacks, mostly black conservatives, wouldn't have us call anything racist, occasionally reversing the charge, and leveling it at us for having the temerity to call a thing racist, thereby effectively putting a roadblock at one of the forks, forbidding passage, and making it unpopular to even consider taking the more damning road, where "[t]wo roads diverged in a yellow wood."

On the other hand, Blacks are urged to suspend judgment, not to call a thing racist, when another characterization may be more appropriate, like "stupidity." They're told to exercise restraint, to err on the side of caution, to ignore it, to look the other way--in short, take the high road.

Sure we can take the high road, or the road at the fork that whites would like for us to take, but we don't owe them this. We don't owe anyone anything, in matters of deciding what constitutes racism or not.

At times, I take the road rarely taken, the one with the signpost that read, "STUPIDITY," but I don't feel I'm obligated, or obliged to do so. I could, just as well, turn to the left at the fork, and take the road with the signpost that read, "RACISM."

Occasionally, the stupidity is so glaring, a neon flashing bright red, the only conclusion one can derive is that it's what it seems to be--and that unmistakably. At other times, the road sign identifying the road to the left glows equally bright, pulsating in large block letters the word, RACISM.

I know too much about life, and how it works, to hold anger or animosity towards those who are racist, or those who insist on calling racism stupidity, when all the signs are pointing in the direction of "the road not taken."

I feel an overwhelming pity for those so deluded, as they will, one day, perhaps in another lifetime, stand at the fork of the road where, at times, I stand--definitely more often than I care to say--peering down both roads "where they diverged in a wood."

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

[1] A video accompanies this article.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Easy," Does It!

For several years, I worked in a penal institution which housed inmates with an age range of about 15 years old to about 25 years old, young men as well adults.

In conversation one day with one of the inmates, the talk suddenly turned to why he robbed homes.

His answer was as unexpected as it was bewildering: "I break into homes," he said, "because it's easy."

There it was, it wasn't just the money, the thrill, or the need to impress his homies, it was, as he put it, "easy."

In a world of moral relativism, this young man's candor stands out, a striking reminder that right and wrong is a constantly shifting concept, so many dunes, here today, but gone tomorrow, as the wind shifts, or we capitulate to the demands of a source, or we seek out our fortunes in a narrowing landscape of opportunities, seen more often as bare, than verdant with hope, infinite possibilities, and endless choices.

Under these perceived circumstances, like the young man who broke into homes, because it was easy, departing from our moral code, or breaking away from our ethical foundation becomes the "easy," convenient, and lucrative thing to do.

Greg L, and I, at his blog, exchanged posts exploring the edges of our moral boundaries, and why some in society behave the way that they do. Greg L, wrote:

"[T]he political system and all other forms of leadership, are ultimately reflection of the moral system that governs us."

Greg L. summed up his position, thusly:

"Morality, in part, involves the ability to objectively examine something to determine if it actually aligns with what you subscribe to. It's these judgments that are sorely missing and that's why we have what we have."

To which I responded:

True, but our morality isn't absolutistic, but relativistic, in as much as we subscribe to several, some of which obtain their relevance and their validity from a source--an existential morality dictated by that source, rather that subject to a morality to which we may all generally subscribe, and which we may all hold in common.

Let me illustrate: There's a political morality. Politics has established its own moral center, where almost anything goes--lies, deception, misrepresentations, flip-flopping, waffling, spin, and propaganda--and, by our actions, looking the other way, excusing it, downplaying it, justifying it, we often dismiss this moral laxity, or moral turpitude in our body politic by supporting and voting for those candidates who have clearly demonstrated that they play loose and fast with either the facts or the truth.

Politics, then, dictates its own morality, for which voters will, all too eagerly, set aside their specific morality as they rush to the polls and the voting booth in the hopes of installing their party's candidate into the office for which they're running.

There's an economic morality. Capitalism has shown time and time again that it doesn't subscribe to a moral correctness, saving that which the government imposes, an imposition which it doesn't often enforce, or enforce poorly. People in this country still buy iPads, and iPhones, and it doesn't matter to many that they're produced under almost slave-like conditions or not. Sure there are some who do care, and will put their money where their conscience resides.

Capitalism, then, dictates its own morality, for which consumers will, all too eagerly, set aside their specific morality as they avail themselves of its various offerings.

There's an elitist morality. Congress has passed many laws from which it has exempted itself, one in particular as odious as they come--congresspersons can participate in insider trading, an act that would have anyone else arrested, and sent to jail for a time. Congress can be bought to vote against what's in the best interest of those who sent them to congress, and use brinkmanship to wrest from the opposing party concessions it cannot obtain otherwise, risking a potentially expensive downgrade in our national credit rating.

Despite its low approval rating, Congress dictates its own morality, for which its constituents will, all too eagerly, set aside their specific morality as they return incumbents time and again to the office which they held, deluding themselves into thinking that it's not their Representative that's inept and crooked, but the other guy's.

There's planned obsolescence, the use of psychology, and behavioral science, to seduce consumers, to trick them into buying--whether impromptu, or not; there're repairs that we don't need for which we're being charged, low interest rates for which we may qualify, but which aren't offered, loans we're said to qualify for, but which, in the end, will bankrupt us, or force our homes into foreclosure, product insurance which is too expensive, and useless, if we try to collect, health insurance with caps, and for which a preexisting condition may not be treated, advertisements, and commercials that don't live up to the hype, and a variety of other scams, designed to part us from our hard-earned money.

Because morality comes in many shapes and configurations, and oftentimes dictated by a source, life comes with many caveats--buyer beware, test drive before you buy, read the contract, especially the small print, live within your means, know the return policy, don't remove the tag, and, get it in writing.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Fair Lady

For all the years I've lived, you'd think I be accustomed to it, but I still find human nature strange, if not bizarre.

I'm still flummoxed by it.

Sure, I'm aware that people can, and will, do certain things out of the ordinary--things for which I'm always scratching my head in total amazement, bewildered beyond words.

And when they do, I'm taken aback, sometimes pleasantly when they offer a kindness (such as holding a door open), and sometimes exceedingly perplexed, especially when people behave in ways that are foreign to my sensibilities, and my expectations.

One instance from my life will serve to illustrate this. I once worked for an organization that required that some of us meet at least once every other month to coordinate system-wide activities. We were a fairly good size group, perhaps as many as thirty or forty of us.

We would meet at various locations throughout the system and the meeting organizer from each location was responsible for providing morning refreshments, and arranging for a restaurant that would accommodate our number for lunch, as it was customary for us all to eat at the same time, and in the same place.

When the collective bill arrived, each would pay for what they had ordered, and, in a similar fashion, each would leave tips, in the middle of the table according to the generosity of each, or how each felt about the quality of the service.

On one occasion, the tip was left as usual, a fairly large amount, as there were many in our number, and the service had been excellent.

Most of us had filed out of the room where the lunch tables and chairs had been assembled, with me and another straggling behind, my companion straggler a well-respected, middle-aged woman, who had stopped suddenly to eye the pile of money that constituted our collective tip, left there by those who, after settling up, fully expected that the money that remained on the table would go to the restaurant staff that brought the food and drinks to our table.

With out hesitation, my coworker reached into the pile and withdrew a handful of the bills deposited there. "That's too much money for a tip," she said simply, and stuffed the money into her coat pocket and walked out.

I was stunned.

Not only did she take an unwarranted initiative, she had, in effect, stole money, stealing it twice--first, from those who waited on the table, and then from those who had left the money as a tip.

Not only did my coworker not pay her fair share, she took from those who had.

Some corporations are like my coworker: Not only do they not pay their fair share (using tax loopholes, and tax dodges), they also take from those of us who do pay our fair share. (Click to enlarge chart.)

Here's how the headline reads from this International Business Times article: 30 Major U.S. Corporations Paid More to Lobby Congress Than Income Taxes, 2008-2010. [1]

By employing a plethora of tax-dodging techniques, 30 multi-million dollar American corporations expended more money lobbying Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, ultimately spending approximately $400,000 every day -- including weekends -- during that three-year period to lobby lawmakers and influence political elections, according to a new report from the non-partisan Public Campaign.

The Public Campaign, a non-partisan research and advocacy organization, reports 30 major U.S. corporations spent more money lobbying Congress than they did on federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010.

Despite a growing federal deficit and the widespread economic stability that has swept the U.S since 2008, the companies in question managed to accumulate profits of $164 billion between 2008 and 2010, while receiving combined tax rebates totaling almost $11 billion. Moreover, Public Campaign reports these companies spent about $476 million during the same period to lobby the U.S. Congress, as well as another $22 million on federal campaigns, while in some instances laying off employees and increasing executive compensation.

This revelation is enough to make one take to the streets and start a blood-less revolution--a new movement. Perhaps we'll call it the Occupy Wall Street movement. Wait a minute: Don't we have such a movement already?

Not only do we have such a movement, with each passing day, certain information comes to light to justify its existence, and to silence those critics who have done all that they could on behalf of these offending corporations to besmirch the movement.

And if you believed that it is only the federal government that's being stiffed by these corporations, think again:

"Our report shows these corporations raked in a combined $1.33 trillion in profits in the last three years, and far too many have managed to shelter half or more of their profits from state taxes," Matthew Gardner, Executive Director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and the report's co-author, said in a statement. "They're so busy avoiding taxes, it's no wonder they're not creating any new jobs."

According to the report, titled "Corporate Tax Dodging in the Fifty States, 2008-2010," state corporate tax revenues have been declining for 20 years, due to the passage of multiple state tax subsidies, as well federal tax breaks that further reduce state corporate income tax revenues since states usually accept corporations' federal tax. Moreover, Gardner said multi-state corporations are constantly "devoting their money and legal firepower to coming up with tax avoidance schemes."

Between 2008 and 2010, the 265 companies analyzed paid state income taxes equal to only 3 percent of their U.S. profits, half of the statutory 6.2 percent state corporate tax rate. As a result, these companies avoided a total of $42.7 billion in state corporate taxes over three years.

What is the Republican position on all this? They believe that these supposed corporate job creators shouldn't have to pay more taxes (their fair share)--and, if they had their way, no taxes at all. But are these tax-avoiding corporations actually creating jobs?

Even while dodging most of their state and federal taxes between 2008 and 2010, Verizon (VZ) laid off more than 21,000 U.S. employees, while Boeing, Wells Fargo, General Electric, American Electric Power, and FedEx also let go of thousands of workers. Because companies can be reluctant to make data changes in U.S. employment available, Public Campaign reports it was not able to find up-to-date employment statistics for many of the companies evaluated in the report.

Moreover, as it was laying off employees, General Electric gave their top executives a 27 percent pay raise between 2008 and 2010 -- executives received more than $75 million in compensation in 2010. Wells Fargo increased executive pay by a whopping 180 percent, upping executive compensation from $17.8 million in 2008 to almost $50 million in 2010, while Boeing, FedEx and American Electric Power also instituted lavish executive pay raises while laying off thousands of lower-level workers.

In fact, 2010 year was a record year for executive compensation. The CEO's of some of the largest U.S. corporations made, on average, $11.4 million in 2010, about 343 times more than workers' median pay, according to an analysis by the American Federation of Labor, the widest gap between executive and employee pay in the world. CEO pay has skyrocketed since 1980, when chief executives were only paid about 42 times more than the average blue collar worker.

Corporate compensation is symptomatic of the income disparity that's become a gaping hole in our economy, looking more like a chasm than a ditch. For better or for worse, corporations are now elevated to the status of gods, permitted to do pretty much as they choose with little or no interference from government regulators, and with politicians at all levels tripping over themselves to regale them with gifts of additional tax breaks, some of which come in the form of negative effective tax rates, tax cuts, and a potential tax reparation holiday:

A negative effective tax rate means that a company enjoyed a tax rebate, usually obtained by carrying back excess tax deductions and credits to an earlier year, thereby allowing the company to receive a tax rebate check, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.

U.S. House Deputy Whip Kevin Brady, R-Tex., is currently making a last-ditch effort to include a corporate tax repatriation holiday on legislation to extend a payroll tax cut....While those in favor of the corporate tax repatriation provision -- which would give U.S. businesses a temporary tax break on as much as $1 trillion in overseas income -- insist it would boost the nation's sluggish economy and make it easier for corporations to create jobs, the Congressional Budget Office reports tax repatriation holidays ranks dead last among 13 policy options for creating jobs. The CBO estimates that over the 2012-2013 period, a repatriation holiday would, at best, create the equivalent of one-full time job for every $1 million in federal costs.

My Fair Lady, my coworker of many years, not only was unfair, so, too, are many of the corporations that make this fair nation their home. Not only have these corporations transferred the tax burden of supporting this country to the average taxpayer, they have become, despite this, one of the chief recipients of government largess--the backing of the world's largest, and most powerful military, and the support of practically every politician in the country, many in the courts, and, at times, the executive branch.

Unfortunately, these corporations have money to burn, and it's burning the pockets of legislators and judges, who, increasingly, are more anxious to fill their campaign coffers, than fill state and national treasuries.