The Visible Hand of the Un-free Market

Corporations are not people. The people they represent are not necessarily US citizens. And their tax money shows their allegiance to foreign nations. Other than that, the Citizens United case decided by the Supreme Court in 2010 merely violates the balance of power between a free market economy and democracy as a core principle of the American way of life.

Until a corporation can register to vote and walk into a polling place to cast a single vote, it is not a person. In the meantime, however, we have a serious problem thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 that determined that corporations were people. Since then, campaigns financed by corporate sponsors have controlled a significant number of elections in the US, effectively hijacking the democratic process from real people.

The power money comes from multinational corporations. And their shareholders, to whom they hold allegiance, represent more or less every nation in the world. So, how can a corporate “person” promise us that it is an American citizen and only serves the interests of American people? Decades before the Citizens United case came to court, these same US corporations already had taken tax breaks for supply-side economics and used them to finance the transfer operations out of the US and create jobs in other nations. And this has not been their only odd way of saying thank you in the US.

Outsourcing jobs offshore was supposed to ensure low-cost supply functions, greater profits, and eventual payback in the US. Unfortunately, a lot of profits have remained pooled offshore. And worse, not all of these corporate citizens have been satisfied with their US headquarters. Indeed, the trend has been to find a nation with a lower corporate tax rate*, invest in a small company there, and transfer the corporate assets and headquarters to that foreign office, effectively renouncing US corporate registration. This process, known as corporate inversion, means that taxes on the profits from US tax breaks to support supply-side economics are actually paid to a foreign nation. Even your corner drugstore, Walgreen’s, had considered a corporate inversion recently, but yielded to political pressure to delay action.

Not to worry, our domestic representatives of these foreign corporations will continue to demand supply-side concessions in the wake of our sorry employment situation in the US. And, most ironically, they will continue to win elections supported by the Tea Party faithful and other Cretan Paradox sufferers under the banner of “taking back America.”

As I mentioned in my last post…

“The US is defined by a political economy based on democracy and capitalism. The balance they maintain is essential to our freedom. Free market capitalism – not monopolies – are theoretically protected under our constitution. And, because one must have money to play in the free market, the democratic process allows for political will to be exerted over economic processes if poverty excludes too many Americans from the competition. Yet a bad Supreme Court decision has placed capitalists as the masters of both politics and the economy. This can only end badly if left unchallenged.”

This mess really needs to be cleaned up in 2015. There will be too much at stake in 2016 elections for us to leave our destinies in the hands of the incredibly visible hand of the un-free market.

* Conservatives have used this discrepancy in corporate tax rates to call for lowering rates in the US. However, nations with lower corporate tax rates often have higher personal income tax rates to make up the difference. These same politicians are not likely disclose such details or to seek that balance.

July 21, 2015 at 8:26 AM Leave a comment

Why Isn’t America Enough?

Time to Wake Up & Restore Balance in Our Political Economy Under 1 US flag Only, Please

Apparently the crux of the matter that necessitated the Civil War has not been resolved. Pride in our nation and its basic constructs has not been enough…even 150 years later. Some significant number of Americans believes that their right to honor major proponents of slavery is more important than our belief that all men are created equal…that their right to celebrate Confederate “honor” supersedes the dignity and pursuit of happiness of people of color, people whose ancestors were kidnapped, displaced by an ocean, imprisoned, sold into slavery, and even forced to fight under a Confederate flag. Ironically, many offenders are political conservatives who seek to “take back America” while turning a blind eye to the deepest erosion of American values.

The American way of life is at risk. Corporations are people [sic] who dominate our formerly representative form of government based on democratic elections. Voting rights are no longer guaranteed to be free or accessible to all. More than half of American school children live in poverty, and most have no access to equity in education, both potent dream killers. Liberty and justice are mired in racial bias. And freedom of assembly carries more weight for white people than non-white people, for the rich more so than the poor. In short, our words are being undermined by our actions. All people are not born equal.

The US is defined by a political economy based on democracy and capitalism. The balance they maintain is  essential to our freedom. Free market capitalism – not monopolies – are theoretically protected under our constitution. And, because one must have money to play in the free market, the democratic process allows for political will to be exerted over economic processes if poverty excludes too many Americans from the competition. Yet a bad Supreme Court decision has placed capitalists as the masters of both politics and the economy. This can only end badly if left unchallenged.

The skirmishes over Southern heritage and honor have become a smoke screen over the unseen concessions to the larger American way of life under the US Constitution. We cannot protect our deepest constructs unless we collectively embrace concepts of freedom for all, equal access under the law, and protection from economic tyranny. Instead, however, our society is becoming polarized and ethnocentric as we protect shrinking shares of wealth while economic and political power is increasingly concentrated for the 1% at the top of an oligopoly.

Why isn’t America enough for the Confederate flag wavers? The reflections of too many people over the past and their unrepentant obsession with the dubious tyranny of white supremacist thought are mind-boggling. Give it up. We face real challenges to our greater way of life. We can only rebuild our nation in the words of our founding fathers if we collectively walk the walk of the free and the brave even as we acknowledge the profound irony of the flawed society in which those words were written.

July 19, 2015 at 9:29 AM Leave a comment

US History and Other Little White Lies

It took an article by a Bostonian in 2015 to tell a Richmond, Virginia home girl just how bad the history of the city had been. Not even the nuns (ironically also from Boston) who were my first teachers 50 years earlier dared to reveal the magnitude of the slave trade that had flourished a century before just a couple of miles down the road from the school. But can the descendants of the power elite, who were also the villains of our real history, handle the truths that strip them of so many points of pride in time to re-frame the future?

I thought things had gotten about as bad as they could when researchers confirmed evidence of cannibalism in the Jamestown Settlement where my ancestors had arrived in 1607. As something of a born-again Yankee, I am still reeling from yet another omission from my southern history lessons, stories that were at best dangerous half-truths, diluted by pretensions of grand ideas of brave white men and their ladies, and predicated on slavery of a scale that shocks me anew. Why had I not learned the story of Richmond, Virginia as the likely slavery capital – of the world – in its day?

I had not looked back since leaving Richmond in 1973, somehow accepting that the worst of slavery happened in the Deep South…not my own backyard. I fear that is what many people were taught…a sense of plausible deniability that any of us were the true bogeymen. And with that, white southerners waved that Confederate flag and bought into a profoundly flawed sense of honor. Worse, that flag bolstered the racist acts of unreconstructed hate mongers who continue to plague us today.

Building the National Museum of Slavery in Shockoe Bottom is essential to memorialize the victims of slavery and to remember American History in its darkest days. The Civil War erupted out of an economic debate…with trading on human flesh at its core. And there was an unresolved issue of State’s rights…could We the People continue to get free labor from enslaved men, women, and children in any state and still hold onto the virtues upon which our nation was founded? In short, it was about slavery.

The issue had come to a head as the slave trade in Richmond alone had escalated to 350, 000 people in the 35 years before the end of the war that allegedly resolved the matter. Yet we still hide behind the values of states’ rights in order to deny healthcare or hunger relief benefits to the poor or underemployed in an increasingly inequitable economy. And we cast wary glances upon immigrants seeking freedom within our borders.

Efforts have been made to reveal some of the lies told in our history books. The real Christopher Columbus did not discover America…he was the white marauder who launched the first battles to conquer it. And the West was won, not as manifest destiny, but through theft of Native American land, sweated labor of immigrants on the railroads, and a general disregard for human dignity for non-white people. In our hearts we know that this is true. But questions remain about our gumption to not just face our sordid past – from gifts of smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans in the Plimouth Colony to prisons filled by racism today – but to act on the grave necessity of re-framing our future.

Can the descendants of the power elite, who were also the villains of our real history, handle the truths that strip them of so many points of pride now exposed as fairy tale versions of some truly dark conquests? The don’t-ask-don’t-tell white history of the United States is not working for any of us. We must face it to prevent its shadow from being cast any further upon our children.

July 9, 2015 at 9:57 AM Leave a comment

History Lessons in the Age of Social Media?

Amy Winehouse was a neglected child with great talent and no sense of boundaries. She self-destructed in the public eye. And, in private, someone’s phone was capturing sordid details to augment what the paparazzi missed. A documentary captures this in the story of her rise and fall in true tabloid fashion. It is an indictment of an era’s lost privacy, hunger for the sleaze factor, and bad storytelling. Is anyone recording all the facts and reporting them in balanced fashion anymore?

I knew I was in trouble last night when a preview of the soon-to-be released documentary on Amy Winehouse began like a bad home movie. A hand-held camera, probably a smartphone, wobbled erratically while capturing blurry pictures of her with friends and family at age 18. I quickly flashed back to movies like The Blair Witch Project and the wholly rotoscoped Waking Life that had given me two of a handful of migraines in my life but decided to stick it out. By the end, I was moved to tears as a montage of child-like Amy pictures accompanied the credits while she crooned one of her hit songs. Then I got mad.

Where was the professional footage? Why wasn’t there more music? This was a story told without an arc…a train wreck in slow motion start to finish, a screwed up tabloid version of a wasted life. Her self-described best years got little more than a footnote, and the music got edited out in favor of repetitive narration as soon as each song really started to rock. The only real exception was the too-brief coverage of Winehouse’s studio date with Tony Bennett. Was there any other decent footage of Amy in existence? My husband’s reaction was essentially the same. We came home with the taste of bile in our mouths – too real given Winehouse’s bulimia – that could only be brushed away while YouTube videos quenched our thirst for Amy’s legacy.

Is this how history will be recorded from now on? Do we only care about what is trending? What gets clicks? A legitimate documentarian seeks to capture history for posterity in accurate and watchable fashion. A tragic story can be told as a cautionary tale, but true fame can only come from exemplary talent and a wave of success to which flashing cameras on the street merely serve as a gauge for celebrity, not the main event. Yet we watched a couple of hours of phone videos, gossip, and seizure-inducing flashbulb popping.

Winehouse fell victim to her own celebrity, but it was the catalyst for her death…not the story of her life. Someone in Amy Winehouse’s private entourage betrayed her with great regularity, and a film maker bought the footage and the brand. It could be called Amy Died. But it only matters if the fact that she lived had meaning. This latter point has been lost, but the first to hit the theaters will get real money, especially with never-before-seen naughty footage. Boo-hiss.

Here’s hoping someone documents Ms. Winehouse’s actual life, with a story arc that peaks too soon, ends badly, but reminds us of why her short life left us feeling genuinely cheated by death.

July 8, 2015 at 8:28 AM Leave a comment

Facing History in Richmond

The Boston Sunday Globe has featured my home town this morning, and not in a good way. Deconstructing the biased history of Southern whites has taken on new urgency as the world beckons and will surely seek an explanation of blind allegiance to archaic and inhumane institutions. Come September, a world-class bicycle race will take 16 laps around a monument to Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. A vandal’s noble act that was quickly white-washed away offers a glimpse into an answer…that our shared Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution clearly indicate that Black Lives Matter.

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia in the 50s and 60s. Davis Avenue was just the other side of my block in the Fan District. Trips to my grandmother’s house on Bethlehem Road almost always took us past the Davis Monument and most of the rest of the monuments to Confederate “heroes.” The drive to my other grandmother’s house took us down The Boulevard, past Museum Row and the tennis courts in Byrd Park where “tennis whites only” signs, allegedly offering a clue to the dress code for the sport, were prominent enough to be read from the car. By 1970, busing took me to high school at Maggie Walker, where I would train for a tennis team on the city’s other courts in Battery Park – a series of courts in a gully paved after a sewer project took much of the city’s waste water underground to a new processing plant – and get my first glimpses of a new perspective on history.

Battery Park was where Arthur Ashe had honed his considerable skills in the shadow of large Sassafras trees; apparently his shorts and tee shirts could never get white enough for the fashion police of Byrd Park. I was a novice player and loved those tennis courts, which were built end-on-end so stray balls never went into the next court. And any shade was welcomed during a heat wave. No one in Richmond society had paid attention as African Americans had built gracious lives in lovely homes once disgraced by a dump. One of my favorite teachers had a home there. A gang war was raging across the city between the east and west side ruffians, but there was peace in that valley.

Many decades later, the Arthur Ashe monument would ignite a debate attributed to the placement of a tennis star’s throne at the end of a line of Civil War figures. It got ugly, and much of the rhetoric was misplaced both in content and focus. This was not about heroism in the battlefield; it was the first time that a local majority of African American citizens had won a decision that effectively challenged the “whites only” history of one of America’s oldest cities.

What is a point of pride in a heritage that is steeped in heinous acts? The Globe article lays bare the shame of the city that did not exactly end with the centuries of slavery. And there is no way to re-frame the story of the Confederacy without these facts. The racial bias inherent in glorified civil war monuments cannot be denied. Yet, the Davis Monument is not likely to be dismantled by September of 2015.

A couple of weeks ago, “Black Lives Matter” was spray-painted on the massive arc of concrete at the foundation of the Davis Monument. The efficiency with which these words were wiped away is a clear indication of how vital it is to restore their message.

Let us air our conversations in full disclosure and find common ground in the Declaration of Independence and in the Preamble of the Constitution. The statue of Jefferson Davis does not represent the United States of America. It should be shrouded for the race, perhaps covered by an American flag and streamers holding the national banners of all of the participating nations. And the walls around the monument should be draped with quotations that confront our divided past. Truths that we hold to be self-evident juxtaposed with the many eloquent calls for action from those for whom those rights have been denied…great banners that announce to the world and remind ourselves: We Are One, and All Lives Matter.

July 5, 2015 at 10:52 AM Leave a comment

Dear Boston: You Need a Multilingual Exam School

Let’s begin at the top. A Grade 7-12 exam school for students who excel in linguistics would be a great way to meld cultures and celebrate language arts. The service gap to Latino students has persisted through a number of school transformations across the public schools in the City of Boston. Instead of searching for universal exemplars in English Language Learning, perhaps students would be better served by delving deeper into their strengths in World Languages.

The Boston Public Schools have been challenged to do a better job teaching Latino students. Law suits have led to a series of citations for poor service delivery with English Language Learners. The problem has persisted despite a number of initiatives to improve equity in education. A vision for under-served students has focused on pulling them up from the bottom in academic achievement, which by definition places a problematical label on Latino students. And it overlooks the strength they could bring to a multicultural world.

A few years ago I wrote about Charter Americas, a community-based idea for students transitioning to English language schools. A cornerstone of the plan was to reverse English Language Arts (ELA) and Foreign Language courses to reflect each student’s strongest native dialect. Essentially, English would be taught as a foreign language. Meanwhile, our ELA standards would be applied to the student’s own language with rigorous grade-level instruction in reading, writing, and speaking with depth in grammar and vocabulary development as well as genre studies. A broader humanities perspective would pull in elements of history, culture, and the arts.

This earlier program was conceived as a community center for multicultural activities that would transcend the primary goal of assimilating students into the Boston Public Schools. It would be a place for lifelong learning for non-native speakers of English to which students and their families could return to celebrate their heritage, for example, in the arts, oratory, or other cultural interests. To take the idea to the next level, however, would require bilingual rigor across a college-preparatory curriculum, essentially a multilingual exam school.

English language learners often have faced an ironic blend of excessive challenge with immersion courses while being bored by content that was necessarily superficial. Diverse learners have been frustrated with a standard program that seemed not to fit anyone. And there has been nowhere for advanced students from other cultures to achieve continuity in their studies in the US. Further, the bottom-up approach to newcomers has cost them their identities as high achievers.

Existing ELL programs would benefit from a program that identified students with the highest academic potential and channeled them into appropriate pathways for advanced studies. A multilingual exam school would stratify students initially, an undemocratic approach in the short term. However, it would inject high expectations and empowerment into a system that is struggling to realize equity in education. And it would create an incubator for an under-served population to teach educators how better to serve the larger population of English Language Learners.

May 17, 2015 at 11:20 AM Leave a comment

Renewing the American Education Delivery System – Introduction

Draft Introduction to a publication that I am developing from collective writings and musings on SchoolsRetooled.com.

The US PreK-12 Education system has devolved into a system hamstrung by regulatory compliance that has lost sight of its mission to educate all children well. Free access to public education in the least restrictive environment with equity, high quality, and lifelong sustainability has roughly translated into segregation of the children by race and income, special education that sustains eligibility for services, and market failure in urban education consistent with escalating income inequality. Complicit in this latter point is near-permanent loss of access to economic opportunity. In addition, problems in the general economy have burdened the system with unfunded pension and retiree healthcare benefits for the education work force.

The main focus of this publication is education delivery system renewal through eight essential elements of reform. Solutions that would enable a more functional education delivery system must reorganize the system around the primary mission of education. In addition, however, they must address reconstruction of lifelong income planning and affordable healthcare for educators. My special rants on the economy, healthcare, and pensions retain their relevance for our nation as a promise-keeper to its aging population as well as the land of opportunity, giving access to the American Dream to all people – young and old – with great urgency.

My world view was developed through participation in the education sector over the past 14+ years as well as my prior background in general management and all facets of the healthcare market. The combination has been especially synergistic inasmuch as I experienced the transformation of healthcare finance from a regulated, cost-plus plan to a prospective payment system organized around patient-centered case management. This structural shift unified care around the patient and enabled analysis of outcomes and effectiveness of services. I believe an analogous improvement is crucial to achievement of our mission in education.

Working in a series of strategic planning, operational, and internal consulting roles in healthcare organizations, I have gained insight into application of business management solutions to support extremely personal, often emotionally charged, high-stakes service delivery. The main objective was getting the best information and resources from the system while keeping the rest out of the way of operations. It can and should be achieved in education as well.

The process of reinventing the education delivery system does not preclude other good work by educators. There are many meaningful experiments being pursued in public and private education venues that should continue unhampered by system reform. Indeed, this incubation of innovation will be a cornerstone of education excellence into perpetuity. Likewise, a project management approach to school transformation should allow infrastructure enhancements to endure even as direct education services get top priority.

Renewal of the education delivery system necessarily relies on evolving government policies at the Federal and State levels. In addition, realignment of local school districts around mission and benchmarks is essential. Creative approaches to new schools inspired by private reform efforts must move beyond our current reliance on selective admissions for students and rampant age-based bigotry seen in charter school hiring. A discussion of inclusive solutions and a no-fault approach to education reform follows.

April 30, 2015 at 1:37 PM Leave a comment

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