Nation’s Michelle Goldberg nails GOP for denying poverty exists

Michelle Goldberg puts a lot of facts together to reach her perceptive conclusions about Republican attitudes on American poverty in “Poverty Denialism,” in the latest Nation.

Goldberg quotes the usual suspects—FOX commentators, Bobby Jindal, Tea Party Congressmen—to demonstrate that the GOP denies poverty exists, and instead proposes that there are only a bunch of people who could work if they wanted to but prefer to sit at home getting fat on government handouts.

The article points out that the Republicans could blame President Obama for poverty, if they wanted to. But to do so would be to admit that poverty exists and require them to present a plan to deal with it. Goldberg recalls that Nixon, Kemp and even Bush II proposed initiatives to address poverty.  All the current Republicans want to do now is cut, cut, cut.  I urge you to read Goldberg’s article.

The sheer meanness in the attitudes of most Republicans is dazzling. They are willing to watch their fellow citizens starve so that taxes on the wealthy and corporations can remain low and go even lower.  It’s not even good economics, since the poor will spend all the money the government gives to them and thereby fuel the economy and create more jobs, whereas the wealthy recipients of GOP largess are just going to save it. But these Republicans don’t really care about creating new jobs or strengthening the economy. They want theirs. Thus they ignore the poor except to cut their food stamp benefits by 7% and to make it harder for them to get public assistance, or to make clever and cruel comments about their laziness.

The current Republican neglect and mocking of poverty represents the height of selfishness. But it only makes sense: Selfishness goes hand-in-glove with a materialistic culture in which the mass media and TV commercials tell you to indulge yourself all the time.

Of course the same people who fund the GOP mostly control or own the companies that are advertising and producing our entertainment. It’s up to the American people to reject this selfish thinking and elect representatives who want to make sure that everyone in the country eats at night, can access needed medical care and has a chance to attend a quality school, As humans in a wealthy society, we have both a right to these basics and the responsibility to make sure that everyone has them. Republicans once knew it, but the current bunch seems to have forgotten.

Rollout and communications snafus don’t invalidate good of Affordable Care Act

So far, the rollout of the health exchanges—the heart of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—has reminded me of the incompetence associated with the Bush II Administration. The interesting part of the Obama Administration’s bungling of the rollout is that the mistakes have not been made now in the heat of the moment, but months ago when Barack Obama and his inner circle had time to think about it.

Waiting until the Supreme Court affirmed the ACA to begin writing the software and setting up the website was at the very least overly cautious. I would be among the ones who would call it gutless, because it was not in the best interest of the United States and its citizens to wait and the money saved would really have been a drop in the bucket in the current deficit.  Far better it would have been if the Administration had given the tech folks the time to do more extensive testing of the system. We should note, however, that as with many large websites of private sector companies, it’s very possible that the health exchange website would have still encountered problems even with extra time.

It’s a shame, because the state exchanges are mostly working and it’s primarily the people in the Republican-controlled states who have to wait until the federal website is fixed to sign up for health insurance.  Those are the same states in which the poor eligible for Medicaid coverage under the ACA won’t get coverage because their governors rejected the federally funded expansion of Medicaid in their states.

Perhaps more interesting to me is the mistake in messaging that the President made when it comes to the relatively small number of people who are losing their existing policies.

First the facts: ACA sets new standards for health insurance plans. Setting standards has been a government function since at least the Sumerians. It is the government that tells us how much an ounce must weigh and how much fat and extenders you can throw in and still call it “lean ground beef.” All indications are that in writing both the laws and the regulations, large health insurers had input into developing the new standards. The policies held by the 3 million who will have to change do not meet the basic standards established in the ACA. Many are lousy policies, not worth the paper upon which they’re printed.

What the President said—months ago—was that no one will lose their policies. What he should have said was that less than one percent of people would have to change policies because their policies were below the new standard.  This more truthful statement would have set the bar of expectations at the appropriate level. Many of those who have to change policies would still be angry and frustrated, especially if they lived in Republican-controlled states and couldn’t get through on the federal website. But the President’s misstatement would not have provoked a scandal in the news media, nor would the rest of the public be up in arms.

Setting the expectations of the audience is one of the basic principles of communications. The operating theory is the idea of “relative deprivation,” which basically states that people get angrier at being deprived of something than at never having had it. Contrast the positive reaction if you promise someone $80 and you give her $90 to the negative reaction if you promise someone $110 and you give her $100 for doing the same job. The public was led to believe that no one would lose their policies and now feels the frustrations of relative deprivation.

When I conduct seminars on communications, I advise my students—mostly executives and professionals—to set the audience’s expectations at the very beginning of the interaction. For example, before you open the floor to questions at a meeting of many people, always say that individuals will have the chance to ask only one question and one quick follow-up question until everyone has had a chance to pose questions. Without setting that expectation, if someone tries to grab control of the meeting by barraging you with questions and long comments, the audience may think you’re trying to suppress discussion when you try to stop him. But if you have set expectations, when the demagogue tries to take control, the audience will be on your side and shout out, “Give someone else a turn.” I’ve seen both scenarios play out multiple times.

In a sense, the website snafu is also a failure to meet expectations. When an organization announces a website is up and running, the expectation is that it will work.

I’m fairly confident that the website will get fixed and that the health exchanges, new standards and other features of the new law will lead to many more Americans being covered by good health insurance plans, an improvement in the nation’s health and a decline in the cost of medical care. The Affordable Care Act will work, but it’s unfortunate that before it does, the Administration has to learn some basic lessons in setting expectations…and meeting them.

Jewelry ads pop up – a sign that America’s favorite holiday—Black Friday—is fast approaching

On the side of the highway into Pittsburgh today I passed a billboard for Orr’s, a regional jewelry chain and it reminded me that we are about to be inundated with ads cajoling us to buy bits of rocks embedded in metal and other functionless baubles.

The Orr’s billboard is mostly white with black lettering focused on the words, “Stephen Webster,” who a quick trip to the Internet told me is a British jewelry designer. On the right is a highly stylized photograph of a nearly bald woman with her head and neck twisted upwards almost in the elongated style of the Italian Mannerist painter Pontormo. The only colors on the page are the jewels in the rings and earrings she wears. But the figure is so much like the background white that all people in passing cars can really digest are the words “Stephen Webster.”

The unspoken message that Orr’s assumes we will get is that Stephen Webster is the equivalent of Cadillac or Apple, a premium brand. But I didn’t know it, nor did the other person in the car, nor did anyone in my office, nor does anyone except those interested in jewelry or perhaps design in general.  Thus, what Orr’s is selling is not the “Stephen Webster” brand, but the fact that Orr’s has the brands.  A quick trip to the Orr’s website confirms this analysis: the home page features a long horizontal billboard space in which ads for Stephen Webster, Henri Daussi, Roberto Coin, Cartier (the only one I recognized) and Marco Bicego rotated in succession.

The Orr’s basic marketing message—We have the best brands—got me thinking of other approaches that jewelry stores take to selling what are essentially luxury and to my mind frivolous products with arbitrary value.

We are starting to be bombarded by TV ads by Jared, a national chain which primarily places its stores in malls. For years, Jared has used the line, “He went to Jared.” The line is whispered as lascivious gossip between neighbors, screamed to best friends and sisters, intoned seriously by admiring but envious buddies. The context is always other people and their reactions. Whether you label the operative behavior as “Keeping up with the Joneses” or “If you got it, flaunt it,” the message that Jared is trying to make is come to Jared to makes sure your friends and neighbors respect, honor, envy and like you.

Thorsten Veblen’s “Theory of the Leisure Class” seems to be the operating theory here. For Veblen, the leisure class engages in conspicuous consumption for the sole purpose of making individual distinctions based on financial wealth.  You show you are worth something by buying your spouse “diamonds as big as horse turds,” as my father used to put it. In this case, you make sure that everyone knows you are prosperous by going to Jared.

Jared has been using the slogan for years, so it must be working. But around even longer and working even better, I think, is the slogan of another national chain, Kay’s. Their line, sung in commercials after the presentation of a ring, earrings, bracelet or watch leads to an embrace, is “Every kiss begins with Kay.”

The reason I like the Kay’s approach—selling sex—is because it comes closer to the reason that most jewelry (other than graduation watches and sweet 16 charm bracelets) is purchased: to give to a beloved to symbolize a sexual relationship. Yes, some people want to make sure that they have the top quality, whatever that means, and have been trained to associate brands with quality. But they aren’t buying jewelry to get a brand. And yes, keeping up with or surpassing the Joneses is a big motivation to many people when they purchase jewelry, but it’s only a secondary motivation. No one buys an engagement ring to please the family (although he or she may have proposed because of family or societal pressure). They buy the ring or the earrings or whatever for the loved one. They may select one item over another because they know it’s better than what the Joneses have, but only after the decision to buy has been made.

The causal connection between giving someone jewelry and engaging in sexual relations is strongly rooted in our society precisely for the reasons that Veblen details. It is a form of display that is supposed to make the wearer more attractive and more of a status symbol for the giver. The exchange of rings symbolizes marriage, which is a public construct and the traditionally sanctioned locus for sexual relations. We give a ring to mark the engagement, as well, and for key anniversaries. We are brainwashed that other types of jewelry are the go-to gift for the spouse.

In a real sense, jewelry commoditizes romantic relationships, which means it turns romance into something that can be bought and sold.  Instead of buying conjugal rights, you buy the symbol and give that to the object of affection.  In the world of symbols and hidden meanings by which our society lives, every kiss does (or can) begin with the presentation of jewelry. Kay’s hits the bull’s eye.

Off-year elections show it’s good to be friends of the Clintons and have lots of money

There were not many races with national significance in the 2013 election, but there are several lessons we can learn from the three races that received the most news coverage—left-winger Bill DeBlasio’s historic landslide victory for Mayor of New York, moderate Republican Chris Christie’s mere landslide re-election as Governor of New Jersey and conservative Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s two-point win as Governor of Virginia over a Tea Party poster boy.

Lesson # 1: People are tired of the Tea Party

As the many mainstream reporters touting Chris Christie for President have pointed out, the Tea Party candidate lost in a Southern state, whereas the Non-Tea flavored Republican won in a Northern state. The Tea Party candidate also lost a bitter battle to a less radically conservative Republican in a special election for Congress in Alabama. Most people either suffered or know someone who suffered because of the sequester or the government shutdown. Most now realize that the Tea Party has little to offer to anyone except the one percenters, who will benefit from tax cuts and less government regulation.

Lesson #2: People didn’t care that much about Obamacare’s rollout problems

Everyone is rightfully pissed off that the website for the federal healthcare exchange isn’t working right. But they’re more pissed about the government shutdown, the sequester, the enormously inequitable distribution of wealth in the United States and continued high unemployment and they blame Republicans for all that. Any Republican candidate thinking he or she would get an anti-Obamacare bounce must have swallowed the entire pitcher of Kool-Aid. They certainly ignored the recent study that showed that many more Americans either like the Affordable Care Act or want to strengthen it than those who want to end or weaken it.

Lesson #3: It helps to be FOHAB or FOBAH

Friend of Hillary & Bill or Friend of Bill & Hillary—which is it? Maybe we should just write FOTC and leave it at that. However you name the phenomenon, it’s interesting to note that two of the three winners in the major races have close ties to the Clintons. The Clintons endorsed DeBlasio and spent time campaigning for their former fundraiser Terry McAuliffe. These results substantiate what many are saying: that Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to be elected as our next president, assuming that she runs.

Lesson #4: Money wins

In all three of the major races (and the Alabama Congressional race), the candidate who raised and spent the most money won the contest. Just like all the recent presidential elections. Progressive who may be overjoyed that McAuliffe and DeBlasio won and not all that upset that Christie won should nonetheless be alarmed at the continuation of the trend of money trumping every other factor.

Lesson #5: The crony capitalists won

In crony capitalism one function of government is to procure federal contracts and other favorable treatment for the supporters of the winning candidates. Both McAuliffe and Christie qualify as practitioners of crony capitalism. It was McAuliffe who auctioned off nights at the White House for campaign contributions, whereas Christie has a reputation for dealing state contracts to and getting favorable rulings for his pals and contributors. Thank goodness that DeBlasio—left wing superhero that he appears to be right now—has no reputation for engaging in the practices of crony capitalism.

Both McAuliffe and Christie are part of the current corrupt political system that favors big-money contributors and organized industries. McAuliffe is a centrist and Christie is slightly right of center but willing to move left in practical matters such as natural disasters and recessions. While Bill DeBlasio offers the hope of a political culture that seeks the best interests of all our citizens, it remains to be seen if he will carry out his promises. If he does—if he manages to build housing for the middle and lower class, raise taxes on the wealthy to support universal preschool, negotiate contracts that give city union workers decent raises, end racist police practices, improve mass transit in the outer boroughs—if he makes New York a more livable and more progressive place, then the results of the 2013 election will reverberate for decades. Otherwise, it will be remembered as another election in which money and influence won.

17 of 18 health insurance marketplaces had successful rollouts & are working fine

If 18 large organizations installed, customized and rolled out new complicated software systems, how many rollouts would be relatively glitch free?

Ask any experienced information technology (IT) consultant and they’ll likely answer, “About 50%,” without blinking an eye. That’s based on facts.

At least half of all software installations fail miserably—over budget, past the deadline and missing key features. Take enterprise resource planning software (ERP)—software that runs an entire enterprise: about 60% of companies installing ERP report receiving less than half the benefits they thought they would get from the software. And customer resource management (CRM) software, which makes it easier to track sales and customer contact—shows a 50% failure rate.

Isn’t it amazing then that 18 government entities have just launched websites using sophisticated software and 17 of them have few if any glitches? I’m talking of course about the new health insurance marketplaces set up by 16 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government.

Unfortunately for millions of Americans, it’s the largest one that has experienced the snafus. The fault lies with the Obama Administration. If it had begun developing the federal electronic health insurance marketplace earlier, it would have had time to do proper testing and removed the bugs before the legal date for opening.  Instead, the Administration pussy-footed around waiting to make sure the law wasn’t reversed after the 2010 elections or declared unconstitutional.   Similar pussy-footing around is responsible for some, but certainly not all the numerous software failures in the private sector.

So what we have is 17-1 for governments, when the private sector only would have managed maybe 9-9. The real story of the rollout of Obamacare is that government can and often does do things better than the private sector.  In this case, what government seems to be doing better is implementing sophisticated software systems.

Idaho prisons show once again that privatization of government functions is not such a good idea

We got another reminder of the failure of much privatization of government functions in a Wall Street Journal article detailing the woes that the state of Idaho has had since it privatized its state prisons in 2000. The current vendor is walking away from a new contract, leaving Idaho with several lawsuits alleging understaffing leading to gangs rampaging violently through Idaho’s private prisons.  The Journal article quotes one of the three board members of Idaho’s Department of Corrections: “Privatization is a failed concept in the state of Idaho.”

Privatization is also a failed concept when it comes to schools. For years studies have shown that charter schools—private schools run with public money—underperform public schools. And a recent study showed that when all factors are considered, private schools also underperform public schools.

By the way, Idaho isn’t the only state having problems with privatized prisons.

I look at the privatization movement as nothing more than a government wealth transfer program. Since the decline of private sector incomes, government jobs now tend to pay more than private sector jobs at all levels except the top executives, who tend to make significantly more money in the private sector. By privatizing a school or prison facility, what the government is really doing is taking money from the many entry and midlevel jobs—union jobs to a large degree—and giving it to senior management and the investors. It’s a kind of reverse Robin Hood.

The question remains unanswered as to why the government tends to do better than the private sector on such tasks as educating our children or housing our prisoners. Is it that these functions are inherently better served by government for some reason? Perhaps it’s because government is more stable and will always be around, whereas private institutions come and go as part of the “creative destruction of capitalism?” Or maybe public schools and prisons work best because government workers tend be unionized, since numerous studies show that union workers are more productive? Or maybe the service aspect of working for the government makes executives more dedicated to their customers and less willing to cut corners. Certainly when there is public scrutiny, it’s more likely an exec who cuts corners will be found out. I like to think that the fact that public schools and jails outperform private ones comes down to the simple fact that in America the most competent make the most money and public school teachers and correctional officers make more money than their confreres working for privatized concerns.

Whatever it is, we have gathered enough evidence now to recognize that the privatization movement has been a failure, except for the executives and investors of the companies who get the federal contracts and the factotums these rich folk send to state legislatures to vote to privatize yet more government functions.

Sports reporter constructs elaborate rhetorical device to remind us that math is supposed to hard

A rhetorical device is a technique that a writer or speaker uses to create a literary effect, often without regard for the literal significance of the words. For example, a simile is when the writer makes a comparison, “He dances like a bull on crutches.” It’s a clever way to say that that guy is clumsy; no one really believes he has hoofs or hobbles around on crutches.

Writers, scholars and pedants have been compiling lists of rhetorical devices since at least Aristotle. For example, the Associated Press has a fairly extensive list of the core rhetorical devices for journalists.

Rhetorical devices are amoral, as virtually every rhetorical device can be used to illuminate or support any idea or belief. What the rhetorical device does is carry the meaning, and in many cases it carries two meanings: 1) what the author is ostensibly trying to say at that given moment in the narrative; and 2) a broader ideological message, which is hidden because it is not the ostensible topic of the story, speech or article.

A New York Times article previewing the 2013-2014 National Basketball Association by Tony Gervino contains an example of combining two rhetorical devices in a complicated but clever and funny way to make a simple statement, yet in the background advocate what I find to be a disgusting piece of ideology.

Here’s the statement about three players in their late 30’s for whom the Brooklyn Nets traded draft picks and younger players in the offseason:

“…for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, whose combined age is older than the hills. (For you Nate Silver fans, the number is actually 109).”

The first rhetorical device is hyper exaggeration, which is as old as the hills. When I think of hyper-exaggeration in literature, Rabelais comes first to mind. By making an exaggeration that is so impossible as to constitute a lie, the writer can express an irony that the reader is supposed to find clever (and often does). We know that these guys are not older than hills, but we also know they’re pretty old for professional basketball players. Because hyper-exaggeration is in essence a lie, it has traditionally had no place in serious journalism. Hyper exaggeration only entered the realm of newspapers over the past decade.  It started first in “laddie” magazines, those slicks for young men and insecure older ones dedicated to soft porn and staying hip by buying stylish things.

Interestingly enough, in the same edition of the New York Times, another sports writer uses hyper exaggeration in the same way to describe these same players as old, when he writes, “Did they hoop with Jerry West?” (who we all know is older than the hills!)

You can find examples of the second rhetorical device throughout literature, back to The Epic of Gilgamesh.  I call it “invoking a cultural icon,” in this case, Nate Silver, a statistician who has won acclaim calling the outcomes of multiple elections and sporting events.  By referencing a famous person, the writer evokes an entire range of ideas, myths and beliefs. For example, “He’s no Einstein” means he’s not as smart as the smartest scientist. “He’s the Michael Jordan of real estate agent” means he always wins the “agent of the year” and “most sales” awards, year after year.

The reference to Nate Silver evokes brainy and complicated math and exotic computer models. And here’s where the ideology comes into play: What is the brainy, complicated math over which the fans of Nate Silver will slaver? Adding the ages of three players. Yes, the complicated combination of hyper exaggeration and evoking a cultural reference leads to the idea that adding three numbers together is hard. Adding three weeks—that’s something that is traditionally taught in elementary school, maybe 3rd or 4th grade.

As I have discussed numerous times in OpEdge, asserting that math is hard is part of anti-intellectualism, which is one of the great ideological principles underlying virtually everything seen and heard in the mass media since the end of the Second World War.

Of course, the writer is just trying to be clever. His task is to analyze every team’s roster and chances for the playoffs in one page of small type punctuated by inset photos. Most writers of sports previews try to inject as much cleverness into their brief descriptions as possible. As examples, look at analyses of who will win this weekend’s professional football games or position-by-positions analyses of World Series or play-off teams.  This article in question mostly uses sarcasm to create the wit, and certainly a snide reference to Nat Silver qualifies as sarcasm.

But this rhetorical doubling over also qualifies as yet another instance of a writer assuming that math is hard, in this case, so hard that adding three numbers requires a statistician and sophisticated computer modeling.

It’s a throw-away line in a throw-a-way piece,  but day by day we’re bombarded with anti-intellectual statements and ideological subtext such as “math is hard,” “smart people are bad athletes and socially inept,” “college is only about getting a job,” science isn’t fun,” “geniuses are usually mentally ill or extremely eccentric,” “the cool kids like to party” and “intelligent design is a valid theory,” just to name some of the more frequent variants of the anti-intellectual ideology.  The accumulative effect is to create a culture that does not strive for or respect intellectual achievement.

Movie promoters resort to print ad consisting of two blank pages and a URL

Page A9 of today’s New York Times is entirely blank. So is page A10, with the exception of a cryptic website address at the bottom of the page:

What could “words are life” mean? And where will the URL lead us? To religion? Politics? To some feel good pop psychology or philosophy?

In fact the URL redirects to, which is a rather conventional website promoting a new movie, “The Book Thief,” based on the novel of the same name by Australian Markus Zusak. Narrated by the character called Death, the novel is about a German girl during World War II. The trailer and scenes come right out of the style I call “middle brow art house”: soft, pastel or autumn colors that seem painterly, music in the French light classical vein, a ponderous importance in the voices of the actors as if every line dripped with meaning, beautifully composed static shots. The director of the film, BTW, also directed “Life of Pi.” Enough said there.

I checked in other newspapers—Wall Street Journal and two Pennsylvania dailies—and didn’t find the ad.  It may have only run in the Times.

The ad raises some interesting questions about marketing. Clearly, the producers of the film think that people are going to wonder about what is all about and go to the website. I have no question that, compared to most other print ads in any publication, this two-page ad will influence more of the audience to comply with the call to action—to visit the website!

But once at the website, I wonder how long people will remain before heading elsewhere, disappointed that what they are seeing is a shill for a movie. Will people think, “Gee this approach is clever” or will they feel let down and disappointed, having anticipated something political or spiritual?

Two aspects of the website will tend to make people feel disappointed or betrayed, as opposed to enjoying the cleverness of the pitch: First off, you don’t go directly to, but are rerouted to another website, which people who frequently surf the web often associate with a betrayal or trick.

Secondly, the website is so derivative and unclever that it is disappointing as a piece of entertainment. If, by going to the website, we stumbled upon an incredible scene from the movie to the sound of offbeat or catchy music, the creativity of the website would continue the creativity of the print and that would be fine. But instead, we get a static image, some pious words from a very serious young girl and music that sounds like leftovers from a French flick about romance between octogenarians.

The film’s producers must have run the print ads in front of focus groups, but there are many ways to skew the results of focus groups, which is why they have no statistical validity. And it may be that the focus group participants saw the ads without seeing the website, and so demonstrated that the approach worked in terms of a call to action. We can only speculate as to what research went into the decision to run the ads, but I get a gnawing feeling that the producers and their ad folk misinterpreted the results of research or fixed them through employing faulty methodology.

Yet even before we get to the website, I question the wisdom of placing this ad. Is the front section of the New York Times the best place for this print ad? People read different media in different ways and when they read a newspaper they read different parts of the paper in different ways. The same people who actively seek out movie ads in the entertainment section as part of planning their evening or weekend may skim past all ads in the front section, focused as they are on digesting the overnight news.

The idea, of course, is that they can’t look past the two blank pages and that they will be enticed to visit the website because is an open-ended phrase that suggests spirituality, or at the very least higher order thinking—the very kind of thinking the reader is supposedly doing at the time he or she is reading the news section of the New York Times.  I can see this scenario working in the real world, but I can also imagine large numbers of people understanding immediately that the ad is a big sell and feeling betrayed even before they get on their computers or portable devices.

Lonely picket tells Park Avenue residents about their right-wing neighbor, David Koch

The luxury apartment building at 740 Park Avenue in New York’s Upper East Side is so famous that it even has a book dedicated to its history. Now lots of churches and castles have volumes describing their history and residents, but not many apartment buildings achieve this mythic status. When the news media uses a single building to represent real money, it’s usually 740 Park,  which stands as a monument to Art Deco architecture at the corner of Park and East 71st Street.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis supposedly grew up here. Among other apartment unit owners we find this interesting triple play: John D. Rockefeller sold it to Saul Steinberg who sold it to Stephen Schwartzman, all billionaires and among the wealthiest men in the world when they set up housekeeping at 740. Among other notable residents of 740 Park at one time or another include Ronald Lauder, Jerzy Kosinski, Ronald Perelman, Steve Ross, John Thain and Vera Wang, all heavyweight money.

But perhaps the most infamous of the billionaires and multi-millionaires at 740 Park is David Koch, who took advantage of the awful Supreme Court decision in Citizen’s United to finance first the Tea Party and then the movement to not raise the debt ceiling or fund the government unless the Affordable Care Act was defunded. I think that even casual followers of news recognize David Koch and his less public brother Charles.

Too bad for the other building residents that even as I write this blog entry, camped outside the door of 740 Park is a scruffy middle-aged man with three anti-Koch signs. He hangs out legally at the edge of the green awning and close to the street on completely public property.

The posters are all manufactured block print lettering in all caps on corrugated cardboard, so the letters hardly stand out and are hard to read a distance. The copy on the three signs says it all:

















The man is dressed in a denim army-style jacket and blue jeans, standard fare for protest rallies. Sometimes he stands and sometimes he sits. The man’s hair flows beneath his shoulders and is blond quickly going gray. His face has the sun creases of someone who has spent a lot of time working or playing outside. This sole protester could very easily be middle class, but what betrays his impoverished circumstances is his lack of teeth when he smiles. When he’s not engaged in conversation with willing passers-by, he reads a tattered paperback book.

The guy is passing out little two-sided postcards for a website called, which is the current website of one of the main national Occupy groups. The website should prove useful to anyone interested in protesting the current rule by the one-percenters, which has led to the most inequitable distribution of wealth since the Gilded Age. Sections of the website offer resources and information about existing protest group, forming new groups, getting informed about the issues and learning about community organizing and nonviolent protest.

It did my heart good to learn that someone was bringing the battle—in this case a class war—to the bad guys. But then I realized that the Tea Party financier is probably spending time at another of his several residences.

Or maybe Koch is on a retreat for one of the many boards of which he is a director. Or perhaps he’s visiting the theatre named after him at Lincoln Center or the dinosaur wing of the American Museum of Natural History, which also bear his name. He could even be hiding out in one of the many hospitals to which has given a collective $395 million.

I don’t look at Koch’s civic and charitable contributions as a redeeming virtue, but rather as proof that he has too much money, much of it inherited.  His charitable activities fail to lend credibility to his extremely ignorant views. Yes, he helps to educate children in paleontology, but he also pays good money to spread doubt on global warming. Even while rich folk were both entertained and edified in the David Koch theatre during recent performances, thousands of poor children across the country missed Head Start early education and nutritional programs because of the recent government shutdown.

I applaud the sole picketer and wish more would join him and that other picketers were outside the residences of the ultra wealthy who are bankrolling conservative ideas.

But all the picketing in the world will do no good unless we remember to vote for the most progressive candidates in primaries and general elections—every election, not just every four years. We also have to keep the pressure on elected officials to raise the minimum wage, pass laws that make it easier to unionize and inject more money into repairing roads, increasing mass transit and subsidizing alternative energy.

All the same, it was good to see someone tell the truth about the Kochs in front of their neighbors.

Study proving public schools outperform private schools is ignored by news media

It doesn’t surprise me that somebody figured out how to prove that public schools outperform private schools.

And it doesn’t surprise me that this seminal study is being ignored by the mainstream news media. As of one day after Atlantic released its article reviewing The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, a Google search yielded but one article covering the important findings of authors Sarah Theule Lubienski and Christopher A Lubienski.

The Lubienskis took into the account the effects of affluence, disabilities and other background factors and found that then public schools outperformed private schools over the past twenty years. According to Atlantic, the Lubienskis report that the Educational Testing Service, Stanford and Notre Dame all took a look at the same statistics—datasets they call it—and came to the same conclusions.

The Lubienskis aren’t saying that public school students score higher, because test comparisons show that the average private school student scores higher. But the private school student is likely to be wealthier, come from a stable family, not have a disability and not have suffered early life trauma. Correct for these factors—in a sense only compare apples that fell from the private school tree with those that fell from the public school tree—and the public school wins hands down. Not only that, but far from the crisis in public education that many see, the Lubienskis make a strong case that public school are doing a fine job educating the youth of America.

The results of the study don’t surprise me because I live in the real world and in the real world the best get paid the most. Now I’m not saying that Alex Rodriguez deserves to make more money than Miguel Cabrera, but that they and every other professional ball player make a lot more money than minor leaguers, those in foreign leagues, semi-pros and beer league softballers.

The best lawyers tend to make the most money. The best accountants tend to make the most money. The best writers—business and entertainment—tend to make the most money. The best musicians tend to make the most money. Forget the obscene fact that Beyonce makes about 200 times what the concertmaster for the New York Philharmonic does, they both do quite well when compared to the average piano teacher who gives lessons through the Jewish Community Center or the YMCA.

Public school teachers make more money than private school teachers. Doesn’t it make sense that they would therefore do a better job and that public schools would therefore do better in quantitative comparisons?  I know that there are some very competent and dedicated private school teachers, but in general, how could they outperform public school teachers, who make so much more money?

Thus my lack of surprise to learn that public school students outperform private school students on a level playing field and that public schools and their teachers are more open to  innovations and trying new learning techniques.

Nor was I surprised that the news media has ignored the Lubienski book. One of the ideological tenets of the mass media is that the private sector always outperforms the public sector. In the case of education, it’s just not so, but the news media filters out this important news for ideological reasons.

The news media, owned as they are by large companies, have come to share big business’ disdain for unions, especially over the past 30 years. The news media will certainly give fair coverage to both sides of most labor disputes, but in feature coverage they give far greater voice to anti-union pundits, writers, politicians, theories and events than to those in support of unions. Weakening unions is one key strategy in the 30 year class war in which wealth has been transferred from the middle class and poor up the economic ladder to the wealthy.

Charter schools, vouchers for private schools, school and school district takeovers—virtually all of right-wing school reform attacks public school teachers because they are unionized and therefore make a decent wage. As supporters of this campaign against public teachers unions, it only makes sense that the news media ignores important books such as The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools.