You are browsing the archive for 2018 February 03.

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You Won't Believe What American High Schools Are Teaching Their Students About Slavery

February 3, 2018 in Blogs

By Jacob Sugarman, AlterNet

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A new report finds both educators and pupils are woefully misinformed.

Just eight percent of American high school seniors can identify the cause of the Civil War; less than a third (32 percent) know which amendment abolished slavery in the U.S.; and fewer than half (46 percent) know that the “Middle Passage” refers to the harrowing voyage across the Atlantic undertaken by Africans kidnapped for the slave trade. These are only a few of the more unnerving findings from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project, which concludes that in classrooms across the country, the subject of slavery is as mistaught as it is misunderstood.

Drawing from online surveys of 1,000 12th-graders and more than 1,700 social studies teachers, along with an exhaustive analysis of the 10 most widely read U.S. history textbooks, the SPLC's latest report attempts to assess how well the country understands its original sin. In a word, the results are “abysmal.”

“[Students' misconceptions] extend beyond factual errors to a failure to grasp key concepts underpinning the nature and legacy of slavery,” writes Melinda D. Anderson of the Atlantic. “Fewer than one-quarter (22 percent) of participating high-school seniors knew that 'protections for slavery were embedded in [America’s] founding documents'—that rather than a 'peculiar institution' of the South, slavery was a constitutionally enshrined right. And fewer than four in 10 students surveyed (39 percent) understood how slavery 'shaped the fundamental beliefs of Americans about race and whiteness.'”

The teachers fared almost as poorly. Despite 92 percent claiming that they were “comfortable discussing slavery,” most implemented a course of study that could be described as incomplete at best and negligent at worse. Nearly half of the teachers failed to teach their students that protections for slavery were enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, while only a fraction more …read more


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White Nationalists Could Be Coming to a College Campus Near You

February 3, 2018 in Blogs

By Kali Holloway, AlterNet

White supremacists have stepped up recruitment efforts on campuses across the nation.

In early 2017, Donald Trump took to his medium of choice to simultaneously defend alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and admonish those who had protested his appearance at a California campus.

“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” Trump wrote in a pre-dawn tweet nearly a year ago to the day.

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s threat was empty, since presidents can’t single-handedly cut off federal loans to educational institutions. But more important than the substance of his tweet was its subtext: in the fray between the racist alt-right and its opponents, the president was stating his unequivocal support for the racists. Months later, Trump would reaffirm his position when he referred to a group of white nationalists and neo-Nazis as “very fine people.”

There have always been racists in this country—the U.S. was founded on and prospered from genocide and slavery—but this president’s open support has given extremists a bold new confidence. Trump might be happy to know that the white supremacists he publicly sympathizes with have stepped up their recruitment efforts on campuses all around America.

Over the course of a year, there has been an exponential increase in incidents of “white supremacist propaganda—flyers, stickers, banners, and posters—appearing on college and university campuses,” according to a new study from the Anti-Defamation League. Researchers note that during the fall semester of 2016, there were 41 reports of these incidents on campuses around the country. One year later, that figure increased by more than 3.5 times to 147 incidents. Since September 2016, the ADL has tracked 346 examples of white racist propaganda on “216 college campuses, from Ivy League schools to local community colleges.” In 2018 alone, there have already been 15 reports.

The ADL stresses that these incidents have happened throughout the U.S., “in 44 states and the District of Columbia.” White supremacist organization American Vanguard papered the UT Austin campus in early 2016, putting up flyers urging students to “imagine a Muslim-free America.” At Central Michigan …read more


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Community Revival in the Wake of Disaster: Lessons in Local Entrepreneurship

February 3, 2018 in Economics

By Michael Montgomery


By: Michael Montgomery

Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 20, no. 3 (Fall 2017)

Community Revival in the Wake of Disaster: Lessons in Local Entrepreneurship by Virgil Henry Storr, Stefanie Haeffele-Balch, and Laura E. Grube, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015

When a community is hit by a disaster, how can it recover? What choices of that community enhance (or hamper) revival? These are some of the interesting questions considered about the economics of mega-disaster.

This volume (and the deep scholarly work that led up to it) was inspired tragically by major disasters around the globe over the last twenty-five years. Such disasters, of course, are not unique to our time. Quite the contrary: In the middle of the nineteenth century, John Stuart Mill, writing in the Principles of Political Economy, Book 1, Ch. 7, remarked on how often devastated communities could recover rapidly in the face of extreme tragedy. Mill’s explanation focused on the accumulation of surplus capital (i.e., saving). A community that has accumulated significantly more capital than other communities will be able to withstand truly devastating events more successfully than can the average community. Mill’s simple insight helps power modern research that seeks to discover why some stricken communities outperform other ones in striving to recover from disaster.

Up to this point, we have used Mill’s capital concept narrowly. Let us now widen our concept of capital to include the social relationships inherent in communities. When we look carefully at these relationships, we detect complex communal connections of both business and social character.

One popular definition of “Social Capital:” is by Pierre Bourdieu: “Social Capital is a resource that facilitates collective action for mutual benefit….” Another is: “Social Capital comes in the form of social networks, norms, and narratives…” Woolcock (2001). Our authors emphasize “…bonding social capital… that exists among like-minded homogeneous groups….” The components of such ties might reasonably be referred to as social capital. Some of these recognized components are:

Alertness” and the role of the entrepreneur: This is the ability to taste—so to speak—new wine in old wineskins. Our authors put forth good explanations of the two concepts (Chapter 2; pp. 12–16), with similarities and differences described between Kirzner’s entrepreneur and the closely related Schumpeterian concept.

However, if “alertness” alone falters, then it is nice to have something else to fall back on—such as market forces. The authors, like most economists, believe in the power of market forces, …read more


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Made in the USA: The Real History of the MS-13 Gang Trump Talked About in State of the Union

February 3, 2018 in Blogs

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!

Trump's deportation machine would only make the group stronger.

During President Trump’s first State of the Union, he called on Congress to pass an immigration overhaul and repeatedly tried to conflate immigrants, including DREAMers, with terrorists and gang members. Among Trump’s guests to the State of the Union were the parents of two young girls who were killed by members of the MS-13 gang two years ago in Long Island, New York. MS-13 is a gang that originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s and has since spread to Central America as a result of the U.S. mass deportation policies. For more on the history of MS-13 and the United States’ relationship with El Salvador, we speak with Daniel Denvir, writer-in-residence at Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project. His 2017 article for The Washington Post is titled “Deporting people made Central America’s gangs. More deportation won’t help.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In his State of the Union address, President Trump mentioned the MS-13 gang four times by name and told the story of the two young teenage girls who were murdered by members of the gang in Long Island. Let’s go to that part of the State of the Union.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They’ve allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.

Here tonight are two fathers and two mothers: Evelyn Rodriguez, Freddy Cuevas, Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens. Their two teenage daughters, Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, were close friends on Long Island. But in September 2016, on the eve of Nisa’s 16th birthday—such a happy time it should have been—neither of them came home. These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown. Six members of the savage MS-13 gang have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as …read more


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Is the Marketplace What's Really Killing Coal?

February 3, 2018 in Economics

By Andrew Moran


By: Andrew Moran

In 2016, Coal Country propelled Donald Trump to the White House. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly slammed the Obama administration for its environmental policies targeting the coal industry, while regularly promising to bring back jobs to the sector. This was something West Virginia and Wyoming coal miners wanted to hear, not Hillary Clinton pledging “to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”

So, with Trump’s first year in the Oval Office in the history books, has the coal industry been saved?

Last year, output was up, and exports increased. However, coal-fired power plants are still shutting down, employment remains low, and the president’s proposal to subsidize coal plants was rejected by federal regulators.

Trump’s critics will inevitably pounce on the White House’s inability to rescue the industry, which will indeed be a talking point for Democrats seeking to regain the support of middle America. But the industry’s decline, particularly when it comes to jobs, has been in the making for many years.

Coal Country usually blames the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and the Stream Protection Rule. But the future has been bleak for a long time, and there’s a myriad of reasons why coal is dead and never coming back. Free market, government policy, machinery, green energy. Take your pick.

Coal Employment Peaked in 1923

In 1890, there were 300,000 coal workers. For three decades, coal employment kept going up, eventually employing nearly one million workers. But that trend ended abruptly in the 1920s.

With the prevalence of machinery and businesses replacing most manual workers in the sector, coal employment peaked in 1923 with about 900,000 miners.

Yes, even with the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), thanks to President Richard Nixon, there was an uptick in the 1970s. But it wasn’t because of sound economic policies. In 1973, the Department of Labor proceeded to count white-collar staffers as coal workers.

Once again, there was a steady decline in employment figures beginning in the 1980s.

Today, there are roughly 50,000 American coal workers. Who knows where these statistics will be 10 or 20 years from now?

The Rise of Natural Gas

A decade ago, coal accounted for about half of the fuel used to generate U.S. electric power, but it tumbled to 30% in 2016. What contributed to the steep drop? Natural gas.

In 2007, natural gas provided just 20% of the nation’s electricity needs. Today, that number has spiked to 34%, surpassing coal’s share for the first …read more


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Tronc: A Corporate Media Monstrosity

February 3, 2018 in Blogs

By Bill Boyarsky, Truthdig

The publishing company and the president share the same volatile behavior and scorn for the rights of individuals.

“Am suffering a strange, precise dyslexia. I keep misreading 'tronc' instead of 'Trump,'” tweeted Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter Diana Marcum.

Rather than suffering from a strange form of dyslexia, Marcum seems to be afflicted with an ailment common to good journalists: seeing things too clearly.

Tronc is the oddly named abbreviation for “Tribune online content.” It was once called the Chicago Tribune and is now owner of the Los Angeles Times and other papers.

What Marcum sees is that the erratic, disorderly, authoritarian President Donald Trump operates in the same way as Tronc, which has put the Los Angeles Times on a calamitous path. They share the same volatile behavior, the same incompetent planning and management, and the same scorn for the rights of individuals.

Trump and Tronc disrespect the rule of law. In Trump’s case, it is the Constitution and other laws and traditions that aim to protect us from the untrammeled impulses of an out-of-control president. With Tronc, it is the separation of the business department, particularly advertising, from newsgathering. This isn’t law. But it’s ethical practice and tradition, just as important as the law to journalists. Generations of Times journalists have fought for these standards, once defying management in a confrontation that shook the newspaper to its core.

Granted, Trump, with his presidential power to round up immigrants in a police state manner and threaten a nuclear attack on North Korea, is more dangerous than a newspaper with a 250,000 circulation on weekdays, 500,000 on Sundays and more than 100,000 online subscribers.

But, like a president, a newspaper such as the Times has great influence, especially in its geographic area. Its reporters act as watchdogs on government and other institutions, and the paper, through its story selection and editorials, is crucial in setting a civic agenda. It can be a force for good or, like Trump, an instrument of destruction.

The Times began its downhill slide in the 1980s when the big profits long typical of newspapers began to diminish across the country. …read more


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A Worrisome Assessment of Economic Freedom in India

February 3, 2018 in Economics

By Daniel J. Mitchell


By: Daniel J. Mitchell

I’ve just finished up a week of lectures and meetings in India. It was an interesting trip, but not an encouraging trip.

My first observation is that Indians are enormously successful when they emigrate to the United States. And they also do very well when they migrate to Singapore, South Africa, and other place around the world.

Yet Indians in India remain comparatively poor. Per-capita income is only $5,350 based on purchasing power parity (and far lower on a exchange-rate basis).

Why the difference? Let’s start with Economic Freedom of the World, which measures the degree to which misguided government policy suppresses the private sector.

The bad news is that India is ranked only #95, which puts it in the bottom half of the world.

Its worst score is on trade, where India is a miserable #142. And since there are only 159 nations that are included in the Fraser Institute’s ranking, that’s close to the bottom.

The regulation score also is quite bad. Not quite in the bottom third of nations, but close. Monetary policy and legal system/property rights (i.e., rule of law) are a bit better, but still in the bottom half of the EFW rankings.

The country’s only good score is for fiscal policy. But I would argue that the #22 ranking is an overstatement. India does well mostly because the government is too disorganized and incompetent to collect a lot of revenue. That’s the only reason why the burden of government spending is modest.

Below is a chart from EFW that maps India’s score starting in 1970. The good news is that India’s score – though still depressingly low – did improve considerably in the 1990s.

But here’s a very important caveat. India’s score increased, but its relative ranking has declined. Simply stated, other nations have improved their scores at a much faster rate.

Here’s some data on fiscal policy from a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

We’ll start with data on tax revenue as a share of economic output. By that measure, India is a low-tax country.

But now check out corporate tax rates. As you can see, the system is relatively onerous.

So a possible conclusion, as I noted above, is that revenues are low because of an unfriendly tax system. Hello Laffer Curve.

I’ll close by shifting from macro data to personal observations based on my trip.

Here are four reasons why …read more


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Algorithms Are Fine — Until Governments Use Them Against Us

February 3, 2018 in Economics

By Robert A. McKeown


By: Robert A. McKeown

If you’re a frequent user of social media platforms you’ve probably noticed something akin to being watched or even monitored. Suddenly, an advertisement appears for a product you might have reviewed on Amazon or eBay. A series of videos appears to the right of your YouTube page relating to something you’ve watched days earlier. Facebook only shows you news feeds for posts you may have interacted with and ignores all of your other friends. The examples go on and on.

The answer lays in algorithms. These are logical mathematic equations which are designed to produce a certain outcome. A simple example would be if A>B and B>C then A>C. Putting it another way, if John prefers bananas to oranges and oranges to apples, then John prefers bananas to apples. But, does he always?

Positivism in Economics

In the study of economics, the Chicago school, Harvard, and MIT have long been advocates of what is known as economic positivism. This mathematical model-based theory of economics relies on certain normative and also certain positive assumptions. If an anomaly doesn’t fit the normative assumption, it is simply ignored. The economist continues ignoring certain “outliers” and comes to some definitive conclusion. These conclusions are then implemented as public policy by the state or banking institutions, like the Federal Reserve. Not unlike the algorithms used by social media, economic positivism is almost entirely mathematically based and relies heavily on “all things being equal” or better put, “all things being quantifiable.”

Just like in our above example, how can an economist quantify John’s taste in fruit? In proper economic terms, how can an economist quantify a utility? That is, how can an economist assign a numerical value to someone’s satisfaction or preferences? But, that is what the mainstream has been doing for over 100 years.

By making certain “one size fits all” assumptions, mainstream economics has been treating consumers as herd animals. This “feed at the trough” mentality ignores the individual in the vastness of the market. They do so because our myriad of different preferences and choices are not quantifiable. It would be an impossible task to mathematically reduce all of our choices and preferences to a simple equation. But, by dismissing individuality, mainstream economics can positively determine the success or failure of public policy decisions. Ergo, we end up with housing bubbles, bond market bubbles, college loan bubbles, stock market bubbles, and on …read more