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Let me unskew this for you

Over at the Daily Kos, they are trumpeting a poll that shows that Americans would prefer to have American jobs protected rather than passing more job killing trade agreements. I'm with the Kosites on this issue, but this poll cannot be relied upon as a true measure of the feelings of the American people.

Let me explain.

The pollsters posed three questions. Here's the description of the last question, posed after two initial questions that introduced the subject of currency manipulation by countries like China:

When asked: If the Obama administration supports an international trade agreement that does not specifically prohibit currency manipulation, do you think the United States Congress should support or oppose that trade deal? A plurality of Democrats believe Congress should oppose such a deal—48 percent oppose, 41 percent support—while a majority of Republicans believe Congress should oppose a trade agreement without rules against currency manipulation—77 percent oppose, 17 percent support.

via Daily Kos

You see the problem, don't you?

Let's suppose for a moment that just one little word was changed in that question. Let's suppose that the word “supports” was changed to “opposes”, but the word “Obama” stayed right where it is. We can safely assume that this would shift the Democratic numbers by a fair amount. But the real tell is in the Republican figures. These trade deals, after all, are quite popular with the real Republican base, and so we can expect that the folks at Fox will manipulate the suckers to fall in line. But, not being properly Fox primed, and faced with a question which starts off with stating that Obama supports something, what can any red blooded Republican do but oppose it? Change that one little word, and those numbers would have flipped. If they had told those Republicans that Obama is opposed to killing puppies you'd have 77% of them in favor of a puppy holocaust.

So, this poll was gamed, and the pollsters had to know it. As I say, I'm on their side, but I'm surprised that anyone at the Daily Kos would give this poll the time of day.

Doublespeak, 2014 style

“Everything is the opposite of what it is, isn't it”“

John Lennon quoting Harry Nillson

Now comes the Office of Management and Budget to prove the truth of Harry's observation:

U.S. statistical agencies have proposed major changes to the definitions of manufacturing and services that would fundamentally change our understanding of what manufacturing is and how it affects the economy. Specifically, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued a proposal for changes to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) that would take effect in a 2017 revision. NAICS is used by the myriad federal statistical agencies that collect, analyze, and publish statistical data related to the U.S. business economy, including U.S. trade. Agencies most affected would include the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and the U.S. Census Bureau. In brief, NAICS 2017 would implement a previous but suspended plan (NAICS 2012) to classify factoryless goods producers (FGPs) such as Apple and Nike, most of which are now in wholesaling or management of companies (both service industries), into manufacturing. The proposal would also move trade by manufacturing service providers (MSPs), such as China’s Foxconn (which builds Apple products) into services. MSP establishments in the U.S. have been and will remain in manufacturing, but the jobs and output that are traded would be moved into services.

via The Economic Policy Institute

Now, this makes a certain weird sort of sense, given the prevailing views of our ruling oligarchs, who of course have our best interests at heart. Besides being job creators, they are also product creators. At their behest, those products are brought into physical reality. That process is called manufacturing. Therefore, they are manufacturers. The entities that actually produce the physical objects are merely providing the service of actually making the physical object. Therefore, they are service providers. It makes perfect sense, so long as you are comfortable with having your head spin or thought that 1984 was a book about a utopian society

This would perhaps be trivial, if not for the real world implications to those of us who do not bestride the world like those job creators. The wonky reasons are set forth in the linked article. A few not so wonky objections come to mind. First, there is the matter of our common language and the stresses and strains put on it by those who manipulate it for political reasons. I'm comfortable with the fact that the word "literally” has now come to mean, in addition to “literally”, “figuratively”. “Literally” is now the opposite of what it is as well as being what it is, but it has become so by a process of natural evolution. Things become a bit more sinister when words are manipulated intentionally in order to advance a political or policy agenda. After all, in our economic system, a “servicer” is literally (original sense intended) the opposite of a “manufacturer”, or as nearly opposite as one can imagine. This proposal seeks to do for these words what years of misuse have done for “literally”; make them mean the opposite of what they are, as well as retain their original meanings. This is not healthy.

Let me verge on paranoia a bit and suggest that with a-shall we say- manufactured uptick in manufacturing in this country, the deadbeat unemployed, we will be assured, will have even less reason for refusing to work, what with all those manufacturing jobs that must be available.

Who knows, your next Iphone may be labelled “Made in USA”, for all it seems to take to qualify for that moniker is that someone here in the USA has the idea that something should be made and the ability to see that someone, somewhere actually makes it. As to the actual making, that's merely a service that can be performed anywhere. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm sure our newly christened manufacturers will be more forthcoming, and the label will read: “Made in USA, serviced in China”.

Wishing the best for Andy

Our local State Senator, Andy Maynard, had what must have been a serious accident over the weekend and is now in a Rhode Island Hospital. Details are sketchy, but it sounds like he's in pretty bad shape.

Andy is a dedicated public servant who works tirelessly on behalf of his constituents. Plus, he's a very nice guy. Here's hoping he'll recover soon.

For those who may not have seen it, here's the Daily Show's tribute to Andy and one of his Republican opponents, Stu Norman (Stu was a year ahead of me at Bowdoin). Andy and Stu may have run the last race in the country in which each side treated the other like a human being, and it was that strange behavior that the Daily Show memorialized. Andy and Stu start at around 4:10.

That’s Doctor, to you

The New London school system has been placed in receivership by the State of Connecticut. The receiver has hired a school superintendent, and, not surprisingly, there are some questions about the credentials of the choice. Not surprising, given the Malloy administrations record of pushing unqualified people to the front of the line in the educational system.

In this case, it seems the individual chosen to lead the New London Public Schools (probably into charter school heaven) has been arguably lying about his academic credentials for years

The state-appointed special master who is overseeing New London’s troubled school system said Saturday that newly hired Superintendent Terrence P. Carter was “absolutely clear” during the interview process that he has not yet received a doctorate degree in education.

The Hartford Courant reports that Carter is listed as “PhD” or “Dr. Terrence P. Carter” on numerous documents, including book jackets, programs for symposiums and Chicago Board of Education publications.

“He was absolutely clear that he had finished the doctorate work at Lesley (University, in Massachusetts) in May and he would be conferred in August,” said Steven J. Adamowski, who was appointed two years ago to improve the school district’s educational and financial performance.

Three days before the New London Board of Education is expected to vote on Carter’s contract, the Courant on Friday reported that Carter called himself “doctor” or identified himself as a Ph.D. for more than five years prior to completing the degree.

via The New London Day

I said he was “arguably” lying because he claims that he has a doctorate in theology from an unaccredited online institution in England. Well, that's okay then. He has a fake doctorate in a field founded, as Randy Newman observed, by “some fools in the desert. With nothing else to do. So scared of the dark. They didn't know if they were coming or going.” There are no wrong answers in a field based entirely on fantasy.

It is truly amazing how often people in the educational field inflate their credentials. Even more amazing is the fact that in a few months Carter will be able to legitimately call himself a Ph.D after he gets his degree in, get this: “leadership and adult learning”. (By the way, probably also an on-line (at least it's accredited), or mostly on-line degree.) Personally, if I'd worked my ass off to get a Ph.D in a field in which you actually have to learn and teach things, I'd feel like there ought to be some distinctions made. Maybe instead of calling himself a “Doctor”, he should have to call himself a “Nurse”. Okay, I know, that's unfair to nurses. How about “paramedic”?

Fuzzy Math

Let me stray a bit from politics.

In this morning's Globe we learn that the Superintendent of Schools of Mansfield, Massachusetts has resigned after giving a graduation speech in which she plagiarized someone else's graduation speech.

In my opinion, the punishment doesn't fit the crime, at least if the only crime were plagiarism. Plagiarism is wrong in many contexts, but in some it is perfectly forgivable. We lawyers, for instance, feel perfectly free to rip off pages of other lawyer's briefs, they being, after all, in the public domain. So should it be with graduation speeches, which are, after all, largely composed of strings of cliches. And, after all, even Shakespeare stole his plots.

But does this mean she should not have resigned? Not at all, for though she sinned not in the literary realm, her mathematical sins were of the mortal variety, unless I am terribly mistaken:

The announcement followed weeks of controversy in Mansfield sparked by an anonymous student who sent Hodges an e-mail soon after her June 8 speech, alerting her to rumors that she had plagiarized the remarks by Navy Admiral William H. McRaven. An online petition started, calling for Hodges to step down.

In his speech in May, available on YouTube, McRaven told a University of Texas at Austin audience that “if every one of you changed the lives of just 10 people, and each one of those folks changed the lives of another 10 people, just 10, then in five generations, 125 years, the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.”

In her speech, Hodges said that if “every one of you changed the lives of just five people, just five, then in five generations, 125 years, the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 400 million people.’’

via the Boston Globe

Let us put aside the Ponzi like nature of the admiral's assertion. His math, at least, might just add up. By my calculations, if one divides 800 million by 10, five times (the number of posited generations), one arrives at 8,000, which just might be equivalent to the number of people in the graduating class at the University of Texas at Austin. But if one divides 400,000,000 by 5, five times, one arrives at the figure of 128,000. My brother in law actually taught at Mansfield High School. That was some years ago, but I am still morally certain the graduating class at Mansfield is not that big. There is another mathematical sin embedded in Ms. Hodges's figures; the unspoken assumption that if you halve the admiral's rate of increase the end result will be half of Admiral McRaven's results. It just doesn't work like that.

So, Ms. Hodges was right to resign, though for the wrong reason. Even George Bush would be ashamed of such fuzzy math.


As I've said before, I'm in sympathy with Jonathan Pelto to a great extent. He's absolutely right that, at least in his first term, Dan Malloy has presented a clear and present danger to the public schools of this state. But I have to say his latest defense of his spoiler candidacy is a tad disingenuous, as he rebuts one compelling argument against his candidacy:

“Foley enters this crisis masquerading as a moderate, just as did George W, and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Does anyone doubt that if elected he would immediately attack the unions, layoff state employees, slash social services, cozy up to the gun lobby, and try to drag Connecticut into the whole Koch-led national right-wing insurgency?

But of course, the authors fail to reveal that Wisconsin Tea-bag Republican Scott Walker achieved his goals thanks to the support of Tea-bag Republican majorities in both the Wisconsin State Senate and State Assembly.

Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation, known as 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, passed because the ultra-right controlled the Wisconsin State Senate by a margin of 19-14 and the Wisconsin Assembly by a margin of 51 to 45.

The truth is that regardless of who becomes Connecticut’s next governor, as a result of the legislative re-districting of 1990, 2000 and 2010, the Connecticut State Senate and Connecticut House of Representatives will remain safely in the hands of the Democratic Party.

via Wait, What

It's a superficially compelling argument, but it seems to me it proves too much. If Foley presents no threat because the legislature is safely in the hands of the Democrats, then how does Malloy pose such an existential threat? Pelto's argument all along has been that Malloy has used the power of his office to push an agenda that neither the legislature or the people really support, or, for that matter, are even aware, as so much of it is being done on the sly. And he's largely correct in that assertion. So, what's to prevent Foley from using the power of his office to do much of what Pelto's critics are predicting? There is precedent, after all. Look at how Rowland steamrolled over the Democrats during his terms, not to mention the bizarre way in which the dim witted Rell managed to manipulate the Democrats and the public. There are many ways in which an executive can achieve his or her ends without legislative support, so long as they can count on legislative impotence, a long tradition here in Connecticut. The supreme irony is that the one issue on which there will be no disagreement between Foley and Malloy is on the education issue itself. There is no reason to think that Foley will do anything but embrace the corporate education model more wholeheartedly than Malloy has done and nothing the legislature can or will do will stop him.

One of life’s mysteries

For the most part, this story from Talking Points Memo is not surprising:

A new Public Policy Polling survey found that 37 percent of Republicans who voted in the Mississippi primary runoff election between incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) said they would back the Confederate side if there was another Civil War.

The poll, obtained by TPM, is full of goodies for poll geeks. Of those polled, including Democrats and Republicans, 50 percent said they would support the United States while 29 percent said they would support the Confederate States of America.

Broken down by party affiliation, 82 percent of Democrats said they would support the United States while just 9 percent said they would support the Confederate States of America. Among Republicans, 37 percent said they would support the Confederate States of America while 41 percent said they would support the United States. Another 21 percent of Republicans said they weren’t sure while 9 percent of Democrats said they weren’t sure.

My only question is: who are the 9 percent of Democrats who are ready to fight for old Jeff Davis? Why, at this point in our history, would anyone from Mississippi call themselves a Democrat and a Confederate sympathizer? This is a strange country, indeed.

Future Darwin Award Winners?

I've often often written about the fact that our area of the country ranks higher than the others in most measures of intelligent thought and action. But of course, we're talking averages here, and we're also talking about the United States of America, so, all things being relative, our superiority is nothing to get too excited about. If further proof be needed, consider these folks who, I am ashamed to say, practically qualify as neighbors of mine:

Norwich — Two Uncasville residents were arrested Thursday evening after allegedly advertising heroin for sale on Craigslist, city police said.

After being tipped off by an anonymous Norwich citizen to a Craigslist post offering heroin for sale, police officers Thursday evening contacted the seller and agreed to meet in the Norwichtown area to execute a drug transaction.

via The New London Day

Could have been worse. They could have hired a plane to tow a banner with their names and phone numbers.

The War on Workers

Read this. Just when you think they are as scummy as they can get, you find out they are even scummier.

Money for nothing

I'm not an economist, never having progressed beyond the intro course in college, though I have been trying to educate myself. I've often expressed what I can only call my intuition that all the Wall Street folks are doing at this stage is skimming money out of the economic system without providing anything of value in return. So, it was with a great deal of interest that I read this excellent post at Wall Street on Parade about the Senate hearings currently examining the workings of Wall Street. Read the entire post. Here's what caught my eye, as I always love to see my intuitions reinforced:

In that April 28, 2014 speech, Bogle, the founder of the giant mutual fund family, Vanguard, provided a broader indictment of today’s Wall Street casino, stating:

“But it is only capital formation that adds value to our society. Trading, by definition, subtracts value. Indeed, the casino mentality remains in the catbird seat of finance. Is that good or bad for investors and for our society? As Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently put it, “society is devoting an ever-growing share of its resources to financial wheeling and dealing, while getting little or nothing in return.”

“I might go even further, and suggest that we are getting less than nothing in return. More broadly, be warned by these words of wisdom from the great British economist John Maynard Keynes in 1936: ‘When enterprise becomes a mere bubble on a whirlpool of speculation, the position is serious. For when the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.’ ”

Forever seared in my brain is the image of Laura Flanders having her own epiphany of what motivated Wall Street in the lead up to the bust of 2008. Flanders, in 2009, was interviewing Andrew Cockburn and Leslie Cockburn, producers of the documentary, American Casino, on her show on Grit TV. After the Cockburns explain how the scam worked, fueled by the “crackpot” deregulatory prognostications of then Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Flanders asks, with a blend of contempt and genuine shock frozen on her face: “So you think it was all really a scam to transfer money from the vulnerable and the poor to the wealthy.”

As we have been telling our readers for the past eight years, under its current structure, Wall Street is simply an institutionalized, government-enabled, wealth transfer scheme. (We have even placed a menu heading titled “Wealth Transfer Schemes” on our top menu bar to assist average Americans with achieving their own asymmetric information.) That Wall Street has now deployed high-speed computers, Ph.D.s writing artificial intelligence algorithms, co-located servers inside the stock exchanges to gain micro-second speed advantage, off-exchange, dark pool trading of 100 and 200-share lots of retail customer orders, special order types to fleece other customers – is all simply a high tech acceleration of the wealth transfer scheme to loot the savings of hardworking Americans struggling to put a little aside for their own future and that of their children.

It’s encouraging to, at last, hear and see members of the Senate Banking Committee asking the hard questions that show an awakening to this long, crippling, wealth stripping nightmare.

via Wall Street on Parade

Alas, the hard questions will be asked, partly answered, but never addressed. The corrupt and corporate bought and paid Congresses of the early twentieth century look like models of progressivism compared to ours.