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Empty Apologies

[ 28 ] May 20, 2014 |

New York University expresses its deep apologies for the workers exploited in building their new Abu Dhabi campus. Of course, they are probably not sorry enough to do anything about it. They certainly didn’t heed the many warnings about the horrifying exploitation of immigrant labor in the United Arab Emirates. NYU could have had someone on site monitoring the labor conditions that would actually try to find out what was going on rather one who papered over problems to make the client happy. It could employ these workers directly and be the responsible party for paying them. It could have constructed its own dormitories for these workers.

But of course it did none of these things. NYU administrators were just following the cash. It contracted out the labor and completely forgot about it until the news reports about the exploitation came out. If NYU wants to take real responsibility, it will take on liability for these workers. Otherwise, this falls into the empty “I’m sorry we were caught” category of apology.

Climate Change’s Threat to the Cultural Landscape

[ 18 ] May 20, 2014 |

I wanted to point everyone to this important Union of Concerned Scientists report on the impact of climate change on the nation’s cultural landscape and historic sites. The UCS asked me to be the reviewer on the Cesar Chavez National Monument section and I was happy to do so. You can click on any of the various places the report discusses here or you can read the whole thing as a PDF here. Kate Sheppard also has a nice run-down of the potential impact on the new Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland.

The Lack of Skilled Blue-Collar Labor

[ 95 ] May 20, 2014 |

Those who follow labor frequently hear companies complaining about the lack of blue-collar skilled labor. Why, Chevron needs all of these workers and they can’t get them! says the standard narrative. Why? Well, the answer of course is Chevron.

The two missing links are the role of the construction owner, like Chevron, in crushing the unions that provide skilled journeymen in the construction trades, and a clear discussion of the wage levels needed to attract skilled workers from parts of the country the recovery hasn’t reached. The story says wages are rising in Texas, but from what to what? Are wage levels high enough to persuade a journeyman electrician from Michigan or Los Angeles to relocate to Houston? Or are they unreasonably low, given the scarcity of skilled workers and the years of training required to produce a journeyman? How do union wages compare with non-union wages? The story never says.

Oil giants like Chevron can afford to have their construction contractors pay well for skilled work, but they resist. Organizations they fund, such as the Business Roundtable, have led a decades-long

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campaign to weaken or destroy the building trades unions that actually train the greatest number of skilled tradesmen. Chevron, Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and many other energy industry corporations fund the American Legislative Exchange Council and its legislative efforts to kill unions and eliminate labor standards. It’s hard to hear Chevron complain about a labor shortage when Chevron and other Fortune 500 companies themselves are a major cause. They don’t merely fight unionization, they also oppose the state and federal prevailing wage laws that protect construction wages from being driven lower and allow union apprenticeship programs to continue providing the best-trained workers.

I know for instance that the United Brotherhood of Carpenters has a huge training center in Las Vegas where they make sure that the next generation of UBC members have the needed skills for the modern workforce. But without the building trades training their own members, who is going to do that? The companies? Please. No one. If you want a trained, high-quality blue-collar workforce, you need unions. But ideology trumps economic rationality for corporations.

Idaho Anti-Wind Energy Billboards

[ 129 ] May 19, 2014 |

A friend of mine saw this on a billboard outside of Boise.


Not sure I really get this one except to say that people ideologically opposed to wind energy have problems.

Mt. St. Helens Day

[ 38 ] May 18, 2014 |


On May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helens underwent its cataclysmic explosion that reshaped the mountain
, reminded Americans about the amazing powers of volcanoes, and blew a little 6-year old nerd’s mind. We lived south of Mt. St. Helens so in the leadup to the big eruption, we only had ash a couple of times and that just a dusting. But my family all comes from eastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, and Idaho so I saw tons of pictures when the eruption turned day into night. This was a pretty huge event for everyone in the Northwest. We saw images of the destruction in school for years. When IMAX theaters first came out, the big film to see in the Northwest was the Mt. St. Helens film.

I have visited the blast site a couple of times, once maybe in the late 80s and once maybe in 1994 or so. It’s been a very long time. I may have to alleviate that this summer. It’s an amazing thing to see.

All Money to the Top

[ 92 ] May 18, 2014 |

Who could have guessed:

At the 25 public universities with the highest-paid presidents, both student debt and the use of part-time adjunct faculty grew far faster than at the average state university from 2005 to 2012, according to a new study by the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning Washington research group.

The study, “The One Percent at State U: How University Presidents Profit from Rising Student Debt and Low-Wage Faculty Labor,” examined the relationship between executive pay, student debt and low-wage faculty labor at the 25 top-paying public universities.

The co-authors, Andrew Erwin and Marjorie Wood, found that administrative expenditures at the highest-paying universities outpaced spending on scholarships by more than 2 to 1. And while adjunct faculty members became more numerous at the 25 universities, the share of permanent faculty declined drastically.

“The high executive pay obviously isn’t the direct cause of higher student debt, or cuts in labor spending,” Ms. Wood said. “But if you think about it in terms of the allocation of resources, it does seem to be the tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases and more administrative spending.”

Why, it’s almost like university administrators advance their careers on undermining tenure-track faculty, expanding administrative spending, and forcing their students into debt while acquiring outsized salaries for themselves! In other words, for everyone who says we need to run higher education like a corporation, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Gilded Age Presidential Pets

[ 29 ] May 17, 2014 |

I realize I am really scraping the bottom of the relevance barrel here, but I am now fascinated with Gilded Age presidential pets as a way to not write my book. For instance, did you know that President Rutherford B. Hayes was the owner of the first Siamese cat in the United States?

Twelve-year-old Fanny Hayes watched excitedly as the White House staff opened the Wells Fargo crate for her mother. It had been more than two months since David B. Sickels, a United States diplomat at the consulate in Bangkok, had written to First Lady Lucy Hayes. Sickels explained that when he discovered that Mrs. Hayes was fond of cats, he decided to send her one as a gift. He wrote, “I have taken the liberty of forwarding you one of the finest specimens of Siamese cats that I have been able to procure in this country”. I am informed that it is the first attempt ever made to send a Siamese cat to America.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t end well:

In the autumn of 1879, while the Hayes family was at Spiegel Grove, Siam became seriously ill. The staff tried fish, chicken, duck, cream, and even oysters, hoping that Siam would respond. When her condition worsened, the staff sent for the president’s personal physician. Dr. J. H. Baxter prescribed beef tea and milk every three hours, but Siam did not improve. A pet lover himself, Dr. Baxter took Siam to his home. There, Fanny’s playmate, Nellie McCrary, daughter of Hayes’ Secretary of War, visited the beloved pet. The next day Nellie wrote to Fanny, bluntly reporting Dr.

Baxter’s grim prognosis that, “he thinks she will die and I do to[o].”

Siam survived another five days. Everyone was saddened when news of Siam’s death reached the White House. Her gentle and appreciative ways had endeared her to the entire staff. It was left to the president’s steward Billy Crump, to write the First Lady about Siam’s passing. Crump then delivered the lifeless body to the Secretary of Agriculture, giving personal instructions to preserve her. Despite searches of the Department of Agriculture’s museum and the Smithsonian Institution, Siam has never been located.

Whoever Hillary hired to kill Vince Foster is also hiding Siam’s body.

Then, there’s Benjamin Harrison’s pet raccoons, Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection.

And really, why not name your pets to reflect tariff policy? That is hot stuff.

Mr. Reciprocity at least has his own Facebook page.

Your comprehensive list of presidential pets is found here.

FDR Walking

[ 48 ] May 17, 2014 |

Pretty amazing footage of FDR doing his best to walk at the 1937 All-Star Game. Unfortunately, it’s narrated by the wife of Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, a horrible governor who is going to get crushed this fall. But turn off the sound and check out the footage.

LOL Cats and Dogs, 1914

[ 37 ] May 16, 2014 |

The art of Harry Whittier Frees, 1914:



Cats firing a cannon. Can’t beat that.

And never let it be said that cats taking over the internet is some kind of surprise or cultural phenomena of the era. Cute cats take over everything always.

Obama’s Privatized School Agenda

[ 135 ] May 16, 2014 |

Obama’s Rheeist agenda on education again rears its privatizing head:

One of the nation’s leaders of the privatization movement, Ted Mitchell, has been confirmed by the. u.S. Senate as Undersecretary of Education, the second most powerful job in the U.S. Department of Education.

Mitchell most recently was CEO of the NewSchools Venture Fund, which collects millions from philanthropies and venture funds and invests the money in creating charter chains and for-profit ventures.

Among his many other accomplishments, Mitchell served as chairman of the State Board of Education for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegegger, a time of unprecedented expansion of charter schools and deep budget cuts for both K-12 piblic schools and public higher education.

Once again, Obama’s education agenda is nothing short of terrible. It’s one of the few issues where those who say that there are no differences between Republicans and Democrats are more correct than not.

Lee Fang had more on Mitchell back when he was nominated in December:

His ethics disclosure form shows that he was paid $735,300 for his role at NewSchools, which is organized as a non-profit. In recent years, he has served or is currently serving as a director to New Leaders, Khan Academy, California Education Partners, Teach Channel, ConnectED, Hameetman Foundation, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Silicon Schools, Children Now, Bellwether Partners, Pivot Learning Partners, EnCorps Teacher Training Program, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Green DOT Public Schools.

In addition, Mitchell serves as an adviser to Salmon River Capital, a venture capital firm that specializes in education companies. Mitchell sits on the board of Parchment, an academic transcript start-up that is among Salmon River Capital’s portfolio.

Salmon River Capital helped create one of the biggest names in for-profit secondary education, Capella University. “As a foundational investor and director, [Salmon River Capital’s] Josh Lewis made invaluable contributions to Capella’s success. From leading our landmark financing in 2000, when Capella was a $10 million business operating in a difficult environment, through a successful 2006 IPO and beyond, he proved a great partner who kept every commitment he made,” reads a statement from Steve Shank, founder of Capella.

The Minnesota-based Capella heavily recruits veterans and has received $53.1 million from the GI Bill in the past four years. The Minnesota attorney general is currently investigating several unnamed for-profit colleges in her state.

Obama has promoted Rheeism and profit-generating education from the start of his presidency through Arne Duncan’s unusual power for a Secretary of Education and personal closeness between the two. We see it again and again. If Michelle Rhee wasn’t so controversial and tainted at this point, I’d hardly be surprised to see Obama nominate her if Duncan ever stepped down.

My New Favorite Joke

[ 72 ] May 15, 2014 |


I Knew I Liked Biden for Some Reason

[ 24 ] May 15, 2014 |


Vice President Joseph R. Biden

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Jr.’s publishing career earned him considerably less than the president’s totals. “Promises to Keep,” released in 2007, earned less than $201 in royalties last year, according to Mr. Biden’s financial disclosure form, also released on Thursday.

Mr. Vice-President, have you thought about taking a position in academia?

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