Thursday, January 18, 2018

"Adjuncts should be the recipients of a greater proportion of university resources, with benefits, salaries, and respect that reflect the value of the work they do"-Sophie Culpepper



“American universities have become notorious for their price tags. In the
 last 20 years, private university costs have increased by 157 percent, while public universities have seen an even greater rise of 194 percent, bringing the national tuition average in the 2017-18 academic year to $26,010 for out-of-state public tuition and $41,727 for private universities (US News notes these figures are not adjusted for inflation, but emphasizes that the pace of growth of tuition and fees ‘are significantly outpacing inflation’).

“Such exorbitant figures do not even account for the majority of a university’s budget, but they still beg the question: how do universities spend their profits? The answer varies, but significant proportions are devoted to administration, admissions, and new buildings and sports facilities. In fact, in 2014, less than one-third of institutions’ budgets were dedicated to paying teachers. Now, an increasing systematic reliance on part-time, contingent-worker ‘adjunct’ professors is proving detrimental to the quality of education for students, not to mention the quality of life for these faculty members.

“Adjunct is a term encompassing a variety of university teaching roles below the rank and pay of full professors. Adjuncts have temporary contracts, renewed on a contingent basis. They constitute an ever-increasing proportion of faculty teaching students in higher education in an emerging modern trend. In 1969, nearly 80 percent of college-faculty positions were tenure-track (non-adjuncts). Today, the statistics have more than flipped, with more than three in four professors now non-tenure track. Adjuncts form 68.7 percent of the faculty at community colleges, 26.7 percent at public research universities and 40.2 percent at private (nonprofit) research universities.

“In 2015 62 percent of 467 adjuncts responding to a survey reported earning less the $20,000 per year. That is compared to an average salary for full-time professors of more than four times that. More than 60 percent of adjuncts hold a second job (48 percent held one other job and 17 percent two or more other jobs in 2009), which perhaps relates to the fact that their regular income keeps nearly a third of adjuncts at or below the poverty line; a second job can be viewed as the first distraction presented from devoting full attention to teaching students.

“Magnifying and adding to financial insecurity is an irregular teaching schedule, subject to last-minute changes-or outright cancellations. Adjunct professors can have their classes canceled as late as the day before they are scheduled to start, for reasons which may include the university’s whim or a lack of demand. The uncertainty involved with being an adjunct can even have repercussions for student learning; when student evaluations play a role in determining whether an adjunct will leave or stay, in many cases an adjunct is incentivized to challenge students less or grade more generously to avoid harsh evaluations. Adjuncts must walk the tightrope between avoiding offense to their students and the university in what they say in class and write in published work, teaching under twin pressures of job insecurity that can translate to curtailment of their academic freedom.

“Many anecdotes accompany these statisticsSome adjuncts sleep in their cars to save money, especially in areas where real estate is unaffordable—such as Silicon Valley. Conversely, adjunct Tanya Paperny commutes without a car, resulting in 13-hour days. Some universities limited the number of hours their adjuncts could work in order to avoid having to provide health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. D.C. In fact, this year, Robert Ryan of the University of South Florida died of cancer, and without employer-sponsored health insurance, despite having taught at the university for 20 years.

“Adjuncts need to be better paid, and to have better health care and job security benefits. In NLRB v. Yeshiva University, the US Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that given their ‘managerial’ status, tenure-track professors at private institutions cannot unionize. This does not apply to adjuncts, which itself indicates an acknowledgment of the gulf of status and job quality between professors and adjuncts. Unionizing has helped adjuncts, resulting in annual pay increases ranging from five to 20 percent, according to the executive director of the American Association of University Professors Julie Schmid.

“Adjuncts have been able to mobilize through the Service Employee International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and even the United Autoworkers Union, which represents a variety of white-collar workers. Another group, the New Faculty Majority, has collaborated with unions as well as the Department of Labor in efforts to rectify concerns including hour and wage violations caused by universities stepping around the Affordable Care Act. President Maria Maisto looks to legislative reform as one of the most effective potential pathways to improving the lot of adjuncts. Republican control of Congress, however, creates obstacles to the kind of pro-labor reform she is interested in.

The Atlantic compared Uber and FedEx delivery drivers to adjunct professors in terms of the contingent nature of their work. Contingent workers across the board tend to have lower job satisfaction, lower pay per hour, and fewer benefits. They are most vulnerable to the latter two because of the room for them to be categorized as 1099 independent contractors rather than full W2 employees. Adjuncts, who might teach one course at six different colleges, can and do fall through the cracks for benefits; the difference is they are categorized and taxed as employees (not independent contractors), yet lack the benefits of full employees.

“This classification was challenged in the U.S. Tax Court in 2011, in WILLIAM EDWARD SCHRAMM AND STELLA LOGAN SHERROUSE v. COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE, but the case upheld adjuncts’ classification as full employees. If adjuncts were 1099 independent contractors, they would have to pay self-employment taxes on what they earned as adjuncts; so the court based its argument on the responsibility and actions of the university in regulating the classes taught by adjuncts as conflicting with any narrative of adjuncts as self-employed, citing ‘that the school determined the class schedule, managed registration of students, provided the web interface for the class, and bore all risk of profit and loss, along with the fact that the courses taught were part of the school’s primary business.’

“While labor regulators were able to press for Uber and FedEx drivers in California to be reclassified from independent contractors to employees instead, perhaps the best way to help adjuncts would be to pass legislation specifying and protecting specific adjunct professor benefits-or strengthening unions’ abilities to negotiate those benefits. Ideally, this would take place on a national level, for consistency, but promising examples of legislation in this spirit do already exist at the state level.

“In 2016, also in California, Assembly Bill 1690 passed to support unions in entering negotiations with universities on behalf of adjuncts, and guaranteed adjuncts at community colleges with six semesters of acceptable reviews a workload equal to that held in their sixth semester, creating one possible precedent for a way to improve economic stability and quality of life for adjuncts, benefitting their students as well.

“In order to pay adjunct professors more and give them better benefits, universities would have to spend a greater proportion of their funds on teaching. Right now, the investment of funds in amenities by universities are different instances of the same phenomenon; investments give them an edge in advertising themselves to student ‘consumers.’

“If universities are driven to spend more on buildings and sports equipment than their professors to attract students, this represents a fundamental distortion of the ethos of institutions of higher education. One way to recognize the importance of employment of professors as a marker of quality in education could be to have the number of adjuncts a university employs become a significant figure in the calculation of university rankings—which would make sense in any case, because the quality of education evidently is affected by the number of adjuncts.

“Though this would not help the majority of adjuncts in dire financial straits at community colleges and less prestigious schools, it could contribute to a key shift in mentality and a valuable increase in awareness, especially among students, of the situation of adjuncts.  

“There is another potential source to draw on for teaching funds. Between 1993 and 2009 the sheer number of university administrators increased by 60 percent, and median salaries for college presidents increased by seven percent between the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years, reaching $428,000. Both of these trends reflect another way in which higher education is being detrimentally forced into a capitalist, business-style mold; when boards of trustees at universities are dominated by businessmen, there is an expectation of a salary paralleling that of a business executive for top administrators. Why not dedicate a proportion of the swollen salaries of administrators to adjuncts?

“Adjunct positions may create flexibility for universities, and even for professors themselves with interest in only teaching one time, but the contemporary disproportionate reliance on them is damaging to the majority of that labor force, and to their students as well;  when larger numbers of students are taking classes with adjuncts or an institution employs many adjuncts, graduation rates are lower, according to the University of Southern California’s Delphi Project. 

“Adjuncts should be the recipients of a greater proportion of university resources, with benefits, salaries, and respect that reflect the value of the work they do. Economic recognition of this value would not only enhance adjuncts’ quality of life across the board, but the quality of universities themselves, and of the education for which undergraduates pay so very high a price.

For 61 articles about this injustice, click here.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Senator Jeff Flake on Donald Trump's Assault on Truth and Democracy



“Mr. President, near the beginning of the document that made us free, our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident...’

“So, from our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth. The founders were visionary in this regard, understanding well that good faith and shared facts between the governed and the government would be the very basis of this ongoing idea of America.

“As the distinguished former member of this body, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, famously said: ‘everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.’

“During the past year, I am alarmed to say that Senator Moynihan’s proposition has likely been tested more severely than at any time in our history.

“It is for that reason that I rise today, to talk about the truth, and its relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, Mr. President, our democracy will not last.

“2017 was a year which saw the truth – objective, empirical, evidence-based truth -- more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government.

“It was a year which saw the White House enshrine ‘alternative facts’ into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods.

“It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. ‘The enemy of the people,’ was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.

“Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader.

“This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward – despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him ‘fake news,’ it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.

“I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of ‘fake news’ are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of U.S. based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.

“According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 journalists were killed in 2017, and a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on ‘false news’ charges.

“Mr. President, so powerful is the presidency that the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth will not be confined to the president’s time in office. Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful – in fact, we question the powerful most ardently – to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship -- and so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality.

“No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the truth to his own purposes should be made to realize the mistake and be held to account. That is our job here. And that is just as Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have it.

“Of course, a major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don’t. No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions.

“And Mr. President, an American president who cannot take criticism – who must constantly deflect and distort and distract – who must find someone else to blame -- is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.

“Now, we are told via twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the ‘most corrupt and dishonest’ media awards. It begs belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.

“And so, 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple. And in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.

“Together, united in the purpose to do our jobs under the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us resolve to be allies of the truth -- and not partners in its destruction.

“It is not my purpose here to inventory all of the official untruths of the past year. But a brief survey is in order. Some untruths are trivial – such as the bizarre contention regarding the crowd size at last year’s inaugural.

“But many untruths are not at all trivial – such as the seminal untruth of the president’s political career - the oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama.

“Also not trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate – to the effort to undermine confidence in the federal courts, federal law enforcement, the intelligence community and the free press, to perhaps the most vexing untruth of all – the supposed ‘hoax’ at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“To be very clear, to call the Russia matter a ‘hoax’ – as the president has many times – is a falsehood. We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security. It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter, wherever the investigation leads.

“Ignoring or denying the truth about hostile Russian intentions toward the United States leaves us vulnerable to further attacks. We are told by our intelligence agencies that those attacks are ongoing, yet it has recently been reported that there has not been a single cabinet-level meeting regarding Russian interference and how to defend America against these attacks. Not one.

“What might seem like a casual and routine untruth – so casual and routine that it has by now become the white noise of Washington - is in fact a serious lapse in the defense of our country.

“Mr. President, let us be clear. The impulses underlying the dissemination of such untruths are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated.

“Mr. President, every word that a president utters projects American values around the world. The values of free expression and a reverence for the free press have been our global hallmark, for it is our ability to freely air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps a people free. Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler. And so, respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most important exports.

“But a recent report published in our free press should raise an alarm. Reading from the story: ‘In February…Syrian President Bashar Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 13,000 people had been killed at one of his military prisons by saying, you can forge anything these days, we are living in a fake news era.’

“In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has complained of being ‘demonized’ by ‘fake news.’ Last month, the report continues, with our President, quote ‘laughing by his side’ Duterte called reporters ‘spies.’

“In July, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained to the Russian propaganda outlet, that the world media had ‘spread lots of false versions, lots of lies’ about his country, adding, ‘This is what we call fake news today, isn't it?’

“There are more: A state official in Myanmar recently said, ‘There is no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news,’ referring to the persecuted ethnic group. Leaders in Singapore, a country known for restricting free speech, have promised ‘fake news’ legislation in the new year.’

“And on and on. This feedback loop is disgraceful, Mr. President. Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. This is reprehensible.

“We are not in a ‘fake news’ era, as Bashar Assad says. We are, rather, in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere.

“In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be cause for profound alarm, and spur to action. Add to that the by-now predictable habit of calling true things false, and false things true, and we have a recipe for disaster. As George Orwell warned, ‘The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.’

“Any of us who have spent time in public life have endured news coverage we felt was jaded or unfair. But in our positions, to employ even idle threats to use laws or regulations to stifle criticism is corrosive to our democratic institutions.

“Simply put: it is the press’s obligation to uncover the truth about power. It is the people’s right to criticize their government. And it is our job to take it.

“What is the goal of laying siege to the truth? President John F. Kennedy, in a stirring speech on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, was eloquent in answer to that question: ‘We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.’

“Mr. President, the question of why the truth is now under such assault may well be for historians to determine. But for those who cherish American constitutional democracy, what matters is the effect on America and her people and her standing in an increasingly unstable world -- made all the more unstable by these very fabrications. What matters is the daily disassembling of our democratic institutions.

“We are a mature democracy – it is well past time that we stop excusing or ignoring – or worse, endorsing -- these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.

“I sincerely thank my colleagues for their indulgence today. I will close by borrowing the words of an early adherent to my faith that I find has special resonance at this moment. His name was John Jacques, and as a young missionary in England he contemplated the question: ‘What is truth?’

“His search was expressed in poetry and ultimately in a hymn that I grew up with, titled ‘Oh Say, What is Truth.’ It ends as follows: ‘Then say, what is truth? 'Tis the last and the first/ For the limits of time it steps o'er/ Tho the heavens depart and the earth's fountains burst/ Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst/ Eternal… unchanged… evermore.’

“Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.”

This speech was printed by Politico.




“Students learn more effectively from textbooks than from online screens” by Patricia A. Alexander and Lauren M. Singer



“...We conducted three studies that explored college students' ability to comprehend information on paper and from screens.

“Students first rated their medium preferences. After reading two passages, one online and one in print, these students then completed three tasks: Describe the main idea of the texts, list key points covered in the readings and provide any other relevant content they could recall. When they were done, we asked them to judge their comprehension performance.
“Across the studies, the texts differed in length, and we collected varying data (e.g., reading time). Nonetheless, some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:
·         Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.
·         Reading was significantly faster online than in print.
·         Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.
·         Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.
·         The medium didn't matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).
·         But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.
“Placing print in perspective: From these findings, there are some lessons that can be conveyed to policymakers, teachers, parents and students about print's place in an increasingly digital world.
“Consider the purpose: We all read for many reasons. Sometimes we're looking for an answer to a very specific question. Other times, we want to browse a newspaper for today's headlines. As we're about to pick up an article or text in a printed or digital format, we should keep in mind why we're reading. There's likely to be a difference in which medium works best for which purpose. In other words, there's no ‘one medium fits all’ approach.
“Analyze the task: One of the most consistent findings from our research is that, for some tasks, medium doesn't seem to matter. If all students are being asked to do is to understand and remember the big idea or gist of what they're reading, there's no benefit in selecting one medium over another. But when the reading assignment demands more engagement or deeper comprehension, students may be better off reading print. Teachers could make students aware that their ability to comprehend the assignment may be influenced by the medium they choose. This awareness could lessen the discrepancy we witnessed in students' judgments of their performance vis-à-vis how they actually performed.
“Slow it down: In our third experiment, we were able to create meaningful profiles of college students based on the way they read and comprehended from printed and digital texts. Among those profiles, we found a select group of undergraduates who actually comprehended better when they moved from print to digital. What distinguished this atypical group was that they actually read slower when the text was on the computer than when it was in a book. In other words, they didn't take the ease of engaging with the digital text for granted. Using this select group as a model, students could possibly be taught or directed to fight the tendency to glide through online texts.
“Something that can't be measured: There may be economic and environmental reasons to go paperless. But there's clearly something important that would be lost with print's demise. In our academic lives, we have books and articles that we regularly return to. The dog-eared pages of these treasured readings contain lines of text etched with questions or reflections. It's difficult to imagine a similar level of engagement with a digital text. There should probably always be a place for print in students' academic lives – no matter how technologically savvy they become.
“Of course, we realize that the march toward online reading will continue unabated. And we don't want to downplay the many conveniences of online texts, which include breadth and speed of access. Rather, our goal is simply to remind today's digital natives – and those who shape their educational experiences – that there are significant costs and consequences to discounting the printed word's value for learning and academic development.”

There is nothing quite like reading a good book. I am sharing just two of my many bookcases in my home:



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"Higher Education is drowning in BS, and it’s morally corrosive to society" by Christian Smith




“…BS is the university’s loss of capacity to grapple with life’s Big Questions, because of our crisis of faith in truth, reality, reason, evidence, argument, civility, and our common humanity.
“BS is the farce of what are actually ‘fragmentversities’ claiming to be universities, of hyper-specialization and academic disciplines unable to talk with each other about obvious shared concerns.
“BS is the expectation that a good education can be provided by institutions modeled organizationally on factories, state bureaucracies, and shopping malls — that is, by enormous universities processing hordes of students as if they were livestock, numbers waiting in line, and shopping consumers.
“BS is universities hijacked by the relentless pursuit of money and prestige, including chasing rankings that they know are deeply flawed, at the expense of genuine educational excellence (to be distinguished from the vacuous ‘excellence’ peddled by recruitment and ‘advancement’ offices in every run-of-the-mill university).
“BS is the ideologically infused jargon deployed by various fields to stake out in-group self-importance and insulate them from accountability to those not fluent in such solipsistic language games.
“BS is a tenure system that provides guaranteed lifetime employment to faculty who are lousy teachers and inactive scholars, not because they espouse unpopular viewpoints that need the protection of ‘academic freedom,’ but only because years ago they somehow were granted tenure.
“BS is the shifting of the ‘burden’ of teaching undergraduate courses from traditional tenure-track faculty to miscellaneous, often-underpaid adjunct faculty and graduate students.
“BS is states pounding their chests over their great public universities even while their legislatures cut higher-education budgets year after year after year.
“BS is the fantasy that education worthy of the name can be accomplished online through ‘distance learning.’
“BS is the institutional reward system that coerces graduate students and faculty to ‘get published’ as soon and as much as possible, rather than to take the time to mature intellectually and produce scholarship of real importance — leading to a raft of books and articles that contribute little to our knowledge about human concerns that matter.
“BS is third-tier universities offering mediocre graduate programs to train second-rate Ph.D. students for jobs that do not exist, whose real function is to provide faculty with graduate RAs and to justify the title of ‘university.’
“BS is undergraduate ‘core’ curricula that are actually not core course systems but loose sets of distribution requirements, representing uneasy truces between turf-protecting divisions and departments intent on keeping their classes full, which students typically then come to view as impositions to ‘get out of the way.’
“BS is the grossly lopsided political ideology of the faculty of many disciplines, especially in the humanities and social sciences, creating a homogeneity of worldview to which those faculties are themselves oblivious, despite claiming to champion difference, diversity, and tolerance.
“BS is hyper-commercialized college athletics and administrations sucking the teats of big money, often in the process exploiting and discarding rather than educating student athletes, and recurrently corrupting recruitment programs, tutoring services, and grading systems.
“BS is second- and third-tier universities running expensive sports programs that do little but drain money away from academics, when some of their ordinary students cannot find the time to prepare for classes because they work two and three part-time jobs to pay their school bills.
“BS is the ascendant ‘culture of offense’ that shuts down the open exchange of ideas and mutual accountability to reason and argument. It is university leaders’ confused and fearful capitulation to that secular neo-fundamentalist speech-policing.
“BS is the invisible self-censorship that results among some students and faculty, and the subtle corrective training aimed at those who occasionally do not self-censor.
“BS is the only semi-intelligible outbursts of antagonism from enraged outsiders incited by academe’s suppression of open argument, which primarily work to validate and reinforce the self-assured superiority of the suppressors, and sometimes to silence other legitimate voices.
“BS is the anxiety that haunts some faculty at public universities in very conservative states about expressing their well-considered but unorthodox beliefs, for fear of being hounded by closed-minded students and parents or targeted by grandstanding politicians.

“BS is the standard undergraduate student mentality, fostered by our entire culture that sees college as essentially about credentials and careers (money), on the one hand, and partying oneself into stupefaction on the other.
“BS is the failure of leaders in higher education to champion the liberal-arts ideal — that college should challenge, develop, and transform students’ minds and hearts so they can lead good, flourishing, and socially productive lives — and their stampeding into the ‘practical’ enterprise of producing specialized workers to feed The Economy.
“BS is administrators’ delusion that what is important in higher education can be evaluated by quantitative ‘metrics,’ the use of which will (supposedly) enable universities to be run more like corporations, thus requiring faculty and staff to spend more time and energy providing data for metrics, which they, too, know are BS…”

Christian Smith is a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame.
For the entire article, click here.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Drumpf




We Shall Fight on the Beaches, Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940



House of Commons
The position of the B. E.F had now become critical As a result of a most skillfully conducted retreat and German errors, the bulk of the British Forces reached the Dunkirk bridgehead. The peril facing the British nation was now suddenly and universally perceived. On May 26, ‘Operation Dynamo’ –the evacuation from Dunkirk began. The seas remained absolutely calm. The Royal Air Force–bitterly maligned at the time by the Army–fought vehemently to deny the enemy the total air supremacy which would have wrecked the operation. At the outset, it was hoped that 45,000 men might be evacuated; in the event, over 338,000 Allied troops reached England, including 26,000 French soldiers. On June 4, Churchill reported to the House of Commons, seeking to check the mood of national euphoria and relief at the unexpected deliverance, and to make a clear appeal to the United States.
“…There never has been, I suppose, in all the world, in all the history of war, such an opportunity for youth. The Knights of the Round Table, the Crusaders, all fall back into the past-not only distant but prosaic; these young men, going forth every morn to guard their native land and all that we stand for, holding in their hands these instruments of colossal and shattering power, of whom it may be said that: ‘Every morn brought forth a noble chanceAnd every chance brought forth a noble knight, deserve our gratitude, as do all the brave men who, in so many ways and on so many occasions, are ready, and continue ready to give life and all for their native land.’
“…I would observe that there has never been a period in all these long centuries of which we boast when an absolute guarantee against invasion, still less against serious raids, could have been given to our people. In the days of Napoleon the same wind which would have carried his transports across the Channel might have driven away the blockading fleet. There was always the chance, and it is that chance which has excited and befooled the imaginations of many Continental tyrants. 

“Many are the tales that are told. We are assured that novel methods will be adopted, and when we see the originality of malice, the ingenuity of aggression, which our enemy displays, we may certainly prepare ourselves for every kind of novel stratagem and every kind of brutal and treacherous maneuver. I think that no idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered and viewed with a searching, but at the same time, I hope, with a steady eye. We must never forget the solid assurances of sea power and those which belong to air power if it can be locally exercised.
“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.
“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
For complete speech, click here. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Pfizer shuts down its research efforts on treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's


“…The big drug company Pfizer seems intent on being a pace-setter in cranking out the benefits of the tax cut to stakeholders who need them the least. In an announcement over the weekend, Pfizer said it was shutting down its research efforts on treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinsonism. The company didn’t say how much it was spending on the two conditions, but said about 300 researchers will lose their jobs as it redirects its research and development budget elsewhere.

“‘Pfizer routinely reviews its R&D pipeline,’ the company said in its formal statement of the change. It said it was continuing its R&D programs for the drugs tanezumab and Lyrica. That’s a bit of non sequitur, since the first is a treatment for chronic pain from osteoporosis and other conditions and the latter is a drug for nerve pain caused by diabetes, shingles and spinal cord injury and is an anti-seizure medication for epilepsy patients. They do both fall within the neurology field, however, which also encompasses Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“Pfizer’s announcement dismayed advocates for victims of central nervous system diseases, which have presented researchers with some of the most intractable challenges in the healthcare field.

“‘It’s really alarming to see such a large pharmaceutical company deciding to abandon research into the brain and central nervous system,’ James Beck, chief scientific officer at the Parkinson’s Foundation, told me Monday. ‘It’s telling for how difficult it is to do research into neurodegenerative diseases.’ Of even greater concern, he said, is that ‘having Pfizer exit does not augur well for what other companies are likely to do.’

“Pfizer’s move also raises questions about what role Big Pharma should play in drug R&D, especially for conditions without known treatments or those with relatively few sufferers.
“Research into these two diseases is about as risky as one could imagine, since no treatment thus far has been shown to have any promise in curing either disease or averting its onset; some drugs may delay symptoms for up to a year or temporarily alleviate symptoms, but patient advocates consider those to be modest advances at best.
“On the other hand, an Alzheimer’s cure would be the very definition of a blockbuster drug, since 5.5 million Americans are known to suffer from the disease and the patient base is expected to expand markedly as the population ages. Parkinson’s afflicts about 1 million Americans, the Parkinson’s Foundation says…

“Pfizer is expected to be among the prime beneficiaries of the corporate tax cut. The measure allows companies to pay a tax rate as low as 8% on foreign earnings they bring home, a big discount from the 21% top rate the law assesses on domestic earnings, itself a big cut from the previous rate of 35%. By some estimates, that could be worth more than $5 billion to Pfizer alone, not counting any gains from the lower tax rate.
“As it happens, Pfizer signaled how it would apply the tax savings even before the final passage of the tax bill: The company announced a $10-billion share buyback on Dec. 18, four days before President Trump signed the tax cut into law. That buyback was on top of $6.4 billion left to be spent from a previous buyback plan, and was accompanied by a 6% increase in the company’s stock dividend, which will be worth roughly another half-billion dollars a year...
“What’s most discouraging to patient advocates is the dearth of alternatives to big pharmaceutical companies in brain research. Pfizer’s withdrawal, especially if it prompts other big pharma companies to flee the field, places more of the burden on small biotech firms, academia, foundations and government. The news ‘reinforces the urgent need for additional federal investment in Alzheimer’s research,’ a spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America told me. But the Trump administration has placed funding for government research projects in almost all scientific fields on the chopping block…” (Pfizer, pocketing a big tax cut from Trump, will end investment in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's research by Michael Hiltzik).


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

“We Americans are so numb by now that we hardly even take note of the mockery this implies of the public servant’s dedication to public good”—James Traub




 “…Perhaps in a democracy the distinctive feature of decadence is not debauchery but terminal self-absorption— the loss of the capacity for collective action, the belief in common purpose, even the acceptance of a common form of reasoning. We listen to necromancers who prophesy great things while they lead us into disaster. We sneer at the idea of a ‘public’ and hold our fellow citizens in contempt. We think anyone who doesn’t pursue self-interest is a fool…


“‘Decadence,’ in short, describes a cultural, moral, and spiritual disorder — the Donald Trump in us. It is the right, of course, that first introduced the language of civilizational decay to American political discourse…

“A year’s worth of Trump’s cynicism, selfishness, and rage has only stoked the appetite of his supporters. The nation dodged a bullet when a colossal effort pushed Democratic nominee Doug Jones over the top in Alabama’s Senate special election.

“Nevertheless, the church-going folk of Alabama were perfectly prepared to choose a racist and a pedophile over a Democrat. Republican nominee Roy Moore almost became a senator by orchestrating a hatred of the other that was practically dehumanizing.

“Of course [Trump] has legitimized the language of xenophobia and racial hatred, but he has also legitimized the language of selfishness. During the campaign, Trump barely even made the effort that Mitt Romney did in 2012 to explain his money-making career in terms of public good. He boasted about the gimmicks he had deployed to avoid paying taxes.

“Yes, he had piled up debt and walked away from the wreckage he had made in Atlantic City. But it was a great deal for him… Then Americans elected the man who had uttered those words with demonic glee. Voters saw cruelty and naked self-aggrandizement as signs of steely determination.

“Perhaps we can measure democratic decadence by the diminishing relevance of the word ‘we.’ It is, after all, a premise of democratic politics that, while majorities choose, they do so in the name of collective good.

“There is, in fact, no purer example of the politics of decadence than the tax legislation that the president [signed]. Of course the law favors the rich; Republican supply-side doctrine argues that tax cuts to the investor class promote economic growth.

“What distinguishes the current round of cuts from those of either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush is, first, the way in which they blatantly benefit the president himself through the abolition of the alternative minimum tax and the special treatment of real estate income under new ‘pass-through’ rules.

“We Americans are so numb by now that we hardly even take note of the mockery this implies of the public servant’s dedication to public good. Second, and no less extraordinary, is the way the tax cuts have been targeted to help Republican voters and hurt Democrats, above all through the abolition or sharp reduction of the deductibility of state and local taxes…

“The new tax cuts constitute the economic equivalent of gerrymandering. All parties play that game, it’s true; yet today’s Republicans have carried electoral gerrymandering to such an extreme as to jeopardize the constitutionally protected principle of ‘one man, one vote.’

“…
Here is something genuinely new about our era: We lack not only a sense of shared citizenry or collective good, but even a shared body of fact or a collective mode of reasoning toward the truth.

“A thing that we wish to be true is true; if we wish it not to be true, it isn’t. Global warming is a hoax. Barack Obama was born in Africa. Neutral predictions of the effects of tax cuts on the budget must be wrong, because the effects they foresee are bad ones.

“It is, of course, our president who finds in smoking entrails the proof of future greatness and prosperity. The reduction of all disagreeable facts and narratives to ‘fake news’ will stand as one of Donald Trump’s most lasting contributions to American culture, far outliving his own tenure.

“He has, in effect, pressed gerrymandering into the cognitive realm. Your story fights my story; if I can enlist more people on the side of my story, I own the truth. And yet Trump is as much symptom as cause of our national disorder.

 “The Washington Post recently reported that officials at the Center for Disease Control were ordered not to use words like ‘science-based,’ apparently now regarded as disablingly left-leaning. But further reporting in the New York Times appears to show that the order came not from White House flunkies but from officials worried that Congress would reject funding proposals marred by the offensive terms…

A democratic society becomes decadent when its politics, which is to say its fundamental means of adjudication, becomes morally and intellectually corrupt. But the loss of all regard for common ground is hardly limited to the political right, or for that matter to politics. We need only think of the ever-unfolding narrative of Harvey Weinstein, which has introduced us not only to one monstrous individual but also to a whole world of well-educated, well-paid, highly regarded professionals who made a very comfortable living protecting that monster. ‘When you quickly settle, there is no need to get into all the facts,’ as one of his lawyers delicately advised.

“This is, of course, what lawyers do, just as accountants are paid to help companies move their profits into tax-free havens. What is new and distinctive, however, is the lack of apology or embarrassment, the sheer blitheness of the contempt for the public good.

“When Teddy Roosevelt called the monopolists of his day ‘malefactors of great wealth,’ the epithet stung — and stuck. Now the bankers and brokers and private equity barons who helped drive the nation’s economy into a ditch in 2008 react with outrage when they’re singled out for blame.

“Being a ‘wealth creator’ means never having to say you’re sorry. Enough voters accept this proposition that Donald Trump paid no political price for unapologetic greed.

“The worship of the marketplace, and thus the elevation of selfishness to a public virtue, is a doctrine that we associate with the libertarian right. But it has coursed through the culture as a self-justifying ideology for rich people of all political persuasions — perhaps also for people who merely dream of becoming rich.

“Decadence is usually understood as an irreversible condition — the last stage before collapse… The revelations of widespread sexual abuse offer an opportunity for a cleansing moment of self-recognition — at least if we stop short of the hysterical overreaction that seems to govern almost everything in our lives.

“Our political elite will continue to gratify our worst impulses so long as we continue to be governed by them. The only way back is to reclaim the common ground — political, moral, and even cognitive — that Donald Trump has lit on fire…” (The U.S. has reached the last stage before collapse by James Traub, Business Insider).