Archive for December 2013
I was director of admissions at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD for a few years, and I habitually referred to “St. John’s college, a private liberal arts college with no religious affiliation.” The legend was that St. John’s in Annapolis was named, not after St. John, but after St. John’s College at Cambridge and/or Oxford. But the weight of the name continued to be a distraction.
But how about St. Mary’s College, a state school named because of its location: St. Mary’s City, Maryland. That director of admissions faces the same on-going challenge. And that college has done something quite interesting and very good, as reported in Yes! magazine by Caroline Selle, who worked on the initiative. Her article begins:
On Sunday, November 24, Swiss voters rejected an initiative that would have capped executive pay at 12 times that of their companies’ lowest-paid employees.
Although the initiative failed, discomfort with high executive pay remains.
Some companies in the United States have tried to address the problem with a salary cap similar to the Swiss initiative. The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company used to have a 5-to-1 salary ratio. Later it was expanded to 17-to-1, before transnational food company Unilever purchased Ben & Jerry’s and made its salary structure a secret.
Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition demanding that Congress cap the salaries of corporate CEOs, which can be up to 500 times what their companies’ lowest paid-employees receive.
At St. Mary’s College, a small school in southern Maryland, faculty, staff, and students have launched a wage ratio proposal of their own. For them, the magic ratio is 10-to-1.
While the lowest paid staff at St. Mary’s make $24,500 per year, the highest paid employee, the president, makes over $300,000. Furthermore, according to faculty calculations, most employees are seeing their income lose value over time. Campaigners say if the school truly valued social responsibility, respect, and community maintenance, as it claims to do on its website, the wage structure would be different.St. Mary’s is not the only college with a living wage campaign. Others include Johns Hopkins University, Miami University, and the University of Virginia. Some campaigns, including those at Swarthmore and Harvard, have resulted in higher wages for the lowest paid workers on campus—as did the original incarnation of one at St. Mary’s.
That campaign, now known as “St. Mary’s Wages, the St. Mary’s Way,” began in 2002 when staff passed a unanimous resolution to institute a living wage on campus. By 2004, the lowest salary on campus had risen from $15,700 to $20,000. In 2006, frustrated by stalled salary negotiations and what they saw as the poor treatment of the lowest-paid workers on campus, 13 students participated in a 147-hour sit-in at the office of then-president Jane Margaret O’Brien. The occupying students included one former and four current senators from the Student Government Association.
Current students still cite the sit-in as a major turning point in staff and student negotiating power. Afterwards, management went into negotiations with the staff union and agreed to increase the salaries of the lowest-paid staff at St. Mary’s to $24,500. Then the living wage campaign was quiet until fall of 2011, when, spurred by staff testimony about financial difficulties, students and a few faculty members launched the 10-to-1 initiative.
The 10-to-1 wage plan would cap the salary of the highest-paid full-time college employee at 10 times that of the lowest-paid ones, and the salaries of the remaining employees would be spread out incrementally between the two. By capping high-level administrative pay, the authors say, the school will eventually save money and be able to rein in tuition hikes.
The campaign gained momentum in 2011 when . . .
Continue reading. There is a very good discussion of the tradeoffs.
The Niece points out a very useful article for our New Year’s consideration. James Clear writes at Entrepreneur:
We all have things that we want to achieve in our lives — getting into the better shape, building a successful business, raising a wonderful family, writing a best-selling book, winning a championship, and so on.
And for most of us, the path to those things starts by setting a specific and actionable goal. At least, this is how I approached my life until recently. I would set goals for classes I took, for weights that I wanted to lift in the gym, and for clients I wanted in my business.
What I’m starting to realize, however, is that when it comes to actually getting things done and making progress in the areas that are important to you, there is a much better way to do things.
It all comes down to the difference between goals and systems.
Let me explain.
The Difference Between Goals and Systems
What’s the difference between goals and systems?
- If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
- If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
- If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
- If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.
Now for the really interesting question:
If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get results?
For example, if you were a basketball coach and you ignored your goal to win a championship and focused only on what your team does at practice each day, would you still get results?
I think you would.
As an example, . . .
Continue reading. In what follows, he breaks it out clearly. An article to bookmark.
The goal is the fruit you want; the system is the ladder that takes you to it.
Read the article and think about how this will end. Not happily, I fear. This is a place where government regulation/standards could help, although they would have to be craftily phrased to avoid being an impediment to innovation.
The NSA and its Congressional minions constantly state that we don’t want another 9/11, and that the intelligence that NSA provides will surely protect us. Unfortunately, that is false, as we can tell by looking at the actual 9/11. Peter Bergen on CNN writes:
Editor’s note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of“Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden — From 9/11 to Abbottabad” which this article draws upon.
(CNN) — The Obama administration has framed its defense of the controversial bulk collection of all American phone records as necessary to prevent a future 9/11.
During a House Intelligence Committee hearing on June 18, NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander said, “Let me start by saying that I would much rather be here today debating this point than trying to explain how we failed to prevent another 9/11.”
This closely mirrors talking points by the National Security Agency about how to defend the program.
In the talking points, NSA officials are encouraged to use “sound bites that resonate,” specifically, “I much prefer to be here today explain these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.”
On Friday in New York, Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that NSA’s bulk collection of American telephone records is lawful. He cited Alexander’s testimony and quoted him saying, “We couldn’t connect the dots because we didn’t have the dots.”
But is it really the case that the U.S. intelligence community didn’t have the dots in the lead up to 9/11? Hardly.
In fact, the intelligence community provided repeated strategic warning in the summer of 9/11 that al Qaeda was planning a large-scale attacks on American interests.
Here is a representative sampling of the CIA threat reporting that was distributed to Bush administration officials during the spring and summer of 2001:
— CIA, “Bin Ladin Planning Multiple Operations,” April 20
— CIA, “Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent,” June 23
— CIA, “Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays,” July 2
— CIA, “Threat of Impending al Qaeda Attack to Continue Indefinitely,” August 3
The failure to respond adequately to these warnings was a policy failure by the Bush administration, not anintelligence failure by the U.S. intelligence community.A case of missed opportunities
The CIA itself also had its own spectacular failure in the run up to 9/11, which wasn’t a failure to collect intelligence, but a failure of information sharing. The CIA had quite a bit of information about two of the hijackers and their presence in the United States before 9/11, which the agency didn’t share with other government agencies until it was too late to do anything about it.
The government missed multiple opportunities to catch al Qaeda hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar when he was living in San Diego for a year and a half in the run up to 9/11, not because it lacked access to all Americans phone records but because it didn’t share the information it already possessed about the soon-to-be hijacker within other branches of the government.
The missed opportunities in the al-Mihdhar case are well-documented. The CIA failed to “watch-list” al-Mihdhar and another suspected al Qaeda terrorist, Nawaf al-Hazmi, whom the agency had been tracking since they attended an al Qaeda summit in Malaysia on January 5, 2000.
The failure to put Mihdhar and Hamzi on a watch list meant that immigration and law enforcement authorities were not alerted to their presence when they entered the United States under their real names. Ten days after the meeting in Malaysia, on January 15, 2000, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar flew into Los Angeles.
The CIA also did not alert the FBI about the identities of the suspected terrorists so that the bureau could look for them once they were inside the United States.
An investigation by the CIA inspector general — published in unclassified form in 2007 — found that this was not the oversight of a couple of agency employees but rather that a large number of CIA officers and analysts had dropped the ball. Some 50 to 60 agency employees read cables about the two al Qaeda suspects without taking any action.
Some of those officers knew that one of the al Qaeda suspects had a visa for the United States, and by March 2001, some knew that the other suspect had flown to Los Angeles.
The soon-to-be hijackers would not have been difficult to find in California if their names had been known to law enforcement. Under their real names, they rented an apartment, got driver’s licenses, opened bank accounts, purchased a car and took flight lessons. Al-Mihdhar even listed his name in the local phone directory.
It was only on August 24, 2001, as a result of questions raised by a CIA officer on assignment at the FBI, that the two al Qaeda suspects were watch-listed and their names communicated to the bureau. Even then, the FBI sent out only a “routine” notice requesting an investigation of al-Mihdhar. Nothing substantive came of this request.
A month later, al-Hamzi and al-Mihdhar were two of the hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77 that plunged into the Pentagon, killing 189 people.
The CIA inspector general’s report concluded that “informing the FBI and good operational follow-through by CIA and FBI might have resulted in surveillance of both al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi. Surveillance, in turn, would have had the potential to yield information on flight training, financing, and links to others who were complicit in the 9/11 attacks.”
Continue reading. There’s more. And there’s this:
And as Tim Grieve points out in Salon:
Ron Suskind’s “The One Percent Doctrine” is out this week, and the Washington Post’sBarton Gellman says it’s full of “jaw-dropping stories” about the Bush administration’s war on terror.
Or lack thereof.
We’ve known for years now that George W. Bush received a presidential daily briefingon Aug. 6, 2001, in which he was warned: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” We’ve known for almost as long that Bush went fishing afterward.
What we didn’t know is what happened in between the briefing and the fishing, and now Suskind is here to tell us. Bush listened to the briefing, Suskind says, then told the CIA briefer: “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”
The NSA is trying a scam. The problem wasn’t the lack of information, it was the lack of competency at every level in the Bush Administration, beginning right at the top with Bush and Rice. And no one seems to have learned: Cheney personally worked hard to distort intelligence on Iraq to justify a war there.
The problem never was lack of information, it was an administration that ignored facts in favor of its own agenda.
Congress demonstrates again its abysmal state of corruption. This sort of thing is what makes it difficult to be hopeful. Jeff Bryant writes a good article at Campaign for America’s Future on the opposition to stopping the scams:
The good news coming from the U.S. Department of Education recently is the effort to put tougher restrictions on for-profit scam colleges that rip off students, families and the taxpayers.
The bad news is that not all Democrats are behind this effort and pushing for the tighter restrictions.
Think Progress last week passed along a report from The Wall Street Journal that Big Ed has drafted a rewrite of regulations to rein in “for-profit schools whose students end up deep in debt or default on their student loans at exceptionally high rates.”
The colleges that would be most heavily affected include the University of Phoenix (owned by Apollo Education Group), Kaplan Higher Education, Devry Inc., The Art Institute (owned by Education Management Corporation), and Corinthian Colleges, among others.
The guidelines provide the teeth for what is referred to in wonk-speak as a “gainful employment” plan. The new regulations could go into effect as early as 2015 and could cause, according to the WSJ report, “as many as 20 percent of programs at for-profit colleges” to lose revenue. Public and nonprofit colleges four-year colleges would be exempted.
Writers at Think Progress provided some useful backstory:
“For-profit schools have come under scrutiny for burdening students with debt without giving them degrees or skills that help them get jobs to pay them off. Many for-profit schools and community colleges have higher rates of students defaulting on their loans than who actually graduate. More than three-quarters of the students at for-profit collegesfail to earn a degree within six years.”
Further, low-income students are particularly vulnerable to the predatory nature of these for-profit schools, because these students “attend for-profit colleges at a rate four times higherthan other students.”
Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are also at risk of being scammed by the for-profit higher ed sector.
As Mother Jones reported back in 2011, “at 8 of the 10 for-profits that take in the most GI Bill cash, more than half of students drop out within a year of matriculation. Many students find that prospective employers and graduate schools won’t take their coursework seriously,” and “some for-profits have cleaned out students’ military benefits while also signing them up for thousands of dollars in loans without their knowledge.”
But, back to The Wall Street Journal report, “for-profit schools say they are being unfairly targeted, given that some of the highest student-debt burdens fall on those who attend public and nonprofit graduate schools, such as law and medical school. They say they serve many students – such as single mothers and many low-income students who don’t live near a community college – who otherwise would have few, if any, options for attending postsecondary schools.”
Whichever side you take in this debate, clearly big money is involved. According to report filed by David Halperin, when he wrote for the Republic Report, the for-profit higher education industry generates a $35 billion annual revenue, of which the vast majority – “about $32 billion” – comes from federal financial aid. . .
Continue reading. In other words, the for-profit colleges, like charter schools, are another mechanism for private companies to scoop up money from the public till. The key paragraph:
As the intrepid Lee Fang again reported, this time in The Nation, “a small group of House Democrats, led by Representatives Rob Andrews of New Jersey and Alcee Hastings of Florida, are organizing an effort within the caucus to protect the for-profit career college industry from any meaningful regulation.
“The two congressmen are among the largest recipients of campaign cash from the industry.Campaign finance data compiled by TheNation.com show Hastings has received $54,500, and Andrews $78,547, from for-profit college executives and political committees.”
Andrews and Hastings circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter asking, according to Fang, “other House Democrats to sign a document asking the administration to back down.”
The amount of money donated to the Representatives is pocket change to the industry, but it was certainly enough to buy the two Representatives. So long as our Representatives and Senators are, in effect, up on eBay, so long will our government continue to be at the beck and call of the wealthy.
We desperately need public financing of campaigns, with no private money involved. That would put an end to the
bribes campaign donations.
A very good story by Lori Montgomery in the Washington Post. An important note: The outrage being expressed is because of this:
The cut is small — a one-percentage-point reduction in the annual cost-of-living increase — but it has provoked outrage among veterans, some of whom argue that the country is reneging on a solemn pact.
The absolute and complete loss of pensions by municipal workers and union workers seems much worse than a small reduction in future increases. These veterans should look around and see what’s happening in this country.
UPDATE: Added link, which I had forgotten. See also comments.
UPDATE 2: To emphasize the point: One can find many things in how the US treats the men and women who serve in the military for which outrage seems appropriate. To take some obvious examples: the poor level of care for veterans with PTSD, the degree to which the VA seeks to avoid helping veterans overcome service-related illnesses and disabilities (the effects of Agent Orange on veterans was determinedly ignored for years, for example), the great number of sexual assaults and the degree to which the services hide or downplay those, the way that PTSD is minimized, undiagnosed, and untreated, and so on. These are appropriate targets for outrage, not only by younger military veterans but by all Americans.
But a small reduction in the rate at which relatively generous pensions continue to increase? And in a country in which municipal and state governments have raided pension funds and then refused to pay pensions, passing legislation that leaves government employees in the cold? Or major corporations that dodge pension obligations and use various tactics to deprive their workers of the pensions they earned? Perhaps the outrage would be better directed at how some have suffered substantially with respect to their pensions, or to other aspects of how veterans are treated.
UPDATE 3: More context: the general pension situation among civilians.