Now is the time

the-silence-of-the-sheep
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❝ Dr. King famously said “now is the time” for social action [in 1963]. For Leonard Pitts, whose column appears on the Chronicle’s editorial pages, that idea applied to 2017 means resisting the man who takes the presidency next week.

RTFA. Time to get up, stand up, again.

The new abnormal

Bill Gross is sometimes called the Bond King. He’s one of the two economists who popularized the term, the New Normal. Describing everything from grudgingly slow recovery from the Bush Great Recession to ever-widening disparity in real income for working class folks versus the one-percenters.

Usually, nothing less than a Boston Bruins victory gets Tom Keene as animated as Bill Gross did. 🙂

Amazon didn’t kill Macy’s — Macy’s did

❝ It has been a very bad week for some of the country’s biggest department stores, with Macy’s feeling the brunt of it. The mass-market retailer’s stock has dropped 16 percent since it announced disappointing holiday sales results and details on thousands of job cuts on Jan. 4.

Macy’s has said that it has too many stores, in too many underperforming locations. It’s closing 100, and no one should be surprised if that number grows in future years.

❝ Macy’s has also blamed what it calls “changing customer behavior.” That’s code for the rise of Amazon.com and the adoption of e-commerce shopping in general. It’s also the idea that a new generation is spending more money on experiences over physical goods.

But while Amazon has certainly had a hand in Macy’s struggles — and we’ll get back to this in a bit — Macy’s should look within, first, for the cause of its current predicament. Because if not Amazon, someone else would have come along and taken advantage of the complacency that’s been on display inside Macy’s over the last decade.

❝ For starters, a trip into Macy’s this holiday season felt like a visit to a teenager’s bedroom: In its Paramus, N.J., store, items were strewn everywhere and no useful answers were to be had.

Even in a neat Macy’s, the selection of merchandise has left a lot to be desired — namely because there doesn’t appear to be much stuff that you can’t find elsewhere.

Prior to the rise of e-commerce, Macy’s could get away with some of this. But you can now buy the same stuff in lots of places — whether from Amazon or a brand’s own website. Comparing prices has gotten infinitely easier, too.

❝ The bottom line, however, is that Macy’s stores, by and large, have looked and felt the same forever. And in digital, Macy’s has long been on the defensive.

Now, take this object lesson and show it to someone in the “leadership” of the Democratic Party.

With the exception of Obama’s presidential campaigns pretty much everything that party has offered around the country for decades felt like 1984. With the addition of candidates whose main qualification was “they’ve been waiting long enough for a chance”. Not just presidential candidates; but, everything down the ballot to governors and state representatives.

Losing a few here and there was akin to simply missing your turn. We’ll try, again, later on. Little or no thought of changing times inside Macy’s or Democrat politics. Macy can blame Amazon and the Republicans will claim superior strategy. Both are about intellectual laziness and ennui.

Researchers find more new invasive tropical mosquitoes in Florida

❝ Two more tropical disease-carrying mosquitoes have been found on the U.S. mainland for the first time, caught in traps near Florida’s Everglades.

The scientists involved say this could raise the risk of mosquito-borne viruses reaching people and birds, but health officials say it’s too early to sound an alarm.

Think they’d keep their jobs if they raised an alarm with a thug like Scott as governor?

❝ The new arrivals from Latin America and the Caribbean — Culex panocossa and Aedeomyia squamipennis — were trapped in October in rural areas bordering Everglades National Park by University of Florida…entomologist Nathan Burkett-Cadena and…researcher Erik Blosser…

❝ In the traps, they discovered that native species were crowded out by thousands of Culex panocossa mosquitoes and hundreds of Aedeomyia squamipennis mosquitoes.

Both species can be found on a few Caribbean islands as well as from Mexico into South America. They lay their eggs on water lettuce — invasive weeds that float in the canals, drainage ditches and other waterways crisscrossing Florida neighborhoods.

“‘Hundreds’ is substantial, particularly when you get a hundred from a single trap. This is not a single specimen that blew in from a storm — this is a reproducing species,” Burkett-Cadena said.

❝ About 15 invasive mosquitoes now live in Florida, including nine that have arrived in the last decade. One, Aedes aegypti, is blamed for spreading the Zika virus, along with dengue fever and chikungunya.

The new arrivals are another sign that climate change, along with increased tourism and global trade, has made Florida more hospitable to exotic species, Burkett-Cadena said.

Populistus teabagocrap isn’t an exotic species in any of the Old Confederate states. Top it off with a governor from the latest generation of neo-con Republican and you won’t find any attention paid to potential disasters which reflect climate change. Rick Scott made a career from profiteering from the sick and poor. Then, he turned to politics and didn’t change a beat in his anti-science bongo solos.

Is there a Religious Left in America?


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❝ The religious left is the Sasquatch of American politics. It leaves footprints in the snow but recent sightings of the creature itself are rare, and not always credible.

Progressive politics is dominated by secular ideals and, increasingly, secular voters. In recent decades, the words “Christian” and “evangelical” have been commandeered as synonyms for “white conservative.” Religious liberals never achieved the power of their conservative opposites…The once-explosive growth of conservative evangelicals has stalled. Yet the religious left doesn’t appear to be benefiting much.

Instead, the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated are growing. A 2016 report by the Public Religion Research Institute stated: “Today, one-quarter (25 percent) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest ‘religious group’ in the U.S.”

❝ Yet if ever there were a moment for the left to seize the mantle of religion from conservatives, surely it arrives Jan. 20 at noon. Donald Trump received the votes of four in five white evangelical or born-again Christians. Hypocrisy is as old as humanity, but even hypocrisy has a gross weight limit.

Christian conservatives are now inextricably tied to an incoming president with a long, public history of exploiting the weak, and no documented history of charity, faith or Christian communion or witness. They have endorsed a First Lady whose modeling career included a pornographic photo shoot described by the Trump-friendly New York Post as “girl on girl.” Even among the plaster saints of the religious right, Trump is a heavy burden to bear.

❝ Sojourners is one of the groups seeking to rally the religious left. “Our Constitution’s protection of religious freedom empowers faith institutions to oppose state-sanctioned bigotry and violence and creates strong sanctuaries for those Jesus called the ‘least of these’ in Matthew 25,” said Lisa Sharon Harper…

A coalition of groups has launched the “Matthew 25” initiative to fight an expected barrage of federal policies targeting the most vulnerable — including the poor, immigrants and Muslims. “These people are organizing under the banner of Jesus,” Harper said.

❝ In North Carolina, the liberal “Moral Mondays” movement has been partially credited with the election in November of Democrat Roy Cooper as governor. The success of the movement — named for weekly public demonstrations against the conservative legislature and incumbent governor — is a powerful precedent. It gained momentum not only because of charismatic religious leadership, but because of unusually aggressive Republican efforts to undermine voting rights and cut funding for education and services…

❝ Trump’s regular shocks to decency, along with an expected Republican assault on funding for the poor, will outrage both secular liberals and the religious left. But will that be enough to bring the left’s religious Sasquatch out of hiding?

I have no idea. Being an old cranky geek, I’m less likely to find myself marching than blogging, nowadays.

There was a time when I could count on cellmates who were priests, partners canvassing door-to-door who were nuns, family and friends who learned childhood ethics in Protestant Yankee denominations who dedicated time and effort to the betterment of life on earth – instead of preaching faith in Wall Street dollar$ over old-timey Christian values.

I wish Sojourners well. Same to the brave folks leading the activism of Moral Monday in Confederate and other Republican states. I respect your courage and integrity. As I always have. But, I surely wish you had more friends.

Trump rooster statue a hot item in China


A yuge statue

A giant rooster sculpture, sporting the President-elect’s signature hairdo and hand gestures, has been erected outside a shopping mall in Taiyuan, in China’s northern Shanxi Province.

The sculpture was commissioned by the company that owns the mall and will be its mascot, Cao Mingliang, the deputy director…told CNN.

Cao said a series of products and smaller replicas will be available for sale in the future, though some are already being sold on Taobao, the Chinese e-commerce giant owned by Alibaba.

Wei Qing, whose Shenghe Yangtai Business is selling replica roosters, told CNN he thought sculpture was hilarious.

“I think the rooster is very cute and funny, the hairstyle and eyebrows look very much like Donald Trump. I’m sure it will attract a lot of customers,” he said.

At least four stores are selling the Trump rooster, with prices starting from $57 to a whopping $1,739 for a statue that’s 32 feet tall.

Trump will probably buy one to replace Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden at the White House. Send the bill to American taxpayers.

Will America learn anything from smart schools in other countries?

❝ Every three years, half a million 15-year-olds in 69 countries take a two-hour test designed to gauge their ability to think. Unlike other exams, the PISA, as it is known, does not assess what teenagers have memorized. Instead, it asks them to solve problems they haven’t seen before, to identify patterns that are not obvious and to make compelling written arguments. It tests the skills, in other words, that machines have not yet mastered.

The latest results…reveal the United States to be treading water in the middle of the pool. In math, American teenagers performed slightly worse than they usually do on the PISA — below average for the developed world, which means they scored worse than nearly three dozen countries. They did about the same as always in science and reading, which is to say average for the developed world.

❝ …That scoreboard is the least interesting part of the findings. More intriguing is what the PISA has revealed about which conditions seem to make smart countries smart. In that realm, the news was not all bad for American teenagers…

❝ Here’s what the models show: Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

❝ eOf all those lessons learned, the United States has employed only one at scale: A majority of states recently adopted more consistent and challenging learning goals, known as the Common Core State Standards, for reading and math. These standards were in place for only a year in many states, so Mr. Schleicher did not expect them to boost America’s PISA scores just yet. (In addition, America’s PISA sample included students living in states that have declined to adopt the new standards altogether.)

But Andreas Schleicher urges Americans to work on the other lessons learned — and to keep the faith in their new standards. “I’m confident the Common Core is going to have a long-term impact,” he said. “Patience may be the biggest challenge.”

❝ President-elect Donald J. Trump and Betsy DeVos, his nominee for education secretary, have called for the repeal of the Common Core. But since the federal government did not create or mandate the standards, it cannot easily repeal them. Standards like the Common Core exist in almost every high-performing education nation, from Poland to South Korea…

❝ For now, the PISA reveals brutal truths about America’s education system: Math, a subject that reliably predicts children’s future earnings, continues to be the United States’ weakest area at every income level. Nearly a third of American 15-year-olds are not meeting a baseline level of ability — the lowest level the O.E.C.D. believes children must reach in order to thrive as adults in the modern world.

❝ As we drift toward a world in which more good jobs will require Americans to think critically — and to repeatedly prove their abilities before and after they are hired — it is hard to imagine a more pressing national problem. “Your president-elect has promised to make America great again,” Mr. Schleicher said. But he warned, “He won’t be able to do that without fixing education.”

A number of nations, from Canada to Estonia, have proven themselves able to learn from the data stream of PISA testing. Results have improved. Education levels and the ability to utilize education in life and work has improved.

I won’t spend time criticizing the critics. They do a fair enough job of that – on their own. Though I have strong opinions [voiced here in the past]. What I will offer is the hope that our readers and anyone else who cares for the future of America’s children will fight for broadly democratic solutions that enable and equip all our children instead of just the privileged few. Public education – if you haven’t noticed – is in danger of death by $tarvation.