The Privatization of Childhood

Class War: The Privatization of Childhood

By Megan Erikson

Verso Press (2015)

Book Review

Megan Erikson’s 2015 book provides an elegant class analysis of the current push by Wall Street and Silicon Valley to privatize US education via voucher programs and private publicly-funded charter schools. Class War provides an in-depth examination of the dismaying effects of systematic privatization on the teachers and low income students who struggle on in brutally underfunded public schools.

Erikson’s basic premise is that the current purpose of the US educational system isn’t to educate but to permanently entrench social class divisions by sorting students into winners and losers.

For me the three basic points Class War puts across are

  1. US public schools are increasingly run like prisons, complete with metal detectors, cops, surveillance, attack dogs and random sweeps,
  2. Teachers are unfairly blamed for severe social problems that are beyond their control. Five decades of research conclusively concludes that classroom education accounts for less than 30% of a child’s education success and teacher performance only 7.5%. Achievement levels relate much more closely to exposure to complex language, access to medical care and a “healthy” home environment that provides access to books and challenging games.
  3. Claims by the CATO Institute and other conservative that increased federal education funding* won’t help are dead wrong. Research consistently shows that increasing the funding level per student**and reducing class size,*** increasing teacher pay, and providing better instructional materials (many New York City public schools fail to provide a textbook for every child) all improve achievement levels.

Erikson points to the irony of neoliberal billionaire reformers (like Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg) calling for an increase class sizes in public schools (currently 40 students per teacher in New York City, while they send their own kids to exclusive private school with class sizes of 10-16. Likewise Silicon Valley executives push for early access to tablets and laptops in public schools, while sending their own kids to Waldorf schools that ban classroom computer access prior to age 13.


*In most industrialized countries, 50% of funding comes from national government. In the US the federal share is only 10-15%. This means most public school are mainly reliant on local property taxes for funding. This translate into major financial problems in poor districts.

**In public school districts with high funding levels per student, results on global achievement tests are equal to those of high performing countries like Japan and Hong Kong.

***In most European countries, administrators reduce class size to increase achievement in students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the US, the exact opposite occurs.

 

Treating Depression with LSD Microdosing

LSD: Microdosing LSD in the Name of Self-Improvement

DW (2019)

Film Review

As it’s title suggests, this documentary concerns LSD “microdosing,” a fad originating with Silicon Valley tech executives. They discovered that tiny doses (10-15 micgrograms) of LSD greatly improved their mood, energy, focus and creativity. Microdosing has since taken off in Germany and other parts of Europe.

The film begins with testimonials from anonymous German microdosers who believe that LSD has totally turned their life around. One man whose depression failed to respond to any other treatment (including antidepressants, psychotherapy and alternative medicine) finally obtained relief after a brief period of microdosing.

Filmmakers also interview Paul Austin, a Silicon Valley microdosing coach, and James Fadiman, leading expert on LSD and psilocybin microdosing and author of the 2011 Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide.

Researchers in Germany and Switzerland are conducting double blind studies of LSD microdosing. At doses between 10-15 mg, their subjects experience a clear improvement in concentration, mood and anxiety in contrast to placebo control groups. Moreover, unlike antidepressant trials, there are no apparent adverse effects.

The film also looks at promising double blind research of the psychedelic psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) in treating depression. Unlike LSD, “shrooms” are legal in the Netherlands and have been decriminalized in a number of US cities. Portugal legalized all mind-altering drugs in 2001 (see British Medical Journal Calls for Legalization of All Drugs)

Other research has shown psilocybin and other psychedelics to be helpful in treating PTSD and alcoholism. See Why Are We Sending Vets to Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico

 

Working Class Reality TV: The Final Episodes

Hard Earned – Episodes 5 and 6

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

The final episodes of Hard Earned (“Fight for Fifteen” and “New Beginnings”) reveal mostly positive outcomes for the five families – in part due to their resourcefulness and in part (in my view) to extremely good luck.

Chicago: DJ loses his union job because it requires a car and he can’t afford the expense and upkeep. He finds a new job as field director for a voter mobilization campaign.

Montgomery: The couple finally find a house and mortgage they can afford and refurbish it to enable Elizabeth’s parents to move into their basement. They have been paying the $1700 mortgage on her parents’ home since her father developed cancer. Jose finally passes his math class and starts a part-time internship at a radio station to supplement his full time job at the courthouse.

Silicon valley: Hilton quits his Google job after he learns enough English to pass a food handlers exam. However he is forced to take a second job as a busboy to pay their medical bills and higher housing expenses (they have moved out of the garage into a house they share with another couple). His girlfriend takes a minimum wage job at a market.

Milwaukee: Percy finally lands a full time maintenance job that pays $11.25 and hour, and his wife, who has severe arthritis in her knees, is finally able to retire.

Evergreen Park: Emilia finally finds a good-paying waitress job and receives additional income from speaking tours about her struggle with drug and alcohol recovery.


For earlier episodes see Fighting Homelessness: Reality TV That Depicts Reality and  Reality TV: More Truth About the American Working Class

Fighting Homelessness: Reality TV that Depicts Reality

Hard Earned – Parts 1 and 2

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

As it bears no relation whatsoever to modern life, so-called “reality” TV is clearly a misnomer. Most of what passes for reality TV are highly scripted popularity contests for physically attractive white contestants.

Al Jazeera’s six-episode series Hard Earned, depicting the bitter struggle millions of Americans face to stay off the streets, is my kind of reality TV. Although I myself found it riveting, I am high skeptical that any US media provider will ever carry it.

Hard Earned follows five working class families as they struggle to meet basic survival needs with minimum wage jobs.

The families include an African American Chicago couple who work full time jobs at Walgreens to support two preschool kids; an Hispanic Iraq veteran in Montgomery Maryland who works a graveyard clerical shift at the courthouse, his school counselor girlfriend and his school aged son from a prior marriage; a Silicon Valley Hispanic man who works two full time jobs to pay $300 a month to live in a garage with his pregnant girlfriend; a 66/65-year-old African American Milwaukee couple who face working indefinitely at minimum wage jobs to keeping from losing their home; and a 50-year-old white Evergreen Park (Illinois) waitress who works two jobs and survives on credit cards to keep from losing the house she bought while making $80,000 a year as a construction worker.

We are introduced to the five families in Episode 1 and 2 (“The American Dream” and “Rock Bottom”). You are immediately struck by how exceptionally bright, hard working, resourceful and above all (for the most part) physically healthy they all are. This, despite working non-stop and getting very little sleep. They are also (for the most part) extremely adept at budgeting and managing their money.

 

 

The Real Reason Silicon Valley Moved Electronics Assembly to China?

Death by Design

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

Death By Design is a very concerning documentary about the extremely toxic chemicals used in the production of semiconductors and circuit boards needed for computers, cellphones ipods, etc.

It turns out IBM has been keeping a mortality register since the 1970s showing an extremely high rate of breast cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain cancer and melanoma in in electronics assembly workers. Unsurprisingly there are also high levels of carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals in the ground water of various Silicon Valley neighborhoods. Thanks to the tireless organizing and lobbying efforts of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, in 2001 the EPA declared a number of Silicon Valley companies Superfund Sites* in 2001 (IBM, Intel, National Semiconductor, Hewlett Packard among others).

This, in turn, would lead most Silicon Valley companies to outsource their electronics assembly to China, where environmental regulations are much weaker.

At the moment China also deals with most of the world’s toxic e-waste, a problem significantly compounded by deliberate planned obsolescence on the part of tech companies. Our Smartphones, computers, etc are deliberately designed to cease operating after about four years so we have to buy new ones. The most famous example is the Apple iphone, with the infamous battery that goes dead after 18 months and can’t be replaced.

Apple and their main Chinese contractor Foxconn are also the worst offenders in resisting Chinese environmentalists who are trying to reduce toxic discharges to Chinese rivers and streams.

The part of the film I found most interesting relates to a company called Ifixit, which specializes in teaching Smartphone and computer users how to fix their own devices instead of replacing them. They have even developed a special screwdriver to open Iphones so the batteries can be replaced.

I was also intrigued to learn about an Irish company that builds totally non-toxic and upgradable laptops out of wood (instead of plastic) that last 7-10 years.


*When the EPA declares a company a toxic Superfund Site, the company is required to develop and pay for removing the toxic chemicals.

Offline is the New Luxury

Offline is the New Luxury

VPRO (2017)

Film Review

This documentary is about taking back control of our Internet connectivity. Ironically it starts by recommending a new app that allows you to identify increasingly rare “white spots” – areas of the earth that aren’t blanketed with WiFi signals. One MIT psychology professor, who bans cellphones, laptops and tablets in her classes, is part of a movement to create sacred spaces in these white spots – areas where people fully engage with each other instead of their electronic devices.

The filmmakers also talk about the late Steve Jobs and other prominent Silicon Valley moguls not allowing their kids to have cellphones and tablets and sending them to low tech Montessori and Waldorf schools. Increasingly the well-to-do are seeking out expensive retreats and detox facilities to cure their Internet addiction. While growing numbers of law firms and security agencies patronize a highly successful Dutch firm selling Faraday cages and microwave shields to protect clients from electronic snooping and damaging microwave radiation.

The Amish, of course, have a cheap low-tech solution to Internet addiction – namely a value system that rejects most advanced electronic technology.

The video concludes by explaining the concept of “surveillance capitalism,” in which our personal information is “monetized,” ie in which the data Google, Facebook and Amazon collect on us is sold to advertisers.

A key strategy of surveillance capitalism is to use drones, satellites and giant balloons to expand connectivity to remote areas of the developing world. At the time of filming, Facebook was pressuring the Indian government to allow the introduction of Free Basics (free Internet connectivity) to all Indian residents, with Facebook retaining control of their Internet access. Google, meanwhile, is pushing to extend 100% connectivity to Sri Lanka by launching giant WiFi balloons.

According to one analyst, the drive to acquire massive troves of Indian personal data is a ploy to placate shareholders. The latter are understandably concerned about a drop-off in Facebook users in the developing world – due to privacy concerns and the recognition that most Facebook content is meaningless drivel.

The Ugly Truth about Airbnb, Uber and Task Rabbit

raw deal

Raw Deal: How the “Uber Economy” and Runaway Capitalism are Screwing American Workers

by Steven Hill

St Martin’s Press (2015)

Book Review

Raw Deal is about all the creative ways Wall Street and Silicon Valley have invented to exploit American workers since the 2008 meltdown escalated the wholesale destruction of US jobs.  As of 2015 the US economy had shed a total of 12 million jobs, a figure that is increasing rather than decreasing.

The book mainly focuses on so-called sharing platforms, such as Airbnb, Uber, Task Rabbit and their imitators. However author Steven Hill also includes chapters on the phenomenal growth of permatemp “contract” labor, the burgeoning System D or gray labor market (where employers pay cash under the table) and the steady replacement of workers by robots, computers and apps.

The Myth of Worker Independence

For me, the most valuable chapters expose the total fraud being perpetrated on the US public about Airbnb, Uber and Task Rabbit, namely the immense benefit they offer the economy, the environment and worker independence by eliminating the middleman. The myth about freeing up US workers by making them micro-entrepreneurs is exactly that: a carefully constructed lie.

Centering these enterprises around web-based apps only thinly disguises what they really are: a labor force made up entirely of contract employees. It’s an immediate win-win for the employer, who reduces his labor costs by 1/3 by eliminating his obligation to pay Social Security, Medicare, unemployment tax or health or pension benefits. And an immediate lose-lose for the “microentrepreur,” who as a member of the precariat,** never knows where his next dollar is coming from.

Hyperexploitation: the Fastest Way to Become a Billionaire

The CEOs who run Airbnb and Uber are both thirty-something billionaires (Task Rabbit founder and CEO Leah Busque is only a millionaire), who got their by hyperexploiting their employees.

Brian Chesky is the 34 year old billionaire who founded Airbnb, a company using a web-based app to enable ordinary moms and pops to rent out their spare rooms to tourists. Guests pay a 6-12% service fee and hosts 3%. Airbnb, which operates in 34,000 cities and 192 countries, is bigger than the Hyatt Hotel chin. It’s valued at $25 billion.

The company has been banned in numerous cities and countries owing to its violation of short term rental laws (most cities place a maximum of 30 days on rentals) and their refusal to pay hotel tax.

There’s the additional problem of Airbnb being taken over by real estate agents and slum lords seeking to cash in on a lucrative unregulated market. Of the 5,000 accommodations listed on the website, 2/3 are entire homes or buildings with no owner present, and 1/3 are controlled by people with two or more listings. In San Francisco, New York and other cities with rent control, unscrupulous slum lords are evicting whole blocks of elderly and disabled tenants to turn their buildings into Airbnb accommodation.

Uber Modeled After Ayn Rand’s Philosophy

Uber is a web based taxi services that recruits drivers to use their private vehicles to carry fares. Uber founder and billionaire Tavis Kalanick, who fancies himself an Ayn Rand revolutionary, prides himself on breaking laws he finds inconvenient

Uber, which is worth $51 billion, has gone from scandal to sandal owing to its refusal to perform criminal background checks on their drivers (after a number stole from passengers or physically/sexually assaulted them) or pay livery taxes or carry commercial liability insurance; their brutal exploitation of drivers; and their failure to protect passenger privacy.

Kalanick faces criminal charges in South Korea and Uber has been banned in France, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands and Denmark. It has also been banned (or severely curtailed) in Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, Nevada, Miami, Philadelphia and New York City.

Rent-a-Slave

Task Rabbit was founded in 2009 by Leah Busque to connect “domestic freelancers” with customers needing tasks and errands done. It expanded to include all forms of temporary work (Walmart uses Task Rabbit, where it pays a 26% commission, as opposed to the 40% charged by conventional temp agencies).

The most controversial aspect of the Task Rabbit platform was the “bidding auction,” where “rabbits” competed with one another to provide the lowest bid for the service desired. After a storm of controversy Task Rabbit ditched the bidding auction in 2014.


*According to Forbes, the total value of the global System D economy is $10 trillion

**In sociology and economics, the precariat is a social class of people whose life is dominated by a total absence of financial predictability or security.