America’s Dumbest Idea Yet

School Testing

The Article: America’s dumbest idea: creating a multiple-choice test generation by Erika Sánchez in The Guardian.

The Text: A few years ago, I met with my former high school social studies teacher to catch up over drinks. “Miss F” was one of my favorite teachers and we hadn’t seen each other in about 12 years. As we reminisced about our field trips, my other classmates, and my hilariously unfortunate fashion choices, she revealed to me that she and many of my former high school teachers refer to that time as “the golden era”. I was shocked. How could it be that the school district had become worse since I graduated?

My high school, which is located in a working class Latino suburb bordering Chicago, was overpopulated, underfunded, and in my opinion, incredibly stifling. Needless to say, I resented going there. I felt we were disenfranchised and were not given the same opportunities that affluent schools provided their students.

I should have realized how lucky I really was when I was in college, however. Unlike many of my classmates, I cranked out papers with little difficulty because I knew how to synthesize information and formulate an argument. Writing a thesis statement was a freaking breeze. But at the time I had no idea that these skills were a luxury.

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3,000 US Prisoners In Jail For Life…For Non-Violent Crimes

Prison Cell

The Article: Over 3,000 US prisoners serving life without parole for non-violent crimes by Ed Pilkington in The Guardian.

The Text: At about 12.40pm on 2 January 1996, Timothy Jackson took a jacket from the Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans, draped it over his arm, and walked out of the store without paying for it. When he was accosted by a security guard, Jackson said: “I just needed another jacket, man.”

A few months later Jackson was convicted of shoplifting and sent to Angola prison in Louisiana. That was 16 years ago. Today he is still incarcerated in Angola, and will stay there for the rest of his natural life having been condemned to die in jail. All for the theft of a jacket, worth $159.

Jackson, 53, is one of 3,281 prisoners in America serving life sentences with no chance of parole for non-violent crimes. Some, like him, were given the most extreme punishment short of execution for shoplifting; one was condemned to die in prison for siphoning petrol from a truck; another for stealing tools from a tool shed; yet another for attempting to cash a stolen cheque.

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Want To Get Rid Of The Welfare State? Pay People For Being Alive

Swiss Franc

The Article: Switzerland’s Proposal to Pay People for Being Alive by Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.

The Text: This fall, a truck dumped eight million coins outside the Parliament building in Bern, one for every Swiss citizen. It was a publicity stunt for advocates of an audacious social policy that just might become reality in the tiny, rich country. Along with the coins, activists delivered 125,000 signatures — enough to trigger a Swiss public referendum, this time on providing a monthly income to every citizen, no strings attached. Every month, every Swiss person would receive a check from the government, no matter how rich or poor, how hardworking or lazy, how old or young. Poverty would disappear. Economists, needless to say, are sharply divided on what would reappear in its place — and whether such a basic-income scheme might have some appeal for other, less socialist countries too.

The proposal is, in part, the brainchild of a German-born artist named Enno Schmidt, a leader in the basic-income movement. He knows it sounds a bit crazy. He thought the same when someone first described the policy to him, too. “I tell people not to think about it for others, but think about it for themselves,” Schmidt told me. “What would you do if you had that income? What if you were taking care of a child or an elderly person?” Schmidt said that the basic income would provide some dignity and security to the poor, especially Europe’s underemployed and unemployed. It would also, he said, help unleash creativity and entrepreneurialism: Switzerland’s workers would feel empowered to work the way they wanted to, rather than the way they had to just to get by. He even went so far as to compare it to a civil rights movement, like women’s suffrage or ending slavery.

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The Forty Year Slump

American Workers

The Article: The Forty Year Slump by Harold Meyerson in American Prospect.

The Text: The steady stream of Watergate revelations, President Richard Nixon’s twists and turns to fend off disclosures, impeachment hearings and finally an unprecedented resignation–all these riveted the nation’s attention in 1974. Hardly anyone paid attention to a story that seemed no more than a statistical oddity: That year, for the first time since the end of World War II, Americans’ wages declined.

Since 1947, Americans at all points on the economic spectrum had become a little better off with each passing year. The economy’s rising tide, as President John F. Kennedy had famously said, was lifting all boats. Productivity had risen by 97 percent in the preceding quarter-century, and median wages had risen by 95 percent. As economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted in The Affluent Society, this newly middle-class nation had become more egalitarian. The poorest fifth had seen their incomes increase by 42 percent since the end of the war, while the wealthiest fifth had seen their incomes rise by just 8 percent. Economists have dubbed the period the “Great Compression.”

This egalitarianism, of course, was severely circumscribed. African Americans had only recently won civil equality, and economic equality remained a distant dream. Women entered the workforce in record numbers during the early 1970s to find a profoundly discriminatory labor market. A new generation of workers rebelled at the regimentation of factory life, staging strikes across the Midwest to slow down and humanize the assembly line. But no one could deny that Americans in 1974 lived lives of greater comfort and security than they had a quarter-century earlier. During that time, median family income more than doubled.

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Where Do All The Angry White Men Come From?

Rush Limbaugh

The Article: Where do all the angry white men come from? by Ally Fogg in The Guardian.

The Text: This is an article about angry white men and their galloping sense of aggrieved entitlement. It is at least partly inspired by feminist theory and analysis of structural racial supremacy. Before I’ve finished my third sentence, I’ve probably already contributed to a minor epidemic of hypertension among a certain section of Comment is free readers. I can anticipate the comments, the hit-blogs and the hate-mail already: by even mentioning white men, I am the real racist. I am the real sexist. Why doesn’t the Guardian take a pop at the angry brown men over here or the angry black women over there instead?

In my defence, the provocation is not entirely mine. A new book is published this week under the blunt title Angry White Men. Its author, Michael Kimmel, is not unaccustomed to stirring up strong responses. As a liberal sociology professor and perhaps the world’s most prominent male feminist, he has dedicated a career to poking the hornets’ nest of traditional masculinity. He once wrote that the penis should carry a sticker saying: “Warning: operating this instrument can be dangerous to yours and others’ health.”

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