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Table of contents
- Matt Taibbi on Greenspan, Rand and the Crisis
- The Great American Bubble Machine – Rolling Stone
- Get our best delivered to your inbox.
- Both Democrats and Republicans are now in the grip of the banking class.
We are beginning to emerge from the mists of understanding human behavior. Advances in brain science are eroding the concept of "free will" and placing more responsibility on brain circuitry as we get more detailed pictures and find more chemical causes and palliatives. However, this article steps aside from the free will vs. Although our judicial system treats citizens as equally able to adhere to acceptable cultural norms, in fact people are not equal at all but are biologically arrayed on a multi spectrum of pre- frontal cortex capabilities, if not other brain abnormalities like tumors.
And as scientific measurements and techniques are refined, punishment can be customized, with more emphasis on rehabilitation. We know that conventional talk therapy, appealing to our rational selves is less efficient than the right medication. We know that our prisons are substitutes for mental wards in many cases. More and more sentencing guide lines are the result of using a composite of statistical variables rather than personal evaluations. The author does suggest that a more sophisticated form of bio-feedback can produce positive results. Through repetition it enables the deviant, whether criminal or just one with unhealthy impulse control like bad eating habits or gambling addiction to strengthen the prefrontal cortex for long term management.
Mental health courts could tailor sentences to rehab the convicted, reducing the overburdened prison system while keeping likely repeat offenders behind bars. A new system would be forward looking, turning upside down the way we look at personal responsibility and past infractions. The concept of free will has been with us since civilized man developed. It seems that we make rational choices each waking minute, so we believe others do too.
Civilization has depended on the concept to provide safety and order. Now that is being called into question leaving the reason for much of religion in doubt. After all, heaven and hell were designed to coerce acceptable behavior owing to rational choice. This thesis opens Pandora's box, although Eagleman only concentrates on our judicial system exploring his premise more widely will be a shocking game changer. It brings a whole new slant on how we operate.
Any thoughtful person has to come to terms with this revised understanding. This is must read and internalized material. If you want a background context for your concerns over America's progression into plutocracy and the depletion of the middle class, this 10 page article supplies it.
The first part of the essay discusses the reality and portends for the country while the second suggests remedies. Citing Ajay Kapur, Peck writes that in the previous American "plutonomys", the Gilded Age and the Roaring 20s, wealth concentration resulted from rapid technological change, global integration, laissez faire government policy and "creative financial innovation".
The Great Recession follows suit. As even the major media is belatedly telling us, the rich are pulling further and further away from the rest of the citizenry, especially in our country. Despite Republican efforts to convince us that it is well deserved the rich work harder and smarter and for the best, Peck notes that those at the top of the income earners benefited from lax regulation, tax benefits, global markets and public bailouts which rewarded excessive risk.
The author cites many works along the way which gives the reader the opportunity to delve further into the subject--including his own book Pinched. Much of this class difference is due to educational attainment. The high school grad now usually finds jobs on or near the bottom rung while those with some college or with bachelor degrees find little upward mobility. However, those with advanced degrees, the professional class and the innovators barely noticed the economic down turn. The figures are quoted. When the housing bubble burst those in the middle class lost the most compared to the top percent who had wider investments.
Union decline and overseas competition for repetitive task jobs have driven down wages for those able to find work. Even service sector jobs have migrated off shore. The recession has just accelerated shifts that have been going on for decades. There have been social consequences. Male workers have been hit hard and find it increasingly difficult to support a family. Women are relatively gaining in independence and marriage is delayed, divorces increase and single moms proliferate, breaking down stable social connections and child welfare.
Some areas of the country are doing well because they house the innovative class and working professionals. Peck offers some prescriptions for restoring a healthier middle class.
Matt Taibbi on Greenspan, Rand and the Crisis
Certainly a more progressive income tax needs to be enacted. Enlarging the Earned Income Tax Credit would also help subsidize the middle quintiles. Legislating fair trade policies and addressing China's undervalued currency would help our exports. Spend more on investment and relatively less on consumption. We must prevent the current situation from becoming the "new normal". There is much more to ingest in this article. It will give you a Cliff Notes version of our economic troubles.
Remember, a better understanding of our crisis is essential for avoiding the individual, economic IEDs and resolving the national dilemma. The book tells the story through mini biographies, some contributors more prominent than others, perhaps partially depending on material access. Few have heard of Lewis Uhler.
More vaguely remember the name of National City banker Walter Wriston who spent his career campaigning to eliminate regulation. Then there is the economist Milton Freidman who kept expounding on the benefits of a free and unfettered marketplace which would always cure its own instabilities and benefit the consumer and general public. President Reagan ran with that mantra and did so much to demonize government that it still hasn't recovered.
Joe Flom led the corporate takeover way during the '70's.
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- AMA 253: Griftopia, the Most Audacious Power Grab in History & Vampire Squids with Matt Taibbi;
He helped open the door for the Ivan Boeskys of the world, buying up companies and "streamlining" them then selling off the pieces. Although Reagan deserves much of the blame, facilitating deregulation started under President Carter who may deserve some slack for not seeing the down-the-road consequences at the time. And let's not forget Michael Milken and his junk bonds which enabled more financial transactions and more risk.
Chairman Alan Greenspan facilitated bubbles and busts with his interest rate decisions and deserves a lot of the discredit. George Soros made a killing by betting on Britain's currency depreciation and opened up the currencies avenue for further exploitation. But much of the story is about Sandy Weill who merged and dealt companies, getting bigger and bigger with Shearson, Lehman, Travelers, American Express and finally Citicorp. At retirement he was the biggest market maker on the Street. Meanwhile, with abundant capital coming in from all over to work with and with the removal of the Glass-Steagall regulatory road block under Clinton which allowed traders to use bank deposit money and the implied government back stop for excessive risk and profit, mortgage securitization devolved into a mess of derivatives and swaps which bilked unwary mutual funders etc..
The short sellers walked away with millions as did those who cost Americans enough to cover this country's federal debt. For those who don't want to dig into the weeds, Lewis' book is probably a better read.
The Great American Bubble Machine – Rolling Stone
But the takeaway here is that our financial houses have, over the recent decades, led us through boom and bust cycles remember the savings and loan debacle and Enron? Now these houses own Washington. That is why present underregulation leaves the door open for more risk implosions, bailouts and profit taking. That is why America is in decline. It takes us back to the beginning of the turn to plutocracy in and lays out the reasons and the players who have crippled the middle class and funneled America's income and wealth to an ever smaller fraction at the top.
Since the outcome will affect us measurably, this is core knowledge. The fact that Republicans made gains in last November's election as the authors predicted demonstrates how that lack of understanding continues to further our decline. In essence, Republicans have gotten really destructive and Democrats have moved further to the right as well.
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The stark economic realities are laid out early. The authors argue that this was not an economic inevitability, it was because of political decisions, decisions promoted and influenced by the growth of right wing organizations, starting in the middle of President Carter's term and whose agenda was legitimized by the advent of the Reagan ascendancy which promoted greed and deregulation. And as each of the last 3 decades have proceeded, the race to the extreme edge of Conservatism has speeded up.
One only need look at the pronouncements by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower or read how former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has been regarded-from beginning to end of term-to realize this fact. Although many are to blame, such as Irving Kristol, Newt Gingrich and Phil Gramm, Presidents Reagan and Bush 43 were most obvious in favoring the rich "my base" and most hostile to programs like Medicare, Medicaid and even Social Security which actually is an insurance plan which have shored up the middle class.
The idea has been to overspend including tax cuts favoring the rich on the big campaign contributors and let Democrats "tidy up" the deficits and gather up the pain blame. As Clinton and Obama have tried to appeal to the middle ground, that ground has been constantly shifting to the right.
Both Democrats and Republicans are now in the grip of the banking class.
The more they try to reach Independents, the more they emulate previous Republicans and alienate progressives. Much, if not most of the public responds to the right wing propaganda and TV sound bites because they don't pay in-depth attention, and the major media isn't going to wake them up. Republicans have abused the filibuster to stalemate needed reforms in health, education, finance, job producing investment, immigration, carbon dioxide emissions etc.
And Dems let things drift as a passive way to placate their patrons. Remedies are offered but nothing stands out. Along with distracting early analogies, this is the weakest part of the book. Then again, perhaps there is no real treatment because the patient is too far gone. You need to know. Most of us consider America as the leading nation in the world. That assessment is accurate but not in the ways most want to admit to. In general, the south is more unequal with more social problems. NY seems to be an outlier with very high inequality but it is below the trend line in poor circumstances.
The authors stress that this hurts everyone from top to bottom. In affluent societies there are long term rates of anxiety and depression. Just improving economic growth isn't the answer.