Tuesday, December 30, 2014

If "To Forgive Is Divine," What About a Pardon?

Living With the Stain
 This "Scarlet Letter" is a "T" instead of an "A"...

Don't deceive yourself. During the Bush W. autocracy, our nation was stained. What went on under the direction of the Bush government is now permanently etched on the flag of the United States. Everyone on the planet -- everyone -- knows all about what we did.

The ones from Guantanamo -- guilty or not -- have screamed, night and day for years. They have frozen to death. They have been sustained alive by feeding tubes inserted in their rectums, just a little something to "break their spirits."

MeanMesa is a citizen of the United States. That means that these atrocities may as well have been committed by these very hands. Every citizen of the United States who paid even a single cent in taxes during the autocracy is complicit. Now that it finally over, every citizen of the United States will atone. This isn't going away any time soon.

We now find ourselves very short on friends. The respect and the trust of earlier times have vaporized in a few years.

If it weren't already the case before, after what we've done most of the world now cordially hates this country, and most of the world has good reason for that sentiment. We may have "changed our ways," but this stain will last longer than the shirt will. Think of it as a really bad, poorly made, momentarily hateful tattoo in a really unavoidable, dominant location -- perhaps positioned squarely on our national forehead.

For all those Americans with a better grip on reality than the GOP hill billies, there is no prospect for isolating ourselves. That dreamy solution has never worked before, and in the world of 2014 it has become notably even less plausible. If we intend to live here among the humans, we will be living in this shadow.

It might not, actually, last forever. Maybe - with good fortune and a concerted effort -- much of those on the planet will have forgotten most of the more grisly parts of the story in four or five decades from how. That would be 2060.

Here we are. So, what's to be done now?

How do we clean this stable? 

A Nation of Laws, Not a Nation of Men
And, nothing spells "laws" like "prosecutions..."

There has been talk.

Many more than a few Americans, horrified and humiliated by what's been done "over their signature," are calling for prosecutions. Unfortunately, during the very weeks and months while the violent barbarism was in its most savage stages, the democracy slipped. Now, the government is controlled by oligarchs and their obedient Republicans in the Congress.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, honorable will breathe even a first breath of life in that snake pit. This certainly includes any of those "high borne" prosecutions sleepily imagined by those presuming that things might be handled in the same way they were handled in the "old country."

Although the billionaires could care less about what happens to George W. Bush or his gang, they share a sort of frenzied, forced camaraderie with all others they perceive to be in their elite class. In this case, they have apparently instructed their minions in the House and Senate to protect this bunch, holding them safe and aloof -- perhaps simply out of spite. Their disgust with the democracy, as seen in the election they just purchased, is glaringly obvious, infuriatingly arrogant and quite boastfully public.

Given the gravely weakened position of the citizens, the prospect for these prosecutions must now be stripped of all "feathers and fury," and left -- just as a cold naked chicken -- to be examined in the light of day. Further, it is not a particularly bright day, either. In fact, it's rather gloomy.

Shame casts few shadows.

The general consensus of opinions is that such prosecutions would be practically impossible. There is not a singular obstacle, instead, it seems that dozens of all sorts of "social factors" have congealed to render the prosecution idea universally untenable, that is, DOA ["dead on arrival"].

This Washington Post article sizes up the situation with a fairly comprehensive set of pretty rational observations. Have a look. [Excerpted. Read the entire Washington Post article here - Washington Post ]

Why Dick Cheney and the CIA don’t
 need to worry about international criminal charges
By Philip Bump
December 10, 2014

Though much of this was known, at least in the abstract, the added level of detail evoked a predictable international response. The United Nations' Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, released a statement that presented the end game: criminal charges, not only for the CIA agents involved, but also for "former Bush Administration officials who have admitted their involvement in the programme."

This will almost certainly never happen. The Post spoke by phone with George Andreopoulos, professor of political science and criminal justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and director of the Center for International Human Rights at the college, who explained how international law and the international courts would work.

The International Criminal Court is the only international venue that could try an American for his or her actions in the CIA's interrogation program. There are territorial and temporary courts — the tribunals dealing with Yugoslavia or Rwanda, for example — but only the ICC is poised to take action if an individual country won't. That's key: The ICC has "complementary" jurisdiction, meaning that it will step in only if a local or national court is unable or unwilling to do so.

What's more, it only has jurisdiction for crimes in countries that are signatories to the 1998 Rome Statute that established the ICC. Afghanistan, where many of the CIA's actions occurred, is a signatory, as are Lithuania and Romania, which were sites of other CIA prisons. If any of those countries chose to charge CIA agents — or Bush administration officials, as Emmerson suggests — they could do so. Or they could refer cases to the ICC, which would determine if any defendants would face war crimes charges (if the actions were considered to be part of a military conflict) or charges of crimes against humanity.

But that won't happen. "It is highly unlikely that any prosecution against American nationals that were involved in this kind of abusive conduct that is discussed in the report will face the light of judgement day before an international criminal court," Andreopoulos said. Why? Politics. Afghanistan is dependent on American financial support for its ongoing rebuilding effort — not to mention that America still has an active military presence aimed at keeping the country stable. (Andreopoulos: "There's no chance in hell that an Afghani government will refer American citizens to the ICC.") Lithuania and Romania could, assuming that the CIA's actions in those countries were provable, but given America's international clout, they won't either. 

Although conditions for these more "orthodox" approaches to prosecutions seem more or less permanently blocked, there remain plenty of folks who are angry enough to undertake their own, "alternative" actions to this end. Nigeria has indicted Cheney as a principal party in a Halliburton bribery scheme [Read more here - TRUTH OUT ]

Wallace County, Texas, has indicted Cheney for organized criminal activity investments in Vanguard Private Prison Corporation [Read more here - Huff Post]. The Canadians wanted Cheney arrested during his planned visit [Read more here - Huff Post ] The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights filed a criminal complaint against Cheney, Tenet and Rumsfeld in Germany, and called for an immediate investigation [Read more here - Liberal America]

There are plenty more. Don't be shocked if you haven't noticed much about these stories reported on the wholly owned media.

However, amid all these insults and frustrations which have been imposed on the democracy, a "new idea" has emerged, one which proposes a strangely gratifying possibility -- especially after one acknowledges that there are very few other choices.

Please read Romero's proposal carefully in the following New York Times "op-ed." [Link to the original article here - New York Times]

Pardon Bush and Those Who Tortured

BEFORE President George W. Bush left office, a group of conservatives lobbied the White House to grant pardons to the officials who had planned and authorized the United States torture program. My organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, found the proposal repugnant. Along with eight other human rights groups, we sent a letter to Mr. Bush arguing that granting pardons would undermine the rule of law and prevent Americans from learning what had been done in their names. 
But with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal.

To his credit, Mr. Obama disavowed torture immediately after he took office, and his Justice Department withdrew the memorandums that had provided the foundation for the torture program. In a speech last year at the National Defense University, Mr. Obama said that “we compromised our basic values — by using torture to interrogate our enemies, and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law.” 

But neither he nor the Justice Department has shown any appetite for holding anyone accountable. When the department did conduct an investigation, it appeared not to have interviewed any of the prisoners who were tortured. And it repeatedly abused the “state secrets” privilege to derail cases brought by prisoners — including Americans who were tortured as “enemy combatants.”

What is the difference between this — essentially granting tacit pardons for torture — and formally pardoning those who authorized torture? In both cases, those who tortured avoid accountability.

But with the tacit pardons, the president leaves open the very real possibility that officials will resurrect the torture policies in the future. Indeed, many former C.I.A. and other government officials continue to insist that water boarding and other forms of torture were lawful. Were our military to capture a senior leader of the Islamic State who was believed to have valuable information, some members of Congress would no doubt demand that our interrogators use precisely the barbaric and illegal methods that the Obama administration has disavowed.

The Obama administration could still take measures to hold accountable the officials who authorized torture. Some of the statutes of limitations have run out, but not all of them have. And the release of the Senate’s report provides a blueprint for criminal investigations, even if that’s not what the intelligence committee set out to do.

But let’s face it: Mr. Obama is not inclined to pursue prosecutions — no matter how great the outrage, at home or abroad, over the disclosures — because of the political fallout. He should therefore take ownership of this decision. He should acknowledge that the country’s most senior officials authorized conduct that violated fundamental laws, and compromised our standing in the world as well as our security. If the choice is between a tacit pardon and a formal one, a formal one is better. An explicit pardon would lay down a marker, signalling to those considering torture in the future that they could be prosecuted.

Mr. Obama could pardon George J. Tenet for authorizing torture at the C.I.A.’s black sites overseas, Donald H. Rumsfeld for authorizing the use of torture at the Guantánamo Bay prison, David S. Addington, John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee for crafting the legal cover for torture, and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for overseeing it all.

While the idea of a pre-emptive pardon may seem novel, there is precedent. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson pardoned Confederate soldiers as a step toward unity and reconstruction after the Civil War. Gerald R. Ford pardoned Richard M. Nixon for the crimes of Watergate. Jimmy Carter pardoned Vietnam War draft resisters.

The spectacle of the president’s granting pardons to torturers still makes my stomach turn. But doing so may be the only way to ensure that the American government never tortures again. Pardons would make clear that crimes were committed; that the individuals who authorized and committed torture were indeed criminals; and that future architects and perpetrators of torture should beware. Prosecutions would be preferable, but pardons may be the only viable and lasting way to close the Pandora’s box of torture once and for all.

[Anthony D. Romero is the Executive Director of the ACLU - American Civil Liberties Union.]

Obama's "Chess" Game:
Presidential Pardons
Too Bad, Rupert and Rush...

The billionaires have fortified and defended the positions of this entire political cabal in ways that only massive sums of cash make possible. While the looting of the treasury and the deregulation of their enterprises may have represented their highest priority -- the one driving their take over of the government -- billionaires and other moguls have always been nervously sensitive to lawful retribution handed out to their plutocratic peers.

Romero's argument that pardons would "close Pandora's box of torture once and for all" has merit, albeit a distant, future and theoretical sort of merit. Setting the bar of what is to be accepted or tolerated for future Presidents is a good thing. MeanMesa hopes that the country never again falls so far as it did during the autocracy when even the vestiges of democracy were routinely ridiculed so savagely.

However, all this leaves us with the opportunities of this moment, too. In respect to these values, the pardon idea represents a well rounded and essentially unassailable stroke of political genius. The public advantages for the President derive from what will be perceived as his motivation to grant such pardons.

1. It would eliminate the civil disruption and mayhem of actual trials for the criminals who were the executives ordering the acts. 

2. It would be seen as an act of dignified compassion for the information challenged citizens who, so far, have only been passingly interested in the affair.

3. The pardons would, presumably, finally shut up more than a few of the right wing pundits who have gnawed incessantly at Obama's flank for years.

4. The act would present an impressive point of comparison between the constantly cruel and vindictive "conservatives" and a far more noble President who was willing to act boldly in the interests of the nation.

5. The pardons would provide an unavoidable "shock" which might awaken the interests of all constituents with respect to the real gravity and consequences of national policies.

7. And, finally, the act would remind Americans of the precedent set in our fairly recent history -- by an unelected Republican President pardoning a criminal predecessor who had never faced impeachment hearings or criminal prosecution.

It's been done before. [image source ]

Friday, December 26, 2014

2016: Candidates Needed - Apply Immediately

How Can Anyone Remain Loyal
to a Single Congressional Incumbent
With This Going On?

A contemporary political paradox which seems to perpetually baffle those who follow "opinion" polls while trying simultaneously to also comprehend election results. The US Congress -- referring to both the House and the Senate -- has effortlessly and consistently "brought home" a dismally well deserved approval rating in the 10% range for years.

Perhaps we should call it a "disapproval" rating.

If we wish to move beyond this aimless complaining to more productive thoughts, we would have to ask: "What would the Congress have to be like in order for it to enjoy a higher 'approval rating' in public opinion?"

A "follow up" question might have a somewhat easier answer: "Do you realize that your Representative and your Senator are part of the precise thing with this low approval rating?"

And our final question would be back in the "hard" to answer category: "What things has your Congressman or your Senator done which leads you to 'approve' of their Congressional performance and consider it an exception to the activities of the Congress of which you disapprove?"

MeanMesa suspects that somewhere around the second question, our "man on the street" would already be walling away. Feel free to consider such a statement as little more than a poetic lament, but remember that this "man on the street" is exactly the guy who provided Congress with that 10% "approval rating."  

The really creepy conclusion which is trying to "worm" its way into this post is that probably no existing majority in the American electorate can any longer even describe a Congress which would be "more approvable" than the ones we've had. It seems that if we wish to have a political party with a strong, functional majority which could favorably reach the voters answering these polling questions, we would have to form a "National Nihilism" Party.

This Washington Post article from 2013 spells out the contradiction. [Read the original article here - Washington Post. Original links remain enabled.]

People hate Congress. But most 
incumbents get re-elected. What gives?
May 9, 2013

In 2012, Congressional approval averaged 15 percent, the lowest in nearly four decades of Gallup polling. And yet, 90 percent of House Members and 91 percent of Senators who sought re-election won last November.

The seeming paradox between the low regard with which people hold Congress and the high rate of re-election of incumbents is explained well by new data released by Gallup on Thursday that points to a simple reality: People hate Congress but (generally) like their Member of Congress.

Gallup found that 46 percent of respondents said they approved of "the way the representative from your congressional district is handling his or her job "while 41percent disapproved. That's in spite of the fact that overall  Congressional approval was at just 16 percent in the same survey and hasn't been higher than 24 percent since the start of 2011.

Even more fascinating, Gallup asked a different set of respondents if they could name their Congressman and his/her party and then followed up with a question on whether they approved of the person.

Roughly one in three people (35 percent) could name their Member of Congress -- that was surprisingly high, at least to us -- and, of that group, 62 percent approve of how their Member of Congress is going about their job while 32 percent disapprove. "Americans who say they can name their congressional representative skew older, more highly educated and somewhat Republican," writes Gallup's Elizabeth Mendes.

The numbers tell a fascinating story.

First, they make clear that it's far easier to hate an institution -- like, say, FIFA -- than an individual, particularly an individual you sort-of, kind-of think you know. There's a natural tendency to assume your guy or gal isn't like everyone else -- how could they be bad since you voted for them? -- and they are doing everything they can to make things better up there/down there/out there in Washington.

Second, it's clear that the voters paying the most attention -- as in those who can, you know, name who represents them -- are far more positive about their Members' service than the average person in the district.  Voters paying more attention are, of course, much more likely to vote and, therefore, the sample of people actually turning out on election day tends to be favorably inclined toward their Member. That, in turn, makes the incumbent's re-election much more likely.

Those two factors help explain why Congressional approval is at record lows but re-election rates remain near or above 90 percent. Bloomberg's Greg Giroux notes that in 2010 84 percent of Senators and 85 percent of House members won re-election. But that appears to be the exception not the rule with 95 percent (or more) of House members typically winning re-election dating back four decades. (The last time -- aside from 2010 -- where less than 90 percent of House incumbents seeking re-election won was in 1974 when 89.6 percent did so.)

The message from voters to Congress? Throw the bums out. But not my bum.

Neither the essentially mediocre nature of the current incumbents nor the rattling electoral disinterest that served to elect them in the first place have produced anything particularly similar to a delicate treasure. The traditional excuse that a seated Congressman or Senator is too valuable to replace because he "is connected" or "knows the ropes" flew out of the Capital Building with Eric Cantor.

Tea baggers can't understand much. Because they lack the capacity for any significant understanding of what's happening around them, they feel more secure when they are creating chaos. In their dull world of pay offs and media induced ideology, a condition where no one can predict what might come next is highly preferable to the condition where only the other -- more rational, non-tea bag -- Congressmen and Senators can predict what might come next.

However, when one walks beyond the hearing distance from the Congressional blow-hards and bombasts of the constantly hyperbolic, squawking "tea bag revolution," an unexpectedly warm and reassuring political conclusion seems to be waiting to embrace you.

 Hey! YOU!
The Field is Open
The tattered debris of the GOP
has already started your campaign for you.

The Democratic Party is now all there is left of the theoretical "two party" system. Voters who are paying attention are painfully aware that they have been permanently excluded from the GOP "constituency." Most of this electorate will never vote for a Republican candidate again in their life times. 

Worse, there is of now, "no road back" for the GOP. We might think, occasionally, that the GOP could possibly redesign itself into something functional, but we have seen such cravenly deceptive, inauthentic attempts recently, and they are laughably cynical. Sit back, take a deep breath, and just try to dreamily imagine what changes that the now sharply minority party would have to make if it were to seriously set out to regain any of its traditional legitimacy.

Have a look at the "competition." [Excerpted. Read the entire article here - Washington Post ]

Good Riddance to the Worst Congress Ever

Opinion writer
December 19

The 113th Congress this week went the way of the dodo — literally.

The lawmakers of the 2013-2014 legislative session finally put themselves out of their misery but not before Harry Reid’s Senate passed one final piece of legislation: S. Res. 564, marking “the centennial of the passenger pigeon extinction.”

This bipartisan legislation recalled the Sept. 1, 1914, death at the Cincinnati Zoo of Martha, the last of a population of ectopistes migratorius, once 3 billion-strong in North America. It hailed the work of Project Passenger Pigeon, devoted to making sure Martha did not die in vain.

This commemoration of extinction was a perfect end to what was, by just about every measure, the worst Congress ever. 

According to a tally by the Library of Congress, 296 bills were presented to the president by this Congress — nearly the same as the 284 presented by the previous Congress, the fewest of any Congress since the counts began in the 1940s. (The “do nothing” Congress of 1948 passed about 900.) More than 10 percent of the bills presented were about naming or renaming things and awarding medals.

We're talking about YOU becoming a Congressman, here, that is, YOU putting together some sort of campaign team, raising a few dollars and sharpening up your understanding of what the priorities are in your Congressional District. As someone who visits this little blog, it is unlikely that you'll need to sacrifice your dignity nearly as much as Harold did in this old MeanMesa fictional parody.

After being shell shocked by the next 24 months of mayhem and looting at the hands of our country's oligarchs, voters will be ready to go to the polls in 2016. Even the GOP base will be so tired of the tea bags, car thieves, convicted felons, draft dodgers and other ne'er-do-wells in control of the GOP House that they will either stay home or, EGAD!, try voting for a Democrat for a change. If he manages to stay sober for a few hours, even the most "slow minded" Republican base voter becomes aware that he is being gang raped sooner or later.

MeanMesa is officially predicting that there won't be any very attractive looking Republican candidates anywhere on the ticket by November, 2016. This includes "billionaire/ALEC/NRA approved candidates" who might look attractive to the Miami geriatrics, the Clive Bundy crowd or even lots of the higher functioning, gated community country clubbers in the GOP base. The typical right wing campaign's current political maxim that "enough money will still turn the trick" may have lost a great deal of its shine by then, too.

[MeanMesa has posted about ways to "put the brakes" on billionaire election money. Lighting Up the Clown Car's Check Book  Implementing ideas like CASH TRACK -- described in the post -- might become very direct, common, political action by the next election.]

Time to Put On Your "Big Boy" Pants, Boys
...and Girls, Too.
This is the perfect time to start.

The current crop of gutless Democrats have allowed historically remarkable political policy successes to be ripped out of their timid, little invisible hands. The Democratic Party, if it had been correctly illuminated by these incredible accomplishments in the economic recovery and a good number of other places, should be languishing in the limelight right now, and every Republican of any variety should either be at least trying to look "extra nice" or just hiding out of sight.

Instead, the Democrats look like confused, out-of-breath losers racing desperately to somehow keep up with the think tank narrative being laid out by the politically better equipped, the tactically more savvy right wingers and a "best that money can buy" power train driven by millions of plutocrats' "hobby dollars."

This doesn't sit well with MeanMesa. This doesn't sit well at all.

I don't like this one bit.
For those of us down here under the bus, it's been a good long time since anyone other than the President or Joe Biden has had much to say to us.

There's no way to know exactly how many of the Congressional Democrats have already sold us out -- hopefully, not as many as it sometimes appears. Still, it shouldn't seem entirely unlikely that the billionaires haven't also purchased plenty of Democrats to go with their Republican lackeys in the House and Senate. These folks are already filling out the checks to realize their dream of permanently owning everything -- from now on -- after 2016.

Part of the sinister "national deception" that has saturated citizen thinking since the Reagan days is about "how terribly complicated" running this country and its government actually is. We can watch eyes glaze over at the mere mention of an embarrassingly long list of things -- things which we should normally expect to want to discuss quite intelligently with our neighbors and our fellow citizens.

Somehow, we have been quietly convinced that the national economy is too complex for us to begin to comprehend, that foreign relations issues are far to murky, complex and secret for us to have any reasonable opinions about it and that the job of running the Congress is, somehow, quite beyond the capacity of mere mortals.

Wait a minute! Congress doesn't have to be full of suspiciously wealthy,  professional political creatures who have been there for years, lobbyists and sold out losers! The Congressional staffers do all the heavy lifting, anyway! There isn't anything particularly complicated about being a prostitute to the highest bidder...and,

there also isn't any secret, mysterious talent required for being a good citizen -- or a good Congressman, either. These positions were designed to be filled by fairly well educated, fairly well informed citizens with plenty of common sense and common decency. Folks like this have done the job very well for years.

And, regardless of what you may have been led to believe, there is a massive difference between "a few bad apples" scattered among the good ones and bushel baskets full of "bad apples" with only a couple of good ones buried in among them somewhere. Further, the "good ones" tend to stand out pretty quickly and very visibly. A few names -- such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren -- spring into MeanMesa's mind right away.

There are others. Pick up some of the names that Rush Limbaugh fears and ridicules the most, and you'll have a good start.

The point here, however, is not to look to such politicians as "coming to the rescue." In fact the exact opposite is the case. YOU need to become one of these Congressional inhabitants and come to their rescue! These types are out gunned fifty to one.

The candidates we need will change those hard odds for the better. The challenge is to quit complaining and turn the Congress into something that works -- for everyone. This year we will pipe around $16 Trillion tax dollars through the Congress. After that has been done, only 15% of us will agree that the Congress has done a good job.

What's wrong with this picture? Jump in. Fight like hell and fix it.

One Last Point
Indeed, just a minor point...

The second you throw your hat in the ring, half a dozen billionaires will be on you like gnats on the picnic mayonnaise. They will be spying on you, digging up more of your history than you knew you ever had and trying to bribe those you are trusting. They can out spend your campaign ten to one -- any time and as many times as they like. They'll close the polls, jimmy the voting machines, throw your constituents off the registration lists and sue you every chance they get.

Oh, and by the way, they own the media -- lock, stock and barrel, so don't expect any breaks. The big boys are totally ready to throw money at this to keep just the way it is.

If this weren't the case, it just wouldn't be enough of a challenge to attract the best from among us. If, in the end, the oligarchs aren't going to wind up owning every dandelion from Maine to San Diego, they must be beaten back with victories in what looked like impossible contests.

Don't faint, and don't flinch. There are ways.

This old blogger would be tickled pink if someone who sometimes visited MeanMesa wound up in the Congress.

Go ahead. Fly the damned flag.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Textbook Prices: Latest Research or Biggest Racket?

A Quick Look at Teaching, Learning and Textbooks
Primary and Secondary Communications Models

This discussion of text books leads MeanMesa to a favorite model of human communication -- in this case, applied to teaching and textbooks.

That model rests on the idea that there are two interdependent transactions under way during the teaching/learning process. In the larger view, of course, it is a specific case of human communication where information is being transmitted from someone who knows it to someone who wishes to learn it.

The first of the two parts is the transmission of the content, itself. This we can describe as the primary communication model. The second part of the transmission deals with the reciprocal activities of both the transmitter and the receiver of the primary model during the transmission process. This can, for convenience, be considered the secondary communication model.

An example may help.

In a vocal conversation the primary model is the content being sent from one of the participants to the other. In this case the two "elements" of the process emerge almost immediately. The teacher is communicating content to a student who, driven by whatever motivation applies, is, more or less, inclined to learn it. The content being communicated by the teacher is quite finite, and the product of the student's effort to learn it is, correspondingly, quite measurable. [Primary model: content]

However, as the teacher is transmitting this content, all manner of individual things are occurring in a classroom filled with students. Some of them respond to the teacher's transmission by looking puzzled, some by looking fascinated, others by looking angry and still others by looking bored and disinterested. All these expressions are, actually, communication transmissions from the students back to the teacher.

In this secondary communication model, the students are communicating their individual responses to the teacher's transmission, and importantly, they are communicating whether or not they seem to be understanding and learning that content. [Secondary model: expressions]

In his own response to these expressions, the teacher may "adjust" the tone or method of his content transmissions. If the teacher's transmission is not producing the effect he desires, he may change it, but, even if he makes this change, he will not be changing the content he needs to transmit.

However, although this post is about text books, we can begin to see the same communications models at play as were in the case of the teacher and the students. Some teaching "methods" make understanding the content straightforward, while others make it more difficult than necessary.

Viewed in this way, textbooks are filling a role which is parallel to that filled by teachers. A textbook is communicating a primary model -- content, and the effectiveness of this presentation relies on the secondary model -- presentation.
 Two Reasons Textbooks Are Replaced
How such large expenditures can be justified

When we look at the cost of two or three classes of 20 students each purchasing a new textbook for $100, the total expenditure -- $6,000 -- begins to, well, explain things. 
We can comfortably assume that different styles or text books containing the same content [primary model] may also be quite different in terms of the ease and effectiveness of actually understanding and learning their content [secondary model].

By looking at the process in this manner,we can search for possible, compelling reasons why old textbooks might need to be discarded and replaced with new ones. There seem to be two major reasons which could justify replacing textbooks.

The first major reason: Textbooks which -- by their style of presentation of the content -- make material more difficult to understand and learn -- qualify for replacement by textbooks which present the content in a more easily available and effective manner.

Textbooks, like the teacher in our example, perform their function with both a primary and secondary communications model, but, differing from the case with the teacher, textbooks are static. If they are ineffective in transmitting information about the content, they will continue to be ineffective. They cannot "adjust" their ineffective presentation, their secondary model.

[If this turns out to be the reason to justify replacing textbooks, MeanMesa is curious about how -- and why -- the ineffective textbooks were chosen in the first place.]

The second major reason: The necessary content of textbooks can change. If the old textbook content were studied and learned, it would be incorrect or obsolete.

The technology available for use in all sorts of observations changes almost daily. New observations, especially observations which provide evidence of previous hypotheses or directly contradict them, is very often a good reason for new textbooks. Until well into the 1900's respectable astronomers and astrophysicists were working with the proposition that the Milky Way galaxy was, in fact, the entire universe.

Most likely the 1490's Florentine textbooks prepared after Columbus' first voyages as far as Brazil along with his conclusions based on those earliest observations proposing that the South American continent represented the most distant outskirts of Asia, justified replacement. The Greek and Roman maps of the Mediterranean, although impressive for the time of their creation, were routinely discarded and updated for centuries.

The point here is that there really are massively important issues of new, useful, well validated content throughout history. If the entire body of human thoughts could be made material, these events would have added quite significantly to the existing total and very reasonably justified the replacement of textbooks with the previous content.

This really caught on when Gutenburg mastered the technology of not only mechanically producing the books which had become obsolete, but replacing them relatively quickly and cheaply.

However, what will be the metric used to determine that new observations, statistics or theories are of a sufficient importance to justify retiring hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of textbooks and replacing them?

Imagine aliens arriving from a very different world. They observe the Earth's human culture and establish a somewhat "objective" measurement of the exact size of the "complete body of knowledge" humans have developed. Next, our planetary visitors size up the amount of knowledge currently contained in all the text books in use at the time.

To complete their observations, the aliens next look at the book publishers' "marketing argument" that additions to that "body of knowledge" require the obsoleting of text books currently in use and the creation of new ones. The conclusion, viewed from the point of view in this scenario, is fairly clear.

99.999% of the "knowledge" presented in the existing textbooks is complete and valid. Any student who learned what was in the text book which was just replaced would probably turn out to be quite well educated. If it were necessary to add some new information or correct some part of that existing content, a simple pamphlet should suffice.

MeanMesa has to assume that the cost of providing such "supplemental publications" should already be a part of the price of a new textbook.

Textbooks Through the Decades
We used to actually wear out our school books

Late in the Pleistocene Epoch when MeanMesa was a mathematics student, most textbooks were quite inexpensive compared to their modern equivalents -- even in inflation adjusted dollars. Further, the utility of the presentation found in them was, typically, also quite comparable.

With respect to being accessible and understandable, the publishing and formatting of modern textbooks dealing with the same material seems to actually be somewhat worse -- probably made more confusing by efforts to make it less confusing. The astonishing increase in prices cannot, generally, be justified by a claim that textbook contents have been made more accessible in subsequent publication formats.

Solving integrals the Pleistocene way [image - CRC]
In fact the texts used in advanced mathematical logic classes amounted to a number of relatively thin paper backs. One memorable exception was the purchase of a CRC published volume showing general forms of integration solutions for thousands of calculus equation forms. It cost around $60.

Oh sure, we groaned about such an "outrageous" expense, but going through integral calculus without one of these would have to amounted the equivalent of "cleaning the Augean stables" with a soup spoon. Any truly loud complaints were met with the explanation of how hard it was for the publisher to set all these mathematical symbol fonts [in those days this had to be accomplished manually]. The CRC handbook was usually kept safely next to one's slide rule.

The process of getting a university education has, since then, undergone a disturbing transformation. Although this post is about textbooks, a larger picture reveals the echo of a similar fate which has fallen upon other aspects of a university education across the board.

What Happened to the Colleges?
The text book scam just got dragged into it as an after thought...

The whole thing has been monetized.

This process didn't unfold as the result of any sort of lethal conspiracy. It began in earnest, innocently enough, before the Civil War. Folks who had graduated from college -- in the beginning, a very small minority -- were, well, able to do things. Society also noticed that these graduates were getting paid well, too.

All of this was not necessarily clear in the early days. The college students were largely the sons [the daughters didn't start having their chance until much later] of the 1% of the day. Additionally, the course curricula of those earlier days generally included a heavy dose of religious teaching, too. Nonetheless, society began to have an impressive number of "educated" citizens.

Further, those early institutions were, of necessity, quite frugal with salaries and student amenities.There weren't any "basket ball scholarships" floating around for many years.

However, as the American society grew more and more affluent, and as the American economy's appetite for "graduate talent" grew far greater, the universities found that their revenue and trust accounts could provide for a more and more sophisticated -- and costly -- "business plan."

Over time when administrators realized that tuitions could be raised without any appreciable negative impact on attendance, the "game was on." The statistics showing the increased earning power of graduates served as a perfect lubricant for any cost-based hesitation which might have emerged as parents were asked for greater and greater expenditures to purchase a college education for their children.

However, even decades ago, it was also becoming clear that while the earning capacity of some graduates was quite high, the earning capacity of many others was mediocre. As the oligarch class steadily worked toward the "de-professionalizing" of educated experts in any field, the population of those in the "mediocre" group began to increase rapidly toward its contemporary demographic as we see it today.

Still, the well established myth of increased earning potential proved unchangeably durable. The rather frightening levels of student loan debt continued to be justified even after the statistics had long ago ceased to support its promises.

Had the banksters not spotted the "lending opportunity" of financing these educations on borrowed money, the system would probably have corrected its trends and begun, once again, to offer university education at a reasonable rate. But, with the sudden influx of available financing from "college loans," all the weaknesses in the system shifted into "over drive."

These "weak or vulnerable" elements of the system were never designed to turn out this way, but as lots of available student loan cash continually pumped financial resources into every opportunistic opening -- including, for the topic of this post, the cost of college text books -- there was little in the financial part of the system which remained "market rational."

[image - University Business.com]
 The cost of a college education would never have reached this "hyper ventilated" state if students and their families had been left to face such exorbitant expenses without the benefit of student loan money. The pricing and the corresponding largess of the business model driving prices in the "university education market" would have been forced to "correct" itself by consumers no longer willing or able to pay.

While text book costs represent a much smaller part of the out of control total when compared to sky high tuition prices, even this wasteful little pocket of "profit harvesting" would have been utterly abhorrent -- if not out rightly infuriating -- to the parents of students while they were trying to pay for such an education.

Yet, with pockets full of student loan money, financially inexperienced college students pay to replace completely usable text books "as demanded" while generating a multi-billion dollar annual "opportunity" for publishers, legal parasites who seem to enjoy plenty of rather sinister "cooperation" from suspiciously complicit university curriculum designers.

[MeanMesa has posted on this subject previously: Student Loan Debt: The Trillion Dollar "Dog Collar" ]

How Bad Is It?
Depends on whether or not you're a banker...

Have a look at this BOSTON GLOBE article. It presents a possible solution to this continuing trend -- open source textbooks authored by university faculty and published by university presses. [Excerpted. Read the entire article here - BOSTON GLOBE Links from the original article remain enabled.]

Can textbook costs be controlled?

Universities across the country have begun experimenting with open textbooks

By Ben Schreckinger

That’s because the cost of college textbooks is out of control. Between 2002 and 2012, their prices rose by 82 percent, according to the Government Accountability Office. (Prices are up 812 percent since 1978, more than three times the rise in the consumer price index). Today, college students pay more than $1,200 on average for books and supplies every year. It’s piling an outrageous financial burden onto an educational process that’s already burying my generation in debt.

Luckily, there’s a fantastic solution to this problem: open textbooks. These peer-reviewed e-books are just as good as traditional textbooks, but they’ve got one big difference — instead of coming with a triple-digit price tag, they’re free. Drawn by their promise, universities across the country have begun experimenting with open textbooks. A consortium of 29 institutions, including Carnegie Mellon and Rice University, operate one online repository. A group including the University of Minnesota, Purdue, and Oregon State maintains another. A Boston-based startup called Boundless assembles textbooks using open source materials, and it launched a platform in August that allows others to publish their own open textbooks.

Still, open textbooks remain a niche product when they should be the default in undergraduate (and high school and middle school) courses nationwide.

In November, Democratic senators Al Franken of Minnesota and Dick Durbin of Illinois tried to speed up their adoption by introducing a bill that would fund open textbook pilot programs on campuses across the country. Predictably, this promising idea has gone nowhere in Congress.

But no matter — universities don’t need the federal government to kick-start an idea that’s long overdue. They already employ all the professors, the people who could be creating and implementing open textbooks en masse if given a nudge in the right direction. Instead, most schools are pushing their professors to waste energy on pursuing research that is useless or worse. 

First, there’s the research that people have no use for. We have a study to tell us that sword swallowing can be risky (“sore throats are common”), and one to tell us that rats prefer Beethoven to Miles Davis (until you give them cocaine). It only took five researchers to publish a model last year to help us understand just how much skiers enjoy skiing, or to put it in plain English: “The expanded model in a sporting context further evidences the functional roles of the orientations to happiness by results consistent with extant literature of positive psychology.” 

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Every dollar that doesn’t come off the price of textbooks will put downward pressure on tuition.
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Then, there’s the epidemic of peer-reviewed research that’s fraudulent, error-ridden, or otherwise misleading and therefore fails the fundamental scientific test of reproducibility. 

Last March, in just one example, scientists at the Cambridge-based ALS Therapy Development Institute published an article in the journal Nature detailing how they couldn’t replicate the results from any of eight previous studies that claimed to find promising ALS treatments in mice and that had led to failed — and costly — clinical trials.

Why is this happening? It’s complicated, but a big part of the problem is that publication credit is the coin of the academic realm. Professors have to get their names on articles in academic journals to receive tenure and secure their professional stature. But not all of these academics have the ideas or the resources to pursue worthwhile research. 

Universities have a chance to kill two birds with one stone here. By explicitly considering work on peer-reviewed open textbooks as an alternative to some part of the requirement for publishing new research, tenure committees can jump-start the open textbook movement. Academics with promising research to pursue will continue to do so, but those who are grasping at straws for the sake of finding something, anything, to publish, will have a better option.

Colleges can’t expect to maintain current levels of enrollment at the current cost of higher education, and every dollar that doesn’t come off the price of textbooks will put downward pressure on tuition. That pressure will only grow more acute as low-cost online models go mainstream. To compete, traditional institutions will have no choice but adopt open textbooks — unless, of course, they plan to offer free, open-source beer.

And this article from NPR highlights growing trends of student policies who are attempting to "side step" some of the pain currently inflicted by the racket. [Excerpted. Read the entire NPR article here - NPR.]

How College Students Battled Textbook Publishers To A Draw,

-In 3 Graphs

David Kestenbaum
October 09, 2014

College textbooks are expensive. You probably already know this. A new biology or economics book can cost $300.

And prices have been soaring, doubling over the past decade, growing faster than the price of housing, cars, even health care.

But, surprisingly, the amount students actually spend on textbooks has not been rising. In fact, the best data we could find on this shows students have been spending a bit less over time.

How is this possible? Well, when prices go up, people usually try to find ways to avoid paying those higher prices. That seems to be what is going on here. The spread of the Internet has made it easier for students to find used textbooks in faraway places. Textbook rental has become a thing. Some students can now buy e-textbooks, which tend to be cheaper than print books. Others are borrowing books or going without.

That last chart actually helps explain the first one showing prices for new books going through the roof. If you're a textbook publisher selling fewer books every year, how do you cover your costs? One way is to raise the price for the new editions. Of course, this encourages students to buy even fewer. A former textbook salesman I talked to called it the "spiral of destruction."

One textbook executive told me the way out of all of this is to replace textbooks with something better and cheaper: educational software. Basically interactive, digital versions of textbooks.

For students there is one drawback, though. You can't sell digital textbooks back to the book store, or to anyone, at the end of the semester. There is no used market. That's another reason publishers like them.

Additional Information Resource

This resource link [pdf] will lead you to a series of very interesting tables covering a wide variety of the costs of attending college. It is the College Board's file on college pricing from 2013. [Things haven't changed much in a year.]