Signs of the times

ht Greg Laden

Hey, Democracy at Work!

Gee, after all the hoopla over the supposed tyranny of the Democrats over HCR, it all came down to  simple votes. The senate passes a bill and the house votes and passes the same exact bill. The president signs the bill. The bill becomes law. Civics 101. Next the Democrats in the House passes a legislation (the amendments to HCR) and sends it to the Senate. If the Senate votes on this and the President signs it, then it too becomes law. No one deems anything, the world keeps spinning, and we begin on the road to becoming a good nation, not just a great nation (ht Balloonjuice).

NCLB and the problem with data

The dirty dark secret of NCLB is that we may know how to identify the worst performing schools, but no one (yet) knows how to turn them around in any consistent and reliable way. And I mean no one. Not the Gates Foundation to date. Not most charter programs. No one.

Sara Mosle paraphrasing former NCLB supporter and statistician Diane Ravitch.

Socializing Political Power and Socializing Capital

This is a summary of an interesting post by Larry Hamlin over at the Barefoot Bum.

I think many of us forget, or at least take for granted, the profoundly radical nature of democracy. We know we have freedom of speech, religion, association, etc and of course, we can vote. We cannot be deprived of our life or liberty without due process. In a fundamental sense, democracy is the socialization of political power.  Political power is simply the ability to use human and natural resources to some specific end. One aspect of political power is that societies have to concentrate that power to accomplish anything. Simply directing a group of people to dig a well is an example of the concentration of power. Traditionally, at least until the last several hundred years, individuals owned political power. Those who owned the greatest concentration were called warlords, emperors, kings, or priests. People took this for granted, since after all, who else should own the political power than the person who could directly use it and had “earned” it. One characteristic of privately owned political power was that the owner could employ it, in a sense, arbitrarily. A king could kill you, order someone else to kill you, place you in jail, take your land or wife, make you his slave. He might treat you nicely and fairly, but this would be his whim. It is not to say that every act a king might do was always wrong, per se. It might be to the benefit of the society if  the king ordered you dead or if he ordered you to jail. The king might have fantastic ideas about agriculture or science and might do much for the poor and desperate–all of these actions require the concentration of political power.  Because the king owned the political capital, he could exercise his power purely on his whim to his benefit. It was only through blind luck that any leader might happen to use this power to the collective benefit of society.

But with the development of democracy this picture changed. The radical aspect of democracy is that it socialized political capital. This means that we divide all political capital among all citizens. No one person or group arbitrarily controls what others can and cannot do. The state, through legal and constitutional frameworks, controls all acts of coercion–and we control the state.  Although we take this form of government for granted today, it was not obvious in the seventeenth and eighteenth century that democracy was either “good”, efficient, wise, or workable. We praise our founding revolution, but we had many privileges, not the least of which was our relative isolation and connection with the English enlightenment. The French Revolution, so easy to critique (much of it justified) faced serious problems, including a recalcitrant  nobility and continuing wars in Europe and an entrenched feudal culture. The French nobility was typical of much of Europe. These private owners of political power were not going to give up their privileges without a fight.

I think we face the same situation today in regards to economic capital. A society needs to concentrate economic capital in the same way and for the same reasons that it needs to concentrate political capital (in many cases, they both are equivalent). Economic capital tends to concentrate in private hands in the same way that political capital tends to concentrate in private hands. Our economy functions only to the extent that those who own the capital and means of production can make a profit (a promise of a greater concentration of capital.) In other words, much of our economy is tied to the arbitrary whims of the capitalists. There is no reason that we could not socialize capital in the same way we socialize political power. It might not happen this decade or even this century. I suppose it might never happen, but I believe it will and some day people will look upon the private ownership of capital as a quaint relic of the past in the same way we look upon the private ownership of political power today. The arguments against socializing capital are similar to the ones employed 300 years ago against socializing political power. The arguments in favor of socializing capital are similar to those for socializing political power.

Stop the presses! People misunderstand what the government spends on welfare!

Here is an analysis and a pie graph showing what we spend in different areas of the federal budget. I am amazed at how misinformed so many people are concerning welfare spending. Polls show that people believe that welfare spending is a much larger proportion of our budget than it is. The spending on the cliched “lazy, drug using, and booze swilling” poor people amounts to about 8% of our budget. Even assuming that poor people waste or misuse some of the welfare they receive, the significant portion is still spent on cheap food staples, crappy emergency room medical care, and substandard, vermin and crime infested housing in the poor inner cities and rural communities. In other words, poor people, with very little help from us, are just trying to survive. Capitalism always produces a subclass of poor; calling them lazy (and as a corollary, the non-poor virtuous) is just a game to justify leaving them there.

The “poor are lazy” is a cultural meme that has existed since people first formed cities thousands of years ago. Another meme is the notion that the poor should be our hardest working, most virtuous and temperate citizens and when they are not they are vilified. The cruel irony is that while a huge proportion of our fellow citizens are the direct beneficiaries of specific policies (welfare, New Deal, higher taxes for the rich, unionism, increased job safety and regulation) that brought them into the middle class, too many increasingly want to shut down the very programs (now labeled socialistic) that helped them. This effectively closes the door on those left behind (the minorities and the rural poor).  However, the financial meltdown of the last few years has given lie to both the notion that an unregulated “free” market economy will always lead to a “rational” and fair distribution of wealth or that the wealthy capitalist class has anyone’s interest at heart but their own.


Ayn Rand on Wikiality. Stephen Colbert’s Hilarious Wikipedia like site.

Stephen Colbert has a wikipedia type site.  Hilarious!

Here is his take on the queen of greedy, selfish, whiny honorable free-market capitalism. Although it is satire (but not as much you might think) it astutely outlines Rand’s  crap she just makes up to justify her many psychotic preferences philosophy which is still widely influential in conservative free market economic circles.

H/T Barefoot bum

Racheting Diet, Day 5, 232.5 Target 232.5, Rule 1

Back to target weight, but still employing rule 1 (which puts a real, but very limited restriction on calories.) Using just rule 1 might allow me to lose about a half a pound per day. I have to stick to this rule until I drop below 232.5 (which creates a new target weight.)