Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On with the Republican debates

Today's NYTimes editorial speaks in favor of the Republican debates continuing, because it's good for President Obama. They've got a point, but they also erred in the way that people who only speak to people who already agree with them err.

This editorial seems to assume that Republican voters share Democratic voters' values. And they do, to some extent, but in a different order.

Democrats are most terrified of being thought insensitive.
Republicans are most terrified of being thought weak.

The debating points the editorial cites shows how far apart the parties are. To the NYT it's self-evident that these points are wrong.

But take "Ending multilingual ballots (disenfranchising millions)." ---i.e. being insensitive. Quelle domage.

But a Republican reading it would say "First, that's Democrats being disenfranchised, second they're not--they're just being asked to learn this country's language so they understand the national discussion about the issues before they vote. Otherwise they'll vote tribally, for whatever group they belong to, instead of voting as Americans"

Ditto the NYT's horror of "making [illegal aliens'] lives miserable" in order to get them to self-deport. Again, that assumes that Republican voters fear being seen as insensitive to illegal aliens' feelings.

Seriously? Republicans could care less. it also hurts bank robbers' feelings to arrest them. And wife-beaters. So? Republicans would say it probably is "insensitive" for our nation to only accept people who we want to come here, instead of telling the world "step right up. Mi casa es su casa."

As if happens I'll be voting for Obama because of the GOP's voodoo economics. Not because it's "sensitive" to do so.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Democracy's tipping point

The viability of any democracy is determined at election time by two things:

1. Does whoever's in control at election time jigger the election process to make sure they stay in power?

Across the country, every state government controlled by the Republicans has been engaged in strenous attempts to prevent the rampant voter fraud they claim has been giving Democrats an unfair advantage in elections. Only there isn't any--the efforts to uncover fraud are epitomized by Republican claims that 950 dead people "voted" the the South Carolina primary. After an expensive taxpayer-paid investigation of the claims, they discovered one (1): a guy who was dead all right--but had died after voting.

It's that way across the country, but waving this red herring has been used by the GOP to justify a variety of voter restrictions that just happen to crimp voting by demographics who generally vote Democratic.

2. Does whoever loses the election cede power peacefully?

The language the Republican leaders and their surrogates are using about President Obama doesn't just persistently misrepresent the facts--it uses incendiary language that has succeeded in making many millions of Americans hate Obama--not his policies, but the man himself. They've succeeded in making many rank and file Republicans believe that Obama actually intends to harm the country and intends to subvert the Constitution. Republican friends of mine call him a "fascist" and a "Communist."

This runs the risk of having a lot of Americans not accept the results of the last election or of the next.

Democrats faced when the Supreme Court chose a president of their liking in 2000. But Democrats believe in Democracy, whatever their other faults may be. I'm not as sure about the Republicans.

The Republican Ministry of Propaganda is playing with fire, just as it did when it decided its goal wasn't just winning elections, but of marginalizing the Democratic Party, so that it's no longer a factor in national elections. Scary stuff.

Then again, the GOP's secret soul is monarchist...

These are the guys who sided with the Crown during the American Revolution. 

Ronald Reagan

"Reagan's Shining City on a Hill" turned out to be a gated community for the 1%."
--Rev. Al Sharpton

Romney would make a decent prez IF...

Mitt Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts proved that he can work with a Democratic legislature and govern from the center. He's demonstrably intelligent. He has been abroad substantively (i.e. more than a beach vacation to a tropical resort). His experience as governor is applicable to being President (not as good as actually having been President for 3 years, but good). Likewise business experience is good on the face of it (especially if it were in export-oriented manufacturing, which it isn't).

All in all he'd probably make a decent president of the United States, IF:

1. Congress is certain of having a 51% Democratic majority in the House and a 61% Democratic majority in the Senate;
2. He's lying about his foxhole conversion to extreme right wing positions; and
3. No Supreme Court justice outside the extreme right wing faction (i.e. Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Scalia, plus, part of the time, Kennedy) retires before 2020. Several of the moderate justices are quite old, however.

#1 because, like school teachers who teach to the middle of the class, whatever that is, Romney's record is that he weathervanes--within the Republican framework, to be sure--whoever it is whose cooperation he needs to do his job.

#2 because he swears that he's now a right wing extremist, though it doesn't seem convincing to most right wing extremists; but I think we should take people at their word unless it's proven that they're lying, and having taken opposite positions in the past isn't dispositive. Suspicious but not conclusive.

#3 because President Bush II will be President by delegation until his Supreme Court appointees retire or die--possibly up to 30 years or more from now. Doesn't matter what a liberal Congress passes and a Liberal President signs into law if our right wing Supreme Court overturns everything. A Romney presidency with a Republican Congress will extend that delegated extreme right wing rule by another decade or two or three.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How to write comments and letters to the editor

One online forum I participate in had a contributor enter George Orwell's rules for good writing. I didn't think they were really to the point for the ordinary Joe who wants to write a comment on a newspaper article's online Comments section or write a letter to the editor.

So here are my rules for you to use:

Orwell's stated rules echo that nemesis of college first year English class students, The Elements of Style (4th Edition) by Strunk & White. Orwell's rules focus on using good grammar and word choice. 

I'd suggest a very different set of rules:

1. Don't write anything unless you really have something to say. 

2. Make sense. It doesn't matter how beautifully you write, or how concisely, or with what beautiful word choice, if it's a defense of the idea that the Earth is flat. What you write should have some connection to reality, and the ideas you express should be organized logically in some way.

3. Use your own voice. The only thing worse than a Faulkner wannabe is a Hemingway wannabe. Be whoever the hell you are. If that's someone who uses tired old cliches all the time, do it. At least you'll sound like yourself. What you write should sound kind of like how you yourself speak.

4. Suit the language to the occasion. Locker room talk isn't a funeral oration and vice versa. 

5. Write concisely if someone's willing to pay you to do so. It takes twice as much time to write something half as long. I'm glad to do that at the going rates for veteran editors. 

6. Structure what you write. At the top, tell me what your topic is and what your point is, unless you want to be artful and hope that I'll stick around long enough to find out. Break your entry into paragraphs--at the very least, that shows me that you aren't just some rambling loon. 

7. Use active constructions where it makes sense to do so, use passive constructions where it makes sense to do so. The way you organize a sentence also communicates what you want to focus on. Active constructions focus the reader's attention on the actor, passive on the act. Think about it.

8. If you want me to care about something you care about, tell me why I should care, not that you do. To put it more snarkily, hoist people on their own petards. Don't tell me how I fail to meet your standards--tell me how I fail to meet my own standards. 

9. If you want to argue in writing, learn the rules before you get in the ring. A good start: Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders.

Romney is right

Governor Romney presents America with the 1% Solution: the solution the richest 1% of Americans offer the rest of us to solve America's economic problems.

Romney has repeatedly reinforced President Reagan's mantra that the government is the problem, corporatists like Romney the solution. He has stated repeatedly that Obama stands for the European Nanny State that gives people money who don't deserve it, sapping initiative and imposing foreign ideals on Americans.

So his solution is to downsize government, reduce regulation, cut back entitlements, cut taxes.

That last one is key: Romney's detailed proposals would cut his own personal taxes by tens of thousands of dollars a year for the rest of his life. 

But that's a good thing, see, because if you don't cut Mr. Romney's taxes by a big chunk, he'll get all sad and won't create any more jobs. Or creatively destroy any more jobs, which is apparently just as good. Who knows, maybe he'd even move to a tax haven like the Cayman Islands, just to pick a tax haven at random...

I had no idea multimillionaires were so emotionally fragile. 

Bottom line: anyone who doesn't subscribe to the Platform of/by/for the 1% subscribes to the Soviet Model of top-down Total Government Control of Everything. There's no in-between. Anyone who proposes an in-between position--like President Obama--is lying, according to Governor Romney--they're just dissembling about their Federal Government Uber Alles beliefs.

Your ONLY choice is between Governor Romney's 1% Solution and President Obama's European Socialist solution (according to Governor Romney). 

Friday, January 27, 2012

A religious thought problem

Suppose God Almighty showed up in low orbit, gigantic and undeniable, and spoke such that everyone alive heard His voice in their heads in their language, and He said:

"Guys, I just thought I'd drop by and clear up a few things. There is such a thing as good and evil, and for what it's worth I think you should do good and avoid evil. But when I organized the Universe I didn't put in a heaven. When you die, that's it. You're gone. I'm eternal--you're not. No heaven, no hell, no punishment, no reward.

"Now there is a hell, so to speak, in the span of your lives. Haven't you noticed that bad guys are never happy?  That's the elegance of my design. As is the heaven of a life well spent.

"Sorry if this requires some revision in your various Good Books, but that's the way it goes. I'll check back in a billion of your years and see how things are going. 'Bye."


So--what do you think would happen then? Knowing that heavenly reward/punishment was off the table, what would religious people do?

Thursday, January 26, 2012


NYTimes liberal columnist Maureen Dowd, writing about Mitt Romney, alluded to his "inane suggestion that illegal aliens engage in 'self-deportation'.”

And here, in one phrase, is the essence of how the Democratic Party has thrust so many American working stiffs into the eager embrace of the Republicans.

"Self deport" just means "going home" if your home is in another country. Why would anyone do that? Dowd, by calling the idea "inane" is saying nobody would.

Well, they would if they couldn't get work or social services. They couldn't get those things if we adopted India's cheap, highly workable national biometric ID system, using iris patterns instead of counterfitable cards. We can use it as a virtual border fence to prevent trespassers from cashing in.

This idea is only "inane" if it's impossible. So a 3rd world country can do it but we can't? I find that assumption to be the inane one. Every single illegal doesn't have to self-deport for it to work. If a quarter of 12 million people went home, that would still be a huge improvement. And the knowledge that it was so difficult to get by here without being here legally would help dissuade others from coming, while amnesty has had the opposite effect every time we've tried it.

And the idea that America is preferable to, say, Mexico, is soft jingoism. Mexicans love many things about Mexico--it's their culture, their people, their language, their village. Very few say they came here because they reject any of those things. Many say, actually, that they don't like American culture, people, or language. They only come because they have trouble getting ahead back home (mainly due to Mexico's extreme overpopulation crisis overwhelming the Mexican economy's ability to provide jobs for all those people).

And Dowd is summarily dismissing one of the very few ideas Romney advances that aren't bogus, when he presents so there are so many fat targets presented by him every time he opens his mouth--why? Dowd doesn't realize how out of touch this makes her look, not him.

Here in the Southwest we're drowning in illegals who don't even have a high school education. Dowd's job is safe. So's her neighborhood. Her wages aren't being driven down. Her union isn't being busted. And she wonders why blue collar Americans are voting Republican?

I'm voting for Obama because the GOP is even more delusional than the Dems. But it's not because of illegal immigration, where Romney's right and Obama's wrong. It's because of the GOP being so destructive to our economy and our civilization in nearly every other regard--and it won't really act on illegal immigration anyway, as the Bush era proved. They just talk about it when they're out of office--because the GOP's billionaire patrons love illegal immigration.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

There are great Republican candidate out there...

Just none who are running.

Why not?

Because they don't think they can beat Obama this time around.

Nobody Republican in the public eye will say so--they'll say Obama's doomed because no president gets reelected with unemployment this high (can you say FDR?), and then launch into a litany of his deficits as a president and as a human being.

But 'andsome is as 'andsome does.

If Republicans were really sure of his defeat, those hotter candidates would have tossed their hats in the ring. Candidates that excite Republicans. The current crop doesn't.

This doesn't make Obama a shoe-in in November. The Republican core strategy is to make him the subject not their guy, and a loose assortment of billionaires are going to flood the airwaves with a superslick campaign of ads and pundits for hire and a TV channel dedicated to pretty much nothing but his defeat, hoping to make him so hated, so much the personification of everything that's gone wrong in voters' lives, that they'll take a chance on the not very likeable candidate who emerges from the current tussle--still almost certainly Mitt Romney.

And the guys who aren't trying to get the GOP nomination know this. Yet they aren't running.

They're voting with their feet.

Obama should give credit where it's due

President Obama missed a chance last night to give credit where it's due. He should have publicly thanked Governor Romney for creating the model for his healthcare legislation, and offered to share credit by calling it--in the word of, as I recall, Governor Pawlenty--"Obamnyecare."

And then the cameras would pan to the audience. Would the Republican congressmen applaud the praise for their probable nominee? Would they look like their heads were about to explode?

Inquiring minds...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Defend Life!

On every anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, anti-abortion zealots demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court. Many carry signs like the ones shown here, printed up by the Catholic Church's militant social engineering organization the Knights of Columbus.

I doubt anyone who carries such placards is aware of the irony of what they're doing. Especially since nearly all of them would call themselves conservatives.

Conserve-ative. Someone who's centered on conserving.

All this is a tribute to the fact that some of our noblest instincts, instincts that evolved on a planet radically different from the one we live on today, are now instincts that betray us.

And it's a tribute to the fact that most people's reasoning abilities aren't much better than that of an adult crow.

If you hang a treat from a branch on a string, most adult crows can figure out what to do to get the treat without having to experiment. They look at the setup, fly up to the branch, and pull the string up with their claws and beak, and soon have the treat. 

But if you toss the string over a higher branch, so the crow would have to pull down on the string to bring the treat up towards them, they can't handle that kind of two-step logic.

Likewise, these people who want to "defend life" see sonograms of a fetus that certainly looks like a human being, and they want to save it.

But tell them that the human race is expanding at the rate of over 140 people a minute (after deaths are subtracted), on a planet that isn't expanding, and whose ability to sustain us is actually shrinking, so that only by supporting Communist China's One Child policy and promoting its adoption worldwide can we even start to stave off world disaster...you can see their eyes glaze over.

You might as well show a spreadsheet to a chimpanzee and expect them to understand it.

We developed the instincts the "defend life" people express when the human race had shrunk to around 1,600 fertile females plus probably an equivalent number of males, after a Sumatran volcano explosion 80,000 years ago had pumped so much guck into the atmosphere that photosynthesis nearly stopped for several years and the world's animal life was starving to death.

Back then we needed a fierce will to survive and have kids and protect them against all odds.

Today's situation demands that we deny these powerful instincts.

But most people don't even try. They deny that there's an overpopulation problem, or that it applies to us, or that if there is magical new technology will solve it, or if it won't, God will reach down and solve it, and if He won't it doesn't matter because Earth doesn't matter--only Heaven. And God told us to stop abortion--it's right there in the Bible!

Actually the Bible only confers any rights at all on children when they're a month old--thus OK'ing not just abortion but infanticide. But that's in the Old Testament. In the New Testament...nothing about abortion. Just stuff about being nice to people, which anti-abortionistas assume includes fetuses, which no one in biblical times would have imagined. It's applying contemporary ideas to biblical terms.

Elaborate justification of anti-abortionism abound, of course. You can read one here. And you can read a detailed debunking of such stuff here. Starting with the easily verifiable fact that the word "abortion" appears nowhere in the Bible.

This isn't a problem for Catholics, because they don't use the Bible as their final word on God's instructions for us. They use the Pope's official pronouncements, which routinely override what's in the Bible. What's remarkable is how they persuaded Christian fundamentalists to accept the Pope's pronouncements.

Bottom line: when I see people like the two nice young ladies in the photo holding their Knights of Columbus "Defend Life" signs, I see a pair of very nice crows unintentionally--but effectively--promoting the destruction of the only place in the entire Universe that's available to the human race for life (along with the animals and plants we share this planet with). 

Why nothing about Newt?

I haven't said anything about Newt Gingrich because he's so unlikely to gain the presidential nomination of the Republican Party--and if he were to gain the nomination, it's hard to imagine the presidential race being much of a race.

At the very least it would mean that all that stuff the Republicans said throughout the Bill Clinton era about personal character being the sine qua non of what to look for in a president..was just talk.

The Economist endorses Mitt Romney

The last issue of The Economist endorsed Mitt Romney for President. The Economist tends to be economically quite conservative / pro-business without all the Social Conservative baggage of the American conservative movement.

This was my comment:

The Economist's encomium for Mitt Romney seems to reveal a basic ignorance about the difference between parliamentary politics and the American system.

In parliamentary systems the prime minister is the CEO of the party that controls the legislature. So the PM speaks with the one voice of the government.

In the American system Congress can be and often is controlled by the opposing political party. And the American Congress can thwart most of what the President proposes--and vice versa. Hence all the talk about governmental gridlock.

Enter Mitt Romney. Currently Congress is controlled by his party: the House by an unstoppable majority, the Senate by a minority that can stop anything the majority does.

There is very little chance that this control of Congress by the Republicans will change this November--in fact they stand to gain a majority in the Senate.

Any consideration of the American presidency MUST take place in the context of Congress. He doesn't get to run the country by himself.

And if we get a Republican president coupled with a Republican Congress, Romney's unlikely to oppose his own Congress--no more than Bush was--especially considering the ideological fervor that currently controls the GOP. So even if Romney as Governor of a state with a Democratic legislature worked as a "let's all work together" smart moderate, that's not what we'll get from a President Romney riding the tiger of a Tea Party Congress.

Not to mention the fact that despite Romney's obvious intelligence, the things he's said during this campaign--both from a teleprompter and spontaneously--represent the most beetle-browed, knuckle-dragging, factually challenged reductionism and misrepresentation of facts. I'm not talking about political differences. I'm talking about him saying things are factually false--over and over and over.

And if we take him at his word...well, it's hard to believe a conservative European publication such as the Economist would back him, since he condemns Obama for taking ideas from--gasp--Europe. As if that's the worst thing you could say of an American president.

Is a blatant jingoist Europhobe really what you want for us? Or do you think he's just lying about that? In which case do you want a blatantly opportunistic, demagoguic liar--who accurately reflects what the Tea Party Congress believes--as our president?

Seems like the most small-c conservative thing you could wish for is a pragmatic moderate like Obama for 2012.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Why corporate welfare provokes so little outrage

If I burgle your home when you're out and riffle through all your drawers looking for cash but only find one dollar, you'll still remember what I did to you for the rest of your life. Though the cash stolen was negligible, the invasion of your privacy and implied threat to your safety will still have quite an impact.

If I persuade you to invest all your money with me and I take it, as Bernie Madoff did, you'll certainly remember the one who ruined your economic life, as long as you live.

But what if I don't invade your home to steal from you, and I don't take all of your money. Suppose instead that I stole only one dollar from you--and from every other household in America--but that I did it by siphoning the dollar out of the taxes you pay.

I'll have stolen as much from Americans as Bernie Madoff did, but by spreading the theft around so broadly, and took it from you so quietly--you might not ever know I did it, or only find out decades later--it's hard to get worked up, even though the scale of the human crime is as big as Bernie Madoff's.

And that's what Wall Street's Masters of the Universe do. Their labor--called "investment" for tax purposes--is legally taxed (because they bribed Congress to make it so) at about half the rate of high-income managers in manufacturing and service provider sectors. Their assets are squirreled away abroad in places like the Cayman Islands, which is often--even usually--illegal, but takes large, sophisticated teams of forensic accountants to track down the malfeasance. Whereas IRS computers routinely catch most of the tax cheating done by average people. And successful GOP efforts at not just deregulation but defunding of regulatoratory agencies has hamstrung efforts to hold rich cheats to account.

I could go on, but the upshot is that by both legal but unethical and hard-to-nail-down illegal efforts, folks like Governor Romney take a dollar out of each of our pockets without disturbing anything in our homes or concentrating the loss in a few people who may squawk about it.

It's just a buck. Nothing to be annoyed about.


David Brooks wuvs the Mittster

Yesterday David Brooks wrote a NYT column saying, basically that we shouldn't not vote for Mitt Romney because he's rich, because he's very, very hard-working, and because his ancestors were also very, very determined people. 

Actually, 80% of the column was about Romney's virtuous forbears. Brooks didn't address the question of the means Romney's hard work employed, or their ends--whether/to what extent he helped build the economy vs. parasitizing it, and what all that money's doing in the Caymans if not to avoid taxes (investing in the Caymans is a bit problematic. I've been there. It's three tiny islands with scuba diving, virtually no agriculture, and a huge number of companies located there (it's a tax haven)--or, more accurately, these companies' headquarters are little post office boxes that receive mail addressed to the company. Well-paid Caymanian gofers check these post office boxes daily, then forward any mail to wherever the company actually is (somewhere that actually tries to tax companies, like America). 

So his whole column was a straw man argument. I've never heard anyone for or against Romney claim that he wasn't hard working, or that his ancestors weren't. Here's my response:

David Brooks makes a convincing argument. I'll vote for Romney this fall.

Hannah Romney, that is. Or one of the Mileses. Or George.They all sound like good presidential material.

Unlike the descendant Mr. Brooks is thumping the tub for.

Wholly aside from questions about his business dealings, his conduct & statements during his current presidential campaign disqualify him.

All politicians lie, unfortunately. Including President Obama. So Romney being an opportunistic liar isn't enough. And at least he isn't a complete dolt, or a religious zealot who puts his faith at the center of his campaign, or an ideological wack job, or an adversarial firebrand who's an idiot's notion of a smart guy.

Nor is it his conservatism. If Eisenhower were running I'd certainly consider voting for him. And though Mitt Romney has changed many positions, they're all been within the Republican spectrum. So he isn't completely inconsistent.

No, it's the nature and promiscuity of his lies that lie at the core of his disqualification for the presidency. It's both his scripted, telepromptered and unscripted remarks. They reveal a towering sense of entitlement, crude misrepresentation of how our economy works & what the president is and isn't responsible for--& Romney's no fool, so he knows he isn't stating conservative principles that disagree with Obama's--he's just lying about the issues, the opponents...everything. Obama shades the truth. Romney steamrolls it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

We should adopt Finland's educational system

This week's Dan Rather Reports on HDNet dealt with why America should adopt Finland's educational system.

Both the Republican and Democratic leaderships would reject this without even considering the reasons.

The Republicans have to reject it because so-called "American Exceptionalism"--a central pillar of the GOP Ministry of Propaganda's tenets--states that America is better than every single other country on Earth in every single aspect, and anyone who says otherwise isn't a loyal American and thus his arguments can and should be ignored.

The only exception to American Exceptionalism is Israel, whose policies are apparently the best on Earth--even better than ours--because another Republican MOP tenet is that America must support every single thing Israel does without question (and pay for it), and anyone who demurs hates Jews and should never be allowed to hold public office--and of course his reasons for demurring can and should be ignored.

The Democratic leadership, meanwhile, bristles at the very idea of holding up a foreign country's educational system as a standard because it might threaten the jobs of today's American teachers and administrators if you did so.

Not that they say that. Instead they advance a cloudy, dystopian version of the GOP MOP's "American Exceptionalism:" most other countries are too small to compare with America, they lack our diversity, or poverty, or....the reasons offered take more time to deal with than if you just looked at the other country's system.

Let's look at Finland anyway.

First, Finland because it tests in the top three of the world's nations consistently across the spectrum of standardized testing.

Second, Finland because it does this while spending vastly less on education than America does--about $8K per student vs. around $11K here.

Third, because the argument of scale is complete nonsense. Finland has a larger population than 32 of America's states, and in America education is done at the state level--so even without considering the larger states, Finland's lessons are applicable to nearly 2/3 of American states.

Fourth, because the diversity argument is also nonsense: many heartland states like Iowa, for example, have less diversity than Finland, yet Finland produces better-educated students for way less money than all of them, singly or in any combination. And Finland's students do better than those of all the other Nordic nations, all with comparable demographics. And it isn't monolithic. The country speaks three official languages and has 5% foreign-born people--and the schools with the largest immigrant populations do just as well as the homogeneous ones.

Amazingly, unlike the other countries at the top of the testing, Finnish students finish first without being grinds, and the teachers finish first without being paid much more than American teachers. But they're more highly trained than American teachers, and their jobs are vastly more enjoyable--less regimented, with smaller classes (average 20), shorter hours for both students and teachers, and far more scope of authority about what and how to teach. Students also get less homework BTW.

Nor are the "secrets" very exotic--they're actually much closer to what American educational reformers like John Dewey advocated than the principles American schooling goes by.

Secret number one: put the schools budget into the classrooms. Dan Rather cited a damning statistic: the entire Finnish educational bureaucracy numbers 600 administrators for 1,140,000 students nationwide, from primary school through university (which is, of course, free to students whose test scores qualify them for admission). That's a ratio of 1,900 students per administrator.

By contrast, Rather said that the Los Angeles Unified School district employs 3,685 administrations to oversee the education of 664,233 students. That's a ratio of 180 students per administrator.

Adopting Finland's approach would put 91% of America's educational administration bureaucracy into the classroom (or out on the street). In fact even school principals teach several classes a week.

But it would probably involve replacing many of America's teachers. In Finland you have to have a master's degree in education to be considered for classroom teaching. Despite the pay not being that high, being a teacher is prestigious. Teachers are considered cool when male and female Finns are polled about the most desirable profession for a spouse to have. So the idiot teachers you remember having--I sure do--wouldn't be there.

Another secret to Finland's educational system being so cost effective is that they spend next to nothing on special ed, nothing on standardized testing, and nothing on school sports. Special ed kids are mainstreamed, with extra teachers in classrooms giving help right there to kids who need more assistance. Teachers create their own tests. And kids' athletics are handled by the towns and cities, after school (and school days are shorter than ours), with just as much participation in athletics as you see here. It's just not considered a function of the schools.

Also, there are virtually no private schools in Finland, or home schooling. Public schools are esteemed by adults and considered both safe and fulfilling by students. Bullying is nipped in the bud. Arts are taught. A lot of class time is hands-on and individuated.

Teachers and students enjoy themselves and look forward to school.

Imagine that. You'd think conservatives would love an educational system that costs so much less and teaches the basics so much better. You'd think liberals would love an educational system that is just as good in the inner cities as it is in the affluent suburbs and takes individual needs into account.

Yet we just steam along, oblivious to the lessons we could learn if we didn't assume that the world consists of "America" and "here there be dragons."

You can read a lengthy description of how Finnish education works here or here. Or you can get the book on it from Finland's top educator on Amazon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Should Mitt Romney reveal his tax return

No law requires Mitt Romney to reveal his tax return.

And in fact, over the last decades, a Democratic presidential candidate wannabe (Jerry Brown) refused to. However, 34 presidential and vice-presidential candidates did--80% of the total. All the other refuse-to-disclosers were Republicans BTW.

Ironically, since until last weekend Romney said he wouldn't reveal his tax return, one of the pioneers in revealing his tax returns was Romney's own father when he ran for President.

Romney said today he'd reveal his tax return for last year after he had the GOP nomination tied up. He didn't put it that way, but that's what it boils down to. So he trusts Republican primary voters less than all voters? Interesting.

Some Democrats speculated that revealing his tax return would get him in Dutch with fellow Mormons if he underpaid the 10% off the top that the LDS church expects of members in good standing. This is bogus. No one in his ward--or any other ward--knows whether he pays the full 10% except for his bishop, who would never share that info with other ward members, much less the public. The only way for anyone to tell whether Romney is tithing properly is that he shouldn't have a Temple Recommend if he doesn't. But I bet he does have a Recommend. I'd be astonished if he didn't. So this line of attack is probably a red herring.

He did reveal that he thinks he pays around 15% overall. Not too shabby for a quarter-billionaire. This is why I don't understand the call by some rich people for a flat tax. We already have close to it, not on the books, but in effect, given all the loopholes available to the very wealthy and the lack of funding for the IRS to go after rich tax avoiders. It's just the W2 crowd that the IRS holds to a far higher standard of probity than the very rich.

Now all this talk about wealth doesn't automatically mean that Romney doesn't understand the world the rest of us live in. After all, FDR had the common touch...and FDR revealed all his tax returns.

Both Romney and FDR were born wealthy and never knew a moment's worry about financial solvency in their lives.

But I doubt FDR would have ever said something like what Romney said yesterday, as he was talking about his income:
"I get speaker's fees from time to time but not very much. Ha-ha-ha-ha."

His speaker's fees last year totaled $374,327.62.

Good for him to make that much money for speaking. Bad for him to think $374K is chump change--and for not realizing how out of touch with 99% of his fellow Americans it shows him to be...

The most important player in last night's GOP debate was the crowd

The audience at last night's GOP debate was the real Player in the debate. They were loud--hooting and yelling, booing lustily at things they didn't like. If you didn't know it was a presidential debate you might have thought you'd dropped in on a cage fighting match.

You can get a taste of it here, as they boo black Fox moderator Juan Williams when he challenged Newt Gingrich for calling President Obama the "Food Stamp President," then loudly cheer Gingrich when he doubles down on it. It was obviously racist up and down the line, and the crowd was with Gingrich 100%, giving him a standing ovation after booing the black journalist.

This happened on Martin Luther King Day...

White Southerners have perfected the art of being racist without every saying one word they can't rationalize.and explain away to the credulous.

One small example: Juan Williams addressed Gingrich as "Speaker Gingrich." Gingrich then address Willams as "Juan."

So what you say? In the Old South it was SOP to undercut the dignity of blacks by always addressing them by their first name. Same as when in Romance languages you use the familiar tense with someone you aren't friends with. Conversely, if a black were to address a white by their first name...well, the black had better have his will prepared. That's the Southern context of this simple, easy to overlook thing.

I've heard Gingrich described as an idiot's idea of what a smart guy is like. Seemed that that in this instance.
His doubling down on his "Food stamp president" solecism was to state that Obama had put more Americans on food stamps than any other president.

As if the nation was in great shape the day he took the oath of office. As if the Presidency of the United States of America is a 13th century monarch with a term limit. As if the Republican House majority and Senate minority haven't labored ceaselessly to make government fail, regardless of the cost to America, in hopes that doing so would get them back the White House.

As if a lot of white southerners don't still using a certain word in their heads when they think about a black guy.

Such as the black guy who, intolerably, inexplicably, sits in the White House, as if he doesn't realize it's the White's House...

And BTW Republican smart guys like ex-Bush speechwriter David Frum are worried that these debate audiences' hooliganism will fire up Democrats and depress intelligent Republicans (they do exist--I'm married to one).

He should.

Monday, January 16, 2012

We stole Hawaii!

One leftist cause you hear about in the West especially is about our land grab of Hawaii from its sovereign rulers a century or so ago.

I was just listening to a radio show about this on KQED-FM, and a caller made the point that it's ridiculous to act as if Hawaii would be a free nation today if we hadn't grabbed it . 

If we hadn't grabbed it, Japan would have, or Britain, or Russia, or someone else. The country of Hawaii was completely incapable of defending itself against a large industrial country. If Imperial Japan had grabbed it--the greatest likelihood--there would be no Hawaiians to complain about America today--the Imperial Japanese government would have eradicated the locals and replaced them with Japanese immigrants.

This is just one of a zillion examples of the implied false alternative in politics. 

Same with America and its American Indians. If it hadn't been us, another Western power would have moved in sooner or later, and still wiped out most of the Indians just by coughing on them, with or without military conquest. 

As Dr. John said, "If I don't do it you know somebody else will..."

Why Huntsman never had a chance

Huntsman and Romney are both intelligent--a big negative for many Republican primary voters--but Romney is more than willing to say dumb things for votes, while Huntsman obstinately insisted on saying things that showed thinking behind them.

He doesn't get red-faced and shout Socialist! Communist! when Obama's name is mentioned.

He doesn't hate science, even though scientific research reveals things nobody wants to hear.

He doesn't say refer to half the country contemptuously as "Libs" or "Dems."

He didn't have his "independent PAC" (nudge nudge wink wink) carry out massive character assassination assaults on his foes while playing the genial smiling guy like Romney does routinely.

He doesn't treat any idea from anywhere but America as automatically wrong (this is what "American Exceptionalism" actually means). And he doesn't use the word "European" as a curse word, as Romney does.

President Eisenhower would recognize him as a Republican, unlike any of the other Republican contenders.

He's a conservative, not a reactionary.

Smart is unAmerican

re: smart kids

I went to mostly working-class schools where having a 3-digit IQ was social suicide. Kids would routinely accuse me of cheating on tests because I aced them and they couldn't imagine anyone acing a test unless they'd cheated. The benefit of such a schooling is that you get to see what people are really like before they get socialized enough to conceal their feelings, which remain, under the hood, under all the rationalizations and fake "concern."

Of course many people don't suffer from the sin of envy, regardless of their own accomplishments or lack of same. But there's a streak of what I call "leveler" thinking in America, running back to our rejection of the claims of England's royalty that they were innately superior to the rest of us.

Unfortunately we went to the other extreme, often claiming that everyone is exactly the same except for accident of birth/education. To this day we spend billions on vast special ed programs with an infinitesimal return on society's investment, while gifted student programs with a proven high rate of return are the first to be cut if they existed in the first place. (Not that we should kick handicapped people to the curb--but neither should we waste vast sums of money based on pretending that we can educate their handicaps out of them.)

And both liberals and conservatives are often infected with leveler-ism--many liberals from an overreaction to racism and ethnic stereotyping, many conservatives from anger at scientists for telling them things they don't want to hear. And recent political campaigns have attacked politicians for being financially successful (Romney) or patrician (Kerry). Not to mention how many new prisons are being built while higher education funding withers and becomes out of reach for more deserving people every year. (While at the same time at least a quarter of students who do go to college are unable to learn at the college level, usually dropping out, wasting time and social resources.)

A great litmus test for leveler-ism can be found in reactions to a cheerful, polite 11 year old girl who happens to also be an interpretive musical genius: Jackie Evancho, from Richland Township, a suburb of Pittsburgh.

Because of leveler-ism, everywhere you turn you find people quick to deny that Jackie exists--that is, claiming that the real Jackie can't exist (AutoTune!), or if she does, it's with a built-in expiration date (she's ruining her voice!) that lets us feel good about our little Mary not being able to sing like her (much less ourselves). Call her a genius and watch the reactions. For way too many people, "genius" is un-American.

No wonder our math, science and language scores are so poor compared to most other rich countries.

And, getting back to politics, for many, being intelligent is an automatic knockout factor for a presidential candidate. Huntsman's nuanced positions doomed him with the GOP primary crowd; Romney only gets the grudging support he does by constantly repeating idiotic bumper sticker slogans I'm sure he knows are false. Clinton had to overcome the stigma of his Rhodes Scholar track record, while Bush II's academic mediocrity was a big plus for him.

We haven't had to deal with the royalty claims of the Hanovers for over 230 years, yet we're still getting our knickers in a twist over them...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Romney is right--experience counts

Let's be fair. Mitt Romney's business experience and Olympics experience and governor experience are all relevant to what's needed to be President of the United States.

Not entirely relevant, mind you. Suppose you ran the country strictly on business principles. You'd eliminate rural postal service, end the so-called "war on drugs," withdraw all our troops who are abroad immediately and cashier most of them, eliminate at least half the military, eliminate social security and medicare, because both merely support unproductive people...

Not that I'm against all these things--but I bet most of the anti-government Republicans don't.really want government run strictly on business principles.

And of course you can apply the skills needed to hire and delegate and prioritize and analyze objectively to government issues and goals--especially if you have no fixed principles to slow you down.

However, if Romney wants to tout his business experience as having some relevance to the job of President of the United States, surely President Obama can tout his experience as being the President of the United States for the last three years as having some relevance to the job of President of the United States.

Let's see, which resumé is most applicable to the job being applied for?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The graph that launched a thousand rationalizations


Here's the single best question to ask those who plan to vote for the Republican nominee. "Please explain how your guy would do something about this--or why this is a good thing. One or the other."

What the graph (derived from Congressional Budget Offices by the conservative publication The Economist) does is take the income disparities between Americans in 1979 as a given, then shows how that disparity changed in the succeeding 28 years. So it's not showing that all Americans made the same amount of money in 1979 (!). It's just showing how the amount of different has changed for different sectors of Americans.

One important thing it doesn't show directly is the fact that Americans have been working harder and harder through that timeframe--longer hours, more stress, more threat of being fired or laid off (the same thing 98% of the time), and besides the drop of income, the siphoning off of pension funds into CEO salaries and dilution of medical coverage.

What it shows is that nobody's doing much better than they did in 1979 except for the richest 1% of Americans, who have appropriated for themselves nearly all the improvement in GNP for the United States of America for the last 30 years or so. This coincides with the wholesale deregulation of business started by successive Republican administrations.

So the "job creators" turn out to actually be the "wealth just for themselves" creators. This makes sense, since more and more of America's biggest fortunes are centered on money manipulation instead of providing goods and services and the capital to start and build companies that provide goods and services. 

From factories to Wall Street.

Why should I be happy with this? Why should I vote for someone who, like Mitt Romney, promptly calls me a socialist stuffed with envy and hatred of the American Way of Life if I dare to object? Were CEOs and Wall Street's Masters of the Universe grossly underpaid before 1979, such that they didn't want to start companies and stuff? I was around then and I don't recall anyone saying so. 

At that time Reagan was saying that "Government IS the problem." That government meddling was stifling business; that it was taking money out of yours and my pockets.

So the Republicans took care of all that gummint interference, and whaddaya know--all that happened was that the 1% redistributed a big chunk of America's wealth right into their pockets. And then they call us redistributionists if we dare to complain.

I can understand this easily. Mitt Romney was born into that 1% and has lived his entire life in the 1%. So was and did FDR, but somehow FDR developed an understanding of how the 99% live. Ditto Warren Buffet. And George Soros. And others. But not most of the 1%. 

And honestly, what's the overall pattern for the human race everywhere and everywhen? A small minority grabbing more and more for themselves and their cronies and relatives and less and less for everyone else. Absent that dreaded regulation, that's what humans do.

Now it's also what humans do when government goes overboard with the regulations, of course. Communism is authority with no checks or balances. What did anyone think would happen? 

It's fascinating to hear rank and file Republicans twisting themselves into knots trying to justify this somehow.

But most do.

I think of them as being like the folks who'd line the sides of the road when their lord rode by on his way to the manor, touching their caps respectfully as he passed...and stoutly defending him to one and all.

What makes these people such bootlickers? What makes them think that the only alternative to being a vassal of the Romneys of the world is being a vassal to the Putins of the world? Or that there's any difference, for that matter? 

So show them the graph and find out what they say. At the very least it'll make your next family reunion more entertaining....

Friday, January 13, 2012

The worst way to attack Mitt Romney

...is to claim that he's a racist because the Mormon Church denied blacks the priesthood back in the day.

There's plenty to criticize Mitt Romney about. This isn't one of them. The LDS church definitively abandoned its racial discrimination policy on June 8, 1978. And decades before that it had officially supported full civil rights for blacks, and even before then blacks were free to join the church.

Today the church has many hundreds of thousands of members, particularly in the Caribbean, Africa, and Brazil. Look up Black Mormons in Wikipedia.

So ding Romney on classism, being the Layoff King, lying about Obama constantly, using underhanded propaganda techniques in all his speeches, acting like the nice guy while his surrogates do his dirty work...but not Mormon institutional racism.

It will only discredit legitimate objections to his becoming president.

And that's why I'm concerned. The MSNBC Ed Shultz show already has gone down this rabbit hole. It won't help.

And anyway, pragmatically speaking, all ten Black Republicans are going to vote for Romney no matter what you say and all the millions of Black Democrats are going to vote for Obama no matter what you say about alleged Mormon racism. So all such accusation really do is trigger the anger of white working class people at being accused of racism because some/many/all of their parents/grandparents/great-grandparents were racist.

I guarantee you it will backfire.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What does the GOP have in common with Arthritis?

I keep looking for a metaphor to describe how rank and file Republicans keep attacking the people who are trying to save them.

It's Arthritis. Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, in which the body's defense mechanisms mistakenly attack the body's own joints instead of an invading organism. 

All the autoimmune diseases are like this--firing away at the invader it thinks it's found out there in the dark, only it was your own wife who'd gotten up for a glass of milk and was just trying to come back to bed with you.

And of course the Republican leadership does everything it its power to foster this. Hence the constant description of Obama as some kind of European Socialist. 

BTW what do you suppose our European allies think of the Republican presidential contenders constantly invoking Europe as the worst possible thing one could imagine?

As soon as Romney's elected, he'll have to go on an Apology Tour in Europe...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Is Mitt Romney a moderate? conservative?

Romney is certainly a lifelong Republican, and every political stance he's ever taken falls within the Liberal Republican-Conservative Republican space.

But just where he is within that space isn't as hard to determine as some seem to think.

Just look at Republican opinion polls. However they tilt--there's Mitt, wide-eyed, earnest, and eager to tell you exactly why he's either always believed "it" or exactly what touching personal experiences led to his total reversal of position.

This isn't an entirely bad thing. The last thing I want in the Oval Office is an ideologue of any sort. President Obama--my own choice for 2012--has changed positions within the Democratic orbit, as Romney has within the Republican orbit. People do learn from their experiences, after all. And when experience contradicts preconception, I certainly want someone in office who'd sacrifice his preconceptions rather than reality.

Now all this does not mean Romney's a moderate. It's not "moderate" to become Far Right or Moderate as the occasion demands. It's opportunistic.

So I'd describe Romney's politics as "Republican Opportunist." You need the Republican part because I don't think he'd adopt the Democratic platform even if a majority of Americans said they wanted that in opinion polls. But he will go anywhere within the broadest possible definition of "Republican" as he thinks he needs to, in order to achieve his life's burning goal--which you might define as "serving his country and his people in the best way possible" or "get the highest office as he sees appropriate for his ego" depending on your own politics.

Therefore in talking with Republican friends, relatives and acquaintances, I'd recommend arguing with them when they say he's "really a moderate" or "really a conservative" Republican.

He's "really" a Romneyan.

In philosophical terms his is consequentialist morality. Antecedant morality means you do what you believe is right, regardless of the consequences. That's typically what bedrock conservatives espouse. Consequntialist morality means determining your behavior strictly according to what you think will result, which is more what liberals go by.

So in that sense I guess he's a liberal, but not in terms of political positions.

I still find it ironic that he's now so devoted to ending Obamneycare...

But none of this will matter if the Republicans succeed in making the election a referendum on Obama, demonizing Obama so much that people won't even care about the character and policy positions of the person they want to replace him with.

Which is why 90% of Romey's victory speech was about how bad Obama is, and only 10% was about how Romney would be an improvement.

What stump speeches say beneath the hood

You can tell who a party's voters are by listening to the presidential candidates' speeches.

I was listening to Mitt Romney's vistory speech in New Hampshire, about how he was for freedom and--between the lines--Obama was for slavery.

Romney seems irony-blind.

The things he said were stuff I'm prettysure he knows aren't true, but they did make for a neat, simple, straightforward narrative, banging on the idea that Obama is foreign.

No, he didn't question Obama's nationality. He just did the same thing Bush II did to convince his followers that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11: association. He put Saddam's name into every sentence about 9/11 and his followers connected the fake dots. Now Romney is putting Obama's name next to "European" and "Socialism."

Which is less likely to work on educated, cosmopolitan people.

But it works like a charm on white guys without a college degree.

So the real deal with the GOP is not a "clash of civilizations" between  the two parties. It's a war of words--words aimed at the inner insecurities of white men living in a browning country run by a guy who doesn't look like them. It's too simple to call this racism, though of course that's a factor with many--but not with many others. However, even with those others, there's a sense of unease, of a willingness to believe the worst of Obama...a willingness to construct rational-seeming arguments on top of that unease so they don't have to be looked at, so the many who actually don't want to be racist can tell themselves they aren't.

They just don't like "European socialism."

Funny that the "European socialism" of Northern European countries like Germany is doing great, making capitalist money hand over fist, providing medical care for everybody in an export-centric economy that's more resilient than ours, and in which a poor but ambitious, hardworking person has more social mobility than he would here.

It you want a reality check on my speculations, look at factcheck.org and politifact.com's research on the truthiness of Romney's attacks on Obama.

One more Big Lie--the one about how Obama didn't fix the economy. Um, he isn't king. He isn't even the Prime Minister presiding over a government united behind him.

The current American system enables an opposition party with a House majority and a Senate minority to throw enough grit in the gears to keep nearly everything from happening. It's not a "do nothing" Congress at all. It's a "block everything" Congress.

Which means Romney's arguing to let the foxes get back in charge of the henhouse. And the Layoff King is the First Fox.

Interestingly, I came across this conservative LDS website that details his adjustment of his beliefs to suit the circumstances.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Mitt's strategy

I've heard that Mitt wants to keep the "Anyone But Mitt" GOP faction divided for as long as possible, because with Newt and Rick and Ron--and, I guess, the other Rick still in the game, it continues to look at if the Far Right has no one to turn to besides Mitt if they want to beat Barack.

On the other hand, I've also heard that President Obama wants as many of the far right candidates to stay in the race as long as possible.

Why? Because as long as Mitt faces one or more competitors to the right of him, he doesn't dare change his political tune to a centrist one that would be more appealing to centrists. He has to keep talking to social and fiscal conservatives as if he's one of them, as long as he has this opposition.

Plus he can't just talk about Obama in his speeches if he has viable competitors. He can't act like they don't exist and get away with it if he keeps getting just 25% of the Publican vote in polls and primaries. He acts as if he has already won the nomination, and that only works if his competitors all drop out.

And because Mitt's been acting as if he's Mr. High Road while his surrogates have been down in the gutter with massive attack campaigns on his competitors, now he's got competitors who may be happy to lose the nomination as long as they can take him down. Newt Gingrich has already declared jihad against Mitt because of both his pretence of virtuosity and the reality of his gutter politics (which people outside the primary states mostly haven't seen yet).

So Obama may wind up with Newt, Rick and Ron inadvertently working for his reelection.

Divide and rule.

Ovama vs. Obama

The Publican leadership knows full well that whoever wins the GOP nomination will be someone who doesn't thrill the average Publican voter. Most likely it will be Mitt Romney, whom a quarter of Publican voters believe is inescapably Hell-bound regardless of his deeds in this life, because he's a Mormon.

Of course these Fundamentalists believe President Obama is equally Hell-bound, despite his professed Christianity, because some believe he's a Muslim mole, others believe no Christian could attend a church Rev. Wright preached at, and many of them appear to believe that you can't be both a Christian and a Democrat (!).

You can win an election by either having a lovable, inspiring candidate--or by having a hateable opponent.

The GOP Ministry of Propaganda now knows they aren't getting an inspiring candidate regardless; so they must focus on making Obama the Anti-Christ incumbent--someone so demonic that rank and file Publicans will man the phone banks, give old folks rides to the polls. And meanwhile, behind the scenes, they must focus on suppressing the Democratic vote.

Because to win all you need is fewer votes for the other guy, in the right districts.

So wherever Publicans hold sway in a state they have jiggered the rules about voting to keep as many people as possible from voting if they're Democrats.

And the coming avalanche of secret money--blessed by the Supremes--will focus on painting Obama as being responsible for every bad thing imaginable, while the candidate will act like a nice guy. Possible since the dirty work done in his name won't be traceable to him. Because as long as the Supremes have their hyperconservative faction with five votes, President Bush II will remain in power in one branch of government at least.