Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Know Who You are Dealing With

Please bear in mind that labeling people into groups is not always accurate, and overall not even a good routine to fall into when dealing with people as individuals.    But when the label and the group is according to their self-interests, those labels can be useful.   Here are some of the major divisions I see operating in America right now...

1) A parasitic financial sector:   This is a very small group, but they are subsuming more and more of the economy.   They have influence out of proportion to their size.  Employees of the big five banks for example.

2) Government Workers:   These are people directly employed by the government.   Some of them provide legitimate service, but many of them are also parasites.   They do nothing to produce more wealth in our economy, they only redistribute the wealth earned by a shrinking pool of others.

3) Corporations in Government Cartel industries:  These are industries which make money not by appealing to customers, but by lobbying the government to force people to purchase products against their will.   The healthcare, defense, and education industries are three big examples.  Because they push debt, group one overlaps into this sector.

4) Wanna Bes:  These are not all big shots.  Some of them are local chamber of commerce types operating the same scam on a local level.      Chief among these are the small cadre of establishment shills that show up at Rotary Club and Republican County Committee meetings.   Their purpose is to maintain a status quo that is patently unjust, completely unsustainable, but from whose table they imagine themselves getting crumbs.   Examples might include local businessmen whose business gets a substantial boost from government contracts.   In theory they are "conservatives" but in practice they want to keep the party going till the card is maxed out.   Group #4 is where groups 1-3 get their local legitimacy.

5) Net producers:  This shrinking group represents what is left of the middle and upper middle class, as well as some rich people who made their money outside of the first three groups.   They are the ones paying for almost all of the unjust wealth being extracted from the nation by the top three groups above as well as the last group.   This group, when you look over their lifetime, is where most but not enough of the activists come from.

6) Those breaking even:  This is the working class or people who were formerly middle class.   They now pay as much into the government as the get out of it.    They are not net wealth consumers, they are not parasites, but they are not adding any wealth either.   They are on net neither looting nor being looted.

7) The dependent:   These are the single mothers married to the government.   The faux-disabled.   The never or rarely employed.    Groups 1-3 has money, but by themselves do not (until recent times) have the votes to suppress and loot group #4.   Group #7 is where they get their votes.    They have conditioned this group to reflexively oppose politicians who will lower spending or taxes (since they benefit from some of that spending while the bill for it goes to group #4).

The task of the activist then is to mobilize the full power of group #5, their natural base.    We can split some from group #4, but not many.   Even those who support us will be more likely to do so if we ask them in ways that are quiet.   Group #6 can be and is split.   Few of them except the young and single can be counted on to do much activism.   They are just trying to survive.     They can become a swing vote on election day though, if properly educated and motivated.    The fear of losing government benefits must be countered by the fear of losing social mobility added to the knowledge that the benefits are not sustainable anyway.

The dependent, many of them, hate the system they rely on.   Still, they are locked in a cycle.   They will not let go of their government lifeline unless they have hold of a firm alternative.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A+ Arkansas Education Summit, and the Faces of Janus

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." widely attributed to Mussolini 

Where do those of us who are not fascists go to have a group that shares our views on the education of our children?  Is the only choice we have outside of homeschooling a choice of which face of Janus we will offer our children to? 

It seems those on the left want the central state to control our children's education.  Those on the right want corporations to control our children's education.   Where do those people go who think that a community's school ought to be controlled by the parents of that community?   With the Democrats co-opted directly by government and the Republicans co-opted by corporations, those who see education as a function and extension of the family have no political organization to represent them.   

I reject both socialism and fascism, and therefore must reject both "liberal" and "conservative" ideas about what our community schools ought to look like.   I am a Localist.  Here is a small part of what Localism, A Philosophy of Goverment says about education (Kindle/Amazon) (Barnes and Noble/EPUB). ......
"In the localist view, education is the responsibility of the family, and any community schools should be an extension of the family.  Any schooling in which the state assists the parents should be built upon this idea, and any schooling which the parent does without assistance from the state should be protected by this idea."
Both "choices" the American people have been presented with as their only options have been in a mad rush to centralize control of education.  Republican Mike Huckabee pushed for the centralization of education in Arkansas.  The Democrats were glad to help him.   America had 117,000 local school districts in 1940 (when our population was less than half its current size.)  Today we have less that 15,000 school districts, and the amount of control those "local" school boards have over the schools is less than ever before. National testing and state standards drive everything.  Centralization of control away from the parent and toward the state has been the dominant trend in education for more than a generation. The only trend that even compares is the trend towards increased cost (without commensurate results).

The A+ Arkansas education summit will be in Little Rock this Tuesday.   A+ Arkansas is supported by Arkansans' for Educational Reform.   However, like many of American's other choices, this appears to be a false choice.    The "reformers" have the same world view of centralized control, standardized testing, and commodization of delivery that their erstwhile opponents have.   The only "choice" we have is whether parents will hand control of their child's education to a government educrat or a corporate one.  The two will be educating toward the same standards, measured using the same types of instruments, and using similar delivery techniques.   

Arkansans for Education Reform supports Act 35, the measure Huckabee got passed after Lakeview which centralized control of schools in this state more than ever.   They also support the Bush-Kennedy federalization of education mis-named "No Child Left Behind."    Arkansas has recently joined half the other states in asking for a waiver from the goals of this program.   As I repeatedly warned for seven years, the stated goals of NCLB cannot be met, even if the entire nation were transformed into a totalitarian dictatorship for the purpose of complying with the act.   The goals were unrealistic and not achievable by means of government action.   If the real goal though, was to transfer power over education from the local to the federal level then this diabolical measure was a great success.

The corporations were all for it, because of the promise of what is termed "workforce education".    This is a socialist concept (which again is sold to the right as a "conservative" one so that only the illusion of choice is maintained) which says that government controlled education should be hijacked by favored industries so that they might lay their job training costs unto the backs of the taxpayers.   

This is a "planned economy", eastern European style, for labor inputs.   And just like in eastern Europe, or anywhere else it has been tried in human history ever, it was a failure.   It is failing here too, but our current ruling elites are convinced that "this time its different."   After all, they are running the show now and they are the ones smart enough to, for the first time in history, make central planning work!   That proves that arrogance can make smart people do stupid things because when it comes to the fundamentals of human nature and government intervention in market action, its never different.

At any rate, my take on this is that the corporate guys are frustrated at the slow pace and ineffective results they have gotten from hiring the government to convert your community school into their taxpayer-funded training program.   They want to cut out the middle-man, government, and have some of their own use government dollars to do it their way.  Government's only role would be to extract taxes from the serfs in order to fund the big boy's dreams.   Hence their idea of McSchool charter schools.

Unlike your local school, which still has a parent-elected school board as a vestige of the time when families and communities still ran their own schools, McSchool Charter Schools will not have locally elected school boards.   They will simply have a designated parent liaison or two, safely picked by themselves, to give the barest veneer of parental involvement.   

They will fixate on stadardized tests, just as the government schools do now, because that is a way to measure children without actually knowing them. The focus will be on mastering processes- such as processes some of the school's corporate sponsors find handy in their workforce.    The focus won't be about transferring a core body of knowledge from one generation to the next, because knowledge of history and general science and what have you is not essential to being a productive drone for some corporate workforce.   Also, people who know things are too hard to govern.   In McSchools, when it comes to history and civics, ignorance is strength!

But of course my main complaint is that education in nature is an extension of the family, education in scripture is a responsibility of the family, and back in the day when America was growing and improving community schools treated education like it was an extension of the family.   Schools did more than convey information.  They socialized children in an organic way.    What I see is that the new left and the new right only offer parents choice of masters.    There is no faction offering community.

I also notice that Luke Gordy, chief lobbyist for the McSchool effort, is also pushing a delivery system which will make learning more clinical and less personal.   It appears to be focused on distance learning, with video clips and a video teacher who would not even be physically present with the students.   

I have an anecdote which speaks to this.   My brother is a history and government teacher, and a great one.    His school tried a similar delivery system for their Advanced Placement History class.   These were the best juniors and seniors in the school.   They had one person pass the end of course exam in five years.   Out of frustration, they tried putting a good living, breathing teacher who was able to communicate and inspire and, yes like, these students on a personal level.   The next year they had five students pass the end of course exam and have gotten similar results since then.

I know that grassroots activists are anxious for an alternative to an increasingly moribund school system (no matter what awards they give themselves ).   In our desire for an answer, let's not rush to an incorrect answer.  Let's not turn to what is in reality just another face of the same false god.   Children are meant to be raised, and educated, in families, and in communities of people they connect with.  This is the localist approach (Kindle/Amazon) (Barnes and Noble/EPUB) to education, it is the classic approach to education, and it is the natural approach to education.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Reform vs. Remessing on Commissions

I was interested to hear that Senator David Burnett (D) Osceola, introduced a referred amendment that would call for scrapping the current method of selecting Commissioners for both the Highway Commission and the State Game and Fish Commission.   Here is some of the report....

Under Burnett’s Senate Joint Resolution 3, two members of the Game and Fish Commission would be elected from each of the state’s four congressional districts and a member would be elected statewide. The commission now has seven members appointed by the governor.
Two members of the Highway Commission would be elected from each of the state’s four congressional districts and one member would be statewide and serve as its chairman.
The commission is now made up of five members appointed by the governor.
Burnett said he introduced the proposal because both commissions “do pretty well what they please. In this day and age we need to have the input of the citizens, and that’s all I am trying to do.”
Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, is co-sponsoring Burnett’s proposal.
A spokesman for the Game and Fish Commission said the commission opposes the proposed constitutional amendment.
 Look, I am all for altering this crazy commission structure, especially on these two commissions which spend so much of the public's money unaccountably.   It leads to a malady I call fiefdom government.  Power is not divided, as when a legislative, judicial, and executive branch all balance against one another.  Rather, power is fragmented into a bunch of unaccountable little Kingdoms Unto Themselves.

So why am I unhappy with the proposal to make appointed Commissioners elected Commissioners?    Because it throws away a perfect opportunity to do what really ought to be done: abolish both of these commissions, especially the Highway Commission, and return their functions to the legislature itself where they properly belong.

Let's consider highways.   We already have a Highway Department in the Executive Branch and a Transportation Committee in the Legislative Branch.   That latter committee has little to do other than rubber stamp the decisions of the Highway Commission.   That is why most legislators consider it one of the least important committees to serve on.   It ought to be one of the most important.   They spend a billion taxpayer dollars a year on vital infrastructure.  

The federal government does not have a separate entity called a Highway Commission which does the job that the House or Senate Transportation Committee ought to be doing.  The legislature performs that legislative function itself- as it ought to.  It is the same way in many states.   There is simply no reason to transfer the function of spending public money away from the legislature in favor of a Commission.   This Commission will be dominated by special interests whether they are appointed or elected.   That is just the way things happen when you create a group of decision makers who have a narrow scope.

If I am in the highway business and try to buy an entire legislature then I have to compete with all the other interests out there.  But if the power to spend is transferred to a Commission whose scope is narrowed to highways, then I have a much better chance to buy them.   Legislators with the potential to represent many interests don't need me.   Maybe they can be financed by pro-gun money, or pro-chicken money or whatever other interests they can represent just because that is who they are.   But Highway Commissioners who are elected will get money from only one place- the Highway Lobby.   That makes them much more vulnerable to being bought off and acting against the public interests, even if elected.   They only have a narrow group out there with reasonable potential to fund their campaigns.  And because the districts are so big, campaigning will be a lot more expensive than campaigning for a legislative seat.

When we were opposing the sales tax increase for highways and interest payment and bond fees (i.e. more money for the same broken system) Better Spending First proposed a better plan for highways.    Return the function of allocating public money to the legislature, where it belongs.  End the duplication of functions.   Have a sub committee for each congressional district who budgets for roads using the fuel taxes and registration fees from that district, with another pool of money divided among the districts by number of road miles.

This plan is just, and therefore liable to be opposed by all sides.   The big boys don't want fair, they want to game the system to take money from your pockets and put it in their contributor's pockets.  Democrats who are used to using NW Arkansas and Central Arkansas as an ATM machine on highways will hate it because they can't build roads in their territory with someone else's money.   Those days may be over anyway, but they probably don't know it yet.

The Republicans will hate it because it would allow Democrats in the 4th and 1st Districts to control the highway money in those areas, since they would likely have the most members on the sub-committees in those districts.     Now that they have a narrow majority, the idea of decentralizing power does not seem as attractive as it was when they controlled NWA and the Democrats had the rest of the state.

And of course the business interests who control highway spending now will hate the idea.   That would too messy for them, with so much public input into the spending of public money.   They would want far fewer people to have a say in the matter.   That way, they can "get things done", with or without the approval of those who provided the funding used to do them.

I urge the legislature to take back, on behalf of the citizens, the power which rightfully belongs to them.  Reform Arkansas' highway system, don't re-mess it!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Aggressively Refusing to Get it on Medicaid Expansion

We are in or around position #4 to #5.

Can We Trust Washington to Keep its Promises? Why don't you ask this guy? 
I am flabbergasted at the aggressive refusal to face reality by our ruling class when it comes to the issue of Medicaid expansion.    They need an intervention.   They have a serious case of normalcy bias.  Here is how Wikkepedia describes this dangerous condition....
The normalcy bias, or normality bias, refers to a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects. This often results in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of governments to include the populace in its disaster preparations. The assumption that is made in the case of the normalcy bias is that since a disaster never has occurred then it never will occur. 
Here, the bias is that the Federal Government is going to make good on its promises to pay for 90% of the costs of Medicaid expansion in perpetuity.    That is the paradigm the ruling class in this state has been used to operating under for the past 40 years or so.  If you need money, you get it from the federal government.

The world has changed since then.   Washington cannot keep its new promises.  It is no longer able to even keep its past promises.    We are somewhere between point four and point five on the diagram above.  All of the low-hanging fruit of high returns on government "investments" in the economy have long since been harvested.    We are now at the point where increased government intervention does not produce proportional economic growth, but rather the debt created to fund the intervention creates a drag on the economy, even at (artificial) near-zero interest rates.

FEDGOV is borrowing almost half of every dollar it spends now.  Yet many in our state government and media completely discount the possibility that D.C. will not keep its promise to pay almost all of these new bills forever.   That is madness.  Any fair look at what is going on with the sustainability of Washington's spending will conclude that it is not sustainable.   Why then, is anyone contemplating partnering with Washington in an expensive new program?

The numbers that Beebe's Budget office are putting out about the "cost savings" to Arkansas four, five, six years down the line, are complete garbage.   Not the calculations mind you, but the assumptions.   They assume Washington will be "good for it" five years from now.  They can't know that.   They can't rationally assume that the risk of FEDGOV being unable/unwilling to fulfill its promises is zero.   In truth putting the odds of that risk at one hundred percent is much more reasonable than the zero percent risk assumption they use.

Some leaders are slowly moving to acceptance of this reality.  Others are trying to keep one foot in the real world and the other foot in the delusion of what once was.  Arizona Governor Jan Brewer falls into this group with her alluring fantasy of a "trip wire" provision.  That is, expand Medicaid but say you will un-expanded it should FEDGOV renege on its funding promises in out-years.    The genie does not go back into the bottle.   The toothpaste cannot be crammed back into the tube.  And there is no easy way, maybe no possible way short of fiscal collapse, to undo this expansion once it is done, either politically or legally.   Medicaid is formally a state program that FEDGOV chooses to help fund, and it is the state that will be left holding the bag.

Another version of knowing but not facing current fiscal reality is the suggestion that we know that FEDGOV is going to renege but let's integrate further with them so that poor people will get a few years health care before the break down.    I call this concept, deliberately integrating your state healthcare infrastructure into a system you know is unsustainable, the "Maximum Stupid Plan."  

Advocates of the Maximum Stupid Plan don't seem to get that our existing health care structure for the poor, clinics, private charity, non-licensed practitioners and those who will retire rather than be forced to work for the government for slave wages, will be disrupted by the new system.  However inadequate people think this care network is, it will be worse once it gets replaced by the expanded Medicaid system.    The current care system such people are using will mostly go away, and then be replaced by something that will break down in a few years.

I call it the Maximum Stupid Plan based on the intelligence level commiserate with deliberately altering your health care infrastructure to integrate into a system whose funding is obviously unsustainable, but based on its probable outcome I should call it the "Pile Up the Corpses Plan."   Perhaps the door steps of the media figures and politicians who advocate this plan would be a good place to stack said corpses until they can get a decent burial.

We can't count on that funding five years out.   We could have a fiscal crisis five months from now.   That's just how strung out the dollar is.    Any state government or media leaders that are not so deluded by normalcy bias that they can't see the iceberg sitting right in front of our Titanic should know that we need to find ways to function where we are less dependent on D.C., not more.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Gambling With People's Lives on Obamacare

Ark. Gov. Mike Beebe
OK, so that may actually be "The Sun King" Louis the XIV.   But the two actually seem to have a very similar governing philosophy.    Neither seems to think much of getting any real input from a legislature, even on the largest questions.    So which of the two uttered the famous quote "I am the state"?    Ahh, it could have been either I guess.
No question looms larger at the moment for state government than whether or not to expand Medicaid to cover adults who make up to 130% of the poverty level in income.    The move is a major component of Obamacare. Some Republicans have suggested that the question is so important that rather than have it dominate the session, perhaps it should be dealt with in a separate, special session dedicated to that purpose.  

His majesty, er, the Governor, has expressed displeasure at the idea, unless it is a three-day pro-forma affair, with the results worked out beforehand in a series of back room deals.

Peasants of the Realm, let's have no more talk of open debate, the only light you need shed on this question comes from the Radiance of your Divine Sun King himself!

The idea that mere legislators should have serious input on important legislation seems to produce discomfort.   After all, the legislature is "the people's branch."   Why, those legislators are so close to the ground that they often hear from citizens in Nowhere County without even a lobbyist being present!    No wonder they sometimes come to session with seditious ideas!

Those on the left, perpetual adolescents that most of them are, hear that the Federal government is offering "free money" if only Arkansas will agree to expand the welfare state again.  To them, its a no brainer.  Free money, you take it.  Free sex, you take it.   Free drugs, you take it.   Adults of course, understand that there is no "free."   There is always a cost, and there are always risks.   What does not always exist, particularly among the perpetual adolescents, is a realistic consideration of what the costs and the risks are before they jump.    The stage we are now in politically will be familiar to many parents. It is the stage when the adolescents are frustrated, impatient, and outraged when grown-ups stop to consider all the consequences instead of just "going for it."

They have been enabled by a RAND study which showed that when a state increased its Medicaid coverage the death rate for those under 65 decreased by 6.1%.   If the same applied here this would equate to, so I am told, from 1,000 to 2,300 Arkansans having their lives extended.     With the adolescent propensity to leap on any fact available to radiate indignation and a shallow sense of moral superiority against whoever is between them and their having their own way, this is enough evidence to conclude that a vote against expanding Medicaid is a vote to kill poor people.

It is not that simple of course, although saying that often produces angry objections from the left.  To them it is that simple.  If there is a problem, throw other people's money at it in the form of government largesse until it goes away.    They have no patience for more nuanced and complicated answers, even if their own answers are utter failures which cannot be sustained.

For example, an adult considering whether or not to take on such an obligation might ask whether the fiscal condition of the entity offering to pay for the expansion is healthy enough that we can be sure they will not renege on their commitments.     In the case of FEDGOV, the obvious answer is "no."   The perpetual adolescents are screaming at legislators to "take the free money" oblivious to the fact that the person promising the money doesn't have it.  

Washington D.C. is isolated from reality and suffers from a bad case of "normalcy bias".     They think things will be the same as they've been for years because that's the way things have been for years.    It's somewhere between circular reasoning and delusion.  It is also a frequent mistake made by persons without a lot of experience or perspective (i.e. adolescents). FEDGOV presses on with lavish promises and massive expansions just like they still have money.    They don't, and foreigners will decide when our last national credit card has been maxed out.

Many of our wiser state legislators are wondering if they should launch major new commitments based on the promise of funding from the most indebted institution in all of human history.    Suppose you knew a man who used to be rich, but was now living off of credit in a state of denial about his present financial position. If he offered to fund a joint venture with you, would you re-arrange your life so as to take the offer?

You see the RAND study did not even address the issue of whether or not future funding was likely.   Nor did it consider what might happen to existing patients on Medicaid if the system breaks from expanding it beyond realistic available resources.    Many have viewed public welfare programs as a "safety net."  Using this analogy, the strength of the net is related to the ability of taxpayers to fund it and the number of welfare recipients is the load on the net.   What happens to those currently in the net if the net breaks due to more people piling onto it?    What happens to those newly dependent on the system only to have it break down? 

What I am saying is that the reality is not nearly as simple as "expand the system or you are voting to kill people."    That sort of thinking is for perpetual adolescents.    Rational adults must factor in the probability that the imagined funding for the expansion will actually materialize and be sustained.  Additionally, they will consider the risk to those currently served should the funding, and thus the system it supports, suffer catastrophic collapse due to arrogant miscalculations about the real vs. imagined capabilities of our would-be saviors from D.C.   Teenagers think they can handle anything.   Accident insurance tables tell a different story.

The truth may be just the opposite of the conclusion implied by the RAND study.    Rather than providing longer life to more people, an unsustainable attempt at expansion might cost more years from more lives than doing nothing.     Leftists may be literally betting the lives of those currently on Medicaid that Obama knows what he's doing.    If one's confidence in the Resident does not rise to that level, then caution is advised.

All this presumes, or at least does not challenge the idea, that the government ought to be in the business of providing health care to citizens paid for by taxes forcibly collected from other citizens.   That's not my philosophical position, but its where most people are now and given where we are now I think its what we have to do, so I analyzed the policy from that viewpoint.    But real adults could consider even deeper questions.    For example, would it be "moral" to make all citizens of Arkansas permanent slaves in order to lengthen the life of one person for ten years?       If it would not, then what about lengthening the lives of two people for ten years?  Still not a good deal?

Perhaps the answer should be that it is immoral to make slaves of someone, even to add years to one's life, and the number slaved vs. the years saved does not morally matter.     Yet this is the slippery slope we find ourselves descending because we have been able for a half a century to grow the welfare state on credit.  In the recent past we could say "yes" on credit and help people at once while deferring till later the thorny question of who was going to have to spend years of their life slaving away to pay the bill.    We are running out of credit, and further purchases of welfare will soon have to be paid for on a cash basis.

And I am not saying that we have to accept current under-65 death rates either.   I am only saying that we have to find other, more subtle, ways of lowering such rates.   Such ways are often beyond the power of the blunt instrument of government to deliver.    Primary among them would be an increase in personal morality and responsibility.    An increase in private charity could reduce such death rates, but implementation of this outcome is hampered in part by a wide-spread belief that only government solutions are real solutions.  Any solution more subtle than smothering the problem in a dump-truck load full of taxpayer dollars is scoffed at by perpetual adolescents.

The battle will be fierce, I hope the grown-ups stand their ground.