An observation on contemporary politics

Years ago, when I first became politically active, I liked to speak of reformists in general and the Democrats in particular as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It was a nice, vivid metaphor, and I was young and a sucker for anything that sounded clever. Alas, I can no longer use that metaphor, because I’m older now, and unwilling to grab simple sounding answers. And also because the Democrats are no longer trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, they’re just arguing with the Republicans over who gets to sit in them.

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0 thoughts on “An observation on contemporary politics”

  1. Great metaphor :) I’d take it two further and say the Demirepublocrant officers are implementing their seating chart while the crew and passengers stand around arguing about it LOL

  2. So if this is the Titanic, where should a sane person go to get away from the imminent wreck?

    (I liked Stephen Colbert’s metaphor: rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.)

  3. Fair enough. I have the fortune or misfortune to have a job closely tangential to politics and to have been raised Roman Catholic. The first makes me much more familiar than most with the goings on, the second has imparted in me a belief that one can, generationally and over the course of centuries, effect change within a corrupt institution.

    As I see it (and you know where I come from), the available strategies to bring about something fundamentally better/more just/insert your goal here are:
    1) Work to bring about said change via one of the two institutionally dominant parties;
    2) Work to bring a non-dominant party into a position of power to effect said change;
    3) Work to support whichever of the dominant parties is most likely to crash the system to make said change possible; or
    4) Work to build alternative institutions which embody said change within the society so that over time they become the de facto dominant institutions, at which point the change has occurred.

    Of course, one can just tune out and turn off.

    I favor 4) where possible, and 1) otherwise. Used to big-time for 3), but I’m older now. I am aware of the cliche regarding the similarity of mature wisdom to simply being too tired, but not wise enough to know if it applies to me.

  4. Max Kaehn,

    True enough. The challenge, to my eyes, is that the two dominant parties work both actively and passively to suppress all the others. Something as simple as ballot access, for example, is is different in each of the fifty states, with New York an example of very high barriers. The folks at the CVD know what the job entails. It’s a biggie.

    The non-dominant parties have to play by the two dominant parties’ rules — which the dominant parties can and do change when they find their duopoly remotely challenged. The Change Congress folks are a bit more optimistic about things than I am, but the kitchen sink approach seems best. (Hey, it worked for Bush’s lawyers before the Supreme Court in 2000 — everyone knew it was a federalism question — except the court which bought the equal protection argument.)

  5. We wanted to board the ship of state
    But the captain barred the way.
    “Unless you’re with these two parties
    Come back some other day.”

    We watched it sail, that ship of fools
    Then returned to work and cares
    On board the parties sang and drank,
    And they played their musical chairs.

    *sigh* It lacks at least two stanzas in the middle…

  6. American politics is such a Pepsi vs Coke duopoly system. Empty calories, sickly sweet, rots the guts and 2/3 of fuck-all difference between the choices. The way I see it, non-compulsory voting in the most free market economy in the world (saying that with limited rigour) has lead to:

    – A lot of people who don’t vote due to political apathy because they don’t care, or political jading because they do care; or
    – A lot of people who do but vote but are controlled easily like Orwell’s Proles with hollow phrases like “Yes we can!”, “Move mountain move!”;

    Partial solution? Make voting compulsory. This probably infringes on the America’s freedoms (and there is probably violates part of your constitution). However, but there are many reasons why this should be so:
    – In a free society you should (ironically) have a civic duty to be part of the decision process whether you want to or not;
    – Greater participation of the many leads to dilution of influence by the few;
    – If people have to vote then they may try to make the time that they are doing it worthwhile by putting more thought process into their decision at the ballot box; which in turn could lead to
    – Greater visibility of other parties which represent other aspects of society, but are currently on the fringe as large, corporate donations are a weaker barrier to entry.

    Unfortunately, the likelihood of compulsory voting in America is about as likely as Ahmadinejad getting the Star of David tattooed on his buttocks.

  7. I’m not sure about making voting compulsory; the problem isn’t as much apathy as ignorance. Considering how few people have any inkling of history, economics, political theories, or our constitution, I’m not sure I want them deciding our future. I’d rather make the right to vote one you have to earn with a great deal of knowledge, including each incumbent’s voting record.

    Most people seem to be voting on who reads a teleprompter better, or gives better soundbites. I’d rather have people voting who know Ludwig von Mises from Ludwig van Beethoven, who know that Trotsky wasn’t exactly the inspiration for Stalin, and that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln weren’t exactly clones of each other politically.

    Elitist? Hell, yeah. But pragmatic enough to know it won’t happen. I’m just busy munching popcorn and watching the musical chairs game get played.

  8. How would you measure the “great deal of knowledge”? Wouldn’t that itself have a poltical skew?

    I guess if you are happy watching the musical chairs get played you need to be happy with where the boat goes because it is tugging you along.

  9. Is knowledge political? That’s another question entirely.

    Some things are simply facts. It’s hard to claim fact as political. You could make a case that political theories are skewed on way or the other, of course, but even there I wasn’t thinking so much you have to subscribe to communist, fascist, libertarian, capitalist, or any other ideology so much as have to know what they are. Having an opinion contrary to mine (or vice versa) is not a particular cause for concern to me – having an opinion devoid of logic, reason, or knowledge is, and when said opinion will affect my life? That concerns the hell out of me.

    Don’t recall stating that I’m happy with our political situation anywhere in my post. I am anything but. However, I am not so naive as to believe I can singlehandedly correct something that has taken millions of people decades to screw up. Nor am I so arrogant as to believe it’s my job to do so.

  10. I’m sick with the way a disarmingly large number of people decide on who to vote for, but hell, I’m only halfway down the right path. I’m too selfish, lazy, busy, hungry (brb…back, mmm, peanut butter crunch)…let’s throw in ADD ridden, to go all the way down the right path.

    You can say Democrats and Republicans are just two types of apples and then say, “but check out this Peach over here!” (insert your party/ideology) But, tell me this: If something boils down to a yes/no question and one side says yes while the other says no then how are they the same?

    I tempted to answer my own question by saying that any intelligent and rationally thought out ideology/party is an apple. There are no peaches.

  11. Billy Meyers @ 14: “If something boils down to a yes/no question and one side says yes while the other says no then how are they the same?”

    That’s a pretty abstract question. The abstract answer is, it depends on A) The importance of the question, and B) Whether you believe the yes is a yes and the no is a no.

    But in specific, it’s much easier. Let’s see, I want to vote for the party that doesn’t want US troops fighting wars of aggression. The party that doesn’t want to give the superrich yet more tax cuts. The party that will give us some sort of decent health care. The party that opposes the anti-democratic Patriot Act in general and the new domestic wiretapping in particular. The party that will uphold the Bill of Rights.

    And that party is…?

  12. Well put!

    It’s not that there aren’t any differences between the Democrats and Republicans. But they’re all in areas that aren’t a huge concern to me. In all the things that I actually care about, I can vote for a winning major party candidate that will go against everything I stand for, or a losing third party candidate that would theoretically stand up for what I believe, should he/she ever get elected.

    I view my vote as a protest against the establishment. It’s a weak and ineffective one, of course, but it’s better than giving my stamp of approval to what is being done in Washington. They’re going to do it anyway, so why play along?

    I was actually surprised at the success of Ron Paul this last year – apparently more people are fed up with the same old routine than I thought! Of course, he is the most libertarian candidate in the system, so he personally would never be mainstream enough to win over a majority. But Bob Barr has also showed up in the polls, despite running a campaign on less than a million dollars. I think more and more people are realizing the futility of the two party system.

    I would love to see a vibrant multi-party system, where each issue requires a coalition, but there are communists, socialists, federalists, libertarians, environmentalists, all with a voice in the system.

    Then again, I’d also love to see pigs fly.

  13. The problem with U.S. politics is that our form of so called democracy doesn’t work for long. As we are seeing it breaks down into an Oligarchy. It may work in a cycle…kind of like Steve’s books. Democracy begets Fascism, begets Socialism, begets…
    Your longest lasting civilizations historically speaking have used some form of dictator/emperor/pharaoh. Now if you’re lucky enough to pull someone like Marcus Arielus life is great but the problem with this system is obviously getting stuck with a Nero, heh. The main problem with power is that people that want it should not be allowed to have it and it’s damn difficult to find a reluctant leader.
    Unchecked immigration is a major reason for both the decline of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome and we are currently seeing the same thing in the U.S. Oh?… Well, yes we love cheap oranges… we can make their children citizens and fill out our army with them…that worked in Rome didn’t it?

    For right now we need a third party to help keep the other 2 “honest” and we need it fast. The U.S. (and other countries I might add) need to stop raising morally bankrupt kids so we may have a better future in that respect. A small opponent may defeat a much larger opponent if he takes his legs out. Go to the root of the matter if you want to “fix” the problem. It won’t get done in our lifetime but we can at least start the healing process.

  14. Sorry, I can’t subscribe. Those who think protest candidacies are cool and that there’s no difference between Bush and Gore should go talk to somebody who lost a loved one in Iraq. Or somebody who went through Katrina. Or somebody who thinks we ought to do something about global warming.

    Thanks, Nader.

    Even in Steve’s list of things he cares about, it’s clear to me that major differences exist between Bush and Obama on all of them except perhaps the Patriot act stuff.

    And third parties don’t keep the big two ‘honest’. That only works in parliamentary or proportional systems – not in winner-take-all systems with separate executive elections.

  15. I consider the Democrats and Republicans to be the moderate and conservative wings of the corporate interests party and would love to vote for a third or fourth or fifth, etc. party candidate. However, there is one issue that I can’t get past, particularly this election and the prior two.

    Who sits in the chairs in SCOTUS.

    The current President has had two vacancies to fill. The next President will probably have at least two as well. I can’t convince myself that there is no significant difference between the nominees of Bush/McCain and Gore/Kerry/Obama. I also can’t convince myself that this doesn’t matter. Alito could easily be on the bench another thirty years and Roberts is five years younger than Alito.

    Unless you’re expecting change to come outside of the structure of the current Constitution, SCOTUS most likely will have a role to play in any significant change. A SCOTUS that continues to be shaped by the conservative wing of the corporate interests party is far more likely to bring about change that will harm this country and probably the whole world than a SCOTUS that has some input from the moderate wing.

  16. In a shipwreck you end up with less people when its over not more. Maybe a shipwreck is just what we need to force us to build a better boat.

  17. On the old Bush v. Gore canard tossed out above…

    Well, we know Bush is a war criminal.

    As for Gore… turns out he served as Vice President to a war criminal as well (and would likely have kept Albright et al. on). The wikipedia entries on Operation Storm, the supremacy clause of the US Constitution, and the UN Charter’s position on aggressive war (and their 2005 finding on that conflict) ought to prove instructive.

    Gore only comes out ahead when you look at Gore 2008, when he doesn’t have fat little businessmen to please.

  18. If you get two more stanzas, I’d love to see ‘em

    I’m afraid it may be a sin against nature to lengthen doggerel, but the rest did come to mind this morning:

    We want to board the ship of state
    But the captain bars the way.
    “Unless you’re with these other parties
    Come back some later day.”

    Aboard we see the passengers
    Who have gathered in the middle
    Of the platforms where they’ve set their chairs,
    Their tables and their fiddles.

    The larboard side is chill and dark
    No one can be seen there;
    The starboard side is overfull
    While the center deck is bare.

    It’s so unbalanced, it isn’t stable
    It can’t be safe to sail.
    Just one foul wind or one high wave
    Will cause the ship to fail.

    We watch it leave, that ship of fools
    Then return to work and cares
    On board the parties sing and drink,
    And play their musical chairs.

  19. Unfortunately, the difference between the parties is only highly visible in the close focus lens. When you pull back and view the scene as a whole, you can see that both parties dance a continual shuffle towards corporate driven conservative authoritarian points of view. The Political Compass concept, though simplistic and arguable, is at least a touch clearer than the dualistic Democrat/Republican view. Without regard to political parties or platforms, every major candidate in the US election falls into Authoritarian/Right quadrant.

    Considering my viewpoints fall far southwest of those of the majority parties (both in geography and ideology), my vote is more of a ‘piss off’ choice for the lesser of evils. I could ramble onwards, but it boils down to a recognition of the failing of our representatives to hold responsibility for their promises – and of the citizens, to hold those representatives responsible. Some systems are inoculated against change from within by powerful propaganda antibodies, after all.

  20. Ken @ 19: The Supreme Court issue is more complex. It seems many people are looking at it using a method something like this: 1. The president determines who sits on the Court. 2. A liberal president will appoint a liberal justice. 3. A liberal justice will make liberal decisions.

    At some point, this will be worth its own post, but for now, I’ll just say that I’m not confident a pro-choice candidate will end up with a confirmed pro-choice judge, and I’m not confident a pro-choice judge will make pro-choice decisions. In fact, recent history of the “liberal” judges has shown some very scary signs.

    Anonymuse @ 22: *applause*

  21. Oh, GMAB. Those who think Clinton/Gore intervening in the Balkans is somehow the same thing as lying us into the Iraq debacle are, I hate to break it to you, probably not qualified to vote.

    Steve, there are a few surprises, but on balance the judges appointed by illiberal judges have been very illiberal – especially lately that the illiberalist wing of the illiberal party has made it such a priority. The judges appointed by W have almost nothing in common with the judges that Reagan put up, for instance.

  22. M1EK @ 25: My point is that the entire Court is moving rapidly to the right–not as rapidly as the Democratic Party, but almost. Consider which judges voted to use Eminent Domain for the private profit of corporations. What I mostly take issue with is the notion that, once a judge is on the Bench, suddenly everything stops, and he continues administering justice as if nothing going on in the rest of the world counted or had an effect on his decisions.

  23. Oh, and to M1EK – I am a Hurricane Katrina evacuee. Rather than sit on my ass, ignore the many, many warnings about it – and then expect big mommy government to come save me – I asked around til I found a ride out of town. Anybody who said there was no way for them to leave is a flat-out liar. There were buses, carpools, volunteers from churches and organizations, all begging people to leave. The ones that stayed did so because they wanted to. So be it. I left, and rebuilt my life elsewhere. It sucked, losing everything I owned, but it wasn’t George Bush’s fault, much as I despise that man and everything he stands for.

    I have several family members serving in Iraq. It is an unjust war, as have most wars we’ve been involved in. I personally believe George Bush should face a War Crimes Tribunal. But if you believe that Al Gore would’ve kept all our troops at home, you’re ignoring his policies concerning NATO and the UN peacekeeping forces.

    Can’t subscribe to a protest vote? Fine. But don’t pretend that those who do aren’t living in the real world.

  24. Today’s problems are best left to the reign of the Orca, but all we have are decadent Phoenix. The Cycle in america most likely never turn, and will never see a Teckla reign again.

    Sorry, I’m not politically active or aware mainly because politics are just opinions that I have no say over.

    “The Democrats say ‘I have a shitty idea!’ and the Republicans say ‘And i can make it shittier!'”
    -Lewis Black

    Democracy… what a waste of time and money.

  25. @28

    “Sorry, I’m not politically active or aware mainly because politics are just opinions that I have no say over.”

    Part of the ship; part of the crew…

  26. Some think democracy is a way for 51% to make life miserable for 49%.

    Lopan would lead us into the Hell of Being Skinned Alive.

    Mal was right. People need to be left alone, otherwise government starts trying to make people better; and I don’t hold to that.

  27. “But if you believe that Al Gore would’ve kept all our troops at home,”

    Gore would have sent troops to Afghanistan, as he should have (probably more!). Gore wouldn’t have been stupid enough to lie us into a war of choice in Iraq in some misguided attempt to remake the region in our image.

  28. @32

    “Gore would have sent troops to Afghanistan, as he should have (probably more!). Gore wouldn’t have been stupid enough to lie us into a war of choice in Iraq in some misguided attempt to remake the region in our image.”

    I am going to assume you’re either Al Gore speaking in the third person or his wife, since nobody else could say with any certainty what he WOULD have done.

  29. I feel confident that every president of the 20th century, and all major party candidates in those elections, would have invaded Afghanistan in response to 9/11. Those who argue otherwise are arguing such an extraordinary position that they ought to be the ones asked to provide their extraordinary reasoning.

  30. M1EK – all positions seem extraordinary to the ones that disagree with them.

    Of equal concern to me is the approximately 440,000 troops we have overseas NOT in Iraq. Our military presence around the world is bankrupting us, causing the world to resent us for our perceived imperialism, and Iraq has become a convenient scapegoat for ignoring all the other issues at stake with our rampant overseas militarism.

    And if you think Al Gore would do anything about that, then you seem to me to be the one with extraordinary positions and reasoning.

  31. Jess @ 35: Of course Al Gore would do something about it. Look at how Obama is promising over and over again to reduce the military and…oh, wait. Um. Never mind.

  32. I have to admit that my naivete led me to believe that changes to the election process would occur after Gore won the popular vote 8 years ago. Of course, if this country were to become a true Democracy rather than a Republic, the duopoly would be threatened. I also have to admit that I was swayed by all the “A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.” propaganda, and that kept me from supporting a third party with my vote. Whenever I think that Nader may have ‘taken’ votes from Gore and implemented the election of Bush, I just remind myself that Gore failed to win his home state. That being said, I’ll likely support the duopoly this time around, but with a clear conscience and a hopeful state of mind.

  33. M1EK – Clinton is a war criminal as is Gore for the perpetuation of the vile sanctions on Iraq which killed up to a million Iraqi children and continues to devastate families there today thanks to the lack of medical resources – made worse now by the current occupation. Remember good ole Albright informing us when questioned about the deaths of Iraqi children that “the price is worth it.”

    What Gore would have done – no idea, and clearly Obama is caught up in the same nonsense with the advocacy of more troops to Afghanistan. RAWA has recently called the US the #1 human rights violator in Afghanistan and recent news bears that out. For example, look at the reappearance of Ollie North –

    That said, I’m voting for and working with the Obama campaign this year for three reasons – the campaign has done the best job we’ve seen in ages and perhaps ever of mobilizing a grassroots movement and that holds promise in and of itself (in fact Tom Hayden wrote of endorsing the Obama movement – I think that’s a good approach) Second, I do believe Obama is less likely to bomb Iran – and while my friends in Iraq are quite clear that there is no difference for them in this election, avoiding completely rash actions likely from Crazy ole McCain and Fundilicious Palin seems worth the vote. Third, as a radical for many years, I know change is incremental not immediate and each shift has value and repercussions. Electing a black president is – for me – a rather stunning move from our not very distant past. Not enough – not even close, but a step.

  34. Siun ~ Fundilicious Palin, that cracked me up. That’s the first time I’ve read that. May I use it as my own?

  35. @34

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you weren’t the captain of your college debate team…


    “Clinton is a war criminal as is Gore for the perpetuation of the vile sanctions on Iraq which killed up to a million Iraqi children”

    First of all I’d like a credible link citing the death of a million Iraqi children please. Secondly for all those of you not in ‘the know’ it requires a congressional vote to go to war so either include them all in your accusations or lose the president is a “war criminal” nonsense.

    “RAWA has recently called the US the #1 human rights violator in Afghanistan…”

    Hmm, that’s funny. Isn’t the RAWA a women’s organization? Maybe it’s just me but I thought the Taliban forbade women to go to school and allowed wife beating in the streets? I’d say things like that were a bit higher up on human rights violations; call me crazy I guess for not thinking females are sub human.

    “…completely rash actions likely from Crazy ole McCain …”

    McCain was a Vietnam POW for five years and he is permanently disfigured from his torture there. I highly doubt you will find somebody more reluctant to go to war if that’s your concern.

    ” Electing a black president is – for me – a rather stunning move from our not very distant past. Not enough – not even close, but a step.”

    Vote for whomever you want but please don’t vote based on such a shallow thing as race or gender. As far as Obama being a “stunning move”? He’s African American…so what. He is still a career politician with all that implys and a laywer. Two careers that cater towards twisting the truth and out right lying! lol. Don’t think because Obama’s skin is a little darker that you won’t be getting more of the same.

  36. On a 3rd/alternate party:
    1. I believe a third party would help to reduce the stupid, though not erase it. During the early phase before it was corrupted it would force the other parties to try for a while (in the immortal words of Mel Brooks “Gentlemen, we must protect our manby pamby jobs”)
    2. A third part cannot start with the presidency. It is a winner take all situation and the only examples of partial success centered around individuals (Teddy Roosevelt if you think well of the U.S or George Wallace if you don’t) Start at a state or local level and move up.

    On Democrats/Republicans being the same:
    Sadly when the “mean guy” shows up and asks what type of wood rot you would like for your house it does matter which you choose though both will do damage. The depressing part of this analogy is that the collective choices we has made over the past few decades are the “mean guy”. Revolution may seem appealing, but I think we will have to bootstrap our way out of this.

    Gore is wildly better than Bush, but a random selection of people at your local prison will score 75% on that stringent standard.

    The Supreme Court
    As a friend of mine likes to point out. The Supreme Court legislates because the congress refuses to. Actually between the supreme court doing half there job for them and the President reinterpreting laws through signing statements, congress isn’t of much use today.

    Just to add something new to the mix. Much has been made of how young people are getting there news from comedy shows. In my opinion this proves that they are smart and we are in crisis. The jesters are always among the last sources of truth. Truthiness may make for an effective backup parachute, but if your there then something has fubared.

  37. To Vladimiracf – the statistics on sanctions causing the deaths of a million Iraqi children were compiled by the Center for Population Studies, and it’s almost impossible to find that study now. A more likely figure is the one compiled by UNICEF is approximately 500,000. You can find out more on this at

    Also, Congress has completely ignored its duties regarding the role of war. They have not declared a war since 1941, but it’s hard to pretend that Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I and II, and our Afghanistan campaigns are anything less than full-scale war. This is just another example of how our government does not do what it was designed to, but many, many, many things it was never meant to.

  38. Siun, a short summary of your comment would be: There’s no real difference between the two parties, but this year I’m going to work for Obama because there’s a real difference between the two parties (?)

    See, when it comes down to brass tacks, most people, when backed into a corner, will, in fact, admit that Gore would have been a hell of a lot better than Bush. Yes, not invading Iraq (while still keeping whatever evils you think we were perpetuating by refusing to freely trade with them) is better than invading Iraq.

    And no, most people aren’t going to say that we shouldn’t have invaded Afghanistan. GMAFB. We told them “hand over the Taliban or you get smacked”. They didn’t. A more just war since WWII has not been found – as was clearly shown by the fact that the entire world was with us on that one.

    Yes, the lesser of two evils is lesser. Lesser is better than morer. Duh. All you Nader guys did in 2000 was enable the morest evil we’ve seen since Nixon (and that might be too rough on Dick).

  39. I have to agree with whoever objected to the rhetoric here. Enough with the ridiculous war crimes palaver. The same goes for the imperialistic and human rights violations talk. There are still just 50 states in the Union; we are not making attempts to expand on that. It IS a burden to be the only nation having troops spread all over protecting those who can’t protect themselves, BUT it’s because we are stand-up people, and the United Nations is full of pus…illanimous losers that don’t remember why they are there.
    And blaming sanctions for killing children is ludicrous. It’s like blaming the Allies for all the atrocities that Hitler committed, for crying out loud.

  40. nonplussed @ 46: Yep. Got nothing to do with oil profits. Just protecting human rights around the world. Yep.

    spectator @ 48: Yes, indeed, let us not forget the Soviet invasion; that would also count as a war crime in my opinion. A war of aggression. Damn good thing the good ole’ USA was right there to support the Al Quida against them.

  41. So, we’re only in Iraq because of oil. How much oil are we getting per dead soldier, exactly?
    And, we didn’t go into Afghanistan then, but we are now. Did they suddenly discover new reserves of oil, there?

  42. nonplussed, do you actually pay attention to current events? The invasions were planned considerably before 9/11. Under the Clinton administration, in fact.

  43. Well if the Defense Department is doing what it’s supposed to, we should have invasion plans for every country we might potentially go to war against. I guess these days that means everyone.

    They should date back a lot farther than just the Clinton administration though.

  44. what does that have to do with oil? Invasion in Afghanistan is giving it more credit that it deserves. If they were planned in advance, it was to get the one who we knew was up to no good.
    Seven 9/11’s have now passed, and no more attacks successful so far.
    I’d say it’s not that we’re looking at different events, but with different eyes.

  45. Manufacturing excuses to go to war with another country a la the gulf of Tonkin incident is bad, but it isn’t my primary problem with the current administration. Wars, just or unjust, end. But the erosion of civil liberties, the promotion of a culture of fear to allow for manipulating people, the assumption of excessive authority by the executive branch and the exacerbation of economic class differences from our idiotic tax plan all feed off each other. They are taking this country further and further down the path of oligarchy.

  46. I like that Rathgar. You’re saying something without just using talking points.
    I am having problems with the belief that they WANT to go to war, and they are making excuses. It seems to me like we are showing a great deal of restraint by not bombing the p*ss out of a great deal of the world.
    I am not a lover of war, but sometimes you have to attack so that when you bluff, they will believe you. Otherwise, our freedoms abroad will be worth nothing.
    Also, go into the “erosion of civil liberties” some more. It seems to me that the Democrat party wants to tell me what to do with my thermostat, my health care, my car’s gas, ad nauseum; I want them to keep the cr*p out of my life. The federal government has proven that it can’t run anything without burying itself in bureaucracy. Freddie Mae and Fannie Mac should be dissolved, already. Why would I want them more involved in my life? Protect my borders and stand back, so I can raise my kids. And sometimes protecting my borders means kicking *ss overseas somewhere.
    The terrorists promote the fear factor, we are just trying to stop it.
    I don’t understand the class envy thing. The rich already pay more than their share. I am not rich; I don’t want to pay any more. What would you think of a national sales tax to replace the income tax? That way everyone pays, even the tax dodgers. Don’t provide shelters.

  47. Invasion plans for every country go back at least to the Carter administration (when I first saw them), and the equipment used to formulate them didn’t look new.

  48. So, we have hundreds of thousands of troops stationed around the world, our military budget exceeds that of the rest of the world combined, we’ve claimed the right to invade whatever sovereign country we want to at any time (and have proceeded to do so), and it’s just rhetoric to say we are perceived as having imperialistic tendencies?

    Oh, my. Pardon my rhetoric.

  49. The lesser of two evils argument reminds me of my first political science class in college. The professor stated that we had to write a paper on which was a better system; anarchy or totalitarianism. No exceptions, we had to explain which was better and why.

    I wrote “This is a false dichotomy, like a doctor asking a patient whether he’d rather die from non-stop vomiting or excessive diarrhea. When you’re going to die, the choice of painful deaths isn’t really a significant one.”

    Then I dropped the class.

    The lesser of two evils IS still evil. If you’re about to drive off of a cliff, whether you’ve changed your oil recently isn’t much of a concern.

    Feel free to debate with me about Gore/Bush anytime. It’s not about the man, it’s about the system. The system was corrupt before George Bush, and it’ll be corrupt after George Bush. He just pushed the gas pedal a little harder as we head towards that cliff.

  50. @43

    “the statistics on sanctions causing the deaths of a million Iraqi children were compiled by the Center for Population Studies, and it’s almost impossible to find that study now. A more likely figure is the one compiled by UNICEF is approximately 500,000. You can find out more on this at…”

    So we have already dropped the number of dead by 50% in one quick exchange, eh? Not for nothing but even if those figures are correct, 500,000 deaths is on hell of an embellishment on the truth. As far as the CASI link? Not credible imo. Not only have I never heard of them but they no longer exist. Seems the members have moved on to other causes… UNICEF? Ok. But gee, it seems those speculated numbers were actually come up with by the government of Iraq…the people we had the sanctions against…hmmmm. They of course had nothing to gain by saying the U.S. sanctions were murdering little children, eh? Here is a clip:

    ‘The surveys, released today by the children’s agency, also cover the autonomous northern region of Iraq. They were carried out between February and May 1999 by UNICEF, together with the Government of Iraq…’

    Sorry but I know how to read between the lines here.

    Let’s take this one step further and discuss what “sanctions” are for… They are supposed to be a “peaceful” solution without resorting to military conflict. They are designed to make life hard for the populace which in turn has the domino effect of putting pressure on the leader to ease the suffering of his (or her) people. Surprise, surprise! Hussien didn’t give a rats ass about his people. The POS had 99 palaces while his people starved. He socked away millions of U.S. dollars during the “Food for Oil” program that was meant for his people. Any Iraqi deaths get laid squarely at his feet, thanks.

    “we’ve claimed the right to invade whatever sovereign country we want to at any time (and have proceeded to do so), and it’s just rhetoric to say we are perceived as having imperialistic tendencies?
    Oh, my. Pardon my rhetoric.”

    I don’t see the U.S. invading random countries at whim because they are ripe for the conquering. While you could argue semantics all day the bottom line is that we don’t absorb the countries we win military conflicts against. One might even argue that the best thing to happen to another country on a long term stand point is to go to war with the U.S. and lose (see Japan) because after the smoke clears we will go broke giving you economic aid, etc. We could easily roll through and absorb many of the smaller third world countries in the blink of an eye but we don’t. In fact we spend millions of dollars each year in aiding other countries. I fail to see what’s wrong with being Imperialistic in any case as we see throughout history our most prosperous and long lived society’s (see Rome, Egypt, Huns, etc.) were “imperialistic” in every sense of the word. War will only stop when we are all on the same side.

    “The lesser of two evils argument reminds me of my first political science class in college. The professor stated that we had to write a paper on which was a better system; anarchy or totalitarianism. No exceptions, we had to explain which was better and why.
    I wrote “This is a false dichotomy, like a doctor asking a patient whether he’d rather die from non-stop vomiting or excessive diarrhea. When you’re going to die, the choice of painful deaths isn’t really a significant one.”
    Then I dropped the class.”

    Lol, great attitude! Easy answer to that question too I might add as one system has structure while the other does not. Do you throw yourself on the ground and have a hissy fit when your food isn’t just right at the restaurant too? Sheesh.

    Grrr at the auto formatting here.

  51. I know the phrase “lesser of two evils” is common in this situation, but I get the feeling from some of these posts that some of you really mean Evil.

    Am I reading wrong? Candidates from the major parties are evil? Misguided or dangerously wrong, sure, I’ll buy that.

  52. To vladamiracf: yes, I have a hissy fit when my food isn’t right, just like you soil yourself whenever somebody shows you up in an online argument.

    Seriously, grow up. Next you’ll resort to “Your momma so fat” comments.

    First of all, I never made the claim about a million deaths, so it would be difficult for me to be dropping by 50% anything, since I had made no prior claim. As to the credibility of the 500,000 claim, I simply provided the link you said you wanted to see. Whether you believe it or not is of course up to you.

    As for your “easy answer” – well, it’s only an easy answer if you need structure. Not everybody does (in the sense that you are referring to it). In my opinion, the misery caused by a totalitarian regime would be greater than that caused by anarchy, but it is nonetheless a false dichotomy. Quick, tell me – have you stopped beating your wife yet? Yes or no answers only!

    And if we are going to assume arrogant attitudes here, work on your reading comprehension. Have I once said we are an empire? I think not. What I said is that we are perceived by the world as having imperialistic tendencies. If you don’t agree with that, you have not talked to very many people outside the USA. That perception is fostered by our military presence. These are pretty much incontrovertible facts, unless you subscribe to the school of “I don’t like it, so I won’t believe it.”

    As for the empires you mentioned – most empires are bankrupted by their military. See Rome, Egypt, Huns, and Great Britain for examples. Soon you can add the USA to that.

    To Billy Meyers – I cannot speak for anybody else on this board, but I mean exactly Evil. Do I mean they have evil intent? Of course not. But everybody is a hero in their own eyes. The greatest atrocities are committed by people who believe they are doing Good. I think every President who takes additional power thinks he is doing it for the good of the country. I believe every Congressman and Senator who restricts civil liberties, who steals from the people to support their own pet projects – every one of them probably thinks they are doing Good. The result is nonetheless Evil.

    From what I’ve read of history, every Evil has been committed in the name of Good. The greatest Evil seems to be thinking that you have a right to control somebody else’s life, whether that be by robbing them in the name of government, or even killing them.

    I do not think we have very many Evil men (and women) in the government – what we have are a lot of fools that commit great Evil thinking they know better than you and I.

  53. Hmmm, I see I hit a nerve. Fine I’ll back off. One day I will learn not to talk politics or religion, heh.

  54. nonplussed@55 wrote:

    >Also, go into the “erosion of civil liberties” some more.

    It is, or was, a major precept of our system that governemnent functions are for the most part open to public scrutiny, while the privacy of individuals is by default protected. This administration has used the national security trump card to basically reverse that relationship.

    In addition, the administration has pursued ways to avoid proper judicial process, handicapping the important right of recourse to an independant judiciary.

    >The federal government has proven that it can’t run anything without burying itself in bureaucracy.

    Here, here.

    >The rich already pay more than their share.

    I disagree. Rather than reiterating their statistics, here’s an article in businessweek that I recommend to make my point. I can’t get the link to show up as a link because of the asterisk, so sorry you’ll have to cut and paste.

    >What would you think of a national sales tax to replace the income tax? That way everyone pays, even the tax dodgers. Don’t provide shelters.

    I’d worry about a national sales tax causing a general economic slowdown, and also that doesn’t give the poorest folks, the ones that need all of their income to get by, a way to avoid paying tax.

    I’d prefer something like everyone pays X% of all their income, including capital gains, past the first $50,000, and a reinstitution of inheritance tax, of say something like X% of everything after 1 primary household+land and $5,000,000.

  55. Didn’t Steve Forbes suggest a 17% flat tax with only your home as a deduction? It would be hard to argue that wasn’t fair.

    I’m going to have my hiney handed to me when Senator Obama (great guy, don’t get me wrong) wins. My problem is that I’m an S-Corp, and after 10 years of debt and struggle I’m finally doing real well with hopes of reversing all that debt.

    The Senators plan leaves me with an enormous tax burden and no chance of getting out of debt. There should be incentive in hard work. That’s all I’m trying to convey.

  56. dvcastle@69 wrote:
    Didn’t Steve Forbes suggest a 17% flat tax with only your home as a deduction? It would be hard to argue that wasn’t fair.

    So you’re saying that taking $1,700 from a person who earns $10,000 is a comparable burden to taking $170,000 from a person who earns $1,000,000? Actually, less than that from the millionaire because s/he is much more likely to get the deduction for owning a home.

  57. For any discussion that includes shifting taxation into a national sales tax, you should probably go take a glance at , even if it’s just to better arm yourself to shoot it down. Certainly they’ll attempt to answer the immediate questions like how a national sales tax would affect retirees and the poor.

  58. Ken ~ excellent point, I should have stated that Forbes required a certain threshold to be reached before the 17% applied.

  59. Our taxation process needs reform, starting with simplification… That being said, it would go a long, long way toward cutting taxes if everyone just paid their fair share. Many people don’t pay any taxes at all and it’s left to the honest people to shoulder their burden on top of their own.

    Get rid of all paper money, period. Pay everyone by electronic transefers and every gets issued a Debit Card. Without a valid bank account you can’t get paid, without the Debit Card you can’t buy anything. No more cheating on taxes because everything is documented. This also partialy solves the rampant immigration problem happening in the U.S. because illegals with not be able to obtain a bank account or be issued a Debit Card without a valid SSI# and immigration papers. Illegals can now not get paid nor can they buy food. Besides the fact these people are paying no taxes they are also a burden to the U.S. taxpayer by using our emergency rooms for primary care and skipping on the bills, having their children born in the U.S. (you pay for that too because their kids are legal citizens) and they don’t pay a dime of tax on the money they make (ok, sales tax)… Let’s not go into how much your tax dollars go into deportation or incarceration of illegals.

    Let’s cut the “crap” first and then we can see where we really need to reform. Just my 2 cents.

  60. #74
    Like the “Fair” Tax, your suggestion would create a booming black market and bartering economy.

  61. so, question/statement/thingy:

    They were talking to McCain on the channel 4 morning show, and he said the following:

    1. The Economy is in crisis, but
    2. The Foundation of the American economy is still strong, which is the American worker, who is the hardest working worker in the world (being that we’re in a free market, Capitalist economy, which shields corporations and allows them to make decisions based on short term needs that constantly hurt the American Worker, I find this to be a very odd perception of our nation)
    3. Wall Street betrayed the American worker by being greedy and making bad decisions which have lead to the current financial crisis (i.e., the government had nothing to do with it)
    4. The ‘social contract’ of capitalism has been violated (this I find especially conflicted, as the social contract of capitalism seems to be “get what you can when you can so that you personally can get as rich as possible”. Any theory which states the greatest good for the many is socialist, not capitalist.

    Am I missing something here? Or is this some of the worst rhetoric I’ve ever heard in my life?

    One side cannot make logical statements to save their lives; the other can’t make simple ones.

  62. Billy @ 77:

    Kinda funny considering that the taxpayers are bearing the costs of McCain’s campaign. Now THAT’s socialism.

  63. Todd @ 76: Some good points. It is interesting to me how McBama has said so *little* about the financial crisis. Of course, what could he say? “Capitalism has proven itself outmoded, and the market economy needs to be scrapped” would not be a good way to get the corporate contributions needed to win an election.

    Billy @ 79: I know what you mean. There is no lack of ignorance and foolishness already around this sham of an election, and it’s liable to just get worse.

  64. Well, I find it kinda odd that capitalism is bearing the blunt of this, when the system has been more fascist than anything resembling capitalism.

    When the government decides who to prop up, how much money to put in the system, who will survive despite being financially bankrupt, and who will be shut down despite being financially sound… How exactly is this a free market?

    Then again, neither Obama nor McCain has any clue about any economics other than raising money for campaigns.

    Now, I’m not saying that Capitalism is necessarily better than Socialism – I don’t think we’ve ever really had a good example of either to go by for any extended period of time. Personally, I’d put my money on the free market, but I doubt I’ll ever get to see one.

  65. @74

    “Like the “Fair” Tax, your suggestion would create a booming black market and bartering economy.”

    Black market food? What an interesting concept. I suppose they will need huge plants to pasturize milk and such…giant refrigerated warehouses to store perishable items too. Those things might be hard to hide. So would any “distribution centers”, unless of course they will deliver your black market grocerys door to door.

    Bartering for open heart surgery or childbirth? How many chickens do you think a triple bypass will go for? Wait, what about black market schools for all the illegal children!
    I can’t imaging people would want to stay long in a country where they have to pick oranges for $50 dollars a day when that’s what a loaf of black market pumpernickle costs.

    I understand your argument but I don’t think you’ve thought it through completely. The illlegals, at least ,would be driven out quickly. Oh sure there would be an initial surge of unrest but squash it quickly and decisively and they would all run home faster then you could could say, “Me Gusta!”

  66. Jess @ 80: “Well, I find it kinda odd that capitalism is bearing the blunt of this, when the system has been more fascist than anything resembling capitalism.”

    Fascism is simply capitalism in its most raw and naked form–the pure rule of Capital in its own name, with all organizations of resistance against it crushed.

    We live in a capitalist, or market economy, because production is driven by exchange. The notion that there could be such a thing as a “pure” capitalism, without intervention of the State, is purist fantasy, because the State exists exactly to protect and regulate property on behalf of the property owners. * The fact that different sections of property owners might have different needs, and thus come into conflict with one another within government over who gets regulated on behalf of whom and how much, does nothing to change this.

    *By “property owners” in this context, I do not refer to some guy who has half an acre with a mortgage plus a cabin in the North Woods, I mean those who own the means of production, and control capital.

  67. Well, as much as I respect your political views, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree on definitions.

    If capitalism without fascism is a purist fantasy, then so is socialism without the tyranny of a totalitarian state.

    A government cannot successfully govern a free market – the terms are mutually exclusive. We do NOT live in a market economy, because production is NOT dictated by exchange*. If it was, there would be no “special interests” and lobbyists needed in Washington! Regulation is no part of a free market, except to avoid fraud and force.

    We live in a state owned by corporations, yes. And they do have capital. But the means of production are only owned by the large corporations as long as the government creates laws and regulations FAVORING such things.

    I do believe the State exists to protect property, yes. But to regulate it? That’s a different matter entirely.

    *If our market was dictated by exchange, then the Fed would not have the power to inflate the dollar, the military/industrial complex would not own our government, and no farmer would be paid to not farm.

  68. “If capitalism without fascism is a purist fantasy…”

    Um, I never said that. I merely said that intervention by the State is inherently part of any class society. This is because State came into existence, and continues to exist, in order to protect private property.

    Have you forgotten that every intervention by the State into the economy has come a result of a disaster from failure to regulate? I’m a bit croggled that you could advance such an argument now, when we are seeing the results of massive deregulation in the financial markets, and the catastrophe that resulted from it.

    To be sure, one might argue that (absent any human beings) the market would “correct” itself without interference. And this is true–in exactly the way that the Titantic “corrected” itself after damage made it impossible for her to float.

  69. Wow… It’s like we’re looking at different worlds.

    That’s okay, a new viewpoint is a refreshing thing.

    How can you say any of this is caused by a failure to regulate? What we’re seeing is the result of the Fed providing credit beyond what the market dictated, and over-inflating the dollar. This provided a false sense of prosperity that led to bubble after bubble, and we’re about to comprehend the collapse of the dollar as a result. Every step of this was predicted by followers of the Austrian school of economics.

    What I see is that the government intervenes, then things get bad. So they intervene more (and consolidate power while doing so). Things get worse. So they intervence, etc.

    If you read any Charles De Lint, I cast the government interfering in the market much the same role as Cody. Every action to correct a previous mistake leads to two more mistakes…

    True, you didn’t say capitalism without fascism is a purist fantasy (and I hope you realize my rejoinder was meant simply as a counter-balancing extreme). But your argument seemed to be that capitalism relied on the government controlling the market, and that the purest form of this was fascism, which would indicate that capitalism is to some degree always fascist. If this was not your intent, then my apologies.

    To me, fascism is to capitalism what syphilis is to humans. And you can take that metaphor just about as far as you want.

  70. As for the Titanic correcting itself just like the market – that is an apt analogy. After it’s been driven into the iceberg, there’s really no saving it. It’s going to sink. I don’t blame either the iceberg or the ship, though. I blame the people that drove it there.

  71. When I said a false sense of prosperity, it might’ve been more accurate to say a false sense of wealth (or even capital, if you wish). If there’s a way to edit your posts on here, I haven’t figured it out yet!

  72. A couple years ago WalMart wanted to start their own bank but were prevented by the feds. Their concern was that the volume of product moved by WalMart combined with the ability to provide credit would allow them to create a defacto currency ala valadamiracf’s idea above.

    The trillion dollar AIG company is in an interestingly similar situation when they started loaning themselves money. Perhaps they have a non-tangible product and so is different than WalMart’s idea, but it is still inventing capital out of thin air.

    Enron attempted to create a “daisy-chain” effect when they would loan a company which they didn’t have to pay back for an extended period of time and then Enron would sell them bandwidth paid for with that loan. The number of companies that accepted this “program” vastly increased Enron’s stock value, which generated a large number of investors thus driving the stock value even further. Enron was effectively loaning money using inflated stock value as collateral.

    At some point these ideas are like reading “Orca” all over again.

  73. I think the term deregulation is overloaded, both in your discussion here and in discussions on the economy in general. There’s deregulation like we did with the transportation industry in the early 70s, that promoted fair competition, opened the field to newcomers, and increased our GDP by 3%, and then there’s deregulation like the DIDMCA which was the proximate cause of the S&L crisis and cost us about $160 billion.

    A certain amount of regulation is a necessity, to protect consumers from fraud, monopoly, etc. When that regulation can be clear, concise, and simple it’s an advantage, because the more complex it gets the easier it for it to undergo a process of regulatory capture where the industries to be regulated take over their own regulation and government regulatory agencies no longer act in the public interest.

    I suspect the deregulation Jesse is referring to is the pro-market transportation industry type deregulation, while the deregulation Steve is referring to is the anti-consumer let some financial institutions get away with too much type deregulation.

  74. While Mr. Brust and I may differ on the role of government in a free market, one thing I think he and I do agree on is the role of the government in our current market. As one political economist stated about our current situation:

    “…this is merely the result of the long, ongoing shift from a free market capitalist model, in which the private owners bear the risks and rewards of business ownership to a managed market corporatist one where the elite owners and managerial reap the rewards while transferring any losses to the taxpayers.”

    Whereas I believe Mr. Brust believes this is the natural state of capitalism, I personally believe that this is an artificial construct that must collapse under its own weight.

    This is one thing I find fascinating and rewarding about conversation with intelligent people; two can look at the same set of data and draw differing conclusions from it.

    Regardless, I think Mr. Brust and I aren’t as far apart on views as it might at first seem. We both agree that the current system is untenable, and sheer folly. The root cause is where we differ, and that is largely because he and I seem to define certain terms differently.

  75. Jess Mills @11:

    “I’m not sure about making voting compulsory; the problem isn’t as much apathy as ignorance. Considering how few people have any inkling of history, economics, political theories, or our constitution, I’m not sure I want them deciding our future.”

    If our educational system worked properly, we would have more informed voters. This is why our educational system does not work properly; those in power do not want informed voters.

  76. This is very true. Which is why we never hear a discussion about completely scrapping the failed and broken system we have. The answer is always more money, and more of the same.

    As someone homeschooled, I had trouble believing things could be all THAT bad… Until I (briefly) taught school.

    If I were to try to devise a system with the sole purpose of destroying creativity, reason, critical thought, and logic, I doubt I could come up with anything more effective than our current public school system.

  77. My issue with homeschooling is the quality of the teacher pool. I’m sure there are those who can do well teaching, but then there’s the other 99.9%.

  78. Bawrence – are you serious? Have you looked at the teacher pool in the public schools? If there’s 0.1% that can do it well, you’re in a good school district!

    Besides, just look at the results – homeschoolers outperform publicly schooled children in every academic standard. They also do better in social skills, contrary to urban myth.

    Believe it or not, I state this not because of my love of homeschooling, but rather my disgust with the current public school system. I very much am in favor of a formal education. But our current system is terrible, and though it’s politically incorrect to say, the teachers ARE part of the problem.

    Generally speaking, if you’re skilled and knowledgeable at your profession, you’re not going to teach it, except perhaps at the collegiate level.

    Every one will say “That’s not true! I remember a teacher that…” But those are the exception, not the rule. The system is known to be so bad and unrewarding, that few go into it unless they lack the ability to go elsewhere. Those with teaching degrees generally performed near the bottom of their classes in test scores and academic achievements.

    Do I trust parents to teach their children well? Hmm…. More than I trust the public school system!

  79. Hmm… I left a comment last night, but it doesn’t appear to have gone through.

    Anyway, if you believe that teachers are more qualified than parents to teach, you haven’t spent much time inside a school building! There are parents who aren’t qualified to teach their children, too true. But if you have 0.1% of teachers in your area who are, you’re in a really good school district!

    Teaching has nothing to do with what they tell you it is in college. Thankfully, none of my degrees were in the Art of Education, so I managed to learn something worthwhile during those years.

    We all know a good teacher or two that is highly intelligent, loves what they do, and is supremely qualified. They stand out because they’re so rare.

  80. I believe that teachers are more qualified to teach than most parents, scrapping them would create a de facto caste system, since the vast majority of children would have limited opportunities to become better educated than their parents.

  81. I’d be interested to know how many of you educational experts actually have children in school.

  82. “…since the vast majority of children would have limited opportunities to become better educated than their parents.”

    And you honestly, truly believe that they do now?

    Seriously, look up the statistics. The USA is close to dead last in every academic category among the developed nations.

    I have no beef with the concept of a formal education, but what we have now is a travesty. If you really, truly believe that most parents are less qualified to teach than our public school teachers, you’re ignoring every study done on homeschooling. You’ve also probably never looked at what it takes to become a public school teacher – virtually nothing (a college degree, which these days doesn’t mean a helluva lot).

    If you’re skilled and intelligent, chances are you aren’t going to be a teacher (except perhaps at the collegiate level) because it’s well known that the pay is lousy, the benefits are lousy, the environment is unhealthy and stressful, and the rewards are few, and ephemeral.

    A few still go into out of love and passion. Most? Not so much.

    It’s not politically correct to say so, but the teachers ARE a part of the problem with the school system. Of course, that’s a result of the system being so inherently f*@#ked up, but it’s still true.

    Do me a favor – wikipedia “homeschool,” read the whole article, or just the studies done on academic results, and then tell me how most parents aren’t qualified to teach.

  83. One other thing – as of 2006, 2.2% of children in the USA are being homeschooled. So even if all intelligent parents are homeschooling (exceedingly unlikely), that still means that the teaching pool of parents superior at teaching is much higher than 0.1%!

    The problem isn’t the teaching pool of parents OR teachers – it’s that we herd 30 kids into a room that have nothing in common except their age, then have them droned at for an hour by an “expert” that probably doesn’t know their subject further than what is outlined in their teaching notes section of the textbook. Then they are marched into another room to repeat the process. At random times throughout the year, they are then handed “tests” that require them to regurgitate poorly memorized factoids.

    And this is our educational system. Perhaps we do avoid a caste system with this: we create a much more even pool of people incapable of autonomous thought, devoid of critical thinking skills, and lacking in the historical knowledge to have a basis for sound philosophy.

    I’d rather have a caste system than handicap everybody! However, I seriously doubt that would be the result of completely scrapping the system and starting fresh.

  84. Pay teachers more to attract better candidates, and fire the ones who underperform. How much is our children’s education worth?

  85. A good idea, yes. But that won’t solve the underlying problem.

    And defining “underperforming” would require a different perspective than we currently have. And a weaker teacher’s union.

  86. I didn’t say they were strong – just that they’re strong enough to keep underperforming teachers in a job.

    Of course, supply and demand isn’t helping with that.

  87. Monopoly? Never heard of private schools? There are a dozen or so within 100 miles of here, and ‘here’ is a small city that used to have lots of manufacturing concerns as its’ tax base.

  88. Ah, yes. And of the money that is paid in taxes towards the school system, how much do these private schools receive? And for that matter, when parents pull their children out to homeschool them, what kind of tax credit do they receive for doing so?

    On the day when people receive a voucher check (or tax rebate) that can be applied to the school of their choice, then I’ll concede that it’s no longer a monopoly.

    That should happen any day now. Really. Because our government cares about us, and wants us to succeed.

  89. It’s a matter of semantics. If you were required by law to buy all Microsoft products, but afterwards you could buy Apple, or Linux, or other software, would you consider Microsoft to have a monopoly? I would.

    That’s what the system is currently towards school. You are required to pay for the public system, whether or not you use it. I consider that a monopoly. You may not.

  90. Jessie @ 107: I assume you also consider the streets a monopoly? Waterworks? The military? The FDA? Elections? The Census Bureau? The Court system? The police? &c &c

    It is, in a sense, reasonable to consider all of these monopolies, but then I think we might want to come up with a term that refers specifically to private corporations that control a market, commodity, or service, because sometimes it is useful to be able to talk about that.

  91. The problem with promoting homeschooling as a viable alternative, is that it isn’t…or at least, it’s only viable if you inhabit a particular economic strata.

    Homeschooling requires a parent that does not work at a full-time “workplace” job. Many, many families cannot afford this luxury, either because they consist of only one parent, or one parent’s salary is not sufficient to support the family. (Or, in some cases, because they judge other luxuries to be more important.)

    Anyway… nice work if you can get it, but not everyone can.

  92. Arguing the value of home schooling vs. classroom schooling in America seems a lot like debating whether green pogo sticks or red ones are a better solution to the petroleum crisis.

    The U.S. doesn’t lag behind other countries because of our teaching methods. We lag behind other countries because everything taught in school is demonstrably valueless to us, and therefore, to our children. That is to say, children aspire to be adults, and they can see every day that the adults around them place no value on the things the children are forced to learn in school.

    [note: “I’m not that way, and neither is anyone else in this discussion” isn’t relevant: go turn on the TV and find me a smart person not being made fun of or pitied.]

    As a society, we viciously mock all public demonstrations of intelligence, and have an extensive vocabulary of insults to cast at nerds, eggheads, braniacs, and geeks. We, the American public, don’t like people being smarter than we are. But why rise to the challenge when a little peer pressure can simply reduce the competition to silence?

    It needs to be fixed, but it isn’t “better teachers” that can fix it, because the classroom isn’t where it’s broken.

  93. To Chris B@111: you make a valid point, but I’d change it to say the classroom isn’t the ONLY place where it’s broken. It is indeed a complex issue, and one with no easy solution. But the school system is broken, and our teaching methods are inferior.

    Our culture is indeed a large part of the problem, though.

    To Alicia@110: What you say is very, very true. I make no claims that homeschooling is for everyone. I personally believe there is NO system that will work for everyone. I just got into the discussion because of the claim that only 0.1% of parents were qualified to teach their children, a claim that I find ludicrous.

    Bawrence@109: there currently is no tax break for taking your children out of public school, whether you homeschool or put them in private school. When there is, that will cause a radical shift in the educational bureaucracy. And the tax break if you have no children is unrelated to the taxes that pay for schools. Those generally come out of property tax.

    To Mr. Brust@108: Maybe there should be a different word for a state-owned monopoly than a private one. I would welcome it. However, not all these things are equal. We do all pay for the Interstate system. However, you in Texas are paying nothing for the streets here in Asheville, NC (and I must say, Texas roads are better). If I lived out in the country, I wouldn’t be paying for city roads. I could use my own, and I’d be responsible for maintaining them. Some of these services you mention you don’t pay for unless you use them; if you drill a well you don’t have to hook up to city water, etc. Some of these services can ONLY be provided by the government, such as the courts, the military, elections, all of which are constitutionally a part of our government’s responsibilities. Whereas the constitution makes no mention of funding an educational system.

    Again, I have no issue with there being a public educational system. But it offers a service that it does poorly, charges everybody for, and nobody is happy with. The government simply shovels more money into every time people get fed up enough to complain. Does this not seem the very definition of monopoly?

  94. “However, you in Texas are paying nothing for the streets here in Asheville, NC (and I must say, Texas roads are better)”

    That turns out not to be the case. Southside Avenue, for example, is also US 25; my taxes are helping to pay for it. Tunnel Road is also US 74; same thing.

    The major reason that the educational system is in such trouble is historical: universal public education is a product of the rise of capitalism: a time when it was necessary to have workers sufficiently educated to operate machinery. Education is superfluous for people destined for the social scrap heap.

    To see the value the ruling class places on education, look at the relative pay of teachers compared to other professions at various times in history. The cultural factor Chris B. mentioned also plays a large part.

  95. Well, the roads were initially paved with federal money, but are maintained with state funds. Take that as you will. Non-highway are paid with a combination of state, county, and city fees as applicable. Nonetheless, my point was that there was a long list of things there that were not necessarily all the same.

    And a libertarian could make the argument that these roads are indeed an unjust monopoly. That’s an argument for another time.

    If capitalism is the reason the schools are in such trouble, then why are we 39th among the 40 developed nations? Is that where we rank in our capitalistic fervor? If it’s not capitalism, but the rise of it, that’s still no reason we should be so far behind.

    Yes, the cultural factor Chris B. mentioned is a part of it. There are other cultural factors at work, including the shift away from two-parent families to single-parent, and the shift from one parent working to both.

    It is not a single-issue fix.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you say the ruling class wants it to fail. They want the vast majority of people to pliably go along. Enjoy the bread and circuses as the republic becomes an empire.

    But it kills me when people argue that the system is good, or that it’s not at fault, or that parents can’t teach their children, or that there’s no other way. That’s like this whole “lesser of two evils” political system.

    The system could be fixed, but it would have to be from the ground up. It won’t happen unless there’s a revolt (more likely if we undergo a complete collapse of the dollar, but still not something I’m betting on), and we have to rebuild our entire country. Until then, far too few believe there’s any alternative than “the way we’ve always done it), despite the fact that our school system is brand-spanking new in human history.

  96. The very foundation of the system is that all people should be alike as children. Unless they’re “special needs,” of course, because that entitles the school to extra funding.

    I find the notion preposterous. I know no other place in society where people are grouped by the mere fact of being the same age, and then expected to accomplish tasks. Perhaps certain parts of the military, but even that as a whole rapidly delineates into areas of skill, expertise and aptitude.

    The public school gives window dressing to “advanced” and “honors” programs, as well as extra-curricular activities. But these are miniscule parts of the curriculum. As long as a kid is said to be a certain grade because of his/her age, it’s a farce.

    There was a book I read when I was three or four called “Educating Betsy.” It was about a girl going from the big city to a one-room schoolhouse. After the teacher tried her out on different things, she was declared to be something like “seventh grade in math, fourth grade in spelling, fifth grade in geography, and ninth grade in reading.” Betsy broke down and started crying because she was confused about what grade she was. The teacher became equally confused and said “You’re not a grade, you’re Betsy.”

    Folksy, of course. But the point is one that I fervently believe in. A child is not a blank slate that will absorb material in exactly the same way as the kid next to them, simply because they’re the same age. That’s as ridiculous as grouping kids by height, hair color, skin color, or personal hygiene for their classes.

    Until we start teaching classes by assigning students that are at the same level ON THAT SUBJECT, it’s a failure from step one.

    A kid isn’t a grade.

  97. One last thought before I hit the sack – even if we completely changed the system, put money where it was needed, etc. We’d still have a lot of problems from all the things outside of school, including the cultural issues already raised.

    But noticing that the seats in your truck are broken and the bed is rusted through doesn’t change whether the engine still needs to be rebuilt.

  98. Jess@113:
    Sarchasm: The giant gulf (chasm) between what is said and the
    person who doesn’t get it.

    I know full well that there is no such tax break for childless taxpayers. I also know that many of them pay property taxes, so there’s no relief there, either.

  99. My company provides Internet access for students of Cyber Schools; these are charter schools that allow students (K-12) to learn at home online.

    During the earlier part of this century (’02), parents in the Philadelphia area became disheartened realizing 1) a mere 13% of 11th graders were able to read a newspaper and 2) the Pennsylvania Department of Education and her unions were too powerful to allow appropriate modification to staff, faculty, curriculum, discipline, the legislature at either the local or state level, etc. to address the failing schools. They remain a catastrophe to this day. The parents banded together and began a Cyber School, which, within its first year, the PDE was able to de-fund through the state legislature and throw up insurmountable bureaucratic hurdles.

    CNN reported (gleefully) how this competition to public schools was failing. I read that article and called the Cyber School, offering my companies assistance (they couldn’t pay their Internet bill because the PDE blocked the legislature from providing the promised funds). We brought the students back online and they were able to complete the school year.

    That opened doors to my company providing this service to Cyber Schools nationwide. I realize that most people in our nations departments of education and teachers unions mean well, it is just that parents are at their wits end. Those who cannot home school need options.

    As the father of a child with autism I know that all children do not fit in the cookie cutter our public education system provides. Allowing alternatives through vouchers or deductions appear to be a step in the right direction.

  100. Wow, I am way late to the party on this thread but I wanted to add this one comment.

    Jess @85

    One argument that, at least in part, the current problems in the financial system is due to deregulation is the fact that the SEC, in 2004, provided a “special exemption” to five companies allowing them to exceed a 12-to-1 debt-to-capital ratio and lever up to 30 or 40-to-1. The five companies were Goldman, Merrill, Lehman, Bear Stearns, and Morgan Stanley. Three of these have since failed to some degree.

  101. Okay, I can see what you’re saying. But from where I’m standing, granting “special exemptions” to certain companies, extending them special credit, tampering with interest rates, pumping money into the system – this isn’t deregulation. This is the government backing certain corporations and actively encouraging poor business practices for political purposes. Nor is it “free market” for the same reason.

    Again, it’s semantics. To me, deregulation would be to allow companies to rise or fall by their merits, and prosecute them for any fraudulent activity. We might have different definitions.

  102. My own metaphor for saying that very thing is trying to douse a fire (solve a problem) by throwing gasoline (money) on it, and, when the problem becomes worse as the result, conclude that the reason is that the bucket was painted the wrong color, to change the color, refill the bucket (again with gasoline), and toss it at the fire once more.

    I just finished “The Viscount of Adrilankha,” and I have noticed a conspicuous Loose End, namely the manner in which Aliera’s soul found its way from the staff (last seen in the possession of a certain corrupt wizard) back to her body. Maybe this is cleared up somewhere in the Vlad Taltos series, but, if it is, I’ve forgotten that detail.

  103. OK, I’m re-reading Taltos now. I think I’ve found some conflicts between Parfi’s history and Taltos’ narrative. In the former, Morrolan wasn’t present at Deathgate Falls when Zerika went galloping over them and into the Paths of the Dead. Rather, the magical person there was Tazendra, in the company of Piro and some others. In Taltos, however, Morrolan claims that he was with Zerika as she “made her descent.”

    Who’s right?

    Also, in the Kaavren stories, the person who found Aliera’s soul and bound it into a staff was Grita. The staff was later used to bribe the wizard Loraan for his help with Kana’s plans for conquest. In Taltos, however, Sethra says that Loraan is the one who found the soul and put it in the staff.

    Perhaps this is an honest mistake on Sethra’s part?

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