Wednesday, October 27, 2010
The present brouhaha about debt makes me think about what happens when you switch one kind of debt for another. In this case we are being urged to exchange a naïve debt for a subtle one: the debt inherent in prolonging the maintenance and repair of a valuable asset, like a house, car or bridge. An extreme example is the neglect of the condition of the I 90 bridge in Minneapolis, whose cost in lives, wounds and money far exceeds the cost that would have been involved in repairing it as soon as its failings were uncovered. A less obvious example would be the slacking of the educational effort in the early 1950s, until the launch of Sputnik occasioned a crash effort to beat the USSR to the Moon. Even subtler is the increasing loss involved in slipping from the top of the table of countries’ elementary education to nearly the bottom of industrial nations (in spite of the oft-repeated canard that we are the best in the world). That rot has now reached the high schools and is nibbling at undergraduate universities. A similar invisible debt is found in delayed repairing of roads, hospitals, water and sewage facilities, and other essential civic services. Waiting until the neglect reaches crisis levels, as in the water supply system in London or the potholes in Madison often means urgent repair, in a short time and at an advanced cost. As real estate and automotive dealers know, such urgent repairs come at frequently at many times the cost of doing them when there is time to plan and negotiate. The cost of neglecting maintenance and repair needs are often many times the costs of interest upon debt to fix them properly, when the needs of those repairs are driven by urgency, although the costs of negligence are overlooked in what is seen as a temporary gain. That is true of the austerity budgets in education, health, fire, police, water, sanitation and other civic needs in UK today and in the crisis budgets that the GOP want to impose upon us all in the coming years.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
As we look upon the use that is being made of the recent decisions by the Supreme Court in the matter of political advertising by moneyed interests, we come to understand the potential of those decisions in licensing of purchasing elections by unaccountable forces. It is possible to place such an ad, even replete with false accusations, without their being traced to any source. It is not even clear that the medium involved can refuse to air the ad without risking suit for violating 1st Amendment rights. If an agent were willing to act for the advertiser, the harm of false accusations would not be fully answerable, especially in the late days before the election. Such a situation might actually apply today in the matter of foreign advertisers and the Chamber of Commerce. They have the foreign funds, and they have been inserting their ads in advancement of some candidacies and against others. They assert that none of the foreign money is involved in the payment for them, but we have only their unsupported word for that. They are not obliged to account for how they spend their money and they, or their cohorts, have voiced their constitutional right to say whatever they please without any obligation to be free of inquiry into the funding of the assertions they might put forth. And since those assertions might be in violation of the laws concerning foreign funding of political advertisements, they might also be protected by the 5th Amendment from having to make any such accounting. The laws on libel and fraud are hard to enforce, and the outcome would be after the election, as they were in the case of the Swiftboat lies against Sen. Kerry in 2004. The only defense against such abuses must be to assume that there is no compulsion to speak the truth, and that any rogue can say anything in the U. S. under the law as seen in the Supreme Court under the present leadership. It is a bitter pill for the People and our Democracy.We should have known this even before. No advertisement is fit for belief.
Monday, October 18, 2010
There is a concept I will call transfer that applies to school boards, legislatures, and other bodies, and does not seem to be commented on. A legislature appropriates a given amount to a school, and the school board must make it work. If not, it is ranked as the failure of the board. The easy way out for the board is to enact a budget that meets the appropriation, or they have failed. In running for election, a candidate may promise that he will make it fit. But the choice does not lie with the board. In theory, they can simply fail to enact the budget, assigning the loss to the legislature. But that rarely happens, if at all. The same applies to all institutions, whether schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, or others. The choice of making an unpopular assignment might be likened by giving an agent an amount of money that is insufficient to meet the price of a social need, and then blaming the agent for being unable to buy it. But in a democracy, the agent has the choice of claiming that he can do it, when he is seeking election, and then substituting an inferior object after being elected. The fact that the electorate continues to return the agent to office shows that they do not take democracy seriously, or that the voters do not really care. It is not really a lie, on the part of the agent. The present decline in almost all public services must be attributed to the acceptance of the inferior performance by the agents and the voters. Public careers are not advanced by agents resigning when the appropriations are insufficient. Instead, the people’s representatives fight over the blame for the inferior performance, never putting the onus on those who can be easily persuaded to accept it and making do. It is said that a strike accomplishes nothing, but when the result, as in a garbage collectors’ stoppage, can be made to hurt those with the power to change things, if they will pay the cost, it often yields results where the alternative is just a lot of blaming for an unacceptable outcome.
Friday, October 8, 2010
In the matter of teacher competence, it is upsetting to see how partial is the evidence on which important people rely, and the ease with which they take devastating action in the absence of what we would ordinarily think of as due process. This applies not only to almost every school administrator, but even infects the thinking of the President. There are tests that are taken to be fully indicative of understanding. Some of these apply to difficult subjects like geometry and Physics, to name the outstanding failures of testing in US high schools. But even in subjects where there is less certainty about deep motivational understanding, the failure of these tests to be more than an educated guess of the test-takers knowledge is well known. There is a wide gap in the depth to which the tests probe understanding. Yet the schools, and the local, state and even federal governments will take on this shabby thinking to inflict permanent joblessness on those who do not come up to the standards of the administrators. If the roles were reversed, and teachers’ union officers could remove administrators on their own very partial beliefs, we would all recognize the injustice inherent in the situation. It is as though being hired in the supervisory role invests them with the ability to say definitively what is true. Teachers’ unions do not require categorical certainty in matters of competence, but do require the application of due process in such cases. When the sloth of the accusers does not allow them such a degree of certainty, they demand the power to take final action on just their own opinions or, worse, on the beliefs of their advisors. Such practices take away from teachers one of the pillars of their belief in the justice of their profession. The school administrators and boards that act without due process always want the power to act on just their guesses, often wrong, about who is doing a good job. Where will they find the substitutes for those they discharge so casually? Would the administrators survive the application of similar standards on their own work?