Wednesday, February 22, 2017

More Neo-Liberal Smoke & Mirrors Policies in BC

On February 21st, the BC "Liberal" government brought forward its budget.

One "highlight" of the budget was a proposal to cut Medical Services Plan Premiums by 50%.

That would be nice, IF it was completely true.  There are a number of devils in the details.

I have some records here in the file cabinet.  They show that we had to pay $96 per month for health care coverage back in 2006.  It's now 2017 and it costs $150 per month for the two of us.

Roughly, that is a 50% increase in premiums in about 10 years.

Now the government is proposing to reduce this a bit, but not until after January 1st, 2018.  And you have to apply for this reduction by completing an on-line form.

I understand that BC is the last province to charge such health care premiums.  On the one hand, having to pay these premiums each month does serve to remind everyone what health care costs and that it isn't "free".  On the other hand, sending out invoices each month must be one of the more inefficient and costly ways of handling the whole issue.

Years ago, in Saskatchewan, where health care costs were handled directly by the province, we occasionally received a statement showing us what our use of the medical system cost each year, just to remind us what we were getting for our taxes.

My concern is that the government, having spent the past few years raising the fees and rates for most things while pretending taxes are low, is engaging in more smoke and mirrors.

Over the past decade or more, funding has been taken away from the public education system.  Following a recent court decision, money is being put back in.  I'm just not sure that the government should be bragging about it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Word for the Day

 Agnotology: the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance.

Although the word is relatively new, the concept it describes is not.  As described in this article from the BBC.

Six Degrees - Our Future on a Hotter Planet

"By the end of this century, the planet will heat up between 1.4C and 5.8C, according to the IPCC.  Six degrees might not sound like much...."

That pretty much summarizes the main point of this book by Mark Lynas.  In each chapter, the author examines what our planet might be like as global temperatures increase, degree by degree.

Of course, predicting the future is difficult, but the author bases his predictions on what science knows about conditions on the planet during much earlier times, when CO2 levels were much higher.

A major concern understood by people following this issue is the rapidity with which these changes are happening.  Right now.  To explain the concern, the author notes the following about something called the Paleo Eocene Thermal Maximum:

  • CO2 levels were greater than 1000 ppm (we are close to 400 ppm now).
  • Rate of CO2 addition now could be 30x faster than then.
  • The changes then took place over 10,000 years.
  • We only have decades.
For anyone with a concern about what we need to prepare ourselves (and our children and grandchildren) for, it's a worthwhile read.  As you read, just remember that the book was written in 2007.  Evidence continues to come in pointing to a rapidly warming planet, melting sea ice, diminishing land ice, droughts, acidifying oceans, increasingly erratic weather systems.  

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Cultural Marxist Hellhole.... as if...

I was sent an article this morning:

This is the Cultural Marxist Hellhole that our Country has become.  What Now?

Not wanting to waste perfectly good opportunity for hyperbole, there was also a flag, of sorts....

Have to say, the article, and especially the title, kept me laughing for a good part of the morning.  I had to spend a couple of hours running the cross country ski groomer so it was good to have something to laugh about for a few hours.

Seriously.  What a pile of nonsense.

First, a quick reading of an explanation of Marxism (basically, I'm really not much interested in labels and know very little about such ideology) had me wondering if the author knew either.  As I understand it, Marxism is about a class struggle that develops as labour starts to realize that it is being taken advantage of by the few who own the means of production and who appropriate most of the benefits from that production.  Leaving everyone else in the dirt.

This didn't seem to be what the article's author was on about, though.

First, he devoted some space to ranting about the un-elected judiciary.  Sorry, that would be "so-called" judiciary, I guess.  I accept that judges can interpret laws in ways that can be seen as "liberal" or "conservative", but laws can be changed by legislatures and, as long as they don't violate the Constitution (or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, if you're a Canadian), those legislatures can plot a different direction for a country.  Their actions will be evaluated by voters, still with the power to turf them out of office if enough don't like that direction.  I will point to the 2015 election in Canada as a single example.  No doubt it will happen again in the future, as it has in the past.

An independent judiciary is pretty much essential to a free, democratic country.  I got the distinct impression that the author would be fine with replacing the judiciary with puppets who would do whatever the current mob wanted.  Or at least a small mob that happened to have guns....

Second, the author clearly fell back on fundamentalist religious precepts as proof that his country is spiraling into the immoral, Marxist abyss.  "Our rights no longer come from God; they come from the courts."

Hmmm.  Actually, your rights DON'T come from God.  Neither the USA nor Canada is a theocracy.  Your rights come from from hard-fought battles to enforce the Constitution or the Charter.  Sorry if you don't agree with certain rights for "some people", but giving them rights doesn't take away from your rights.  Not unless you think it is your right to deny them theirs.

He ranted about red states (those would be Republican states, in a perplexing use of color that somehow makes sense in the USA) being "denuded the right to self-govern...".  How then, to explain the rampant gerrymandering that has clearly gone on in those very states just so the Republicans can maintain their death grip on power.  Blue states, on the other hand, can violate the Constitution wily-nilly.  He didn't provide examples.

A "Republican party that is every bit as socially liberal as the Democrats".  Frankly, I find this a bit of a stretch.  In fact, I think I'll call BS on that.  Not that I think the Democrats are all that "socially liberal", compared to the concept as it exists in so many other perfectly nice countries around the world.  But seriously.  It's very hard to use the phrase "socially liberal" and Republican in the same sentence and manage to keep a straight face.

Obamacare is "destroying the job market".  So that explains this:

What I see from this is that if Obama could have stayed in office for another 4 years, things could have been even better than they have been for the last 7 years of his term.  

There was lots more, but mostly in the same vein.  Basically, it seemed to center around the notion that since people are being called out for being racist, xenophobic, sexist pricks, somehow that is letting the country circle the drain.

In the USA, here's what we have now, according the "Alt-Facts" websites I've been able to find quickly:

There are other comparisons to be made, but there is so much to do and so little time, just trying to keep Canada from slipping into the same hellhole America is slipping into.  I will just say, though, the hellhole sure as hell isn't a Marxist one.  Not by any definition.

Maybe Cuba, though.  I understand it is one of the last remaining socialist countries in the world that follows Marxist-Leninist ideology.  And for decades, Americans weren't allowed to visit Cuba.  If only that Obama guy hadn't changed the rules....

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Building a Wall - a Boondoggle From Any Angle

As promised in the election campaign, the POTUS seems determined to move ahead with a wall along Mexico's northern border.

There are any number of articles from reasonably sane publications and organizations that refute all of the contentions made by those in support of a wall.

Newsweek ran one that originally appeared on the CATO Institute's website back in August of 2015.  The original article was called "Donald Trump on Immigration: Same Anti-Immigration Ideas, New Salesman".  Newsweek titled the article: "Trump on Immigration: Fantasy Meets Ignorance".

Newsweek had another article that appeared later that fall. " Illegal Immigration: Myths, Half-Truths and a Hole in Trump's Wall"

Both articles are worth reading, but a few highlights:

  • Until the mid-1960, America had allowed in up to 50,000 Mexicans annually, almost all as temporary agricultural workers.  Most went home after their jobs ended each year.
  • Once temporary visas were ended, the undocumented numbers started to skyrocket.
  • Employers in the USA complained and an amnesty in about 1986 merely increased the problems.
  • Despite claims by those opposed to immigrants, there has NOT been a crime wave attributed to these migrants, illegal or legal.  The real problem seems to be white men without a high school diploma.  Claims that Mexico is emptying their jails appears to be nonsense.
  • Undocumented workers pay taxes and contribute to Social Security, using bogus Social Security numbers which the government knows are fake but it still accepts the money...
  • Costs associated with undocumented immigrants are substantial - locking them up might cost up to $10B; emergency healthcare, another $10B; education of their children, another $17B.
  • Even the illegal immigrants contribute to the economy.  One study done in Texas in 2005 estimated $17B to the state's gross domestic product.
  • Attempting to expel all undocumented immigrants could cost up to $600B or more.
"Indeed, the nation would suffer significantly if all these people were sent home, according to a 2015 report by the American Action Forum, which describes itself as a center-right policy institute. Such a mass deportation “would cause the labor force to shrink by 6.4 percent, which translates to a loss of 11 million workers,’’ the report says. “As a result, 20 years from now the economy would be nearly 6 percent or $1.6 trillion smaller than it would be if the government did not remove all undocumented immigrants.” The impact would be felt across the economy, the report says, although the agriculture, construction, retail and hospitality sectors would be the hardest hit."

  • The fence, or wall, faces some significant geographical challenges.
  • Mass deportations could take up to 20 years.
  • About 50% of undocumented immigrants didn't cross the border illegally where the wall would be anyway.  They either came by plane or by land, with the proper papers, but then just overstayed their visas.  A wall doesn't address that issue.
  • A study in 2007 found that a 700-mile wall could cost over $50B over 25 years.  The border is almost 3 times that long and it's now 2017.
  • Even if the wall IS built, organized crime units now smuggling people into the USA across the border aren't going to stop because of some wall.  It's odd, and inconsistent, that gun advocates insist that banning guns won't stop gun-related crime and yet seem to believe that a wall will somehow stop human smuggling.
  • Immigrants take very few American jobs.  Many studies have proved this.
     "What, then, should the United States do about illegal immigration? A fence won’t work, mass deportation won’t work, and every plan the government has adopted in recent decades has done nothing but enriched and empowered crime syndicates that have transformed a modest problem into an intractable one.

   Perhaps, then, it is time for the country to take a deep, collective breath, stop trafficking in fantasies and face the reality that the only system that ever proved effective in dealing with Mexican nationals wanting to come to America for work was the one abandoned in 1964, when some were given residence and others received temporary visas. Maybe, in this case, the answer for the future can be found in the past."

Once again, in the USA as in so many other countries, politicians seem intent to make some kind of political mileage out of trafficking in fantasies, lies and half-truths.  It's time they were called to account.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Education - Making Murica Great Again

Just as a matter of professional interest, I've been paying a bit of attention to soon-to-be-President Trump's Cabinet appointees, particularly Education Secretary.

Betsy DeVos.  To quote her bio on Wikipedia: 

"DeVos is a prominent member of the Republican Party known for her advocacy of school choicevoucher programs, and ties to the Reformed Christian community."  

She is probably a billionaire, or at least moves in billionaire circles, father-in-law one of the founders of Amway, not that such things would automatically be a problem.... however....  

Some of her family connections are explained here.

She was recently grilled by the Senate as part of her confirmation hearing.  Some of the proceedings are recounted here: 

Six Astonishing Things Betsy deVos Said - and Refused to Say - At Her Confirmation Hearing

Now I know what some people are gonna say, so I will attempt to preempt it all by noting here that I'm aware that the Washington Post is a "liberal", "left-leaning", 'biased" media outlet (to quote some of the epithets I've heard about it).  I think it tends to report stories in a fashion more like cheap tabloids than serious new outlets, but that doesn't mean the exchanges didn't take place or that Ms DeVos didn't say what she said.  So if we could focus on those.... (keeping in mind that I can find many other sources that will also quote what she said...).

So it's worth reading the article with that in mind.  Some highlights:

  • Apparently schools need guns because at least one (in Wyoming) might need a gun to protect against grizzly bears.
  • She doesn't seem to be aware of federal legislation that requires public schools to provide education and related resources to students with disabilities
  • She wouldn't answer a question about whether all federally funded schools should be held to the same standards of accountability.
  • She wouldn't commit to enforcing laws already on the books that attempt to protect students from fraudulent institutions (one example being Trump University.  Trump has paid $25M to settle fraud claims related to that institution).
  • Her personal history makes it pretty clear that she is a religious zealot and doesn't believe in the separation of church and state.
  • Her plans don't seem to include concern with the achievement gap that begins in infancy.  What's really odd is Ivanka Trump's child care proposal.  Is the proposed Secretary not aware of this?

Some personal thoughts:

  • I just can't imagine why there isn't much concern about schools becoming armed camps, with guns, security guards, metal detectors and such.  Doesn't anyone see this as a problem?
  • I have no objection to private schools, but I DO have a problem with them being funded by tax dollars, specifically for this reason: they don't have to accept every student who wants to attend there and they aren't mandated to provide services to everyone.  You make private schools work within the same regulatory framework as public schools and then we'll talk about funding.
  • Some individuals have suggested to me that public schools are merely indoctrination camps for young minds, bending those malleable brains to all sorts of liberal nonsense.  I can make two points: First, I know, for a fact, that some of my former students aren't socialists, despite any attempts I (allegedly, as a teacher in a public school) might have made to turn them into such.  So I question the ability of schools to do what they are being accused of.  Second, I can also say that I was criticized personally by a Board member for "pushing my own opinion" on students.  This was specifically connected to the topic of Acid Rain.  You might remember back in those days when Ronald Reagan was supposedly quoted as blaming acid rain on pigeon poop?  There was this story from the Orlando Sentinel.  Sound familiar?
  • It's worth noting that some of the worst-performing schools are in some of the poorest parts of America and that many of those parts are controlled by Republicans.  I know that correlation doesn't equal causation, but it does make you wonder.  And I'm not the only one who thinks like that....
  • There are studies that show private schools don't have better achievement than public schools "when you take into account family resources, parental involvement, etc".  If you cherry-pick your clientele, you can make it seem like your success is better, but I go back to my second point.
Anyhow, education.  One thing (out of several, to be honest) that has the potential to lift people out of poverty and yet is targeted for budget cuts whenever governments (of a certain stripe) want to lower taxes for people who certainly don't need them and then find they have to cut spending to "balance the budget", don't 'cha know.  Because we certainly wouldn't want education spending to put the country into debt, would we.

Dick & Betsy DeVos
I'm anticipating (perhaps not the best word to use) a train wreck with the Trump administration at the engine's throttle.  If you don't agree, prove me wrong, don't just yell at me.  Arm-waving proves nothing.

I guess if you want to drain the swamp, you have to be careful not to just drain it (and the alligators) right into the Oval Office.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Post Tortoise

While stitching a cut on the hand of a 75 year old farmer, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to Donald Trump and his role as the Republican Nominee for President. The old farmer said, " Well, as I see it, Donald Trump is like a 'Post Tortoise'.'' Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a 'post tortoise' was. The old farmer said, "When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a tortoise balanced on top, that's a post tortoise." The old farmer saw the puzzled look on the doctor's face so he continued to explain. "You know he didn't get up there by himself, he doesn't belong up there, he doesn't know what to do while he's up there, he's elevated beyond his ability to function, and you just wonder what kind of dumb ass put him up there to begin with."