What is a liberal? They hide from reality

This continues my intermittent series of articles answering the question ‘what is a liberal?’

Liberals believe in unicorns. They let their emotions trump good judgment, facts, and experience. In this article I’ll highlight two examples: liberals’ belief in government, and liberals’ belief in fairness and justice.

Liberals believe government is competent and good
Does anyone deny that liberals believe this? Look at their faith in welfare and public education.

First Truth: government is not highly competent. For decades, liberals counted on government to eliminate poverty and racism. How well has that gone? Yes, it’s true that government built the interstate highway system and sent Americans to the moon and back. Could we build the interstate highway system today? I don’t know. But, if you want to send someone to the moon today, I refer you to Elon Musk and SpaceX.

Government is not motivated to solve problems. The motivation of government is to get and use power. Yes, the power impulse operates in all organizations, but the private sector responds first to investors, who demand profits. The public sector responds to the ballot box, and the ballot box is a bad filter for competence. The result is that government is never operated with competence as the top priority. Examples: the current problems in the Veterans Administration, ineffective and expensive K-12 education, corruption in benefits administration, waste and inefficiency in military procurement.

Second truth: government is neither merciful or fair. Examples: Wounded Knee, Waco, Ruby Ridge, and now we have the IRS unleashed on conservative political groups.

Liberals believe fairness and justice are real and universal
Yes, fairness and justice are wonderful, but they’re slippery concepts when used in legislation and law enforcement. Here’s the definition of fairness from Dictionary.com:

the state, condition, or quality of being fair, or free from bias or injustice; evenhandedness

That doesn’t really tell us much. ‘Fairness’ is fair. ‘Fairness’ is free from bias, but what’s bias? ‘Fairness’ is free from injustice. Well, we’ll take a look at justice and injustice in a second. ‘Fairness’ is evenhandedness. Evenhandedness? Really? I don’t think I agree with that. ‘Evenhanded’ means equitable. Not helpful.

The first definition for ‘justice’ in Dictionary.com is this:

The quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness

The quality of being ‘just’ goes without saying, yes that’s true. Righteousness. Look it up, righteousness is just a synonym for justice. Equitableness. That means fair or reasonable, which in this context is circular; it just points us back to ‘fairness’. Moral rightness. Yes, but whose morals?

My point is that the concept of fairness and justice is of limited use. It’s not a number. It’s not binary, yes/no. The meaning of fairness and justice evolves over time and it differs from culture to culture. It differs across sex and race. For example, I point to the Duke University lacrosse team rape case.

Fairness and justice are buzz words, not useful as concepts in government or law-enforcement. Elected officials will use the banner of fairness and justice in legislation, but let the voter beware. If you want fairness and justice (we all do), then place your reliance in laws, in an agreed process for creating and changing laws, and in agreed mechanisms for enforcing laws.

Bottom line
Liberals believe in unicorns.
Give your local liberal a hand and point out that government is neither very good nor very competent; and that when they hear appeals to fairness and justice they should beware of demagogues.

it’s not the teachers’ fault

K-12 education in the U.S. is struggling. A recent article in The Atlantic Magazine summarized the record of US schools. Compared to OECD countries “the U.S. scores below average in math and ranks 17th among the 34 OECD countries. It scores close to the OECD average in science and reading and ranks 21st in science and 17th in reading.”

No, the problem isn’t that we spend too little. Money isn’t the issue. From the same article in The Atlantic: “The U.S. ranks fifth in spending per student. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland spend more per student. To put this in context: the Slovak Republic, which scores similarly to the U.S., spends $53,000 per student. The U.S. spends $115,000.”

Some say it’s the teachers’ fault. Maybe. We know that schools have plenty of money. Are teachers today as good as they were a couple generations in the past? There’s no way to know. So what’s left? Wait…the students! Maybe today’s students aren’t as bright, or eager, or prepared. Maybe kids don’t have the same parental and cultural support as in the past. That’s a good guess.

Educational failures combine with social decline
I don’t see much, or anything in the direction of US society that says parents on the whole are more concerned, or working harder at, or more successful in supporting their kids at school. It’s common to link the decline of various social indicators to problems with schools. Pat Buchanan writes:

Where out-of-wedlock births in the 1950s were rare, today, 41 percent of all American children are born out of wedlock. Among Hispanics, it is 51 percent; among blacks, 71 percent. And the correlation between the illegitimacy rate, the drug rate, the dropout rate, the crime rate and the incarceration rate is absolute…This helps to explain the four decades of plunging test scores of American children and the quadrupling of the prison population.

The importance of parents seems accepted and well understood. The NEA says

students with involved parents are more likely to:
o Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs
o Be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits
o Attend school regularly
o Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school
o Graduate and go on to postsecondary education

…When parents talk to their children about school, expect them to do well, make sure that out-of-school activities are constructive, and help them plan for college, their children perform better in school.

Where are the numbers?
So what’s happening with parental support? If it’s a problem, the first thing you need to do is measure it. Educators have developed a term: readiness to learn. When I hear ‘readiness to learn’, that says ‘parental involvement’ to me.

There are metrics for this, but it seems there’s more than one metric, and adoption is spotty.

  • Brookings Institute created a task force, reporting in September 2013 that “the task force calls for new global indicators to include ‘readiness to learn’ in early childhood.”
  • A non-profit in Ohio is tracking and reporting a readiness to learn metric for sixteen school districts in Montgomery County, starting with the 2009-10 school year.
  • In my own city, Seattle I see no sign that the school district is measuring or tracking school readiness. Their web site offers readiness guidelines for parents of different ethnic backgrounds (Spanish, Chinese, Amharic and so on) but no sign of any effort to move the ball, or even find out where the ball is.

What to do?
I assume that school readiness overall today is not as high as it was forty or fifty years ago. If true, what’s the fix?
One path might be to identify family attributes that correlate with high readiness for school, and support those attributes. Just guessing…but I expect this will draw some attention to welfare programs that encourage single-parent families.
How clear are public schools about parent responsibilities? I’ve never heard a parent complaint that a school required too much hands-on involvement. That tells me that either expectations need to be higher, or they need to be clearer.

The bottom line
Social indicators in the US seem to trend downhill. Apparently there’s a feedback loop with public education, where despite increasing budgets, school results do not improve. Are teachers in the US struggling uphill against a tide of ill-prepared students without support and motivation from parents?
Schools should establish metrics for readiness to learn. These numbers should become part of the debate on public education.
Society as a whole should be accountable for teachers having the resources to succeed. They have the money. Let’s give them good students.
Do more to increase parent accountability.

What is a liberal? They’ll say anything

This begins an intermittent series of articles answering the question “what is a liberal?”

Let them be known by their own actions and statements. I start with the proposition that liberals are expedient: they’ll say anything to get or keep political power.

Say anything to pass Obamacare
What a mess. Does anyone believe that President Obama really believed all the promises he made? The top howler is this: “You can keep your doctor, you can keep your health plan.”

These promises, and others, were made in remarks at an American Medical Association meeting on June 15, 2009. All the promises of Obamacare efficiency were counter-intuitive from the start, any government-administered service is relatively inefficient.

Imposing more government regulation on something as complex as medical care never turns out well. Look at our own problems with the Veterans Administration. Look at Britain’s experience with the National Health Service.

When the NHS was created in 1948, Aneurin Bevan, the health minister, confidently predicted that the service would so improve people’s health that the nation’s medical bill would actually fall. Ever since, annually and inexorably, the NHS budget has risen…cancelled operations and closed wards…prodigious waster of taxpayers’ money.

President Obama did what he had to, he said what he needed to say. Over-promising was needed to quiet concerns. The bill passed the Senate 60-39, without a single Republican voting yes. It passed 219-212 in the House, also without a single Republican vote in favor.

The most transparent administration ever
From a White House press release:

President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and WhiteHouse.gov will play a major role in delivering on that promise.

Transparency was a frequent promise by candidate Obama in the 2008 Presidential campaign. Blame Obama’s naivete, but it worked and he’s unapologetic. Truthfully, the Obama administration is probably less transparent than others. Glen Greenwald in the left-leaning British newspaper The Guardian summarizes:

I’ve spent the last four years documenting the extreme, often unprecedented, commitment to secrecy that this president has exhibited, including his vindictive war on whistleblowers, his refusal to disclose even the legal principles underpinning his claimed war powers of assassination, and his unrelenting, Bush-copying invocation of secrecy privileges to prevent courts even from deciding the legality of his conduct.

And then, there’s the IRS. The one agency Americans should trust the most for transparency and professionalism is accused of a clumsy coverup. Your desktop computer crashed, so your emails are lost? Pssst, hey…emails are not stored on that desktop. Check your email server.

President Obama, a liberal, and a former community organizer from Chicago, doesn’t hesitate to say what’s needed to get the votes, nor does he hesitate to crack the whip and hide he dirt once the voting is done.

‘False, misleading and evasive answers designed to obstruct the judicial process’
Wikipedia says it concisely:

Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, was impeached by the House of Representatives on two charges, one of perjury and one of obstruction of justice, on December 19, 1998. Two other impeachment articles, a second perjury charge and a charge of abuse of power, failed in the House. He was acquitted of both charges by the Senate on February 12, 1999.

Clinton was acquitted by the Senate, but did not escape the following judgments:

    Held in Contempt of court
    Law license in Arkansas suspended for five years
    Disbarred from the US Supreme Court

Bill Clinton is still active and revered in the Democratic Party, and now maneuvering to return to the White House as spouse of our first female President.

Two exceptions that prove the rule
From the Washington Post:

Declaring “I am not a crook,” President Nixon vigorously defended his record in the Watergate case tonight and said he had never profited from his public service.

When it became obvious that President Nixon lied, Republican legislators in Congress abandoned him, and he resigned on August 8, 1974.

Bush 43 was accused of lying about WMD. I’d love to argue that, but in this context note that George W Bush is no longer active in Republican party affairs.

The bottom line
Democrats in Congress didn’t abandon Clinton. They wont abandon Obama. Clinton remains active and beloved in Democratic Party circles, and Obama likely will be active and respected after he leaves office. There is no penalty for falsehoods in liberal circles. What cost is too high if the end is victory for big government and social justice? Conservatives are less willing to betray generally held standards of good behavior.