Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Socialized ... education?

Just for the heck of it I recently perused a right wing column about the dangers of socialized medicine. For kicks I replaced every place it said "medicine" with "education." I made a few more changes, but mostly left it as it was. I think it reads perfectly now. For the original you can go here.


Lest We've Forgotten, Education Is Not a Right
By Wendy Milling

The advocates of socialized education have insisted for decades that education is a right. They now feel emboldened enough to proffer the absurdity that education insurance is a right, and they do not bother to make a distinction between the two. "Education is a right, not a privilege," proclaims Sen. Bernie Sanders in a Huffington Post op-ed calling for the nationalization of education. Education has become "a business" instead of a higher calling of selfless service, President Obama ruefully tells the American Teachers Association.

A right is a political principle defining and sanctioning freedom of action in a social context. It imposes a negative obligation-the obligation to refrain from violating the rights of others-not a positive entitlement. Since government produces nothing, for the government to provide goods and services to some, it must first take them by force from others, which is a violation of their rights.

A privilege connotes a benefit conferred upon individuals or classes by virtue of some factor such as birth or social position, as opposed to merit. The criterion by which people receive education is payment. Education can only exist because its suppliers earn profits that justify their initial substantial investments of money, energy, and time. That makes education a business, whether anyone finds this distasteful or not.

Students must pay for their education somehow. Money is obtained through effort; people receive money in exchange for productive work. Sen. Sanders' objection, then, is to people obtaining education because they have earned it. By advocating the redistribution of educational resources, he is seeking to elevate the needy to a privileged class. For education to be a "right," it must be a privilege.

The economics of socialized education are well-known. When free education becomes available system-gamers line up at the socialized education trough, along with genuinely unlearned people who seek more services than are justified for their condition. Demand overwhelms supply, and costs go up. Government then imposes price caps on educational goods and services and limits payments to providers to control the escalating costs. This attempted end run around the law of supply and demand forces the suppliers to cut back on the availability, quality, and quantity of educational care. Again, governments produce nothing. They can decree coverage for everyone, but they have no power to turn this coverage into adequate educational care. Only those who produce educational goods and services can provide them.

Knowing that Americans do not tolerate the impractical, the proponents of socialized education have engaged in all manner of contorted exercises lately to make the unworkable appear workable. They back up their calculations with a secret weapon: The citizen's feelings of guilt. "It's a moral issue," assert the advocates of socialized education. It certainly is, but not in the way they think. It is immoral to steal and coerce. Teachers are not chattel, and taxpayers are not piggy banks to be broken and raided for the next claimant in line.

The advocates of socialized education argue that people should not have to go into bankruptcy just because they are burdened with educational bills they cannot pay. Yes, they should. Bankruptcy does not mean death in this country. It means officially recognized insolvency, which merely puts conditions on the defaulter's financial activity for a specified amount of time into the future. Bankruptcy is a consequence of the defaulter's failure to meet legal financial obligations. The principle at work is justice, the application of cause-and-effect to human affairs.

Those who wish to insure their education have a number of proper choices: They hey can accumulate wealth or credit to pay for educational expenses, they can purchase private education insurance, they can seek employment that provides educational coverage, they can seek a teacher who is willing to provide payment terms or free services, or they can rely on the charity of others. If a person fails to take any of these measures for any reason and he incurs educational expenses he cannot meet, he must enter into bankruptcy. What he may not properly do is claim that education and educational insurance are "rights" to which he is entitled at the expense of others.

Consider the full meaning of such a claim. Millions of working poor will see a portion of their meager earnings confiscated. Educational technologies will not be created when they otherwise would, because there is no economic incentive to develop or produce them. Teachers and other education professionals will work under increasingly primitive and coercive conditions, potentially facing de-licensing, fines, and even jail time for making decisions the government deems too costly or politically out-of-favor.

Students will see the quality, quantity, and availability of educational care evaporate. The gravely uneducated will be denied learning and forced to face the end of their scholarship, because saving their minds is too costly under a system of socialized education. For what noble purpose will millions of people be effectively enslaved or burdened to the point of suffering or death? To preserve the FICO score, credit lines, and self-esteem of parasites.

The next time a socialized education advocate prattles about compassion for those who need educational care, wonder aloud where his compassion is for those whose lives would be destroyed by his scheme.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Confederacy Of Assholes

I sit at my computer as down the hall someone throws something out that sounds very loud as it crashes to the ground. Upstairs Stompy McGee our insomniac, big-footed mechanic of a neighbor is probably gearing up for tonight's autoclinic, replete with lots of dropped tools over Stella's room. Our downstairs neighbors now smoke so much they have to open their front door to get the smoke out, which wafts into Stella's room, making her cough, god dammit.

Yes, living in what often feels like a former Soviet Satellite republic isn't all that it was cracked up to be. We thought we would give up a few amenities by moving to Kensington, such as decent restaurants but we really had no idea what we were truly in for.

Fact is, it's been a bad trade DESPITE living in what is objectively a gorgeous apartment.

We knew Kensington might be our speed. Fact is we came out here a few years ago and weren't interested. Then we saw this big, open apartment, twice the size of our last place, for the same cash. We felt that we had no choice, as so many other places had fallen through our fingers. We pounced, because that's what you have to do in New York, pounce, on everything.

The first tip off that all might not be right is we moved in and the floors had been so polished the polish material was making our heads spin. The place looked like a roller skating rink, and Randi had to get on her hands and knees with a lemon to strip off some of the overly-shiny finish.

Then we noticed some of our paint was peeling, this was maybe a month in, maybe less. We had it tested, and of course, it was lead positive. After that we had to fight our building management for months to get them to do the job right. They threatened us right from the git-go, saying we should leave because we'd caused so much trouble about this.

Trouble? From my mind, they caused it by telling us not to tell the city, and then sending over some undocumented fuckabouts to do the job. We sent them off. Lead paint is serious stuff. Then they sent someone with lead experience to clean it, and they still did the job all wrong, scraping off the dry paint -- which you should never do.

There was more fighting after this. The City of New York tested and found more lead paint chipping in the front of the apartment. It took three to four times for them to finally get the job right. They would send some off the turnip truck fuckwits to do the job -- sometimes armed with little more than a screwdriver and NO documentation -- and we'd send them away. Finally, only because we FORCED THEM TO DO IT, the job was done right, in every way. Almost.

Then we had a fight about our upstairs neighbor. He's stopped blasting his Smooth Balkan Jams, but every night it sounds like he's dragging a goddamned titanium sarcophogus across the floor, multiple times, and then showering our ceiling with a rain of balpeen hammers. All day, all night, ever day. We have tried to be nice to him, to explain to him that he's waking up our daughter. He doesn't care, he keeps going. He, a fat middle aged Balkan jackoff, answers the door in his bananahammock. I have now argued with him about this at least 10 times since moving in. We've told the building, nothing changes. We've sent them a certified letter telling them, nothing changes.

Now it's the smoking. Despite there being signs in our lobby saying NO SMOKING in big red letters everybody smokes. And it wafts into Stella Bella's room, making, as I mentioned cough. I called the Board of Health, our building management and our super to ensure that this crap has to end. We'll see.

I am not a predjudiced person, but the callousness of these people, the hardness of their approach to life and even a little, defenseless child has made me not like the former Soviet Socialist Republics all that much. It makes me think Borat was being kind to them. And I am from Ukraine, or at least my family is. They couldn't get the fuck out of that rathole fast enough, though. And if they'd stayed they all would have died. So, no great warm feelings here.

I am being unfair, I know. If we hadn't drawn the short straw living above a chimney and below a one man rock band/garage it probably wouldn't be so bad.

Sigh, Stella's crying again. Happy Monday!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Unemployment Made Me Who I Am

Yes, it's grim out there. The best you can say about the latest unemployment figures is that they are only slightly less bad than some feared. But they're not good. In fact, nothing about being unemployed is good, trust me, I've been there. But if I can get through it, and I did, you will to.

Unemployment and I are old acquaintances. I first joined the ranks of the underworked in the mid-90s, when I quit the job I had as managing editor of a small magazine for college students. The irony is I quit because I felt I was underpaid, but I quickly learned how much less payment was out there. Month after month I watched my pitiful savings dwindle as I "freelanced" articles. Eventually I found salvation in the form a traffic accident, as I totaled my car and lived off the insurance money. Now that's financial planning.

The depression that accompanied this period was horrific. I lived in Boulder, Colo., one of the most beautiful places in the nation, but I couldn't enjoy any of it. Life suddenly became very circumscribed, as I feared going outside lest I spend money. This period lasted almost a year.

Eventually, though, I kept plugging away and got another job as an editor, and a better job at that. This one paid $8 an hour! But I got to write, and had enough money for the occasional beer.

By the time I was 28 I was working full time as a financial journalist at a small newsletter in New York. It wasn't exactly what I wanted to do. I felt constrained, again. It was 2000, and my peers, it seemed, were all out making mega-bucks working for .com firms. They had cool things called stock options, and foose-ball. And here I was, such a free spirit, I thought, wearing a tie to work every day, and making in the low $30,000s. What a salariman. I saw a possible ladder here, but I didn't want to climb it. So I quit again, this time to take an internship at National Public Radio's "On The Media." Now that’s cool.

Due to cheap rent, generous family and some frugality I had managed to save a nest-egg of just under $10,000 while I had been working. I watched it slowly dwindle to nothing as my internship went on and on. Making matters worse I didn't get the job, either. I had gambled and failed. Then the recession of 2001 hit, and I was caught short … again! They say wisdom is recognizing a mistake as you make it again. Well, I say that, I don't know if they do. But it's true.

Once again, I had no money, and now lived in an even more expensive city, New York. Then, the depression came on once more, as I realized what a fool I had been to quit a job that paid, because it hadn't been quite cool enough. Quickly, though, I learned you can't eat hipness, which might explain the recent craze for "skinny" jeans.

I spent most of my time in the summer of 2001 sitting in my hot studio apartment, under-using my air conditioning because it cost too much. Sometimes I would go out to a local bar in Hell's Kitchen in New York -- Rudy's -- that had, and has, free hot dogs. Possibly the same hot dogs, too.

Eventually, I broke down and begged my dad if I could work for him, doing anything. I had vowed years before that I would never do this, but my pride was gone. And of course I am extremely lucky that I had just such a fallback position. I do realize this.

My father had to let someone else go to hire me, but he did. This is when blood truly is thicker than not only water, but than anything. I saved up a few pennies, and then blew it all, once more, in a pointless and disastrous trip to Burning Man, but still, overall, things were looking up. I had fought unemployment, and it won. But as I slowly picked myself up I learned a lesson: I will never fire myself again.

I also learned another lesson, this one about love and self worth. You see, around this time, in late 2001, I went on a blind date with Randi. We met at a small, local bar, and had red wine. Conversation was easy and fun, and she had the most beautiful eyes and the kindest, sweetest face -- and still does. We then went on another date, and another. Even though I was broke, and felt like a loser who had missed his shot she still appreciated and wanted to be in my company. She liked me for who I was, and told me it didn't matter what I did. The lesson was clear: some people, the people who matter, care about you no matter what your career. And believe in you, no matter what.

Eventually I moved on from working for my dad, to working at a local cheese market. I was hungry to write again even if I wasn't physically hungry due to the copious amounts of free cheese I consumed during this multi-month stretch. I called my old newsletter back, and they invited me in for an interview. I put on my sharpest suit, the one they hired me in, and was told that they didn't actually need me. Crushed, I bowed my head in shame, feeling the fool. And old.

Eventually I got a job from the cheese market selling musical equipment, and from there, another job, at last, writing for a financial newsletter. I threw myself into the work this time. I was 30, and was tired of being my own worst enemy. It had been over two years since I'd last had a real writing job and I vowed to never take what I do well for granted ever again. And I vowed to never leave a job without having another one lined up.

From there I eventually upgraded to Forbes, and then Forbes.com. Not a moment too soon, either, as this second newsletter folded and few noticed.

For those unemployed folks supporting families my heart goes out to you. Everything suddenly is made of dollar signs, and you start mining your savings. It's not fun, but going through this grew me up the hard way. Twice.