Monthly Archives: October 2015

Bill Clinton concedes role in mass incarceration

CNN has the video Bill Clinton concedes role in mass incarceration.

In listening to the justification that statistics show that a small number of criminals are responsible for a large number of crimes, does Bill Clinton show the tiniest understanding that many of the repeat offenses committed by these “criminals” are manufactured by the police? Like Sandra Bland’s great crime of not signalling a right turn, once you have been caught for doing something, you are forever targeted for anything else you might do that most people would never get charged for.

Think about the quote from a previous post Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks. The word “this” in the quote below could be equally well applied to the statistics that Clinton uses to justify why he thought at the time that mass incarceration was a good idea.

This breaks a cardinal rule of any research involving statistics: you cannot find your hypothesis in your results. … If your hypothesis comes from analyzing the data, then there is no sense in analyzing the same data again to confirm it.

Now you are ready to watch the following video and fully appreciate it.

None of the candidates can take great comfort from what Dr. Watkins says here. There is a temptation to feel that at least the other candidate is worse than you are on this issue, but nobody should be satisfied to be just the lesser of two evils. I suppose this also does not let us supporters of these candidates off the hook either.

The only thing to take away from this is to listen and learn, and then try to do something about it. Dr. Watkins has some suggestions. Maybe a candidate can pick up and run with some of them.

Why 5 x 3 = 5 + 5 + 5 Was Marked Wrong

The Medium has the article Why 5 x 3 = 5 + 5 + 5 Was Marked Wrong: Viral Common Core Math Problem Explained. My issue with the common core math is whether or not you can prepare teachers to teach it any better than (or even as well as) you can prepare teachers to teach math the traditional way.

I debunk the answer given in the article.

In this case, the answer was marked wrong by an ill-prepared teacher. The equals versus equivalency is a completely bogus justification for marking the answer wrong.

Use the repeated addition strategy to solve 5 X 3.

5 x 3 = 3 x 5 = 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 = 5 + 5 + 5 = 15.

Of the five ways of expressing the number, all five are equivalent. There is no core mathematics principle that says adding 3 five times is more right than adding 5 three times. The order of scalar multiplication is commutative. Teaching that all five are equivalent, or letting the student find out that they are all equivalent is a very important underlying mathematical principle, called commutivity, that is essential for students of more advanced math to know.

The order of matrix multiplication is not commutative. That is an important distinction to recognize. The matrix multiply example below shows that changing the order of multiplying two matrices changes the result. This example can be downloaded into Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet program to check the formulae to see whether I have done the multiply correctly.

So what is true about one kind of multiplication is decidely not true of the other. To use one to show the principle of the other is to misunderstand matrix arithmetic.

This is a definite example of why we shouldn’t have math phobic teachers trying to teach math. They can see the examples in the teacher’s guide, but they really don’t understand the principles.

Note: Using matrices is a good way to express the solving of simultaneous equations. It is something that I spent half of an electrical engineering career doing. That is, I maintained and modified a computer program that solved the circuit equations of integrated circuits. Just about every integrated circuit design has been analyzed by a computer program like the ones I was responsible for. First I did it in several IC design companies and then I did it in companies that sold this type of software to these IC design companies.

If you do find an error in my math, don’t worry. I am retired, and don’t do this kind of work anymore. I assure you that when I did this kind of work, I had the math right.

House Elects Paul Ryan as New Speaker

<sarcasm>That bastion of liberalism</sarcasm>, The Wall Street Journal, has the article House Elects Paul Ryan as New Speaker.

The most ambitious plans in Mr. Ryan’s idea chest are based on a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps philosophy that inflames Democrats as much as it energizes Republicans. In closed-door meetings with House Republicans, Mr. Ryan has said he wants to overhaul the tax code, replace President Barack Obama’s health law, and rewrite federal poverty programs—and in the process draw a contrast with Democrats heading into the 2016 presidential election.

It is easy to figure out where he got some of his cockamamie ideas.

The Conversation has the article What should we make of Paul Ryan’s fondness for Ayn Rand?

Paul Ryan, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin who was just elected speaker of the US House of Representatives, has acknowledged his admiration for novelist Ayn Rand.

As an older teenager, I was taken in by reading Ayn Rand’s books, so I understand how easy it was to be duped by her.

What Ayn Rand didn’t say, and Paul Ryan doesn’t seem to understand, is something I learned as a sophomore in college. Some people just don’t have bootstraps.

I wonder if Paul Ryan would consider it worthwhile to have government supplied bootstraps for those who don’t have them. What Republicans and Paul Ryan refuse to get is that the Head Start program was meant to do exactly that, give culturally deprived (as they used to say) children their first pair of bootstraps.

It’s not that these children don’t already have enough intelligence to figure out how to make it and perhaps survive in the environment in which they find themselves. The problem is that they have no way of knowing about the existence of another environment and the possibility of getting to it. That knowledge is the very bootstraps that Paul Ryan thinks people ought to use to pull themselves up.

So this brings me to a recent example that might have some relation to boot-straps. The New York Daily News has the article Life is even harder now for the South Carolina teen assaulted by ex-Deputy Ben Fields — she’s in foster care.

In an interview with the Daily News, Todd Rutherford, the respected Columbia, S.C., attorney representing the assault victim of the recently terminated Deputy Ben Fields, revealed that his client, in addition to suffering injuries on her face, neck, and arm, is living in foster care.

The “adults” in the school may not have had the time or inclination to learn that this girl may be so traumatized by the experiences she has already had, that she doesn’t even know she should be looking for her bootstraps.

While her identity, no doubt, will eventually be leaked to the media, it’s the goal of her foster mother to protect and care for her as well as she can considering the circumstances, according to her lawyers. She communicated to us that the young victim is devastated and emotionally traumatized by all that has happened to her.

It looks like her foster mother is trying to give this girl what she has been missing in her life. The “adults” at the school just don’t seem to be willing to help. In a way, these “adults” may also be considered culturally deprived – of any sympathy let alone empathy.

About the School Resource Officer in South Carolina

The Daily Kos has the article About the School Resource Officer in South Carolina.

Best practices: If a student is refusing to obey a teacher or officer’s directive, rephrase the directive as a choice. For instance, the teacher or officer might calmly say to the student, “You have a choice. You can either come with me to the office to talk about your disruptive behavior or you can continue to sit here, and your refusal to comply will add more days to your suspension.” At no point should they invade the student’s personal space as that will only escalate the situation. They must wait for the student to comply. They should consider calling the school counselor or other professionals trained in dealing with students with emotional disorders.

In an email conversation I had with Jim Zavistoski, I said that what the police officer did was completely wrong, but what should he have done in that situation? This article is what Jim sent me. The brief article in The Daily Kos has a faulty link (here is the correct link to Student Handbook of the Richland School in Columbia, SC).

Bill Gates: Only Socialism Can Save the Climate, ‘The Private Sector is Inept’

US Uncut has the story Bill Gates: Only Socialism Can Save the Climate, ‘The Private Sector is Inept’.

Gates even tacked to the left and uttered words that few other billionaire investors would dare to say: government R&D is far more effective and efficient than anything the private sector could do.

Who should no better than the guy who practically single-handedly held back the progress of the world-wide computer industry so that his rigged-market capitalism could make him a rich SOB?

China also produces more electricity from wind power sources than every nuclear power plant in the U.S. put together. China’s wind output powered 110 million homes in 2014, as its wind farms generated 16 percent more power than in 2013, and 77 gigawatts of additional wind power are currently under construction. China’s energy grid is currently powered by 100 gigawatts of green energy, and aims to double green energy output to 200 gigawatts by 2020.

Bill Gates wants the U.S. to be an additional green energy leader, and expresses hope that there may still be enough time for the U.S. to take green energy investment seriously, and that the public sector can be instrumental in preventing a 2-degree increase in global temperatures.

“I don’t think it’s hopeless, because it’s about American innovation, American jobs, American leadership, and there are examples where this has gone very, very well,” Gates said.

If any Republican candidate gets elected as the next President of the USA, then I think you can kiss the position of the US as a world leader, good-bye. Maybe it is our civic duty to do this world that favor. Even the wife of the guy that said “the age of big government is over” may be harmful to this country.

Elizabeth Warren Rips the Obama Administration on Puerto Rico

Mother Jones has the article Elizabeth Warren Rips the Obama Administration on Puerto Rico: After Obama finally rolled out a plan, Sen. Warren calls on the government to do more for the US colony.

“I think Treasury needs to step up and show more leadership here,” she said. “During the financial crisis, when the banks were in trouble, Treasury did a lot more than just bail them out. Treasury stretched the limits of its authority to make sure that the banks stay afloat. It helped broker deals between banks, it applied pressure to get parties to accept deals they may not have liked very much. It has done that in multiple other crises as well, and now the people of Puerto Rico are calling.”

Maybe Hillary Clinton can use some influence with her daughter and son-in-law to use their hedge fund influence to get the vulture funds to back off. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders can continue in his efforts to restructure the Rigged-Market Capitalism in this country to be more like a Fair-Market Capitalism with a skosh more Democratic Socialism.

The Brazen Ways the Charter School Industry Rips You Off

Alternet has the article The Brazen Ways the Charter School Industry Rips You Off: Charter schools have squandered or stolen millions of taxpayer dollars.

The yearlong investigation makes clear that many federal and state education officials have bought into the school privatization movement’s rhetoric that an intentional lack of public oversight, reporting and accountability enables school operators to efficiently and creatively bring education innovation to underserved communities. The report points out that state after state has adopted legislation transferring the oversight of charters—which are still public schools—from locally elected school boards to remote and newly created state “authorizer” offices. Even though this template was created and promoted by right-wing advocacy groups with deep anti-union sentiments, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, it has been embraced by blue and red states, as well as top federal education officials under the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
“What has evolved as a result of the more than $3.7 billion… the feds have spent fueling charters—plus other sums from states—is a classic example of ‘industry capture’ of the agencies charged with oversight by the industry they are tasked with overseeing,” CMD explains. “With such capture comes agency devotion to protecting funding, insulated by a lack of transparency about funding oversight and distorted through agency relationships with charter industry cheerleaders… That flexibility has allowed an epidemic of fraud, waste and mismanagement that would not be tolerated in public schools. Charters are policed—if they are policed at all—mainly by charter proponents.”

Doing away with oversight is a classical ploy of con artists to allow then to get away with their crimes. Of course they always claim that oversight will hamper the effectiveness of their programs. What they really mean is that oversight will hamper their efforts to con you.

The CMD report shatters the myth that the private sector always knows best how to do what is difficult and challenging for government. Its recommendations are timid when considering that its report shows public school privatizers can be as abuse-prone as the privatized prison industry or military contractors serving in war zones overseas. CMD is not calling for a pause or moratorium on continued charter school growth, simply for every level of government involved to track where the money is going and to publicly disclose it.

“This investigation reveals huge and continuing gaps in information provided to the public about federal and state tax dollars received by charters and how American taxpayer money is being spent,” the report concludes, adding that to respond “to these severe gaps” federal and state officials “should publish” annually detailed financial information about every school receiving government subsidies, as well as report any school that “never opens or closes voluntarily, or for any reason.”

Here is another example of moving activities from the Democratic Socialism sector of our social system to the Rigged-market Capitalism Sector. See my previous post New Terminology for Socio-Economic-Political Systems for a definition of these terms.

A Dangerous Cycle in Food Production

The New York Times has the article A Dangerous Cycle in Food Production.

Enormous fields devoted to just one crop leave bees with a diet that lacks variety, and is available only during the short window when that plant is in bloom. Efficient modern practices mean the patches of weeds and wildflowers that once provided feeding grounds for bees in and around farms are no longer available.

Sharon was reading this article when she said to me, “See, this is why I don’t want you to mow our field of wild flowers and weeds.”

I said, “OK, I get it. I guess we will only use our lawn tractor to plow the snow and to vacuum up the leaves in fall.” I am just waiting for the article that explains how bad the ecology is of clearing leaves and blowing snow. I may have to break out those cross-country skis and buy some snow shoes yet.

Bernie Sanders Full Speech at Iowa Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Dinner

YouTube has the video Bernie Sanders Full Speech at Iowa Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

I was afraid that when I got up today to read the news, I would find that the corporate media, in their parallel universe, would have heard a different speech. I was pleased to read The Washington Post article After a strong stretch for Clinton, Sanders turns more aggressive.

Aware of the new landscape, Sanders (I-Vt.) is drawing new and more aggressive contrasts with Clinton.

This is exactly what I noticed. He hasn’t changed his policy stances. If you have listened to as many of his speeches as I have, you won’t hear any new policy ideas in the current speech. However, you will hear a slightly different tone in how he articulates some of them.

This one quote is an example of the difference.

Quote from Bernie Sanders

If you still don’t get it, I will paraphrase. “Hillary Clinton had to agonize long and hard to figure out which side of this issue she was going to be on. On such a simple issue, do you want a President who doesn’t know almost immediately what the correct stance is? Does she have any principles you can depend on? Sure she says all the right things now, but what will she do once she is in office? Do you want to risk it?”

New Terminology for Socio-Economic-Political Systems

Here is the way I look at the current USA socio-economic-political system. Bernie Sanders is merely trying to get a better balance by shrinking the rigged-market capitalism, and increasing both the fair-market capitalism and the democratic socialism. He certainly is not in favor of dictatorial socialism.

Pie chart of current USA System

Notice that there is no category that has the word “free” in its name.

October 25, 2015

When I originally posted this, I did not publish the text of an article i was working on for fear that all the verbiage would cloud the point I wanted to make. Using some suggestions from Brian Selden, I think the article has been clarified a bit. Moreover, without some of the words, some of the point is lost. So here it is.

New Terminology for Socio-Economic-Political Systems

It helps to start out by quoting the preamble to the Consitution of the United States of America.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Democratic Socialism in the USA is part of promoting the general welfare. No other part of the Socio-Economic-Political system as described below has this mandate as its primary focus.

To explain what Bernie Sanders means by Democratic Socialism, we need to put that term in context with three new terms. The three new ones are Dictatorial Socialism, Rigged-Market Capitalism, and Fair-market Capitalism. There is no category with the word “free” in its title.

First I’ll describe what the Democratic Socialism of Bernie Sanders means to me. My simple explanation is that democratic socialism is the realization that people banding together in the form of government can accomplish some things better than the private sector can. To make sure that there are checks and balances on the power of government, we use democracy to run the government. With this definition of democratic socialism, it seems fairly obvious to me that the USA has always been a mix of democratic/socialism and various flavors of capitalism from its very inception. The proportions in the mix have varied over time.

How can you tell which things are the most likely to be best performed by government? The things where the overall welfare of the people is the main measurement of success, and profit is not the main measure.

For purposes of illustration we can think of the current Socio-Economic-Political system of the United States of America apportioned very roughly as something like the following pie chart of Figure 1. I think that Bernie Sanders’ main point is that the current balance among these sectors is way out of whack. A balance of the blue and the green, with minimal red and yellow would be preferable to what we have.

Figure 1: Rough Makeup of the Current USA system

Pie chart of current USA System

One of the points of the pie chart is to say that our current system already has a large dollop of Democratic Socialism. Below is a list of some things that you might think of putting in that category that we already have

Democratic Socialist Programs in The United States Of America
  • Retirement e.g. Social Security System, 401K, IRA
  • Health Care e.g. Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA for now
  • Regulation e.g. FDA, SEC
  • Enforcement – e.g. police, prisons, judicial system, district attorneys, attorneys general
  • Services e.g. post office, AMTRAK, public transportation
  • Infrastructure e.g. roads, water, sewer
  • Recreation e.g. national parks and monuments
  • Organizing e.g. Air traffic control, FCC
  • Education e.g. Pre-K through 12th grade schools, public colleges
  • Basic research e.g. NIH, National labs, NIST, DARPA
  • Defense e.g. Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard
  • Economic System Foundation e.g. The Federal Reserve Bank creating and regulating our money supply.
  • Fair and free elections

Let us round out the discussion by mentioning what might be in the other categories. You might notice that some people in our country experience some of these activities being in a different category from the experiences of majority, male, white, European descended, Christian, heterosexual citizens.

Fair-Market Capitalism
  • Small businesses
  • Worker co-ops
  • Local banks
  • Workers e.g. unionized, non-union
Rigged-Market Capitalism
  • Big banks
  • Multinational and other large corporations
  • Hedge funds
  • Tax loopholes for corporations and the rich
  • Easy bankruptcy for the rich, tough bankruptcy for the rest
  • Trade agreements solely for the benefit of the rich and their corporations
  • Stiff penalties for petty crime, but no penalties for white-collar crime on a massive scale
  • Student loans with tougher rules on the borrower than on borrowing for any other reason
  • Deregulation of all sorts corruptly bought and paid for by the formerly regulated
  • Corporate capture of the agencies intended to regulate them
  • Money in politics and corruption of elections
  • Supreme Court that gives imaginary rights to the rich and the powerful while they deny real rights to the rest
  • Patent and copyright protection way beyond what was intended in our Constitution
  • No worker protection for undocumented worker, for workers in “right to work” states, undermining the purpose of the NLRB.
  • Elimination of enforcement of anti-trust laws
  • The press and the media controlled by a small number of large corporations and the wealthy

For the next category we have to look outside our country for most of the examples. Some of these are examples of what people in the USA have been taught to think of when they hear the word socialism in any context. Dictatorial Socialism is generally characterized as having all important decisions made by a very small number of people over which the large majority of the population have no control.

Dictatorial Socialism
  • Military draft – were it to be reinstated in the USA
  • Unions with too much power – already eliminated in the USA
  • Government ownership of all industries and companies with no competition allowed
  • Government run labor “unions”
  • Government controlled press
  • Imprisonment at government whim
  • Confiscation of property without compensation
  • No checks and balances on government power
  • Police impunity to do whatever they want
  • Government control of religion