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    • Meritocracy, What Meritocracy
      From Saez, Chetty, et al So, unless you think that genetic potential is that unequally distributed (and can explain eras where this chart did not apply, as in the post-WWII decades), you can pretty much forget “meritocracy.” Meritocracy is just a way of saying “we test for the things the middle and upper class has […]
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This creek smells funny. How did we get here?

Shit_Creek_
Imagine you were rowing your boat gently down the stream and one of the oars got caught in the hatch. What would happen? Logic suggests that the current would slowly move you downstream as you spun the boat in circles.

O.K. Rowboats don’t have hatches, but Orrin Hatch is a creature and a feature of the ship of state and it is people of his intellectual and moral quality who are spinning the boat in circles when it’s clearly in need of proper direction. In fact, abandoning the first metaphor, they’ve piloted the US up the creek to where it is today. When you’re up this creek, you need a paddle, not an Orrin.

In response to Charles Schumer’s statement, that the Democrats can pass healthcare reform without Republican support:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who joined Schumer on the show, said Democrats should not try to use reconciliation to force through a bill which could not overcome a filibuster in the Senate.

“If they use that, that would be an abuse of the process,” Hatch said. He also said creating a government health plan open to all would be a grave mistake. “If we do that, we’ll bankrupt the country.”

Earth to Orrin. What do you think you’ve been actively working at for the last 8 years? What do you think lying to the public to make a war in Iraq, and loosely regulating the financial community, have to do with the current economic situation?

The Republican Party set the stage for bankrupting the nation by adopting neo-conservatism as its political philosophy. Neo-conservatism, which is conservatism without moral and intellectual grounding, is bankrupt at the conceptual level, so it’s hardly surprising that Bush’s application of its principles gutted the economy of the nation. It’s also why so many Republicans continue working to bankrupt the nation by applying the principles they say prevent bankruptcy.

Ideologues whose brains can’t get beyond binaries are incapable of accepting the empirical world when it conflicts with their beliefs. One such belief is that public healthcare would bankrupt the economy, when every study ever published in The New England Journal of Medicine on the topic shows that public healthcare is more efficient and cost effective than private healthcare.

With people like Orrin at the helm, there is no reason to wonder why the country is up the creek. I can think of at least two good uses for a paddle.

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Sunday Afternoon at the Confluence: Naptime Edition

Wow.  What a night.  All I can say is I did not get much sleep and I’m already on the verge of passing out.  To accompany your journey through the rest of our virtual Sunday paper, I’m leaving you some donuts and coffee which is about all I can muster. Enjoy!

73347767

Funny & Addictive Websites

*If you thought trucks just spilled chemicals and food, think again.  This website provides photographic evidence of some unusual and some pretty gross Truck Spills, including horse blood, entrails, and rocket parts.

*Find out what stories were on the cover of Time Magazine when you were born at this site: Time Magazine Covers.  Just put in the week of your birthday and viola’, the archived cover for that time period will appear with a click.

Arts & Leisure

*img-Kempton 0221Female Artist Profile: This week’s artist is Greta Kempton, (1903-1991) known as the American DaVinci.

Greta Kempton was one of the greatest unheralded artists of the 20th century. Though she excelled in high society portraits, she also painted florals, still lifes, landscapes, and character studies. With a command of a diverse range of styles, her work has been compared to Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir and Degas.

Her portraits, such as those of the Truman family are considered national treasures, earning her the title of The Capital’s Court Painter.

A lady Leonardo da Vinci of American art, Greta Kempton was a national treasure, revered in her time as “the Capital’s Court Painter.” Though best known for her portraits of President Harry S Truman and his family, she painted political leaders, corporate giants and everyday people in a style that has been compared to the best works of Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir and Degas. Kempton was elected a Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, was a Life Fellow of the International Kappa Pi Art Fraternity, and a Life Member of the Empire Chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters, Washington, D.C. Her works are in the collections of the White House, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Harry S Truman Library, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, the National Portrait Gallery, and many other institutions.

Many of her paintings can be viewed at this link.

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*Andy Warhol’s painting of Michael Jackson sold at auction this week for an undisclosed amount.  The amount is rumored to be 1 million; however, collectors have paid as high as $71 million for one of Warhol’s paintings, with Marilyn Monroe’s image holding the portrait record take at $28 million.

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*These sculptures by Peter Jansen bring motion to life.

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*One man’s mold is another man’s art.  This Russian photographer has found a way to express the beauty in these images of Slime Mold.

Travel

*When traveling to the beautiful and mountainous national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite, I tend to get a tad bit nervous about the dangers of being so close to 3000 foot drop offs.  While my family finds my anxiety humorous, it appears my fears may be well found.  In Michael P. Ghiglieri’s new book Tales of Yosemite’s Fatal Attraction, the foolishness of forgetting nature’s dangerous landscape is detailed – and I feel vindicated.

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For those who can’t get enough of the porcelain water closet, this week’s weird place to visit is the American Sanitary Plumbing Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts.  This collection of all things toilet will certainly satisfy any potty lover’s quest.

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*If you’re ever in Canada’s Yukon Territory, you might want to stop by the Sourdough Saloon in Dawson City for a Sour Toe Cocktail.

There’s even a bit of history behind the “first toe.” (just in case you were interested)

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*After seeing this slideshow of strange and often grotesque sea creatures, I’ve decided to cross swimming in the ocean off my vacation things-to-do list.

Food & Wine

*Yum! (or as Rachel Ray says, Yum O!) Who doesn’t love peanut butter? An article in this week’s New York Times offers some history about and ideas for enjoying the beloved spread.

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*Feeling like getting a little bit exotic in the kitchen?  Why not try cooking with culinary lavender?  If you’ve never tried it, now’s your chance.   I’ve made this and it’s delicious!  Lavender Creme’ Brulee.  All you need (in addition to that torchie thing) is:

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

Or for an intriguing substitute for cocktail “simple syrup,” try whipping up some Lavender Syrup.

Some things to make you go hmmm…

*Try these tips on “How to Win Any Argument.”  Suggestions run the gamut from “make things up” to “using snappy and irrelevant comebacks” and of course the ubiquitous “compare your opponent to Hitler.”

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*If you thought Michael Jackson was the only male celebrity with a plastic surgery problem, think again.  Here are 15 male celebrities who’ve jumped the shark with their facial do-overs.  Male plastic surgery gone awry.

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*This collection of 10 photographs  bring you the last moments of some of the world’s most famous and/or notorious moments and people, including the last pictures taken of Marilyn Monroe and Hitler.  10 Fascinating Last Pictures Taken

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*After you’ve viewed those “last photographs” check out these little known audio  recordings.  Here you’ll find mp3’s files with recordings of Florence Nightingale, Jim Jones, and a Russian exorcism.  10 Incredible Recordings.

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* Oh goodness!  Maybe it’s time to clean out the fridge!  Exploding fridge wrecks woman’s house. Apparently the cause remains a mystery.

What I’d really like to know is where the heck did she find a kitchen appliance with an 8 year warranty?

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*WTH?  Omarosa has a new “calling??”  Omarosa’s call to ministry not as odd as it seems. Uh, yes it is.  Methinks the celeb media was not paying enough attention to The Apprentice’s “mean girl.”

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*This story gives new meaning to the phrase “cavity search”: Obese Texas inmate uses his flab to hide gun.

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*Aww c’mon, it can’t be that bad can it?  Bride spends first night with a crate of vodka.

The Final Word

*Oooops!  Beloved husband & dad is mourned — too bad it’s not his body in the casket!

Eventually the mistake was discovered…But it gets worse.  The bungling morticians couldn’t even get the do-over right.

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Happy Sunday everyone!  What’s on your mind today?

Your Breakfast Read, Sunday Edition

Kudos To The NY Times

This week’s NY Times Magazine is truly special. The entire edition is dedicated to the plight of women around the world. Nick Kristof, op-ed columnist at the Old Gray Lady has been doing a spectacular job on that front. He has brought us all kinds of heart wrenching and heart warming stories from different parts of the world.
Along with former Times correspondent Sheryl WuDunn, Kristof has co-authored Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The essay linked to here, is adapted from that book.
The Women’s Crusade

IN THE 19TH CENTURY, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.

Yet if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. “Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos.

Hillary Clinton has been derided for making women’s issues one of the signatures of her tenure at Foggy Bottom. Krauthammer mocked her for being in the Congo while the real foreign policy was happening in Afghanistan, some pundit said she was making the job a 1st lady should be doing and not a SoS.
Why should the US making women equality across the world a moral imperative? Why should the US call attention to women abuse across the world? Why is Hillary bugging people with this “useless women stuff”?
Hillary Clinton’s Latest Campaign

Hillary Rodham Clinton staked her claim as an advocate for global women’s issues in 1995, when, as first lady, she gave an impassioned speech at a United Nations conference in Beijing. As secretary of state, she pushed to create a new position, ambassador at large for global women’s issues, and recruited Melanne Verveer, her former chief of staff, to fill it. And she has drawn attention to women at nearly every stop in her travels, most recently on an 11-day visit to Africa, during which, among other things, she went to eastern Congo to speak out against mass rape.

Speaking of Hillary Clinton
It’s 3 a.m. Do You Know Where Hillary Clinton Is? (h/t TC commenter joseyj)

She’s not answering those crisis calls at the White House. But she’s quietly revolutionizing American foreign policy.


Heath Care Nightmare

It was about time.
Concern, Doubts From the Left on Obama’s Health-Care Plan

Through most of the summer, opposition to President Obama and his health-care initiative has come almost entirely from the right. In the past week, however, the president has been trying to tamp down a noisy uprising on the left.

The immediate cause for the rebellion is growing concern among Obama’s progressive allies that he is prepared to deal away the public insurance option to win passage of a health-care bill. Obama insists that he still prefers the public option as part of any legislative package, but some friends on the left now clearly doubt his resolve.

This story was been pushed by opponents of HC reform and Chris Matthews relentlessly.
Abortion wars intensify over healthcare reform

Anti-abortion groups are posting videos and running ads saying that health-reform legislation in Congress would mandate federal funding of abortions. Pro-abortion rights groups – and President Obama – say that’s false. Two independent truth-squad groups, Factcheck.org and Politifact.org, also call the claim false, but Politifact acknowledges that the issue of federal subsidies for abortion is a more difficult question.

This is a tough issue.
Why Racial Profiling Persists in Medical Research

Experts within the research community say a small but stubborn streak of racial profiling has long persisted in the medical literature, borne out in studies that attribute health disparities between blacks and whites not to socioeconomics or access to health care alone but also to genetic differences between the races — a concept that implies that a biological category of race exists.

This is the man to save the day?
Daschle Has the Ear of the White House and the Health Industry

[T]hese days it often seems as if Mr. Daschle never left the picture. With unrivaled ties on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, he talks constantly with top White House advisers, many of whom previously worked for him.

He still speaks frequently to the president, who met with him as recently as Friday morning in the Oval Office. And he remains a highly paid policy adviser to hospital, drug, pharmaceutical and other health care industry clients of Alston & Bird, the law and lobbying firm.

Competition lacking among private health insurers

One of the most widely accepted arguments against a government medical plan for the middle class is that it would quash competition — just what private insurers seem to be doing themselves in many parts of the U.S.

Several studies show that in lots of places, one or two companies dominate the market. Critics say monopolistic conditions drive up premiums paid by employers and individuals.


Around The Nation

Why won’t this guy joust resign to go spend more time with is true soulmate? Or his family? This is turning into a death by 1000 cuts.
Sanford’s difficulties mounting

As talk of impeachment grows, the S.C. Ethics Commission said Friday it would consider probing new claims Gov. Mark Sanford failed to report private plane flights provided by friends and political groups.
[…]
The Associated Press reported Friday that Sanford has taken 35 trips on private planes since 2003 and failed to report on his ethics or campaign filings who paid for those rides.

An investigation that concludes Sanford violated state law could be used as the foundation for impeachment proceedings by House lawmakers when they come back into session in January.

Can any criticism of an individual or an institution still have some merits in this country? Had this “card” defense become the last refuge of the scoundrels?
Goldman Execs Blame Anti-Semitism

How worried are Goldman Sachs executives about their ability to manage the coming media tsunami when bonus season comes around?
Paranoia might not be too strong a word to describe the mind-set. People inside Goldman tell me that some senior executives say they believe the onslaught of negative stories detailing Goldman’s manifold ties to upper levels of government, charges that it somehow fraudulently profited from the subprime crisis, and now the press about the firm’s record earnings is so out of proportion to reality that the coverage contains an element of anti-Semitism—subtly playing off the racist myth of a conspiracy of Jewish bankers controlling the world for their own benefit

Meg Whitman is truly a brilliant person. She did a spectacular job at eBay. Please don’t lump her with Carli Fiorina who through sheer incompetence and pomposity almost sunk one of the greatest companies in history.
California GOP Pins Hopes on Ex-CEOs

After Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced a Democrat in 2003 to become California’s governor, fellow Republicans were hopeful the former movie hero’s popularity would help arrest a long decline here.

But six years later, Republican voter registration continues to fall, and now many in the party are pegging their hopes on two former corporate chief executives: Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina.


Economy Watch

Even with all the administrative snafus, “C4C” has been a smashing success.
Scrambling for Deals as ‘Clunkers’ Winds Down

The program, which by Friday had received applications for nearly half a million cars, restored the frenetic, crackling energy that many dealerships had been lacking for months.

Has the economic downfall stopped? Has the recovery begun? What should we still be afraid of? Why are we still losing jobs?
You can find the answers in the articles below.
World Bankers Suggest Rebound May Have Begun

Central bankers from around the world expressed growing confidence on Friday that the worst of the financial crisis was over and that a global economic recovery was beginning to take shape.
[…]
Though the Fed chairman repeated his warning that the economic recovery here was likely to be slow and arduous and that unemployment would remain high for another year, he went beyond the central bank’s most recent statement that economic activity was “leveling out.” Speaking to central bankers and economists at the Fed’s annual retreat here in the Grand Tetons, Mr. Bernanke echoed the growing relief among European and Asian central bankers that their own economies had already started to rebound.

New signs raise hopes for recovery

The strongest monthly home sales increase in a decade and an encouraging economic assessment from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke have provided new support for the hope that recovery from the worst recession in decades may be at hand.

Commercial Credit Crunch Means We May Not Be Out of This Yet

You’ve probably heard that the nation’s financial system is out of the intensive care unit but still requires enough support that it’s not ready to be released from the hospital. A big reason: the fear of a relapse caused by the collapse of the commercial real estate market.

Did central bankers wait too long to intervene in the crisis and once they did, were they too timid?
ECB, Fed Defend Responses to Global Financial Crisis

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet defended his institution against criticism that he’s been too cautious in combating the deepest economic slump since the 1930s.

The policies of the world’s major central banks, led by Trichet, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa, were scrutinized by economists at the annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this weekend sponsored by the Kansas City Fed.


Around The World

“War on terror 2.0” is shaping up to just another rendition of “War on terror 1.0”
Marines Fight Taliban With Little Aid From Afghans

In a region the Taliban have lorded over for six years, and where they remain a menacing presence, American officers say their troops alone are not enough to reassure Afghans. Something is missing that has left even the recently appointed district governor feeling dismayed. “I don’t get any support from the government,” said the governor, Massoud Ahmad Rassouli Balouch.

Taliban cut off fingers of Afghan voters

Making good on a threat of election day violence, the Taliban sliced off the index fingers of at least two people in Kandahar province, according to a vote monitoring group.

Gaddafi is a clown, but no one is laughing

The Libyan leader needs the West more than the West needs him. His brutal and corrupt regime is under pressure


Op-ed Columns

The NY Times is out today with a smashing editorial. They take one of the Right-wing tropes about the number of uninsured. These guys are on a roll today.
The Uninsured

No matter how you slice the numbers, there are tens of millions of people without insurance, often for extended periods, and there is good evidence that lack of insurance is harmful to their health.

Scores of well-designed studies have shown that uninsured people are more likely than insured people to die prematurely, to have their cancers diagnosed too late, or to die from heart failure, a heart attack, a stroke or a severe injury. The Institute of Medicine estimated in 2004 that perhaps 18,000 deaths a year among adults could be attributed to lack of insurance.

Who knew TNR could still come up with an editorial like this? I know it would take more for them to make up for sabotaging the UHC ’93.
Long live the death of bipartisanship!

In the last few months, few political spectacles have been more unnerving than the sight of President Obama and his allies lowering their ambitions, bit by bit, in a painfully futile effort to win support from Republicans.The pattern was on perfect display this week. One of the biggest flash points in the reform debate concerns whether to create a public insurance plan–a government-run program, like Medicare, that would compete with private insurers for business. Liberals (including those at this magazine) love the idea, because they think a government plan will be more reliable, not to mention cheaper. Conservatives hate the idea, because they fear a government-run program will run private insurers out of business. As an effort to forge a consensus, some Democrats have suggested ditching the public plan and, instead, creating a set of consumer-run, nonprofit health care cooperatives. The hope was that these co-ops would be more acceptable to the GOP, since they wouldn’t be government-run. But the hope turned out to be baseless. As the idea started to gain momentum, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl held a conference call to denounce the co-ops as government-run insurance by another name. He and his colleagues weren’t budging.

T.R. Reid goes the extra mile to clear up the misinformation and the ignorance polluting our health care debate.
5 Myths About Health Care Around the World

As Americans search for the cure to what ails our health-care system, we’ve overlooked an invaluable source of ideas and solutions: the rest of the world. All the other industrialized democracies have faced problems like ours, yet they’ve found ways to cover everybody — and still spend far less than we do.

I’ve traveled the world from Oslo to Osaka to see how other developed democracies provide health care. Instead of dismissing these models as “socialist,” we could adapt their solutions to fix our problems. To do that, we first have to dispel a few myths about health care abroad

Another economist for a 2nd stimulus.
Don’t Let the Stimulus Lose Its Spark

ENCOURAGING economic news has been reanimating the critics of President Obama’s stimulus program. But heeding their admonition to end the program would be a grave mistake. We need more stimulus now, not less.

Even if the economy is improving, it is still very weak. Another quarter-million jobs were lost last month, and even the most optimistic economists predict that it will be many more months, if not years, before robust employment growth resumes. Now we face an ominous new threat to recovery from sharp cuts in state and local government spending.


Have a Nice Sunday!!!

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It’s Time to Downsize the US

Alexander_cuts_the_Gordian_KnotIn difficult circumstances, such as the current economic crisis, it’s normal to work out how one got there as a means to avoid repeating the process. In the current situation, the discussion seems to range between those who feel that the situation is already working itself out, to those who feel that structural dangers remain and proper regulation is required, to those who feel that the problems were the result of regulation and government programs in the first place.

Count me somewhat on the side of the last group. I say somewhat because I think that the problem has to with the inappropriateness of the regulations that were employed, but unlike them I do not think that the problem is humans using morals and reason to regulate the marketplace. In other, more localized, words, I reject the notion that the Tenth Amendment prohibits spending programs and regulations.

My sense is that the regulations that were deployed to prevent economic disaster were structurally and functionally inadequate because they half-heartedly represented the Great American Project as manifest in the Constitution of the United States. The problem with the regulations wasn’t that they were half-hearted. That half-heartedness is symptom of the larger problem. They were structurally and functionally inadequate because the US can no longer afford to provide its citizens the rights and freedoms guaranteed in its Constitution. The regulations failed because they had a relationship to expectations that are suited to an America that does not exist, in an economic sense. The problems with the public education system, illegal immigration, crime and punishment, and social security, to name a few, are all relatively easy to solve, once the very costly, burdensomeness of the Constitution is overcome. It’s time for America to wake up and downsize its’ dream, the dreams of its citizens, and smell the aroma of the box store, bulk size, generic coffee reality that its best and its brightest have packaged for Uncle Sam’s future.

Downsizing America

Given the economic realities of the new US of A, what aspects of the American vision should no longer be seen as part of the covenant between the citizens and their government? A quick look at some fundamentals of democracy should provide some context about what avenues should be open to being cut. Then the process of contracting out the bureaucratics to the private sector can begin. This said, these are preliminary thoughts, so all that I will provide is a rough and general sketch.

Democracy is expensive and inefficient, even when it’s practised by politicians who are not neo-conservative Republicans. This is unsurprising by design. After all, it’s said that, in an ideal democracy, the populace is educated, they have access to all of the information they need to make a good decision, and they are free to make that decision. How does this ideal fare when it faces the real world?

Immediately, one is struck by the gross redundancy in the ideal system. Providing that much information to so many amounts to an excessive effort for minuscule return. The set of possible decisions for any question is extremely limited, given the options for action, and polling research has already proven that we only need small sample populations to get the gist of what people want. In fact, given the history of their wants, and given the nature of the question, there is probably no need to poll them further because it should be derivable from past decisions. The cost savings to be gained by dismantling the information network should be substantial. Mainstream media can remain as is.

The efficacy of sampling also suggests a direction for schooling provision. Once again, the system is entirely redundant. Imagine, though it’s a laughable thought, that a university degree was all the education one needed to be capable of making good decisions. What do you think it would cost to bring the 71% of Americans who do not have a degree, into the range of democratic competence? How could it possibly be worth the cost? In fact, apart from the decreasing number of specialty jobs that actually require a well-schooled employee, there is no good reason to maintain anything, but a shell of the existing system, apart from creating athletes for the circus part of social diversion. This is because we can use the same polling methodology and randomly choose children from the masses to receive schooling similar to the one that is provided today, and then poll them to find what the rest would have wanted, if they had the schooling.

Given the earlier recommendation of using past polling to extrapolate their wants, this process is admittedly redundant, but it does double duty in terms of providing training for the small percentage of jobs that actually require advanced schooling. Then again, perhaps it is wasteful to randomly select children, as this disregards the advantages of choosing children who are more likely to do well at university, based on their family background. Given past polling, it’s probably best to err on the side of efficiency. The point to take here is that there is no value in giving people more schooling than they need to do the small range of relatively unskilled jobs that await them. Furthermore, think of the dissatisfaction that is avoided when people don’t have enough education to be hired below their level of training.

If the vast majority of people are no longer making decisions, then there’s no reason to prop up the facade that they actually are involved in decision-making. If voter turnout is any indication, many will appreciate avoiding the exercise. To be fair, eternal vigilance is an unwieldy burden to bear, if the only benefits people accrue is to not have decisions made for them by their betters.

In fact, if they are not needed for decision-making, their representatives are redundant for the same structural reasons. The cash to be gained, by trading in the clunker of a public decision-making structure, should be sigificant.

All of these actions would save the economy trillions and once again put America front and center as an economic powerhouse, through the tax dollars it would free up and save. At the same time, it would give Americans a leg up on the rest of the developed/undeveloping world, by readying its citizens for a life of diminished possibilities long before the others face the challenge, should they.

The Constitution is in the way of progress in the US, to the extent it promotes the values of the ideal democracy. Perhaps it was prescient to send home Churchhill’s bust because his notion that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”, seems to have gone bust for America.

chrwsbwp

This is “a frayed thread” in honor of GW’s administration crying wolf at election time.

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