Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Bill Maher Needs A Few Clues About Socialism - And Millennials

Maher grins like a shit-eating rat as he tries now to 'shiv' socialism.

After giving a solid takedown of run- amuck capitalism in an earlier show, Bill Maher ran off he rails Friday night dumping on millennial pro-Socialists asserting "they are getting too used to getting too much shit for free". How so, Bill, when most are coming away with enormous college debt? Well, someone IS getting lots of free breaks - but it isn't millennials!

As a socialist I also found repulsive his claim that they (millennials) are "romanticizing" socialism, making me now wonder if his HBO (Time-WARNER) corporate overseers got to him and ordered him to back off the initial remarks and  bark a new script: "The Neoliberalism is all we can afford" version. The one that's dunned and dinged the middle class the past three decades even though many aren't aware of it because they don't grasp the differences between a Neoliberal and classical liberal.

First, let's remind ourselves what Maher said when he had his head screwed on straight:

""America's real religion is capitalism, and like any religion it needs a devil. And that devil has always been socialism....Republicans think if you allow a little socialism it will spread out of control. But actually it's capitalism that has spread out of control. It's eaten our democracy and it's eating our middle class - our health care system, our prison system, our news media. It's even eaten our food system so a lot of our food is no longer something that should be eaten

Capitalism is a shark, or a tidal wave...an unthinking force that devours everything in its path. Socialism is capitalism's 'lap band' - something to prevent it from eating almost everything"  -

To reinforce those points I incorporated Maher's 'New Rules' end monologue into a post on the savagery of current capitalism especially in the medical arena, noting that spiking prescription drug prices no longer even bears any relation to the laws of supply and demand. See e.g.


But Maher's main grousing about "freebies" concerned millennial backers of Bernie's proposal of free tuition. One would have hoped before Bill teed off he'd at least have checked  The Wall Street Journal article from  (Feb. 24, p. A6) that dealt with Sanders himself  benefiting from a free tuition plan at Brooklyn College in 1959. We learn, in fact, that:

"Eighteen year old Bernie Sanders didn't pay for tuition for his freshman  year and neither did 8,000 other undergraduates."

We further learn that "New York City's public colleges didn't charge for  tuition back then for students who attended full time during the day."

How  on Earth could this be achieved? The answer was also embedded in the piece, which provides a perspective on the history of free tuition though it is inappropriately titled 'Sanders's Free Tuition Failed Cost Test In The Past'.  On the contrary, free tuition succeeded in passing the cost test in the past precisely because "free tuition colleges flourished at a time when student enrollment was small."

In other words, when college was still regarded as the province of the select, academically able - it was workable. It isn't now because virtually everyone considers college  the only ticket to a better life. But this is belied by the facts that: a) Many incoming students require remedial courses (e.g. in math, English)  just to get on a basic academic footing - driving up costs, and b) a large number (in some cases nearly 60 percent) drop out but still have massive loans to pay off.  Both these problems and expanding college costs could be managed in a Sanders-type free tuition program by reducing the total population enrolling using qualifying markers.

These are the sort of nuanced aspects that elude those who bash democratic socialism. It also eludes them when any mention is made of having a single payer, 'Medicare for all' system which Sanders has also proposed. But as my wife learned, now engaging in the effort to get an analogous system passed into law here in Colo., the costs automatically plummet - sometimes as much as 85% - when insurance companies are factored out of the system. The reason is that these parasites are the ones responsible for the gigantic administration costs which programs like Medicare don't have.

Anti-Medicare for all yappers, like Claire McCaskill last year, also seem to forget that enrollees would not get carte blanche free services. They'd have to pay a standard Medicare -scale premium each month as well as copays for prescription drugs and at least one fifth of the cost of medical operations, interventions - from prostate cancer treatments to gall bladder removals. In addition no dental expenses or eye problems, glasses would be covered.

 Back to Sanders' free college tuition proposal. Short of prospective students running the qualifying test gauntlet the most affordable way to implement such a system would be by use of community colleges as opposed to four-year universities. This would provide a much more accessible route for many not able to get into trade or vocational schools, and also cut costs immensely. (And look, let's be clear when Bernie proposed his plan he never intended it to mean free tuition at selective schools like Harvard or Princeton, he meant for public institutions)

While he mentioned 4-year colleges, it does make more sense to implement the program by using two year schools first and then see where that goes. If a success, then limited 4 -year colleges can be brought into the mix.  But I absolutely reject the notion that even that tuition can't be paid for! Sanders proposed a tax on all stock trades,  transactions but even a limited version - say for all hedge fund trades - could work wonders in bringing in the necessary $$$.

 In line with this it makes eminent sense to make more use of the community college system and tailor HS guidance counseling to seriously consider the A.A. degree as opposed to pushing unqualified students into 4 year schools.  In his Dec. 14, 2014 piece on community colleges used for Voc-tech preparation,  Denver Post education columnist Dick Hilker quoted Rhonda Bentz (Colorado's media and government relations director) :

"the Voc-Technical route is the educational system's best kept secret. Students come for two year degrees and then get real jobs."

As Hilker goes on to note:

"In other words there are solid alternatives to spending big bucks at Big State U. to major in Tibetan Culture or Music Appreciation before winding up as a clerk at Mega-Mart."

A brutally frank observation, but one which no rational person can dispute.

What does this all add up to? Well, that lenders need to be much more rigorous in terms of lending qualifications. It makes no sense to loan to those who are much more likely to struggle in completing a 4 -year degree, and also have trouble repaying the loan. If anything is being "romanticized" then it's not socialism per se but overblown expectations of 4-year degrees for the bulk of students who'd do much better with just A.A. degrees.

 All this means getting rid of the fanciful expectation that "college is for everyone". It therefore implies the corollary that free college tuition cannot be for everyone.  Of course, Sanders's Policy Director (Warren Gunnels) during the campaign was not fond of this solution because, well, it lacks the "broad appeal" of just making tuition free to everyone without qualification. That implied Bernie wouldn't get as many young backers, but then it also meant his campaign would have been more grounded in reality and less liable to attacks by fiscal critics- and comedian schmucks (like Maher)  who brand it a "freebie".

  I also don't buy Gunnel's worry that if the policy isn't broad most people will treat it as a special "welfare program". Exactly the converse is true. Only IF the program implemented is initially limited (e.g. to 2-year colleges) and has markers of fiscal responsibility - including holding students accountable in their performance- will it not be seen as "welfare" - as Maher seems to believe it is.

 It won't be because in order to qualify the recipients will have to demonstrate decent academic requirements like at least a 3.0 grade average and a minimal SAT score , say in the upper quartile.  The last is especially more justified now as SAT standards have been melted down to the point there's no longer even an essay portion, guessing is no longer penalized and the multiple choice options have been reduced to 4, from 5. I mean, cheese Louise! But then the SAT is no longer even regarded as a scholastic aptitude test, see e.g.

 In addition, if high standards aren't kept up, judging the GPA after the first semester or more likely the first year, then the recipient stands to lose the free tuition. So in other words we have a meritocratic tuition program, not simply a mindless 'gimme' free for all

This is how Bernie's free tuition program could work, and though its expectations have been  dramatically lowered from the stratosphere, they are more in line with fiscal and educational reality.  It can also be more aggressively defended as a practical solution and not just socialist jabberwocky or inflated political promising.

The bottom line is that no free tuition program should be expected for students not academically inclined in the first place, or who need remedial courses just to catch up with peers. Or those likely to drop out before completing their degrees.

In the meantime Maher needs to STFU about Millennials grafting for "free stuff" and examine the practical basis of how such a system could be expedited with minimal damage to the economy. It is feasible but there must exist a will to do it!

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