Lovely quote from Ernst Bloch in Jacobin magazine.

Posted: 2018/03/27 by Punkonomics (@dearbalak) in Uncategorized

That is why all improvers of our situation who merely concentrate on health are so petit-bourgeois and odd, the raw fruit and vegetable brigade, the passionate herbivores, or even those who practice special breathing techniques. All this is a mockery compared with solid misery, compared with diseases which are produced not by weak flesh but by powerful hunger, not by faulty breathing but by dust, smoke, and lead. Of course there are people who breathe correctly, who combine a pleasant self-assurance with well-ventilated lungs and an upright torso which is flexible to a ripe old age. But it remains a prerequisite that these people have money; which is more beneficial for a stooped posture than the art of breathing.
— Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope

Very important step in using blockchain tech for privacy

Posted: 2018/03/17 by Punkonomics (@dearbalak) in Uncategorized

The Empty Piety of the American Press (Chris Hedges)

Posted: 2018/03/12 by Punkonomics (@dearbalak) in Uncategorized
The press, giddy with its newfound sense of mission and purpose, is carrying out a moral crusade against Donald Trump. The airwaves and print have shed their traditional claims of “impartiality” and “objectivity.” They fulminate against Trump, charging—falsely—that he was elected because of Russian interference and

calling him a liar, ignorant and incompetent. They give airtime to his bitterest critics and bizarre associates, such as Omarosa Manigault-Newman, a onetime star of “The Apprentice” and now a fired White House aide, and Stormy Daniels, the porn actress who says she had a sexual relationship with Trump. It is great entertainment. It is great for ratings. It is great for profits. But it is not moral, and it is not journalism.

Guide to the right: Where and how the right wing is rising in Europe

Guide to the right: Where and how the right wing is rising in Europe
Italy has become the latest European country where a general election has brought about the rise of right-wing politicians. RT looks at a trend that’s growing across the EU.

The European Union is moving to the right side of the political spectrum. While left-wing officials, analysts and media blame anything from Russian bots to uneducated voters, the trend has been becoming more pronounced as elections take place across the bloc. Euroskeptic, anti-immigration and nationalist outlooks seem to be ever more appealing to the public.

To help you find your way in the changing political landscape, RT has put together a brief guide to the right-wing parties gaining clout in Europe: their agendas, leaders and the reasons of their success.


Italy voted on March 4, 2018 to elect lawmakers into both chambers of its parliament. At stake were the 630 seats in the lower Chamber of Deputies and 315 in the upper Senate. The result is projected to be a divided parliament, with a grand coalition necessary after immense gains for right-wing and anti-globalist forces.

The rising right

Lega (ex-Lega Nord) and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia pooled efforts in a center-right coalition that won about 37 percent of the vote for the lower house and 37.5 percent in the upper, to become the second-most powerful force in the Italian legislature.

With Italy on the receiving end of the overloaded cross-Mediterranean human smuggling routes, Lega’s anti-immigration message won it some 17.4 (17.6) percent, while the conservative Forza Italia and its controversial leader Silvio Berlusconi captured 14 (14.4) percent.

The Five Star Movement, which ended up the largest single party with over 32 percent in both chambers, sports a wider, “big tent” ideology, sharing the right coalition’s Euroskeptic tendencies.

The losers

This deals a powerful blow to Italy’s Democratic Party and its center-left following, which only mustered some 18.7 percent of support in the lower house and 19.2 percent in the upper. Stunned by the setback, the Democrats’ leader, former prime minister Matteo Renzi, announced his resignation.

UPDATE: Italy’s Renzi confirms resignation as Democratic Party leader after election defeat 


The October 15, 2017 election landed the Austrian government firmly in the hands of the right. Out of the 183 seats in the National Council, 113 ended up with the coalition lead by youngest-ever Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is 31 years old.

The rising right

Austrian People’s Party (OVP) was the biggest gainer with 31.5 percent of the vote. Kurz’s own charismatic image, his promises of tougher immigration control and a pushback against “political Islam” were enough to tip the balance, making the People’s Party the single largest in the Council. While previously governing in a grand coalition with the rival Social Democrats, its new-found clout is now united with the more hardline Freedom Party.

READ MORE: Freedom Party enters Austrian govt as anti-migrant sentiment creeps across Europe

The Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) is riding on a strong anti-immigration message, promising tighter border security in a country with one of Europe’s highest numbers of incoming asylum seekers per capita, and facing a sharp rise in crime by foreigners. It sealed 26 percent of the vote and a comfortable coalition partnership with Kurz’s OVP.

The losers

Number-on-number, the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPO) suffered no loss (the Greens bore the brunt of that), gaining 0.1 percent compared to 2013 (which did not translate into additional seats). The enormous blow it suffered came from the loss of coalition partner OVP, who decided to abandon the SPO’s pro-European, leftist agenda, resulting in a sharp turn to the right for the Austrian government.

Gains and losses

  • Austrian People’s Party (OVP): 62 seats (+15 from 2013)
  • Freedom Party of Austria (FPO): 51 seats (+11 from 2013)
  • Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPO): 52 seats (no change from 2013)


Germans went to the polls on September 24, 2017, to decide the composition of the 709-member Bundestag. What resulted was over five months without a government, as former allies drifted away from long-time Chancellor Angela Merkel and her liberal-conservative, pro-European Christian Democratic political alliance (CDU/CSU). The limbo eventually ended when the leftist Social Democratic Party (SPD) grudgingly agreed to re-enter a grand coalition with Merkel, paving the way for her fourth term as chancellor. Both parties were set back in the vote, however, resulting in gains for the right wing.

The rising right

Alternative for Germany (AfD), while by no means securing a majority, made a massive breakthrough, making it into the legislature for the first time. Its 12.6 percent (almost a threefold gain from 2013) came at the expense of CDU/CSU and SPD, as more Germans flocked to AfD’s anti-immigration, anti-Islamization, Euroskeptic agenda, disappointed by Merkel’s “open door” policy and the flood of asylum seekers it brought to the country.

The losers

While still emerging on top at the end of the day, both the CDU/CSU were hit hard. Merkel’s alliance ended up with 32.9 percent of the vote and the Social Democrats with 20.5 percent, each losing a fifth of its seats.

Gains and losses

  • Alternative for Germany (AfD): 94 seats (+94 from 2013)
  • CDU/CSU: 246 seats (-65 since 2013)
  • Social Democratic Party (SPD): 153 seats (-40 since 2013)

The Netherlands

The 150-member Dutch House of Representatives ended up a pretty diverse place after the March 15, 2017 election. Right-wingers were among the biggest gainers, including the one-man party of hardline Euroskeptic Geert Wilders.

The rising right

The Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, came in second with 13.1 percent of the vote at the expense of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), the center-right ruling party led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Like many in this list, Wilders is a staunch opponent of unhindered immigration, the growing influence of Islam in Europe, and the political clout the EU has over individual countries. Wilders’ support had flagged back in the 2012 election, but his message proved relevant enough when the European migrant crisis began in 2015, propelling him back up in the polls again.

The losers

The most striking loss hit the center-left Labor Party (PvdA), which, with only 5.7 percent support, suffered the biggest defeat in the history of Dutch elections. From second-largest party in 2012 it fell to near-obscurity with just nine seats.

READ MORE: Austria’s election results & their implications for Europe

Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) was set back by about a fourth of its seats after two elections with solid gains, ending up with 21.3 percent and the PVV breathing down its neck.

Gains and losses

  • Party for Freedom (PVV): 20 seats (+5 from 2012)
  • People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD): 33 seats (-8 from 2012)
  • Labor Party (PvdA): 9 seats (-29 from 2012)


The right wing has been in power in Hungary since Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party Fidesz won a sweeping victory in 2010. The Hungarians are heading for a new poll in April 2018, and things are still looking good for the right.

The rising right

Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance, Orban’s conservative, Euroskeptic party, actually dipped in popularity in 2014, falling from 2010’s stellar 52.73 percent to 44.87 percent. Opinion polls show that support for Fidesz had been flagging, falling to below 40 percent, until 2015 and the unprecedented influx of Middle Eastern refugees into Europe.

One of the most crowded land routes lay through Hungary, and Viktor Orban took a decidedly hardline stance against it, pushing back against EU-wide refugee quotas and building border barriers to limit illegal arrivals. This stance appeared to resonate well with the Hungarian public, resulting in a steady rise in Orban’s popularity. As of late February 2018, polls projected 52.9 percent in Fidesz’s favor – an even higher result than the 2010 landmark.

The losers

After the crushing defeat of 2010, the center-left, pro-European Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) scrambled to contest the 2014 vote, forming the Unity political alliance with four other liberal parties. Together, they only mustered 25.57 percent support, which was only a slight gain from what MSZP had achieved alone, and still almost 20 percent short of Fidesz. The alliance was soon disbanded. MSZP’s projections for 2018 look grim as well, with polls indicating under 12 percent support, and seven percent each for two of its closest-running Unity partners.

Gains and losses

Between the Unity’s brief existence and the 2012 constitutional reform, which cut the number of parliament seats in half, tracking changes in representation can be a challenge. Here are the 2014 numbers compared to 2010:

  • Fidesz: 133 seats out of 199 (a decrease compared to 263/386 in 2010)
  • Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP): 58 seats out of 199 together with Unity partners (a gain compared to 59/386 in 2010, but that was as MSZP standing alone)


Poland switched over to the right in October 2015, when conservative Law and Justice (PiS) surged to defeat the Civic Platform, reversing the government-opposition balance. This ultimately resulted in a rift with the EU which could now cost Warsaw its European Parliament voting rights.

The rising right

Law and Justice (PiS) has been steadily gaining votes since its creation in 2001 by the brothers Kaczynski. In 2015 it swept to power with 37.58 percent of the vote, almost doubling its seats in the Polish Sejm from the 2011 numbers. Not only is the Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, a PiS member, but the President Andrzej Duda also hails from the party (although he has been officially independent since his election in 2015), giving the right significant clout in deciding Poland’s course. Duda’s approval rating stands at whopping 72 percent. PiS is also enjoying a continued rise in popularity, with February 2018 polls projecting a 43 percent result in the next election.

PiS-led Poland has been fighting back against EU-enforced quotas on accepting refugees, only reluctantly agreeing to let in about half of the required number. It also earned the EU’s ire with a controversial 2017 judicial reform, which gives the parliament and the justice minister power to appoint Supreme Court judges. This has led to the European Commission initiating proceedings into stripping Poland of voting rights in the European Parliament. PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has slammed the movement as overreach and an intervention in Poland’s internal affairs.

The losers

The liberal, pro-EU Civic Platform (PO) won 24.09 percent of the vote in 2015, a whopping 15 percentage-point drop since 2011, neatly reversing positions with PiS and going into opposition. As of February 2018, its standing in opinion polls has slid even lower, dipping below 20 percent.

Gains and losses

  • Law and Justice (PiS): 235 seats (+101 from 2011)
  • Civic Platform (PO): 138 seats (-59 from 2011)


Sweden has two right-leaning forces, both currently in opposition: The Alliance headed by the center-right Moderates party, and the much more pronounced Swedish Democrats, operating alone.

The rising right

Swedish Democrats bagged 12.9 percent of the 2014 vote, more than doubling its influence in the national legislature. They are pushing for economic and political independence from the European Union, but perhaps the most relevant part of their message is that Sweden must not accept any more immigrants. The country is home to the violent crime hotbed of Malmo and one of the highest sex crime rates in Europe, which some critics link to mass immigration. The Swedish government has acknowledged that its refugee-accepting capacity has hit its limit.

The losers

Sweden’s center-left ruling coalition, the Lofven Cabinet, is a minority government, with has 37.9 percent of popular backing across two parties. Their support remained virtually unchanged from 2010 to 2014. The Alliance, four parties with a combined 39.43 percent, lost about a fifth of its support. The Moderates, leading the alliance, have since abandoned their previously liberal stance on migration, calling for border controls, reduced welfare and stricter family reunification rules. They are now also floating the idea of uniting with the Swedish Democrats, previously shunned by other parties, to topple the minority government in the September 2018 election.

Gains and losses

  • Swedish Democrats: 49 seats (+29 from 2010)
  • Lofven Cabinet: 138 seats (+1 from 2010)
  • Moderates: 141 seats (-32 from 2010)


Switzerland last elected its 200-seat National Council and 46-seat Council of States in October 2015. The vote resulted in gains for both of the country’s right-leaning forces: the center-right Liberals and the more hardline People’s Party.

The rising right

Swiss People’s Party won 29.4 percent of the votes, breaking a 50-year record for the number of National Council seats held by any one party. Its key message includes a reduction of involvement in international blocs including the EU and NATO, and tougher immigration controls.

The Liberals gained 16.4 percent, landing the third-largest representation. While standing for the integration of immigrants, they are opposed to Switzerland’s EU membership, instead supporting individual, two-sided agreements.

The losers

No single party suffered a dramatic setback – the 2015 vote chipped away a little at all of them except the right-wing nationalist People’s Party (SVP/UDC) and the conservative liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). Their main rival, the left-wing Social Democrats, managed not to lose too much ground, remaining in second spot with 18.8 percent and only surrendering two seats.

Gains and losses

  • Swiss People’s Party: 70 seats (+11 from 2011)
  • FDP.The Liberals: 46 seats (+4 from 2011)
  • Social Democrats: 55 seats (-2 from 2011)


Denmark’s 2015 general election witnessed the biggest rise for the country’s most right-wing party, and the biggest fall for the minority ruling party.

The rising right

The Danish People’s Party came in second with 21.1 percent of the vote, almost doubling its presence in the legislation. Its policies include preserving the Danish national identity by limiting multiculturalism and assimilating non-Western migrants. It wants Denmark to keep its own national currency and preserve its sovereignty from overreaching EU power.

The losers

The biggest loss was suffered by Venstre, the centerpiece of the ruling center-right coalition of Denmark. It came in third with 19.5 percent.
The center-left Social Democrats remained in opposition despite gaining the most votes at 26.3 percent.

Gains and losses

  • Danish People’s Party: 37 seats (+15 from 2011)
  • Social Democrats: 47 seats (+3 from 2011)
  • Venstre: 34 seats (-13 from 2011)


France differs from the rest of this list in that the right wing failed to make significant gains in the legislature in the 2017 vote. Instead, the same year’s presidential election brought to prominence a singular right-wing politician.

The rising right

Marine le Pen, the notorious leader of the hardcore right-wing National Front, ran for president in April and May 2017. Her agenda combined all of the staples of the European right, including Euroskepticism, economic nationalism, and anti-immigration. She outraged the liberal media by meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time when Moscow remains the West’s go-to bogeyman.

In spite of all these factors, or perhaps thanks to them, Le Pen secured over 21 percent of the vote in the first round, right behind Emmanuel Macron and his 24 percent. Both proceeded to the run-off, where Macron managed to beat Le Pen with the consolidated backing of 66.1 percent against 33.9 percent. While not a victory in itself, it certainly sent a message: right-wing sentiment is creeping across Europe, upheaving the political landscape.

Extreme right-wingers LOVE to use the word “FREEDOM” in their rhetoric…

Especially all the rising Neo-Nazi parties in Europe.

Now where did I hear that before..? >:/


I teach at a big state university, and I often receive emails from software companies offering to help me do a basic part of my job: figuring out what my students have learned.

If you thought this task required only low-tech materials like a pile of final exams and a red pen, you’re stuck in the 20th century. In 2018, more and more university administrators want campuswide, quantifiable data that reveal what skills students are learning. Their desire has fed a bureaucratic behemoth known as learning outcomes assessment. This elaborate, expensive, supposedly data-driven analysis seeks to translate the subtleties of the classroom into PowerPoint slides packed with statistics — in the hope of deflecting the charge that students pay too much for degrees that mean too little.

It’s true that old-fashioned course grades, skewed by grade inflation and inconsistency among schools and disciplines, can’t tell us everything about what students have learned. But the ballooning assessment industry — including the tech companies and consulting firms that profit from assessment — is a symptom of higher education’s crisis, not a solution to it. It preys especially on less prestigious schools and contributes to the system’s deepening divide into a narrow tier of elite institutions primarily serving the rich and a vast landscape of glorified trade schools for everyone else.

Without thoughtful reconsideration, learning assessment will continue to devour a lot of money for meager results. The movement’s focus on quantifying classroom experience makes it easy to shift blame for student failure wholly onto universities, ignoring deeper socio-economic reasons that cause many students to struggle with college-level work. Worse, when the effort to reduce learning to a list of job-ready skills goes too far, it misses the point of a university education.

The regional accrediting agencies that certify the quality of education an institution provides — and its fitness to receive federal student financial aid — now require some form of student learning assessment. That means most American colleges and universities have to do it. According to a recent survey, schools deploy an average of four methods for evaluating learning, which include testing software and rubrics to standardize examinations, e-portfolio platforms to display student projects, surveys and other tools.

No intellectual characteristic is too ineffable for assessment. Some schools use lengthy surveys like the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory, which claims to test for qualities like “truthseeking” and “analyticity.” The Global Perspective Inventory, administered and sold by Iowa State University, asks students to rate their agreement with statements like “I do not feel threatened emotionally when presented with multiple perspectives” and scores them on metrics like the “intrapersonal affect scale.”

Surveys can’t tell you everything. So universities assemble committees of faculty members, arm them with rubrics and assign them piles of student essays culled from across the school (often called “student products,” as if they are tubes of undergraduate Soylent Green). Assessment has invaded the classroom, too: On many campuses, professors must include a list of skills-based “learning outcomes” on every syllabus and assess them throughout the semester.

All this assessing requires a lot of labor, time and cash. Yet even its proponents have struggled to produce much evidence — beyond occasional anecdotes — that it improves student learning. “I think assessment practices are ripe for re-examining,” said David Eubanks, assistant vice president for assessment and institutional effectiveness at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., who has worked in assessment for years and now speaks out about its problems. “It has forced academic departments to use data that’s not very good,” he added. “And the process of getting this data that’s not very good can be very painful.”

The push to quantify undergraduate learning is about a century old, but the movement really took off in the 1980s. The assessment boom coincided — not, I think, by accident — with the decision of state legislatures all over the country to reduce spending on public universities and other social services. That divestment continued, moving more of the cost of higher education onto students. (These students are often graduates of underfunded high schools that can’t prepare them for college in the first place.) It was politically convenient to hold universities accountable for all this, rather than to scrutinize neoliberal austerity measures.

In 2006, the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, convened by Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education at the time, issued a scathing critique of universities. “Employers report repeatedly that many new graduates they hire are not prepared to work, lacking the critical thinking, writing and problem-solving skills needed in today’s workplaces,” the commission’s report complained.

Educators scrambled to ensure that students graduate with these skills — and to prove it with data. The obsession with testing that dominates primary education invaded universities, bringing with it a large support staff. Here is the first irony of learning assessment: Faced with outrage over the high cost of higher education, universities responded by encouraging expensive administrative bloat.

Many of the professionals who work in learning assessment are former faculty members who care deeply about access to quality education. Pat Hutchings, a senior scholar at the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (and former English professor), told me: “Good assessment begins with real, genuine questions that educators have about their students, and right now for many educators those are questions about equity. We’re doing pretty well with 18- to 22-year-olds from upper-middle-class families, but what about — well, fill in the blank.”

It seems that the pressure to assess student learning outcomes has grown most quickly at poorly funded regional universities that have absorbed a large proportion of financially disadvantaged students, where profound deficits in preparation and resources hamper achievement. Research indicates that the more selective a university, the less likely it is to embrace assessment. Learning outcomes assessment has become one way to answer the question, “If you get unprepared students in your class and they don’t do well, how does that get explained?” Mr. Eubanks at Furman University told me.

When Erik Gilbert, a professor of history at Arkansas State University, reached the end of his World Civilization course last fall, he dutifully imposed the required assessment: an extra question on the final exam that asked students to read a document about Samurai culture and answer questions using knowledge of Japanese history. Yet his course focused on “cross-cultural connections, trade, travel, empire, migration and bigger-scale questions, rather than area studies,” Mr. Gilbert told me. His students had not studied Japanese domestic history. “We do it this way because it satisfies what the assessment office wants, not because it addresses concerns that we as a department have.”

Mr. Gilbert became an outspoken assessment skeptic after years of watching the process fail to capture what happens in his classes — and seeing it miss the real reasons students struggle. “Maybe all your students have full-time jobs, but that’s something you can’t fix, even though that’s really the core problem,” he said. “Instead, you’re expected to find some small problem, like students don’t understand historical chronology, so you might add a reading to address that. You’re supposed to make something up every semester, then write up a narrative” explaining your solution to administrators.

Here is the second irony: Learning assessment has not spurred discussion of the deep structural problems that send so many students to college unprepared to succeed. Instead, it lets politicians and accreditors ignore these problems as long as bureaucratic mechanisms appear to be holding someone — usually a professor — accountable for student performance.

All professors could benefit from serious conversations about what is and is not working in their classes. But instead they end up preoccupied with feeding the bureaucratic beast. “It’s a bit like the old Soviet Union. You speak two languages,” said Frank Furedi, an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Britain, which has a booming assessment culture. “You do a performance for the sake of the auditors, but in reality, you carry on.”

Yet bureaucratic jargon subtly shapes the expectations of students and teachers alike. On the first day of class, my colleagues and I — especially in the humanities, where professors are perpetually anxious about falling enrollment — find ourselves rattling off the skills our courses offer (“Critical thinking! Clear writing!”), hyping our products like Apple Store clerks.

I teach intellectual history. Of course that includes skills: learning to read a historical source, interpret evidence and build an argument. But cultivating historical consciousness is more than that: It means helping students immerse themselves in a body of knowledge, question assumptions about memory and orient themselves toward current events in a new way.

If we describe college courses as mainly delivery mechanisms for skills to please a future employer, if we imply that history, literature and linguistics are more or less interchangeable “content” that convey the same mental tools, we oversimplify the intellectual complexity that makes a university education worthwhile in the first place. We end up using the language of the capitalist marketplace and speak to our students as customers rather than fellow thinkers. They deserve better.

“When kids come from backgrounds where they’re the first in their families to go to college, we have to take them seriously, and not flatter them and give them third-rate ideas,” Mr. Furedi told me. “They need to be challenged and inspired by the idea of our disciplines.” Assessment culture is dumbing down universities, he said: “One of the horrible things is that many universities think that giving access to nontraditional students means turning a university into a high school. That’s not giving them access to higher education.”

Here is the third irony: The value of universities to a capitalist society depends on their ability to resist capitalism, to carve out space for intellectual endeavors that don’t have obvious metrics or market value.

Consider that holy grail of learning outcomes, critical thinking — what the philosopher John Dewey called the ability “to maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry.” Teaching it is not a cheap or efficient process. It does not come from trying to educate the most students at the lowest possible cost or from emphasizing short, quantifiable, standardized assignments at the expense of meandering, creative and difficult investigation.

Producing thoughtful, talented graduates is not a matter of focusing on market-ready skills. It’s about giving students an opportunity that most of them will never have again in their lives: the chance for serious exploration of complicated intellectual problems, the gift of time in an institution where curiosity and discovery are the source of meaning.

That’s how we produce the critical thinkers American employers want to hire. And there’s just no app for that.