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Bernie Sanders: The U.S. already has a kind of socialism – for the rich

Bernie speaks again about what democratic socialism means, and raises a debate about what freedom is.

Bernie Sanders to Deliver Speech On How Democratic Socialism Is the Only Way to Defeat Oligarchy
  • Bernie Sanders again spoke about what democratic socialism means to him.
  • At one point, he explained how his notion of freedom is possible only in a society that protects economic rights.
  • His speech reveals that his thinking goes beyond a mere dedication to economic opportunity.


Democratic socialism, once the ideology of a rare few American intellectuals and activists, has enjoyed a massive spike in popularity over the past three years. A great deal of the credit for this must go to Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist from Vermont whose presidential campaign brought unabashedly progressive ideas into the mainstream of American political discussion. Today, during his second run for president, ideas that he alone supported in 2016 are increasingly popular within his adopted party.

However, he remains alone in claiming the title of a socialist in a country where not everyone favors the term and fewer understand it. In an attempt to both explain his motivations and the ideology he promotes, he gave a speech at George Washington University explaining what democratic socialism means to him.

What democratic socialism means to Bernie Sanders: Redux

As we've discussed before, Bernie Sanders isn't really a democratic socialist. His various policy proposals don't call for a change in the ownership of the means of production, a key socialist demand, but instead for reforms to capitalism that would allow for it to work better for everybody and not merely the owners of capital. This worldview is similarly named "social democracy."

While he flips the terms around, it doesn't really get in the way of his arguments for why he thinks the economy needs a shake up.

Sanders framed this worldview in terms of economic rights and a sense of justice that he frequently references in his stump speech. In substance, this speech was very similar to one he gave in 2015 explaining what democratic socialism meant to him – but was delivered with a much more aggressive style befitting what he dubbed a "defining and pivotal moment" for the United States.

Having long since stepped away from ideas of nationalization, Sanders again invoked the New Deal as the template for his conception of democratic socialism. He very clearly argued that his notion of socialism means using the power of the government to empower the working class through programs such as universal health care, tuition-free education, and a job guarantee. He used this conception to propose that the United States already has socialism of a kind, but only for the rich, as evidenced by the bailouts, tax cuts, and subsidies that large corporations currently enjoy.

He ties these notions of using the government to make the economy work for the many rather than the few to many issues facing the world today, as he sees income inequality as a contributor to the problems of climate change, sexism, racism, and the rise of authoritarians around the world. This diagnosis of the situation is similar to that given by "real" socialists to his left, though they argue he doesn't go far enough in his solutions.

"[Bernie Sanders'] notion of socialism means using the power of the government to empower the working class through programs such as universal health care, tuition-free education, and a job guarantee."

What freedom means to Bernie Sanders: Positive liberty

In a telling moment in this speech, Sanders tied his notion of economic justice to the very idea of freedom. He rhetorically asked the audience if they were truly free if they couldn't afford medicine, housing, or other necessities. "No," he answered.

This shows an understanding of freedom as based on what a person can do rather than what they are prevented from doing. This distinction, first seriously considered by philosopher Isaiah Berlin in 1958, gives further context to Bernie's idea of what democratic socialism is.

For Berlin, this capacity to act on your free will, which he dubbed "positive liberty," was every bit as needed as the freedom from external interference, which he dubbed "negative liberty," though the two could occasionally come into conflict when trying to sort out the details.

Looking at Sanders' speech through this lens, his idea of democratic socialism can be seen as a way of using the power of the government to increase the positive liberty of the American people, giving them the capacity to fully utilize the freedoms they are so proud of. It is undoubtable, however, that many Americans, with their commitment to independence and self-reliance, will find this idea of freedom new and strange.

This is cool and all, but what is he going to do?

While this speech was big on examples of social-democratic programs in American history, he frequently referenced the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt and invoked Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Martin Luther King Jr. for good measure, it was light on new, concrete policy proposals.

He did, however, promise that in the weeks to come he would introduce a series of proposals to create an "economic bill of rights" clearly modeled on the Second Bill of Rights FDR proposed in the footage seen above. Among these are the right to education, health care, housing, a clean environment, a job that pays a living wage, and a secure retirement.

Bernie Sanders' unexpectedly popular run for president in 2016 has ignited debates in the United States that seemed unfathomable only a few years prior. His speech shows that his idea of what democratic socialism is remains based firmly in the social-democratic tradition of the New Deal and Great Society. It also shows that he knows that the discussion around ideology in the United States is partly a discussion of what we want freedom to look like – a question that will linger long after we define what socialism actually is.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
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  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

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Politics & Current Affairs
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