Demo Debate 2

More middle school classroom. The talking over one another was distracting and disappointing. Props to Harris for reigning the class back in. The consensus is correct, Harris dominated at Biden’s expense. Other thoughts:

  • The party is listing too far left for the surviving candidate to win the general election. Of course there’s still a lot of time to correct for that.
  • The pundits said Biden should’ve apologized for his anti-busing stance. It would’ve been even more authentic for him to have said that busing was, and is, a subject upon which reasonable people disagree. He could’ve summarized his long standing commitment to civil rights, why he opposed forced busing, and what we can/should do to better integrate schools today. Or he could’ve gone egghead professor like I would’ve and asked how are we supposed to have integrated schools given intense residential racial segregation?
  • Improving schools is sometimes mentioned in passing, but no has talked in any detail at all about what that means. That is a huge opening for someone especially since Trump (fortunately) never says anything about schools, unless you count his arm teachers bullshit after school shootings. No candidate should be allowed to say schools are obsolete without explaining how they specifically intend to update them. Where is the national leadership on education reform?
  • Buttigieg’s owning of the police problems in South Bend was an unexpectedly refreshing break from the status quo of politician’s never admitting faults. “I couldn’t get it done,” he admitted when asked about diversifying the police force. When was the last time you heard a politician be as honest? The moderators should’ve asked everyone to share something they’ve failed to get done despite good intentions and hard work. If the President was asked that he’d deflect by blaming the media or Democrats or the media and Democrats.
  • Also, in contrast to Gabbard, a real life Danny Chung (VEEP), props to Buttigieg for not bringing up his military service unless asked directly about it. Impressive guy, but his last name is too damn hard to spell and there should be a step or two between South Bend and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (sorry Dano).
  • Sanders is hella grating. The guy you make sure to avoid at the party. Half of it is his nonstop haranguing. He’s channeling this guy.

  • The other half is his answer to the problems of growing inequality. “Guts”. Guts to challenge Wall Street, the insurance industry, the military industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industry, etc. And he’s the only one with sufficient guts. Fool me once. Obama promised to bridge the partisan divide. But it only deepened. One person’s guts, even the Presidents, is irrelevant compared to winning the Senate. Sanders hasn’t come close to convincing me he’s the best person to win the Presidency and help retake the Senate. Then again, I’ve started to tune him out.
  • Swalwell is the most opportunist politician going. Instead of empathizing with Buttigieg and the people of South Bend, he attacked him for not firing the Chief of Police as if that would solve everything. He does tons of media. I get the sense he’d run over his mom to raise his profile. Doubt he has any friends in Congress.
  • Does Biden think his resume is sufficient to get the nod? It is impressive, but he’s the Golden State Warriors whose window is fast closing. Last night, he tore his achilles. As Hillary proved, the Presidency is not a lifetime achievement award.
  • I want to see Warren, Castro, Harris, Buttigieg sitting at a round table with time to lay out their ideas and interact with one another. Debates are flawed in that it’s difficult to assess interpersonal skills. Of course that won’t happen. The much needed winnowing is still many moons away.
  • The Demos are absolutely right that the economy is not working for many people. Harris’s point about the limited number of people who own stocks was important. The walking wounded are always evident in our downtown. Yesterday, while running around Capital Lake, I was more aware than normal of people sleeping and living out of their cars. What’s left of the middle class is struggling with rising health care, higher education, and housing costs. The Republican base is deluded to think that their leadership cares about these issues. Just yesterday, their President proposed another tax cut for the wealthy, by indexing capital gains to inflation.
  • The Demos are wrong to paint all business with the same broad brush. People are smarter than that, knowing that businesses vary widely. Why not highlight positive examples of profitable businesses that are committed to living wages, the right to organize, and sustainability. I’d be perfectly happy in Scandinavia or Western Europe, but individualism is so deeply rooted in the US that most people have deep-seated, negative associations with socialism. The Demos need to talk more about a new capitalism, one more aligned with Adam Smith’s thinking about regulated markets, than socialism.

And The Medium Sized Fish Eats The Small Fish

I often get frustrated with the Michael Moore’s and Rush Limbaugh’s of the world because their ideological analyses slight endless economic, political, and cultural subtleties that require deeper thinking and more tentative conclusions.

Peter Whybrow, in his excellent book American Mania, explains Adam Smith’s work in ways few conservative free-market zealots probably understand. “Smith favored private ownership, with capital being locally rooted,” Whybrow writes. “He distrusted large institutions—be they government or corporate—as forces that foster greed, distorting and suppressing the dynamic market exchange and social intimacy that are essential to fair dealing.

As businesses merge and increase in size,” Whybrow contends, “and as manufacturing and services become geographically remote from each other, the behavioral contingencies essential to promoting social stability in a market-regulated society—close personal relationships, tightly knit communities, local capital investment, and so on—are quickly eroded.”

In other words, your less likely to exploit someone you know.

It’s in this context that I recently read Alpine Experience’s dead-tree newsletter that arrived old school in the mailbox. Alpine Experience is a local independent retailer that specializes in high quality outdoor gear of all sorts. If their website wasn’t so poorly designed I’d link to it. Here’s their slightly less bad Facebook page. I used to have an Alpine Experience t-shirt that said, “Friends don’t let friends shop at chain stores.” I shop at AE once a year when they have their annual sale. When their prices are marked down 30-40%, they almost seem normal.

I like their irreverent, personal newsletter, but I’m sure it’s probably more expensive to produce than they can afford. Inside this issue was an honest, interesting reflection on Olympia’s newish REI store’s impact on AE’s bottom line. The author, I think the store’s owner/manager, said the new REI is definitely impacting their bottom line. Admitted they’ve fallen behind projections and need to have a good winter. I really hope I’m wrong, but given REI’s economies of scale and vastly superior on-line presence, I anticipate AE going out of business.

REI is a large national chain, but its progressive business practices give it a positive, medium-sized, community-based essence. Like AE, it’s a groovy store. It has been voted one of the Top 100 businesses to work for the last 14 years in a row. Read more about its enlightened business practices here.

Recently I was cycling with an acquaintance, an independent architect who has fallen on hard times. He’s taken a job at REI to get by, working as a cashier 16 hours a week. We were discussing the AE-REI tug-of-war. He told me he needed glove liners shortly before getting the job and they were $20 bucks at AE and $7 at REI. Probably an exaggeration, but I suspect comparable products are often 30-50% more at AE. That would be a huge headwind to building a reliable customer base even in a good economy.

Back to Whybrow. REI is not a megacorporation that fosters greed, nor does it distort and suppress the dynamic market exchange and social intimacy that are essential to fair dealing. But it’s not as small nor as local as AE and it doesn’t share it’s long history.

What to make of this capitalist case study?

Home Schooling Is Hip. . .and Selfish

Two recently recommended bloggers with ginormous audiences have written they are going to start home schooling their kids (Penelope Trunk) or wish they had the time to home school their kids (James Altucher).

If public schooling was a stock, everyone would be selling. I get it. Schools adapt to change far too slowly. Most are painfully out of date. Far too often, learning isn’t engaging or relevant enough. But the homeschoolers fail to realize that there has never been a Golden Age of riveting, transformative learning.

T&A (Trunk and Altucher) are the new home schoolers. The traditional home schoolers are religious stalwarts who can’t stomach subjecting their children to multiculturalism, gay rights, evolution, environmental ethics, and the sort.

The new home schoolers believe public schooling will make their largely secular children less curious, less distinctive, less intelligent, less likely to succeed in our 21st Century economy.

The problem though is home schooling is separatism on steriods. A vibrant democracy depends upon children learning to get along with other children different than them.

But who besides Penelope Trunk is more motivated to provide her children an excellent education than Penelope Trunk? I manage my own money because I learned very early on that the guy I paid to do it didn’t care if my assets grew nearly as much as me. No financial planner is as motivated as me. Is there an Adam Smith homeschooling parallel, that if each family pursues it’s best interests, society more generally will benefit in the end?

I suppose, but what percentage of children have a college educated parent or two that have the time and inclination to educate them better than the teachers at their local public school? An infinitesimal one. I want to applaud parents for taking responsibility for educating their own children, but I’m concerned it stems from a deep-seated selfishness. Do the new home schoolers care about other children? About the legions of children who didn’t fare as well as their own in the lottery of life?

There’s zero evidence of social consciousness in T’s and A’s anti-public schooling screeds. They’re not saying we want this society, this economy, and this democracy to thrive. I suspect what they want is for their five or six children to have an upperhand in the inevitable survival of the fittest competition that awaits them.

If people mindlessly congratulate Penelope Trunk and James Altucher for in essence thinking exclusively about their own children’s well-being, and the new home schooling movement grows, the achievement gap will widen, further weakening social relations, our economy, and our democracy.