Sovereignty For Us, But Not Others

The Trump Administration may be most infamous for its “America First” doctrine. Nationalism rules. Globalists like Obama and Biden and their ilk are despicable elites who’d just as soon sell out US manufacturing jobs to foreign countries as they would sacrifice our sovereignty to international organizations like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.

The rest of the world be damned. Especially China. At least until they check their Individual Retirement Account balances, most Americans are sympathetic to the argument that it’s time to get tough on China in order to create some semblance of a trade balance and to stem intellectual property theft and cyber espionage against US businesses.

But there’s one central flaw in the administration’s economic and foreign policies that prevents me from enlisting full stop in the China Trade War and that’s the rhetoric spewed by Steve Bannon and others about the ultimate objective. . . destroying China’s “state sponsored capitalism” (see this documentary). This goal is based upon the simplistic and wrong-headed notion that when it comes to economic systems, it’s a winner take all contest.

Bannon says our version of free-market capitalism and China’s state-sponsored capitalism cannot co-exist even though they have been for decades. News flash Bannon—every national economy in the world exists on a continuum between laissez-faire free market capitalism and state-sponsored, command economics. Besides the obvious examples of North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela, Canada and many Western and Northern European countries prefer the center of the continuum. Amazingly, different approaches work for different people in different places.

How would Bannon, Trump, and the other nationalists in the administration react if another country tried to impose its economic system on us? They’re always harping about our national sovereignty while simultaneously trying to destabilize China’s economy and replace Venezuela’s government.

The moral bankruptcy of this hypocrisy is growing more and more apparent, but the Trump Nationalists continue to get aways with it. Here’s hoping the electorate wakes up by November 3, 2020.


Today’s best bumper sticker. . . Make America Grateful Again.

Stupidity Is a Bigger Threat Than Socialism

And it’s not even close.

Conservative Republican opinion leaders, winners in life’s lottery, worship at the altar of free markets. In their minds, merit explains their relative success, not privilege. Acknowledging privilege would require them to admit markets are fallible, a thought that would consider a total reconsideration of themselves.

American exceptionalism is largely explained by blind devotion to free markets as if they are ordained by God. Literally. We are better than other countries because our markets are freer. Never mind our prison numbers, our opioid epidemic, our gun violence, our homeless crisis.

To conservative Republicans, taxes are always too high. The government uses its tax system to unfairly take what is rightly ours. Government, as if it consists of some insidious “others” instead of our neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens; is incompetent and wasteful. We know much better than the diabolical government what to do with our own damn money. Left to our own devices we would naturally fund private equivalents to Head Start, public libraries, Social Security, Medicare, and federal highways because they so obviously improve our quality of life.

Given that context, I probably shouldn’t be as exasperated as I am by the depressing quality of the initial 2020 campaign conversation about competing economic systems. Yes, through flawed messaging, some on the Left have contributed to the problem; but that’s no excuse for the Right’s complete unwillingness to talk about the crippling consequences of widening inequality on everyone and how it’s in our enlightened self interest to make greater (and proven) public investments in the common good.

Instead, deathly afraid their taxes will go up, those on the Right scream VENEZUELA and CUBA and demean Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “just a 29 year old bartender”. As if the Left wants to replicate life in Venezuela. How is it that many of the most virulent anti-socialists are formally educated and yet seem completely unable to think about subtleties, nuances, and complexity?

To those virulent anti-socialists, there’s a huge middle ground between Milton Friedman and Maduro.

To the army of Presidential contenders, I don’t want to waste time talking about Venezuelan socialism. I want a critical conversation about how best to improve our economics and politics so that many more people experience the promise of our ideals. More specifically, I believe it’s in my enlightened self interest to make more investments in public schooling, in public libraries, in single payer health care, and in infrastructure. And by “more investments” I mean moderately higher taxes. Millions of others think similarly, enough to get elected.

And once gain, this is where the national conversation devolves to the point of embarrassment because my Conservative Republican friends predictably say, “Okay, go ahead and write a larger check to the Internal Revenue Service than you owe” as if the penalty for critical thinking about the status quo is having to compensate for the mindless purveyors of it.

An extra serving of ignorance in a conversation marked by mind boggling stupidity.

 italics=sarcasm

What Does Downtown Olympia’s Future Hold?

This could make a compelling documentary film.

Saturday night I attended an interesting five-person panel discussion at downtown Olympia’s hippy theater, a 94 year old building that shows independent movies, about the importance of cultural spaces in our fair city. The panelists were artists who spoke eloquently on the importance of the arts. One lived downtown and most worked there.

As an academic, it was glorious listening to one person after another actually honor their five minute time frame. Collectively, they stimulated my thinking not just about the arts, but about economic inequality, downtown development, and the future of these (dis)United States.

Here’s the conundrum. Olympia has long had a vibrant arts scene encompassing live music, allegedly more theatre seats per capita than any other 40,000 person city, murals galore, a vibrant farmers’ market, and well attended public art events. Many downtown buildings are historic, which the panelists all described as wonderfully unique and relatively affordable for artists to live and/or work in. The unique, historic, funky buildings they argued, are the very essence of downtown.

But lots of other more politically and socially conservative people in the surrounding burbs would describe the exact same buildings as run-down, gritty, and in need of serious investment. Some think downtown is too far gone, even unsafe, and avoid it altogether.

It was refreshing that downtown’s growing homeless population wasn’t mentioned once since it tends to dominate any discussion of downtown, but it’s one of the most common reasons some have soured on it. The focus was on low-income artists and others, but at some point obviously, the discussion has to expand to include the fate of the no-income walking wounded.

Meanwhile, in keeping with free-market capitalism, deep pocket developers eye downtown as a place to make money by flipping ancient, crumbling buildings that are too expensive to maintain. In some cases, by knocking them down and starting over, which of course enrages the art community and others of modest means. Shiny modern buildings mean higher rents, meaning low-income artists are priced out.

There are no easy answers on how best to move forward. The only thing I know for sure, the more voices that are heard before buildings are razed and rebuilt, the better. Make no mistake though, those voices will be wildly divergent.

I’m conflicted. Take the hippy, Capital Theater, as a point of reference. When a panelist “preached to the choir” by saying, “I’d much rather attend a movie at this theater than a neighboring multiplex,” the crowd applauded lustily. But all I could think was “I’d much rather attend a movie at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma, than at the Capital Theater.” Why? Because at the Grand Cinema (prices $8 matinee, $10.50 general; versus $8 and $9) I’m unlikely to tear my jeans on the springs in the seats as a Swedish friend of ours once did. And damn they’re uncomfortable.

Admittedly, I have a different sense of aesthetics than the typical Capital Theater member who is much younger than me and may live in a dorm with three other people at Evergreen State College. I appreciate historic, artistic, funky elements in buildings and downtowns, but I also like sitting in comfortable seats and not having to hope my timing is right for the one toilet.

Furthermore, new buildings, like new cars these days, are far safer. The future will bring tidal flooding and a major earthquake to downtown Olympia. Also, new buildings, like new home appliances these days, are also far more energy efficient. When well built, they also require far less maintenance, but even those cost savings aren’t enough to offset the land and building costs, which developers of course pass on to renters and/or customers.

There has to be a middle ground, I’m just not sure what it is. I do not think adding taxes to existing building regulations is politically viable, but could there be economic incentives for retrofitting and markedly improving old buildings instead of knocking them down? And what about a 1% add-on to require new building projects to include public art?

Ultimately, I suppose, the fate of downtown Olympia, and others, will come down to who is most successful in persuading the City Council to adopt modern building policies that somehow incorporate genuine respect for the city’s past. Even that though, won’t adequately address the concerns of downtown’s low-income residents.

 

 

Teacher Merit Pay 1

First things first, what’s the problem we’re trying to fix? Arne Duncan, as a high-profile representative of conventional wisdom, would probably answer this way. “The problem is motivating teachers to work harder so that we can close the achievement gap between more and less wealthy students, improve graduation rates, and hold off our traditional economic rivals, Japan and Germany, and our emerging ones, India and China.”

So here are the assumptions: 1) teachers don’t work hard; 2) because teachers don’t work hard, we have a pernicious achievement gap; 3) schools exist to help us maintain our relative advantage in the global economic race.

Conventional wisdom suggests teachers don’t work hard because their pay is predetermined based upon their educational credentials and years of service. That combined with tenure translates into educational malaise. This is a deeply held view by many Americans who view business model principles as immutable.

Business model peeps reason schools are like car dealerships and fast food restaurants. There’s no point being sentimental about shuttered dealerships and restaurants because they are a natural byproduct of intense free market competition. Keep your consumer eyes on the prize, a wide choice of affordable, high quality cars/food.

If unfettered competition is the economic magic bullet, no reason it can’t be the educational one too. Schools in a given locale don’t fear one another enough nor do teachers within individual schools. The proliferation of student test scores enable us to keep score between schools and teachers within individual schools.

Before I proceed, is that the problem merit-based teacher pay is supposed to fix?