Make Cars Great Again

By weakening fuel efficiency rules. Thank you Trump Administration for correcting the errors of the Obama Administration and helping keep cars affordable. And safer. All while continuing to protect the environment. And thank you for soliciting “all interested parties to weigh in with their views”. Very cool. Very democratic.

My view is totally sympatico with yours. Put me down for a “yes” vote on the weaker rules. Goals should be achievable, and you’re right, electric vehicles are for losers. In particular, this really resonated with me:

“Some data conclude that nearly half of consumers who purchase an electric car do not buy another because of challenges with range and recharge times.”

When it comes to things like your Environmental Protection Agency’s track record and your courageous questioning of climate change science, your administration has earned my trust so the phrase “some data” is good enough for me!

And I also agree that subsidies for electric vehicles are for losers best left to European and Chinese businesses who will never truly grasp capitalism’s allure. Please know my free-market invisible hands are clapping for your commitment to Big Oil having a more level economic playing field.

“. . . keeping in place the standards finalized in 2012 would add $2,340 to the cost of owning a new car and impose more than $500 billion in societal costs on the U.S. economy over the next 50 years.”

Again, thank you, $2,340, is not chump or even trump change. About $200 a year over 12 years of car ownership is a hell of a lot to ask for things as boring as markedly improved gas mileage and slowing climate change. Wouldn’t the typical electric car owner save more than $200 in gas costs? Sorry, strike that from the record. I’m sure there’s some more sophisticated math you have used that I probably would not understand. If you say it doesn’t “pencil out”, then it doesn’t pencil out. And “$500 billion in societal costs over the next 50 years?! No way can I do that math, but again I trust you that the “societal costs” are super scary things like more liberals feeling emboldened about spotted owls, more illegal immigrants invading our country, and more Democrats invading Congress.

“Due to these increased costs, Americans are holding on to their older, less-safe vehicles longer and buying older-model vehicles. The average vehicle on the road today is 12 years old, and data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows passengers are likelier to be killed in older vehicles than newer ones. In each of the past two years, more than 37,000 lives were lost on our roads. A key goal of this rulemaking is to reduce the barriers to enabling Americans to purchase newer, safer, cleaner cars.”

Initially, upon hearing that your Administration wanted to weaken fuel efficiency standards, I wondered why. I thought if America’s engineers were even a little great, the Obama goals were appropriately aspirational. I apologize that a part of me even wondered if you might be currying favor with Big Oil and Big Automakers, but upon just a little additional thought, that struck me as entirely too swampy a thing for your team.

I’m embarrassed that I pre-judged you. Of course, your first and foremost concern is our safety. All of your improvements to our infrastructure point to that. My cynicism got the best of me. I will do better going forward in my more affordable, safer, cleaner car.

Lastly, your editorial didn’t really touch on the “continuing to protect the environment” from the intro, but that’s okay. I understand word limits and trust you to be good for that. Again, to be clear, I am down with your downgrading of our fuel efficiency standards. And I look forward to your administration’s additional bar lowering pronouncements in the near future.

If You Must Be Afraid, Fear These Things

Thanks in large part to media coverage of high profile mass shootings, lots of people are feeling more fearful than normal.

If you’re feeling even a little more fearful than normal, maintain the positive routines of your life and limit your media exposure. You don’t have to completely bury your head in the sand, but you also don’t have to become an expert in all things ISIS.

If you’re resigned to being more fearful than normal, then you should study this Center for Disease Control list of threats that greatly outweigh an ISIS-inspired mass shooting.

Number of deaths for leading causes of death

  • Heart disease: 611,105
  • Cancer: 584,881
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 84,767
  • Diabetes: 75,578
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149

Source: Deaths: Final Data for 2013, table 10[PDF – 1.5 MB]

Want to truly be, not just feel, more secure? Take a walk outside, eat more fruits and vegetables, don’t drink or drive, and wear a seatbelt.

Alternatively, you can follow Jerry Falwell Jrs. advice.

 

Rubio, Veterans’ Day, and Default Hawkishness

They will not raise the minimum wage, but Marco Rubio and three-quarters of the Republican’s on stage last night, are playing on the American public’s fears in the hope that we spend a whole lot more money on a larger, stronger military*. “People are being beheaded, Christians are being crucified.” Repeat that enough and no one will ask where. Each candidate is more appalled than the next that President Obama has failed to invade some countries and kick some ass. How dare he refuse to send more young men and women into wars that only have political solutions.

They all suffer from a collective amnesia that is extremely dangerous unless you like repeating mistakes of the past. They refuse to honestly assess how the last few wars have gone. How much money was spent, how many people’s lives were irrevocably changed for the worse, how many were killed, how the initial problems worsened.

The Republicans would have Rand Paul and the rest of us believe it’s un-American to question whether military might is always right. I will ask questions, resist knee-jerk hawkishness, and support this President’s more conservative and disciplined alternative to mindless militarism. All in the the hope that we have fewer vets to celebrate on future Veteran’s Days.

* all while lowering our taxes

Obama and Duncan Finally Make Amends

Props to any politician that admits to a mistake.

On Saturday, President Obama and the Department of Education released a Testing Action Plan, calling on states to cut back on “unnecessary testing” that consumes “too much instructional time” and creates “undue stress for educators and students.

The administration used the moment to acknowledge its own role in the proliferation of burdensome standardized tests. In fact, the Education Department’s plan uses the word “burden” eight times and says, “we have not provided clear enough assistance for how to thoughtfully approach testing and assessment.”

What prompted the reversal? Glad you asked:

The administration was trying to get ahead of a just-released survey by the Council of Great City Schools that detailed a laundry list of formative, benchmark, diagnostic, and practice tests required at the state and district level. According to the survey, the average student will take 112 standardized tests between preschool and high school graduation, spending as much as 25 hours a year testing.

This is all so inspiring, I’m going to hold a presser to apologize for a mistake of mine. As soon as I can think of one.

Understanding Trumpism

Think about the 2016 U.S. presidential election in the context of renowned Sinologist Orville Schell’s analysis of modern China in this recent essay. Some excerpts:

This confidence in the strength of the China model—and the supposed weakness of its Western competitors—has reshaped the way Beijing relates to the world. Its new confidence in its wealth and power has been matched by an increasingly unyielding and aggressive posture abroad that has been on most vivid display in its maritime disputes in the South and East China seas.

Couldn’t one say about the U.S., “Its longstanding confidence in its wealth and power has been matched by an unyielding and aggressive posture abroad that has been on most vivid display in it disputes in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.”

Obama has been far more restrained than his predecessors when it comes to conventional warfare, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand when it comes to his unprecedented, unyielding, aggressive use of drones.

Schell adds:

One clear message of this turbulent week is how interconnected everything actually has become in our 21st-century world. Financial markets, trade flows, pandemics and climate change all ineluctably tie us together.

This irrefutable insight is lost on Trump’s followers mired in 20th century notions of politics as a zero-sum game that we’re predestined to win as the world’s sole economic, political, and military superpower. Trumpism rests upon notions of American Exceptionalism mixed with nostalgia for the past when the relative economic, political, and military strength of the U.S. was undeniably greater than it is today; as well as competition between nations at the expense of cooperation; and scapegoating the newest citizens for pernicious public policy challenges that preceded their arrival.

Schell again:

Of late, China has been acting in an ever more unilateral way, perhaps at last enjoying the prerogatives of its long-sought wealth and power. Mao imagined a China rooted in the idea of “self-reliance,” zili gengsheng. The most encouraging news out of this week would be for Mr. Xi and his comrades to recognize that China can no longer be such an island—that China cannot succeed in isolation, much less by antagonizing most of its neighbors and the U.S.

As large, dynamic and successful as China has become, it still exists in a global context—and remains vulnerable to myriad forces beyond the party’s control. It must take the chip off its shoulder, recognize that it is already a great power and begin to put its people, its Pacific neighbors and the U.S. at ease. Any truly great nation must learn that the art of compromise lies at the heart of diplomacy, that it is almost always better to negotiate before resorting to war and that compromise is neither a sign of weakness nor surrender.

If the alarms over the past few months presage such a revelation in Beijing, it would not only enhance China’s stability but its soft power and historic quest for global respect. Given Mr. Xi’s track record, one dare not be too optimistic.

Is any U.S. intellectual in position to lecture China’s leadership about soft power and global respect? “Make America great again,” trumpets Trumpism, meaning less compromising, less diplomacy, more unilateralism.

Trumpism thrives on the insecurities of a people who feel their world dominance slipping. Ahistorical to the core, it has no patience for the complexities of public policy, environmental degradation, or globalization. It assumes people aren’t smart enough for the complexities of 21st century life. It advocates sloganeerism, brashness, and business principles as panaceas for problems real and imagined. It asks no questions, listens only for openings to speak, and never admits fault.

Eventually, enough people will see it for what it is, and reject it.

How to Live—Patrick, Jess, Alyssa

• Patrick and Jess married in August, 2012. Eight months later they were watching people finish the Boston Marathon when a bomb exploded next to them. Both lost left legs. Patrick, “We’ll figure this out.” Jess, “As equally overwhelming as the evil that day, was how incredibly good these people were.” A touching story about love and resilience nicely told by Eric Moscowitz. For anyone wanting inspiration on how to live. And listen to Patrick speaking last week. “Sewing the threads of community.”

• Last week, Alyssa Mastromonaco, President Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations for the last eight years, gave her first interview. Hagiographic, but lots of excellent insights, especially on the importance of selflessness, teamwork, and kindness. A must watch for my daughters.

 

 

What Education Reformers Get Wrong

Diane Ravitch is the author of Reign of Error, a critically important book about all that’s wrong with the education reform movement.

Ravitch is a wonderfully independent thinker in an era of unprecedented educational groupthink. Her purpose is to convince readers that conventional wisdom about how to improve public schooling is all wrong. She’s especially critical of “corporate reformers”—the George W. Bush administration, the Obama administration, the Gates Foundation, Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein among many, many others—that want to apply free-market business principles to education.

The corporate reformers see student testing as a panacea for not just improved student learning, but better teaching. They insist that we evaluate teachers and principals based upon how their students score on standardized tests. Ravitch explains that K-12 educators want to be held accountable for their students’ learning, but details why emphasizing standardized test scores is so problematic.

There are two overarching purposes of public schooling in the U.S.—to prepare students for democratic citizenship and to prepare students for the world of work. Never mind that it’s nearly impossible to know what the job market will look like in ten years, the corporate reformers emphasize preparation for work almost exclusively. That’s because they’re anxious that our country’s economic lead over other nations is steadily shrinking, and that as a result, our quality of life will gradually decline.

The Reign of Error is essential reading because Ravitch details the importance of citizenship education, and by doing so, restores much needed balance to the rationale for public schooling. In doing so, she explains how the quality of our democracy hinges in part on the quality of young people’s history education, humanities coursework, and critical thinking skills.

Corporate reformers, a distinct majority in education policy debates today, argue that our economic predicament is so dour we have to focus on strengthening our economic competitiveness above all else. In essence, we can’t afford to worry about the health of our democracy.

But what the corporate reformers fail to grasp is that when it comes to global competition, the relative health of our democracy is quite possibly our greatest competitive advantage. Nearly every government in the world is in some form of crisis. In the U.S. money dominates politics and the U.S. Congress is obviously flawed, but everything is relative. Our government is less corrupt and more responsive than most others; our press is freer than most; our judiciary more independent; and our rule of law, more robust.

We shouldn’t frame school improvement as a zero-sum global competition. It’s okay if students in Singapore, Finland, and South Korea are smart. At the same time, competition is so engrained in our national consciousness, if we have to compete, we should take the less obvious path, and strive to create the world’s most vibrant democracy. One that’s increasingly responsive to its citizens. We need to strengthen history education, embrace the humanities, and cultivate critical thinking in public K-12 schools and trust that our economy will be fine.

With apologies to Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, one economic and one political,

And sorry we could not travel both

And be one traveler, long we stood

And looked down one as far as we could

To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the political path, as just as fair,

And perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear.

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