Think about it, Senator Schumer

I am increasingly reluctant to write about political matters these days. Though politics used to be both my avocation and vocation, I’ve turned my attention and passion elsewhere in recent years. Further, as divided as we are, I resist contributing to that division.

So, when I blog on politics, I tend to do so as a political observer, scratching my head one day at the crazy waywardness of one side and then doing so with the other the next day.

Today I’m scratching my head over Chuck Schumer.

Now, I understand the Democrats’ upset at the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Garland. They had a point, though the strength of that point was diminished by comments from leading Democrats in the past that Republican nominations near the end of a presidential term should not be considered.

Further, I recognize that Democrats are very disappointed that the Clinton loss left them unable to fill this seat or any other that might open soon. Clearly, too, they don’t like the orientation of Judge Gorsuch.

Having noted all that, however, Schumer’s stated approach to the nomination is concerning and, ultimately, precedent setting in several damaging respects.

Schumer says the Democrats, for a variety of reasons, will filibuster the nomination of Judge Gorsuch. He argues – illogically – that a Supreme Court nominee should have to garner at least 60 votes, though, in this case, virtually none of them will come from Democrats.

This is a specious argument. Nominees in the past have been confirmed generally, but not always, with 60 votes because numerous Senators from the opposing party have tended to vote for nominees who, though of differing political philosophy, were qualified to serve on the Court.

 

For example, Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, though liberal, were approved respectively by votes of 96-3 and 87-9, winning considerable numbers of Republican votes. Justice Roberts was approved on a vote of 78-22, winning many Democratic votes.

Partisanship began to rear its head with the nomination of Alito by President Bush, and Sotomayer and Kagan by President Obama. But – and this is crucial for our situation – though Sotomayer and Kagan were easily as liberal as Gorsuch is conservative, there were no filibusters over their nominations. Further, Sotomayer won 9 Republican votes, and Kagan won 5 Republican votes.

If we’ve finally reached a stage where the minority party insists on filibustering a highly qualified person nominated by a president of the other party AND provides no or very few votes for that nominee, the way the new world will work is clear and likely ugly.

First, the majority party will use the nuclear option to prevent the use of the filibuster in the case of votes on Supreme Court nominees. And, second, virtually all the members of the majority party in the Senate will refuse to vote for a nominee of a President of the other party when the nominee inclines ideologically in the opposite direction of theirs.

Could this nightmare somehow work out well by forcing presidents to pick true moderates to the Court, if any such animals exist any longer in the political arena? That might be appealing to some, but it is highly unlikely.

More likely, we will reach yet a new and very serious stage of political gridlock in our nation, with Supreme Court seats going unfilled for lengthy periods of time, perhaps even until both the president and a majority of the Senate are of the same party. And, the constraints on them to resist going further out to the ideological edge in nominations will be fewer and weaker.

Think about it, Senator Schumer.

 

Where’s the Energy in the Middle?

I see the money, energy, and effort in education on both extremes. Do you?

The side that fights to the death to protect the status quo has tons of it and pours tons of it into play. So does the other side that wants to go purely to private school choice as if that will be a panacea.

But where’s the energy in the middle? Where are the people and the resources that need to be deployed to improve the schools and truly and vigorously hold them accountable to bringing students to high levels of proficiency?

I have been in the game for over 35 years, and, while there is commendable action in the middle still, I don’t see much any longer that is truly effective at pushing such accountability.

I see the money, energy, and effort in politics on both extremes. Do you?

The side that wants to fracture the world from the left has tons of it and pours tons of it into play. I had forgotten until recently the practice of paying people to engage in violent and disruptive protests.

And there’s the other side that spreads poison from the right, discouraging any moves to the middle as if seeking compromise is disloyal to the good and the right.

Where’s the energy in the middle? Where are the people and the resources urging mutual effort and compromise to achieve common sense solutions to today’s challenges, including immigration, health care, and economic growth?

I have been in the game for over 35 years, and I see little effective action from groups in the middle that drives consensus any longer.

I see the money, energy, and effort in the media on both extremes. Do you?

The side that pushes leftist ideology can be seen in many newspapers and magazines and abundantly on the networks. The same is true with the right, on its networks and blog sites.

But where’s the energy in the middle? Where are the people still committed to reporting the truth, whatever their ideology might be?

I have been in the game for over 35 years. There are some oases in the vast desert, but they are few and far between today.

I see the money, energy, and effort in the culture wars on both extremes. Do you?

The side that pushes the most awful, tawdry, and lewd programs, movies, and music in the history of the world operate without excuse or limits. And the other side is frequently horrified but tries mostly to escape into its own private world of resentment.

Where’s the energy in the middle? Where are the people who want to put the genie of indecency back in the bottle, encourage decent self-expression, and insist we be true to the values, largely from religion, that made us good and great in the first place?

I have been in the game for over 35 years. I don’t see much such movement in the middle.

This nation has been successful, for the most part, because the middle has held throughout most of our history, as the force that keeps us in balance. The middle has been the difference maker, the deciding factor.

This is because the majority has typically come from the middle and has been willing to assert itself when one side or the other or both extremes get carried away.

Where is the middle today? They don’t seem to be present, or play much any more.

I have seen their absence blamed on everything under the sun. It’s because of rotten re-districting, too much money in politics, life’s too complicated or busy, etc., etc.

Are regular folks just burned out? Have they lost their commitment?

Well – it’s time for them to return. It’s their civic duty. Damage is being done in their absence. It’s not irreversible, but the condition gets more serious each day. A good reading of our founders’ thoughts teaches it’s essential, fellow citizens. The old US of A is counting on you.

Where’s the energy in the middle?

Bannon Pays Soros to Pay Protestors

OK, OK – there’s no truth at all to that headline. One could even say it’s a “fake headline.”

Steve Bannon would never support anything George Soros does. And George Soros would never be associated with Steve Bannon.

But there’s a serious point I hope to make by it.

Before I do, I want to issue a few caveats. I admire people who engage in protest activity through legal and peaceful means. I was once an active protestor myself, and I support the exercise of First Amendment rights on behalf of deeply held beliefs. Further, I am not opining on the substantive merits of either side’s positions.

Rather, I merely want to explore the efficacy of certain strategies that are currently at play in American politics. The hypothesis of this short essay is grounded in the observation that we are an evenly and bitterly divided nation, in which the balance of power now resides with folks like the roughly 150,000 voters in the Midwest who swung the presidential election to Trump. Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are all states that have recently voted Democratic, yet, by narrow margins, voted Republican in this election.

Who were the voters who turned the tide? There has been some analysis of them, and there should be more. From what we know, they, essentially, appear to be today’s version of another era’s “Reagan Democrats.” They include independents and working class Democrats; people who believe they have been hurt by economic trends that have created difficulty and uncertainty for them; some who believe that cultural change has both gone too far, too fast and undermined their mores and values; and many who feel physically insecure in a world in which terrorism is ever-more threatening.

There clearly were “tremors” leading to the 2016 “earthquake” in elections during the past decade. The losses for Democrats in Congressional seats, governorships, and control of legislative chambers since 2010 have been unprecedented.

In the face of such massive defeats, the fundamental strategic question for Democrats must be: “what do we do now?”

Some suggest the party should go further to the left to excite the base. This approach was not the winning strategy in the late 1980s when the Democrats successfully responded to Reagan’s power by moving to the center, which helped bring Clinton to office. Indeed it’s not clear this strategy has ever worked anytime in the past for either party.

The principal tactic of choice for those who want to go left is the highly visible use of protests. Many such protests during the pre-election period turned violent. I think principally of Baltimore and Chicago. Since the election, there has been the Women’s March after the Inauguration, which had considerable support, but which featured the highly offensive comments of Madonna and Ashley Judd. And, after the ham-handed and poorly executed Trump Executive Order on immigration (which, by the way, was still supported 49-41% by the public, according to Reuters/Ipsos), there were more protests at airports and across the land.

As I mentioned, I once was an active protestor myself. As a student at Berkeley in the 1960s, I joined others in actively protesting Governor Reagan and the Vietnam War. My principal sense then and now about all that activity was that when the average “person on the street” saw the protests negatively, students lost ground politically. Indeed, it was a big win for Reagan when student protests were unappealing.

The only time students actually gained ground was when our means of opposition appealed to the middle, when the messaging spoke to the middle, and when the middle got exhausted by, and began to oppose, the Vietnam War.

What’s the lesson for today? Until the opposition to Trump appeals to the 150,000 voters who swayed the election and moves them away from Trump and to an alternative perspective, the left will make no progress, and, in fact, may even further alienate those who hold the balance of power. These voters most certainly didn’t care for the Alinsky-style tactics of many recent protests. The continuation of these tactics might feel good to the protestors but will work against the left’s interests.

My bet is that Steve Bannon is hoping George Soros continues to fund these tactics and that the left chooses to deploy them. He is likely counting on it to assure his man stays in power.

If Democrats are smart, they’ll turn instead to a current version of the Democratic Leadership Council to guide the opposition.

 

The Divine Comity

As we approach the inauguration of the new President, I think back to 2001 when President Bush was about to take office. I had helped him on education issues in the campaign and would be his Senior Education Adviser in the White House.

But there was more to our story than that. He was Republican. I had been an active Democrat. What was I doing in the picture?

As governor of Texas and then as President, he wanted to improve education dramatically, and he believed that doing so required cooperation and mutual commitment from both Republicans and Democrats.

Of the many education leaders of that era, none did more to improve student achievement than President Bush, and none made the progress on a bipartisan basis better than he.

I don’t want to get mushy about cooperation in government. Both sides hold to different views, for which our system requires that they fight vigorously. Too-easy compromise can take us nowhere. And the nation deserves better than the “tepid water” that too often is the result of everybody’s being happy in the legislative process.

But, as I think about the more significant policies that have moved our nation forward in recent times, most have had support from both sides, built with great effort, leadership, and comity.

My mind goes back to the Civil Rights Act in the Sixties. What a difference it made in the course of history that President Johnson had support from Senator Dirksen and other Republicans.

One remembers President Reagan working with leaders on both sides to make long-term fixes to the Social Security system.

Later, significant tax reform, ADA, welfare reform, and NCLB – none perfect, but all hugely difference-making for the country and responsive to both sides’ interests – passed because each side chose to work with the other.

In the past, no matter how contentious the battle for the presidency, the losing side deferred to the newly elected President in the confirmation of Cabinet members. From 1977-2013, the last six presidents made 109 appointments to Cabinet-level positions. Only six failed approval, all because of ethical issues.

As to Supreme Court nominees, going back to 1975, only one was voted down in the Senate, even with daunting filibuster rules in place. True liberals like Ginsburg and Breyer were confirmed by votes of 96-3 and 87-9, respectively. In Obama’s terms, Sotomayor and Kagan were confirmed by significant, bipartisan margins.

Yet, we’ve recently experienced a severe loss in comity. As House Speaker Paul Ryan has said, “it did not used to be as bad” as it has become. “And it does not have to be this way.” “People with different ideas, they are not traitors. They’re our fellow citizens. We shouldn’t go into the echo chamber where we take comfort in the dogmas and the opinions we already hold.”

I don’t know whether the cause of our current problems is the fractured media that thrive on provoking differences rather than encouraging a coming together. Or, the special interests that have funded the groups and views on the edge and left dry those in the middle. Or, the good people in the middle who either don’t have the stomach for the battle or have simply lost the full interest and commitment needed to make our republic work optimally.

Whatever it is, we must restore comity to our civic life. Yes, we must hold to our principles and fight for what we believe. But, as Speaker Ryan suggests, it’s time for more respect, mutuality, and a shared stake.

As hard as it will be to do, there’s no better time to start than this week when power passes peacefully under our Constitution.

One person has been elected President. He should be given the respect and deference we traditionally accord the President, and we should set high expectations of conduct for him as well.

There will be battles, to be sure, in Congress, the courts, and future elections. But the penchant for permanent trench warfare, which has been increasingly the choice of both sides, must be curbed.

An extended hand – not a fist – is what’s needed. Both sides must work at comity. And we, the people of the United States of America, must insist on it.

The wisdom of our tradition teaches:

“Behold how good and how pleasing if people could sit together in unity.”

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And, if not now, when?”

Bipartisan Mangling of Education – Now It’s Trump’s Turn

As readers know well, I have been critical of the Obama Administration on many of its major education decisions.

It was especially troubling, after failing to secure a timely reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, that the Administration exercised executive power in a very harmful manner, supposedly to “fix” the law. In effect, essential accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was badly weakened in return for states promising to adopt “reforms” that ultimately materialized on paper but seldom on the ground. Now, with no student achievement gains to show for it, and in the wake of a change of Presidents, the “reforms” will gradually but substantially vanish.

The recent election, of course, didn’t turn out well for the Democrats. Now we ponder where education policy is headed under President-elect Trump and his Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos.

Let me begin with some nice words.

For some reason, I like Donald Trump, certainly far more than do most of my peers. (Lord only knows, and I hope I’m right. But that’s all for another discussion.) In addition, I must say I am increasingly pro-choice in education, so I am impressed with the focus the new Administration is placing on choice.

With that, though, the nice words come to an end.

Let me state it simply. If Donald Trump were running education policy like he ran his successful businesses, he would never take the approach he is currently taking.

First, this talk of Common Core is utter nonsense. The feds haven’t promoted Common Core since the early Obama days, and now, they can’t, by law. However one feels about Common Core, what exactly is this “back to the locals” President saying he will do? Is he saying he’s going to demand that states and districts that choose to use the standards on their own should be prohibited from doing so? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Can you imagine the quite successful businessman, Donald Trump, acting in such a fashion in the management of his real estate entities?

Yet, the one area in which he and fellow Republicans have clearly eschewed a federal role is in demanding accountability for results from those who have been bestowed the largesse of federal borrowing, taxing, and spending.

Education policy now is little more than “we stopped doing this, and we will stop doing that” (which mostly means we’ll no longer hold local politicians and educrats accountable for their use of the billions of dollars the feds send their way).

I fail to see anything conservative or intelligent in the resulting policy. Now the feds are basically spending billions, leaving all the decisions to state and local bureaucrats, and no longer demanding student progress as the quid for the quo of the spending. And this will be the approach whether there are gains or not.

Would businessman Donald Trump act this way? Would he send tons of money to partner businesses with total control of how the dollars are spent and without any accountability for success? NO WAY.

Sadly, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s simply throwing out crowd-pleasing lines in education talk. They get applause. But, a a smart guy, Trump would never go this way, if he truly cared about the enterprise. And, as a person who seems to care a lot about economic growth, opportunity, and jobs, he should care about the details of education policy and insist upon, not merely wish for, its success.

This brings me back to the issue of parental choice. I’m for choice, and I’m glad he and his Secretary-to-be are, too. But is there to be any accountability to parents and taxpayers in the choice? And what happens in the policy if all or even most of the students and parents don’t get choice because choice opponents stall or minimize the degree to which choice occurs?

In other words, choice must be done right, and choice does not an entire policy make.

The real overall issue for Trump is whether he’s satisfied to relegate education policy to the typical sphere of ideology and political tummy tickling and back scratching. It would be more difficult to do the hard work to assure success. But, hard, smart work is the only true way to effect improvement for students. And it’s the only true way to effect improvement for the economy through a better-educated workforce.

The President-elect faced similar choices when he built his businesses. And, he knows: the easy, sloppy path didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. If he thinks through it deeply, he will understand. I hope he does. America will not be great under his watch if he doesn’t.

Why Keith Ellison For DNC Chair?

Although it’s hard to do, let’s put aside for the moment Keith Ellison’s unfortunate past in terms of both anti-Semitic comments and actions.

Indeed, let’s also put aside his previous affiliation with the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan.

Rather, let’s take him at his word that he’s apologetic about and truly disavows these earlier comments, actions, and affiliations.

The question remains: why in the world would the Democratic Party choose Keith Ellison to be the Chair of the Democratic National Committee at this particular time?

Put another way: why, after this election, would the Democrats choose a person who is as far to the left as is Keith Ellison to be their titular leader? In a recent ADA rating, which appears representative of where he is on the political spectrum, Ellison was 100%.

The Democrats have lost ground politically by every measure over the past eight years. The White House and both Houses of Congress are now firmly in Republican hands. And in the upcoming 2018 Senate elections it is the Democrats who are at greatest risk of further losses in seats currently held by Democrats in purple or even near-red states.

More state legislative chambers than ever are Republican-dominated, and virtually half the states now have both Republican governors and legislatures.

In this recent presidential election, states, traditionally won by Democrats, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, went Republican. And toss-up states, also in the Midwest, including Iowa and Ohio, voted with Trump.

A deeper dive into voting patterns in these states shows that many working class voters, who voted for President Obama in the past two elections, voted for Trump this time. The gap between union voters for the Democratic and the Republican candidates narrowed from 20% at the peak of Obama’s power to only 8% in this election, the same gap that existed when Reagan did so well with “Reagan Democrats.”

It’s instructive to look back in recent political history to see how Democrats have responded in the past to a loss of power when their base shrunk in such fashion.

In the wake of Richard Nixon’s rise to power, Bob Strauss and other centrists in the party came to positions of leadership and helped enable Jimmy Carter to re-claim middle ground and take power back in 1976.

In the wake of Ronald Reagan’s dominance of the political scene, the Democratic Leadership Council grew quickly and powerfully and set the stage for one of its centrist leaders, Bill Clinton, to take the presidency back in 1992.

Though President Obama certainly turned out to be no centrist, he initially ran a consensus-type campaign to bring America back together. One could argue that the loss of Democratic power during his terms may have been due to his serving in a manner that was out of sync with the manner and stance that had made him popular in the first place.

Some Democrats argue that the party ought to move further left to excite that part of its base. That’s exactly what the “wings” always argue, and the argument almost never turns out to work, for either party.

What works typically for Democrats when they lose is to recognize why a group of regular voters in the middle who often vote Democratic choose to vote Republican. These voters are constantly up for grabs, and they typically make all the difference in races that are determined “within the forty yard lines.” The winning path is to go after them with leaders and policies likely to attract them back, all in the middle.

These voters, generally speaking, leaned toward Carter, fled to Reagan, came back to Clinton, went to George W. Bush, sided with Obama, and recently decided to give Trump a try.

One would think that Trump has a better chance of keeping them if the Democrats choose to rally around the views and policies of a leader so far out to the left as Keith Ellison.

Of course, I’m an independent, so I have no role in this matter. So, chalk this blog up to my “just sayin’.”

This Election Has Turned Me to Religion!

I have been following politics virtually my entire life. I remember my mother putting me in front of one of those first generation TVs to watch the 1952 Democratic convention. I was only 3 years old.

 

It may have been part of the ethic of my family. Or it may have been a demand of the times. But the idea was clear. It was crucial to have good political leadership, and I was to make it a big part of my life’s work to seek, work for, and to support good political leaders. As it turns out, (though the leaders I’ve chosen have not always met with my mother’s approval), I have spent much time and energy, in politics, trying to help achieve this mission.

 

Now, we find ourselves in the middle of the 2016 presidential race. Isn’t this something? As a centrist, progressive on some issues and conservative on others, I find the current choice appalling. Indeed, I can’t think of a single campaign that I have followed personally in which the choice was worse. In fact, as an avid student of American history, I haven’t ever learned of one that was worse. But, I must concede I know little about John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, or Chester Arthur, or their opponents. So, forgive me if there were worse apples in one of those barrels.

 

There seems to be little satisfaction in the current race anywhere, even among partisans. Democrats tend to wish they had a better choice, as do Republicans. I still suspect most hardline party folks “feel worse” enough about their party’s opponent to justify a vote for the inadequate nominee of their own party.

 

The looming issue inevitably is: what the heck do we do after the election? Some trot out the old, rarely used option of moving to Canada, if their candidate loses. Some pledge to pay no attention whatsoever to politics, turning off the news shows at every opportunity and turning to sports, movies, or other effective distractions. Others vow to make life miserable from the beginning for victorious opponents. And a few good souls hope to be able to make a positive difference by working through the mess as best they can.

 

Since I have recently turned more and more to the study and teaching of sacred texts, I decided to seek guidance in the Bible for how to deal with this awful situation. Here’s what I found.

 

There are solid ideas about the nature and importance of good leadership. Leaders are to be effective, but they are to show some humility and restraint. In being asked to write out a scroll of the sacred text, the kings are to learn and be true to the values and principles that are important to God and community. Further, they are to understand that their work is about service to God and community, not their own interests. Their sovereignty is to be subservient to that of God and God’s expectations.

 

There is perhaps no better symbolic way of saying it than through words we find in Deuteronomy: a king must not acquire too many horses, too many wives, or too much silver and gold. Whatever that might mean in our day, surely, it will be true that whichever of these two wins, he/she won’t score very well against those ethical standards!

 

So, where indeed are we? As for me, I will probably resort to all of the options I mention above at different times and in different ways, save moving to Canada.

 

But here’s an additional insight that has been helpful for me, and it may be for you, too. When the Israelites moved into the Promised Land, after Joshua, there were roughly 375 years in which the people were led mostly by judges. Other than Othniel, Deborah, and Gideon, I can’t find any of them who were worth much of a damn.

 

After such a pitiful stretch, the people cried out for a change in “the rigged system;” they wanted a king. Both God and Samuel weren’t very happy with this request, but they relented. Then, for roughly 450 years, the people of Israel and Judah had 42 kings. Other than David, Hezekiah, Josiah, and perhaps a very few others, all the rest were bums.

 

The bottom line: while we might want good leadership, we rarely get it. Do we give up in despair? No. Do we desperately look for other leadership? Maybe, but that’s not the best path. The real leadership in Kings, I would suggest, comes from the prophets, Elijah and Elisha. These are true-blue people who live worthy lives in private and in public, trying their best to serve God and their neighbors, and finding meaning in doing so.

 

In the years ahead, let’s all pay less attention to the circus, acknowledging its fascinations, but recognizing its ugliness and resisting getting too caught up in it. Rather, let’s focus more on Elijah and Elisha, and certainly for Christians, Jesus, emulating them, and devoting our head, heart, soul, and resources to living as they did. If we do that, this election will not turn out as bad as it appears. Indeed we might be redeemed by it.

 

Why Isn’t Strengthening the Economy a Real Campaign Issue?

The headlines about the economy in the US are terribly worrisome.

 

Labor productivity growth has declined steadily from the early 2000s to a recent figure of 0.5%, which is close to a 40-year bottom.

 

The economy has been growing at an anemic rate of just barely over 1% in the past 12 months. The recoveryin the economy since the last recession is by far the weakest since World War II.

 

Business investment in recent quarters has actually turned negative. Its down 2.2% in the second quarter, which was also the fifth straight quarter in which businesses drew down inventories. Indeed business investment has been so weak in recent years it now subtracts from GDP growth.

 

As important as economic growth is and as potent as it typically is in presidential campaigns, the question arises: why have the two main candidates shown such meager leadership in presenting compelling plans to strengthen Americas economy?

 

The candidates and their supporters have made a big deal of how awful their opponent is, but theyve been unusually short on what they would actually do to transform and strengthen the economy

 

The campaigns say they have plans, and they do. Heres a short description and comparison of their positions: Comparing economic agendas Hillary Clinton & Donald Trump

 

But, at a time when we need a vision to move us forward fundamentally, its hard to see how these ideas will do much more than, at best, affect the economy at the margin. And, given the deep partisan differences that exist, its also hard to see, whichever of these candidates wins, any of these ideas coming to bear or having a real impact.

 

Further, given our huge and growing debt, one wonders where the funds will come from, for example, to inject significant and telling increases in infrastructure spending and, indeed, whether any feasible increase would much boost the economy. On the other side, we have proposals to threaten trade barriers to make trade fairer. More trade through fairer trade is certainly a worthy goal, but limiting free trade is not an effective growth strategy. So, even if one of these candidates could get his or her way, its not clear at all it would help much.

 

Could a president lead us culturally or socially to be more productive as a people? Are there other ideas, such as those of the House leadership, that would lead to greater growth and wages? Thats possible, but its certainly not convincing to voters generally that these candidates would be effective at much beyond announcing their paper plans.

 

The one thing I know a lot about from decades of research and experience is this: significantly improved education proficiency and workforce development could dramatically improve our economy and its prospects for our people.

 

The better paying jobs increasingly involve knowledge and skills many in the workforce do not have. A dwindling percentage of adults are working or looking for work. The workforce is less efficient. And, as mentioned above, our productivity and business investment seem to be dwindling.

 

I see nothing but rhetoric and/or throwing spending without accountability at the problems of our underprepared workforce. There are no serious proposals to get better results out of our education system. Rick Hanushek and others have shown that modest, steady increases in education proficiency could have dramatic effects in improving our GDP

 

Happily, also, we have jobs, and we could have more, if we applied more effective policies and strategies to create them. But, as to jobs that are currently available, many of our graduates and workers are frequently unprepared to take them on. Smarter coordination between business and higher education could turn the tide. Some companies, mostly in technology, are already experimenting with stackable certificates and other approaches. A president could turn these successes into a major, broader, and effective strategy, much of which could be pushed with little or no new federal spending.

 

But, instead, we mainly get huge doses of nastiness from each side about the opposition. We get old and stale policy plans. Yet, we get little in the way of doable, promising strategies and truly strong personal leadership that could both draw popular support and make a real difference in improving the economy and how it works for our people.

 

Demand more, friends. The nation deserves more.

Vote “Yes” on Pundexit!

I’m on a campaign against pundits and punditry. Call my movement, Pundexit.

Perhaps my feelings and fervor are due to the fact that I have more time to watch, listen to, and read pundits these days. Perhaps it’s that the media, largely the cable channels, have so much time and space to occupy, the increased capacity has attracted more mediocre fill. Or perhaps it’s that the media have not been demanding enough to let the old and stale wash away and disciplined enough to allow only the best and smartest new to come onto the scene. I suspect it might be all of the above.

I’ve written in other places about political and sports punditry that is of such low quality one wonders how consumers put up with it.

My beef today in this quick jab is with the general news and business coverage and punditry that accompanied the Brexit vote in Great Britain. Like many others who follow such matters closely, I was fixated at the television during and after the vote. My laptop was geared hour after hour to all manner of coverage on the Internet of the vote and its consequences.

Did you go through this ritual, too, of wall-to-wall coverage of, and commentary on, this important development? If so, here are some questions I want to pose to you.

How much commentary did you experience that led to the view that something very damaging had happened? How much commentary was based on the pundits’ own opinions or their repetition of others’ opinions? How shallow was the commentary? And then when the story was drained of its emotion and there was another hot rock topic to jump to, how quick was the spotlight moved off of Brexit?

As for me, I would answer “very” or “a lot” to all these questions.

As sophisticated as I would like to think the financial markets are, it appears from the 900 point, two-day drop in the Dow, for example, that those who made short term money decisions followed the pundits in believing something terrible had happened.

I’ll put aside for the moment the conspiratorial possibility that the coverage and the instant reactions in the market were organized, at least in part, by those who sold short or otherwise benefited from the fear that something very bad had happened.

I certainly don’t want to argue here that the vote didn’t have negative repercussions. But why didn’t the pundits immediately ask and answer questions that would have put the vote in proper perspective and show the public how little reason there was for panic?

Here are some of the questions that precious few pundits raised, at least in their totality:

  • Did the referendum have a legal impact?
  • What body or bodies would have to act to give it effect? What was the position of such body or bodies on the Brexit vote itself?
  • Since the vote was so close, what might be the obstacles in such body or bodies to implementing the vote, especially if the bodies included groups with differing agendas, such as the British Parliament and the EU?
  • How many different and complex issues would have to be resolved to achieve an exit, and what are the many ways of resolving such issues?
  • Could an ultimate resolution of these issues end up leading either to Britain remaining in the EU, with certain revisions in their participation, or their leaving under terms that might be close in important respects to the terms of their current participation?
  • What are the politics in both Britain and the EU that will affect the resolution of all these complex matters?
  • Is all of this so complex and will it take so long to deal with that Britain might never leave and/or the EU may change in certain ways, good or bad, in response to the vote?
  • Had these questions been discussed fully and intelligently immediately after the vote, would the markets have behaved more calmly? Indeed is it possible when the markets finally did do the thinking the pundits should have helped the public do, the markets largely recovered their losses.

It’s time to give pundits the heave-ho and start thinking for ourselves. If we want or need expert counsel to help us, let’s find ways of securing it outside the channels of media mediocrity. Starve the bums by not watching, listening, or reading them.

Vote yes on Pundexit!

 

 

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

With notable exceptions, such as the Civil War, I believe we are living in one of the most contentious, least cohesive times in our history. And it poses serious dangers for our future. Let’s look at the evidence.

First, has there ever been a greater division in our politics? I will not romanticize the past. Elections earlier in our history were vicious. The contests, for example, between the Federalists and the Republicans in the early 1800s were nasty and brutish. But I do not remember a time in recent history in which the two main candidates for president were as negatively viewed as now. Well over 50% view both Clinton and Trump unfavorably. We are slated to have the first president in modern times who will start off his/her service with no interest whatsoever on the part of the opposition to cooperate. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/06/09/fox-news-poll-trump-drops-now-trails-clinton.html?intcmp=hpbt1

Just this past week we experienced the latest and one of the worst terrorist-inspired attacks on our own soil. This is bad enough. But what’s worse is we face the challenge very much divided. One side sees it as evidence of radical Islamic terrorism in need of a harsh and strong response. Others think greater gun control is the principal remedy to the violence. And yet others call for greater love and compassion, and less hate.

It’s not that the right approach might not consist of some of these responses. The problem, rather, is that we appear totally unable to work toward any consensus, and we don’t appear even to want to try. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/once-again-national-tragedy-drives-americans-further-apart/2016/06/12/ec6c6350-30bc-11e6-8758-d58e76e11b12_story.html?tid=pm_pop_b

Ideologically, we are deeply split. The media are as fragmented as ever, promoting our splits even more. Culturally, there is little that binds us – in the arts, in music, in literature. We seem, from many different indicators, to have lost much of a sense of history, including the essential quality of a shared sense of history.

And our resort to religion as a source of guidance, comfort, and shared ground is at an all time low.

Weakness in our society as measured by the education and economic condition of all our people is worrisome. We made progress in the 2000s in closing achievement gaps and improving the education of students, but that progress has now stalled. Our economy, though recovered considerably from the Great Recession, shows signs of serious and enduring problems that we seem unwilling or unable to address.

I am not by nature a pessimist, but I am as worried about the future of our beloved nation as I have ever been. We’ve faced problems in the past of at least as great a magnitude as those of today. But we stood closer together and were more united in doing so. That made a huge, perhaps determinative, difference. This is not to say that we are on the verge, at least yet, of civil disruption. But, rather, we largely go our own way, and it is increasingly down many separate, and often opposing paths, with increasing animosity or antipathy to others and the other side.

The history of the world teaches many powerful lessons. We would be well advised to be especially mindful of them. While this maxim does not guide us explicitly on how to get back on path, it might be a good piece of wisdom with which to begin our journey – united we stand, divided we fall.

Let’s make our first assignment a reading and understanding of the truth of the powerful fable from Aesop, The Four Oxen and the Lion.  Then let’s come back together to consider all the many other things we must do to join together to strengthen ourselves against all the many “lions” that threaten our well-being and our future.