The Love of a Good Liberal

I used to be able to avoid thinking about Conservatives. I occasionally thought about Republicans, but mostly I just ignored the whole batch of right-wing, addlepated, anti-everything-humane people. I might shake my head in dismay/wonderment at their antics about birth certificates, pizza parlors, and Sarah Palin, but I didn’t give them much thought. I was sure we’d elect the qualified woman, and she’d probably bring along a few legislators, who would then confirm some sensible nominees for the Executive and Judicial branch, and America, while still struggling with its ever-diminishing cadre of religious radicals and other fascists, would continue – ever stronger – down the track of justice for all.

Then … those simple conservative Republicans became active, empowered threats to my country. Their bubbling whackiness boiled over. Their domestic and foreign corporate overlords seated a dangerous dupe in the White House and radical Conservatives (not an oxymoron) took over my country.

The donors, surrogates, and competitors for rank and privilege couldn’t have succeeded without a bunch of people who believe they are the true saviors of American Liberty. The Defenders of the Constitution. The Experts on how business, government, and diplomacy should work. The believers in American Exceptionalism – but only as expressed in and for some Americans. But, who are these people? Really … who are they? How do they see America? What do they want?

As much as I’d like to take some (more) cheap shots and post commentary and photos from their rallies, torchlight marches, and Congressional hearings, I really do want to understand how so many of my fellow citizens can subscribe to notions so antithetical to the principles on which our Republic was established. I think there is a significant disconnect between what they think they stand for and what they actually vote for. But maybe not.

Today’s American Conservatives are closer in philosophy to the classical liberals of 19th Century America, to whom laissez faire did not mean leave us ALL alone, just those of us who benefited from government-provided tariffs, railroad subsidies, and infrastructure improvements: in other words, those who owned the means of production, not those who labored for them. Those classical liberal capitalists believed the tenets of laissez faire described by economist Toufic Gaspard as:

  • The individual is the basic unit in society,
  • The individual has a natural right to freedom, and
  • The physical order of nature – and the market – is an harmonious and self-regulating system.

They decidedly did not, however, accept Gaspard’s final principle that:

  • Corporations are creatures of the state and therefore must be watched closely by the citizenry due to their propensity to disrupt the spontaneous [natural] order.

That final clause of this definition of laissez faire has always been the only portion of that economic practice that advantaged the worker and consumer, not the producer. Wage earners and consumers are necessary for those owners, but if there were a way to make a profit without producing a product, and thereby not needing workers or consumers, capitalists would do it. And guess what … there is a way: Wall Street.

The overarching method for profiting from something you didn’t produce is called arbitrage, which is simply buying low and selling high. Modern arbitrage in financial markets occurs with the simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities, or other financial assets in different markets to profit from unequal prices. For a closer-to-home version, if you buy discounted DVDs from Wal-Mart and sell them for a little bit more on eBay, that’s arbitrage, too. And so is playing with currency exchange by swapping two or more national currencies back and forth to make a profit in one of them.

Today’s American Liberals understand that businesses do not exist for the benefit of anyone but their owners. We do not believe in trickle-down economics. Further, we have centuries of experience demonstrating that periods of unrestricted free enterprise never end well for societies. Market economies without rules produce at least one of these three things: bubbles, revolutions, or retrenchment. In a speculative bubble, some asset has risen far above its historic or intrinsic value. For a clearer explanation, ask anyone whose house is still upside-down following the mid-2000s housing bubble. All revolutions against the ruling class are supported by disenfranchised bourgeoisies and peasants (or, as we call them now, wage-earners and the chronically underemployed). Retrenchment is the best bet for reducing both economic inequality and bloodshed. However, successfully re-orienting an economy to greater fairness demands wisdom, strength, and a balance between selflessness and self-interest that translates politically into “give a little, get a little.” And this is the fundamental separation point between America’s 21st Century Liberals and Conservatives. As Liberals, we are prepared to accept somewhat less so that more of us can have somewhat more; or put another way, Liberals want a bigger pie while Conservatives want a bigger piece.

Conservatives themselves on divided on political and social issues, but the two most basic positions for them are: 1) things used to be better; and 2) there isn’t enough for everyone. Christian Conservatives want to return to the morals and mores of the pre-Industrial Revolution eras, with women again operating in their separate sphere and God’s ministers (i.e., men) making the decisions for all of us. Constitutional Conservatives believe that the U.S. Constitution must be interpreted as it was originally written, ignoring the facts that the world has moved beyond the Old Post Road, slavery, and black-powder muskets. Libertarian Conservatives hate government, love business, and are sometimes at war with Social Conservatives, who believe that personal freedom should be circumscribed by 19th Century rules. Neoconservatives care more about foreign policy than fiscal policy and are interventionists determined to extend America’s brand of democracy around the world – using economic and military clout to do so. And finally, Paleoconservatives espouse the old-time religion of the traditional family, tribalism, and isolationism.

As we might expect, more Democrats identify as Liberal and more Republicans identify as Conservative. It’s also no surprise that the most Conservative states are among “the least well-off, least educated, most blue collar, and most economically hard-hit.”[1] (Not for nothing are the most liberal democrats the Progressive wing of the Party.) I believe we could overlay the Republican U.S. map on the Conservative U.S. map and we’d have a close match. Conservatives believe poverty and inequality are personal failings. Liberals understand that systemic factors – primarily economic and racial – play the largest role in limiting opportunities. Liberals believe that extending a hand-up in employment, education, and other areas is not the same as giving a hand-out … and even if it were, shouldn’t people who have a history of generational discrimination be given some long-delayed affirmative action and justice?

In the past few decades, Conservatives have convinced people that Liberals are soft on crime and weak on national security. That’s an easy talking point and, as we’ve learned to say in these hyper-partisan times, red-meat for the base. But is it true? And is it germane? And would it be such a bad thing? Conservatives have given us private prisons, mass incarceration, criminalization of poverty, militarized police departments, and the school-to-prison pipeline – all of which impact People of Color disproportionately. Conservatives have given us unending wars in areas where private economic interests far outweigh national security needs. Also, given that deleterious climate change destroys the lives and livelihoods of people globally, increasing the likelihood of regional conflict over diminishing resources, Conservative denial of our human impact on the planet prevents us from addressing these threats. Acknowledging the reality of climate change is the greatest step toward securing our nation’s wellbeing we can take.

As I said before, more Democrats are Liberals and more Republicans are Conservatives. To answer the questions: Who are these Conservatives? How do they see America? What do they want? maybe I should let them speak for themselves. Here’s the link to the 2016 Republican Party Platform. As you read it, winnow out the hyperbole and qualifying modifiers. Look for the declarative sentences. Maya Angelou told us, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.”

Cheaters and abusers say to us, “Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?” Are Conservatives in a long-term abusive relationship with political leaders and media figures who lie and cheat? Are they blinded by privilege, exceptionalism, and willful ignorance? Can the love of a good Liberal redeem them?



Education: Not Just For Jobs

This post includes examples that are specific to Georgia. I suspect
that circumstances in other states are similar.

In the past 20 or so years, I’ve seen two themes predominating in conversations, studies, and opinion pieces about education: 1) we aren’t preparing our kids for 21st century jobs; and 2) American students are falling farther behind students from other countries.

Before I share my thought about those topics, though, let’s take care of the elephant in the classroom: vouchers and school choice.

Currently, Georgia has a voucher program for special-needs students and a tax credit program for people or businesses that donate to private school scholarship organizations. Those scholarships go to families whose kids couldn’t otherwise afford a private school. That all seems very straight-forward. The only taxpayer money for education in Georgia goes to public schools or to families of children with special needs that cannot be met by public schools.

Here’s where it gets sticky. In every recent state legislative session, laws have been proposed that would greatly extend the voucher program. In Georgia, educating a child for one public-school year costs around $9,200. If one of the Republican-sponsored “Education Savings Account” bills became law in Georgia, any family, regardless of financial or medical need, could claim $4,500 from that per-student allotment and spend it however they wanted on their child’s education. The money could be used toward private-school (including religious-based schools) tuition; but it could also be used for homeschooling or music lessons. Just about the only requirement is that the student not attend a public school.

That “school choice” money would come directly from public school budgets, and this is what happens when you strip money from schools: the schools get worse. Student outcomes get worse. Teacher salaries stagnant or fall. School buildings deteriorate. Materials and technologies fall farther behind.

Writing about one of these Education Savings Account bills in 2015, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist, Jay Bookman, said, “We have schools in this state that haven’t been able to keep their doors open for 180 days a year; we have schools in which band and music programs have had to be slashed to the bone or even eliminated. And we’re going to divert state taxpayer money to finance private piano and violin lessons for private-school students whose parents would be paying for such things anyway?”

While many people, including me, think these unlimited voucher bills weaken public education, in 2015, Georgia state representative Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming), said they offer parental choice. “We are giving a menu of choices to parents. This is not an anti-public school system bill.” But Maureen Downey, also writing in the AJC, says that the bills are extensions of “the fallacious argument that ‘the money should follow the students because it’s their money.’ It’s not the students’ money. It’s not the parents’ money. It’s the community’s money. Taxpayers contribute to the common cause of public education because they believe it’s a collective responsibility to educate the next generation for the good of all.”[1]

It’s fine to say a family can take their voucher and go to a better school. Let’s look at that. The average tuition for a private high school in Cobb County is $9,581; in Fulton it’s $15,291; in DeKalb it’s $19,880. A family that can already pay that tuition doesn’t need state money to do so. A family that can’t make up the difference between the voucher and the tuition isn’t going to send their children to one of those schools. Suppose there is a relatively inexpensive private school the child can attend, but it’s a long way from home. The adults in the house have to get to work every morning. No bus lines run near the home. How does the kid get to the affordable private school? Certainly, in some instances all the pieces will fall into place, and a child can go to a school that better suits her or his talents, interests, and needs. But make no mistake, these Republican-sponsored voucher bills aren’t designed for those few students; they are designed to further weaken our public schools and further entrench inequality into our State.

Most of us agree that K-12 education should be controlled by the states, not Washington. However, this current administration has entered into the voucher debate by naming a foe of public education, Betsy DeVos, as the Secretary of Education. She intends to extend school vouchers to allow more kids to go to private or religious schools. This is entirely in keeping with a statement by President Trump that public schools are “a government-run monopoly.” Moving it into the federal sphere of influence, as President Trump and Secretary DeVos have done, gives our elected representatives opportunities to challenge the elitist thinking that traditional private schools and religious schools should benefit from the willful destruction of public education.


Now that I exposed the Republican thinking behind so-called school choice, I want to give you my thoughts on job preparation. I agree that we haven’t taught our students what they need to succeed in 21st century jobs. That’s not, however, because we don’t teach coding or have robotics competitions or organize cooperative learning experiences. We do all that, in some schools. What I believe we don’t successfully teach in K-12 is thinking. Too many students come to college ill-prepared to derive, analyze, and synthesize information to form new thoughts, to develop new concepts. Innovation – a cornerstone of 21st century success – requires those higher-level thinking skills.

For the second concern, students not performing up to their peers in other countries, the statistics are clear. Here’s what the Pew Research Foundation found. “One of the biggest cross-national tests is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which every three years measures reading ability, math and science literacy and other key skills among 15-year-olds in dozens of developed and developing countries. The most recent PISA results, from 2015, placed the U.S. an unimpressive 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science.” [2] That is more evidence that rote learning and teaching-to-the-test isn’t working for our kids.

Here are my thoughts about these two factors, and some suggestions for what we can do to turn these around. The median salary for a public school teacher in Roswell, Georgia in 2017 is around $55,000. Entry level requirements for teaching jobs in most states include bachelor’s degrees, teacher training, testing, and licensure. I compared the teacher’s salaries and requirements to those of Certified Public Accountants. The requirements for those jobs are similar now, though they weren’t always.[3]

In a quick search in online job boards, I found listings for two CPAs in Alpharetta, Georgia. The starting salaries, depending on experience, were between $69,000 and $100,000. The salary for an experienced Roswell teacher with graduate-level degrees tops-out at around $75,000.

If we think our children should get the best education possible, let’s recruit the best teachers and pay them accordingly. The problem isn’t with teacher training, and it isn’t with the people who choose to enter an underpaid, often thankless, frequently micro-managed career that places unrealistic burdens on them to manage too-large classes while teaching their subjects to too many students who didn’t learn or retain knowledge from previous school years.

In addition to improving teacher salaries, let’s take a look at the curriculum. I am a fan of the humanities, of liberal arts. We cannot produce caring, involved, compassionate, thinking people if we do not give them ample opportunities to understand how people in other parts of the world live and have lived – and how those experiences affect the current political and economic conditions. It’s a cliché, but that doesn’t make it less true: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Also, I think music and art should be funded at the same levels as athletics. I’d recommend spending more on libraries than on stadiums. And let’s have pep rallies for the Chess Team. I’m not being facetious. I believe that spending so much classroom time teaching children to pass tests in math and science is less important than spending that time giving them encouragement and opportunities to explore broader interests and disciplines.

Why do I think that art, music, history, language, chess, debate, volleyball might be as important as chemistry and algebra? Because I don’t think everyone should have to go to college. Or rather, I don’t think kids should feel that the only marker of success is going to college. For some students, like me, college was exactly the right choice. For some of my friends at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., a two-year vocational training program would have been the best choice. Other classmates would be happiest moving directly from high school to jobs. I have a friend who tried to go to college – twice – right after graduating from high school. She says now that she wasn’t ready. She got a job. After some years, she went back to college and earned a B.A. and an M.A. Not all of us can, or should, follow the path others set out for us. Let’s build an educational system that gives students the necessary tools and values to make choices about their futures, whether that means college, vocational school, or a job.

I’d like to see our elected and appointed officials:

  • Ensure that the Federal government provides support to States for preparing our children for 21st century jobs. These actions from Washington should include both stick & carrot encouragement to make educational opportunities equally available in all communities.
  • Support federal- and state-subsidized job training programs for experienced workers and tuition-free vocational-technical schools for qualified young people who don’t want to go to a four-year college. Also, take student loans out of the hands of for-profit corporations.
  • Waive student loans for public-school teachers and teacher’s aides.






Show Some Respect for Science

How did science become something to deny? How, 500 years after Copernicus, 400 years after Galileo, 300 years after Newton, 200 years after Jenner, 100 years after Einstein did we begin to doubt the evidence we gather from observable phenomena and repeatable experiments?

Cui bono? That’s Latin for “who benefits?” When I look at science denial that way, my question becomes not How, but Why? And then, cui bono? Who?

Why do some people say that DDT and PCBs aren’t a risk to humans and animals?
Why do some people say that cigarette smoking isn’t a cause for cancer?
Why do some people say that antibiotics in animal feed don’t lead to antibiotic-resistant superbugs?
Why do some people say that human activities don’t contribute to climate change?

Cui bono?

Chemical industry.

Tobacco industry.

Pharmaceutical industry.

Fossil fuel industries.

Denying science is a profit-based paradigm. Legislators take campaign contributions and expense-paid junkets from companies that need their votes to continue to profiting from science denial. The current administration strips power and effectiveness from science-intensive and environmental and consumer protection agencies by slashing budgets, shuttering facilities, firing staff, shutting down websites, criminalizing dissent, and disparaging their missions.

For state and federal legislators, resisting these industry-promoted inducements requires some backbone and a strong grip on principles and reality.

One reality of science denial that isn’t given enough attention, I believe, is the damage it does to our security at home and abroad. Denying the efficacy of vaccines leads to an upsurge in communicable diseases. Denying the truth of evolution forces schools to dumb-down the science curriculum. Denying the validity of science generally increases the likelihood we’ll be overtaken economically by reality-based countries.

In the 1990s, one of my friends worked for Ambassador C. Paul Robinson, a physicist who was the Chief Negotiator and head of the U.S. Delegation to the U.S./USSR Nuclear Testing Talks in Geneva from 1988-90. In about 1994, Ambassador Robinson told her that wars would be fought over access to water. In 2005, the Ambassador was the keynote speaker at the Center for Strategic & International Studies[1] workshop on Global Water Futures. At those meetings, scientists discussed ways to help protect the earth’s water resources. Note, please … scientists discussed this. They showed graphs and charts, they delivered presentations, they argued, they shared data, they proposed solutions. Scientists and experts. Not lobbyists. Not CEOs. Not Breitbart, InfoWars, or FoxNews conspiracists.

Climate change is a national security issue. Denying that ice caps are melting, that deserts are expanding, that forests are disappearing, that wildfires are raging does not make those environmental disasters go away. Denial of these crises prevents us from addressing the security challenges caused by climate change. For awhile, the developed world will be somewhat protected from the daily deprivations of worsening conditions. True, in America we may have stronger hurricanes, fiercer fires, icier winters, more blistering summers, and water flowing through Miami’s streets at high tide. However, we have protections in place to mitigate most dangers: we have infrastructure, communications, and transportation. Some of our fellow citizens will die each year from threats born out of damage done to the earth. But in some parts of the world, which experience climate change as famine, disease, destruction of food sources and shelter, hundreds of thousands of people have already died. These people are seeing the eradication of their cultures, and they know with grim certainty that not having enough water or food is a catalyst for war. How long before we know that, too?

Legislators and other elected and appointed government officials can show some respect for science by:

  • Not accepting campaign funds, gifts, or services from any of the following industries: fossil fuel, pharmaceutical, chemical, or tobacco, nor from any PAC or individual supporting their interests.
  • Carefully studying any proposed legislation that purports to be based on science paid for by any organization or institution supported or sponsored by any of those industries.
  • Supporting full funding of departments and agencies that are science-based, that provide environmental and consumer protections, and for the Public Broadcasting System, National Public Radio, the National Endowment of the Arts, and other mediums of communication that support the dissemination of scientific information.