Friday, January 31, 2014

Before we go bailing out Dennis McGlynn and Delaware casinos . . .

. . . let's take a moment to think about pretending to save jobs while actually (a) socializing the losses of millionaires and (b) throwing good money after bad.

You will note that today's WNJ article bemoaning the drop in Dover Downs net gambling profits from last years' $4.7 million to a mere $13,000 heavily quotes DD CEO Dennis McGlynn talking about how badly his industry needs another State bail-out:

Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment and Dover Motorsports Inc., said the earnings drop, caused by an increase in competition and disproportionate tax rates, validates long-held concerns by casinos that the state has not kept up with a rapidly changing casinoindustry. 
“I think the numbers validate the story we’ve been telling everyone basically, and most particularly those who do control our destiny,” McGlynn said. 
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what next year is going to look like,” he said. 
The casino reported revenues of $197.2 million as of Dec. 31, down from $225.9 million in 2012. Expenses dropped from $215.6 million in 2012 to $195 million last year, according to the casino’s earnings report. 
The casino is carrying $47 million in debt in the form of a revolving line of credit, down from $58 million in 2012.
Before we start shedding tears for Mr. McGlynn and his noble quest to keep blackjack dealers and security guards in their jobs if only the State of Delaware will come up with another bail-out, let's understand a couple of things:

First, Mr. McGlynn has personally become a millionaire several times over thanks to State largess.  In 2011 his compensation from Dover Downs Casinos was $351,000; from Dover Motorsports was $285,600; and from Campus Crest Communities was $30,000.  While his current earnings (and, one suspects, this list from Forbes was not complete) can't be easily determined, we do know that his compensation from Dover Motorsports jumped up from that $285,600 to $422,550 in 2012.

So while Mr. McGlynn is sounding his warnings about economic collapse, you have to realize that he's personally done incredibly well thanks to the State of Delaware limiting his competition inside our borders, subsidizing his business, and supporting his loans.  He's not so much crying about the loss of a blackjack dealer's $50,000/year job, but about the dangers to his own lifestyle.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with being successful . . . unless your success is continually underwritten by other people's tax money and you perennially walk around Dover holding a tin cup in your hand crying that you need more, more, more . . .

Oh, and Mr. McGlynn does spread the wealth to the politicians in the area whose job it is to keep that corporate welfare rolling in.  Here's just 2012:

[Unfortunately for Dover Downs, backing Lincoln Willis last time around turned out to be a good bet gone bad.  Wonder if he's supporting Trey Paradee this year?]

I can't find (yet) comparable earnings information on other people like Delaware Park LLC CEO Andrew Gentile, but you can make a safe bet that Mr. Gentile isn't personally hurting, either.

The reality is that the Delaware General Assembly bet the farm on casino gambling, and refused to acknowledge signs as far back as 2007 that there was now regional competition, and that you couldn't just sit there and wait for people to travel to Dover and throw their quarters into your slot machines.

So our legislators treated casino income as a more or less fixed part of the State budget and happily spent it all, every year, and counted on it in projections for the future.  Then other States got casinos (including more modern casinos with more bells and whistles) and--BAM!--bloom off rose.

So now legislators and the Governor find themselves scrambling to find ways to throw more money at millionaire casino CEOs ostensibly to "save jobs," but really to avoid losing easy tax revenue that is going to diminish relentlessly over the next several years now matter what they do.

So while they claim to be struggling to find the money to fund Medicaid expansion, hitting State workers with the first raise Jack Markell has ever proposed (a whopping 1%), and plotting to borrow half a billion dollars to build new roads and bridges, our legislators will also be shoveling millions of dollars toward Dover Downs, Delaware Park, and Harrington Raceway.

Time to bite the bullet, ladies and gentlemen, and admit that your entire premise was wrong, and that we have to start over when thinking about long-term fiscal stability.

Yeah, that's going to happen.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

About the minimum wage increase . . .

. . . which is almost sure to come up for a vote this week . . .

There are important things to understand about the minimum wage in Delaware, not the least of which would be that about 11,000 workers make at or below the minimum, which is about 5% of our workforce.  About two-thirds of those workers are women; about 51% of them are age 24 or younger [2012 stats].

The first thing to realize is that whether you support the bill or not, it is not going to do very much, either to the businesses or for the employees.  Governor Markell's proposed 10-cent per gallon hike to the gasoline tax will hurt businesses a lot more than the minimum wage hike, and neither McDonalds or Wal-Mart can really cut their staffing much further.

But the optics allow the Democrats to portray themselves as on the side of the workers, and the Republicans to present themselves as on the side of small businesses . . . while neither one gets anything done for Delaware citizens (especially in Wilmington) stranded in poverty in a State where it is far more difficult than the national average to get out of poverty.

So what can we do?  First, let's talk a little more honestly about the issue, and expose a couple of unlovely truths that you won't hear from the Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly, or from Governor Markell's press releases.  [And then, I promise, I'll make specific policy recommendations that are different from what you're seeing out of your favorite D or R politicians.]

Charter schools: Because WNJ reporters don't write their own headlines . . .

. . . because this one--the subtitle--is a fascinating piece of work:


More charter school growth coming, applications show 
Public schools are OK with the competition
So what's wrong with that?  Well, possibly just the fact that very little in  Matthew Albright's story even addresses the question of whether "public schools" are "OK with the competition."

In point of fact, only Brandywine School District Superintendent Mark Holodick addresses the issue at all:
“I think charter schools, like private and parochial schools, give us healthy competition. If they make us think differently about what we are doing and offer better services, that’s a good thing,” said Brandywine School District Superintendent Mark Holodick. “This is not something that I’m worrying about or focused on.”
Possibly that's because, for a variety of reasons, Brandywine has been able to insulate itself from the charter school movement.  Part of that has been intentional (as Pandora would tell you) in the placement of BSD's IB program and the district's carefully calculated flouting of the Neighborhood Schools Act to keep its elementary schools from becoming de facto segregated institutions.  An equal part of that (Pandora and I go round and round on this one) is that BSD has a significantly stronger tax base than its neighbors and is able to spend about $3,000 more per student per year, and contains a distinctly smaller subsection of the poorer areas of Wilmington than Red Clay or Christina.  And a small part of Holodick's willingness to see charters as "healthy competition" is that BSD has traditionally (regardless of the Superintendent in office) never quite seen itself as a part of the Delaware public school system.  Just ask people, and you'll hear the answer, "Yeah, but that's Brandywine . . ."

My point is neither to bury nor praise BSD, but to point out that the opinion of the State's northernmost school district should not be read as a general comment that public school districts are "OK with the competition" from charters.  They might be, they might not be--nothing in this article tells us.

On the other hand, the remarks of others indicate that there IS considerable concern, but that concern is carefully constructed as subtle shots at traditional school districts.  Try these paragraphs, wherein there is a lot to parse:

Still, Holodick and others say it would be wise for the state to think about plans for long-term growth. Jennifer Nagourney, the new head of the state charter school office, would not say the state needs to rein in the number of applications, but did say some school districts that haven’t planned well have suffered consequences. 
“We are very interested in having conversations about what the long-term plan for our charter schools are,” Nagourney said. “We need to talk about what is sustainable and, most importantly, what provides the best situation for our students.” 
Charter school advocates say there’s no reason to apply brakes now. 
“We’re not trying to break down the system, we’re trying to provide as many high-quality options for kids as we can,” said Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network. “Until every student has a great educational opportunity, there will not be too many charter schools.”
Let's try this in sequence:

1.  Reason to think about long-term growth plans, says Jennifer Nagourney of the DOE Charter School Office, while blandly blaming any problems on traditional school districts:  "some school districts that haven't planned well have suffered consequences."  This is fascinating language from a person whose pedigree is not, per se, the regulation of charter schools but the advocate for their untrammeled expansion.  As for school districts that "haven't planned well," perhaps Ms. Nagourney could explain exactly how districts plan to cope with new charters authorized in the middle of their areas via a state process that districts have neither say in nor control over.  It is a clever piece of rhetoric to have the State Official responsible for supervising charter schools subtly (or not so subtly) change the conversation by blaming traditional school districts for any problems that might emerge.

2.  You can follow that through in Nagourney's consistently shaded comments in the second paragraph:  "the long-term plans for our charter schools" and "what provides the best situation for our students."  One could be excused for wondering if the OUR in the first clause and the OUR in the second both concern only charter schools.  If--as the grammarian in me suspects--Ms. Nagourney means exactly what she appears to say, then again I should make the point that what DE DOE has done is hire a bureaucrat to cheerlead for rather than manage charter schools in Delaware--and again that is what her background would lead one to suspect.

3.  "We're not trying to break down the system," says Kendall Massett of the Charter Schools Network in what must win the prize for most mock-disingenuous comment of the week.  Of course they are attempting to break down the system--in the honest early days of the Delaware charter school movement, that's exactly what advocates claimed would happen.  It was their mantra--the existing system was already broken, and only by taking resources out of it an handing those resources over to them would an entirely new system develop.  But extreme charter school advocates have, within the past year to eighteen months, suddenly realized that there is pushback, and so have begun modifying their rhetoric if not (yet) their tactics.  Ms. Massett and Ms. Nagourney must publicly claim that their efforts are on behalf of all students, that inadvertent setbacks for students not in their ranks yet are solely attributable to failures in the original system, and that the long-term future of public education in Delaware is for us to become (they think it, but don't say it) the first all-Charter School state.

4.  The foregoing all apply to Mr. Albright's sources--he is hardly to blame for what they choose to tell him.  But I will (at least mildly) call him to account for not asking an important journalistic question:  controlling for income and ethnicity, how well have Delaware charter schools performed for their students?  The answer, if one is honest and consults the data, is about the same--sometimes a little better, sometimes worse.  This is a critical (and usually absent) piece of data from charter school discussions, the fact that when comparable student populations are compared, there is no strong evidence that Delaware charter schools do any better at educating children than traditional public schools.  In cases like Reach Academy, wherein the parents are fighting to keep the school open despite consistently poor academic results, one gets a glimpse of the fact that it is preference, emotion, and perceived exclusivity that really drives loyalty to charter schools rather than performance.  One day it would be good to see the WNJ actually take on this aspect of the conversation, but I'm not holding my breath.

The irony here is that I feel a lot like what Ronald Reagan used to say about the Democrats:  "I didn't leave them, they left me."

I've been a long-term believer in charter schools--my twins attend Charter School of Wilmington.  I've defended CSW's entrance standards and "placement exams."  I've supported candidates who supported charter schools and school choice.

But there is a point at which people of integrity need to exam facts and data rather than hype or self-interested rhetoric.  Nearly two decades into the charter/choice era in Delaware it is time to face the fact that the benefits (and there have been many) from those policies have also been accompanied by negatives for a good many school children in the First State.  Charters and choice have--intentionally or not (I'm not kilroy)--played into a dynamic that has led the de facto segregation of Wilmington's inner-city schools at the same time that a wide variety of resources were being slowly sucked out of the traditional school districts.

Nobody is calling for an end to Delaware's experiment with charter schools, but it is equally clear that we need to have a difficult, honest discussion about their role, their structure, and their impact, before we find ourselves using everyone's tax dollars to subsidize a parallel system that is, in actuality, only open to a lucky few.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Let's talk about getting out of poverty . . . and why it doesn't happen in Wilmington

We live in a state that likes to think good things about itself--sometimes our biggest obstacle to solving problems is our adamant refusal to admit they exist.

Here's a problem that undercuts the entire minimum-wage, violence-in-Wilmington, public education, etc. etc. etc. arguments:

Delaware in general (and Wilmington in specific) is a very bad place to be poor, because your chances of upward mobility are considerably worse than the national averages.

First, take a look at this map from Equality of Opportunity.org:
You should visit the link for a larger view of the county-by-county map if you want nuances, but even a quick glance at Delaware will tell you what the statistics show:  in terms of the ability of children born into poverty escaping poverty, Delaware ranks with North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi [the darker the red, the worse the chances].

As for Wilmington proper, Equality of Opportunity divided the country up into 709 Commuting Zones (counties that shared a common economic center) and then rated the chances of a child growing up in the bottom fifth managing to reach the top fifth within that zone.  Some of the percentages are quite amazing, and others are predictable once you think about it.  Commuting Zones based on smaller, more rural areas tend to have more economic mobility, partly because there is less of a difference between the top and bottom fifth than elsewhere (which is why, I suspect, that North Dakota is apparently the very best state in the nation for moving out of poverty). [Note:  in the trivia mode, I learned that there is a "Virginia Beach, Nebraska"--never knew that.]

But even some major cities fare quite well:  Bismarck ND (18.7% chance); Dubuque IA (15.9%); San Jose CA (12.9%); Wheeling WV (12.5%); San Francisco CA (12.2%); Tom's River NJ (12.2%); Washington DC (!) (11.2%); Seattle WA (10.9%); Scranton PA (10.7%); New York City (10.5%); Boston MA (10.5%); Newark NJ (!) (10.2%) . . . 

. . . and Wilmington DE (6.6%).  According to my count (and I could be off by one or two places as they did not number the columns, the Wilmington DE Commuter Zone placed 526th out of 709 CZs in the entire nation.  This places us in the company of Chicago IL, Baltimore MD, Kalamazoo MI, and Muskogee OK.

I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that it is nearly twice as easy to escape poverty in Washington DC, and 50% easier to escape poverty in Newark NJ than it is in Wilmington DE.

Why?

Equality of Opportunity cites five major factors that correlate with the ability to escape from poverty (I'm citing from the Executive Summary for ease of quotation, but I've worked through the entire paper, which is here.)

First, let's talk about what factors do NOT appear to have a correlation to escaping poverty:
We find modest correlations between upward mobility and local tax and government expenditure policies and no systematic correlation between mobility and local labor market conditions, rates of migration, or access to higher education.

So what do they find?

First:  Segregation

We begin by showing that upward income mobility is significantly lower in areas with larger African-American populations. However, white individuals in areas with large African- American populations also have lower rates of upward mobility, implying that racial shares matter at the community (rather than individual) level. One mechanism for such a community-level effect of race is segregation. Areas with larger black populations tend to be more segregated by income and race, which could affect both white and black low-income individuals adversely. Indeed, we find a strong negative correlation between standard measures of racial and income segregation and upward mobility.
Second:  [Income] Inequality
CZs with larger Gini coefficients have less upward mobility, consistent with the “Great Gatsby curve” documented across countries (Krueger 2012, Corak 2013). In contrast, top 1% income shares are not highly correlated with intergenerational mobility both across CZs within the U.S. and across countries. Although one cannot draw definitive conclusions from such correlations, they suggest that the factors that erode the middle class hamper intergenerational mobility more than the factors that lead to income growth in the upper tail. 
Third:  K-12 School systems
Areas with higher test scores (controlling for income levels), lower dropout rates, and smaller class sizes have higher rates of upward mobility. In addition, areas with higher local tax rates, which are predominantly used to finance public schools, have higher rates of mobility. 
Fourth:  Social Capital
the strength of social networks and community involvement in an area -- are [is] very strongly correlated with mobility. For instance, high upward mobility areas tend to have higher fractions of religious individuals and greater participation in local civic organizations. 
Fifth:  Family Structure
The strongest predictors of upward mobility are measures of family structure, such as the fraction of single parents in the area. As with race, parents' marital status does not matter purely through its effects at the individual level. Children of married parents also have higher rates of upward mobility if they live in communities with fewer single parents. 
There is an awful lot here to digest--almost something for everyone.

It is at this point that you would normally expect a nice, cut-and-dried program of political reform, but it is not time for that yet.  These are national trends, and while we should expect to have them bear some weight on the problem of escaping poverty in Wilmington, we should also be aware that every city, every Commuting Zone if you will, is different, and there are nuances to be examined in the light of the full report and when compared to the data from Wilmington.

So let's bat around causes for awhile before we start jumping on cures.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The State of the (corporate) State: Part Two (subtitled "Amnesia or dementia in Dover")

Here are actual excerpts from Governor Jack Markell's State of the State address, in the order that they appear in the speech (you may assume that at each line break there is a <>):
Only 20% of our kids graduate from high school ready for college or a career. 

Too many working Delawareans struggle to care for their families and put food on the table. 

We can’t eat our fish from the St. Jones. We can’t swim in too many parts of the Inland Bays. The Christina and Brandywine rivers are laced with toxic pollutants. . . .[A] century of pollution has impaired nearly every waterway in our state.  

We have one of the most rigid [public education] funding systems in the country. This leaves little room for school leaders – those who know our students best – to innovate, create a vision, and pursue it. 

Our starting salaries [for teachers] are not competitive with our neighbors. 

Wilmington is the business capital of the state and our cultural center, yet violent crime has engulfed neighborhoods and taken many lives. 

Far too often, gun violence is committed by shooters who cannot legally own guns . . . 

Many offenders guilty of drug offenses are denied a driver’s license – regardless of whether their crime had anything to do with a car. 

Delaware’s incarceration rate is higher than the national average in a country whose average is higher than the rest of the world’s.  

We lock up too many people for not making bail and not appearing at hearings. Forty percent of the women incarcerated at Baylor are pre-trial detainees, many charged with non-violent offenses. 

In addition to filling our prisons with pre-trial detainees, we also impose longer sentences than other states do. One reason is that we are the only state in the country that forces our judges, without exception, to impose consecutive rather than concurrent sentences for multiple offenses. 

Of 184 kids in custody at our Faulkland Road campus last year, only 11 were back in traditional schools six months later. Many kids drop out, are expelled, or are re-incarcerated. This is our failure.


And the conclusion one is supposed to reach when considering all that?

The state of our state is stronger today than when I addressed you a year ago.
So what I'm hearing is that a public education system failing (supposedly) 80% of its graduates despite tens of millions of additional Federal investments; a high population of struggling, working poor (25% of our State population is on Medicaid); all of our waterways are polluted; we have a bad education funding system that doesn't pay competitive salaries; Wilmington is engulfed with violent crimes committed primarily by people whom last year's gun control measures wouldn't touch; we punish non-violent drug offenders by taking away their ability to travel (like, forever); we lock up way too many people; our bail system discriminates against the poor; our judges are required to give ridiculous sentences; and our rehabilitation efforts are dismal failures . . .

. . . but this represents PROGRESS?

Wow, if this year the State of Delaware is so much improved over last year, I wonder what Governor Markell said about it then?

Oddly enough, in that speech, Governor Markell never mentioned that 80% of our graduates are not college ready--he only talked about what great schools we have.

Oddly enough, in that speech, Governor Markell never mentioned the fact that all of our waterways are polluted.

Oddly enough, in that speech, Governor Markell promised strong action by Attorney General Beau Biden and the Delaware State Police that was going to make a dent in violent crime in Wilmington [this year, according to the Governor, it's pretty much the Mayor's problem].

Oddly enough, in that speech, Governor Markell didn't identify Delaware as incarcerating too many people or failing in our rehabilitation efforts.

Oddly enough, in that speech, our need for massive infrastructure improvements that are the cornerstone of longstanding need this year, are never highlighted and no investment is requested.

Oddly enough, in that speech, Governor Markell closes by telling us he is committed to pruning the budget, keeping our taxes low, and avoiding too much debt.

I am forced to conclude that one of the figures giving the State of the State speech in 2013 or 2014 was not really Jack Markell, but an evil alien duplicate who was sent to Earth to ruin a Democratic Governor's credibility by making him say completely contradictory things.

Then I remembered:  this is Delaware, silly, where it is a bigger misdeed to talk about how our politicians are jerking us around than it is for them to jerk us around in the first place.

Never mind.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The State of the (corporate) State

A note:  this was going to be much longer, but my sister-in-law's illness changed a number of plans.  There will be additional installments.

I love these kinds of speeches, but they are better read as philosophical tracts than actual political programs.

It's amazing what you can learn about the paradoxes of Governor Markell and the entirety of the Delaware General Assembly when you parse his speech of this past week.

Consider these sentences about public education, which DO actually appear this close together in the speech:
Our schools are implementing higher standards while, thanks to legislation passed by the General Assembly, we are better preparing our teachers. And the companies that will hire our students are dealing with fewer and clearer government regulations.
In actual English:
When dealing with public education, micro-manage.  When dealing with corporations, less regulation is essential.
Or this:
Before the end of the decade, 60 percent of our jobs will require training beyond high school. And yet only 20% of our kids graduate from high school ready for college or a career.
Which means this:
Vision 2015 2020, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and associated reforms have failed 80% of our students, but I'm really hoping you don't notice that.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Coming tomorrow: the State of the (corporate) State of Delaware

Governor Markell's State of the State address is just chocked full of goodies primarily for corporations and wondrous promises (that we'll pay for later, apparently).

In fact, there's too much interesting stuff to do it justice without letting it soak in a little.

So tomorrow I'll take it on, although I'm thinking that the new slogan for the Governor's office should be:  "Governor Jack Markell, the Calvin Coolidge of Governors (except that he smiles and talks a lot ore)."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Utah and the two faces of government

Monday I posted about how Utah has made gigantic strides in ending homelessness by giving homeless people their own apartments.

Today I discover that, thanks to a Defense War Department program, Utah police are outfitting themselves with grenade launchers and armored fighting vehicles.

I guess the police figure on spirited resistance if they have to evict some of the homeless people.

The silence of Delaware politicians on secret courts is deafening . . .

As I posted yesterday, and the WNJ picked up today, Delaware's Chancery Court is trying to get the Supreme Court to reverse lower court decisions that it is illegal to have secret arbitrations for business disputes.

I love that reasoning of Andrew Pincus, the Washington DC based attorney that you and I are paying to argue against open courts:
“The challenged statute provides an efficient, cost-effective, and prompt means of resolving business disputes, and an additional reason for global firms to domicile in the United States. Because of the importance of this issue, and the job-creating potential for Delaware and the nation of finding innovative solutions to temper the growing costs and delays of resolving business disputes, a definitive answer is being sought from the Supreme Court concerning the constitutionality of the Delaware statute,” said attorney Andrew J. Pincus, a Washington D.C.-based attorney that was hired by the state to handle the appeal.
Think about this:  we should design a court system that is efficient, cost-effective, quick, and--most of all--profitable to the State of Delaware.  Note the absence of any argument that such a court system should be either just, publicly accountable, or transparent.

Governor Markell has clearly signaled that he is in favor of secret courts, touting them as just as important as Delaware beaches:
Delaware offers a high quality of life, with beautiful beaches, parks, scenic farmland, a vibrant arts community and a rich cultural and historical heritage. Furthermore, our longtime leadership in corporate law and our Court of Chancery's unmatched expertise in this area have repeatedly earned our state acclaim as the most fair and reasonable legal system for U.S. businesses.
More to the point, his decision to propose Leo Strine--who is the respondent in the lawsuit--is as clear a message as it possibly could be:  Delaware is the home of corporate privilege, and will stay that way.

Oddly, I looked around as hard as far as I could, and while I may have missed something, the response from Delaware's political class on both sides of the exclusively Democratic/Republican aisle is . . . crickets.

Presumably they'd rather take the $1.4 billion in incorporation fees that multi-billion-dollar corporations pay us each year as a bribe to allow them to settle unsightly business disputes outside that horrible public eye.

If you actually expect representatives of the two parties who created this system of secret courts at the Governor's behest in 2009 to find a spine and start discussing either secret courts or corporate welfare--or even real campaign finance reform--then you might as well keep voting for them and keep expecting the Phillies to find some new young talent.

It's time to de-militarize American public policy

It used to be, back in the original days of the Republic, that war (unless you were simply directly attacked) was to be considered the last possible option to be pursued only when all other means had failed.  Even then, a declaration of war and the initiation of force against another nation always carried a sense that we had somehow failed as a nation.

As James Madison wrote (and we have discovered both during the Cold War and the War on Terror):
No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
Indeed, the first century and more of American History, for all its other faults, is marked quite clearly by a general reluctance to engage in foreign wars [I will, for the moment set aside ongoing genocidal wars against Native Americans], until during the late 19th Century American industrialists, bankers, and nationalist politicians turned from the Madisonian view of war to that espoused by Prussian theorist Karl von Clausewitz:
War is the continuation of politics by other means.
I would argue that if this is true of real war, it is also true of metaphorical wars--the War on Poverty, the War on Illiteracy, the War on Drugs, the War on Foreign Energy Dependence, the War on Our Political Opponents [sometimes--perhaps often--we have become so used to the idea of metaphorical war that we no longer even need to use the word to evoke the mindset].

The War Metaphor is primarily used to gin up an artificial patriotism or nationalism (both mindsets far more emotional than rational) to support sacrifices in pursuit of "victory" over something (drugs, illiteracy, poverty).

The problem is that both War and the War Metaphor first require the sacrifice of rights, freedoms, and personal initiative to the State, as War Metaphor programs are always inherently authoritarian (top-down).

Thus, in the War on Drugs we have been forced to sacrifice many rights and freedoms, in the War on Poverty we have sacrificed the idea that even poor people are agents and actors instead of merely victims, in the War on Crime we have sacrificed civil liberties for a false sense of security, and in the War on Illiteracy we have sacrificed the traditional local autonomy of schools and teachers in favoring of a burgeoning corporate-governmental bureaucracy.

[And, since war states tend to be self-sustaining, it is arguable that the War on Poverty, for example, didn't really have as its end the elimination of poverty in this country, but the creation of a profitable anti-poverty industry, and the support of the military-industrial complex "by other means."  Otherwise, as per both Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon way back when, we'd simply have used a guaranteed income to eliminate poverty without creating the bureaucracy.  That would still--yes, Libertarians--have been a re-distribution of wealth--but it would have arguably been a far less socially destructive one than the reality became.]

More to the point, the advocates of the opponents of these and other government polices are then forced (at least, so they think) to conceptualize their own activities as revolution or resistance, both of which carry their own implicit violent, militaristic, and even authoritarian connotations.

As I have said before on more than one occasion:  it is time to de-militarize American policy and-especially--grassroots and individualistic efforts to make social change.  It is time to stop using language that implies the possibility of violence against our fellow citizens at the start.

And it is the responsibility of the State to begin doing so before it expects its citizens to do so.  While I am not by any means a fan of armed, forcible resistance, whether it is by "unorganized" militias or Deep Green Resistance, I understand that the War Metaphor was propagated first and foremost by the State, and that the State must disarm its rhetoric before it can expect its citizens to do so.

In Mexico, just across the border, we can see the ultimate tragedy of the War Metaphor playing out:  in Michoacan, the citizens who have been victims for years of the infamous Knights Templar drug cartel (and often their own Federal authorities) organized their own defense forces to take back their villages from the drug gangs.  And when they did so, the Federal government moved in militarily against them.

Conversely, in the storm and poverty-ravaged Philippines, activist Antonio Meloto has started simply organizing new communities through cooperative and essentially non-State action.  His organization, Gawad Kalinga, has focused on creating new rural communities for the formerly urban poor that are self-ruled and focused on economic experimentation and cooperative (but not coerced action).  This PBS interview is worth reading or watching in its entirety.

Meloto's program--ironically and tragically--would probably not even be legal within the confines of the United States, where a combination of bureaucratic anti-poverty agencies, zoning regulations, and licensing requirements would have throttled the experiment before it even got off the ground.

What Meloto's Gawad Kalinga ("Giving Care") can, however, teach us, is the value of different metaphors.

Warlike metaphors--war, operation, revolution, resistance, war room, etc.--give us exactly what they promise:  the power to organize under authoritarian conditions against someone or some thing.

I'm not sure yet what the most effective counter-metaphors are, but I note that giving, volunteering, caring, healing, cooperating, and others along that line have potential.  [It is, ironically, a potential that will have to be pursued with calm, long-term determination, as even our sports and entertainment outlets have become so thoroughly infested with war metaphors and violent language.]

Of course, at the bottom of this whole metaphorical bowl there is a basic difference in values:  War Metaphors work for the Powers That Be because they emphasize top-down models of change, authoritarianism, and coerced obedience.  Cooperative or voluntary metaphors are to be parodied not for their perceived impotence, but because they represent an exactly opposite set of values:  grassroots not top-down, cooperative not authoritarian, and voluntary cooperative rather than coerced obedience.

These are dangerous metaphors, especially in corporate-bureaucratic States like Delaware that pretend to be liberal or progressive, but which are simply propping up a profit-making corporate oligarchy festooned with bright rhetorical posters of good intentions.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Delaware Coalition for Open Government meets Citizens United?

Delaware has now petitioned to have its practice of secret trials (we call them "arbitrations" but the lower courts have consistently ruled that they are, in effect, trials) reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The Delaware Coalition for Open Government has won the rounds leading up to this, but now it faces its sternest test:  convincing the robes that rubber-stamped Citizens United that civil transparency should extend to corporations.

Good luck (and I mean this seriously) with that.

Strangely enough I can't find much local coverage of this, or even local politicians willing to speak out against corporate privilege.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The essence of Libertarianism in a single story

This story of a home invasion in Dover makes an important Libertarian point:

Three men armed with baseball bats and handguns forced their way into a Dover-area home early today, assaulted four residents and ran off with an undisclosed amount of cash, police said. 
The incident occurred about 2:15 a.m. at a home in the 200 block of N. Wilson Drive in the DuPont Manor community where troopers were sent to investigate a home invasion robbery, Master Cpl. Gary Fournier said. 
The home was occupied at the time by six men ranging in age from 19 to 47, and a 19-year-old woman. 
The masked bandits broke into the home and demanded money from the seven occupants, who turned over an unknown amount of cash, Fournier said.
Then the assailants assaulted four of the residents.
Some of the people reading this will be thinking, "If only the people in that house had been armed."

Others will be thinking, "Thank God the people in that house weren't armed; they'd probably have gotten themselves killed."

It's not my job--either as an individual or a legislator--to tell you which reaction is correct.

The right to choose to defend a home with a firearm or not to do so belongs to the people who live there.

That's the essence of Libertarianism.

What?  Which would I choose?  You'd, uh, have to invade my home to find out.


A Libertarian Martin Luther King Jr. Day post

In which we travel into interesting waters . . . (for a fairly long trip, so be prepared)

Dr. King's 1968 book, Where do we go from here:  chaos or community?, is profound in that it criticizes anti-poverty programs for their piecemeal approach, as John Schlosberg of the Center for a Stateless Society [C4SS] observes:

King noted that the antipoverty programs of the time “proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils,” with separate programs each dedicated to individual issues such as education and housing. Though in his view “none of these remedies in itself is unsound,” they “all have a fatal disadvantage” of being “piecemeal,” with their implementation having “fluctuated at the whims of legislative bodies” or been “entangled in bureaucratic stalling.” 
The result is that “fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor.” Such single-issue approaches also have “another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.” In contrast, King noted that “[w]e are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished” and concluded that he is “now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a … guaranteed income.”
The guaranteed annual income, or Negative Income Tax, has a long history in American politics, having been first seriously proposed by Richard Nixon, and also championed by his 1972 opponent George McGovern.

Among economists, Libertarians especially might be surprised to learn, you can include in the tally of those who support a guaranteed income Frederick Hayek, Milton Friedman, Charles Murray, and Michael Munger.

Why would Libertarians support such an idea?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sometimes justice works: Delaware Libertarian Gordon Smith reaches the end of a long road in triumph

Gordon Smith, a Libertarian friend from central Delaware, is a proud man, and it has been exceptionally difficult for him to bear up under a mass of false charges from his ex-wife and others in a world where we are conditioned by our authorities and our media to believe almost with a knee jerk that people accused must be guilty of something.

Not this time.

I'll let Gordon tell it himself:
I just opened and read an official letter/order from a Delaware Judge: 
The state of Delaware has officially expunged my arrest record with all of the 21 charges. I will spare you the details of my three year Pro Se litigant trench warfare . But here is the conclusionary excerpt from the judge: 
"The Court finds that Mr. Smith has overcome his burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that the continued existence of the Charges constitutes a MANIFEST INJUSTICE.  The State's lack of opposition, Mr. Smith's vindication and the Courts error in entering the 2010 charges in triplicate was sufficient. In the interest of justice and in order to uphold the integrity of the judiciary IT IS ORDERED that the petiton for expungement filed by Gordon G. Smith, is hereby granted." 
Had I been required to pay - this would have cost me over $1,500.00. 
I paid absolutely nothing. 
I am in complete awe right now
I can only imagine the weight that has lifted from Gordon's shoulders.  Last year, under the burden of these charges, almost nobody would consider hiring him.  His lifelong passion for working for the rights of those falsely accused seemed to have dead-ended in his own case, and his political aspirations had become a joke.

Now, to the extent that the criminal justice system can make an innocent man whole, it has done so.

Gordon, you have my admiration for never, ever EVER quitting on what you knew was right, and I eagerly wait to see what you can accomplish now that the fetters (literally) have been removed.

Quick hits for a Sunday afternoon

1.  Yes, it's sappy, but this Brazilian cartoon about a three-legged puppy makes all kinds of important points about unconditional love.

2.  Josie the Outlaw calmly and quietly makes a really important point about police and the question of moral limits.  As someone said on the page, I'd love to hear what a thoughtful police officer has to say about this.

3.  Will the Aurum or other convertible forms of gold become a real, workable, non-State-issued currency?  And how fast will the Feds move to throw the organizers in jail if it seems like that is about to happen.  See the quote above, right under "The Delaware Libertarian" title bar.

4.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation grades President Obama's "reforms" in NSA spying.  When I give students grades that look like this, they usually aren't smiling . . .

5.  Meanwhile, Mr. Obama declares that marijuana is "not very different from ... cigarettes" and less dangerous than alcohol, but then offers an exceptionally idiotic "slippery slope" argument on part with opponents of marriage equality telling us that passage would lead to people marrying their pets.

6.  Finally, with some relevance toward the arguments I am making in my own campaign about corporate welfare, here's what Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch has to say about the deal that brought the nation's largest employer to Smyrna:
In addition to spending about $75,000 on infrastructure improvements, the city sold the land to Wal-Mart at a price that was about $2.8 million less than the market value. The state agreed to give Wal-Mart grants of up to $1.2 million tied to hiring levels.

Think about this for a second:  the government decided that the country's largest retailer, not a local business or business, should get a cut-rate price on the property.  Then it made infrastructure improvements for one of the wealthiest multi-billion-dollar corporations on Earth.  And, finally, the State of Delaware made the ingenious investment of over a million tax dollars to pay Wal-Mart to hire minimum-wage workers who now require food stamps and Medicaid paid for from . . . your tax dollars.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Two semi-random (but critical) facts about public education

Number One is retrieved from the post below this one, because it is buried deep in the middle of the post and might not receive the attention it merits.  [Hit that article for all the links.]

According to CNBC, conducting a study of the attractiveness of each state to business and investment, in 2008--which was when Governor Markell came into office and just before the Race to the Top--Delaware was rated #26 out of 50 in terms of Education.

Five years later, after Vision 2015 2020, data coaches, Race to the Top, $119 million in Federal funds we think we may or may not have spent, and all else, by the CNBC rankings we have raced up to #34 out of 50 in terms of Education.

That's right:  during the first five years of the Markell administration, CNBC finds that our national Education ranking has dropped 6 places.  Think about that when you are evaluating how well we've done.

Number Two comes from the American School Board Journal, which supports something I have been asserting for several years:  district school boards should be the primary issuer of school charters:

Evidence suggests states that identify local school boards as the primary authorizer of charter schools are more likely to create academically successful charters. 
This approach has worked well in Maryland, where a 2003 law allows school boards to have the opportunity to ensure charter school applications include viable academic and financial plans before approval. Boards can closely monitor these schools and intervene if problems arise.... 
The stance of NSBA [National School Board Association] is that the local school board should be the sole authorizer of charter schools -- as school board members are a community’s elected or appointed trustees responsible for the education of local schoolchildren. 
“The advantage, not just of having a single authorizer, but having the school board as authorizer, is that they are already there to be responsible for the students in their district,” says Patte Barth, director of NSBA’s Center for Public Education. “They’re closer to the community. They know what the needs of children are. They are better able to manage the flow of resources, and they can keep an eye on the children and make sure the promise of the charter is being upheld.” 
According to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), school boards already play this role for the majority (53 percent) of charter schools across the nation. But the remaining charters are authorized by and report to a variety of groups, including higher education institutions, independent charter boards, municipalities, for-profit organizations, and state education agencies.
Too often, here in Delaware we don't actually get to look at data or research because we're too busy drowning in spin.
 

Spin versus reality in today's Delaware

When CNBC offered each governor the chance to comment on how attractive his or her state was for new investment, you can be certain that Governor Jack Markell was no different from the others in that he intended to put the state's best foot forward.

But I'll also bet they didn't show him the ratings before he wrote his comments.

Let's take a look at spin versus reality in today's Delaware:

Spin:
In Delaware, we listen to the priorities of our business people.
Reality:
CNBC rates Delaware #1 of 50 in "Business friendliness" 
Ok, not bad, Governor.  Now let's take a look at the details (where the devil usually resides):

Spin:
As part of our efforts to ensure entrepreneurs have access to the resources they need, we helped launch "Start It Up Delaware," a public-private partnership that brings together our financial, accounting, legal and real estate communities to assist new companies. 
Reality:
CNBC rates Delaware #14 of 50 in "Access to capital" 
 Still in the ballpark.

Spin:
Meanwhile, we are modifying or eliminating more than 140 state regulations to make it easier to do business and to improve government efficiency. In departments large and small we looked for and found ways to reduce paperwork, streamline permit applications and eliminate unnecessary rules, without sacrificing public safety. As a result of these changes, entrepreneurs and established companies can spend time building their businesses and hiring instead of filling out forms and waiting in line.
Reality:
CNBC rates Delaware #24 of 50 in "Cost of doing business" 
That's starting to sink, isn't it?

Spin:
Last month, experts from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia confirmed that Delaware's economy is "well-positioned" for "decades of growth ahead." They credited our state as a "first mover" in identifying opportunities for growth and praised our portfolio of generally high-wage industries. 
 Reality:
CNBC rates Delaware #27 of 50 in "Economy" 
Ouch.  That's below average.

Spin:
We understand that entrepreneurs want to locate in areas with great schools that produce a skilled workforce. 
Reality:
CNBC rates Delaware #30 of 50 in "Workforce" 
Oh.

Spin:
Delaware offers a high quality of life, with beautiful beaches, parks, scenic farmland, a vibrant arts community and a rich cultural and historical heritage. 
Reality:
CNBC rates Delaware #34 of 50 in "Quality of Life" 
But that's only 16th from the bottom, right?

Spin:
We're increasing enrollment in high-quality early education, raising standards in our public schools as a leader in implementing the Common Core curriculum and working with the business community on STEM programs that are relevant to the job market. 
Reality:

CNBC rates Delaware #34 of 50 in "Education"
Let's see, we spent $119 of Race to the Top money and we raced to number 34?

By the way, back in 2008, before Race to the Top, CNBC rated Delaware as #26 of 50 in Education.  Apparently it's a real muddy slope going up that hill and you slide back a lot.

Spin:
Recent legislation places tighter controls on workers' compensation medical costs and ensures that insurance carriers' requests for rate increases receive a high level of scrutiny to tackle recent increases in premiums. We have also reformed ourunemployment insurance system to reduce the burden on employers and have focused on lowering gross-receipt taxes.  
Reality:
CNBC rates Delaware #37 of 50 in "Cost of living"
Yeah, I realize the Spin and the Reality don't match up well here.  That's because the Governor apparently didn't even try to spin our cost of living.  Instead he talked about lowering business taxes.

Spin:
Recognizing our increasing reliance on the Internet to communicate and do business, we also prioritize maintaining the country's best broadband infrastructure.Delaware has the fastest connection speeds in the country, nearly 9 percent faster than our closest competitor last year.

Reality:
CNBC rates Delaware #39 of 50 in "Infrastructure"
I guess the Governor doesn't think that, you know, roads or bridges or anything like that counts as infrastructure.

Spin:
As concerns about jobs leaving the country intensify, Delaware companies in advanced industries are bringing jobs back from abroad. ILC Dover, known for making spacesuits for NASA and personal protection equipment for military, Homeland Security and industrial users, moved manufacturing operations—and the accompanying 115 jobs—from Mexico to Seaford. And Hologic, a leading manufacturer and supplier of diagnostic, surgical and medical imaging equipment, has decided to move jobs here from Germany. 
Reality:
CNBC rates Delaware #39 of 50 in "Technology"
Well the spin sounded all technological-like, didn't it?

Spin:
In Delaware, we listen to the priorities of our business people. By working with them on all fronts, from driving down costs to improving our education system, we make the First State a great place to start a new company or expand a growing one. 
Reality:
CNBC rates Delaware #31 of 50 overall in attractiveness to business
Actually, I think that's pretty nice of them, considering the sub-rankings.

And just for fun I thought I'd throw in one last spin vs reality comparison, because we need another top twenty finish so we don't get all pessimistic:

Spin:
Supported by Democrats and Republicans, the regulatory reform process demonstrates our ability to bring together the right people and engage the public to make good decisions. Our close-knit community consistently allows business leaders to work together with government representatives at the federal, state and local level to resolve challenges. 
Reality:
Business Insider rates Delaware #12 of 50 in corruption
Democrats, Republicans, and liquor distributors--all working together in a close-knit community.

Despite these rankings, CNBC gives Delaware a "most improved award"--but it is really worth reading the whole thing:

Delaware improves to 31st place from 43rd last year. The First State has a well-earned reputation as a welcoming place for business thanks to its Court of Chancery, which insulates businesses from the whims of juries. Roughly half of all publicly traded companies are incorporated in Delaware, according to the state's Division of Corporations. 
But Delaware typically does poorly overall in America's Top States for Business because merely incorporating in the state is apparently more attractive than actually locating there. 
While the state has made improvements in its traditionally high Cost of Doing Business, it still finishes in the middle of the pack at 24th in the category. And it falls to 27th from 19th in the Economy category. 
Delaware owes its overall improvement to its perennial strong suit: Business Friendliness. The state returns to first place in the category this year, after an uncharacteristic 19th-place finish last year. Delaware had been under fire for what businesses saw as an overly aggressive unclaimed-property law that raised hundreds of millions of dollars in what the Council on State Taxation called a "stealth tax" on businesses.
So basically Governor Markell has us moving up in the world because we are so strong in the corruption business friendliness area, despite the fact that every substantive ranking in the poll places the First State well below national averages.

You know, if we ever actually acknowledged problems, then we could work on them. 


h/t to kilroy