Jeb Bush Does Not Think Tax Cuts for the Rich Will Jump-Start His Campaign

Jeb BushPaul Krugman wrote a recent post, Jeb The Unready. And he started with some great sarcasm, “I can’t help noticing that Jeb Bush has now come out with the highly original proposal that we give rich people and corporations big tax cuts.” And then he marveled at the fact that Bush seems to think that he can jump-start his campaign by appealing to Stephen Moore and other big promoters of supply side economics. I think it is fair to say that people like Bush and Trump really do live in an alternate reality. They really don’t know how the other 99.9% live.

Let’s think about this for a while. One thing I hear from conservatives all the time is the Democrats have no new ideas whereas they are just bursting with them. Well, when they do burst with them, two things become clear. First, they are clever — but still often good — ideas. But they have to be clever, because the ideological base of the Republican Party forbids doing obvious things that will work. Second, the Republican Party as a whole will never back these ideas. So the “great” and “new” Republican ideas are constrained by ideology, but it still isn’t enough to make large numbers of Republicans support them.

As a result of this, Republicans stick with the tried and true. Reagan cut taxes, so let’s cut taxes! Reagan cut aid to the poor, so let’s cut aid to the poor! Reagan greatly increased corporate welfare, so let’s increase corporate welfare! And that’s all we are getting from Jeb Bush: more supply side economic. That is the idea that if we give more money to the rich, they will invest and create jobs. We’ve been doing it for forty years. It has been completely demolished as a policy idea. It doesn’t work. But still Bush is pushing it.

But here’s the thing: the American people don’t buy it. The Republicans have been great at destroying confidence in the government. But the good side of that is that people are especially skeptical of Republican economic ideas. That’s what happened in 2005 when the newly re-elected George W Bush decided what the people really wanted was for the government to privatize Social Security. Bush pushed hard on that and the people pushed back even harder. They are used to being conned — especially by Republicans.

This is not to say that Republicans won’t get elected and then implement supply side tax cuts. But it does mean that the people will not elect Republicans because they are promising economic growth through the magic of tax cuts for the rich and corporations. I have given up hoping that the electorate will ever pay enough attention to vote against the Republicans for this reason. Ted McLaughlin recently provided a good rundown of the fact that, Democratic Presidents Are Best For Jobs and the Economy.

Does Jeb Bush really think that hauling out the old supply side economics — which is being hocked by every candidate except for Trump — is going to jump-start his campaign? I doubt it. I suspect he is just signaling to the power elite that they shouldn’t give up on him and that they (and not he) need to find a way of getting rid of Trump. After all, their tax cuts depend upon it.

The Blueberry Story

Jamie Robert Vollmer“If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business very long!”

I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of inservice. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife.

I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that had become famous in the middle1980s when People magazine chose our blueberry as the “Best Ice Cream in America.”

I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society.” Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure, and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement!

In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced — equal parts ignorance and arrogance.

As soon as I finished, a woman’s hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant. She was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.

She began quietly, “We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream.”

I smugly replied, “Best ice cream in America, Ma’am.”

“How nice,” she said. “Is it rich and smooth?”

“Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.

“Premium ingredients?” she inquired.

“Super-premium! Nothing but triple A.” I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.

“Mr Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap…. I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie.

“I send them back.”

She jumped to her feet. “That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”

In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians, and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, “Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!”

And so began my long transformation.

Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.

None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when, and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a post-industrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission, and active support of the surrounding community. For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America.

—Jamie Robert Vollmer
The Blueberry Story: the Teacher Gives the Businessman a Lesson

On that link, Vollmer discusses some complaints he has received about the story. It is well worth check out too.

The Need for the Indecisive Intellectual

William DeresiewiczWhile I was spending a very hot weekend afternoon applying water sealant to the deck of a different family member, my father and older sister were sitting close by watching. Normally, this is a job I do with my sister, but she is recuperating from surgery. And my father was just smart enough not to get involved. But I heard them talking about violence and guns, and that is never a good thing. I’m interested in the subjects, but when people casually talk about them, ignorance and stupidity is sure to follow.

My sister said that her husband always says that if everyone knew that everyone else had a gun, there would be a lot less violence. That was too much for me to let pass, so I noted that it really wasn’t true. Areas with a lot of guns often have very high homicide rates and that the wild west, while hardly the violent free for all that many people think, was hardly a bastion of peace. Ultimately, my greatest issue with easy gun availability is with regards to suicide. It’s just too easy for people to kill themselves with guns without thinking. This is one reason why gun purchase waiting periods are a great thing.

My point here is not about guns at all. My point is that people in casual conversations filled with “common sense” are very often completely wrong, and when not, they greatly simplify complicated issues. It’s part of social bonding. We tell each other the things that we all “know,” so as to signify to everyone that we are of the same tribe. That’s a good thing. Humans are social animals and its either this or sniffing each others’ butts. But there are better and worse ways to bond and I don’t think simplistic myths about guns and violence represent one of the better ones.

Society needs people like me. And trust me: I know how people see me from the outside. We live in a society that fetishizes certainty because it sees it as a source of strength. Sometimes it is. My ability to consider all sides of an issue and endless possible contingencies really can paralyze me. It’s good to have people around who are good at taking in information and making a decision. But as we see in politics, this is not usually the way things work. Instead, it is like my father and sister chatting. George W Bush decided he was going to war with Iraq and then he set about justifying that. This is, of course, exactly backwards from the way it ought to work.

Because I am smart and (frankly) make a fetish out of knowing stuff for no real reason, a lot of people come to me with questions. And if they really want an answer, they are generally very disappointed. Because I’m not big on simple answers. “Yes” and “no” are two of my least favorite words in the English language. I prefer to tell you that on the one hand there is something and on the other hand there is something and on the third hand there is something — like some hyper-discursive blue-skinned Hindu deity. But this is what you get when you decide to think seriously about things.

The funny thing is that I am a prototypical academic. And you would think with so much larger a share of people with college educations, that there would be a whole lot more people like me. But it just isn’t true. In fact, there may be less. And I think that is really the outcome of what William Deresiewicz wrote about in, The Neoliberal Arts. By turning higher education into job training, we’ve greatly endangered our entire democracy.

Felons and Voting Rights

PrisonOver the weekend, I was with my nephew who is a social worker. He works with a lot of people on disability — especially for mental problems. And he mentioned that people who had committed felonies in California could not vote. That came as a surprise to me. I told him that I had spent more time going over the California voter registration form than any sane man would. And I thought I would know. My understanding was that as long as a felon was not under state care (prison, parole, or probation), she could vote. He responded that he had read it somewhere, but he was glad I countered him on it because he wasn’t sure.

It turns out that I was wrong — but only because I was being too harsh. According to Nonprofit VOTE’s Voting as an Ex-Offender, page, in California:

Individuals convicted of a felony are ineligible to vote while incarcerated and on parole. Voting rights are automatically restored upon completion of parole, and people on probation can vote. Ex-offenders should re-register to vote.

The truth is that it is generally possible for ex-felons to vote, although some states make it really hard. But before we get to them, let’s discuss the way that our voting system should work. In Maine and Vermont even people in prison vote. I know that this idea is shocking to many people. Think about my nephew for a moment: he’s a social worker who is studying criminal justice and even he had fallen into the trap of thinking the default was that ex-felons couldn’t vote.

There is a widely held belief that not only can ex-felons not vote, but that they shouldn’t be able to vote. And that goes along with our incredibly punitive society. Somehow, throwing a woman in jail for a decade because she was caught with a small amount of cannabis in Florida is not enough. She also has to be effectively forbidden from ever having a good job again. She can’t be allowed on public assistance. And she can never vote again. It’s just madness, and, I think, indicative of just what a horrible people we are.

But there are a whole lot of states where your past doesn’t matter. If you are out of prison, you can vote. These include:

The District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Utah.

It’s interesting that even in a number of conservative western states, we get more liberal policy. I think this is part of the tradition of the west: people make mistakes but they should be allowed to get on their their lives. Interestingly, it is only liberal states who don’t let parolees vote: California, Colorado, Connecticut, and New York. That’s actually not a good idea. Voting is one of the ways that you welcome a person back into polite society. A parole officer could demand that the parolee register and vote.

Next we get to the states where the ex-felon has to be totally free of the system. I think this is bad, but acceptable:

Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

And now we get to some really punitive and vile states. But it gets complicated. And that’s part of the problem. None of these states automatically give back voting rights. Here is a list of the states where you can get your voting rights back as long as you didn’t commit certain felonies:

Alabama, Delaware, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

In general, those felonies are pretty bad: murder, rape, etc. But not always. There are things like bribery and voter fraud. And Mississippi is totally bizarre. They have 21 specific crimes that stop you have getting your voting rights back. Some of them are fairly minor like check fraud. But here’s the weird part: if you weren’t convicted of one of these felonies, you can vote while in jail. But in all these states, ex-felons have to fill out paper work and run the bureaucratic gauntlet and pay fees.

The last states are just completely vile: Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia. In these states (and the previous ones if you have committed the wrong kind of felony), you have to file and individual petition on get a pardon from the governor. And in general, you have to wait years before you can even apply (also true of some of the previous group).

The system is terrible. For one thing, where’s the equal treatment in this? Ex-felon Floridians can’t vote in a presidential election but ex-felon Californians can? That isn’t fair. We really do need a constitutional right to vote.

Morning Music: Some People Are Crazy

Grace and Danger - John MartynJohn Martyn recorded nothing after One World for two years. He had apparently gotten pretty deeply into drugs including alcohol. So as his marriage to singer-songwriter Beverley Martyn was crumbling, he went back into the studio to record probably his most personal album, Grace and Danger.

The style of the album continues his evolution into jazz and pop. He fronts a quartet featuring veteran musicians Tommy Eyre, John Giblin, and Phil Collins (before anyone really knew who he was). It’s great music, but I have to admit to preferring his earlier work. I just love him on the acoustic guitar. But this is “Some People Are Crazy,” which speaks to me of a certain paranoia and feelings of being judged. It’s quite beautiful, of course.

Anniversary Post: Nathan Hale

Nathan HaleOn this day in 1776, Nathan Hale officially became a spy for the colonists against the British troops. Two days later, he was sent behind enemy lines. Less than two weeks later he would be dead. He sent back no intelligence. So really, he is only a national hero because he was foolish enough to volunteer for this crazy assignment. He definitely never said, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.” And he probably never said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

But what if he had said it? It is just as stupid and harmful as, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. As Patton said in the movie, “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” Making war romantic is always a bad idea. And Hale’s life, death, and legacy are nothing but the romance of war. If he had been older, he doubtless would have understood that. There is no glory in war once you’re dead.