Archive for February, 2021

Public Higher Education

Republicans used to believe in helping people help themselves, even if they underestimated the amount and type of help necessary. Now, it seems as though their message is that the government’s given you as much help as you deserve [except for big business], and the rest is up to you, even if you didn’t get any help, and that applies to public higher education as well.

For the Democrats, on the other hand, it seems as though they’re addicted to more and more help, with less and less required of those who receive it and no questioning about whether programs are worthwhile. As I’ve observed previously, the idea of free college education for everyone is nuts, as well as a social, financial, and educational disaster. So is forgiving college debt. But targeted college aid or assistance programs [up to and including full tuition and fees, but also with accountability goals] for promising poor and minority youth make a great deal of sense, assuming that the education bureaucrats can figure out how to make targeting work.

Part of the problem with college aid is that it’s extremely difficult to predict how the majority of students will do in college. Various tests can predict accurately those likely to succeed, IF they’re from a certain higher family income, but aren’t that accurate for students from minorities or less affluent backgrounds. Likewise, with the massive grade inflation and “pass practically everyone” system prevalent in public secondary schools, it’s virtually impossible to determine for the “middle 80%” of college applicants which students have the raw ability. And given how hard some parents push their children, it’s also almost impossible to determine which ones have the determination to succeed on their own.

The result is a huge waste of money and ability, and pouring more money into higher education, under the current system, will only make matters worse. Part of that is because state politicians are more interested in the numbers than the education. So long as more students graduate, even if they’ve learned essentially nothing, the politicians and university bureaucrats can claim “success.”

No one, if for different reasons, is asking the hard questions, such as:

What percent of students can analyze multiple input situations and provide a workable and cogent solution?

What percent of students can read a set of facts and immediately write a logical and grammatically correct analysis?

How good are they at recognizing fallacies?

Why do universities put so much money into athletic programs, while more and more classes are taught by part-time adjuncts, paid poverty-level wages? Why do top
coaches make more money than university presidents?

Why are professors paid, based at least in part, on their popularity as measured by student evaluations, filled out by 18-22 year-olds who know far less about the
subject being taught than the professor?

Why do universities feel that they can’t weed out students who either fail to do the work or appear unable to do so?

Since the Republicans really don’t believe in effective education – except for the elite – and the Democrats think that more aid and money will automatically solve the problem, until both sides are willing to look at public higher education and ask those hard questions – and more than a few others – higher education will consume more and more resources while continuing to diminish the quality of public undergraduate education and bankrupting the unsuccessful students and hanging debt chains around the successful ones [unless they come from family money].

Why Not Change?

A recent commenter on this blog made an observation along the lines that the Republican Party was dying, but that instead of changing, the GOP was rigging the system in an effort to disenfranchise Democrats and reduce their voting influence. Although I have doubts that the Republican Party is dying, its base is a minority in the U.S., and that minority appears to be slowly shrinking.

So why don’t Republicans change?

Over the past several decades, some have tried, either by returning to the ideas of fiscal prudence and personal responsibility. Others have tried to bring in new ideas, such as true immigration reform. Those efforts have been rejected by the “mainstream” Republicans, although they do justify blocking any increases in social programs by citing fiscal responsibility, even while they cut taxes on the wealthy and provide business subsidies.

The only real “change” in the Republican Party is making a greater and more concerted appeal to the far right and ultra-conservatives.

Real change is difficult, both for political parties and individuals. This is true of both parties.

The simple fact is that we live in rapidly changing times, and the majority of human beings, while adaptable, resist rapid change. That’s understandable. Rapid changes are disruptive, both to society and to individuals. But we now live in a time where not changing can be even worse.

Coal mining jobs, for example, are not coming back. The only even marginally profitable coal mining is highly mechanized strip mining with greatly reduced jobs and tremendous environmental problems. That kind of mining likely wouldn’t be profitable if the costs of environmental remediation were included in the cost of that coal. The number of high-paying oilfield jobs has decreased enormously in recent years as oil producers have automated and streamlined operations. This sort of change is occurring everywhere.

Years and years ago, I found that there was essentially no market for my skills in the area where I grew up, and the jobs that were available that would support a family didn’t match my skill set. So I moved to where such jobs existed. The same was true of my wife when she graduated from college. To continue as a professional academic musician meant moving where the jobs were – and moving away from friends and family. While such moves were costly in many ways, including failed early marriages, we each eventually made it work and found each other along the way, which entailed yet another move.

Republicans tend to be conservative in more than politics, both in their family, and in where they grew up. The problem is that, if you choose staying where you grew up, particularly in rural and agricultural areas, all too often the economic opportunities are limited and pay less, even for highly skilled professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, etc.. This is a relatively new aspect of culture, and it’s caused by technology. But the people in these areas are angry that technology created a choice between staying with their roots – and getting steadily poorer, for the most part – or leaving everything behind in an effort to make a decent living, and with no assurance of that. Such anger fuels a strong commitment to a party that recognizes the situation and the fact that people either can’t change or won’t and identifies with those who feel that way. But for a party to tell people, in any way, that times are changing and that some change is necessary leaves supporters feeling disenfranchised. They want the benefits of technology without the costs.

The same is true of the Democrats, in a different way. They’re angry because much of their base has been disenfranchised economically and politically for centuries, and all they see is that the Republicans are doing everything they can to keep them down economically and politically, and any politician who suggests moderation is considered a sellout.

Right now, neither side can afford politically to recognize the other’s concern because emotions are running so high, and those emotions will remain high unless and until the majority in both parties feel that their situations are improving… and improving more than just marginally.

And that’s the challenge facing both President Biden and the Congress.

Power Trumps Ethics

Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, pleaded with Trump to call off the rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol, and Trump essentially refused. Yet McCarthy opposed impeachment, as did most Republicans in the House of Representatives. All but ten House Republicans voted against impeachment despite the fact that mob that invaded the Capitol threatened their lives, and family members have condemned one of the Republican Representatives who voted to impeach Trump.

Mitch McConnell votes to acquit Trump…and then gives a speech blaming Trump for the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Seven Republican Senators voted to convict him, and it appears that all seven have either faced or will face Republican Party censure or disfavor in their home states. Yet, from what I can determine, very few, if any, Republican Senators think Trump is actually innocent of inciting the attack.

Instead, their various rationales for not voting to convict him included: (1) it’s unconstitutional to try a President who’s left office [which is patently and legally false]; (2) it’s better for the country not to convict him [better for the senators in question, certainly]; or (3) it was deplorable but doesn’t fit the legal definition for incitement [which isn’t necessary in an impeachment trial].

Various polls show that, while the majority of Americans think Trump was guilty of inciting the attack on the Capitol, something like 70% of Republicans opposed the action to convict Trump.

Yes, Republicans, the so-called former champions of law and order, and they don’t want their boy convicted. They’re happy with troublesome non-violent civil rights activists being thrown in jail, especially if they’re minorities, or even women protesting for equal rights with men, but not our white, blond, blue-eyed former president who turned a mob on his own Vice-President for daring to uphold the Constitution.

Is it any wonder that Republican members of the House and Senate are reluctant to act ethically? Why, if they voted ethically, they might lose their seats to an even more far-right extremist in the next Republican primary.

And all that goes to show that grass-roots Republicans are so angry and so tribal that they don’t care about law or the Constitution, especially if either gets in the way of what they want.

The problem is that what they’re angry about are fundamental principles on which the nation was based, if imperfectly. They’re opposed to equal voting rights, or why would they do their best to restrict voting in ways that disadvantage the poor and minorities disproportionately?

They keep trying to enact religious dogma into law, despite the design of the Constitution by the Founding Fathers to separate church and state.

Yet they insist they’re the ones who who support the Constitution.

Failure to Convict?

The Republicans have tried to make an issue out of the idea that the country will be better off if former President Trump is NOT convicted of inciting the January 6th demonstration and riot that resulted in five deaths to date and injuries, many of them severe, to 140 police officers.

Tell me again how the country would be better off when a rich, white, powerful politician is acquitted of inciting a riot that damaged the nation’s capitol, had lawmakers fearing for their lives, and caused deaths and widespread injuries, when thousands of minorities have been jailed merely for taking part in peaceful demonstrations in attempts to obtain fair and equal enforcement of the law.

Acquitting Trump would be yet another example of white privilege carried to the extreme… and the Republicans think the nation would be better off as a result?

This is a man who had non-violent protesters tear-gassed so that he could use a church for a photo-op, a man who has consistently supported and praised white-supremacist groups, a man who spent over two months trying to discredit the most-fraud free election in U.S. history, and who attempted what would have been called a coup, had it occurred in any other country.

And the Republicans think an acquittal will cause the divisions in the United States caused by centuries of inequality in justice, in income, and in civil rights to go away? Or even improve the situation?

An acquittal would declare to the nation and the world that not only do most Republican senators have neither ethics nor courage, but that the Republican Party fears that it cannot win elections without the support of white supremacists and that Republicans have no intention of ever addressing the real problems facing the nation.

Empty Respect

Republicans are always talking about law and order, and how they respect police officers and other law enforcement personnel.

During the attempted Trump coup of January 6th, police officers put their bodies and lives on the line to protect the members of he House and Senate, and, as a result, three officers are dead, and at least a hundred forty were injured, often severely. So how are Republicans in the House and Senate respecting those police officers?

They’re insisting that January 6th attack on the “just happened,” and that Trump had little or nothing to do with it, and that impeachment is a meaningless, empty gesture, and a “waste of time.”

I can’t even think of another recent event or incident that killed or maimed so many law enforcement personnel, not since 9/11, and in the case of 9/11, we went to war trying to bring those responsible to justice. Yet right now, in the self-interest of personal political gain, the Republicans are doing everything possible NOT to bring to justice the man responsible for the death and injuries to more than a hundred and forty police officers.

Just what does this say about how highly Republican House and Senate members “respect” law enforcement officials?

To me, it says that what they say about respecting police officers is just more empty rhetoric, just as what they say about “working Americans” is also empty rhetoric.

But so far, most grassroots Republicans don’t see it… and that’s largely why the Republicans in the House and Senate continue to get away with what amount to hypocritical actions and actual disrespect.

The Latest Lie

The latest Republican lie is that trying an impeached former president for offenses he committed while in office is unconstitutional. The vast majority of legal scholars who have opined on the subject declare that the trial is indeed constitutional, especially since Trump was impeached the second time before he left office.

Saying he cannot be tried is akin to declaring an embezzler who was charged can’t be tried because he’s no longer employed by the company he stole from. Furthermore, there have been two prior cases of federal civil government employees who were impeached and tried after leaving government service.

The lie that it’s unconstitutional to try former President Trump since he’s no longer in office is merely another Republican excuse not to hold Trump accountable for instigating and inciting the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol that resulted in five deaths [to date] and the often severe injuries to 140 police officers. While it is likely that the majority of Republican Senators have neither the ethics nor the courage to convict Trump, to hide behind a legally unsustainable lie is just another form of cowardice.

Five deaths and 140 injured police officers! If a sitting President had told a Black Lives Matter demonstration to attack the Capitol, and that demonstration resulted in equivalent deaths, injuries and damage, does any thinking individual have any doubt that such a President would be impeached and convicted, whether or not he was still in office?

As I’ve written before, Republicans can vote to impeach a Democrat president for lying about an affair with an intern, but they appear all too willing to refuse to convict a president for actions that many of them have publicly deplored, for various reasons, giving a range of reasons unfounded in fact or law.

Why? The only answer I can find is that they care more about being re-elected than they care about doing what is ethical… or about their country… no matter how they protest to the contrary. And what’s more, all too many of their constituents agree.

Ethics, Expediency, or Cowardice?

In a secret ballot, the majority of the U.S. House Republican Caucus voted not to remove Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney from her position as House Republican Conference Chair, in effect supporting her right to vote her conscience in supporting the House vote to again impeach Donald Trump. The vote was 145 House Democrats voting not to remove, 61 to remove. That secret ballot allowed Republicans to vote their conscience – or beliefs – without political backlash.

On the other hand, the Republican conference refused to sanction the QAnon spouting, hate-mongering Marjorie Taylor Greene, who had also earlier threatened Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and Barrack Obama. To top matters off, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy claimed he was unfamiliar with the QAnon extremists – except he seemed to forget that he denounced QAnon months ago.

Before joining Congress, Greene posted videos questioning whether the 9-11 terrorist attacks ever happened, stalking and taunting a teen survivor of the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, as well as suggesting that space lasers owned by wealthy Jews were causing deadly wildfires in California. She claimed school shootings were staged by Democrats to promote gun control laws and that “the stage was being set” to hang former President Barack Obama and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Even Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell denounced Greene’s views as a “cancer” on the Republican Party and on the country.

When the Republicans refused to discipline Greene, the Democrats pushed through a bill to strip Greene of her committee assignments. One hundred ninety-nine Republicans voted against the bill, in effect publicly supporting the ultra-right-wing, hate-mongering Greene. Only eleven House Republicans wanted her to be sanctioned for her actions.

And what do all these votes illustrate? That the majority of Republican national office-holders are either scared to death of the extremists in their political or base or that they think they can’t get elected without pandering to those extremists… if not both.

And, by the way, Greene says that she’s raised almost $2 million from small donors in the past week or so.


The assault on the U.S. Capitol and all of the right-wing rhetoric about individual freedoms got me to thinking about some other related aspects of American culture. In the United States, there coexist two “schools” of how matters get accomplished.

The longer-standing one is an outgrowth of the myth of the rugged individualist, and today we see that modeled in the business world by entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, and in earlier years of the Republic by others such as Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, etc. All of them built supporting organizations, but those organizations initially existed to further the dreams and aims of the founder.

The other model has also been around for a time, but those following it tended to emphasize “team-work” or cooperation.

In fact, in the end, in terms of function, the organizational structures didn’t turn out all that differently, for a very simple reason. No large organization can be effective and survive without cooperation and teamwork.

What’s so often overlooked is a key element in success of organizations. That key element is the person or persons who hold everything together – call them “glue.” But “glue,” whether in holding furniture or physical objects together or in holding organizations together, seldom gets its due.

In any business, government entity, non-profit, or other organization with more than a handful of people, I’ve never seen much recognition of such individuals. I have seen great hoopla over a single achievement of an individual, who may never replicate that, but who continues to be rewarded, recognized, and promoted, often years after that single “flash in the pan,” but seldom much recognition of those whose quiet efforts produce more over time and who hold things together.

I’ve also seen continued quiet achievements of various individuals minimized, even when their combined results far exceed the single one-time brilliant accomplishment of another, far more highly recognized and paid, individual (individuals whom I personally mentally tab as “flashes”).

So why does glue so seldom get its due?