U.S. Foreign Policy: It’s going to be a bumpy ride

It’s not like no one warned us. It’s not like a majority of us did not believe those who warned us. But we are all passengers on the Trump ship of state now. We are airborne and en route to spots around the globe. The Fasten Seatbelt sign is still on, and the turbulence just keeps getting worse. You have to wonder if there’s anyone in the cockpit who actually knows how to fly this thing!

The warnings came from both halves of the political spectrum, sometimes with great drama and fanfare. (Think Mitt Romney.) One that is resonating with me this week came on August 8, after the Republican convention. It was the public Statement by Former National Security Officials. All fifty former officials, many who served at the highest level, served in Republican administrations from Nixon to George W. Bush. After stating none of them would vote for Trump, it includes these paragraphs:

From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.

In addition, Mr. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding of America’s vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances, and the democratic values on which U.S. foreign policy must be based. At the same time, he persistently compliments our adversaries and threatens our allies and friends. Unlike previous Presidents who had limited experience in foreign affairs, Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself. He continues to display an alarming ignorance of basic facts of contemporary international politics. Despite his lack of knowledge, Mr. Trump claims that he understands foreign affairs and “knows more about ISIS than the generals do.”

He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander- in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

We are convinced that in the Oval Office, he would be the most reckless President in American history.

We older Boomers grew up with the real threat, nearly an expectation, of nuclear holocaust. The world watched as the testing of atomic and then hydrogen bombs put their awesome destructive power on display. We crawled under our school desks during drills and held our collective breath during the Cuban Missile Crisis, coming even closer to cataclysm than we realized at the time.

The Cold War provided the context and the impetus for a US foreign policy that has weathered and navigated the decades since. No one would claim it has done so perfectly. Far from it. Nonetheless, conflicts have been regional, not global, and we are the country that free nations and those aspiring to democracy have looked to for leadership and support.

In the past 50 years, only Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush have entered the presidency with any significant national security/foreign policy experience. Stability and continuity have been maintained by appointing experienced, capable leaders for departments staffed by career professionals, intelligence officers, and diplomats.

Until now.

The President possesses an unfounded but boundless confidence in himself and trusts others only to the extent that they satisfy his prerequisite of proven loyalty. And, it seems, with that sole dubious qualification satisfied, they are admitted to the inner circle where the real influence and responsibility reside in this administration. The State Department is perhaps the most obvious casualty.

When he was appointed, then confirmed relatively easily, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was widely considered evidence of Trump gathering a well-qualified team. It is still early, sort of, but it would seem Secretary Tillerson would have been a better fit at the CIA. It is possible he is doing good things at State, but he has managed to keep it a closely guarded secret as he avoids not only the press, but his department staff and diplomatic corps as well.

Meanwhile, the State Department has suffered resignations and firings of a large number of senior officers and is facing a potential 30% budget cut. Tillerson was refused his choice for Deputy, the experienced Elliot Abrams, allegedly because Abrams had come out against Trump during the election.

This shrinking of the State Department is inversely proportional to the rapid expansion of the portfolio of wunderkind Jared Kushner, who serves as the prime example of the premium Trump puts on personal loyalty and trust. And the lack of value he attaches to experience.

The ridiculous list of jobs for the 36-year-old Kushner has been delicious fodder for the late night comedians and social media. It may be less amusing for the Cabinet Secretaries who expected they would be responsible for those  things.

There has been so much more in the news just this week about our foreign policy. It is all troubling, but if you have made it to the end of this piece, you have no doubt read much of it yourself already. So I’ll just sum up by saying it’s not just us that are in for a bumpy ride. Leaders and citizens of countries around the world are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to read the mixed signals emanating from the Trump administration.

Would someone go ask the pilot where he’s taking us first: Russia, Mexico, Syria, Iraq, China, or North Korea? Oh, and don’t be surprised if you find he looks like he’s just a kid!

 

Resisting the Bully

How do you stand up to a bully? In schools, we teach children to find an adult and report the bullying. Then, in an effective school, there are clear rules which are applied to stop the bullying behavior. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for the resistance movement.

Make no mistake. We have a bully in the White House. He has made that clear over and over: in his campaign rallies, in tweets, and recently in person when he threatened Republican (!?) lawmakers who were voting ’No’ on Ryancare. However, the atmosphere in the Capitol is so politicized and the politics so dysfunctional, it is difficult to see where the courage and cooperation will come from to stand up to Trump.

Let’s look instead at the other Washington, which is a hotbed of sanity in contrast. When the first Muslim ban was issued by Executive Order just one week into the new administration, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, state Solicitor Noah Purcell and the rest of the AG’s team were prepared. Their lawsuit was successful in blocking a cynical, cruel, and unconstitutional action, masquerading as an anti-terror measure. Two  separate courts ruled against the administration.

This was a case of the adults dealing with the bully by applying the rules.

It is happening again right now. Seattle, one of numerous so-called sanctuary cities, has been threatened with loss of federal funding if it does not comply with demands from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the Justice Department to help round up and detain undocumented immigrants.

Instead, the city announced on Wednesday that it will file a lawsuit against what it is calling an illegal demand and threat. The mayor, city council, and chief of police are united in this response. The adults are confronting the bully with the rule of law.

The LA Times described Donald Trump’s “shocking lack of respect for those fundamental rules and institutions on which our government is based. His contempt for the rule of law and the norms of government are palpable.” This contempt has been on full display in his reaction to Seattle “so-called” Judge Robart who issued the original injunction against the first Muslim ban and in his virulent commentary on the judiciary in his recent rallies.

While this behavior from a sitting President is certainly a danger to our democracy, it is also a vulnerability that could be his undoing. The same disregard for the rule of law that makes him believe he can get away with anything also exposes him to the consequences of breaking the law. His presidency should be consumed in litigation, challenged at every step with public protests and investigations.

A school always hopes to change a child’s bullying behavior. But, with a 70-year old child who has been a confirmed bully for decades, there may eventually be no choice but to expel him.

Exclusive Interview: Bob Dylan ‘Reborn’ After Nobel Prize

The Nobel Academy shocked the world last fall when they announced that the Prize for Literature was being awarded to songwriter, Bob Dylan, the first American to be so honored since Toni Morrison in 1983. That reaction was mild compared to the one that greeted Dylan’s silence following the announcement. After being skewered in both the US and Swedish press for two weeks, Dylan finally released a statement explaining he had simply been rendered speechless and would attend the ceremony to accept the award if possible. But, Patti Smith ended up standing in for him. The saga comes to an end this weekend, as the academy has announced they will hold a small private ceremony with Dylan.

In a rare coup for such a new publication, this blog is able today to report this exclusive behind the scenes story. A set of odd circumstances gave me the opportunity to interview someone with first-hand information about how drastically Bob Dylan’s life has changed since last fall. Speaking on condition of anonymity, because his office is only two doors down from Dylan’s agent, Brian Greenbaum at Creative Artists Agency, and he doesn’t want to lose his job, this person painted a picture of a late life renaissance, a Boomer reborn if you will. (Yes, he was born in ’41, but we gave him honorary status in the 60s.)

The timing of the Nobel announcement was key. “Bob had just received the results from his MyHeritageDNA test.” (Note: my source kept referring to Dylan as Bob, which is mainly what convinced me of the authenticity of the account.) “As a Minnesota native, it should have come as no surprise, but the results indicated he was at least 80% Swedish.” Still, Dylan had spent his entire life believing his family had come from Russia. He was stunned and still processing his newly realized heritage when the Nobel announcement was made.

Although his first impulse had been to question the DNA results, Dylan saw this award as some kind of divine confirmation of his Swedish roots. “How else to explain that he was getting the Nobel Prize for friggin’ Literature?” my source asked reasonably.

Dylan, who was at the end of a tour, immediately went into seclusion to reflect on the revelation. Those close to him were used to this kind of thing, so did not think much of it. The Nobel people, on the other hand were livid. When word of their reaction reached him, Dylan went even deeper into contemplation.

The singer/songwriter is reborn

When he contacted his agent two weeks later, it was with an enthusiasm that had been missing for many years. Dylan had been rereading his autobiography, Chronicles, Vol 1, to review his early life in this new light. One result of this was for him to drop his initial theory that this book was the reason for the Literature prize.

More importantly, though, he now realized his life had been full of foreshadowings pointing to this inevitable cultural rebirth. For example, there was his boyhood best friend who had moved away from Duluth, to the little town of Stockholm, Wisconsin, just east of Minneapolis. He spent many weekends there, and had fond memories of the stacks of paper thin pancakes his friend’s mother made. Also, his early folksinging days in the Village are legendary, but few people realized he lived with friends in a flat across the Brooklyn Bridge on Stockholm Street.

Greenbaum arranged for a private meeting between Dylan and the president of Gustavus Adolphus College, in St. Peter, Minnesota. Dylan proposed that the College, the foremost Swedish language institution in the U.S., immediately begin a project to translate the entire Dylan songbook, nearly 400 songs, into Swedish. In return, the college has received a $10 million contribution to establish the Bob Dylan Chair for Folk/Rock Literature.

There was a brief period when the agency had to push back on their star’s new-found Nordic obsession. Dylan, who refuses to text or use email, had sent them a note, saying he needed to change his name. My source gave me a photocopy, which says:

God dag, Brian. Please have your attorneys start paperwork for a legal name change to Robert Allen Johanneson. You see, I Was Young When I Left Home, and I thought I would be Forever Young. But now I Feel a Change Comin’ On. Who I’ve been up to now, well, It Ain’t Me Babe. Ever since the Nobel Prize, that Simple Twist of Fate, I’ve had the North Country Blues. Then, last week, I was feeling Like a Rolling Stone so I got in my car, man, and it was like Highway 61 Revisted. I drove most the night until I saw the thunderclouds and thought, “Whoa, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” It was a sign, like I’m Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. OK man. Thanks. I mean tak.  Bob

Turns out this is a thing with Dylan. I suggested the note was probably a kind of joke, since it was mostly composed of his song titles. I was assured it is common and he takes it pretty seriously.

They have been stalling him on the name change, but have not been able to dissuade him from insisting on singing in Swedish from now on. The students at Gustavus Adolphus have several dozen songs completed and Dylan has been using a phonetic version of the translations to rehearse for this weekend’s performance at the small Nobel ceremony.

I expressed doubt that this would go over very well, but my source just laughed. “I’ve heard several of the session recordings,” he said. “Mumbling in Swedish doesn’t really sound much different from mumbling in English!”

I need to post this before someone else gets wind of the story. But, I did do some additional research and found there are some “fake news” versions of Dylan’s foray into all things Swedish. I’ve confirmed, for example, that there is no truth to the rumor that he has had a giant dragon tattooed across his back.

On the other hand, watch for an announcement in the coming days about Bob Dylan’s upcoming tour. Starting sometime in June, he and his band will perform free outdoor concerts throughout 14 northern states in IKEA parking lots.

Are we marching against climate change this weekend?

Did you see the headlines Tuesday? Ones like this:

Trump Signs Executive Order Unwinding Obama Climate Policies

Where do we meet to march this weekend? Just kidding of course. Not saying it isn’t a good idea, but climate change, global warming, just isn’t that kind of issue, is it? The breaking news stories are about policies, not people. No climate scientists in detention or being deported, at least yet. No chance that a federal judge will issue an injunction that will put warming on hold until we can get our act together.

Don’t get me wrong. The actions of the administration on climate and against the environment (WTF! Scott Pruitt?!) are aggressive, hostile, and need to be fought.  But the alarm has been sounding on global warming for a couple decades now. While Republicans have found some electoral advantage in joining this century’s Flat Earth Society,  we are in danger of becoming that frog who stays in the slowly heating pot, unaware he’s about to be dinner.

There’s something confounding about the way our human nature is dealing with this issue. Well, not dealing with this issue would be more accurate. When Gallup asked last March how concerned we are about global warming, their poll results looked like this: U.S. Concern About Global Warming at Eight-Year High. So, considered in isolation, people understand rationally that this is something they should be worried about. But, just one week later, Gallup published the results of a ranking poll of a list of problems facing the country and Climate Change came in as just the 12th biggest problem. Out of 13.

Boomers should recognize what’s going on here, because it’s an awful lot like retirement planning. When we were young, there was this big event looming far in our future. People who were experts told us the terrible consequences of not cutting back enough on our spending, of saving and setting our priorities so that our financial environment would be healthy at the end of our lives. Right?

If you had asked us, we’d say, “Sure, I know I need to plan for retirement, and I’m going to.” But, the future need didn’t seem real or pressing, whereas the present needs and wants were damn real. So, many of us just let it slide.

One critical difference is if we failed to act responsibly for our retirement, we were mostly just hurting ourselves. Whereas, the scope and scale of the likely consequences of continued warming are literally global. While there is growing scientific consensus that the present trend toward extreme weather is linked to the changing climate, we Boomers are likely to skip out before it gets truly horrible. The planet we leave behind will be inherited by our children and our grandchildren, and of course so on ad finitum. Yes I know it’s obvious, but before you go on, read that last sentence again and consider it. That’s a nasty little surprise to leave in the will, don’t you think? Sort of like finding the old man left you several million dollars– in debts.

If you have read some of my earlier posts, such as Why This Blog, then you know that this topic is more central to the theme of the blog than the frantic antics of President Whatzisname. It is tempting to hunker down for the duration. It is galling to have to give him so much of our mental bandwidth, but he and his henchmen are doing real damage at breakneck speed and we have to be on our toes rather than our heels.

So, pick your passion. Immigration, health care, education, consumer protections, redistricting, whatever. The list of the values that really make America great that are under attack is long. Focus on something and be an advocate, even an activist.

However, I’m suggesting that we all have to be advocates and activists for the planet. Being thoughtful and intelligent about protecting our home is an intergenerational responsibility that transcends news cycles and even administrations. But perhaps it falls most heavily on us. We Boomers are the first generation who has no right to say about global warming, “But, we did not know.”

More to say. More to do. Maybe even a march someday.

 

Post Script to my Letter to the President

On Sunday, I wrote a letter to the President, commiserating on his difficult week due to Ryancare and the recalcitrant Republicans. (I haven’t heard back yet. I should probably check my Twitter feed.) Because he was taken aback by how complicated health care policy turned out to be, I helpfully pointed out that there are only three general paths open to us:

  1. Government-funded health care for all.
  2. Repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare for the 35-40% who did not realize they are the same) and return to the market approach pre-ACA.
  3. Keep the ACA in place.

So, I was interested this morning to read David Leonhardt’s column (below) in the not-so-failing-New York Times. He describes essentially the same three options and makes the case that the House and the Administration are unwittingly setting us on path #1.

The nearly universal rejection of the GOP bill made clear there is little interest in returning to the bad old days for those who don’t have employer-provided insurance: either pay through the nose (or whatever ailing body part applies) or just keep your fingers crossed and pray. So, scratch #2.

If my appeal to the President to support #1 somehow fails, in spite of his public promises of better health care for everyone, that will leave #3 by default. But, Leonhardt’s contention is that Tom Price has already begun taking steps to reverse and eliminate provisions of Obamacare. The thing is, though, the provisions that are most vulnerable are the more conservative aspects of the law– remember, the ACA’s gene pool has lots of GOP DNA– those governing the private insurance markets or exchanges. Those most protected from attack are the more liberal, namely those under Medicaid and its expansion.

I cited a 2016 Gallup survey indicating a majority of Americans favor some form of federally-funded universal health care. There are others. And when survey questions are purged of political rhetoric from either side, I believe the results are even more positive. I imagine a fictional phone survey illustrating this might sound something like this:

Question: Do you think we should get rid of the job-killing Obamacare?
Answer: Hell, yes!
Question: Do you think all Americans should have good quality health coverage they can afford?
Answer: Hell, yes!

So if voters like government-provided health care and Republicans are going to undermine private markets, what should Democrats do? When they are next in charge, they should expand government health care.    -David Leonhardt

Sounds good. It’s just that, as John and Paul said, it’s a long and winding road.

Letter to the President re Health Care

Dear Mr. President,

Gosh, it seems you had a tough week. No, wait, don’t look away. I didn’t write to gloat or rub it in. In fact, unlike you, I don’t see every issue or transaction as being about winning vs. losing. So, while I can understand why the demise of Repeal and Replace is being portrayed as a huge political loss, it isn’t automatically a win for opponents.

Don’t get me wrong. You could almost hear the sigh of relief around the country when Paul Ryan announced they didn’t have the votes. You have to admit that’s understandable, since only 17% of American voters approved of the bill. I guess a lot of people started paying attention to the real life implications of what was and wasn’t in it. Turns out the 8 year campaign to repeal Obamacare was very effective, not at getting rid of it, but at confusing people with distortions and misinformation. And hey, you were pretty good at that too, but more on that in a minute. Did you know that as of early this year over a third of Americans did not realize that Obamacare and the Affordable Care act were the same thing? Or that nearly a half did not realize that if Obamacare was repealed it would mean the ACA would disappear? (You might have missed it, since it might not have been mentioned on the channels you watch.)

For that bill to have even 17% support is pretty amazing. I think you need to take some credit. Throughout your campaign, at all those rallies, and in the first two months in office, you have laid out your health care policy: Obamacare is a disaster. I have a plan. It is so great. Insurance for everyone; no cuts to Medicaid; insurance companies can sell across state lines; no one will lose coverage; better coverage for less money. Believe me. No details, but trust me.

A lot of people among that 17% still, even today, believe you. I know. Go ahead and chuckle, but the country is mostly not falling for it. And believe me, the temptation to gloat is great. But, like I said, I don’t see any winners out of this yet.

Obamacare is not imploding, at least not everywhere. States that made good faith efforts to implement the exchanges, to accept and competently administer the Medicaid expansion, and to put the needs of their citizens above politics, have actually succeeded in expanding the number of insured and often at a reduced rate of health care cost growth. States that have refused to accept the ACA’s provisions and make those good faith efforts have generally undermined the Act’s intent and gotten self-fulfilling prophecy results.

My reading of the analyses is that Obamacare won’t implode or explode on its own any time soon. In fact, cooperative, beneficial legislation could save and improve it. However, the opposite will almost certainly cause its demise. You would probably consider that a win. I doubt the 24 million, or whatever the number of millions ends up being, who lose coverage will see it that way.

You seemed genuinely surprised when you announced to the country that health care policy is so complicated. (I hate to break it to you, but it’s no surprise to most of us who have needed to navigate it most of our adult lives.) I think I can simplify something for you. The details of course are incredibly complex. But, our choices of how we, as a country, approach access to medical care can be simply categorized. And there aren’t a lot of choices, which accounts for the impasse you and the House Republicans reached this past week. As laid out in a Gallup Poll last year, here are the three basic options we have:

  1.  Replace the ACA with a federally funded healthcare program that provides insurance for all Americans. (Oddly, this is the only option that fits with your promise of delivering insurance for everyone, and has arguably the best bang for our health care buck. It is also the option that polled highest!)
  2. Repeal the Affordable Care Act. (This gets us back to the market approach that has support from most of your party but not most of the country, with approaching 20% of our fellow citizens uninsured.)
  3. Keep the ACA in place. (This can continue to work in states that want it to work, continue have problems in states whose governors and/or legislatures don’t, and can probably be killed if you choose to sabotage it. And it could probably be improved with a bipartisan effort. No, I’m not trying to be funny.)

You like winning. How about trying to win at something that actually matters? Something that allows everyone to win. How about turning your rhetoric into reality regarding health care? BE a populist, don’t just act a part. Accomplish something really great. Leave a true legacy: universal health care so our children and grandchildren will live in a society where no one lives in that dread and consequence of medical and financial catastrophe.

Will you? Can you? I’m thinking about 0% chance. But, that’s the same chance most of us gave you to become President. So, surprise us again.

 

Why this blog?

One of my adult children (you know who you are) made a pithy assessment of my generation that included flattering terms like self-absorbed and which conjured an image of a swarm of locusts marauding across the decades, leaving scant remains for any unfortunate enough to follow.

We Baby Boomers are the progeny of the Greatest Generation. Millions of GIs returned from World War II to rejoin the rest of the population who had suffered stateside. Everyone had sacrificed in some way, yet had been spared the devastation to the homeland that had leveled Europe and much of Asia and Northern Africa. With a wealth of resources undiminished by monstrous armaments and armies, and the rest of the world simply trying to get back on its feet, America and her families entered a new era of previously unimagined prosperity.  Children born from 1946-1964– oh, let’s get off on the right foot, I mean of course mainly middle class white children, especially male– grew up believing this was all for us. And, frankly, all about us. Blessed with innate historical insight and impeccable timing, vast numbers of us chose the optimal window for our birth, catching a totally awesome ride on an economic and cultural wave, complete with Beach Boys soundtrack.

Now, after childhoods and careers spent basking in the benefits of Me Generation membership, what encore is most fitting for retirement? Something self-actualizing, perhaps? Get political and lobby to preserve Social Security, Medicare and pension funds? Move someplace warm and pursue an “active lifestyle”?

None of those struck a chord and I must say I drifted a bit during my first three years of self-unemployment. There was plenty to do, but no driving purpose or long-term theme. Finally, this past fall, several things converged to provide them.

Realization dawned that creative impulses I had presumed long dormant, or at least decrepit, were merely suppressed and starting to rattle their cages. I took a couple of photography classes, and the rattling grew louder.

I’ve wanted to write, really write, for longer than I care to admit. A book for children, at least my grandchildren should no one else be interested. And something like a blog. Very like a blog. This blog, in fact.

Oh, and the election. That wasn’t good. Do you know the worst thing about it? Strike that. We all know the worst thing about it. The second worst thing about it was the two main candidates were BOTH, you got it, Baby Boomers. Talk about generational guilt!

All of this was percolating between November and the Inauguration in January. I began the book in early January and it was like finding you have another arm you didn’t realize was there. It feels so natural and overdue to put it to use. Then, I heard Trump speak after being sworn in and somewhere within me a small dam broke. Downstream my normal reticence got swept away. My reluctance to put my opinion out there seemed so petty relative to the ominous threat emanating from the White House.

My first step was to make Facebook posts, but it was clearly not the most appropriate format for the type of writing I have in mind– and heart. So the “maybe someday” website/blog became a now priority. (When it goes live, I will include a few of the Facebook pieces with original post dates for sake of continuity.)

In the first months of Trump, much of the focus may be unavoidably political. But, over time, the range of posts should reflect any and all topics that relate to the central theme: In my remaining time as a human on earth, what things do I need to know, understand, see, hear, say, and do that might help improve conditions for our kids and their kids? Care to join me?

Launching a new blog and website

This site, particularly the blog, is dedicated to the children and grandchildren of Baby Boomers. Especially mine. (Any generations beyond that will simply have to be someone else’s responsibility!)

How many of us born between 1946 and 1964 are feeling really proud of our national estate planning right now? If Baby Boomers had a collective last will and testament, what would it contain? Our parents, nurtured on a depression-era economy and marking their passage into adulthood with a world war, persevered to pass on to their children a country that, though flawed, was brimming with opportunity and optimism. What will our legacy be? Will we succumb to the zeitgeist of America First, accepting cynical and selfish notions of what it means to be Great and walling ourselves off from the world and anyone who is different or disagrees with us? Or will we look for ways to advocate for all our children and theirs, and the general welfare of the planet and all its citizens?

Something there is that does not love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was likely to give offense.
Something there is that does not love a wall,
That wants it down.

–excerpts from Mending Wall, by Robert Frost

From Russia With Love

[Originally posted on Facebook, March 21, 2017]

It isn’t just Trump who is wobbly on Russia.

If the Trump campaign cooperated with or encouraged Russian interference in the 2016 election, it is obvious how serious and unprecedented a crime it would be. But, even if all the circumstantial evidence ultimately leads to no direct evidence of such collusion, it is still a fact that we and other Western countries have been and remain targets of such interference. Russia’s ongoing efforts to undermine democratic processes should be sufficient cause for a united desire to expose it and prevent its recurrence.

Yet, the fear that an independent, thorough investigation might more tangibly implicate and delegitimize the Trump campaign and administration resulted in a House Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday in which not a single Republican member asked FBI Director Comey or NSA Director Rogers any questions about possible connections between the campaign and the Russians.

Instead of using the day to investigate and shed light, half of this so-called oversight committee sought to discredit and distract from the actual investigation by the intelligence agencies. Near the end, Rep. Turner even charged that by exposing the truth about Russian interference, we would be damaging the country and advancing “the Russian interest of trying to destabilize democracy and cause a lack of confidence in our system.”

We need an independent commission, or say goodbye to ever learning what really happened. Or, if you are the optimistic sort, expect it soon after whatsizname’s taxes are released.

Note: There is a link to the entire hearing transcript in the second paragraph of the Slate article. Didn’t read it all (ugh) but enough to confirm some of the quotes in the article.

On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee interrogated FBI Director James…
SLATE.COM|BY WILL SALETAN

School Vouchers

[Originally posted on Facebook, March 13, 2017]

Earlier today, I reposted an item from a good friend about HB 610, the so-called Choices in Education Act, sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and two other Republican representatives. Among the noxious provisions contained therein would be the first foray into nationalizing school vouchers. I got a really good, fair, question from a friend we met traveling and ended up writing a lengthy reply, explaining my view on why educators tend to look on them unfavorably. At the end, I’ve also put a link to a good summary of the pros and cons from the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative.

Hi Steve! Thanks for the comment and question. I’ll try to give a typical argument from us public school folks against a typical implementation of vouchers, acknowledging that various wrinkles are possible.

Public schools get a set allocation, $xxxx per enrolled student, from the state. (Many, but not all, schools also get money from the federal govt, with most of that going to support low income and special needs populations.) Parents who choose to send their children to private or parochial schools, are responsible for the full tuition and neither the private nor the public school receives any money from the state.

One argument for vouchers is that it would be more fair to have state education money divided equally among ALL students, including those choosing private/parochial schools. Instead of sending money directly to the schools, the state issues vouchers to parents to pass on to the schools of their choice. More equitable and increased competition to boot. That sounds reasonable on its face, but here are a few reasons we think it is not.

  • State money for schools is already stretched. Assume a small state with a $500 million ed budget and 100,000 students in public schools. That’s $5000 per student per year. Say there are 10,000 additional students attending private schools. Assume the state goes fully with a voucher system, is it going to add $50 million in ed funding and continue the $5000 per student allocation to public schools? Or, is it more likely to make the per student allocation $4545? We think the latter is far more likely. This state’s public schools would have a 9% funding cut and the private/parochial parents receive a $4545 per student windfall to help with their tuition.
    * Giving (mostly) relatively well-off families help with their private school tuition might be more palatable if we also assume that the voucher system gives, as voucher advocates like to claim, public school families more choice and the opportunity to attend private schools too. Especially low income families. But how many spaces for these new students are going to be available in existing private/parochial schools? And how welcome are those new students going to be?
  • Oh, and there’s the small problem that $4545 per year isn’t going to cover the whole cost. In 2011-12, average K-12 parochial school tuition was $8160. Average K-12 private school tuition was $22,440. That’s per year, and certainly higher now. Those vouchers, touted as the ticket to a better education for lower income families, seem more like a cruel tease than a realistic solution. Really, how many middle class, let alone low income, families will find this practical?
  • Finally, how about the competition that vouchers would encourage? Maybe. Maybe there will be a large number of new for-profit schools built. Maybe a large number of educationally sound and professionally staffed and managed schools will pop up from private corporations, lured by the guarantee of $4545 per student from the state. Maybe these new private schools will be subject to the same standards and requirements as public schools. Maybe they will provide all the same services and support to special needs students that public schools have been mandated to do for decades. (Although that may not be an issue if H.B. 610 becomes law and successfully eliminates many of those mandates.) On the other hand, maybe it will look more like Michigan, where Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education, if you can believe it) has been instrumental in the establishment of the largest number of for-profit charter schools in the nation AND legislation to shield these schools from oversight and accountability.

So, why is the federal House Bill 610 a big deal, since the lion share of school funding comes from each state? This bill is saying that receiving federal funding, in block grants or whatever form it ends up taking, will be dependent upon each state establishing a certain portion of funding to be distributed in the form of vouchers to be used to pay for private or home schools. It’s being called the “Choices in Education Act”, a euphemistic name for what amounts to the first national step toward defunding public schools.

A school voucher is a credit given to parents who want to move their child from a public school to a private school of their choosing. Most voucher progra…
PUBLICPOLICY.WHARTON.UPENN.EDU