Governance boundaries

This, from the Seattle Times:

Just days before Seattle school Superintendent José Banda interviewed with the Sacramento School Board for its top job, he sent a blistering email to his own board members about their treatment of his staff over the selection of new elementary-school math textbooks.

While the Seattle school board has the legal authority to approve or reject textbooks, it lacks the competency to make such a determination, which lies with the superintendent and his/her staff. The textbook adoption decision should never have come before the board. That it did, speaks volumes about the inherent problems afflicting the school district and, I dare say, most, if not all, school districts.

Consider this parallel. What would we say if the Snohomish County PUD board of commissioners overruled the general manager’s selection of utility construction standards? The board certainly has the authority to do so, but it clearly has no expertise in utility equipment or how they should be installed.

In the linked article above, we get a glimpse of how boards and managers should function:

Marysville board Vice President Chris Nation, who also has served as president, said his board built a strong relationship with [ former Marysville superintendent and now interim Seattle superintendent Larry] Nyland and his senior staff by agreeing on clear roles and responsibilities for everyone right from the beginning.

That’s what the SnoPUD board and general manager did years ago.

Pierce on Ryan

Charles Pierce, writing for Esquire magazine, on Paul Ryan’s latest proposal to help the poor. Not.

Paternalism doesn’t change through the ages. It just dresses differently. And there, ultimately, is Paul Ryan’s new political persona. He’s the poor person’s landlord, enclosing the fields. He’s the man who brought sharecropping to the welfare state.

Structural dysfunction

I usually get around to watching my queue of Bill Moyers’s programs. I procrastinate because I know that I’m in for some depressing stuff. So, I steel myself for a strict diet of misery as I make my way through the episodes.

Among the programs viewed in last night’s lineup was an interview with Jim Hightower, an occasional guest of Moyers. Hightower is synonymous with populism, and he’s not about to go gently into his good night. He’s still at it after all these years.

As is his wont, Moyers wonders about the efficacy of protesting and struggle, since things have only gotten worse since Hightower raised his populist banner. Against the sobering reality, we are treated to images of this group and that group bringing truth to power and whatnot. Also, one has choices, reminds Hightower, and one of those, of course, is to simply quit, which he refuses to do.

I was reminded of my writings long ago wherein I decried the “stiletto” syndrome: so many groups focused on narrow concerns, thereby losing the political forest for the single-interest trees. After all, I surmised, there is likely a common cause for all the social maladies. If the many groups could combine their resources to strike at the root of the underlying evil, success could be more achievable.

The most obvious big-tent approach is via political parties. But that’s hardly working for the Rest of Us. Today’s Democratic Party, which used to be associated with us working stiffs, is now as beholden to the monied interests as the G.O.P., which has always and unabashedly been the party of the rich white man. The fat cats. The plutocrats. The capitalists.

Reasonable minds may disagree, but one doubts that the current political landscape supported by and suffused with dollars was what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they concocted their grand experiment in democracy. The whole thing is a present mess, to be sure, yet foreseeable. Madison, Franklin, et al. may have broken the yoke of “tyranny,” but they clearly created, albeit unwittingly, a monster of mayhem and misfortune in their desire to prevent concentrated power. In effect, they established a constitution that traded monarchy for oligarchy while preventing easy fixes, allowing the dead to rule from their graves.

Despite the expansion of the voting franchise, the rigidity of a two-party system holds sway, effectively obstructing meaningful representation of the people’s will. When the winner takes all, third parties don’t stand a chance. More of us can vote, but only between D and R.

I seriously doubt that the Democratic Party can be recaptured by Labor. Once the first Wall Street check was cashed, the people lost their voice. The party is, at best, a prophylactic against the crazies who occupy the alternative, but no longer seems an effective vehicle to address the needs of the Rest of Us.

Tough to argue against


We’ve ceded our strengths in manufacturing, education, and non-frivolous technology to the rest of the world. Our welfare state is an embarrassment. Our law enforcement and justice system are a case study in corruption. Our Congress and state legislatures are cautionary tales of what not to do. Other industrialized nations laugh at our health care system. Our standard of living is declining, wages have stagnated for three decades, and the rising cost of living is slowly making 99% of us poorer as we work longer hours with no mandated vacation or personal leave. Is the U.S. still a better place to live than the majority of the countries on Earth? Of course. But we’re not comparing the U.S. to Chad. Compared to our peer group, it’s hard to figure out what our strengths are anymore other than consuming energy, maintaining a giant stockpile of nuclear weapons, and having a big, powerful, expensive conventional military. Oh, and I guess we’re pretty good at spying on everyone’s telecommunications, although if I had to place a wager I’d bet the Israelis, Russians, or Swiss are even better at it.

But please don’t tell the Republicans.

Ideology and your parents

Thomas Edsall, writing for the New York Times, covers ongoing research into the heritability of political mindsets. If you find yourself voting against your economic interests, for example, the fault may lie in your genes. Take, for example, the people of West Virginia.

West Virginia embodies this paradox. The state is very poor. Median family income puts West Virginia 48th in the nation, just above Mississippi and Arkansas. Nearly one out of five residents, 18.4 percent, received food stamps in 2012 and more, 22 percent, are on Medicaid — a percentage that is expected to approach 25 percent as more residents take advantage of the Affordable Care Act expansion.

The percentage of workingage West Virginians with a disability, 16.4 percent, is the highest in the country. But in 2012, West Virginia rejected President Obama out of hand. Mitt Romney won all of West Virginia’s 55counties, 41 of them with more than 60 percent of the vote. Nineteen out of 20 West Virginians, 94 percent, are white, a level topped only by Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Idaho.

When historian Thomas Frank banged his head against the wall wondering “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”—his home state—he might have been better served by capturing DNA samples. Birth is girth, and genetics may be politics.

A GOP majority

Charles Blow tells us that Republicans have at least an even chance of reclaiming the Senate while boosting their hold on the House. Should the GOP prevail this November, all but the White House will be in their hands.

In the event, we may justifiably cringe at the prospects for the Rest of Us. Thus far blocked by the Democratic majority in the upper chamber, Republicans are certain to push forward their spiteful, mean-spirited agenda, with only a presidential veto standing in the way of ideological hegemony.

The House has established quite a policy agenda, from ever lower taxes and regulations, to undermining climate science and denying social safety nets for the poor and near-poor—about half the population. A Republican-dominated Senate can be expected to say, “Me, too,” to all this and much, much more. So long to the vestiges of the New Deal and Great Society.

The results will be as predictable as they will be stark. The rich will get even richer, of course. They always do. Those who are still unable to find work will be forever denied unemployment benefits. After all, they remove incentives to find an increasingly elusive job. Fossil fuel use should soar, with restrictions relaxed or repealed altogether. If Republicans have their way, women will be expected to return to the 50s, completely stripped of already diminishing safeguards. People of color will discover that voting is by no means a right but a rare occurrence, something to be thwarted at every turn.

They will overreach. It is their nature, these Republicans. Eventually enough people will get angry and resort to democracy. In the meanwhile, all gets ugly.


Justice Ginsberg warned that the Supreme Court majority had entered a “minefield” with its ruling favoring Hobby Lobby. The company’s decidedly Christian leaders believed that their religious freedoms were being compromised by the Affordable Care Act’s inclusion of contraceptives. Good Christians, we are to presume, hold that even potential life is sacred.

But why should it stop there, with matters of reproduction? The minefield metaphor suggests that the court’s ruling could extend far beyond. I’m sure, for example, that there are religious sects that oppose the federal income tax. Or, if none now exists, several will arise to assert their members’ god-given right to refuse to pay the government. We know that zealotry knows no theological bounds. If extremism is your relish, you can thank your lucky stars that you live in the U.S. of A. The Supreme’s decision invites all sorts of ecclesiastical mischief far beyond the current wackiness.

All in the name of freedom, we’re told. Yet freedom has at least two edges. Hobby Lobby’s religious freedom now trumps their female employees’ reproductive freedom. Let freedom reign. But whose?

Watch your step, citizens. The field is fraught with explosives.