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“We broke it, but you’ve got to fix it.”

Worthy of a read of (or if you want a listen to) a recent Commencement speech given by Ken Burns at Washington University calling on recent graduates to help fix what previous generations have left broken and incomplete. I have posted both the verbal and the written version for you to select.

A comment extracted from the speech:

“a tall, thin lawyer, prone to bouts of debilitating depression, addressed the Young Men’s Lyceum. The topic that day was national security.

“At what point shall we expect the approach of danger?” he asked his audience . . . . Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the Earth and crush us at a blow?” Then he answered his own question: “Never. All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa . . . could not by force take a drink from the Ohio [River] or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years . . . If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

It is a stunning, remarkable statement.”

Ken Burns answers what is wrong with America and why we have not been able to get it right after the Civil War and during Reconstruction. “You’re joining a movement that must be dedicated above all else — career and personal advancement — to the preservation of this country’s most enduring ideals. You have to learn, and then re-teach the rest of us that equality — real equality — is the hallmark and birthright of ALL Americans. Thankfully, you will become a vanguard against a new separatism that seems to have infected our ranks, a vanguard against those forces that, in the name of our great democracy, have managed to diminish it.”


The Text: Chancellor Wrighton, members of the Board of Trustees and the Administration, distinguished faculty, Class of 1965, hard-working staff, my fellow honorees, proud and relieved parents, calm and serene grandparents, distracted but secretly pleased siblings, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, graduating students, good morning. I am deeply honored that you have asked me here to say a few words at this momentous occasion, that you might find what I have to say worthy of your attention on so important a day at this remarkable institution.

It had been my intention this morning to parcel out some good advice at the end of these remarks — the “goodness” of that being of course subjective in the extreme — but then I realized that this is the land of Mark Twain, and I came to the conclusion that any commentary today ought to be framed in the sublime shadow of this quote of his: “It’s not that the world is full of fools, it’s just that lightening isn’t distributed right.” More on Mr. Twain later.

I am in the business of history. It is my job to try to discern some patterns and themes from the past to help us interpret our dizzyingly confusing and sometimes dismaying present. Without a knowledge of that past, how can we possibly know where we are and, most important, where we are going? Over the years I’ve come to understand an important fact, I think: that we are not condemned to repeat, as the cliché goes and we are fond of quoting, what we don’t remember. That’s a clever, even poetic phrase, but not even close to the truth. Nor are there cycles of history, as the academic community periodically promotes. The Bible, Ecclesiastes to be specific, got it right, I think: “What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.”

What that means is that human nature never changes. Or almost never changes. We have continually superimposed our complex and contradictory nature over the random course of human events. All of our inherent strengths and weaknesses, our greed and generosity, our puritanism and our prurience parade before our eyes, generation after generation after generation. This often gives us the impression that history repeats itself. It doesn’t. It just rhymes, Mark Twain is supposed to have said…but he didn’t (more on Mr. Twain later.)

Over the many years of practicing, I have come to the realization that history is not a fixed thing, a collection of precise dates, facts and events (even cogent commencement quotes) that add up to a quantifiable, certain, confidently known, truth. It is a mysterious and malleable thing. And each generation rediscovers and re-examines that part of its past that gives its present, and most important, its future new meaning, new possibilities and new power.

Listen. For most of the forty years I’ve been making historical documentaries, I have been haunted and inspired by a handful of sentences from an extraordinary speech I came across early in my professional life by a neighbor of yours just up the road in Springfield, Illinois. In January of 1838, shortly before his 29th birthday, a tall, thin lawyer, prone to bouts of debilitating depression, addressed the Young Men’s Lyceum. The topic that day was national security. “At what point shall we expect the approach of danger?” he asked his audience . . . . Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the Earth and crush us at a blow?” Then he answered his own question: “Never. All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa . . . could not by force take a drink from the Ohio [River] or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years . . . If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” It is a stunning, remarkable statement.

That young man was, of course, Abraham Lincoln, and he would go on to preside over the closest this country has ever come to near national suicide, our Civil War — fought over the meaning of freedom in America. And yet embedded in his extraordinary, disturbing and prescient words is a fundamental optimism that implicitly acknowledges the geographical force-field two mighty oceans and two relatively benign neighbors north and south have provided for us since the British burned the White House in the War of 1812.

We have counted on Abraham Lincoln for more than a century and a half to get it right when the undertow in the tide of those human events has threatened to overwhelm and capsize us. We always come back to him for the kind of sustaining vision of why we Americans still agree to cohere, why unlike any other country on earth, we are still stitched together by words and, most important, their dangerous progeny, ideas. We return to him for a sense of unity, conscience and national purpose. To escape what the late historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., said is our problem today: “too much pluribus, not enough unum.”

It seems to me that he gave our fragile experiment a conscious shock that enabled it to outgrow the monumental hypocrisy of slavery inherited at our founding and permitted us all, slave owner as well as slave, to have literally, as he put it at Gettysburg, “a new birth of freedom.”

Lincoln’s Springfield speech also suggests what is so great and so good about the people who inhabit this lucky and exquisite country of ours (that’s the world you now inherit): our work ethic, our restlessness, our innovation and our improvisation, our communities and our institutions of higher learning, our suspicion of power; the fact that we seem resolutely dedicated to parsing the meaning between individual and collective freedom; that we are dedicated to understanding what Thomas Jefferson really meant when he wrote that inscrutable phrase “the pursuit of Happiness.”

But the isolation of those two mighty oceans has also helped to incubate habits and patterns less beneficial to us: our devotion to money and guns; our certainty — about everything; our stubborn insistence on our own exceptionalism, blinding us to that which needs repair, our preoccupation with always making the other wrong, at an individual as well as global level.

And then there is the issue of race, which was foremost on the mind of Lincoln back in 1838. It is still here with us today. The jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis told me that healing this question of race was what “the kingdom needed in order to be well.” Before the enormous strides in equality achieved in statutes and laws in the 150 years since the Civil War that Lincoln correctly predicted would come are in danger of being undone by our still imperfect human nature and by politicians who now insist on a hypocritical color-blindness — after four centuries of discrimination. That discrimination now takes on new, sometimes subtler, less obvious but still malevolent forms today. The chains of slavery have been broken, thank God, and so too has the feudal dependence of sharecroppers as the vengeful Jim Crow era recedes (sort of) into the distant past. But now in places like — but not limited to — your other neighbors a few miles as the crow flies from here in Ferguson, we see the ghastly remnants of our great shame emerging still, the shame Lincoln thought would lead to national suicide, our inability to see beyond the color of someone’s skin. It has been with us since our founding.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote that immortal second sentence of the Declaration that begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…,” he owned more than a hundred human beings. He never saw the contradiction, never saw the hypocrisy, and more important never saw fit in his lifetime to free any one of those human beings, ensuring as we went forward that the young United States — born with such glorious promise — would be bedeviled by race, that it would take a bloody, bloody Civil War to even begin to redress the imbalance.

But the shame continues: prison populations exploding with young black men, young black men killed almost weekly by policemen, whole communities of color burdened by corrupt municipalities that resemble more the predatory company store of a supposedly bygone era than a responsible local government. Our cities and towns and suburbs cannot become modern plantations.

It is unconscionable, as you emerge from this privileged sanctuary, that a few miles from here — and nearly everywhere else in America: Baltimore, New York City, North Charleston, Cleveland, Oklahoma, Sanford, Florida, nearly everywhere else — we are still playing out, sadly, an utterly American story, that the same stultifying conditions and sentiments that brought on our Civil War are still on such vivid and unpleasant display. Today, today. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Many years after our Civil War, in 1883, Mark Twain took up writing in earnest a novel he had started and abandoned several times over the last half-dozen years. It would be a very different kind of story from his celebrated Tom Sawyer book, told this time in the plain language of his Missouri boyhood — and it would be his masterpiece.

Set near here, before the Civil War and emancipation, ‘the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ is the story of two runaways — a white boy, Tom Sawyer’s old friend Huck, fleeing civilization, and a black man, Jim, who is running away from slavery. They escape together on a raft going down the Mississippi River.

The novel reaches its moral climax when Huck is faced with a terrible choice. He believes he has committed a grievous sin in helping Jim escape, and he finally writes out a letter, telling Jim’s owner where her runaway property can be found. Huck feels good about doing this at first, he says, and marvels at “how close I came to being lost and going to hell.”

But then he hesitates, thinking about how kind Jim has been to him during their adventure. “…Somehow,” Huck says, “I couldn’t seem to strike no place to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see how glad he was when I come back out of the fog;…and such like times; and would always call me honey…and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was…”

Then, Huck remembers the letter he has written. “I took it up, and held it in my hand,” he says. “I was a-trembling because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right then, I’ll go to hell’ — and tore it up.”

That may be the finest moment in all of American literature. Ernest Hemingway thought all of American literature began at that moment.

Twain, himself, writing after the Civil War and after the collapse of Reconstruction, a misunderstood period devoted to trying to enforce civil rights, was actually expressing his profound disappointment that racial differences still persisted in America, that racism still festered in this favored land, founded as it was on the most noble principle yet advanced by humankind — that all men are created equal. That civil war had not cleansed our original sin, a sin we continue to confront today, daily, in this supposedly enlightened “post-racial” time.

It is into this disorienting and sometimes disappointing world that you now plummet, I’m afraid, unprotected from the shelter of family and school. You have fresh prospects and real dreams and I wish each and every one of you the very best. But I am drafting you now into a new Union Army that must be committed to preserving the values, the sense of humor, the sense of cohesion that have long been a part of our American nature, too. You have no choice, you’ve been called up, and it is your difficult, but great and challenging responsibility to help change things and set us right again.

Let me apologize in advance to you. We broke it, but you’ve got to fix it. You’re joining a movement that must be dedicated above all else — career and personal advancement — to the preservation of this country’s most enduring ideals. You have to learn, and then re-teach the rest of us that equality — real equality — is the hallmark and birthright of ALL Americans. Thankfully, you will become a vanguard against a new separatism that seems to have infected our ranks, a vanguard against those forces that, in the name of our great democracy, have managed to diminish it. Then, you can change human nature just a bit, to appeal, as Lincoln also implored us, to appeal to “the better angels of our nature.” That’s the objective. I know you can do it.

Ok. I’m rounding third.

Let me speak directly to the graduating class. (Watch out. Here comes the advice.)

Remember: Black lives matter. All lives matter.

Reject fundamentalism wherever it raises its ugly head. It’s not civilized. Choose to live in the Bedford Falls of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” not its oppressive opposite, Pottersville.

Do not descend too deeply into specialism. Educate all your parts. You will be healthier.

Replace cynicism with its old-fashioned antidote, skepticism.

Don’t confuse monetary success with excellence. The poet Robert Penn Warren once warned me that “careerism is death.”

Try not to make the other wrong.

Be curious, not cool.

Remember, insecurity makes liars of us all.

Listen to jazz. A lot. It is our music.

Read. The book is still the greatest man-made machine of all — not the car, not the TV, not the computer or the smartphone.

Do not allow our social media to segregate us into ever smaller tribes and clans, fiercely and sometimes appropriately loyal to our group, but also capable of metastasizing into profound distrust of the other.

Serve your country. By all means serve your country. But insist that we fight the right wars. Governments always forget that.

Convince your government that the real threat, as Lincoln knew, comes from within. Governments always forget that, too. Do not let your government outsource honesty, transparency or candor. Do not let your government outsource democracy.

Vote. Elect good leaders. When he was nominated in 1936, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” We all deserve the former. Insist on it.

Insist that we support science and the arts, especially the arts. They have nothing to do with the actual defense of the country — they just make the country worth defending.

Be about the “unum,” not the “pluribus.”

Do not lose your enthusiasm. In its Greek etymology, the word enthusiasm means simply, “God in us.”

And even though lightning still isn’t distributed right, try not to be a fool. It just gets Mark Twain riled up.

And if you ever find yourself in Huck’s spot, if you’ve “got to decide betwixt two things,” do the right thing. Don’t forget to tear up the letter. He didn’t go to hell — and you won’t either.

So we come to an end of something today—and for you also a very special beginning. God speed to you all.

Ken Burns
Walpole, New Hampshire
Burns delivers call to action to Class of 2015: “Set things right again,” Washington University, May 15, 2015

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Light Reading

McDonalds turns 75 today, an empire of 36,000 restaurants in 199 countries. McDonalds is the largest buyer of beef, pork, potatoes, lettuce, and tomatoes globally and the second largest buyer of chicken after KFC. While faced with greater competition, McDonalds has started to revamp its offerings to recapture what it has lost and meet need market demands.

– Blue singer who needs no introduction, B.B King died while in hospice last night. He was 89 years old.

– Preliminary information from the International Energy Agency shows CO2 emissions did not increase in 2014. The significance? First time in 40 years there was a halt or reduction in emissions. Much of this can be attributed to changes in energy generation in China and OECD countries from ” greater generation of electricity from renewable sources, such as hydropower, solar and wind, and less burning of coal.”

Interesting post by Sandwichman at Econospeak on this topic. “Fast forward to today. We want more jobs — that is to say more hours of work –but we want less greenhouse gas emissions. We face not only a paradox; but, a dilemma. The horns of this dilemma are yoked together, not just ‘in principle’ but in the physical, mechanical agent of both the economy of fuel and the economy of labor: the machine.” Can not get one without the other?

– Roads surfaces harnessing solar power? So far the effort to use the ~37 million miles of road globally has not been successful or cheap. Netherlands based Sola Roads has installed solar panels protected by glass and bedded on rubber and concrete in cycling roads and is achieving positive results. Next step is to install the panels on roads and see if the panels and installations will hold-up under automobile and truck traffic in the same manner and results.

“No Good Reason To Work 5 Days a Week.” A 1965 Senate subcommittee predicted Americans would work 14-hour weeks by the year 2000, and before that, back in 1928, John Maynard Keynes wrote “technological advancement would bring the workweek down to 15 hours within 100 years.” To date we have not made much progress in this direction and even though the ratio of direct labor content has decreased, many still contend Labor is the largest cost factor.

Are workers more efficient working 4 days per week as opposed to 5? “the clever system devised at a company he used to work for. The company was divided into two teams. One would work from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, and the other would work those hours from Tuesday to Friday. The teams would switch schedules every week, so every two-day weekend would be followed by a four-day weekend. The results, Stephens reports, were positive. The company was open five days a week, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. instead of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. He claims that morale skyrocketed. Employees took fewer sick days, visiting the doctor in off hours rather than during the workday.” It appears workers were more efficient in this example.

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Less Support for the Death Penalty

I have written on elements of the death penalty previously

“And what about the cost of housing them? Execution could be cheaper if we were to subvert the rights of prisoners during trial and on appeal to state and federal courts. A 2003 legislative audit in Kansas revealed total costs for the death penalty at 70% more than non-death sentence cases with a median cost of $1.26 million as opposed to $.74 million. Since 1995 when the death sentence was reinstated in NY, the cost for each of 5 people condemned, not executed yet, was ~$23 million per person for a total of $165 million. The Comptroller for the state of Tennessee audit revealed that death sentences cases increased costs by 48%. These are costs associated with the trial up till and including sentencing and not taking into account appeals. “New Jersey taxpayers over the last 23 years have paid more than a quarter billion dollars on a capital punishment system that has executed no one.” 197 capital cases, 60 convictions, 50 overturned, and no executions carried out since 1983. Average cost = ~$25 million/conviction.

And if they are innocent? From 1973 through 2003, 125 prisoners have been released from death row due to wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 prisoners were released. In 2000, Illinois Governor Ryan commuted the sentences for 167 inmates on death roll to natural life in prison. His reasoning was he could not be sure of whether the convictions were legitimate after releasing the 13th inmate from death roll due to wrongful conviction. 13 of 180 or ~7% error rate in Illinois. ~3800 inmates were on death row in 2000 and up till that point, 125 were released and exonerated for a percentage of ~3.2%. While not exact (it is probably higher), the 3.2% stands in defiance of Louisiana State Prosecutor Marquis and Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s claim of less than 1% being innocent and sentenced to death.”

and more completely on incarceration.

“What does a growing prison and correctional population cost for taxpayers? To support the growing state prison population, costs range from ~$13,000 in Louisiana to ~$45,000 in Rhode Island annually (2005). The average is ~$23,000 annually, “US Imprisons 1 in every 100 Adults” NYT. The cost of imprisonment compares nicely to a state or private college education (another story). As a whole the US imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other nation in the world from which the cost burden of housing prisoners has become an issue for states with a decreasing/stagnant economy and decreasing tax revenues. Paradoxically while costing more, jails and prisons for many communities are a stable and growing business employing people, services, and a fast growing part of the rural economies.

Incarceration Nation as one part of, Schmidt, Warner, and Gupta’s “The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration” (Real-World Economics Review, Issue no. 53) suggest much of the increased numbers of those under control of the correctional system result from harsher sentencing guidelines which in turn also have a lesser impact on crime. The mandated guidelines (drugs, three strikes, recidivism issues, etc.) result in higher imprisonment rates and consequently long sentences, higher costs to house prisoners as more prisoners are kept interned for longer periods, and have a diminished impact on crime.”

By far and given our justice system, it is less costly to imprison a person for life than to execute them. Raising an argument of changing the justice system to accommodate quicker executions at a lower cost goes against the grain of what this country is supposed to represent (please leave this argument at the door). There is a sound monetary argument to imprison a person for natural life rather than put them to death for murder and also to reconcile the law giving shorter sentencing for those guilty of nonviolent crime.

A recent PEW study is showing a change in the attitudes of people towards execution.

While the study still shows the majority of the population believes in executing prisoners convicted of murder, the people in favor of it are at the one of the lowest levels in 40 years. 56% of the populations are in favor of the death penalty and 38% oppose the death penalty.

Smaller Majority Supports the Death Penalty

A closer examination of who makes up the majority and minority leads to a breakout by partisanship and politics. 40% of Democrats still support the death penalty a decline of 31% since 1995. Declared independents supporting the death penalty declined from 79% in 1995 to 57% in 2015. 77% of Republicans support the death penalty, which is down from 87% in 1995. The Pew study has found doubts amongst many within its survey in how the death penalty is applied and whether it does deter crime.

Wider Partisan Gap

A majority or 63% of participants in the study believed the death penalty is justified in cases of murder, 31% said there is no moral justification, and 7% believed it depends.

Death Penalty Viewed as Morally Justified

1 in 4 of those surveyed did not believe there were adequate safeguards in place to prevent an innocent prisoner from being put to death. This is borne out by the many who have had their sentences commuted or were released after further investigation. While the argument has been made the death penalty deters serious crime, 35% believed it did and 61% believed it did not.

41% of those in the study believed whites and minorities share the same likelihood of being sentenced to death while 52% believed minorities were more likely to be given the death penalty. As I have argued before and it is well borne out in studies, minorities who lack resource to pay for adequate defense and the failure of the Public Defender system to provide adequate defense leaves the minority population at greater risk to the death penalty.

Most See Some Risk in Executing an Innocent Person

There is a growing minority base who oppose the death penalty; however, those favoring it have remained relatively stalwart. If you are in favor of the death penalty, you are likely to be a white male Republican, 51 years or older, with at least a high school education, and religious. Since 2011, there has been a softening of attitude towards the death penalty by Democrats, women, minority, nonwhite practitioners of religious beliefs and those with no affiliation to a religion.

Growing Gender and Partison Gaps in Views

77% of Blacks say minorities are more likely to face the death penalty than are whites. Democrats polled at 70% in on the same question while 48% of Republicans claimed minorities are more likely to face the death penalty. Much of this can be seen playing back from the white population out of Baltimore, Ferguson, and other communities faced with minority protests from black citizens over random killing of unarmed minorities. Many of the minorities lack the financial well being to bring on a strong defense in court rooms and they have to rely on overworked, understaffed, under-financed, and often times inexperienced state public defenders. 85% of all cases in the court system today are plea bargained.

Lg Majority of Black Say Minorities

While there are sharp moral divides between those who oppose and those who favor the death penalty, there is an agreement between the two groups there are dangers of an innocent being put to death.

Death Penalty Supporters and Opponents View

Federal Judge Jed S. Rakoff sums it up in one sentence (full comment below) on those who go to court as defendants; “Basically, we treat them like dirt.” The trip and expense of going to court is anything but as glamorous as shown on TV on shows such as “LA Law.” If you do not accept a plea bargain and you make the prosecution work; in the end and if you lose, you will be faced with harsher sentencing than if you accepted the plea bargain. The vast majority of people do not have the finances to fight back and are left to accept a public defender as their council. I do not wish to demean public defenders; but in many states, they are overworked, underpaid, often times inexperienced, etc. Your chance of winning slowly ebbs with each negative. 85% if not more cases are plea bargained and many of those who accept a plea bargain are a minority.

“In many respects, the people of the United States can be proud of the progress we have made over the past half-century in promoting racial equality. More haltingly, we have also made some progress in our treatment of the poor and disadvantaged. But the big, glaring exception to both these improvements is how we treat those guilty of crimes. Basically, we treat them like dirt. And while this treatment is mandated by the legislature, it is we judges who mete it out. Unless we judges make more effort to speak out against this inhumanity, how can we call ourselves instruments of justice?” Judge Jed S. Rakoff, “Mass Incarceration: The Silence of the Judges,” The New York Review of Books.

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Pubic Opinion of the PPACA

A recent Kaiser Poll shows favorable results for the PPACA the first time since 2012. 43% have a favorable view of the PPACA and 42% have an unfavorable view of it. While the report shows a favorable view, it is within the margin of error (+ or – 3%) and not statistically significant (Click on the graph[s] for a larger version).

Public's View of PPACA has Improved

Even though the Public’s View is split and slightly favoring the PPACA, the percentage of people who wish Congress to finish implementation or expand the PPACA is 46% as opposed to those wishing to repeal or scale it back at 41%. This opinion has remained consistent for six months of the Kaiser survey.

Partisan Differences in What Should Be Done with PPACA

In how the PPACA is viewed plays mostly along partisan political lines with Democrats favoring it and Republicans opposing it. In total, it is an equal split favoring and opposing it.

Partisan Divide in Views of PPACA

Does the PPACA hurt, help, or have a direct impact upon you. Again, this plays along the partisan political beliefs of the people with Democrats claiming it helped as opposed to the Republicans claiming it hurt. In all three cases and taking into consideration the politics of the people, the majority claimed the PPACA had “No Direct Impact” upon them.

Perception of Personal Impact

In March 2015, the CBO recalculated and revised the expected costs of the PPACA downward. This went largely unnoticed and few people realize the PPACA would cost less than expected. 50% still believe it would cost more and another 15% said the same as originally estimated.

PPACA Is Costing Less Than Estimated

Interestingly enough is the agreement of the #1 priority for healthcare; all politics aside and by a super-majority, people want “drugs for chronic conditions to be affordable to those who need them. When looking at the Total picture, drug prices and hospital charges are other priorities people wish addressed.

Partisan Differences in Top Priorities

There is more to the Kaiser Survey which can be found here: Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: April 2015. Looking at Figure 6 of the survey, both Democrats and Republicans agree on making prescription drugs more affordable giving it the highest priority for Congress. Other priorities were making hospital costs more affordable and greater protections against out-of network doctors and associated costs; making sure provider networks were sufficiently large enough in the plans, and making information more readily available to patients about the price of doctors’ visits, procedures, and tests, such as hip replacements and MRIs.

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Cutting Taxes in Louisiana

Along similar lines as what Kansas has been doing with its budget for education, Louisiana has been cutting in favor of doling out large tax cuts and credits for business getting in return little if any economic impact. While A&E’s Duck Dynasty receives ~$330,000/episode from the state, Louisiana State University is preparing for additional budget cuts to meet the $1.6 billion State of Louisiana self-inflicted budget deficit much of which was caused by the state legislature and Jindal’s repeal of the balance of the Stelly Plan in 2008.

The state never had a history of stable revenue growth and was faced with shortfalls until the legislature came up with a plan to shift taxes from mostly a regressive sales tax to a progressive state income tax as well as other taxes. Income taxes grow faster than sales taxes growth as incomes repond faster in good economic times. The progressive Stelly Plan raised taxes on higher income brackets in 2002 and cut the state sales taxes on electricity, natural gas, food and water for residential use. Before 2003, the State of Louisiana had gone through annual budget crisis. With the passage of the 2002, the Stelly Plan raised income tax rates to 6% on individual $25,000 to $50,000 incomes of; established 4% on joint income from $25,000 to $50,000, and 6% >$50,000 on joint income; the state had a balanced tax system mostly reliant upon the income tax, severance taxes, and sales taxes. In 2007, when Governor Jindal was elected, the state experienced a surplus in revenue not experienced in previous years.

Jindal inherited a $1.1 billion surplus from former Gov. Kathleen Blanco. He blew the surplus in his first year as governor embracing the rollback of the Stelly Plan voters approved in 2002, the elimination of excess itemized deductions, and the higher rates which resulted in a total hit to the state of $1.4 billion in 2008. The rollback of Stelly has cost the state more than $300 million a year since then.” It is after the tax rollbacks, where more of the blame other than mismanagement is foisted upon Jindal. Jindal has increased tax exemptions and credits on businesses regardless of the benefit to the state in jobs or business growth. Rather than maintain the UAL (retirement funds) at a fundable level, its liability has grown from $12 billion to $20 billion setting up a day of reckoning in the future.

According to The Advocate; Louisiana gives away more taxpayer money than any other state on a per capita basis.

– “Duck Dynasty,” Louisiana is on the hook for nearly $330,000 at last count for each episode;
– $700,000 to Wal-Mart to build new stores in two affluent suburbs;
– Valero announced an expansion, creating 43 new jobs;
– Louisiana promised to cover $10 million of the cost, or nearly a quarter of a million dollars per job;
– Film incentive program cost state taxpayers $251 million last year,
– Refunds of a property tax that businesses pay on their inventory have more than doubled in the past seven years, reaching $427 million last year;
– The solar power tax credit was billed as having negligible cost to taxpayers when it was created six years ago andballooned to $61 million in 2013. That is because it is hard to pass up: It covers 50 percent of the cost of solar installations, which, when combined with a similar federal program, gives homeowners a robust return on their investment;
– Tax exemption for fracking wells — experimental technology at the time the tax break was passed 20 years ago — is now widely used and last year cost the state $240 million;
– Enterprise Zone program has done little to spur investment and job creation in poor areas, its original intent. Instead, the bulk of the taxpayer money the program doles out — an average of about $70 million annually in recent years.

To meet the annual Louisiana budget shortfall for a total of $1.6 billion, Governor Jindal has asked state universities to expect $300 to $400 million less. For its flagship university, LSU would be on the hook for 40% of its operating budget and 51% of its funding from the state or $60 million. LSU President Alexander puts it into perspective:

– “In addition to the freeze on 125 (new) faculty positions, we’re talking about potentially losing up to 250 to 300 positions at the main campus,”
– The Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund or WISE, a fund that was set up to send $40 million to higher education institutions around the state in an effort to help higher education programming match the state’s job market, is likely to be scrapped as a part to balance the state’s budget.
– “We will go from the second highest graduating class in history to being eventually 2,000 less in graduates.”
– “The potential that could hit us would be tuition fee increases, 3,000 less course offerings, etc.

Less notable universities in Louisiana without the political influence would fair worst under Jimdal’s budget cut program. The state no longer has the money to fund K through 12 education, higher education such as LSU, state healthcare and mental programs as the funding has disappeared in tax breaks to business boondoggles and unfairly skewed to those making up 1% of the income (~$25,000 advantage annually). Governor Jindal is a hopeful presidential candidate. To point out how silly some of the business tax breaks are given at the expense of Louisiana citizens and the state, the state legislature and Jindal sponsored Sales tax holiday for the Purchase of Weapons.

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Whats the Matter with Education in Kansas?

Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell opined an example of what could happen in 2016 if the Republicans win by featuring what is happening with education in Kansas after another $51 million in cuts. A recent letter by 17-year-old junior at Smoky Valley High School Haeli Maas to Governor Brownback cuts to the chase of it.

To Governor Sam Brownback,

I am writing you today as a concerned citizen of Kansas. I am currently sixteen years old and a junior at Smoky Valley High School, while also maintaining two jobs. In my free time I do homework, and the chances of any other free time are incredibly rare.

While in school, I maintain a 3.8 GPA, something I am very proud of. I am enrolled in honors courses and try my best to make everything I do count. I love school. I have loved school since the day I started school. I hope that in the future I will be allowed to continue my education in college, and love school just as much in my time there.

I read a few years ago some very wise words from a judge restated by principal John Tapene at Northland College. He said:

“The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something. You owe it your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in sickness and lonely again. In other words grow up, stop being a crybaby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone, not a wishbone. Start behaving like a responsible person. You are important and you are needed. It’s too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday. Someday is now and that somebody is you!”

Someday is now, sir. It is up to you to pave our way. You are the determining factor in the future of my generation’s lives. Education is important and it should never be put on the back burner to the rest of the issues. Do not write off my generation and refuse us the opportunity to educate ourselves, because we will surprise you. We are capable and ready to take on the world, and if we are put into the world without the education to make a difference, then it is you who will pay. It is you who will count on us in your age. If you wish to see this great state continue to be great, educate the future.

I will have completed my public education within the next year and a half. I will move on into the future and I will succeed because that is who I am. I have younger siblings still in school, and I fear for them. I fear that my little sister will forget her love for school, and lose the spark that makes her such a unique and beautiful person. It is up to you to keep that spark. It is up to you to fight for our future and our education, so that we may fight for you when the time comes.

This is a beautiful state. Kansas has so much to offer to so many people. We are truly capable of anything. Within our borders, we harbor the potential to be something truly great. Do not forget to put faith in your youth, and do not bypass our education in order to save face. Invest in our future, and you will inevitably be investing in your future. After all, if you forget to educate the youth, who will take care of you?

From your fellow Kansan,

Haeli Allison Maas

So far Governor Brownback has not responded to the high school student’s well written letter asking for his support of education in Kansas.

In a manner which forces cuts to be made by utilizing “block grants,” the Kansas Republican Legislature and Republican (redundant alert) Governor Brownback have placed the onus of decision making upon the local school boards and constituents abdicating their responsibility to provide for education. This comes under the guise of flexibility and local decision-making and the $51 million is in addition to cuts already enacted by the Republican administration. This is little more than a copout by the administration.

The Kansas SC has ruled the present funding is unconstitutional and has sent the case back to the district court to rule on what is adequate funding. July 1 (2014 – 2015 school year) was the deadline set by the Kansas SC to restore some of the cut funding for capital improvements and general operations of $129 million additional. This could evolve into much higher restoration of funding once through the lower courts.

Brownback insists he is leading a low tax, small government American Renaissance and GOP leaders say they may resist court orders. Meanwhile, students like Haeli Maas plead with Kansas Governor Brownback not to write off their generation.

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Scott Walker Dumped?

Over at Addicting Info, Nathaniel Downes is reporting Scott Walker has been dumped by the Koch Bros as their sponsored candidate for President. I wonder if he had to return the ring?

It appears Scott has taken an anti-immigration stance which is something the Koch Brothers oppose. Scott made it apparent, illegal and also legal immigrants are not welcome which is rich in itself as much of Wisconsin is made up of Germans and Norwegians who immigrated to the US and settled in Wisconsin. Scott made his views known during an interview with The Washington Post.

In terms of legal immigration, how we need to approach that going forward is saying . . . the next president and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, protecting American workers and American wages.’ He went on to cite favorably Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on the subject. ‘The notion that legal immigration hurts the economy and native workers has been rebutted repeatedly and is widely disparaged by a host of pro-growth conservatives and scholars. Mair, whose work on immigration reform is well known, took to Twitter to denounce ‘the full, Olympics-quality flip-flop.’”

This a populist viewpoint and one would expect it to come from Senator Warren’s lips (sans the nativist part) and not Scott Walker’s. Of course, Scott may be attempting to curry the favors of Labor after going after the public unions in Wisconson . . . think anyone will believe him? This stance is in direct conflict with the Koch Bros. who want more immigration which would dilute the labor pool even more thereby shrinking wages. Daily Intelligencer Jonathan Chait is reporting Jeb Bush will be allowed an interview for the candidate position also. Koch early-on support for Scott Walker was disputed by David Koch.

“Let me be clear, I am not endorsing or supporting any candidate for president at this point in time,” Mr. Koch declared for the record.

A Corpocracy at work.

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The Continued Demise of Detroit Under Governor Snyder and Michigan

Naked Capitalism has an article The Continuing Depopulation of Detroit on Detroit which I attempted to answer. No one cause can be assigned to answer what happened to Detroit since 1950 and well before the first black Mayor was elected. I attempted to put this into perspective. This is not an easy and nor will it be a brief story to tell about Detroit and there are many factors to point to which led to its decreased population. In 1950, Detroit had a population of 1.8 million and was a white-dominated city. Detroit was rolling in jobs then from the OEMs and Tiers.

The past

Between 1950 and the 1967 ~300,000 residents had already left Detroit before the riots. which was equivalent to 3 earlier decades of population growth from 1930. After the war and flush with cash manufacturing war munitions, the OEMs began to abandon the multi-story factories in Detroit for single story and sprawling plants in the suburbs and like what you might see in Wixom, down river, Lordstown, Beloit, etc. With the plants went the jobs and Detroit lost ~130,000 jobs by 1967. 25 new plants had been built and none were located in Detroit during the same time period. Not only was this a way to improve on manufacturing efficiency, it was a calculated attack on unions and UAW power. By 1960 and while still called Motor City, Detroit could no longer claim such a distinction as only Chrysler was building cars in the city.

Just in time to help the transition to the suburbs were the FHA and VA new housing products requiring only 3% down payment and favored new developments over older city areas. White workers moved from the racially mixed Detroit areas to the suburbs such as Wixom, Livonia, Royal Oak, etc. located around the city and in places such as Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. What stopped blacks from taking advantage of FHA and VA loans was the lack of equal access housing laws. Developers, realtors, banks, etc. were able to block blacks from moving into these new developments in Wayne, Oakland and other counties. As I mentioned, FHA guidelines favored new suburban developments over older and riskier city developments.

As a point of reference, Detroit suffered its first deficit in 1961 well before Coleman Young took office in 1974. Much of this came from the transitioning of plants and labor outside of the city. What also hurt the city and if you are familiar with it are the successive rings and diagonals of highways in and around the city which create barriers to travel as Detroit has little in the way of mass transit. Bring mass transit up in the richest county in Michigan (Livingston) and you will see a myriad of reasons not to have it and maintain the status quo of too big, too often and too fast. Hey gas is cheap and we do not need any mass transit which is still a philosophy of much of Michigan. Brighton as well as other suburbs have <1% black residents and there is a fear of easy access. Michiganders also have the distinction of driving their TBTOTF vehicles the farthest of any other US workers to get to work. Not having mass transit places a burden on the inner city as auto travel is not cheap and inefficient in comparison. Before one can point to black leadership (Kilpatrick) as causing Detroit issues today; one might look at Cavanaugh, Miriani, Gov. Romney, Federal housing policy, open discrimination, the OEMs, and big oil as laying the groundwork for the slow decline of the city. Much of which led up to the racial tensions in large cities such as Detroit and Chicago. Unemployment was at 14% for blacks and 7% for whites in Detroit and it did not take much for some black Vietnam vets who fought on some of the same dirt as I did later in 68 and 69 to get into a scuffle with the Detroit police igniting the 1967 riots occurring well after white flight. White flight was already in full bloom by 1967 and what followed were small businesses leaving the city.

And what did the courts do?

Justice Thurgood Marshall’s dissenting opinion:

“School district lines, however innocently drawn, will surely be perceived as fences to separate the races when, under a Detroit-only decree, white parents withdraw their children from the Detroit city schools and move to the suburbs in order to continue them in all-white schools.”

Justice Douglas’ dissenting opinion:

“Today’s decision … means that there is no violation of the Equal Protection Clause though the schools are segregated by race and though the black schools are not only separate but inferior. Michigan by one device or another has over the years created black school districts and white school districts, the task of equity is to provide a unitary system for the affected area where, as here, the State washes its hands of its own creations.”

The 1974 SCOTUS decision in Milliken v. Bradley:

“In a 5-to-4 decision, SOTUS held school districts were not obligated to desegregate unless it could be proven that the lines were drawn with racist intent. Thus, officially arbitrary lines which produced segregated districts could not be challenged.” Again and the same as United States v. Cruikshank, SCOTUS supported state rights and local control over schools above Federal interference to correct the result of local and state direction resulting in segregation.

If there was any hope the wall of the economic and racial wall of segregation surrounding Detroit would be broken, it failed in SCOTUS. Attempting to break the separate but equal doctrine of schools failed leaving Detroit schools two thirds occupied by black students and supported by a deteriorating tax base. The NAACP had brought suit in Federal Court. The lower courts agreed with the NAACP only to be overturned by SCOTUS. The NAACP sued based on there being a direct relation between unfair housing practices as found in FHA policy, redlining (earlier in my hash above), and educational segregation. The 6th District COA had specified it was the state’s responsibility to desegregate (sound familar?). Here is the Catch 22; since the violations were found in the city and also in the newer developments, the very same policies and redlining which kept blacks out of the new suburbs could not be blamed on the suburbs. Detroit was effectively walled in by economic class and race.

Metropolitan Detroit provides >50% of the Michigan GDP as Canada’s largest port of entry to the state of Michigan. Without it, Michigan would be just another large vegetable farm and salt mine. While people outside of Detroit blame blacks and snub the city, their salaries would be dramatically lower without the city and many of them would leave.

So what is happening today?

We moved here from MadCity Wisconsin due to work. I do throughput analysis, brown field layouts, purchasing, distribution, logistics and materials. There are not many of us Druckers around anymore. If you really believe Labor is the issue as many economists would have you believe, you join the ranks of the seriously misguided. Labor has not been an issue since the sixties. That manual direct labor has been eliminated or moved overseas and other forms of labor are not as prevalent is not an issue of race or education, it is the result of a movement to avoid other infrastructural costs prevalent within the US.

Michigan has a habit of voting for Dems in national elections at 54% or greater of the electorate. Yet Michigan sent 8 Repubs to The House and 5 Dens in 2012. How can that be? Michigan packs its districts thereby diluting the impact of its Dem constituents. If you talk to the pols, they will claim it is the result of where people live rather than how districts are drawn. I would direct you to Huffington and Sam Wang for a better explanation as the space here is too small to get into it (I did write on Michigan gerrymandering pre-2014 on AB if you Google it). At worst, Michigan should be split evenly in Repub and Dem House representaton. Much of the radical change in The Congressional House was reinforced in Michigan and five other swing states to give the Repubs much of the majority they enjoy today there. Michigan has also begun to lay the groundwork to change how the Electoral College is selected in Michigan doing a split plus two for the majority winner of the state. For those of you who believe this is a far better approach, Google Justice Posner (7th District) and the Electoral College which I believe was printed on my old haunts Slate Mag. Given the present districting, the result in Michigan will be a disenfranchising of the Dem majority vote it has enjoyed in National Elections. Thank you Koch Bros!

With Detroit’s bankruptcy? Funny thing happened there also, CDS were paid off at 80-90% to investors (Geithner where are you???). Read the DEMOS argument against the imposed Detroit bankruptcy (The Detroit Bankruptcy) which the appointed Emergency Manager’s (Kevin Orr) staff took time to answer in rebuttal. The state of Michigan slashed Detroit revenue sharing ($67 million) making a bad situation even worst for cash flow. The rest of the state rode on Detroit’s already weakened economic being to balance its budget. The issue was cash flow to stave off the bankruptcy and the state only made it worst given the Repub political stance of the state ( since 1990, Repubs have controlled the state Senate [solely] and state House [a majority of the time] during census years and other years). It is far easier to blame former black mayors rather than assume blame for laying the groundwork economically and racially causing much of Detroit’s demise. There is much pent up anger in outlying areas from Detroit. Today, the Govenor Snyder state has refused to help Detroit schools leaving them with > than a $100 million deficit after 4 state designated emergency managers.

Sorry for the length of this chemo/steroid rough-cut dialogue. I get a lot of energy after being pumped-up and had written this into the night from a lack of need for sleep. I believe this paints a truer picture of what took place in Detroit before Coleman came to power, what took place from 1967 onward to Kilpatrick, and how the city continues to be plundered.

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I live in Michigan, a state which felt in its infinite Republican legislator wisdom it was important to remove all input from the cities, counties, and townships and leave the industry unfettered with any controlling influence. For those who are worried about capitalism and free enterprise if you own the land, there is such a thing called the 5th Amendment and a “Takings” which covers denial of an owner the legitimate use of their land. Michigan Zoning and Planning Commissions do take note of “Takings”.

Some might call this NIMBY on the part of locals; but, it is important to get their input as they end up with what is left over after the Fracking Companies leave their backyards with the residue, water contamination from spills and leakage, and how the contaminants are handled. Michigan has always moves slowly to correct the issues of big business and does not live up to its motto “Pure Michigan.”

Spoko at Hullabaloo took note of one particular Commission meeting:

As noted in the article, what I have seen at commission meetings as a Planner, and with the actions of the state to deny local input and decision making:

instead of attacking the oil and gas corporations for rigging the game or pressuring the governor to pack the Nebraska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission with oil men, he blames government. Yes, the procedural tricks to keep the hearings off the record, and not subject to popular control are ‘government,’ but it takes some smart lobbyists to get those laws passed in the first place.

Pay attention to how this good old boy Fracker makes his point with one of the Commissioners. “Would you drink the water? Oh, you can’t answer questions?” I wish we had some people like this at our meetings.

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