Obama’s Nationalization of Public Schools

Alexis de Tocqueville is famous for his portrait of nineteenth-century America and his philosophic insights on why the American society has flourished — and also where it might go wrong.

It is worth the time to remind ourselves what some of Tocqueville’s insights were. Once we do, we can consider the Obama administration’s current nationalization of K-12 public-school curriculum, with Tocqueville’s insights in mind.

One of Tocqueville’s major insights was that Americans have benefited from popular participation in the large number of churches, charities, clubs, and voluntary associations in our country, as well as in state and local governments, which stand between the individual and the national government in Washington, D.C.

In essence, Tocqueville believed that the civic health of America depended on popular participation in entities like associations to create and maintain religious, private, or charter schools, as well as in local authorities like school districts with fully-empowered schools boards.

Such activity fosters civic virtue and “habits of the heart” and encourages everyday citizens to take on necessary social tasks that in pre-modern society lowly subjects were not allowed to undertake, but were instead the duty of the aristocracy.

When Tocqueville describes nineteenth-century American society he spoke, for example, of township school committees that were deeply rooted in their local communities.  In those days, state control of local public education took the form of an annual report sent by the township committee to the state capital.  There was no national control.

Large sums (much of it taxed from laborers and farmers) were spent by these school committees, and their efforts reflected, Tocqueville thought, a widespread American desire to provide basic schooling as a route to opportunity and advancement.  He admired the fact that in self-activating America, one might easily chance upon farmers, who had not waited for official permission from above, but were putting aside their plows “to deliberate upon the project of a public school.”

At the same time, Tocqueville observed in European countries that activities like schooling that had formerly been part of the work of guilds, churches, municipalities, and the like were being taken over by the national government of those countries.

Tocqueville fears that if either Americans neglected their participation in associations or local governments or Europeans lost their intermediate entities to the national governments, the tendency would be toward a loss of a liberty and a surrender to a soft despotism.

In Democracy in America, Tocqueville describes how in Europe “the prerogatives of the central power” were increasing every day and making the individual “weaker, more subordinate, and more precarious.”

Once, he says, there were “secondary powers” that represented local interests and administered local matters.  Local judiciaries, local privileges, the freedoms of towns, provincial autonomy, local charities – all were gone or going. The national central government “no longer puts up with an intermediary between it and the citizens.”

Tocqueville says that, in Europe, education, like charity, “has become a national affair.”  The national government receives or even takes “the child from the arms of his mother” and turns the child over to “the agents” of the national government.

In nineteen-century Europe, the national governments already were infusing sentiments in the young and supplying their ideas. “Uniformity reigns” in education, Tocqueville says.  Intellectual diversity, like liberty, is disappearing.  He fears that both Europe and America were moving toward “centralization” and “despotism.”

Tocqueville believes that in non-aristocratic societies (like America), there is strong potential for the national government to become immense and influential, standing above the citizens, not just as a mighty and coercive power, but also as a guardian and tutor.

Tocqueville maintains that religion (as a moral anchor) as well as involvement in local government (such as school districts) and voluntary organizations can help America counter the tendency toward tyranny.

Tocqueville says that Americans of all sorts are constantly forming associations — not only businesses, in which many are involved, but also associations “of a thousand other kinds” – to put on entertainment, to build churches, to send out books, or to found hospitals and schools.

Interestingly enough Roger Boesche, one of the world’s most eminent scholars specializing in Alexis de Tocqueville, was President Barak Obama’s favorite professor in college. President Obama studied political philosophy under a teacher who continually draws on Tocqueville’s insights.

Professor Boesche writes in one book (Theories of Tyranny) that the Tocqueville liked voluntary associations and local government for the same reason.  They are venues where Americans can get together with their “enormous and constructive popular energy” to undertake projects and shape their own destinies. Tocqueville believed, according to Obama’s teacher Boesche, that “two the pillars that upheld democratic freedom” in America were associations and local government.

Tocqueville foresaw some of the influences that have transformed the national government from a constitutional republic into a welfare-state administered by a bureaucracy and a technocratic elite.  Likewise, during the Progressive Era (from the 1890s to the First World War), Progressive politicians transformed municipalities and school districts to put bureaucracies and technocratic specialists in charge.

In the case of school districts, this was done through nonpartisan elections, district boundaries that did not match other jurisdictions, holding school elections at times other than that of the General Election, discouraging school boards from participating in curriculum issues, and granting extensive power to local superintendents (similar to that granted to city managers in the same era).

Some people still have a romantic, out-dated image of school districts and local boards. Today, they are not the school committees that Tocqueville saw, but rather, to a large degree, creatures of the Progressive Era. If we want to change that and re-invigorate school boards, we will have to restore avenues for popular participation of the sort Tocqueville sought.  For example, Indiana recently put school elections in November, when more people vote.  Another new promising avenue for popular participation is Parent Trigger, whereby parents can petition to turn a regular public school into a charter school.

President Obama’s favorite professor paraphrases Tocqueville on the perils of “centralization of information” in another book (The Strange Liberalism of Alexis de Tocqueville).  In this book, Professor Boesche says that, according to Tocqueville, once centralization of information is “entrenched,” once a nation relies on a few sources for information, then “freedom of opinion” becomes “illusory.”

Under these centralized conditions, opinion does not develop freely, but is “hierarchically ‘formed”” “Centralized sources tend to give everyone the same opinion.” Tocqueville was thinking specifically of a nationalization of the newspaper industry, but his insight applies to education as well.

Yet for public schools, President Obama is doing precisely what Tocqueville warned against.

President Obama’s Department of Education in Washington, D.C., has been financing a national K-12 curriculum for English and mathematics. The new national curriculum is designed to complement a federally-funded national testing system that will test every public-school student in states across America.

Joseph Califano, President Jimmy Carter’s Health, Education and Welfare Secretary, articulated Tocqueville-style concerns about such centralization of schooling: “Any set of test questions that the federal government prescribed should surely be suspect as a first step toward a national curriculum. … [Carried to its full extent,] national control of curriculum is a form of national control of ideas.”

Unless President Obama’s Department of Education it is stopped, its officials will dismantle what remains of state and local decision-making on classroom lessons and replace it with a new system of national tests and a national curriculum. This policy is Tocqueville’s nightmare: As in Europe, education “has become a national affair” and President Obama is imposing in America a one-size-fits-all centralization like that administered by the National Ministry of Education in France.

Political thought may have been Barack Obama’s favorite class in college, but he didn’t study Tocqueville closely enough.

Bill Evers is a research fellow and member of the Koret K-12 Education Task Force at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development (2007-2009).

Al Sharpton: MSNBC’s Next Failure

MSNBC hit a new low last week when it debuted a talk show featuring Al Sharpton as host. Subsequently, the network changed its advertising slogan to, “We’ve fallen and we can’t get up.”

Sharpton? Really? Is that the best that liberal “journalism” can offer? If you come from New York, then you have not-so-fond memories of Al Sharpton, publicity hound extraordinaire, standing in the subway tracks and leading a dopey demonstration, Al Sharpton convulsing the city with his Tawana Brawley infatuation, and Al Sharpton parading with a medallion around his neck only smaller than the Fortuna wall clock that Flavor Flav wears.

This is a man whose opinions are worth listening to?

In fairness to MSNBC, anybody trying to do liberal talk radio is playing a losing hand. Michael Medved said it best many years ago when he was talking about Michael Jackson, the preeminent voice of liberal talk radio whose erudite, entertaining, and eminently fair show aired weekday mornings on KABC in Los Angeles. As Medved said, if Michael Jackson (the talk show host, not the singer) couldn’t draw an audience, no one in liberal talk radio can.

And that’s the problem. Conservatives pretty much sing from the same hymnal. There are a handful of issues that most conservatives agree on–limited government, opposition to unions, controlling the border, that sort of thing.

Liberalism, by contrast, is a big tent, with as many liberal opinions as there are liberal voters. You pretty much can’t say anything to a group of liberals without inflaming the rest.

Sharpton is a perfect example of this. I don’t know exactly who his constituency is, aside from his own ego. But to the extent that he represents anyone or stands for anything, he is an anathema to Jewish voters, who recall him fanning the flames in a Black-Jewish situation in Brooklyn many years ago. Liberals are a lot like rugby players–they eat their young. It’s amazing they stood by Obama this long, considering how much he has waffled on their agenda. They just can’t be satisfied.

The really sad thing about putting Sharpton on the air is that it demonstrates just how pitiful thought leadership is on the Left. Is this really the best that a liberal news network can offer? Isn’t there anyone out there untainted by scandal, who might have something to say to a liberal audience? I guess not.

Don’t tell me that just because Sharpton has given up the medallion and the track suits, has lost a bunch of weight, and now dresses like a grownup, it means that he’s some sort of new Al Sharpton. It’s the same old demagogic blowhard, just nattily attired. Is he actually going to draw ratings? Does he really have anything worth saying? Or does his elevation to talk show host status simply demonstrate that every bottom has a trap door beneath it?

You’ve probably figured out that I won’t be TiVoing Al Sharpton any time soon. If this is the best the Left can find to promote its values and champion its beliefs, then I just feel bad for liberals. Sharpton isn’t a commentator; he’s a sideshow. He’s a circus act. Although putting him on television does achieve the seemingly impossible: his presence on the tube makes Geraldo Rivera look like Walter Cronkite. 

Don’t let the fancy clothes fool you. Sharpton’s show simply means that we have to revise what Andy Warhol said: In the future, everybody’s going to have his fifteen minutes. Right alongside Keith Olbermann.

Wake me when it’s over.

 

( New York Times Bestselling Author Michael Levin runs www.BusinessGhost.com, America’s leading provider of ghostwritten business books. )

Restrict Government, Not Superstores

California has long been in the forefront of attempts by unions and their liberal allies to legally protect themselves against more efficient competitors, despite the inherent harm to consumers.  One illustration of their determination to persist until they get their way is SB469, the fifth attempt in the last dozen years to stymie the opening of new superstores, which now awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.

It applies to stores over 90,000 square feet, with over 10% devoted to items exempt from state sales tax (i.e., food and prescription drugs), but excludes membership stores.  In other words, it targets Wal-Mart and Target (without having to single them out by name), whose superstores can offer consumers substantially lower prices than unionized competitors.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the bill would require studies to “gauge the effect that a proposed superstore would have on almost everything nearby—businesses, jobs, schools, traffic, housing, parks, playgrounds and day-care centers.”

SB469’s author, State Senator Juan Vargas (D-S.D.), says “it makes these super-boxes prove they are a good thing.”  But in fact, like multiple previous incarnations, it is actually designed to create an impossible hurdle to new superstore approvals.

It puts an unattainable burden of proof on supercenters.  SB469 would essentially require companies like Wal-Mart to prove a negative–that a supercenter would not have a harmful effect on “the community.” But as any logic student knows, it is all but impossible to prove a negative, because it requires establishing beyond doubt that in every potential scenario, something is true. No one can prove, in advance, that in every possible circumstance, a supercenter will not harm anyone, however remote the connection. Of course, the stores now in existence and eager to restrict supercenters could not have met that criterion, either, if it was applied to them.

The burden of proof is heightened by the ambiguous nature of the way the term “the community” is used.  Any individual or group threatened by competition can claim that “if I am hurt, the community that includes me cannot be better off.” That is, it provides every existing interest group a plausible sounding argument to veto a prospective competitor.

More importantly, the nature of competition makes the burden of proof impossible. Competition is simply the process of discovering who can best cooperate with (i.e., benefit) others. But whenever a customer picks one seller over another, benefitting both, the out-competed supplier is necessarily made worse off.  If damage to such a rival is sufficient reason to restrict competition, all competition, and all the progress that it causes, would be stopped.  In addition, any resulting change in shopping patterns will also necessarily increase traffic somewhere, so that objections to congestion can act as universal supplementary excuses to exclude supercenters.

As Frederic Bastiat so frequently illustrated in his writings against protectionism, applying an argument being put forward in one particular case to other circumstances can help reveal the strength of that argument.  So what if we were to apply SB469’s approach elsewhere?

If no choice could be made until after it could be conclusively proven to leave everyone involved better off in every conceivable situation or circumstance, no new choice could ever be made.  If dating was banned until it was proven in advance that both parties would feel they were better off after the fact, there would be no dating.  And just imagine if we tried to apply that same standard to questions of marriage, having children, investment decisions, career choices, or a host of other issues.  Any politician proposing to use such a standard in any of those areas would be quickly be ridiculed out of office (although sometimes I think that California might be an exception to that conclusion).

Despite SB469’s nonsensical logic when applied to almost any issue of voluntary arrangements, there is one area in which SB469’s logic might actually benefit citizens.  What would happen if we required that no political change would be allowed to take effect until it was proven beforehand that it would benefit every member of society?  If anyone objected, it would be rejected.

Under that standard, no politician would be allowed to ever take office, no bill could be passed, no new agencies could be created or administrative appointments made, etc., short of unanimous approval. Government could then do very little, because every form of robbing Peter to pay Paul, the primary “product” offered by politicians, would disappear.  Citizens would benefit greatly.  But politicians who restrict those who compete with their “friends,” with undeniable harm to consumers, would never accept the exact same restrictions as legitimate limits on their actions.

SB469 is nothing but the latest iteration of the almost uncountable ways special interests use political coercion to protect themselves against competitors.  It would keep Californians from making the mutually beneficial market relationships they would choose.  It would deny many the ability to accept the terms superstores would offer, for both jobs and goods, which they find more attractive than their alternatives.  And similar efforts are afoot in many other states, threatening to spread the consumer carnage.

Those pushing government restrictions such as California’s SB469 may not want to harm consumers (something they assert frequently), but consumer harm is the inevitable collateral damage of such efforts to protect their own bottom lines by restricting competition.  It guarantees harm to the vast majority of Californians, who politicians claim to serve, in the name of preventing harm.  But the only harm they prevent is to the special interests they really serve at our expense.

 

(Gary Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University)

Obama Stimulus is Paid for by Political Predation

During his Presidential campaign, Barack Obama derided John McCain’s tax and spending proposals for not adding up, claiming ethical superiority because his plans were “fully paid for.” Then ram-rodded through the largest unfunded government expansion in history.  The same mantra was used for his trillion-dollar plus health initiative, backed only by carefully timing the phase-in to manipulate Congressional Budget Office rules for scoring fiscal proposals.  And now his latest stimulus plan is “paid for” at his every stop.

            Unfortunately, pushing allegedly “paid for” programs does not justify ethical preening.  Even when true, which is far from being demonstrated in any of these instances, plans whose central feature is taking large amounts from some to give to others violate universally-accepted moral norms (e.g., “you shall not steal’), even if they identify who will be victimized and the extent of that victimization.

            In one sense, spending expansions that lay out how they would be financed are more honest than ones that don’t.  If complete, rather than leaving who will bear the harm ambiguous (as with deficits), they reveal who will be forced to pay and how much.  However, that does not make the coerced imposition of harm—called robbery if done privately–ethical.

            “Paid for” plans can be politically courageous, because they risk disadvantages avoidable through undefined funding.  Notifying “mandated donors” can create more opposition than leaving the burdens vague. But Obama’s plans minimize that risk by going after those who can be demonized—like corporations– or exploited through others’ envy—like “the rich.”

“Paid for” plans to dispense benefits to political constituencies, which clearly characterizes Obama’s latest stimulus plan, are only ethically superior to the extent that announcing the intended victims in advance makes theft less unethical. But slightly more forthcoming thieves are still thieves.  Naming who will be plundered does not justify plunder.  The ethical emphasis on “paid for” plans, which turn out not to be, merely contrasts the ethical high ground claimed with the ethical low ground actually pursued.

             Obama’s plans are only “paid for” by assumption.  He cannot actually know what will happen under yet-to-be-implemented plans, because he cannot anticipate all the responses to the many incentives that will change.  His administration’s seldom-analyzed underlying assumptions are also frequently preposterous.  And hyping plans as solutions, when one cannot actually know their effects, is also ethically questionable.  That infirmity is expanded by the fact that by the time his proposals are to be fully implemented, it might be all but impossible to undo the damage from misguided centralization.

            Political posturing aside, whether a proposed expansion of government benefits for some is “paid for” is not the primary question.  That question, made clear by the Preamble to the Constitution, is: Will it advance Americans’ General Welfare?  When income redistribution is the primary result, that test cannot be met.  Some citizens’ benefit by imposing harm on others.

            If President Obama really believed that “paid for” was the touchstone of successful policy, he would not be ballooning the scope of the federal government everywhere he turns.  Further, he would not run roughshod over so many voluntary market arrangements, for the simple reason that there, absent fraud (whose prevention is a legitimate government job it routinely fails at, as recent experience amply demonstrates), benefits are always paid for.  No one can force harm on others when exchanges must be voluntary.  All parties gain, which cannot be said plans that intentionally take from his “targets” to give to those he favors.  And ethically, paid for without theft trumps paid for by political predation.  Over and over, President Obama’s policies reveal not ethics, but ethical violations, reminding me of Will Rogers’ quip that “I can remember way back when a liberal was generous with his own money.”

 

(Gary Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University)  

Mr. Obama, Just Create One Job

President Obama is all about job creation. Although if you look at the fine print of the legislation he’s proposing, it mostly serves to shore up government employment–essential workers like firefighters, police officers and teachers. (My kids would argue with whether teachers are essential, and quite frankly, so do I.)

The President intends to fund this half-billion-dollar experiment by taxing employers personally. In other words, he’s robbing Paul to pay Paul.

President Obama, I know your intentions are sincere–that you’d like to see more people back to work, especially people who vote Democratic (the state workers ). And I know that you have serious doubts about the morality of the private sector, so you’d like to see more and more people employed by the government.

But I’ll tell you what would make me really happy.

Instead of trying to create millions of new jobs, just create one.

Yours.

Your presidency has been nothing short of mystifying.

You have presided over the greatest economic meltdown in eighty years, which you sought to “solve” by printing up billions of dollars, handing it over to your supporters, to strengthen the pension funds of state workers.

Not to mention the balance sheets of banks that, once they got money, refused to lend it.

Abroad, you took a sledgehammer to our already-fragile standing in the community of nations. Who can forget those excruciating and humiliating deep bows that you made to the emperor of Japan and the leader of Saudi Arabia?

Commentator Dinesh D’Souza came up with the best interpretation for your desire to take the syllables “super” out of “American superpower.” D’Souza posits that you are simply fulfilling the agenda of your father, who hated colonialists and wanted to cut them down to size.

To quote George W. Bush, “Mission accomplished.”

I understand that you grew up in straitened economic circumstances, and maybe that’s why you like to play poor-mouth with the American people. But a lot of presidents grew up impoverished–Nixon, Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton, to name a few–and yet each of them recognized that business is the engine of growth in our society, a lesson somehow lost on you.

I don’t doubt your intellectual abilities. You attended my alma mater, Columbia University, and while you were there, you are said to have read a very large number of books about socialism.

My sense is that, given your apparent hatred of private business, you never read any of those books on socialism all the way to the end.

Your guardianship of our nation has been more moronic than Platonic.

You promised to end wars, and yet the wars, which we can’t afford, rage on.

You promised to shut down Gitmo. I know you’ll get around to it soon. Unless you’ve decided to move from waterboarding those bad guys to offering them a path to citizenship.

Maybe I’m just bitter. Maybe I’m just one of those small-town Americans who clings to his religion and his guns, as you told that clubby little set in San Francisco in an unguarded moment during a campaign.

To take you back even further, when you came off the stage after your triumphant speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, you proclaimed, loud enough for reporters to hear, “I’m LeBron, baby!”

You got that one right. You took your talents to Washington, just as LeBron took his to South Beach, and you both lost. At least LeBron knew when to stop shooting in the fourth quarter. At least he knew to quit asking for the ball.

You must have had a ball yourself, Mr. President, these last few years, diminishing America at home and abroad, pursuing an agenda that could best be described as anti-American.

I saw your new campaign slogan–“Let’s change the world again.”

Enough already. For most Americans, the only change you’ve created…is spare change.

Create one job. Resign. Give it over to Joe. (Biden, not Stalin.) Or even let Hillary take over.

In that sense, you’ve done the seemingly impossible. You’ve made conservatives nostalgic for a President Hillary.

Like most Americans, I don’t understand how taxing the people who create jobs will create jobs. It’s time we had a grownup running the country again.

In 2008, you campaigned on a slogan of, “Change we can believe in.”

Hit the road, Mr. President. That’s the only kind of change your fellow Americans could possibly believe in now.

(New York Times Bestselling Author Michael Levin runs www.BusinessGhost.com, America’s leading provider of ghostwritten business books.)

Cronyism and Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts Healthcare Legacy

Cronyism Is Endemic in Contemporary Politics

“Cronyism.” That word is likely to be thrown around a great deal over the coming months in the Republican primary battle. Cronyism is bad when, for example, it’s done to lure companies to locate in a particular state, but it’s worse when used to increase government intrusion into people’s lives. That’s what happened when former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney pressed to get support for his health care plan, the widely acknowledged model for Obamacare.

According to a 2008 report by The Heritage Foundation, at the time of Romneycare’s passage the two largest safety-net hospital systems in Massachusetts—Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA)—had “become dependent on direct subsidies” and were concerned that, even accounting for the significant rate increases allowed under the new law, a shift to Medicaid managed care would hurt their bottom line.

To get the law passed, Romney and his allies agreed to a host of annual payments—including “MCO supplemental payments,” “disproportionate share hospital payments,” and special “hospital supplemental payments,” targeted just for the two systems. At the last minute, more than $540 million in so-called “Section 122 payments” were inserted into the law, designed to supply BMC and CHA with an even bigger financial cushion over the next three years.

In practice, these funds—which included federal, state, and local taxpayer money—served as direct subsidies for the two providers’ expansion. According to MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, “The federal government was essentially supplementing the expansion of these inner city hospitals.” When some lawmakers suggested cutting back on the amounts, provider officials complained about all the great programs they’d have to shut down—such as BMC’s “food pantry.”

As it turned out, the cost of these subsidies made the difference for Romneycare’s financial stability, at least in the short term. As the system faced higher than expected enrollment, the Section 122 payments forced Massachusetts to prioritize more money for the required earmarks to BMC and CHA—money that might otherwise have been used to cover costs of patient care. According to The Heritage Foundation, in 2008 “Section 122 payments come to $180 million, while Commonwealth Care overruns are $153 million. … In effect, the state was subsidizing institutions, not patients.”

In the long run, the institutional subsidies and ever-increasing costs of coverage—Massachusetts’ premium costs have skyrocketed since Romneycare’s passage and are now the highest in the nation—are taking their toll on the fiscal sustainability of Romney’s plan. The latest estimates indicate that over the next decade the law will cost $2 billion more than Romney and his allies predicted.

Such corporate cronyism abounds in government today. When states are competing for new jobs from prospective employers, governors of all political stripes use special favors to try to woo business to their state. Nearly all governors have slush funds of various sizes to deploy for such occasions, consisting of tax abatements, credits, and other incentives.

These favors don’t deliver public benefits. After all, if Texas’s roughly $200 million slush fund were the reason the state has produced four of five net new private-sector jobs in the United States in the past five years—with 88 percent within the past two years coming from the private sector—every state would have similar success in job creation.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to try to attract jobs. The right way is by ensuring a transparent legal and regulatory environment, with low taxes and a solid educational system, and creating an educated populace well prepared to fill jobs for generations. The wrong way is by picking winners and losers directly in the halls of government—preventing competition, rewarding rent-seeking behavior, and enshrining into law direct transfers from the taxpayers to corporations.

This is a lesson the federal government could stand to learn, along with state and local governments. Creating a friendly climate for business and job creation takes a lot more than writing a check with somebody else’s money.

 

(Benjamin Domenech ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News.)

Steve Jobs for Governor?

We bought 500 shares of Apple stock in 2005 at $40 a share.  Today those same shares, still in our account, hit $422.  That is all that really needs to be said about the genius of California’s Steve Jobs.

Jobs is probably responsible for more “jobs” in California than most living politicians here.  Certainly more than Barack Obama.  Born in San Francisco and based in Cupertino, he is certainly responsible for more wealth in this state than just about any other one person.  He co-founded Apple computer company in 1976, and over time invented a great computer operating system, along with the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad; created the iTunes Library, invented Apple TV (the next great leap in technology will dovetail off this invention) and made huge advances in pictoral animation through Pixar Animation Studios, which created such wonderful films as Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, and Ratatouille.  (He also inspired Cars II but that one we won’t talk about.  Nobody is perfect.)

I don’t know anything about Steve Jobs’ politics.  I know he was adopted, studied Buddhism (hey, I was raised in the Bay Area, I can handle it), and told a graduating class at Stanford that he didn’t complete college because he didn’t want to waste his parents’ money.  Wow!  I don’t need to know much about Steve Jobs’ politics to know I like him and think the world has been made very much better by him.

Jobs career could have been over when the Apple board decided to side with outsider business manager John Scully to lead the company, which was subsequently almost run into the ground.  But in 1996, Jobs returned to Apple and seized back operational control in September, 1997.  Already a multi-millionaire, he didn’t need the work.  But he loved to create, and his creations had the affect of building wealth, jobs, and doing more for our economy than any government hand-out program a liberal Democrat might dream up.  Today, all one needs do to bask in Jobs glow is visit your local Apple retail store.  It will be packed, not only with great devices, but people; and in the middle of a great recession.  Apple is a hugely successful company, has no debt, and at one point this month had more cash on hand than the Federal government.  Today it is worth in excess of $300 billion, and is competing with Exxon-Mobil for the right to say it is the most valuable company on the planet Earth.

On August 24, Jobs wrote a letter to staff and shareholders stating that he could “no longer meet duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO.”  He had received a liver transplant in 2009, but health problems persisted.

As a fairly seasoned political observer and someone who worked throughout the eight years of the Reagan Administration in senior executive positions in the Federal government, I’ve known first hand how government really works, day-by-day.  And I’ve heard a lot of politicians talk about how government should operate “more like a business.”  None of them, even Ronald Reagan, have been thoroughly successful in making government more efficient and responsive, as if it “were a business.”  We’ve had plenty of business people, and Hollywood celebrities, and “community organizers,” elected to high government positions, but the net result today is financial chaos and among the highest unemployment rates in our nation’s history.  And all the time Apple was growing explosively under Steve Jobs, with no debt.

I’ll bet that Steve Jobs would have been a great Governor of California.  But I think he has done just fine, even better for California, our nation, and the world, as simply the leader of Apple Computer.  He has had more impact in the private sector than any elected official.  Perhaps there is a lesson there for those earnest and talented young men and women in our state who aspire to create and lead.

“Peacenik” Ron Paul crowd reminds of SDS

For those of you too young to remember, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was the premier leftist “pro-peace in Vietnam” student group of the 60’s founded by Tom Hayden (famous for disrupting the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago) and like-minded radicals of the “hate America first, last and always” crowd.  Anyone who went to college from the mid 60s to mid 70s could count on the SDS to be burning American flags, campaigning for “peace”, victory for the North Vietnamese Communists and blaming American policy for Soviet imperialism.

I thought I had seen the last of these types until I did some people watching at last weekend’s California GOP convention in downtown Los Angeles.  I can report that the SDS lives, and its spiritual heirs wear “Ron Paul for President” buttons.

California Political Review’s exhibitor table at the convention was directly in front of the line for people participating in the Presidential straw poll, so just about everyone who voted passed in front of our table and my eyes.  It actually made for fun people watching until the Ron Paul great unwashed got off their pre=paid chartered busses and queued up to vote.

Let me say that a goodly portion of Paul supporters seemed like pretty ordinary Republicans.  However a very large minority of them, and perhaps an outright majority, appeared to me to be SDS remnants and complete strangers to the Republican Party. The…uhm…young lady with the mostly shaved head and bright purple Mohawk on top was an attention getter, if not a vote getter. So was the young Paul voter sporting the “Che Lives” button on his belt.

Particularly offensive to me were the signs saying “I’m voting for PEACE – Ron Paul for President”.  Flashback 40 years to my studentship at the nearby University of Southern California, where anti-war and anti-American demonstrations and the protesters’ signs would have been exactly the same, substituting only the name of “peace” candidate for President Eugene McCarthy for Ron Paul’s name. Other Paul signs and stickers were born by folks whose vast majority of exposed skin was covered with tattoos or wearing black berets (perhaps as a tribute to radical Black Panther Leaders Huey Newton or Eldridge Cleaver?).

Okay – so looks can be deceiving, you can’t judge a book by its cover…yada, yada.  Well, it happened that an old friend of mine and GOP activist was among the Paul supporters in line.  We chatted briefly and I asked him if he really thought the U.S. Government had a direct hand in blowing up the twin towers on 9/11.  His response was, “I don’t know”. I was literally speechless for about 30 seconds, then asked him if he really, really thought Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld could be responsible for such an act.  His response was “it didn’t have to be them directly, it could have been other people in the government”.

Cue the theme from “Twilight Zone”. Ron Paul’s economic views largely parallel mine.  His foreign policy views largely parallel those in power in Pyong Yang and Caracas.  The SDS would find little to disagree with. Those views frighten me – and a good slug of his supporters at the convention last weekend, whose registrations were all paid in advance for the sole purpose of boosting Paul’s straw poll vote, should frighten all Republicans.

Citizen’s Redistricting A Lot Better Than Backroom Deal Making

Over the last couple of months, much has been made of the historic Citizen’s Redistricting Commission process in California. This process, established by a majority of California voters when they passed both Proposition 11 and Proposition 20, took the power to draw their own districts out of the hands of the politicians and put it into the hands of a commission of citizens.

Was this process perfect? Anyone paying attention over the past couple of months would tell you “no, it was not” – and truthfully it is unrealistic to expect any process as politicized as redistricting to be. But that is not the question we, especially Republicans, should be asking ourselves. The real question is did this process yield better results than one managed fully and completely by the majority Democrats in the Legislature and Democratic Governor Jerry Brown? I think the answer to that is, “yes.” We have been there, done that 10 years ago when the Legislature and then-Governor Gray Davis drew the lines in a highly politicized and retributive process. Republicans clearly didn’t gain under that scenario; in fact we have lost seats over the last 10 years.

Now, I understand the definition of “better results” clearly is a function of what the very subjective term “better” means to you and furthering your policy and political goals. Certainly the State Senate maps prove problematic from the perspective of Senate Republicans and fortunately, Proposition 11 preserved the right of the people of California to hold the commissioners accountable for their work on those maps through a referendum. That is a good and healthy stopgap that was included in redistricting reform and Republicans are well within their rights to challenge those maps.

But if we pause to think of the nightmare that would be before the Republican Party had the Democrats, who hold firm control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, drawn the lines, it becomes clear that things could be a whole lot worse.

Can you imagine simultaneously negotiating a budget and new district lines with the Democrats in full control?  Imagine the added political advantage the Democrats would have had in that situation.  If you think cutting office budgets, like Speaker Perez did to Assemblyman Portantino, is bad, imagine what could have happened if the same politicians were in charge of drawing “competitive” district lines for legislators who refused to vote for a bad budget or tax increase?  I cannot imagine a scenario where that would have netted a better outcome for the GOP.

Ten years ago when the Legislature and Governor controlled this process, the Legislature worked hard to create an aura of a public process by holding a couple of hearings on the maps. After receiving public feedback, the maps weren’t changed.  Why?  Because the hearings were just pro forma; politicians had already come to an agreement without any input from the public. The maps were passed. The districts set. The incumbents safe.

The truth is that as I continue to examine these districts I am seeing that it’s not just that it could have been worse if the Democrats had controlled the redistricting process, but that the districts drawn by the commission actually give Republicans a shot at picking up some seats. For example, Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina carried 31 of the new Assembly seats but there are currently only 28 Republican Assembly members. Carly carried 17 of the new Senate districts while under the current lines there are only 15 Republican Senators. That tells me that with good candidate recruitment and the right messaging and resources, Republicans have the opportunity to gain at least three seats in Assembly and two seats in the Senate.

The new districts might not satisfy everyone.  It’s a compromise approach; there’s an expectation that not everyone would be happy.  But this process was better than the alternative – and could provide Republicans with a path to making some electoral gains, for the first time in 10 years.

 

(Julie Soderlund is a Republican Political Consultant and Partner at Sacramento-based Public Affairs Firm Wilson-Miller Communications, Inc. She served as a communications consultant to the campaign to support Proposition 11.)


Time to End the Post Office

I’m not one to gloat over the misfortunes of other people, but there is some rich justice in the oncoming financial collapse of the U.S. Postal Service. It’s about time for them to have to stand in line and wait for a government bailout, given the collective millions of hours they’ve made Americans stand in line just to buy a stamp.

The post office certainly faces huge problems–the responsibility to deliver mail six times a week to every address in the country, the inability to set its own rates, and the inability to go into other businesses, as do postal services in other countries. But the real problem with the post office isn’t any of these things.  The real problem:  it’s run by the government.

Case in point. A government agency whose name I won’t mention (it rhymes with Liar Mess) was trying to send me a certified letter the week before last. They left a slip in my home mailbox so that I could sign for the letter. I studied the card. Remarkably, there was a forty-digit number assigned to the package–which had been written out in longhand. Don’t they have computers at the post office? What are they, medieval monks?

I thought it would be faster if I sent my assistant to the post office to pick up the letter in person. There’s a space on the form where you can sign for an “agent” to do just that. So she took the signed form to the post office, and they refused to give her the letter, on the grounds that a lot of people discover these notices, perhaps by combing through other people’s mail, come to the post office, and pick up the packages.

What’s the point of having a box that says that an agent can pick up your package if you won’t actually give the package to the agent?

What’s the point of having a tracking system if the tracking numbers are forty digits long and written out by hand, which is a recipe for making errors if there ever was one?

What’s the point of having a post office in an era when 99 percent of mail is either bills or junk mail, which is subsidized by your tax dollars?

As a kid, I was a stamp collector, and experienced the romance of stamps from other countries and other eras. I was fascinated by the evolution of stamp design, the subjects that stamps commemorated, and the stories stamps told about blimps and jets and national parks and presidents and everything else they contained.

But the problem with stamps is that they go on envelopes, and the problem with envelopes is they have to go to the post office, and the problem with the post office is you have to stand on line.

I’m not averse to standing on line once in a while, but the problem with standing on line in the post office is the sense that the people there just don’t care about us at all. They see us as intrusions on their own personal roads to retirement. And now, some of those retirements are about to be rudely interrupted by the fact that the federal government cannot afford to fund the lavish pension schemes that they were counting on.

We live in an era of economic pain, and there’s no reason why government workers, past or present, should be exempt from pain. President Obama’s new jobs initiative takes pains to exempt government workers from the pain that we non-government employees face every day.

This is not fair.

Can we contemplate a world without post offices? Sure, why not? Any time the government gets out of a business, private firms swoop in and compete, on price and quality–two concepts that mean nothing to the government–to grab the business the government has left behind. I’ve never had a problem getting FedEx on the phone when I need them. And UPS, in all my experience of sending and receiving stuff, has never lost a package.

What if all bills went to the Internet? What if there were no more junk mail? I don’t exactly see that as the end of the world. Pretty environment-friendly, too.  And if some of the postal workers have to take a hit on their pensions, well, welcome to the real world. We’re under-funded and overcommitted.

In fact, once the post office goes bankrupt, let’s not stop there. How about shutting down every area where the government has had a decades-long monopoly, but just can’t drive results? Inner-city schools. Protecting the border. Heck, building and staffing prisons. Let’s privatize everything.

Actually, once you get past defense, regulating pharmaceutical companies, and making sure gas stations aren‘t overcharging you, there isn’t that much need for government at all.

Today the post office, tomorrow…everything else.

 

(New York Times bestselling author Michael Levin runs www.BusinessGhost.com, the nation’s leading provider of ghostwritten business books.)