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February 24, 2005

What to do with all that money? (Oregonian)

(Submitted to the Oregonian 2/24/2005)

President Bush's massive deficit spending combined with borrowing another $2 trillion to bet our poverty insurance payments in the market is creating the ultimate Debt Society, not an ownership society at all.  In contrast, the best way to create an ownership society is to create more broadly shared prosperity for all Americans so they actually earn more money and have more to save.  But Bush's risky scheme adds next to nothing to the economy.

But I know that, if nothing else, Bush will be resolute in his determination to make us borrow this money.  And this has made me think.

In 25 years of business, one thing I learned was that no matter how good some idea to spend money was, you have a limited amount to spend and the real question is not "is this a good thing to spend money on?" but "is this the best use of the money?"

Frankly it is hard for me to wrap my mind around how best to spend $2 trillion.  But I do find it easier to think about what our share of it might mean for Oregon's citizens.

Oregon is a little over 1% of the population of the USA.  So Oregon's share of the $2 trillion is over $20 billion.  So the question is, what would be the best way for us to spend $20 billion for Oregon?  What could we do to transform our current situation?  What things would build on our unique qualities, sustain the marvelous natural environment that inspires us, and transform us into a world-class economic destination?

Our current situation is full of conundrums and frustrations, such as:

  • For well over a decade Oregonians have said by overwhelming margins that they want a K-12 educational system competitive with any in the world.  But we don't fund it adequately to achieve that goal.
  • We created the innovative Oregon Health Plan which worked great to provide those without means the ability to get medical care in ordinary ways instead of at expensively on our nickle at emergency rooms ... until we slashed its funding and then moan it isn't working well!
  • The missing keystone to a vibrant entrepreneurial economy is the lack of a superior higher educational system, but we don't fund that goal either.
  • We are a state of small businesses, but they are saddled with either rapidly increasing health insurance costs or uninsured employee families.

Today we are stuggling to live "within our means" because we won't accept more taxes to meet our own stated goals -- and are frustrated with the results.  But tinkering with expenses can't fundamentally improve our economy -- company accountants help manage expenses, but they don't make new products or bring in sales.  We're acting like a state of accountants.

So back to the $20 billion Bush would like our state's citizens to borrow.  What could we do with that $20 billion?  Here are some ideas:

  • We could reorganize our state higher ed system and fund a select few areas to be world-class.
  • We could work with successful groups like Wallow Resources to bring the idea of a sustainable natural resource economy to the whole state -- integrating timber, fire thinning, restoration, certified Oregon Guides for hunting, bird-watching, kayaking, Pinot Noir tasting, etc.
  • We could augment and diversify our rural economies with renewable solar and wind power generation and bio-fuels investments, at the same time sending less money out of state to buy fuel.
  • We could bring broadband to every home and office, supporting small business and rural areas.
  • We could bring our K-12 up to world-class standards.
  • We could install city center to city center high speed rail along the I-5 corridor and reduce pollution, congestion and accidents while tying our state together more.
  • We could not only fix all our bridges but also upgrade roads and signage to the level of France, making us an premier tourist destination for world-class Pinot Noir, pears, bird-watching.

It is time to quit fiddling around at the edges, hoping something will get better.  It is time for Oregon to think some big ideas!  California, with some $15 billion in debt and a leader in tax limitations, funded $3 billion for stem cell research.  Denver funded $4.5 billion for light rail.

What can we do for Oregon?

February 08, 2005

Measure 37 administration (to News Register)

(Published 2/12/2005 in an edited version as Unfair for taxpayers to subsidize rights)

To the Editor -

At Thursday's County Commission meeting, the County Planner explained the relief options for a claim: as a non-conforming use or as either a modified or waived land-use law.  The former would apply to just the use requested, say a house on 20 acres; the other options might mean that the laws were inapplicable forever, so a landowner would not have to reapply if they decided to develop a 300 house subdivision instead.

Lewis and George opposed the clarity and fairness of the non-conforming designation.  Landowners will learn to avoid public hearings by requesting a minor adjustment, but do something else.  Leslie was clear she thought that was a good thing.

This both deceptive and bad governance.  Without knowing the real plans and what their constitutents think of those plans, Commissioners can't make informed choices in other areas.  Comprehensive land use plans (openly developed with public hearings!) are thrown in chaos: with them, we had publicly evaluated alternatives, made tradeoffs and developed a collective idea of priorities and where growth would be so we could all plan.  Unplanned growth will waste taxpayer money to replan and react.

Further, this prevents a different conclusion in the future: perhaps in 10 years we would prefer to compensate a landowner from a parks bond measure to avoid an asphalt paving plant next to a park.

If certain folks are "relieved" from the county's social compact, they should bear the full county costs.  It is unfair for taxpayers to subsidize the enrichment of these special-rights landowners.

Under Leslie and George, we lose a sense of where the county is going, what we think of it and what priorities we share or disagree on.  How, then, can we trust them to plan the county's future and spend our taxes?

February 03, 2005

Re: Principles Project: Security

I believe you have to tackle the security and the military component of security head on or it will not resonate with America outside a snug little group.

Without a strong and secure America, all other things are hard to accomplish.  This is one reason why the Republicans use the fear of terrorism to provide a sense of insecurity: so that people will place everything else (we believe in) in a secondary position.  By emphasizing military power and claiming resoluteness to use it plays into the "strict father" metaphor that defines the Republicans focused on dominating (and often punishing) people, groups and countries.

So our job is to "activate" our core progressive values that also call for strength, but in many things not just military: an array of areas of leadership.

The story of Safeguarding America is that all Americans are united in our conviction to track down terrorists where they are, but we are also going to attack the roots of terrorism around the world.  We will use all the power of our military, but also lead the rest of the world to new alliances as well.

Because this topic is in the Republican base principles, this must be addressed directly, and we must clearly distinguish ourselves from them.

We have to address the "today's threats" in order to have credibility with and thus have our principles resonate with, most Americans.  If we can't even acknowledge this big issue, we won't get their ear on any other topic.

However, we can distinguish ourselves from them by disarming their claim.  We do this by showing that we are all united against this threat (ie, they aren't unique), but then also show how we are different because we will attack the roots of the problem.

Proposal:

That without a strong and secure America, all other things are hard to accomplish.

That all Americans are united in our conviction to track down terrorists where they are, but we are also going to attack the roots of terrorism around the world.

That we will use all the power of our military, but also lead like-minded nations in the building of more effective global institutions that enhance security, protect the vulnerable, promote self-government, and improve the health and welfare of all people.

Re: Principles Project: General

I agree with Todd's concern.  I have made specific language proposals in each section already.

Most progressive organizations have a laundry list of 30 or 40 principles or programs divided into 5 - 10 sections.  I have not found that compelling.  Nor that it resonates with people.

Another commentor noted the need for a story line, which I agree with.

I believe an understanding of our "political brand" is also essential. 

And that we find just three over-arching key aspects to coalesce all the principles within.  (I'm not sure how much of this is part of the "next phase" of the project.)

I had done some preliminary work in this area (see A Progressive Framework) and will summarize my attempt:

Story: America is Divided; We are Uniting America to Renew it
Our Three Pillars:
  - Safeguarding America
  - Assuring Freedom of Opportunity
  - Keeeping America's Democratic Promise

Re: Principle Project: Democracy

Add perhaps:

That America's Promise is as a land of freedom and opportunity for people with diverse beliefs who govern themselves to the benefit of all.  Our promise to the rest of the world is as a beacon in their own countries' travels which are ever growing ever more like ours.

And:

In a fair and simple tax system that doesn't unduly burden the working class to the profit of those who have made the most money from our system.

Re: Principle Project: Strengths

I think this section needs more work, as I believe that it goes to the core of what I think is the progressive brand: Assuring Freedom of Opportunity.  But currently this comes across only weakly.

Today there is great uncertainty in America, with out-sourcing, a surging China, huge federal deficits, a lack of economic opportunity in rural/Red State America, divisiveness, etc.  Feelings of insecurity as well as loss of jobs and wage pressure now in the service sector as well as the manufacturing sector.

The story of Assuring Freedom of Opportunity is that there is great opportunity to be seized.  We can do that when we help create our future by investing in innovation and areas that can be expected to open up in this millenium, not the previous.

We focus on building hope through investment, risk-taking, hard work.

Our "pursuit of happiness" can only happen in a fair system that gives everyone that works hard a decent reward, provides opportunities to all who aspire, and the possibility of prosperity for ourselves and community.

We also need to be clear on how we differentiate from conservatives.

This ties in to the section on Freedom and would be aided by moving "role of business" here I think.

That our market economy should expand opportunity and prosperity for all people, and that government should vigorously protect the public interest and the least fortunate among us as well as reward achievement.

That our greatest strength to expand prosperity resides in the people of America creating our own future, and to promote this strength we must cultivate and invest in education, innovation, risk-taking, hard work and entrepreneurship.

Re: Principles Project: Fairness

I think the discussion of the two components and how to balance them goes to the heart of one of the key progressive values: fairness.  But when we go too far with the dignity component without articulating it more clearly, we make ourselves targets of the conservative agenda: they position us as being in favor of a welfare state that rewards laziness but not demanding responsibility.  So we have to be sure we aren't implying this.

But what we mean is rooted in fairness: everyone may be created equally, but we are not all provided with equal starting points -- and that will never go away.  On the one hand we want to encourage resourcefulness and hard work, but at the same time our core Lakoffian value in the Nurturant Parent model is empathy -- we empathize with the unfair circumstances that some are born into and others fall into through no fault of their own (disease, say, or a soldier in Iraq having a leg blown off by an IED) -- and we believe that they shouldn't be left in the gutter of America because of circumstances outside their control.  To provide fair opportunity we have to provide certain minimums provided people are keeping their end of the bargain as well in striving to achieve within their capacity.

Backing up, then, we would, for example, support healthcare for all kids since their parents financial circumstances aren't the child's fault.  And other things of this ilk.  This is related to poverty programs and Social Security, etc. that provide a safety-net for people.  If you wark hard and play by the rules, we won't abondon you -- this is the essence of the Social Security Insurance compact -- the government guarantees you won't be in poverty if you earned that insurance by working.

We support freedom of opportunity and economic growth to lift people up.  From a self-interest perspective as taxpayers, we would support a liviing wage (and here's where we can bring more people aboard with our values and vision) so that we aren't paying for food stamps and other poverty programs for the those people.  A below living wage full-time job is effectively taxpayers subsidizing a business since taxpayers make up the difference through relief programs.

I think of the difference in attitudes between conservatives and progressives in this area as being that conservatives focus primarily on our role as taxpayers (hence focused on tax cuts and welfare being an anathema) vs our focus on our role as citizens (fairness of access to opportunity; with not only rights within our society but also responsibilities).

OK, long-winded way around.  What we're trying to get to in that sentence is the principles behind all that I just said, without conveying support for a country of lazy yet conviving "welfare queens" (not that there ever were many) paid for out of our hard-earned cash, but that gets to the fairness aspect.

Personally, I believe that, fundamentally, our political brand as progressives is about Ensuring Freedom of Opportunity.  To do that, we have to follow, as above, the "call to action" to ensure fairness of access to that opportunity.

I think that there is a great danger, if we don't craft this well, of separating these two parts (progress/opportunity is in another section of the draft) which in reality are two sides of the same coin.

So I would throw out something like (too wordy, and not quite getting there yet, sorry):

Our "pursuit of happiness" can only happen in a fair system that gives everyone fair access to opportunity, in spite of their circumstances, to be able to work hard and play by the rules and get rewarded.  We provides opportunities to all who aspire, and thus the possibility of prosperity for ourselves and our community.

Re: Principles Project preamble

I like this re-ordering bettter.  It helps to put the "problem statement" up front -- that there is a problem of a divided America, there is a choice and what our choice is about.

I particularly support making the distinctions between worldviews clearer.  it is important for it to resonate better with all Americans and have them identify with our values and principles, otherwise it is just another "motherhood and apple pie" that everyone nods there heads and then goes on instead of captivating them.  A great challenge in this excercize is to not get so generic one can hardly tell whether there is a real difference.  A good way would be to go through each principle and ask: what would the Republican counter be?  how would they say they are different from us in that statement?  or would they agree?

One can hardly deny that the great narrative of today is the divisions in American, which Republicans have been fostering: rich/poor, corporate/worker, gays, etc. that breaks the social fabric of shared responsibilty and fair opportunity of outcome.  No one really argues that we aren't divided, which makes it a great starting point to connect/resonate with people.  So I think a critical factor in the preamble has to be to acknowledge that this is the great American issue of our day-- and that our difference, our progressive goal, is to be the people that <u>unite America in order to Renew America</u> for the 21st century.  (For more see Meeting America's Shared Goals.)

I would modify "We choose ..." to "We choose to fight for ..."

Although "labors and fruits" has a great ring, I do wonder if "responsibilities and fruits" makes the point more clearly.

I might suggest a closing line that makes clear why we are presenting these principles -- which is to articulate the value-based vision we have for the roles of government/society/individual/institutions, say like (this is too wordy, sorry):

These principles set the framework for aligning the role of government and of the rights and responsibilities of each of us and our other instutions to improve the general welfare by assuring fairness and opportunity to all our American community.  We believe:

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