What Future, Fayetteville?

Fayetteville’s city government periodically yields to citizen outcry as one or another development project violates neighborhood norms or common sense. But the lessons never seem to stick, and the town with all its wonderful vintage atmosphere continues to hurtle toward mediocrity.

Currently, the landmark corner of Dickson and West is under dual assault, first from the renovation of the two old structures at the northeast corner. From their original 1904 construction, the sandstone block building at 430 W. Dickson and the red brick structure at 426-428 W. Dickson  became the Swingin’ Door in 1973. Then in 1994 the buildings became Ozark Brewing Company under the ownership of John Gilliam. The city failed to require Gilliam to maintain the original integrity of the old buildings and the result was a conglomeration that is now being dismantled by the latest owners.

Renovation in progress, 426 – 430 West Dickson

Tragically, instead of taking this moment in time to require the new owner to return the buildings to a semblance of their original appearance, perhaps aided by a city grant, the powers that be have allowed a redesign that will result in a slick modern look completely out of place in the midst of vintage buildings.

The second assault is a parking garage location recently chosen by the mayor which will finish off the vintage atmosphere along the 300 block of West Avenue north. This is where the Arsaga family has lovingly restored and repurposed an 1880’s railroad freight building into a thriving eatery. It is also where Richard and Gina Berquist restored a 1920’s building into a photography studio, performance venue, and other uses since renovation in 1990. Both these beautiful and beloved parts of the Dickson Street district as well as surrounding period structures would be either blocked from view or dwarfed by the mayor’s chosen location for a parking garage.

Spring Street garage

We’ve seen the city’s taste in parking garage design in the recent construction of the Spring Street garage adjacent to the Walton Arts Center, a big square box clad in—believe it or not—rusted metal panels. Rusted metal.

What a cutesy design, all avant garde and modern and stuff. Completely out of place in an entertainment district built on the Dickson Street ambiance of funky old turn-of-the-century buildings. The only forgiving aspect of this garage is its one-block distance and zero visibility from Dickson Street.

So what could be a better place for another parking garage than right across School Street from the Spring Street garage? This was one of three potential locations suggested by Garver Engineering in their study contracted by the city, the least intrusive into the visual heartbeat of Dickson. Why advocate for the West Avenue location?

Fayetteville’s history is most apparent in its old buildings. One glimpse around the Square or along Dickson Street and its cross streets is a look back in time to when individual buildings reflected the ambitions of proud owners and their bid for prosperity. Every time one of these period structures is ‘updated’ or demolished, more of the neighborhood’s charm and the community’s treasure is lost.

In their places, we find out-of-scale, out-of-sync monuments to greed and arrogance, multi-story behemoths like the full-block structure on the east side of the Square currently housing the U of A’s Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, or the Arvest Bank building on the northeast corner of the Square, or the E.J. Ball building at the northwest corner.

Originally the home of First National Bank, the building occupying the entire east frontage of the Square made a token effort toward traditional design. In a later effort to generate profit, condos were built on top.

 

EJ Ball building with a recent face lift, none of which can overcome its absurd size next to its neighbors.

Meanwhile, we have to ask why the city is currently allowing the owner of the Mountain Inn’s Arcade/Annex building to fold his hands while this Art Deco treasure disintegrates before our eyes.

On Dickson Street, there’s the first of the onslaught, the red brick Walton Arts Center which never considered fitting in and might have been acceptable except for the real estate feeding frenzy that followed: the Three Sisters building, the Legacy Building, and The Dickson.

Previously, this location included Restaurant on the Corner and The Grill. Now the Three Sisters building seems a bit unsure about what world it lives in.

 

Left foreground: Walton Arts Center. Left background: The Dickson with its eight stories.

No one person can afford to own any of these new Goliaths. No single business owner can stake a claim to any of these to open a bar, or a barber shop, or a used record store. These monsters have priced out all but the wealthy with expensive condos and precious boutiques instead of affordable apartments – despite the close proximity of the university campus and the screaming need for low-cost housing. We have bank- or corporate-owned real estate blocking traditional views and crowding access to venerable structures built on a human scale.

View of Arsaga’s that would vanish behind parking garage

Where do the profits of those massive buildings go? Out of town. What happens when a bustling eatery like Arsaga’s Depot goes out of business because it’s hidden behind a parking garage? A parking garage won’t hire those employees. How is this good for Fayetteville?

It would be easy to blame city planning for approving such flagrant violations of the old town feel, but that’s not where the buck stops. The city council is responsible for zoning and building codes—and those people are elected by a majority who either don’t know or don’t care about the town’s historical legacy.

Developers understandably expect to earn a profit on their investments, and in a time of high construction costs, the more than can be crammed onto an expensive footprint of land, the more profitable. The solution is height; where three or four stories might be semi-acceptable in these historic surroundings, only seven or eight stories break into the desired profit range. Keeping costs down means compromising on materials. Cut stone or even brick with its structural weight load doesn’t compare to sheets of inexpensive siding or glass.

I get it.

Folks, Fayetteville’s most treasured locations are being sold to the highest bidder. Currently, the city council’s lack of respect for our inherited wealth of time-honored buildings at the Square and along Dickson Street translates into increasing infiltration of inappropriate architecture. Is this due to a lack of understanding of the town’s history on the part of city council members? A lack of interest in preserving the town’s unique, irreplaceable qualities? A belief that new always means better?

Or is it the pressure from real estate developers whose entire motivation is profit? Taking advantage of the lack of vision of town fathers, they capitalize on places like Markham Hill, Dickson Street, and the Square to build their mega-structures. To hell with the town’s history, or its charm, or anything else.

Newsflash: The more these locations are infested with ‘modern’ buildings, the lower the real estate values become. It’s exactly the old buildings and the mood they invoke that creates the value in the first place.

If Fayettevillians wish to see rows of multi-story buildings veneered with steel and glass, they should focus on the mall and its surrounds. Or anywhere along College Avenue north of Township. No one expects to see quarried stone walls there, nor Art Deco portals carved in limestone or even trusty red brick. Quick and cheap, structures in the “Uptown” area include big boxes with clone-designed facades or strip malls of the same ilk.

Citizens who love this town should demand appropriate design regulations for irreplaceable parts of old Fayetteville. Yesterday isn’t soon enough. First step is to mount a vociferous campaign against the proposed parking garage location on West Avenue. One clever idea for an alternative, not suggested by the Garver Engineering study, would be to divide the existing Walton Arts Center parking lot lengthwise, dedicating the eastern strip to the desired park and walking trail, and the western strip along the railroad tracks to a garage.[1] A bonus of this idea is that no buildings would have to be torn down, a problem faced in the two Garver proposals aside from the West Avenue location.

Anyway, why does the city suddenly believe that an arts corridor and park in place of the existing WAC parking lot is the most important thing ever? It’s an absurd idea for such a large space in what is one of the town’s most desirable locations. Yes, parking is vital to the success of surrounding enterprises. But building a garage along the WAC lot’s west side leaves at least 300 feet width for the park and trail. And lots of art.

Dickson Street isn’t just Dickson Street. It’s the traditional entry to the University, hallowed ground to millions of alumni whose footsteps are worn into the sidewalks of Dickson, West, and School. It’s where George’s Majestic Lounge has reigned over nightlife since the 1920s. It’s where countless musicians have created their magic to the joy of thousands of fans, dancing the night away in venues like the Swingin’ Door, Red Lion/West Street, The Library/Chester’s, the Landing Strip/Dickson Street Theater, Dave’s on Dickson, Lily’s, and many other iterations crafted by entrepreneurs in those masterful old buildings.

Citizens have the power to demand protection for these historical locations. Dickson Street and its surrounds deserve new rules for preservation that prohibit any structures more than four stories, as does the town square. Renovations should follow strict building codes meant to preserve the ‘old town’ look. Any developer eager to construct warrens of rooms in towering buildings should look elsewhere.

The Legacy building looms over the popular 400 block of Dickson Street.

A more complete discussion of the parking garage issue can be found at the Fayetteville Flyer.

[1] https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2019/mar/14/parking-options-studied/

Footnote to Impeachment

The Republicans are right. The impeachment enacted yesterday isn’t just about what Trump did with Ukraine. Yet that alone is certainly enough to justify impeachment, no matter what these desperate men and women might say. If we ignored everything else he’s done to deserve impeachment, Ukraine might not seem enough.

But Trump has violated his oath and disrespected the office since the day he stepped into the White House. He refused to release his tax returns, although he promised to do so. He refused to divest himself of financial interests and intentionally violates the Emoluments Clause (Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution) that restricts members of the government (including the president) from receiving gifts, emoluments, offices or titles from foreign states and monarchies without the consent of the United States Congress.

He disgraces the highest office of our nation by openly insulting members of Congress, his political competitors, and otherwise behaving like a school yard bully. He treats his Cabinet members and honorable members of agencies of the executive branch like personal lackeys to be ignored, cursed, and dismissed at his tyrannical whim. He has carried out the duties of the presidency largely through Twitter and off-the-record meetings and phone calls, allowing no one to monitor or document his deeds. He has met with the leader and various representatives of our primary global enemy, Russia, without allowing journalists or national security agents to oversee his actions.

His “foreign policy” has been built on personality rather than strategic planning. His disregard for established professionals in the state department and his willful ignorance of history and established protocols has resulted in enormously harmful blunders such as the withdrawal of support for the Kurds in northern Syria while his allegations of doing so in order to “bring our troops home” have proven patently false. He has put the future of our nation at risk.

Every day in his term of office has been a new circus of blatant lies, insults, and pathetic displays of his lack of knowledge, lack of decency, and lack of awareness that he lacks anything. He strolls through the processes of government like a bull in a china shop, oblivious to the traditions of the presidency or the protocols of cooperation and diplomacy at home or abroad. By his own admission, he gives little attention to the demands of his job but rather claims “executive time” for watching hours of television and playing golf.

Trump’s assault on the media alone is worthy of impeachment. Amendment I of the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

If Congress is not to abridge the freedom of the press, it should go without saying that president also should not.

Trump is an abomination, inept and unbalanced, and his removal from the office of president should have been accomplished in his first year – and could have been if not for the desperation of Republicans who even now, after endless demonstration of his incompetence and ill will, cling to him without any consideration for the welfare of the nation they’re sworn to protect. That they continue to hold support from a segment of the American population demonstrates not that they’re doing something right, but that a segment of the American population is just as pitiable as their elected representatives.

Pity their willful ignorance. Pity their narrow view of their lives, of the world, that they would begrudge food for the poor, a helping hand to anyone not of their skin color. Pity their selfishness, the animosity that shrinks their souls. Pity their daily existence in its privation of spirit and the dissipation of any opportunity to fulfill their human potential. Pity the shallowness of their lives that they fail to seek information that might disturb their preconceived notions.

Pity them, their elected representatives and their president for the overwhelming fear that drives their anger, their bluster and lack of vision, their refusal to see the promise of a future without hate.

We as a nation should impeach anyone who fails to look up to the light on the hill inherent in our nation’s vision, who fails to bring us closer within our diversity, who plays upon our fears and singular weaknesses instead of encouraging, building up, and affirming our potential. That is our duty to each other, the sacred promise of our nation’s founders that we can do better, that we must do better. We learn from our mistakes, build on our failures, work to fulfill the potential a democracy offers us as a people.

As guardians of the future, we must vanquish the darkness and all its emissaries including Donald Trump, a man ruled by ignorance and fear.

Our Republican Religious War

Why keep Trump? Why would career politicians bare their rotten souls to the world in order to keep him in office? It makes no sense when they have another Republican in line to take his place.

What is the prize with Trump? Why is he the one and only person who can carry the Republican banner?

Why disgrace themselves and their party by dishonoring distinguished veterans and career professionals? Why hear testimony that lays out sharp and clear the bribery and extortion Trump pursued with Ukraine and then pretend it was nothing? Why manipulate sound bites from witnesses by taunts and interruptions in order to feed misinformation to their hapless followers?

Now no less than in 2015, the followers cling to any slim suggestion that Trump is the best man to lead the country. Unbelievable as it may seem, all the evidence of his misdeeds then—stiffing workers, molesting women, cheating on all three wives, an endless stream of bankruptcies and financial shenanigans—and now in the impeachment hearings of his cavalier risk of national security, none of it disrupts the fond narrative that he is the Chosen One who can lead this nation toward some glorious future.

What glorious future do they envision?

It’s a story of turning back the clock and at the same time fulfilling prophecies. We’ll put women back in the kitchen without birth control — that’s keep ’em busy and out of the jobs men need. (Never mind the immediate crisis in household income…) We’ll put Bibles in every classroom and pray hourly at the nation’s capitol. We’ll end the rights of LGBTQ individuals and push back the tide of people of color, declaring once and for all the America is a nation controlled by and for white heterosexual males.

Nothing can be said, apparently, to penetrate the religious fervor of this mindset. They are the monkeys who can hear and see nothing. God works in mysterious ways, and Trump is the way, the unrecognized messiah, the one who has been selected by God Almighty to work His powerful agenda of bringing America back to its reason for existence.

This narrative was carefully constructed over decades of Republican manipulation, a frenzied backlash to the ’60s generation with their free love, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. It was outrage over legalized abortion. It was the pushback to the defiance of an entire new generation against an agenda of conspicuous consumption and materialism at any cost. The Silent Majority were sitting ducks for clever spinmeisters who needed their votes to put the corporatiers in the driver’s seat.

The rewards have continued to flow—destruction of workers’ unions, profits over people, wildly skewed income inequality, continuing devastation of the environment in pursuit of wealth, incarceration of the poor and non-white.

Trump is stupid enough to accept the risk of exposing his inadequacies but smart enough to know he’s being used. He doesn’t care that he’s the mouthpiece of larger forces. He’s in it for himself, his family, and the profits they can generate in one scam after another. He has no concept of right or wrong, no shame, no conscience.

None of that matters to the Devin Nuneses of the world. They have hitched their wagons to the myth of the Chosen One and can’t back out now. The two opposing camps of our nation, one seeking to generate public policy framed in science, compassion and forward thinking and the other seeking to generate policies of near-term greed and blind faith, have never been more clearly defined since at least the 1860s.

This is a religious war.  Even though many people of faith have not given up rational thought in order to serve their religious doctrine, those who long for Someone to rule with a strong hand are dedicated to Trump. His braggadocio stands in for strong character among those willing to compromise in order to worship their golden calf.

Will awake voters show up at the polls in November 2020? Will one side have to kill the other in blood-drenched battlefields, hand to hand combat in our streets and cities? Or are there enough people of good faith and common sense to wrest this nation’s direction back from extremists determined to ensure the prophecies of Revelations, their sacrifice to an angry God with whom they bargain in hopes of walking the promised Streets of Gold?

I ask myself, what can I do today to bring my country back to the Founders’ vision of liberty and justice for all? Quite honestly, I don’t know. I’d like to think that through better education and economic opportunity, people can learn how to think past superstitions and myths, that they would embrace rationalism and equanimity. Sadly, just last week a law was passed in Ohio that permits wrong answers to be counted as correct if the error is based on religious teachings.

Buttigieg is the Best Option

Replacing Trump will require a Democratic candidate who can reunite the people of this nation. This candidate can’t just present viable plans that address concerns about health care or immigration. He or she must show the way to bring us to common ground.

Therein lies the problem with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as well as several lower polling candidates. They’re both wonky enough to have good ideas about solving problems. But Bernie comes across as an angry old man who has spent his life raging against the machine. In some eyes, this anoints him as the natural pick, blinding them to the reality of his negatives.

Elizabeth has worked out the minutia of her health care plan but hasn’t found a way to present herself as moderate. Her gender also limits her viability. Much as I’d like to see a woman elected president, now is not that time. She would, however, make a great vice president.

Republican postcard mailer in Kentucky governor campaign. Red-baiting.

Both Warren and Sanders are extreme enough to be vulnerable to opposition rhetoric that frames them as radicals. We’ve already seen how that will work. The Kentucky campaign for governor unveiled the plan. The good news is that the Democrat won anyway, meaning there is hope that the electorate will see past such propaganda. The bad news is that the Republican candidate for Kentucky governor was widely seen as a jerk.

Biden, sadly, has lived past his electability while the new boys in town with their fat wallets, Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick, are too easily dismissed despite their proven executive expertise. Neither Bloomberg nor Patrick have (and probably can’t) connected with voters on an emotional level. If by some chance any of these three become the Democratic nominee, I will of course vote for him. But I don’t think they will succeed.

That leaves Buttigieg, an openly gay man whose sexuality may be a formidable barrier for a specific type of voter. But of all the top candidates in the Democratic lineup, Buttigieg is the only military veteran; like it or not, the U.S. has a vast military commitment worldwide. His executive experience has put him on the front line of our nation’s inner city crisis. His personal life has forced him to learn how to bridge huge divides between people with opposing belief systems.

Buttigieg received a major shot in the arm last week with the publication of a Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa poll that showed him in first place in the first-in-the-nation caucus with the support of 25 percent of respondents, nine points ahead of his nearest competitor, Senator Elizabeth Warren. He has nearly tripled his support since September, when the same poll had him at 9 percent. And he’s also moved into the lead in the Real Clear Politics average of Iowa polls. (https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/11/pete-buttigieg-surge-iowa-democratic-voters-may-want-presidential-temperament/)

That he embraces his Christian faith may be scoffed at by evangelicals whose interpretation of Christian teachings paints his sexual orientation as sinful, but they stumble when faced with the reality of their “chosen one,” a president who has openly violated at least three of the Ten Commandments: You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not covet. And probably two more: Keep the Sabbath day holy. and You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Quite the cognitive dissonance, not that they’ll be aware of it.

Trump was elected by 40% of registered voters. What served him in 2016 was non-voters and third-party protest voters, collusion with Russia that manipulated the vote, and a message of hate and exclusion that excited a certain segment of the population.

Now it’s time for a message of love and inclusion that will motivate a majority of voters to hope for a better future.

Buttigieg’s message has begun to penetrate in Iowa, bringing him to the top of the polls. He’s smart, empathetic, and charming. He’s scary smart—Rhodes scholar, US Navy intelligence officer, former employee of a management consulting firm, and now serving his second term as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. His platform includes support for reducing income inequality, pro-environmental policies, cooperation between the Democratic Party and organized labor, universal background checks for firearms purchases, the Equality Act, a public option for health insurance, and preserving the DACA program for children of illegal immigrants. Buttigieg also supports reforms that would end gerrymandering, overturn the Citizens United v. FEC decision, and abolish the Electoral College.[1]

Buttigieg’s sexual orientation may seem a daunting barrier but then, Obama was black—another daunting barrier. And Obama won and gave us eight years of coherent, intelligent leadership.

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_Buttigieg

Newspeak

From an article published July 19, 2019, in The Week, image Illustrated | Collection Christophel / Alamy Stock Photo, Alex Wong/Getty Images

“Newspeak is the language of Oceania, a fictional totalitarian state and the setting of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), by George Orwell. To meet the ideological requirements of English Socialism (Ingsoc) in Oceania, the ruling Party created Newspeak, a controlled  language of restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, meant to limit the freedom of thought — personal identity, self-expression, free will — that threatens the ideology of the régime of Big Brother and the Party, who have criminalized such concepts into thoughtcrime, as contradictions of Ingsoc orthodoxy.”

Friends, I have nothing to say here that you haven’t thought before. I say it now because it is worth reminding ourselves.

I was watching FOX News Thursday afternoon, amused at the Republican politicos and elected officials huffing about Sondland’s shift in testimony. Their conclusion? Schiff got to him.

HA! “Schiff got to him.” How much easier can it be to see that the principle at work here is to accuse the other side of what you’re doing?

I was reminded of my thoughts on many previous occasions when one or another Republican from the White House on down has blamed Democrats for some particular sleaze or shady move, none of which were true. It’s not only that they subconsciously act out an elaborate projection of their own misdeeds. It’s also that they intentionally seek to distract by assigning their bad acts onto their opponents.

It’s almost as if they’ve been forced to lobotomize themselves in order to exist as a Republican under their Dear Leader. The upper chambers of their brains are shut off.

Which makes it even more understandable that these so-called righteous conservatives would feel threatened. When your brain isn’t fully functional, any threat feels overwhelming.  Trump threatens them. The situation threatens them. They’re feeling very defensive.

Projecting their bad acts, even if they’re only a complicit bystander, is a form of self-protection.

That broken vase? No, I didn’t do that. Me and boys didn’t do that. It was them, those guys over there.

My renewed awareness of this calculated misdirection by those who purport to be our leaders and their willing corruption of our nation’s laws and institutions requires the rest of us to hear the news with a built-in translator in order to understand what we’re really hearing.

Schiff got to Sondland? Trump’s cabal got to Sondland first. Then when faced with a felony charge of perjury, Sondland had to tell the truth. Oh, snap.

The impeachment inquiry is a witch hunt, a fake news event? Trump’s attempted smear of Biden was the fake news event, along with a long list of other manufactured ‘corruption’ accusations against anyone standing in Trump’s path, starting with Hillary Clinton.

(Or probably, starting in his childhood when Don the Con learned this habit. Evidently he was a dullard from the start, a frustration to his parents who couldn’t face the fact that their supposed superiority wasn’t exactly proving out for their kid. So much for those prized blood lines breeding pure.)

That ‘perfect’ phone call to the Ukrainian president? Exactly what testimony has overwhelmingly shown so far – coercion, bribery and extortion by the president and his minions.

I know I’m not the only person watching events unfold with this translator in place. It makes the day-to-day horror almost amusing.

Those Evil Corporations!

I agree that corporations should not be allowed to make political contributions, and in that regard, they’re not ‘persons.’ That’s a step too far. But I’m here to defend the concept of corporations. Liberals need to get up to speed on corporate structures and why they exist. The long howling rant against corporations as a general concept discredits the progressive movement.

A corporation mostly isn’t a bad thing. There are non-profit corporations we rely on every day, and plenty of for-profit corporations that bring us everything from electricity to internet to vehicles. Corporations have been the construct by which new inventions in digital technology, medicine, and transportation have come to exist in the modern world.

The commercial incorporator has a specific objective—to streamline the business operation. Under the corporate umbrella, the business owner(s) can partner with other entrepreneurs, obtain materials, hire workers, own property, and produce goods and/or services from one checkbook, that is, the corporate checkbook, without having to do those things in his/her own name.

Likewise, the corporation can pay wages to the owner(s) and all employees and provide the corporation’s required contribution to Social Security and Medicare funds as well as unemployment  and disability insurance (required by law) and in many cases, health insurance—all without involving the owners’ private personal income and spending.

Whatever money the corporation holds in its bank accounts (and other investments) that is not spent on production/operations can be paid out in dividends to its stockholders. ‘Dividends’ is a simple concept: whoever put in money to help the company start and/or grow is paid a divided portion of the profits (usually quarterly) according to the amount paid in. If there are significant profits above and beyond operating expenses, the money paid in dividends can be an important income source for stockholders.

My disabled brother in law, for example, received big oil stocks as a gift from his father who had been at the leading edge of early oil exploration in Texas. Dividends from those stocks have made the difference for him and my sister in raising their family and surviving as they age. Even if we abhor the environmental degradation created by the oil industry, is there something evil about him receiving those dividends?

The concept of the ‘evil corporation’ is so ingrained that the term has its own entry in Wikipedia: “An evil corporation is a trope in popular culture that portrays a corporation as ignoring social responsibility in order to make money for its shareholders. …Evil corporations can be seen to represent the danger of combining capitalism with larger hubris.”

What is social responsibility then, that corporations may find easy to ignore? “Social responsibility is an ethical framework and suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large.”[1]

Walmart, for example, has tried to claim social responsibility by its efforts to reduce waste, streamline shipping, and provide better work conditions and wages. Their 2018 Global Responsibility Report highlighted collaboration “with industry experts, NGOs, suppliers and the company’s own research to address risks pertaining to social issues in the supply chain.”[2] In general, Walmart’s approach to “environmental, social and governance issues goes beyond minimizing our own footprint or mitigating risk. We take a more assertive approach: sparking collective action to transform the retail sector for environmental, social and economic stability.”[3]

While naming laudable goals for one of the world’s largest corporations, Walmart continues to reap massive profits for its shareholders and especially the Walton heirs. “Sam Walton’s descendants have a combined wealth of $163.2 billion, according to Bloomberg. This is more than Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, and nearly $70 billion more than the second-richest family in the United States, the Kochs.”[4]

Bernie Sanders has remarked that the Waltons earn more per minute than its employees earn in a year, and number crunchers have shown this is true (about $25,000 per minute). That imbalance would hardly decrease even if the company paid its 2.1 million employees $20 per hour. That would increase the total payroll by around $20 million, a drop in the bucket to the Walton heirs’ annual dividend payment of about $3.2 billion.  Such a wage increase would also go a long way to reducing employees’ need for social welfare support at taxpayer expense, currently estimated at $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing.

This kind of inequity in profits versus salaries is one of the reasons corporations are seen as evil. And there’s no question that over the centuries as the corporation has matured as a legal entity, it has also maneuvered ways to embody self-serving benefits into law. It is this unfair advantage of a large, organized, well-financed behemoth versus the unorganized ‘little man’ citizen that drives much of the present-day fury toward corporations.

We can’t rely on corporate conscience to ensure fairness in its wages or environmental conduct, a lesson we’ve learned time and again. Just as environmental laws have reduced egregious corporate pollution, policy makers should pass laws that apportion CEO pay and stockholder dividends according to employee wages to ensure a livable wage. After all, without the employees, corporations would have nothing. Unions used to provide this balance, but right-to-works laws and the move to overseas production has pulled the rug out from under them.

Nevertheless, it’s wrong-headed to blame corporate structure in general for doing what anyone would do, which is to pursue advantages that benefit its goals and rewards. The problem is with those entrusted to make and uphold our laws and their vulnerability to highly paid lobbyists who sell corporate demands on the economic benefits of providing jobs and ignore inequities that place millions of workers in a form of wage slavery.

Local economies have also suffered in cases such as Walmart replacing local businesses supplying groceries, hardware, automobile supplies, clothing, shoes, stationery, and more. Grinding the point home is the fact that most of the profits made by Walmart don’t stay in the local economy but rather aggregate in Walton heirs’ pockets. Just as destructive is the arrival of a Walmart that lasts long enough to drive out  local drug stores, for example, then after a few years moves away, leaving the community without a pharmacy.

Yet enterprises like Walmart, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and massive financial corporations looming over today’s landscape provide jobs, goods, and services that we could not have any other way. Local grocers had no way to provide the assortment and quality of goods available at Walmart. Is it better to have bananas in January or a local grocer stocking a few essentials? These are problems facing a world in transition to a global economy.

Short of catastrophe and the accompanying deprivation it would bring, there’s no clear path to return to a village economy where local farmers are the primary source of food and local craftsmen fashion the only available light fixtures, for example (assuming electricity would be available). Whether we like it or not, we’re accustomed to a world-wide marketplace with advanced delivery systems.

As far as the current political mess in which the Citizens United ruling gave corporations the right of an individual in making political contributions, again we must look to our legislators to remedy the apparent lack of appropriate law. A constitutional amendment may be needed in order to refine the definition of a corporation other than as a ‘person’ with all the same rights as individual citizens.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case concerning campaign finance. … The ruling effectively freed labor unions and corporations to spend money on electioneering communications and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates.”

With the slow death of unions and other consumer/worker advocacy organizations, the political power of corporations has become an obscene force in politics. While the legal structure of corporations in and of itself is not evil, when large corporations spend obscene amounts to influence elections, there is no doubt that their actions are self-serving and not necessarily of benefit to the common man.

The hue and cry, then, must not be about ‘corporations’ but rather against the actions of corporations that undermine our system of government and its stated purpose to protect the rights of its people. The duty to oversee this Constitutional guarantee belongs to all of us as voters but in particular to our elected representatives. It’s past time for us to hold our legislators responsible for their action or inaction on this subject.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_responsibility

[2] https://www.supplychaindive.com/news/walmart-corporate-social-responsibility-efforts/521961/

[3] https://www.energydigital.com/csr/walmarts-2018-csr-report-20mn-tonne-reduction-emissions-sustainable-sourcing-and-more

[4] https://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-waltons-spend-their-fortune-2017-7

Our Job as Citizens

As a nation operating under the concept of self-rule, we the people have to talk coherently about the issues. Mass shootings doesn’t solve our problems, but rather exemplifies our current failures as citizens. How did we get to this point?

Does the 2nd Amendment really grant the right to assault rifles and 100-round ammo clips? No, it does not. Nor do gun hoarders constitute a “well regulated militia.”

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

How did we not understand that waging a drug war against our own people would embed domestic violence in our society? Did we learn nothing from alcohol prohibition when, for fifteen years, underworld gangs selling illegal alcohol used their wealth to purchase weapons and political protection? How could Reagan and Congress think it was a good idea for “surplus” military weapons and equipment to be sold to our city police forces and used in commando tactics within our neighborhoods? How could we not see the horrible outcome of spending more money on prisons than education?

We have to talk about immigration—what will stop the mass migration of people to our borders? For over a century, our corporations have been aided and abetted by our military to plunder Latin America for its natural resources and cheap labor. We have blood on our hands in the same tradition as Spain for its 300-year devastating occupation of the same lands. Doesn’t it make more sense to invest more heavily in helping solve problems in these countries so the people don’t have to leave home in order to have an economic future free from violence? What kind of future are we creating for ourselves by destroying Latino families and traumatizing innocent children?

We have to talk about climate change. How can anyone still believe this is fake news? Are there truly so many people who don’t grasp the science of this issue that our entire nation’s public policy can get away with denying climate change exists? What happens when water supplies dry up, crops die on the ground, and there isn’t enough food?

The impacts of climate change will increasingly affect the daily lives of people everywhere in terms of employment and livelihoods, health, housing, water, food security and nutrition, and the realization of gender equality and other human rights. Impacts are expected to hit those living in poverty the hardest, partly due to their more prevalent dependency on the very natural resources affected by climate change and also because they have less capacity to protect themselves, adapt or recuperate losses.

New York Times: A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises By Somini Sengupta and Weiyi Cai Aug. 6, 2019

We have to talk about population—we can’t continue blindly producing more people who need food, jobs, and a place to live when all of those resources are simultaneously shrinking.

In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people on the planet. Now in 2019, there are 7.7 billion. By the end of the century the UN expects a global population of 11.2 billion.

In 2015, there were approximately 141 million births. In the same year, around 57 million people died. It’s clear why the global population is increasing: there are many more births each year than there are deaths. Around 2.5 times as many.

If we think we have an immigration problem now, just wait.

Each of us bears a responsibility to learn the facts on these and any other issues facing us as individuals, communities, and as a nation, engage in discussion with others with the goal of finding common ground, and then participate in the implementation of solutions through community action and voting.

The Great Killing Time

The killing won’t stop anytime soon. A subclass of white men can’t find the means to adapt to a world where they are not dominant. They don’t know how to see themselves except as warriors striking down those they perceive as enemies.

The enemies are not just people of color. The “enemies” are thick in the world around these sad failures of evolution. Social change driven by modern science and technology has left them with no fields to plow or wilderness to conquer, no tribal fires. Those were skills living deep in their DNA. Vacant of all but amorphous anger, they sit on their couches, helpless against their sense of violation in a time that requires reasoning and acceptance of Other.

Christian Picciolini, a white nationalist who has stepped away from that way of thinking, remarks on the mind-set: “Typically what I found is, people hate other people because they hate something very specifically about themselves, or are very angry about a situation within their own environment, and that is then projected onto other people.”[1]

Whatever the symbols of Other, they will hate. Their hate will fester. Their testosterone drives them to act. What act will satisfy the hate, the need to eradicate the threat?

Murder.

But it’s not just a failure to evolve that drives the urge to kill. As a society, we’ve failed to address the impact of rapid technological and social change. Our schools should be teaching logic, debate and rhetoric, critical tools for rational humankind. Reasoning skills are required if we are to control our emotions and peaceably resolve conflict.

Logic: sensible rational thought and argument rather than ideas that are influenced by emotion or whim; the branch of philosophy that deals with the theory of deductive and inductive arguments and aims to distinguish good from bad reasoning.

Rhetoric: the ability to use language effectively, especially to persuade or influence people.

Debate:  to talk about something at length and in detail, especially as part of a formal exchange of opinion

Shamefully, today public policy discussed even in the U.S. Senate, the highest arena of government, disintegrates into personal attack. The public square, now virtual instead of physical, suffers the same: personal attack instead of reasoned debate.

Shout down anyone who doesn’t agree with you. Call them names. Unleash rage against the Other.

The more we engage in personal attacks, the less progress we achieve in achieving public policy that works for us all. This time will go down in history as the Great Killing. Whether it’s the unevolving who will die or those who reason is yet to be seen.

Can we look forward to a change in educational programs? Can we retrofit people by demanding they go through some kind of training? Can we require our elected officials to focus on the goal instead of wading into partisan squabbling?

The killing will continue.

~~~

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/08/conversation-christian-picciolini/595543

No Surprises

German citizens saluting Adolf Hitler at the opening of the 1936 Olympic Games. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Before the sun rose on Wednesday July 24, 2019, before the widely heralded appearance of Robert Mueller before committees of the U. S. House of Representatives, Donald Trump and his cohort had long since established their response. The game plan had been distributed to their colleagues in the Senate and to their buddies at FOX News. Most importantly, the plan had been well-rehearsed by Republican House committee members who would have a front row position from which to attempt to undermine the hearings.

There would be no outrage, no cry over the evidence presented. Republican committee members would discreetly and not so discreetly question Mueller’s competence and motivation. They would grandstand their outrage at the ongoing travesty against ‘their’ president. There would be no acknowledgement of any facts presented either about the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to sway the vote or Trump’s various attempts to obstruct the investigation.

Afterwards, the tactic was to shrug off the hearings, ho hum, the Democrats beating a dead horse. Oh dear, how upset they must be after all this hoorah and still Mueller didn’t hand them a smoking gun. A big fat nothing.

In truth, the Democrats never expected a smoking gun from Mueller. Their strategy for Mueller’s testimony was to create a televised iteration of the Mueller report for all the Trump supporters out here in the countryside who never had and never would read the actual report. They wouldn’t even read news summaries of the report, instead willing—even eager—to take Trump’s word for it, whatever it said.

Trump had it right when he said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and no one would care. He took that to the bank. Get cozy with Russians endeavoring to subvert the election? No problem. Pretend it didn’t happen—they’ll believe it. Do everything possible to sidetrack the subsequent investigation? Whatever works. Nobody can prove it if Trump doesn’t talk and the testimony of key players like Don McGahn never sees the light of day.

Democrats should be credited for their effort to pull back the curtain on this shameful and arrogant corruption of American democracy. Their mistake, once again, is assuming that Trump supporters care about our nation more than they care about their boy. Trump legitimizes their ignorance with three-word sentences and double-speak. He shares their terror of “Other” whether other religion, other skin color, or other ethnicity, and they can’t chortle enough over their sense of ascendancy in a nation where religion, skin color, or ethnic background are not supposed to make a difference. A nation FOUNDED on the concept that all of us are created equal.

Democrats forgot that ignorance doesn’t recognize its own ignorance and isn’t eager to discover it.

The thread of idealism progressives have shared throughout our nation’s history has changed faces many times. It ran through the revolution even though many colonists clung to King George. It suffused the push to end slavery, to grant women the right to vote, and to form labor unions whose members sacrificed lives and livelihood to end child labor, gain a 40-hour work week, and ensure safe work environments. The same thread has continued through liberal ideas behind school integration, rights for the disabled, and a woman’s right to reproductive choice.

The same thread colors political discourse today, resisting the onslaught of racism and hate freed from its restraints by Donald Trump. It rises in the election of women, of people of color, to public office. It thrives in the hearts and minds of those who say “Vote Blue No Matter Who” as progressives seek to reclaim the dignity and honor of the presidency.

Trump and his horde of pitiful followers would rather risk the future of the nation than love their neighbors. They would rather spout hate speech than address the problems we face. There are solutions, and we can find them. Let’s keep our eye on the ball.

 

Our Ideals: At What Cost?

It’s a noble idea to do whatever it takes to bring out the best in every child. Even nobler is the determination to go the extra mile for children with disabilities. But while those ideals successfully pushed through legislation requiring schools to provide testing and special education for youngsters with such needs, they were less successful in funding those requirements.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed in 1975, is still waiting for full funding.

A January 8, 2019 article in Education Week outlines this failure in stark detail:

Congress never funded the IDEA for the full amount that was authorized when the law was first signed. At that time, Congress estimated that it cost states twice as much to educate a student with disabilities as it does to educate a general education student, and the law authorizes the federal government to give up to 40 percent of that excess cost to states.

Congress has never come close to that mark; its $12.3 billion contribution in fiscal 2018 is more like 15 percent of the excess cost.

An additional $85 billion would be required — per year — for the taxpayers to provide full funding for its 40% of the cost. And that says nothing about the 60% of the cost required from the states. When facing a total cost of over a quarter trillion dollars per year for special education, it’s no wonder legislators have shied away from mandating adequate funding.

In poorer states like Arkansas, there’s no doubt that this is an unachievable goal. As noted in my January 2019 blog post, The Undiscovered Cost of Inclusion, in many cases, special needs students are placed into regular classrooms without the support they need, leaving teachers and general education students to bear the sometimes outrageous burden posed by special needs students.

For example, schools simply do not have the money to hire a caretaker for every profoundly intellectually disabled (ID) child or tutors who might be able to make some small improvement in the life of an ID child. The end result is that, under force of law, schools must accept these children or risk being sued by distraught parents.

Few dare draw back the curtain on the real story resulting from the ADA and IDEA. It’s not just the finances, which haven’t even been calculated in over twenty years. Assessment is performed unevenly often with minority students on the losing end. Not only is funding inadequate, but distributed as unevenly as the assessments.

A 2014 report by New America, a Washington-based think tank, asserted that the out-of-date, complicated formula that the federal government uses to distribute money to states has resulted in small districts getting more federal money per student than larger districts, and shrinking school systems receiving more federal dollars than school districts that are growing.

No one has calculated present-day costs to teach an ID student, or assessed the impact of increasing numbers of autistic children. No one has figured out how to prepare classroom teachers for the increasingly common occurrence of disabled children in their classes without the caretakers they need.

Should all teachers be required to be trained in special education? Who changes the diapers? What happens to the rest of the students when teachers are forced to spend class time with special needs students?

How much is such well-intentioned legislation misleading parents into holding unreasonable expectations for their child with serious disabilities, that he or she can lead a “normal” life?

This Education Week article should be required reading for every American. We’ve placed the burden of educating special needs children on our school systems without providing adequate funding. All our children are paying the price. Not only the children, but the teachers who are underpaid in normal circumstances, and highly underpaid as well as undertrained for the task of providing proper services to disabled children.

At the very least, it is past time for studies and legislation — with adequate funding — that will reflect the current reality of special education—how many students and how impaired, the actual costs of educating them to the greatest extent possible, and which address the collateral necessity of educating general education students in a manner that advances our society.