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From The Vaults

The Election Demonstrates That The Montgomery County Democratic Party Needs New Leadership, Vision, Energy

David Sparks the Democratic candidate for Ohio’s 43 House District, winning 39.5% of the votes, has written a thoughtful essay analyzing the race. (David won Montgomery County, but was annihilated in Preble County.) Spark’s essay is entitled, There is No Other Time But Now, and it is well worth a read. Here is my response:

David, thanks for your thoughtful analysis. You write that the results of this election should cause Democrats to do “some long overdue and deep introspection” and that Democrats should “invest in a party organizational infrastructure that ensures that there are no forgotten areas or people.” I agree.

Speaking of infrastructure, you did not include in your analysis an important point that many Democrats are not aware of. By state law, in every Ohio county there is an official organization of Democrats that consists of a legislative body, “The Central Committee,” of individuals chosen by election every four years in the spring Democratic Primary. This Central Committee, in turn, chooses officers and amends the constitution that structures the county organization when it deems amendments are necessary. Every precinct in the county may choose one member of the Central Committee.

In the last Central Committee election (2014), the MCDP leadership refused to advertise the election and the result was that county Democrats who otherwise might have become meaningfully engaged in the party organization were unaware of the opportunity. The result was that only 132 out of 360 precincts fielded even one candidate. Why the leadership refuses to work to expand the elected members of the Central Committee is a good question (see articles posted below). The Montgomery County Democratic Party, with its elected Central Committee, should be the backbone of the infrastructure that is needed, but MCDP is failing to fulfill its infrastructure role, and in fact is making only a very weak effort to do so. You write that you want “to keep this discussion disengaged from personalities.” I agree that there is no point in acrimony, but eventually a discussion about MCDP leadership by concerned Democrats will be necessary.

The current MCDP chair is Mark Owens. He works full-time as County Clerk of Courts and by all reports is good at his job. But to build MCDP into the organization that it should be, we need a full-time leader. The fact that Owens and the other county Democrats are continually reelected to their county-wide offices is a point of pride, but the perpetual reelection of this group has contributed to MCDP apathy. The work of the MCDP has pretty much boiled down to maintaining the status quo — and unfortunately the status quo far is from being strong enough to challenge U. S. Congressman Mike Turner or the Republican contingent in the county that is regularly elected to the State Assembly. My conclusion is that the MCDP needs new leadership, a new vision, a new level of energy — if the party is to build the precinct-by-precinct infrastructure needed for the party to realize its potential.

The next chance to elect a new Central Committee and to rewrite the constitution and elect new MCDP leadership will be during the Democratic Primary in 2018. Any county Democratic wanting to serve on the Central Committee will need to submit a petition by January of 2018.

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An “Effective Citizen” IS: Grounded, Aware, Knowledgeable, Thoughtful, Engaged, Insightful, Practiced, Empathetic…

The Russian Sputnik in 1957 made us realize we were in danger. The election of Trump in 2016 should cause a similar shock. Sputnik spurred the U.S. space program and forced public schools to make big improvements in STEM education. The election of Trump in a more perfect would force schools to make big improvements in civics education, but I’m not expecting Trump’s pick for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, to make that conclusion.

I believe, over time, civics education is destined to become more important than STEM education. The coming tsunami of technology will change everything — including how we see the purpose of public education. The premise of the book I’m determined to write, “Public Education In 2047,” is that Ray Kurzweil’s vision of the coming era of intelligent machines is correct. (Kurzweil doesn’t speculate much about the social / political impact of the rise of the rise of machine intelligence so he leaves a lot to imagine.) As I connect the dots, I foresee that a civics education that prepares citizens to stand up to the machines will become the central mission of public schools. Standing up to the machines will mean that humans will need to be united in effective democratic communities. Developing the capacity to contribute to the success of a democratic community will be key to humanity using the transformative power of technology to advance the common good. Schools will be evaluated in terms of students’ progress in increasing their capacity to be effective citizens. Thinking through what such a future educational program might look like is a fun goal for my book.

Each chapter in my book will be short — an appropriate amount of material for a 75 minute discussion. Chapter 1 says that in 2035, Congress Demands That Schools Develop Human Intelligence. This Act of Congress defines “human intelligence” and calls for a transformation of American education so that it will effectively advance the development of human intelligence. In Chapter Two explains what, in 2047, it means to be an “Effective Citizen.”  At that time, the rapid transformation of machines will inspire students with many reasons to heartily embrace the goal of increasing their human intelligence and in gaining the capacity to be an effective citizen. In schools there will be postings that read something like this:

An Effective Citizen

An effective citizen is: Grounded, Knowledgeable, Aware, Thoughtful, Engaged, Insightful, Practiced, Empathetic, Respectful, Effective, Persistent, and Skilled.

  • Grounded in history and science
  • Knowledgeable about issues
  • Aware of what is happening in politics
  • Thoughtful
  • Engaged
  • Insightful as to what is important
  • Practiced in independent thinking
  • Empathetic with competing points of view
  • Respectful and civil
  • Effective in communication
  • Persistent in following through what is started
  • Skilled at contributing to the success of a conversation
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Did “Feeding” Audrey II — The Monster of Greed — Cause The Election Of Donald Trump?

Rudy at the Republican Convention

Rudy at the Republican Convention — possessed by Audrey II ? — possessed by a insatiable greed for power?

Shortly after the election of Trump, I watched my great-niece perform in her high school production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Great show, well done. Interesting script. Amazing that a theater production ending in the death and destruction of its main characters is a brilliant musical comedy. “Shop of Horrors” is a story of Audrey II, a plant that starts out bringing fame and fortune to its caretakers. It demands to be fed — “Feeed me” — and in response keeps getting bigger and more demanding. It causes its caretakers to do horrible things to appease its appetite for human blood. Growing into a monster plant, it eventually eats those who had befriended it.

Audrey II must be a metaphor for something. What is it that initially seems good, greatly pleasing to its owners, but demands to be fed more and more until it grows into a dangerous monster? Audrey II could stand for drug addiction, it could stand for racism or hate — choices and attitudes that initially seem harmless, buoying their victims, but often lead to something horrible — but these metaphors don’t fit the “Shop of Horrors” story line. The lovable characters in this story live on skid row and just want to live the American Dream. When they experience a little success, they want more and more and more. The more success they get the more success they want. They cannot resist and finally give their lives feeding their deep hunger for success. This play endures because it communicates that these characters are us. We all have an Audrey II, demanding to be fed.

As it turns out, there are many people in this country who equate power with success. Who knew? You might say they are greedy for power. They feed this hunger more and more until finally the hunger for power possesses them. (Think: Rudy Giuliani at the Republican Convention.) Many Republicans leaders realize that Donald is a dangerous con man but these Republicans were attracted to the potential bounty of power he could deliver to them. Repudiations of the Trump candidacy from prominent Republicans were tepid and most came after it was already too late to have any impact. Their warnings assuaged their consciences, but they were not so strong as to deprive them a ticket on the gravy train of a Trump win. (Mitt Romney on board, poor John Kasich stuck in Columbus.)

For the disaster known as the election of Donald Trump, I blame the Republican establishment but I blame the media more. Motivated by greed the media fed the phenomena of Trump, helping it grow stronger and stronger — eventually bestowing on it all of America’s nuclear launch codes. It was a fun ride with great ratings. Pushing Trump with billions of dollars of free advertising paid off big. Had Hillary been able to produce terrific ratings by calmly explaining her well-thought-out proposals for public policy, she would have had the same attention. Thoughtfulness doesn’t bring a crowd, clownishness and outrageous behavior does.

The warnings of “Shop of Horrors” is that the power of greed is great, and in the end, if we can’t stop feeding it and feeding it, we’ll be destroyed. Just this week, CBS gave a portion of its valuable “evening news” time to an alt-right bigot who held forth on his views of discrimination. It was all trash. Scott Pelley, the CBS anchor, was recently honored with the “Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.” In my estimation, Walter Cronkite would never have given air time to broadcast such hate and would have had the clout to control his own show. Pelley is a professional frontman. The CBS decision to give this alt-right idiot prime air time was not to advance credible journalism. The goal was to boost ratings by stimulating viewer interest. The point was to feed the greed of their corporate bosses to make more income. It is greed that determines much of what the media does. If the media could provoke a riot or a race war, for society it would be a tragedy, but for the media it would be a bonanza of  increased advertisement revenue. Think of the revenue that a nuclear exchange would bring.

The most horrible realities — war, poverty, famine — in the final analysis have often been propelled by greed. Was it greed that prevented the Republican establishment from sinking Trump when it had a chance to do so? Was it greed that motivated the media to promote Trump? Did “Feeding” Audrey II —The Monster of Greed — Cause The Election Of Donald Trump?

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Because Technology Will Bring Hard Changes To Our Economy, Civics Education Will Become More Important Than STEM 

Technology / science has given humans power that at one time would have seemed God-like. Imagine how the practices and productivity of modern farming would seem to our ancestors. This capacity for wealth creation is growing exponentially. A factory one day will have zero human workers, yet produce goods of enormous value.

Humanity, at this present time, has the capacity to produce sufficient wealth to supply plenty of quality food, quality shelter, quality health-care to every human in the world. We are failing to use that capacity and the capacity to produce wealth is rapidly increasing. The reality of enormous unused economic potential, in the face of widespread human deprivation, eventually will be huge issue.

In America, there is a huge wealth gap — between potential wealth creation and actual wealth creation — and this gap is become ever greater and greater over time. What possibly could be the objection to the production of ample wealth — if, and when, the production of that wealth has little practical cost? The advance of technology will force debate concerning these two questions:

  1. What are the public policies that have the best chance of activating the potential of the American economy to produce wealth?
  2. What are the public policies that can best provide a way for all Americans to gain wealth sufficient for a secure and prosperous future?

Making substantial changes to public policies is very difficult in our constitutional democracy. But without substantial change, our system is headed for a crash. Our big problem is that there is not sufficient citizen capacity — not enough citizens who are engaged and knowledgeable — to make our constitutional democracy work as it should. Our nation will soon be called upon to make some very hard choices and, as it is now, our democracy lacks the capacity to successfully respond. We are failing to produce community and governmental leaders who have the character, vision and creativity that is needed.

Our expensive system of public education is failing to develop the capacity of youth for effective citizenship. To meet the challenges to society caused by the explosion of technology, our constitutional democracy will need to be empowered by a vitality that is now nonexistent. The urgent need for thoughtful and engaged citizens inevitably will become more and more obvious.

The irony of the rise of technology / science that is giving humanity God-like power is that rather than becoming more important, STEM education will become less important. Civics education — the preparation of youth for active and effective citizenship — will replace STEM as the focus of public education. We have to hope this change of focus doesn’t happen too late.

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To Help Our Constitutional Democracy Get Out Of Its Deep Hole, We Need The Zeal, Energy And Idealism Of Youth

I like the story about two economists on a walk who fell into a deep hole. One economist asked, “How will we get out?” The other answered, “I’m going to hypothesize a ladder.”

Trump has revealed that our democracy is in such a huge hole that a crazy egomaniac with lots of money has a good shot at gaining unforgiving power. I get the feeling that if gasoline was $7 a gallon and unemployment was 15%, the American citizenry would elect someone like Trump, or someone much worse.

The question is, “How can our constitutional democracy get out of its deep hole?” 

We put a lot of faith in the hypothesis that the ladder that takes us up to a better society is education. But, our enormous and expensive educational system is focused on educating students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It has failed to educate a citizenry with the skills, knowledge, attitudes and experiences needed for effective and active citizenship.

Though the state of civics education is much bemoaned, nothing changes. Have you noticed the efforts of the actor Richard Dreyfuss? He’s made lots of thoughtful impassioned speeches and has established a 501C(3) called The Dreyfuss Initiative to provide leadership in improving civics education in American schools. The former Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Conner has an intense interest in improving civics education. She started a website and organization called iCivics . Just last week, the Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr, gave a speech urging big improvements in civics education. (See: Education Secretary says civics education should encourage activism)

Schools largely ignore advice like Dreyfuss, O’Conner and King offer. It’s unrealistic to suppose that schools voluntarily will put additional effort into civics education unless the criteria for evaluating schools is changed to reward that effort. School leaders have been reduced to thinking like their students — if putting in a lot of effort doesn’t improve our school grade, why do it?

Another reality that depresses civics education in public schools is the fact that meaningful civics education is potentially disruptive. Schools rely on taxes and do everything possible to gain the trust and support of taxpayers. The last thing a board wants is for teachers to stir up a controversy that will bring criticism to the school. For example, here in Kettering in this election we have six proposals on the ballot to change the Kettering city charter. I think it is a safe bet that the wonderful opportunity for civics learning that Issues 31-36 provides has not been utilized to inspire meaningful discussion and debate at Kettering High School.

What the election of 2016 reminds us is that democracy is fragile and that its vitality requires a great deal from the citizenry. Increasingly it seems the American citizenry is incapable and unprepared to shoulder its responsibility. It is a frightful realization that we may be headed to a time when the citizenry simply does not possess the capacity to maintain a democracy.

Youth own the future. The hope for the future is that youth will be better citizens than their parents. The task of developing in youth the capacity needed for effective citizenship in a democracy is too important to be left exclusively to the schools. It takes a village to bring youth to civic maturity. The problem is, in this modern age the village, itself, has faded. We are missing important civic structures that a village would have had — a commons, a city square, a town hall — where individuals could participate as part of a real community, listening to each other, debating and trying to understand issues of importance to their community.  We are missing the vital civic life of a village where youth could learn by good example and where youth could be inspired to emulate the attitudes and values of thoughtful elders.

In answer to the question — “How can our constitutional democracy get out of its deep hole?” — we need to hypothesize a ladder composed of the energy, zeal and idealism of youth. Youth with their powerful social media skills could be the force that vitalizes our constitutional democracy. How can this ladder be constructed is the question. What is it that could galvanize youth toward meaningful and useful civic engagement?

In my vision of what is possible, I’m imagining a network of youth organizations — a local chapter in each local community. The idea is that these local organizations would empower youth to show leadership in building important civic structures in their local communities. We learn by doing and if youth are to learn civic leadership, they must have the opportunity and encouragement to practice civic leadership. I believe that many youth, if given the opportunity, would rise to the challenge of being a leader in his or her local community, and that many adults, if given the chance, would support creating such opportunity.

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