Wednesday October 18, 2017

Always Foward with Education & Reason

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Looking forward with education and reason.

Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation

Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation

Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue Jeans in High Places: The Coming Makeover of American Politics.
Mike wants to hear from you.
Blue Jean Nation, P.O. Box 70788, Madison, WI 53707
Email: one4all@bluejeannation.com
Phone: 608-443-6086

Blue Jean Nation 'Blowing off the Founders'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Friday, 25 August 2017
in Wisconsin

founding-fathersOur founders saw public education as basic to cultivating the moral and civic virtues needed for people to exercise their rights and duties as citizens. But over the years, this mission has been lost, putting democracy itself at risk.


ALTOONA, WI - If you take the long view of history, our school system has strayed far from its roots. What today are called public schools originally were known as common schools. Central to the mission of common schools was making democracy possible.

In 1779 Thomas Jefferson proposed providing basic education to the masses. Civic literacy was at the heart of Jefferson’s plan. He emphasized the study of history as a means of cultivating moral and civic virtues and enabling the masses to know and exercise their rights and duties. To Jefferson, schooling’s purpose was basic education for citizenship, a public investment in the capacity for self-government. He famously observed, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Noah Webster, whose spelling book and dictionary of the English language immeasurably aided the fragile new republic by helping to expand the lettered population, considered education to be the most important business of civil society.

The common school movement really took off in the 1830s, led by reformers like Massachusetts lawyer and legislator Horace Mann who called on government to guarantee the schooling of all children and with evangelical zeal pitched free universal education as “the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance wheel of the social machinery.”

The idea of schools as first and foremost laboratories of democracy and builders of social capital continued gaining momentum as the next century dawned. In 1911 Wisconsin identified schools as “social centers” where not just students but anyone in the community could gather to discuss the issues of the day and develop solutions to the challenges facing society.

Somewhere along the line, this mission has been lost. Today’s schools focus on serving the needs of our economy but not our democracy. Responding to intense public pressure to place ever greater emphasis on vocational preparation, they concern themselves more with producing skilled workers than good citizens. Civic instruction has been pushed aside as more hours of math and science and the addition of technology classes and vocational training were ordered while neither the school day nor school year has been lengthened.

Today, civics is hardly taught at all. Even at the college level, occasional lip service is paid to the idea that the highest office in a democracy is that of citizen, but what it takes to be an active and constructive citizen is researched less and taught less by political scientists than any other dimension of their discipline. Look at the political science course offerings of just about any higher education institution and you find courses on the American presidency and on Congress and the court system, but not Organizing 101. There are many courses in public administration examining how the bureaucracy works, but almost none on how social movements get built.

How strange that in a country that boasts of being the world’s greatest democracy, we really don’t teach democracy. We teach government, reluctantly and half-heartedly, and we teach it in a way that puts elected officials, appointed bureaucrats, career civil servants and judges in the spotlight. Jefferson’s call to invest in the capacity for self-government is no longer heeded. Horace Mann’s balance wheel of the social machinery has come off the vehicle. Webster’s dictionary surely can be found in today’s school libraries, but his dedication to the school’s role in promoting civil society is conspicuously missing.

A nation that claims to be a democracy but neglects to make citizenship education a priority is one that is very much at risk.

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Blue Jean Nation 'The taproot of our many problems'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 16 August 2017
in Wisconsin

Real peopleWe have a poisoned political culture that glorifies greed, dooming us to a government that works for a wealthy and well-connected few at everyone else’s expense.


ALTOONA, WI - Wisconsin is up to its eyeballs in problems. Our state has lost its way. It is becoming a shadow of its former self. Same goes for the country as a whole.

The problems vary from place to place. Go to Trempealeau County and you see hills and bluffs disappearing and hear fears expressed over the effects of breathing the fine dust that hangs in the air or drinking water that has turned an amber color. In the Central Sands region you see lakes and streams drying up because a few are being allowed to drill high-capacity wells and hog all the water. In Kewaunee County you are told about massive industrial feedlots and how a third of private wells have been poisoned and you see someone turn on a water tap and what comes out of the faucet is brown and smells like cow manure. A few counties away parents are frightened about what old lead pipes in their community’s water system might be doing to their children.

Somewhere else you run into young Millennials buried under a mountain of student debt. One owes $30,000. Another $80,000. A third carries over $100,000 in debt. All of them wonder how they are going to dig out of the hole they are in. All of them wonder when — or if — they will ever be able to buy a car or make a down payment on a house. Another place you meet a farmer who now is expected to file payroll taxes online but has no Internet access out on the farm.

At the next stop everyone is talking about the criminal justice system and racial profiling and mass incarceration. And how impossible it is to make ends meet earning the minimum wage. Then you meet some former factory workers who used to make $25 an hour working on an assembly line but could only find work paying $11 or $12 an hour after the plant closed. Their standard of living has been cut in half. They find little comfort in the news that the state’s unemployment rate is coming down some. They can find a job. What’s next to impossible to find is work that keeps them in the middle class.

Down the road a piece are town officials agonizing over a decision to tear up paved roads and go back to gravel because they can’t afford to maintain the pavement and keep filling all the potholes. Next you arrive in a community where the townspeople are resigned to their local school closing. They know how that school is a hub of local activity, and they know losing it will be a death sentence for their town.

The problems vary widely from place to place. But they all grow from the same taproot, a poisoned political culture that glorifies greed, dooming us to a government that works for a wealthy and well-connected few at everyone else’s expense and an economy that benefits a privileged few and leaves so many behind. The issue is inequality, both political and economic. The problem is privilege, both political and economic.

Solving the many problems plaguing Wisconsin and America depends on remedying the one behind them all.

— Mike McCabe

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Blue Jean Nation "Democrats will win again when. . ."

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 08 August 2017
in Wisconsin

wisdemsDemocrats will win again when they show discomfort with the current political culture and all the ladder climbing and nest feathering and back scratching gives way to actual public service and sacrifice for the greater good.


ALTOONA, WI - Over the course of my 57 years, I’ve never seen a time when our public institutions were more disrespected and distrusted. And with good reason. I’ve also never seen a time when government was less responsive to regular people. Over and over, our government is put to work for a privileged few, the wealthy and well-connected. People notice this. They realize their own voices aren’t being heard and their own interests are not being served. That’s a sure recipe for disrespect and distrust of public institutions.

These conditions are especially poisonous to the Democratic Party. The Democrats are widely seen as the party of government. There is reality to that perception. Of the two major parties, it’s the Democrats who most strongly believe that government is essential to a civil society and can have a positive and constructive impact on people’s lives.

But here’s the problem for Democrats. It’s next to impossible to be popular as the party of public institutions at a time when so many people have so little faith in those institutions. People see public officials climbing the ladder, advancing their careers, feathering their own nests. They see those officials exchanging favors, scratching the backs of those who scratch theirs. None of that looks much like public service.

This is why Democrats have been on a decades-long losing streak and are in worse shape as a party than at any point in my lifetime. It’s why Democrats do not control either house of Congress or the White House. And why they are not calling the shots in two-thirds of state capitals, including Wisconsin’s. Being the party of disrespected and distrusted public institutions explains why Democrats have lost more than 1,000 seats in Congress, state legislatures and governor’s offices across the nation just since 2008.

The current political culture celebrates greed. It emphasizes self advancement over the common good. It treats public service as just another opportunity for self dealing. When such a culture flourishes, it’s today’s Republican Party that much more comfortably fits the role of the party of the times we live in. Democrats can say they are concerned for the common good and are acting in the public interest, but when they appear to be operating comfortably within the system as it works today and when they cater to a few constituencies at everyone else’s expense, voters inevitably see them as hypocrites. In a political culture where greed is triumphant and self dealing the norm, Republicans are credited for at least being upfront about their intentions and Democrats are punished for hypocrisy.

Democrats will win again when they show genuine discomfort with the current political culture and the way the system presently functions. Democrats will win again when the political culture is changed, when all the ladder climbing and nest feathering and back scratching gives way to actual public service and actual acts of sacrifice for the greater good. Democrats will win again when today’s me politics becomes tomorrow’s we politics.

And not before.

— Mike McCabe

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Do We Put All Our Eggs in the Foxconn Basket?

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Friday, 28 July 2017
in Wisconsin

walker-terry-gou-foxconnPoliticians typically try to build the economy top down, showering tax breaks and subsidies on a few thousand of the richest among us or even just one company like Foxconn. The other way is from the bottom up, giving the whole population the means to do more for themselves. Bottom-up is best.


ALTOONA - To me, the most important question is not whether Foxconn is a good company. Or whether Foxconn can be trusted to deliver on its promises. Or whether the benefits of this deal for Wisconsin will at least equal the costs to the public when all is said and done. These are all very important questions, but not the most important.

The most important question is what basket should we be putting our eggs in? If we're going to spend $3 billion, should it be to subsidize the expansion of one company from Taiwan, or should we spend it to empower the more than 5 million people who call Wisconsin home?

I think we should spend it on people. We should concentrate on developing the human potential of our own population. We should be equipping people to do for themselves rather than hoping that a multinational corporation from the other side of the world will work some magic for us.

Most new jobs get created by small businesses, not global conglomerates. But countless people with great ideas who dream of starting their own businesses too often feel trapped, with no choice but to stay in dead-end jobs because that's the only way they can hold on to health insurance for their families. Using our resources to guarantee health care for all and detach health insurance from employment would be one of the single best investments we could possibly make to unleash the creativity and ingenuity of our state's population. People would be free to be entrepreneurs and take their ideas and turn them into new businesses.

What's the best use for $3 billion? What basket should we be putting our eggs in? The way I see it, the best investment is developing the potential of Wisconsin's population through things like health care for all, affordable and debt-free education and job training, and bringing 21st Century necessities like high-speed Internet to every household in the state.

There are two paths to building a sturdy economy. Politicians typically try doing it from the top down, showering tax breaks and state subsidies on a few thousand of the richest among us or even just one company in hopes that some of what they get will trickle down to the rest of us. The other way is from the bottom up, giving the whole population the means to do more for themselves and each other.

The bottom-up approach is the best bet.

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Blue Jean Nation 'Stuck in reverse'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Monday, 10 July 2017
in Wisconsin

REVERSEWisconsin needs to do an about-face and fundamentally change its approach to economic development, paying far less attention to WMC and its backward thinking.


ALTOONA, WI - Wisconsin continues to struggle economically. The state lags the rest of the country in job growth and wage growth, and has been slower to recoverfrom the last recession. Wisconsin is losing manufacturing jobs and is leading the nation in shrinkage of the middle class.

There are reasons for all of this. And one of the biggest reasons is that the lobbying group that passes itself off as the voice of Wisconsin business is backward. Wisconsin is home to some truly innovative, forward-thinking business leaders who are finding ways to successfully compete in the 21st Century economy. But they aren’t being heard in the State Capitol. The state chamber of commerce — known in these parts as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce or WMC for short — is supposed to be their voice, but it’s not. WMC’s thinking is stuck in the 20th Century. In some ways, it’s still in the 19th.

WMC’s philosophy is that the key to economic development is lowering the cost of doing business. Lower wages. Lower taxes. Lower environmental standards. This recipe hasn’t been working for years.

If low costs are the secret to stimulating the economy, then why were nearly half of all new private sector jobs created last year in a part of the state where wages, taxes and the cost of land to build on are highest? Why did the number of private sector jobs in that area grow at four times the rate of the state as a whole?

If Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce knows how to make the economy better, why is Wisconsin losing manufacturing jobs? The answers WMC gives are to questions that aren’t even being asked anymore. The state chamber of commerce is inhibiting commerce. WMC’s outdated philosophy is holding Wisconsin back.

One of Wisconsin’s greatest business success stories in many a year has to be the electronic health records pioneer Epic Systems. The company is growing by leaps and bounds. Verona recently passed one of the largest school referendums in the history of the state for construction of a new high school and other costly upgrades, almost entirely paid for by the community’s largest private employer, namely Epic.

Epic’s success isn’t owed to WMC’s agenda of lower taxes, lower wages and lower environmental standards. Epic’s leadership is not at all on the same wavelength as WMC’s leadership. In fact, Epic wants nothing to do with WMC. Yet at the Capitol, WMC continues to be recognized as the voice of Wisconsin business. But it represents old business, not new business. That holds Wisconsin back.

To thrive in the 21st Century, Wisconsin needs to do an about-face and fundamentally change its approach to economic development. We need to watch and listen more to the Epics, and take to heart the formulas for success in the 21st Century they are coming up with. And we should pay far less attention to WMC and its backward thinking.

— Mike McCabe

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