The motto of the United States is not, in fact, “Fuck you, I got mine.” It was, and should have remained, “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one. We’re all Americans. We all deserve the blessings this country can provide. This one is willing to pay his taxes for the benefit of the many.

Source: John Scalzi (read the whole thing)

We hold these truths to be self-evident…

Like many of you who vehemently opposed a Trump presidency, I’ve been walking around in a bit of a stunned stupor these last few days. I’m gathering my thoughts on what I want to do next, and how I can do the most I can to help bring about a more respectful world. There has to be a better way for us to talk to each other, and a better way to be humans to each other.

Until then, I’ve been reflecting on what I know:

  1. I know I can’t comprehend running away, even though given my current work experience, I could probably easily find a job overseas. I also can’t see disengaging, Garrison Keillor, “Let them deal with it” style. I love my country too much, and I know evil flourishes only when good people do nothing.

  2. I know most Trump voters aren’t KKK style racists. Thus, I don’t blame Trump voters en masse for the racism and bigotry that’s emerging (and sure to get worse) or think they’re all racists.

  3. I know that many of non-racist, non-sexist Trump voters seem blind to the limitations of their own experiences and the biases that creates. I hope that the these voters recognize the real fear that many minorities are feeling after the election. It is real. There are real fears here informed by real violence happening right now, real fears caused by un-American behavior.

  4. I know that we, as a society, seem to be lacking in basic empathy these days. We are too willing to believe people we disagree with are stupid or blind or ignorant. Please try to approach your fellow Americans with an open mind and an willingness to understand their perspective. You don’t need to agree – but it’s better than assuming they’re idiots or stupid for being scared. I try to assume people are acting in good faith until they prove they aren’t.

  5. I know that Facebook and Twitter have fed a lot of the divisiveness this election cycle, no matter what Mark Zuckerberg says, or what picture Jack Dorsey paints about his own beliefs. We don’t all need to agree, but we do need to agree on a common set of facts and some shared truths. We can and should interpret those according to our own beliefs and our own perspectives, but we can’t disagree on whether gravity works or that 2+2=4. For a lot of reasons, we have receded into echo chambers, and we need to do something about it (or it will get a lot worse).

  6. I know the Democratic party as it stands doesn’t work the way I want it to anymore. We need to help the party evolve, possibly by working outside the party. Tea Partiers organized. Folks that have an alternative need to do the same.

  7. I know I need to engage more. More at the local level. More at the state level. And then maybe at the federal level. The question in front of me is, “How?”

That’s the question that will preoccupy me until we move back home. I’ll probably not write anything else until then. I won’t be able to help but retweet the odd Trump item on Twitter, but I’m going to dial back on social media, read and follow what he does, and talk offline to friends and family. It’s time to get to work.

We need context, not balance

Like many towns, West Hartford has a advertising supported, free weekly paper that’s mailed to everyone. The latest issue arrived today with this as the front page article:

Fire, police overtime nears $3 million in 2010

The Town of West Hartford paid nearly $3 million in overtime compensation in 2010 to police and fire department personnel, according to data released under a Freedom of Information request.

Town administrators this year combed through expenses, trimming nearly $1 million from the original proposed budget before approving a 2012-13 spending plan. But in trying to cut, administrators lack the power to control specific items, such as overtime paid to union employees.

You should go read the article.

Here’s what stood out to me: the next several paragraphs (easily the first third of the article) includes quotes by the Republican members of our town council (the minority party) and other claims that collective bargaining is to blame for the OT in 2010.

At first, I wondered why they didn’t include any quotes by the Mayor or from Democrats on the council. Then I realized that I actually didn’t really care about that. I don’t really care about balance in that sense.

What bugs me is that there’s no context given to these numbers or information. For example, the reporter names particular police officers and firefighters who earned a significant amount of overtime. The reporter writes about how the Republican members of the council want to go after the contracts negotiated with the unions. They give particular salary numbers out.

I read all of this and was left with… “and so what?” I don’t know if this is a matter of lazy reporting or tight deadlines and a need to print something or an assumption by the writer that readers are already super informed, but as a pretty regular watcher of town news, I was left with a bunch of questions. I needed context in order to put the numbers in perspective and to understand some of the claims made in the article (both by people quoted as well as the author).

Some questions I would love to see answered:

  • What is a typical yearly budget for overtime expenditure?
  • What is typical overtime budgeting for towns around the state with similar populations?
  • Why did the cited officers get so much overtime pay? How many hours did they work? What was the purpose of those hours?
  • What are some of these union rules that drive overtime costs? What union rules do the Republican members find objectionable?

That’s just a small list. These numbers sound big (“$3 million in OT!” – “That police officer doubled his salary!”) but given some context, they may not be crazy. For example, if the officer is working double shifts most days to make up for staffing shortages, that may be reasonable compensation. If he does it every year, maybe there’s a policy change required. How can we tell with the information provided?

I want better reporting from our papers. People might be willing to pay for them if they actually dug a little deeper than a blogger with SEO skills…

Incentivizing individual relocation vs. corporate relocation

Where We Live ran a show today on why younger people (25-34) are leaving the state. I ended up missing the show (listening to it now!), but caught a very lively discussion on Twitter.

One side conversation (you can see it on storify here) that I joined in on was about how hard it is to convince people to move to CT.

Let’s be honest. It’s hard. Harder than it should be, quite honestly, considering how nice it is to live here. I had a lot of experience with this when I was hiring people at ESPN. Even with a kick ass company, a dream job for most sports fans, and great relocation packages, it was hard to convince people to move to CT. There are a lot of reasons, and they vary by person, but they all seemed to boil down to cost and opportunity.

For people moving from a relatively low cost-of-living area, like Kansas or Vermont or Nevada, it was mostly about cost. CT looks and feels expensive when you’re browsing real estate or rents even though we’re cheap-ish for the region. For whatever reason, cost-of-living adjustments never seemed to truly capture the difference people felt.

For people moving from a big city or high cost-of-living area, like New York City or Boston or San Francisco, it was mostly about opportunity. What if they didn’t like the job here? What job opportunities would they have at a similar style company? This was exaggerated in my particular industry. There aren’t many of the kind of companies that are doing consumer Internet or mobile products that ESPN makes. If you live in NYC or Boston or SF, on the other hand, you have dozens of options plus many, many strong startup and entrepreneurial companies nearby.

There are people working on the second issue (e.g. this effort). So I asked about the cost reason, specifically:

As I mentioned, you can read the whole convo if you want, but that’s the main point.

CT just authorized $291 million in spending over 10 years to incentivize Jackson Labs to build a $1 billion facility here. Of that, $192 million is a loan that is entirely forgiven if the facility creates & retains 300 jobs in 10 years.

Now, I don’t know whether that’s a good program or not for 300 jobs, but like a lot of programs, the government seems to focus on giving money to companies rather than individuals. This isn’t bad per se, but the tradeoffs are worth talking about.

For one thing, this means that the government has to choose an industry or individual company to offer these incentives to. This doesn’t prevent existing companies from leaving, nor does it help them. That seems odd to me. But it’s also exceedingly common. Remember the brouhaha about Boeing moving it’s HQ?

Instead, I wonder if cities or states have considered incentivizing individuals to take existing jobs. For the same expenditure ($192 million over 10 years), the state could offer 5 year rent or property tax credits of $5,000 to over 7,500 families or individuals. $5,000 would cover over 100% of the median property tax for the state.

On the surface, that seems like a better use of taxpayer money. That assumes there are, of course, 7,500 jobs to fill in the state. Then again, more people moving here mean more people needing services and products. I suspect like any social network, virtual or real, there are network effects that come into play once you create some momentum.

Curious if anyone has seen studies or programs like this in the United States. I wonder how well they work, and what data we can glean from them.

‘Our Great Education Challenge’ at the CT Forum

I attend each Connecticut Forum event hoping to leave smarter than when I arrive. This is usually a slam dunk, no doubt it’ll happen thing for any given Forum event. Except, that is, for last night.

The topic was Our Great Education Challenge. The panel consisted of:

  • Davis Guggenheim, the filmmaker behind Waiting for Superman & An Inconvenient Truth
  • Lily Eskelsen, VP of the National Educators Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ union
  • Joel Klein, the current and outgoing chancellor of the New York City public schools
  • Deborah Gist, Rhode Island Commissioner of Education
  • Jon Schnur, CEO of New Leaders for New Schools
  • The panel was moderated by MSNBC correspondent Norah O’Donnell.

Looking at that list, it seems like this group was (unintentionally, I’m sure) set up to fail to reach any sort of consensus or real conversation.

It helps, at this point, to be familiar with Waiting for Superman. If you haven’t seen the movie, you can quickly read my review of the film. Short version: the film concludes unions are at the heart of America’s education problem because they prevent principals and schools from coaching, firing, or adequately managing teachers.

As it turns out, every person on the panel (plus the moderator) basically took the Superman position as a given except Lily Eskelsen (the sole union perspective on the panel). This is unsurprising considering their backgrounds – two are school administrators who spar with unions constantly. Guggenheim obviously agrees with his own film. Excluding Schnur, then, you have the makings of a pile on for Eskelsen. So, that’s essentially what we got. The entire Forum consisted of the panelists delivering applause lines ripping on the unions or going back and forth with Eskelsen.

It would’ve been more productive to talk about specific union concessions that would make school improvements easier, or to discuss whether the union even has a purpose in today’s school system. I’d be interested in understanding why only 17% of charter schools perform better than public schools, or why Joel Klein thinks that’s a success rate worth “cherishing.” Or, why Deborah Gist thinks school systems would negotiate these weird, applause line worthy rules into their teacher contracts.

It’s not that I believe these people are playing fast and loose with the numbers, or have some hidden agenda. In fact, I believe they have sound reasons for their perspectives (and they wear their agendas pretty plainly out in the open). I just think they’re used to talking about this topic with other educators and school reformers. So, they mention things like “alternative evaluation systems” without explaining what that means because, well, everyone on the panel knows.

This seems like a flaw in the Forum format. The moderators are often prepared to discuss the issues and to facilitate conversation among the panel, but not so much to facilitate understanding for the audience. It’s really a missed opportunity. I would love a moderator who worked to get panelists to explain terms or concepts that may not be obvious to non-experts.

For example, teacher evaluation was a key topic of discussion. During the Forum, Eskelsen brought up concerns with using test scores as a sole measure of teacher effectiveness. A number of panelists mentioned that some districts were testing alternative and more comprehensive teacher evaluation systems. No one, however, ever bothered to explain what some of them are or what else they look at beyond a standardized test. I was really curious about that and felt let down when the topics shifted.

My other takeaway from the forum was that there were lots of anecdotes or quips that highlighted some ridiculous policy or other that everyone universally could hate or be amused by. Applause lines, if you will. Last night, I called it sloganeering. That still seems like the best description of last night’s conversation.

For example, at one point, Norah O’Donnell turned to the audience and called teachers heroes who have a tough job and work very hard. Its the constant refrain, didn’t seem particularly sincere. Mere minutes later, a panelist cracks a joke about teachers leaving at 3PM even though their schools are failing. Well, which one is it? There’s a weird sort of contradiction that comes up in education reform conversations. Teachers are both working really hard and lazy, overpaid and underpaid, and so on. Doesn’t really help the conversation.

Ultimately, I walked away with the same questions I had at the end of Superman, which was disappointing. There was one exception, though. During the audience Q&A portion, O’Donnell asked a question I submitted about class size (cool!). Joel Klein pointed out that one of the Harlem charters has 30 kids in some classes. Eskelsen pointed out that she’s taught up to 39 in one. Pretty big difference, and one reason I remain skeptical that firing teachers has anything to do with charter success.

I’m hoping we can continue this discussion in the coming weeks among ourselves. I have some ideas on how to bring this conversation along, and I want to start by looking at some of the questions I asked in my review of Superman. I also have a bunch of questions jotted down in my notes from the Forum last night. Between the two, there are a lot of items worth a follow up. On that front, the Forum was a rousing success.

Following up on my @ctforum tweet

I wanted to briefly expand on a few tweets I made during last night’s Connecticut Forum. The topic was “The End of Civility?” and the panel featured David Gergen, Stephen Carter, Christopher Buckley, and Gina Barreca. It was a good discussion, and what I’ll address was only one aspect of it.

The rise of the political blogs is as much about a shift of power as it is about technology. Having a panel of elites decry the rise of blogs is a bit one-sided. Three of the panelists were the children of university professors or, uh, William F. Buckley. They grew up with access and opportunity – I doubt any of them would’ve had trouble meeting a Senator or Congressman as a high school or university student.

Technology enabled others outside the establishment to get heard. That’s what explains the rise of blogging. Buckley’s characterization of blogging as the equivalent of “Ask Any A**hole” in newspaper-speak is an oversimplification. There are smart bloggers and stupid bloggers and rabble rouser bloggers. They’re not all the same.

Take it another way: we’ve seen this with lots of other technological shifts, from the advent of the printing press and cheaper presses to the rise of radio and TV. I haven’t studied this closely, but my sense is that we’ve seen similar noise before things sort of settle down, e.g. yellow journalism, conspiracy newsletters, pamphleteers.

We’re still settling down with the Internet in our political sphere. The fact that we’re still getting used to how it fits into the discourse shouldn’t be a surprise.

For the forum, I would’ve preferred some representation of bloggers on the panel. It was bordering on annoying listening to 3 scions of establishment elites decry the rise of the “rabble.” It would’ve been more interesting to have Gergen chat with, say, Duncan Black of Eschaton or even Michelle Malkin or one of the intense right wing blogs. The conversation would’ve really gotten into the civility of current political discourse a lot faster.

For long time friends and readers, my opinion on the lack of civility won’t surprise you. I look to an abdication of the referee role by our TV media, instead becoming passive stenographers of the news. Or, worse, active partisanship on the part of Fox News and the WSJ and WaPo editorial boards.

It would be easier to add perspective to the lies and attack of the blogs if there were a referee. That doesn’t exist. Even worse, we have national press taking explicit sides. Fox News didn’t come up once, by the way. It’s hard for me to believe that their active encouragement of the worst sorts of rumors and falsehoods from the blogs isn’t hurting the civility of our discourse. But of course, they’re on TV, so it’s not their fault.

(yes, they brought up cable news as a broad topic, but Fox News as a network is a phenomenon more akin to yellow journalism. The other networks aren’t the same in that regard. Individual shows may be, e.g. Olbermann, but there is no network as partisan as Fox.)