Fixing Racism Is Even Harder Than It Seems

By Mike Koetting            June 6, 2020

NOTE: This was written in the first week of June, but I am just now posting. I ran into some nasty health issues that made it impossible to post—and, in fact, put the entire blog on hiatus. But I am recovering nicely and anticipate that I’ll be posting again on my usual semi-regular schedule starting in mid-August. Thanks to all who sent words of support.

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In 1967, I was 19 and spending the summer in New York, where the drinking age was 18. For 10 day in the middle of July, every night was spent in a Bronxville tavern glued to riots, first in Newark, then in Detroit.

If you don’t remember this, I doubt it is possible to recreate the impact of watching the flames and the tanks roll through those cities. Now the very names Newark and Detroit summon images of urban decay and despair. But in 1967, they were still major centers of commerce. Until then we had grown up in this haze of unending, if largely unexamined, national optimism. Riots and tanks in the streets were things that happened elsewhere, not in America.

The conversation those evenings was a stew of despair about what we were seeing and what we understood was behind it, and optimism that somehow we would make it right. This wouldn’t happen again on our watch.

Fifty-three years later, I stood on my balcony and saw the smoke rising from the Loop where the crowd had set a police car on fire. We failed. It was harder than we thought and, one has to concede, we didn’t care enough.

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The Intractability of What We Have

By Mike Koetting May 22, 2020

I am happy to report I got more comments than usual on my recent post outlining my take on what the virus told us about Federalism. Some people applauded that states provided an alternative source power when their populace didn’t agree with the flavors on offer from the central government. Others noted the need for local components to target appropriately for local circumstances and, sometimes, simply to develop local support necessary for a program to be effective.

Both fair comments. But I was still skeptical states are the best vehicle for either of these. So I decided to think about what alternatives might exist.

Set aside the fact that from a practical perspective, making a major change in the role of states is a non-starter, short of a catastrophe so bad that we don’t want to think about it. People like me can sit around and think of reasons why states don’t work until the cows come home. No matter how impressive the list of problems, change seems well less likely than absolutely no way.

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Federalism and the Virus

By Mike Koetting May 12, 2020

I am not a big fan of the idea of states. It’s hard to see what reality they are mapping aside from historical precedent. Take Illinois. While the Chicago metropolitan area shares one media market, one air and water space, a common labor pool, a shared healthcare market and intertwined transportation, there are at least two state governments that get involved, often to peculiar results, and two other states impacted. Conversely, the rest of Illinois is perpetually aggrieved by the idea that Illinois government is overly shaped by Chicago.

The history of state governments in the U.S. is of course inextricably linked to the founding of the country. At the time of the Revolutionary War, political and practical identity was tied to individual states, which in fact had already evolved in different ways because of the political and economic circumstances of their founding.

At the time of the Constitution, there was simply no way of creating a unified country that didn’t carefully limit federal power over the individual states. No states, no country. It was as simple as that. It was also as simple as no slavery, no country. Giving states power to regulate that matter was a necessary condition for forming a country. It was a moral dodge required by reality. The Senate, and the electoral college, were part of the package.

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Voting in the Time of Covid

By Mike Koetting April 24, 2020

I am very concerned that in the necessity of dealing with the immediate problems of the pandemic, we are unable to focus on the actual mechanics of voting in November, an election that will decide the fate of our democracy.

There is a high level of public concern about how safe voting in person will be. The prudent thing is to plan as if the pandemic were still raging. Hopefully that will be overkill, but the downsides are trivial in comparison to the problems of a chaotic election. As in Wisconsin.

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Trump’s Approval Rating

By Mike Koetting April 10, 2020

Polls have been showing about 50% of the country approves of President’s Trump handling of the coronavirus pandemic. I was at first perplexed by how this could be in the face of what seems to me like egregiously poor performance. Then I decided I was confused by the wrong thing.

For the purposes of this post, I want to focus only on the non-substantive parts of his performance. Initial returns suggest that the administration made many substantive mistakes. But I want to set this aside for the moment. Plenty of people are writing on the specifics and the final evaluation will get hashed out over time. Even so, it is worth keeping in mind that, as much as we like to pretend we are non-biased, no one is immune. For instance, the Washington Post notes that the constantly quoted charge that Trump disbanded the office of global health affairs is substantively more complicated. More time will give us a better view.

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Lessons for the (Really) Big One

By Mike Koetting March 27, 2020

Coronavirus is a monster hit to every aspect of our lives. It is hard to imagine writing about anything else right now and every publication is full of articles on the topic. But most of them are providing advice (not always consistent), looking at its short term impacts, or, here and there, guessing about long term impacts. I have nothing to add to those. At least at this time.

What I do want to write about is lessons that might be learned for dealing with another issue of even potentially larger impact–climate change. As disruptive as coronavirus undoubtedly is, my guess is that the changes that could be wrought by unchecked climate change will be even bigger, and last longer. Maybe we should consider the virus as a practice run and take advantage of what seems like a teachable moment to get the people of this country thinking about what we can learn from the pandemic and what it might suggest we focus on going forward.

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Political Myths and Mything the Point

By Mike Koetting March 11, 2020

David Brooks’ recent column, “Why Sanders Will Probably Win the Nomination,” at this point seems to have been seriously premature. But what he got right and wrong is worth revisiting.

The gist of his column was that Sanders would probably win the nomination because he had a story—Brooks call it a “myth”—that is simple, easy to get your head around, and coherent in its own way. The other candidates didn’t. (Actually, Brooks thought Warren did too, but he believes it was just a different version of Bernie’s.) Brooks see the Sanders’ myth as having the same “us versus them” structure as the myths told by Donald Trump, just with different villains. Brooks argues that not only are both myths wrong, but their “us-versus-them” narratives are obstacles to the “great yearning for solidarity, and eagerness to come together and make practical change” that are the real underlying wish of ordinary people.

There is truth, myth and obtuseness here.

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The Border

By Mike Koetting February 27, 2020

This month my book club read The Border, by Don Winslow. It’s a novel, basically a thriller, focusing on the drug trade between Mexico and the United States. Though fiction, it is enough rooted in the underlying facts of the drug trade that you cannot help but emerge with a new appreciation for the extent of the problem.

The are a couple of obvious themes. The War on Drugs has been a disaster on both sides of the border and it will never be solved as long as the possible profits are so staggeringly large. Moreover, there is some level of complicity in parts of the financial elite, either because they have drug money in their holdings, because they are creating conditions that make people susceptible to drugs, or both. One of the double-edged throw-away lines in the book is a character who asks “You know what’s the difference between a cartel leader and a hedge fund operator? Wharton Business School.” (The shot at President Trump is deliberate. He and Jared Kushner appear as very-thinly disguised villains in the book.)

Image result for drug trade cartoons

This is by no means great literature and I am not suggesting you run out and get a copy. But I have found myself thinking more about the issues raised in this book than issues raised in better books. Two in particular I just haven’t been able to get out of my mind.

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The Impeachment Trial-Snippets

By Mike Koetting February 6, 2020

I didn’t have very high hopes for the Impeachment proceedings and they did not fail to disappoint. I won’t try to make sense of either what happened or my own reflections on it, which are varied and mixed. But here are some thoughts, maybe loosely connected, maybe largely random.

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The Problem with Globalism

By Mike Koetting January 30, 2020

The main problem with globalization is that you can’t quit. No getting out of the club. Just isn’t possible. There are plenty of other problems with globalization. They are very difficult and some are at the very edge of human’s ability to solve. But the most important underlying feature is that it is here and, unless you believe you can jet off to another planet without taking earth’s problems with you, the only way to avoid it is to let things get so bad that we all have to start over. That does not sound like a fun ride.

Here’s why you can’t quit globalism. And there are more where these came from.

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