Vote, Even if You Can’t Vote for Clinton or Trump

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With so much national attention focused on the presidential battle, the implications of votes in down-ballot races are too often being ignored.

Mirah Curzer, a lawyer, feminist, feminist, photographer, slurper of noodles and drinker of scotch, is urging progressives who can’t abide voting for Clinton to still vote for progressives in the House, Senate and all the way down to city council. In a Medium essay, Curzer points out that a lot of down-ballot races are in play and progressive votes could tip the scales.

Assuming that Hillary Clinton will win, despite the unwillingness of some progressives to vote for her, Curzer says, “Progressive voter turnout would make the difference in all those contested races, and the difference between a Democratic or Republican legislature. Imagine what we could do with a Democratic House and Senate and a new Supreme Court justice appointed by a Democratic President!.. A serious shift left in down-ballot races would shape the political landscape in a subtle but profound way for years to come.”

Indeed. Imagine what progressives could do with a Democratic House and Senate, a new Supreme Court justice appointed by a Democratic President, an onslaught of progressive judges, city councils, school boards, local prosecutors, and a slew of successful progressive-initiated ballot measures.

Good grief. It would be a disaster for conservative principles for years to come.

So I would offer the same advice as Curzer, but with a twist. If you’re a conservative and can’t vote for Trump, show up to vote for responsible conservative down-ballot candidates.

 A serious affirmation of conservative values in down-ballot races would shape the political landscape in a subtle but profound way for years to come.

Benefit corporations: no sure thing

Lots of progressives in Oregon are big on public affirmations of goodness. That’s why they love the idea of benefit corporations, such as Neil Kelly, Rogue Creamery, Metropolitan Group, Medolac and Good Clean Love.

But before Oregonians conclude that benefit corporations are by their nature more socially responsible businesses, think again, and do some rigorous research. The fact is, in some cases the designation is being used as little more than a way to add a patina of respectability to otherwise questionable firms.

For a truly inauthentic attempt at sincerity and goodness, look no further than Laureate Education, Inc. It announced plans earlier this year its plans to do a $1 billion initial public offering (IPO) that would make it the first publicly traded benefit corporation.

If you’ve heard of Laureate, it may be because of its connection to former president Bill Clinton. In 2010, he signed on to become an “Honorary Chancellor”, or paid shill to be more accurate, for Laureate. In return for serving as a front man for the privately held for-profit education company, Clinton collected $16.5 million between 2010 and 2014. Laureate also has donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation.

In its IPO prospectus, Laureate says, “we may take actions that we believe will benefit our students and the surrounding communities, even if those actions do not maximize our short- or medium-term financial results.” There’s little in its history, however, that suggests such an approach is part of the company’s DNA.

“We recognized the enormous importance that society places on education as a public good,” said Douglas L. Becker, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Laureate. “This inspired us to create a culture that combines the ‘head’ of a business enterprise with the ‘heart’ of a non-profit organization. “

With one million students studying online and on campuses at 88 institutions in 28 countries, Laureate is currently a private company, but it plans to go public. The company grew out of the K-12 tutoring company, Sylvan Learning Systems, in 2004 when Sylvan was spun off.

Laureate was taken private in a $3.8 billion deal in 2007. Investors included KKR & Co., Soros Fund Management, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors, Citi Private Equity, Sterling Capital and others, all investors whose commitment to corporate citizenship and the public good is unclear.

Registration as a public benefit corporation is also no guarantee that the governance of a company will be friendly to shareholders.

Steven Davidoff Solomon, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, has pointed out that Laureate’s form of governance is especially unfriendly to shareholders. While Laureate is listing its stock as a public benefit corporation, it will also be going public with dual-class stock, which will maintain its current owners’ control over the company. This includes K.K.R. which will indirectly hold a greater than 10 percent interest in the company.

This doesn’t make sense, Solomon argues. K.K.R. is out to sell its stake at the highest price possible, not benefit other causes. So one has to wonder how strongly Laureate will even pay heed to the public benefit standard.

Then there’s the question of whether Laureate’s schools operate in the best interests of their students.

It’s 5 schools in the U.S. include: NewSchool of Architecture & Design, San Diego, CA; Santa Fe University of Art & Design, Santa Fe, NM; Kendall College, Chicago, Il; University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, St. Augustine, FL; and the online-only Walden University, Minneapolis, MN.

newschool

Consider their records on the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, an online system designed to help students, parents and advisers make better college choices.

For example, according to the Scorecard:

  • The average annual net cost of attending NewSchool is about twice the national average, only 50 percent of students return after their first year and the graduation rate after six years is only 33 percent.
  • The average annual net cost of attending Kendall College is more than twice the national average, only 57 percent of students return after their first year and the graduation rate after six years is only 45 percent.
  • At the Santa Fe University of Art & Design, only 31 percent of the students graduate within six years and only about half of those graduates subsequently earned, on average, more than those with only a high school diploma.

Laureate also operated The National Hispanic University in East San Jose, CA, but it closed in August 23, 2015. The San Jose Mercury News attributed the closure to the U.S. Department of Education reducing financial aid and online opportunities for students enrolled in programs that did not offer good prospects for employment. Other media reported that the school also failed to meet its goals in enrollment for online coursework.

It will be interesting to see how this company, that has a history of questionable payments to Bill Clinton, is $4.7 billion in debt, is burdened with high interest payments, has lost money every year since 2010 and has a habit of saddling its students with debt and low graduation rates pulls off its public benefit corporation charade.

It may be a hard lesson for a lot of true believers in benefit corporations.

Progressives say “Nyet” to the free market

For all their bleating about conservatives wanting to constrain personal choice, as in their anti-abortion stance, progressives are quite comfortable limiting the choices of others themselves. The result is a kind of ruthless do-gooderism, forcing others to live their lives according to the narrow precepts of smug true believers who know best.

Take retail gun and music sales.

The members of the Trinity Wall Street Church, an Episcopal parish in New York City that champions progressive causes, want Walmart shareholders to have a say on whether the company should establish policies governing the sale of offensive items.

Gus for sale at Walmart

Gus for sale at Walmart

That would include products that are “(1) especially dangerous to the public, (2) pose a substantial risk to company reputation and (3) would reasonably be considered offensive to the community and family values that Wal-Mart seeks to associate with its brand.”

The church’s objective?  To force Walmart to remove from its shelves high-capacity rifles and sexually-charged or violent music.

What’s next, shareholder votes on stores stocking water pistols, banned or challenged books, white American Girl dolls, 50 Shades of Grey or American Sniper DVDs, gory video games like Gears of War 3 and Call of Duty Black Ops, or the “Plan B” contraceptive pill?

In essence, the church wants to substitute its judgment and the judgment of other left-leaning true believers for the free market.

Just like the plastic water bottle zealots.

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I’m no fan of paying for water in plastic bottles. For one, It’s obscenely expensive, compared with household tap water. Two-thirds of the bottled water sold in the United States is in individual 16.9-ounce bottles, which comes out to roughly $7.50 per gallon. That’s about 2,000 times higher than the typical cost of a gallon of tap water. Most often the bottled water isn’t of higher quality than tap water either and the containers generate tons of wasted plastic.

But progressives aren’t satisfied with urging people not to buy bottled water, to use a reusable water bottle instead. They want to go much further. “Rally your schools, workplaces, and communities to ban bottled water,” they implore.

Another case of progressives wanting to impose their values and choices on me.

Companies should be free to develop and market safe products and consumers should be free to decide whether to buy them. Banning stuff because some slice of the population opposes a product for ideological reasons is offensive.

And of course I can’t pursue this topic without talking about Hillary Clinton.

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Hillary wants to require that prescription-drug companies spend a set portion of their revenue on research and development, or forfeit federal support such as tax credits or research money.

Does Clinton really think the government should go so far as to instruct how private businesses spend their revenue, all in the name of a higher good as defined by Hillary? And Bernie says he’s the socialist in the race.

Let the dogs out: the assault on Steve Scalise

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-LA, has had a reputation throughout his political career for being open to talking with just about anybody, regardless of their ideological persuasion. Horrors!

In today’s hyper-partisan world, that’s apparently a bad thing.

“I live in a rather special world,” influential film critic Pauline Kael commented after the 1972 presidential election. “I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken.”

The provincialism and narrow-mindedness of that observation came to mind in thinking about the Steve Scalise controversy. Progressives in the media and government were all too ready to accept the controversial allegation from a left-leaning blogger and attack Scalise in a frenzy because they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, think outside their echo-chamber of like thinkers.

But consider the source, and wonder whether the media have failed the public.

The melee started when a left-leaning blogger, Lamar White Jr., posted that twelve years ago a Louisiana state legislator, Steve Scalise, addressed the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) about a tax and spending ballot measure.

Lamar White

Lamar White

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-LA

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-LA

White later said he learned about the incident after getting a tip from Robert Reed, the son and campaign manager of a Democrat who lost to Scalise in a 2008 special election to fill an open House seat in Louisiana.

White said he verified the tip by checking Reed’s source, a post on Stormfront, a race-baiting website run by white nationalists and other racial extremists.

Stormfront logo

Stormfront logo

When the media discovered White’s allegation, they leapt at the story, apparently without bothering to do much fact-checking. The progressive posse, eager to believe the worst about a conservative, went ballistic.

Because EURO was founded by David Duke, a prominent former Ku Klux Klan leader, critics excoriated Scalise for even talking to a racist group, no matter the topic, even though Scalise said he had no recollection of speaking at the EURO conference.

The national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) enthusiastically bashed Scalise, now House Majority Whip, with a guilt- by-association pronouncement.

DCCC National Press Secretary, Josh Schwerin

DCCC National Press Secretary, Josh Schwerin

“Steve Scalise chose to cheerlead for a group of KKK members and neo-Nazis at a white supremacist rally and now his fellow House Republican Leaders can’t even speak up and say he was wrong,” said DCCC National Press Secretary Josh Schwerin. “Republicans in Congress might talk about improving their terrible standing with non-white voters, but it’s clear their leadership has a history of embracing anti-Semitic, racist hate groups.”

Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), piled on, calling for Scalise to resign from the Republican House Leadership team.

Alexandra Petri, author of the Washington Post’s ComPost blog, said, “Why would you possibly think speaking at this event was a good idea? Why would you think attending this event was a good idea?”

Similarly, Eugene Robinson wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled, “The GOP has a bad habit of appealing to avowed racists”.

“Here’s some advice for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise that also applies to the Republican Party in general: If you don’t want to be associated in any way with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, then stay away from them,” Robinson said.

Robinson went on, “Do not give a speech to a racist organization founded by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, as Scalise did when he was a Louisiana state legislator before running for Congress.”

This has just gone too far.

Now it’s apparently not only wrong to say something that’s offensive to progressives or something provocative that might challenge preconceptions and “trigger” discomfort, but it’s impermissible for politicians to address people progressives don’t agree with.

No wonder we have political gridlock if electeds are rebuked for even talking with people who have a different point of view.

What makes this whole thing even more bizarre is that Louisiana’s Times-Picayune newspaper now reports that Scalise may not, in fact, have spoken at the Euro event.

On Dec. 31, the paper said the man who arranged Scalise’s appearance at the event he addressed now says Scalise didn’t attend the EURO conference, but rather a small meeting of the Jefferson Heights Civic Association that was held in the same hotel conference room earlier the same day.

Wouldn’t it be something if all this sturm and drang has been over nothing.