On this page you’ll find notes arising from American Futures project that Deborah and James Fallows have had underway, with some appearances on Marketplace radio, since 2013. Their full archive is here.
Over the weekend I mentioned the new video by our friends at the Bitwise tech incubator in Fresno, California, which exemplified the gritty spirit — “You think we’re losers? Well just watch” — that we’ve admired and described about the city.
I asked Jake Soberal, co-founder with Irma Olguin of Bitwise, how the video came to be. Here’s his answer, and after that two other notes about its tone and approach.
Jake Soberal writes:
As to the back story, it's a neat one. For some time we have been planning for a very grand opening. Our belief is that Bitwise South Stadium is a technology hub of global significance. Its opening demonstrates the credibility of our burgeoning technology industry--to locals and the world at large. With that, the grand opening had two aims: (1) celebrate how far tech has come in Fresno, and (2) inspire it to go even further.
The 1,200 people in black tie, wonderful food and drink, great live music, and fireworks certainly contributed to that. However, we wanted to make sure that there was something lasting; an anthem of sorts.
So we hired local filmmakers Gordon Howell and Pat Dill to create this video to serve exactly that role. They put together the storyboard, filmed everything you see, wrote the spoken word poetry and music playing behind it, and pieced it all together; they're a super talented duo.
The video was played on the big screen the night of the event, and then released online on Thursday. So far it's doing exactly what it was designed to do….
It's really amazing to be a part of what's happening in Fresno right now.
We're fond of saying that in Fresno Geeks are fixing America's most broken city.
Two extra notes. One reader noticed that the video was similar in tone to another I had said I’d loved. That was Eminem’s famous “Imported from Detroit” Superbowl ad four years ago, which I saw via online stream (over VPN) in our apartment in Beijing and then immediately felt homesick. Here that is, followed by Fresno’s.
Now, as a bonus, the Selected of God chorus of Detroit that both sang the background music for the Eminem video and sang for Ben Carson’s campaign announcement.
I realize that I am becoming a sucker for places and cultures, like Fresno and Detroit, whose theme is: OK, you want to look down on us? That’s just fine, go ahead and feel smug, because then you’ll be all the more surprised and unprepared when you see what we can do.
It’s an intellectual vulnerability on my part, but there could be worse ones.
Two days ago I mentioned the welcome news that the Maine Maritime Academy, which John Tierney had written about extensively as part of our ongoing American Futures coverage, had been recognized yet again for providing very high career-earnings value to its students, at a low cost.
The context for this was our also-ongoing discussion of the importance of “career technical education,” once sneered-at under the title of “trade schools” or “vocational ed,” as one of the promising steps we’ve seen around the country with potential to offset at least some of the relentless pressure toward a polarized rich-and-poor society.
Now, a reader who once taught at another maritime academy writes in to say, “Hey, wait a minute.” His point, as you’ll see, is not that there is anything wrong with Maine Maritime itself but rather that the “value added” in higher salaries comes from legislatively protected earnings for merchant seamen.
There are some obvious comebacks to this case, most of which I’ll save for later installments. One I’ll mention now is: this is a demanding and potentially perilous field, as demonstrated long ago by John McPhee in “Looking for a Ship” and very recently by the El Faro tragedy, in which 5 MMA alumni were among the 33 mariners who were lost. And again, the reader’s complaint is not with the school but regulatory regimes more broadly. It is sort of like saying that medical training doesn’t “add value” to graduates’ earnings, since under different payment systems doctors would make less money.
More on these fronts later. For now, the reader’s response on Maine Maritime. He begins by noting that the 15 schools that got perfect 100 scores in a recent “value added” study included several maritime academies:
Looking over the list, all the maritime academies are represented. Since they all seem to get the top score of 100, there is nothing special about the Maine academy. [JF note: actually, at least two state-run maritime academies did not get a top score. Still, the reader’s point is that this type of school seems over-represented.]
I used to teach at the US Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, NY. It is true that students who graduated did get good jobs. But I think this is really an exceptional industry, one in which the Federal Government has acted in several ways to improve the earnings of it’s graduates.
Merchant Marine jobs are highly protected by the Jones Act from any foreign competition. Their college tuition and all expenses are covered by the government. [JF note: This is true at the US Merchant Marine Academy but not at Maine Maritime, whose students are responsible for their own tuition and costs.] The maritime jobs the students fill are highly unionized, and there is limited competition since only the graduates of the maritime academies are allowed to fill them by federal law. There are several laws which protect those jobs from automation. For example, all ships must take on a certified pilot when entering a harbor.
Frankly, my students [at USMMA] struck me as particularly unambitious. The school’s unwritten motto was “2.0 and go”. That is, the students just needed to eke out a C average to graduate, secure in the knowledge that there would be a decent-paying union job waiting for them at the back end. I did not see more value added at the school than at the several other schools I have taught at or attended.
The high income of these students upon graduation is the direct result of federal intervention and regulation on their behalf. If anything, it suggests that the solution to inequality might be from more federal intervention and regulation. Of course, the economy as a whole pays for this regulation. As a small example, the Jones act has helped destroy the economy of Puerto Rico. and forced shipment of oil by rail by making coastal transit so expensive.
I’ve asked our friends at Maine Maritime Academy, and other involved parties, for their reply.
For previous installments in the Fresno saga, please check here. Early last year, in our American Futures saga, we reported on Bitwise, a tech incubator, training school, entrepreneur center, and overall social force in one of California’s least-fashionable cities.
The video below shows the way Bitwise has announced its opening of a big, new center in Fresno’s long-bedraggled, now-recovering downtown. People in San Francisco or New York can be smugly confident in their coolness. We like, better, the Fresno kick-ass spirit.
I've asked Jake Soberal, of Bitwise, for the back story about the script and dramatic presentation of this video. Will report when I know. For now, congratulations to Soberal, his co-founder of Bitwise Irma Olguin, and all others involved.
These were early entries in what has become one of our central themes. That is the importance of what used to be dismissively known as “vocational education” or even “trade schools,” and now might be called “career technical education” or go by other names—but which, by any name, has a newly crucial economic and social-mobility role.
The caricature view of today’s economy, which is uncomfortably close to the truth, is that it is separating into financiers and rentiers at the top end, and on the other end the people who feed, care for, drive, clean, teach them yoga, and otherwise attend them. The large-scale factory-based jobs that broadened the middle class of the 20th century are obviously not coming back.
The main “good middle-class jobs” that are increasing are in the skilled trades. Welders, high-end repair technicians, engineering-type jobs in health care and logistics and agriculture and aerospace, and on down a long list. That’s where “career technical education” — in K-12 schools, at community colleges, at local tech centers, wherever — comes in.
Sea-borne shipping is one of these areas of rapid growth of high-wage technical jobs. This week Jonathan Rothwell of Brookings released a survey of colleges ranked not on snob appeal, endowment, or other pernicious measures but rather by “value added.” As Rothwell put it:
Value-added measures attempt to isolate the contribution of the college to student outcomes, as distinct from what one might predict based on student characteristics or the level of degree offered. It is .. a way to compare colleges on a more equal footing, by adjusting for the relative advantages or disadvantages faced by diverse students pursuing different levels of study across different local economies.
Of the 1600+ four-year colleges in the ranking, 15 got a perfect 100 score. Those 15 ranged from the most usual of usual-suspects, Harvard, to some schools I had never heard of, and one I knew well: Maine Maritime Academy. You can search and see the whole list if you check the Brookings report. Here is a screenshot of the top group.
The news for Maine Maritime is particularly welcome, coming after a great tragedy earlier this month. As explained in a series of releases on the Academy’s site, of the 33 mariners who were lost when the cargo ship El Faro sank on October 1 during Hurricane Joaquin, five were Maine Maritime alumni. According to the school, they were: Mike Davidson, Class of 1988; Danielle Randolph, Class of 2005; Mitchell Kuflik, Class of 2011; Mike Holland, Class of 2012; and Dylan Meklin, Class of 2015. Our best wishes, respect, and sympathies to their friends and families.
Most cases are not life-threatening, which is also what makes the virus a historic challenge to contain.
In May 1997, a 3-year-old boy developed what at first seemed like the common cold. When his symptoms—sore throat, fever, and cough—persisted for six days, he was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong. There his cough worsened, and he began gasping for air. Despite intensive care, the boy died.
Puzzled by his rapid deterioration, doctors sent a sample of the boy’s sputum to China’s Department of Health. But the standard testing protocol couldn’t fully identify the virus that had caused the disease. The chief virologist decided to ship some of the sample to colleagues in other countries.
At the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the boy’s sputum sat for a month, waiting for its turn in a slow process of antibody-matching analysis. The results eventually confirmed that this was a variant of influenza, the virus that has killed more people than any in history. But this type had never before been seen in humans. It was H5N1, or “avian flu,” discovered two decades prior, but known only to infect birds.
China’s use of surveillance and censorship makes it harder for Xi Jinping to know what’s going on in his own country.
China is in the grip of a momentous crisis. The novel coronavirus that emerged late last year has already claimed three times more lives than the SARS outbreak in 2003, and it is still spreading. More than 50 million people (more than the combined metro populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco) remain under historically unprecedented lockdown, unable to leave their city—and in many cases, even their apartment. Many countries no longer accept visiting Chinese nationals, or if they do, quarantine them for weeks. Big companies are pulling out of trade shows. Production is suffering. Profound economic consequences are bound to ensue, not just in China but around the world.
The old but newly popular notion that one’s love life can be analyzed like an economy is flawed—and it’s ruining romance.
Ever since her last relationship ended this past August, Liz has been consciously trying not to treat dating as a “numbers game.” By the 30-year-old Alaskan’s own admission, however, it hasn’t been going great.
Liz has been going on Tinder dates frequently, sometimes multiple times a week—one of her New Year’s resolutions was to go on every date she was invited on. But Liz, who asked to be identified only by her first name in order to avoid harassment, can’t escape a feeling of impersonal, businesslike detachment from the whole pursuit.
“It’s like, ‘If this doesn’t go well, there are 20 other guys who look like you in my inbox.’ And I’m sure they feel the same way—that there are 20 other girls who are willing to hang out, or whatever,” she said. “People are seen as commodities, as opposed to individuals.”
Nancy Pelosi’s majority is new, fragile, and dependent on voters who are more conservative than the median Democrat.
Supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders insist that their guy can eject Donald Trump from the White House. The more insistent question, though, is whether Sanders will cost Democrats the House of Representatives.
Democrats won the House in 2018, riding a surge of anti-Trump voting from a constituency that’s been scared by the Sanders campaign: older, college-educated, conservative-leaning women. Such voters tipped into the Democratic column the congressional seats once held by George H. W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Eric Cantor.
In 2018, upmarket districts voted to reprimand the president’s language and behavior. A Sanders nomination invites those districts to vote in 2020 to raise their taxes and replace their health insurance. That may be a tougher sell.
The family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many. It’s time to figure out better ways to live together.
The scene is one many of us have somewhere in our family history: Dozens of people celebrating Thanksgiving or some other holiday around a makeshift stretch of family tables—siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, great-aunts. The grandparents are telling the old family stories for the 37th time. “It was the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen in your life,” says one, remembering his first day in America. “There were lights everywhere … It was a celebration of light! I thought they were for me.”
The oldsters start squabbling about whose memory is better. “It was cold that day,” one says about some faraway memory. “What are you talking about? It was May, late May,” says another. The young children sit wide-eyed, absorbing family lore and trying to piece together the plotline of the generations.
What the president is doing to America’s intelligence community could have enormous repercussions for the 2020 election and the country’s preparedness for threats from around the world.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, many observers worried about what Donald Trump might do with the U.S. intelligence apparatus. These organizations kill people, after all, with scary flying robots. They have the ability to spy on huge numbers of people all over the world. And they have a history of scandal. So it was reasonable to wonder: What happens when you put organizations such as the CIA and the NSA in the hands of a person as vindictive, petty, and contemptuous of law and his political enemies as Trump?
The answer, for a while at least, was a somewhat uneventful interlude. Trump had his eyes on other bureaucratic targets. The president rejected important intelligence conclusions, particularly vis-à-vis Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. And he reportedly had little patience for briefings and tended not to believe the community’s conclusions when they were inconvenient to him. But his abusive energy focused far less on the agencies that collect and analyze foreign intelligence than it did on the Justice Department and its investigative component, the FBI.
If centrists can’t move past their doctrine and recognize when their candidates are unelectable, then how will Democrats ever beat Trump?
The two major policy pitches of the Democratic nominee for president of the United States in 1972 were clear: an immediate end to the Vietnam War, and an immediate guarantee of a minimum income for all Americans. George McGovern ran for president that year, but the most progressive Democratic nominee in recent history did not get very far. He suffered the second-largest rout for a Democrat in American Electoral College history.
Incumbent Richard Nixon won 49 states and 520 electoral votes, severely wounding the spirits of countless young progressives. And I don’t think some of them ever fully recovered. “It was a generational defeat,” as BuzzFeed’s Katherine Miller wrote.
A small, litigious group has spent decades trying to stop the government from telling doctors what to do. What happens if it succeeds?
When the vaccine crackdown came, it was the doctors, of all people, who felt censored. It all started last year, when Adam Schiff, a Democratic representative from California, sent letters to Amazon and other tech giants expressing concern that the companies feature anti-vaccine videos and information on their platforms. Schiff cited a report by CNN that found that many searches on Amazon related to vaccines led to anti-vax content. The first listing, for instance, was a sponsored post for the book Vaccines on Trial, which is dedicated to “children who had to suffer due to adverse vaccine reactions.”
Amazon removed anti-vaccine movies likeVaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe from its Prime streaming service, incensing advocates opposed to mandatory vaccines and leading to a lawsuit that was filed against Schiff a few weeks ago. The lawsuit came from a New York woman who wants more information about vaccines, alongside an organization that, on the surface, seems counterintuitive: a group of doctors called the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
Some of his own organizers are willing to make a deal. Is their position a preview of his general-election message?
Updated at 1:42 p.m. ET on February 25
Ask a Bernie Sanders backer why they support the Vermont senator, and their response will likely include an emphatic uttering of the phrase Medicare for All—the health-care proposal is the crux of Sanders’s support.
But some of Sanders’s most loyal organizers seem willing to make a deal. While they really do want the plan to pass, these supporters—grassroots leaders across the country who I talked to over the last week—speak with more skepticism about its chances, often more so than the candidate himself. They said they are clear-eyed about how difficult it will be to achieve such gargantuan reform. And they would be pleased, if not completely satisfied, with passing a public option as a compromise.
So many of us berate ourselves over the question “Why did I not have the right response?”
When people ask me why I never reported my rapists, I reply: “It was just easiest for me to pretend it didn’t happen,” “I didn’t want to be a victim,” “I was embarrassed,” “I was scared.” These same explanations appear in the testimonies of the women who say that the disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted them.
As I read the coverage of Weinstein’s trial, I saw how his defense attorneys perpetuated common misconceptions about how women should respond to assault. “A true rape victim,” they said, certainly wouldn’t continue speaking with her rapist. But I did. Most sexual-assault victims don’t report their perpetrators—I didn’t—so the myriad ways that women respond are not usually made public. So many of us berate ourselves over the question “Why did I not have the right response?”