Commentary

UNC prof’s NYT op-ed is the best of the weekend

Prof. Zeynap Tufecki, Image: UNC

Prof. Zeynap Tufecki, Image: UNC

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the fine op-ed that ran in the Sunday New York Times by UNC Assistant Professor of Library Science Zeynap Tufecki. “Why the Post Office Makes America Great” is a powerful reminder of why investment in common good, public institutions is essential for the maintenance and growth of a healthy society.

In it, Tufecki, a Turkish immigrant, explains how amazed she was when she first came to the United States and discovered the easy accessibility of institutions like the U.S. Mail and public libraries. Indeed, she had to work hard to convince her friends back in Turkey that she wasn’t lying when she told them that postal workers would pick up mail free of charge six days a week from private mailboxes throughout the country.

She concludes the essay this way:

“Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the link between infrastructure, innovation — and even ruthless competition. Much of our modern economy thrives here because you can order things online and expect them to be delivered. There are major private delivery services, too, but the United States Postal Service is often better equipped to make it to certain destinations. In fact, Internet sellers, and even private carriers, often use the U.S.P.S. as their delivery mechanism to addresses outside densely populated cities.

Almost every aspect of the most innovative parts of the United States, from cutting-edge medical research to its technology scene, thrives on publicly funded infrastructure. The post office is struggling these days, in some ways because of how much people rely on the web to do much of what they used to turn to the post office for. But the Internet is a testament to infrastructure, too: It exists partly because the National Science Foundation funded much of the research that makes it possible. Even some of the Internet’s biggest companies, like Google, got a start from N.S.F.-funded research.

Infrastructure is often the least-appreciated part of what makes a country strong, and what makes innovation take flight. From my spot in line at the post office, I see a country that does both well; not a country that emphasizes one at the expense of the other.”

Would that our passionate friends in the anti-government Right would read Prof. Zufecki’s commonsense observations and take them to heart.

Commentary

State parks proposal highlights the ongoing march to vending machine government

Well, that didn’t take long. Yesterday in this space, I wrote the following about the conclusion of the Dix land sale to the city of Raleigh:

“Though they were dragged kicking and screaming to the deal, the folks on the right wing remain unrepentant. Even as Raleigh moves toward the creation of a major public ‘destination park, the privatizers and conservative ideologues continue to push to dismantle all thing public — including institutions like parks, zoos and aquariums that ought to be forever public. Don’t think for a second that yesterday’s  success will stop that effort — either in North Carolina or around the country.”

Today, the folks at a local conservative think tank were only too happy to confirm the warning by distributing an essay in which they called for making North Carolina parks “pay their own way” via the initiation of an admission fee system. After that, of course, will come proposals to sell “naming rights” to state parks (get ready for “Duke Energy Park at Umstead” or “the Smithfield Foods Park on the Eno River”)  and then, of course, the big kahuna: full privatization.

A few years back in a column entitled “Vending machine government,” I laid out what this is really all about:

“These ideologues simply hate the idea of a strong, well-funded government in which the people come together democratically and intentionally to a tackle society’s problems. Instead, they favor a weak, decentralized, privatized government modeled after our modern, consumerist private economy.

Rather than a system in which citizens hire and empower a corps of skilled and well-funded professionals to help them build a better society for all, the market fundamentalists want a government in which ‘consumers’ ‘shop’ for services and public institutions ‘compete’ for ‘customers.’

Hence, the moves to privatize pre-K and K-12 education, jack up college and university tuition, add new toll roads, eliminate public financing of campaigns, defund public health care, and enact a new package of fee increases that will extract nearly $100 million annually from persons who ‘consume’ things like services of the court system and driver’s education.”

Sadly, as this latest proposal makes clear, nothing has changed. The Right still hates the idea of strong public institutions that are free to all and remains bent on their elimination — even if they have to nickel and dime them to death.

Uncategorized

Astronaut’s passing reminds us of the power in shared commitment and sacrifice

The Wilmington Star News has a nice tribute to the late Neil Armstrong that’s worth a read this morning. As the editorial noted:

“His death on Saturday at age 82 took those of us who remember that moment back to our living rooms, as we sat contemplating the enormity of the achievement we had just witnessed.

Armstrong’s feat represented more than a mission to send a spacecraft to the moon. The space program at its peak represented the American spirit of adventure, the need to find out more about our universe and, as a result, our own planet – and ourselves.”

Armstrong’s passing should also serve to remind us Read more

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Selling off our state and its future

More details became available yesterday about the ongoing conservative plan to sell off a large number of the public assets that help bind North Carolina together and make middle class life attainable and enjoyable.

As we noted a few weeks back after a previous legislative hearing on the subject of privatizing essential public assets:

“The only problem with this vision, of course, is that it is an absurd fantasy on several levels. As humans have learned through centuries of trial and error Read more