Thursday, July 19, 2007

We've Moved!

Update your links to:

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Sad Conclusion

So, the giant California education study was released last month. The conclusions of two separate groups of researchers: California could add upwards of $20 billion to a $45 billion education budget and still not have most of its schools meeting state academic goals. That's not pocket change.

I have not worked on education policy for very long at all, but I have worked in the field long enough to come to a sad conclusion: we cannot close achievement gaps the way we are doing it. Though EdTrust will keep saying schools can succeed on their own until they are blue in the face, they are simply wrong. There are just not enough talented teachers or talented principals, there is no set of incentives, there is just not enough money to get schools to the point where we want them by adding more educational programs. Money matters in schools, without a doubt, but there is a point where more money becomes madness.

All of you conservatives out there who claim you have respect for life and are compassionate, I'm calling you out on your bullshit, right now. The free market cannot solve problems of poverty. Just think about it:

- Almost one in five children lives in poverty.
- Twenty eight million children - 39 percent of all children - are classified by the federal government as "low-income" and are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.
- One in nine children has no health insurance.

Should I go on?

- Among the 25 OECD nations reporting data, the U.S. ranks 4th in its percentage of low-birth weight babies. This indicates a lack of adequate pre-natal care, which can translate into learning and cognitive impairments in children.
- Even better, if you want to see how much health care our children get: we have the 2nd highest rate of infant mortality among those countries. Seven of every thousand children born in this country die before the age of 12 months. Most European countries are between three and five.

Try imagining a kid who has grown up in poverty, who doesn't see a book until he walks into kindergarten, who has never had proper health care and is often sick, who has had such poor health care that he has not even had all of his immunizations, who is from a single-parent home and has likely had very little in the way of positive role models, who can't concentrate in school because he has being inadequately nourished and lacks access to proper nutrition.

Now imagine a class of twenty of these children, each with his own specific disadvantages. This is what teachers in urban schools are up against. This is why half of those teachers have new jobs within three years.

If we're going to spend money, put it into social welfare. Put it into universal health care for children, put it into health clinics for low-income areas, nutrition programs, community-building programs. Put it into providing adequate health care for pregnant women. I guarantee you that every dollar we put into these programs would boost the economy and reduce education costs by a far greater amount than these programs would cost.

Just another note while we're talking about money. Under Eisenhower, there were 20 federal income tax brackets extending to $200,000, or $1.5 million in today's dollars. Today, we have six tax brackets going up to $319,000. The highest bracket under Eisenhower: 91%. Under Johnson: 77%. Under Bush II: 35%.

So, I have a message to any Republican who thinks Democrats want to tax Americans into economic oblivion, to any Republican who claims to be compassionate, to any Republican who claims to have a respect for life, to any Republican who opposes abortion on religious grounds but does not feel a religious compulsion to give up all he has and give it to the poor:

Shut the hell up. We know how to fix America's problems, and you're standing in the way.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Useful Comparison

And before you go thinking I'm trying to bankrupt America and destroy our economy with all my progressive programs, keep this NYTimes feature in mind.

On an annual basis...

Universal health insurance + universal preschool + implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations + another $55 billion in spending money = 1 Iraq War.

Just remember that.

Cowboys on a Spaceship

I don't know why David Brooks seems to keep giving me good material, but this week he takes on income inequality ($). His political conclusion?
The Democratic Party is now divided between moderates — who emphasize individual responsibility and education to ameliorate inequality — and progressive populists, who advocate an activist state that will protect people from forces beyond their control. Given the deep forces in American history, the centrists will almost certainly win out.

According to Brooks, America, despite its enormous wealth and income gaps, is still so devoted to meritocracy and individualism that it will refuse to accept social welfarist policies. Perhaps. Let me tell a story, however.

For an environmental law class, I once read an author (I'll post the citation when I find it) who talked about the two types of people/societies: the Cowboy and the Spaceman. The Cowboy faces a frontier with limitless resources. He only cares about procedural equality - equality of opportunity; as long as he can find a patch of land as big as his neighbor's, he's happy. And if he uses up all his resources quickly, no matter - go west, young man!

The Spaceman, on the other hand, views his world as an astronaut would - a world of limited space and resources. He cares about substantive equality - if any person takes too much, it means less for everyone else. He conserves his resources.

America, obviously, is a nation of Cowboys - a fact displayed nowhere better than in the demeanor of our President. Unfortunately, many of us have not yet come to grips with the closing of the frontier. We are acting like cowboys on a spaceship. If America believes what Brooks says it does, then it is all part of the same mindset that thinks it's okay to drive SUVs and thinks they deserve tax cuts because, as W would say, "it's their money."

While the American dream is still certainly possible, it is, in many ways, an illusion. Education (or whatever our country passes for education) and personal responsibility are not always enough for success. I do not, as Brooks would say, "advocate an activist state that will protect people from forces beyond their control." No, I advocate an activist state that will prevent people from the runaway capitalist cowboys whose definition of compassion includes giving millionaires tax breaks and paying employees too little to afford health care while public schools are (quite literally) falling apart.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Breaking News: Under Bush Tax Cuts Bloated Plutocrats Become More Bloated!

Recently, I discussed the startling income inequality in the U.S.

Well, guess what, a new report shows that the Bush tax cuts have had the effect of exacerbating that inequality. Look at the NYTimes editorial board's take on it here.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

And what really makes me sick is...

Though in my previous post I expressed my support for a government-controlled universal health insurance system and pointed at other countries' lower health care costs, I felt I should clarify that I do not believe our current system is entirely to blame for high costs. In great part, I feel we ourselves are.

Read this great piece at the NYTimes about Americans' mania with being diagnosed with any disorder they can come up with. I would imagine that few Europeans find themselves diagnosed with "Restless Leg Syndrome." I doubt that 4 in 10 children in other industrialized nations are on chronic perscription meds. Nor do I believe that doctors in most other nations order every test possible because the alternative is likely a lawsuit.

It's a classic American problem. We want every medicine, every test, every diagnosis we can get our hands on, and then we complain that health care costs are too high. I remember a commercial for Tums a few years back, in which a man eats two chili dogs in 30 seconds and then complains about his heartburn. If you don't want heartburn, I would say there's a very easy solution.

I'm not sure exactly what the policy implications of this little rant are. But it's something I think is useful to keep in mind.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

A culture of life - but one that actually cares about life

Check out Anna Bernasek's vision for universal health insurance over at the NYTimes. Per capita, Americans pay double what other industrialized nations pay on health care. "At the same time, life expectancy in the United States, a broad measure of health, was slightly lower than it was in those other countries in 2004, the latest year for which complete figures are available. And the United States had a higher rate of infant mortality." Bernasek also includes some theories as to why this might be so.

Wait? You mean countries that use government-run health insurance are more efficient than our private system? Say it ain't so! And, by the way, the 1 in 6 Americans who don't have health insurance probably wouldn't worry about the perils of big government if it gave them a chance to stay healthy. Certainly the 8 million children in this country who don't have access to proper health care wouldn't mind.

Much to my delight, John Edwards (who is now officially running for President) seems intent on putting universal health insurance on the table on a national scale.

The NYTimes editorial board seems to be on my side on this one: "Depriving children of adequate health care while giving the rich tax benefits that were intended for average Americans is flat-out wrong." While I'm at it, here's Paul Krugman's take on how to really fight poverty.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Constitution? What's that?

You know, I had thought warrantless wiretapping was about as illegal an action as a sitting President could condone, but this is ridiculous.

"The executive branch shall construe subsection 404(c) of title 39, as enacted by subsection 1010(e) of [HR 6407], which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection, in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances."

I mean, I know our President probably doesn't have much more than two neurons connected by a spirochete inside that head of his, but does he really think executive powers let him rip up the Constitution?

May I turn your attention to the 4th Amendment? "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause...." Granted, I'm no expect in Constitutional Law (yet), but I would imagine mail falls under the category of "papers and effects."

Sigh. Let's hope the Democrats give him hell over this one. I'm not holding my breath though...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A New Generation...

Just because I don't think an Obama candidacy would have a shot at winning does not mean I don't think the world would be a much better place with Obama in the Oval Office.

From an interview with Newsweek: "Our politics has very much been grounded in debates over the '60s. There's the '60s, the backlash against the '60s, the counter-backlash within the Democratic Party against the '60s. We've been effectively talking about Vietnam, the sexual revolution, the civil-rights movement for a generation now, and it doesn't adequately describe the challenges we face today. My peer group, I think, finds many of those divisions unproductive."

Amen. It's sometimes stunning to think about where our leaders are stuck. The Bush administration is still fighting against school integration. Democrats are still fighting (maybe) to realize Johnson's Great Society. We have experts on the Soviet Union making our foreign policy. The entire War on Terror is a giant war to contain Soviet Terrorist expansionism, and it is being prosecuted as such. Sen. Obama is right; fresh blood is exactly what we need.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth?

A recent CNN poll shows Obama behind both McCain and Giuliani by 4 and 7-point margins, respectively. Most polls, as far as I can tell, also put Clinton trailing both GOP frontrunners. The one man (other than John Edwards) who appears to be even or ahead of both is...

Al Gore?

Perhaps experience still counts for something in this world. Whether Gore could manage a win as the '08 nominee is debatable, but the fact that he polls higher against the GOP favorites than either Clinton or Obama is pretty telling, I think.

(Full disclosure: Since I talk about John Edwards so much, I must admit that I've long been an Edwards fan. I voted for Edwards in the '04 primary, as Howard Dean had already dropped out by the time primary season got to my state. Also note that the '04 primary was the second time John Kerry failed to receive my vote...and the first time he was running unopposed. Seriously, who let that man be the Democratic nominee in '04?)