Thursday, June 28, 2012

Texas Education Plans

The GOP in Texas has outdone themselves once again. Not only are they pushing for abstinence-only education, and pro-Creationism in science classes. Now, they want corporal punishment in schools, and want to block students from learning critical thinking skills.

So, rather than pushing for a more comprehensive education plan that would encourage students to practice critical thinking, the GOP wants teachers to be allowed to hit kids in school, and doesn't want students to learn how to think for themselves. And they're reasoning? They claim that corporal punishment is effective and that teachers need more options for dealing with rule-breaking, and that kids should not learn how to think for themselves so that they are more likely to listen to their parents. Really? Those have to be the worst excuses I have ever heard for corporal punishment and teaching ignorance.

Because that's what this means. An education system that does not teach critical thinking skills is not an education system. It's a system that promotes ignorance, sheep-like behavior, and discourages students from learning how to use logic and critical thinking to make up their own minds. Ridiculous!

The Texas GOP has proven, once again, that they are not interested in education. They are not interested in imparting knowledge to students in their state. They are more interested in an ideological statement that is made on the backs of the most vulnerable citizens. They want teachers to be allowed to hit kids, yet they want parents to have more freedom to teach their children what and how they deem appropriate? How does that fit?

Individual Mandate Constitutional!

The Supreme Court publicized their ruling on the ACA passed by Obama and Congress a few years ago. Leading up to this, it was not looking good for the Individual Mandate, the centerpiece of Obama's plan.

Well, that worry was unfounded. Turns out, the majority of SCJ's found that the Individual Mandate was CONSTITUTIONAL under the taxation clause of Congress. Because the Individual Mandate was being used in conjunction with tax incentives, the justices argued that it was constitutional for Congress to mandate health insurance as a kind of tax break opportunity.

So, all that concern about what would happen to people who had pre-existing conditions, all those people who were being denied coverage, who were being dropped from insurance, and all the worry about what would happen to the cost of health care to cover the uninsured are reduced, even if they're not completely alleviated.

But this is a great step forward, in my opinion. It shows a major step into the 21st Century for America. It means that, as a nation, America will not allow people to fall through the cracks, will not stand for people being turned away with preventable diseases and injuries.

While not everything survived the Supreme Court (They struck down a provision that would have allowed Congress to deny states medicaid funding if they didn't comply with the law), the bulk of the ACA was upheld, and this is cause for a lot of sighs of relief from the American People. Hopefully, this will mean a major boost for the Obama administration, and the first step on a path towards affordable, responsible health care.

UPDATE: Since the ruling, there's been a lot of discussion about the specifics of the John Roberts opinion, which has been deemed the definitive stance of the court on this topic. The funny thing, based on Roberts' ruling, conservatives as well as progressives got something they wanted.

Keep in mind that Roberts refused to accept the law under the commerce clause. He did, however, accept it under the tax clause of Congress. What Roberts did with that little maneuver was curttail congressional power under the commerce clause to a level not seen in some time. In fact, previous rulings dating back to the mid-2000's indicated that the SC took a very broad view of the Congressional commerce clause. Constitutionalists and conservative limited-governmentalists should be happy about that particular part of the ruling.

There has also been a lot of discussion about the political ramifications of this ruling. I believe this will be a solidifying factor for both sides, with those who oppose the ACA now increasing their support for Romney, and those who support it supporting Obama. It has also, obviously, become a catalyst for GOP repeal of the bill. Whether or not it gets repealed is another discussion; I'll just say that I think the GOP is engaging in more political posturing, and leave it at that.

But many people are saying some rather ridiculous things about this. First you have Romney who has said that this is a ruling that will raise taxes, cut Medicaid, and add to the deficit. Really? How does that math add up? It makes no sense. Besides that, the CBO has calculated that the bill will reduce the deficit by over $100 Billion over the next ten years. Rand Paul also made a ridiculous statement when he said that the court's ruling that the ACA was constitutional did not mean it was unconstitutional....Um....yes it does. You may not agree with it, but that was the ruling of the majority of the court.

Scalia in Hot Water

It's really very hard to unseat a SCJ. While there are minimum levels of ethical conduct, the word "minimum" essentially means they can't kill someone. So, there's a lot of wiggle room. This is something that particular SCJ's have been hammered for in the past. For example, Justice Clarence Thomas has gone to fundraisers for organizations that he has then voted to benefit. It's not technically against the rules. Neither is the fact that Thomas's wife works for an organization whose sole purpose is to overturn the ACA. This has raised eyebrows, but Thomas did not recuse himself, and so there's nothing anybody can really do about it.

Well, now it's Antonin Scalia's turn to create a controversy. Scalia, who has been one of the most out-spoken justices of the court, is being criticized for recent remarks he made from the bench. Scalia is notorious for sounding off on topics he is voting on, and being blatantly conservative. He is also known for using his appointed platform to attack anyone he doesn't agree with.

His most recent remarks, however, were in reference to something that he wasn't even deliberating on. Specifically, Scalia took time out of proceedings on a completely different topic to bash the Obama administration over its recent change in immigration policy, in which it will no longer deport individuals who were brought here as children.

The fact that Scalia was not even discussing this on the bench when he made these remarks puts his comments in an unusual position. Supreme Court Justices are meant to be impartial, just like any other judge in the country. Scalia has definitely toed the line before now with his remarks, but never has he gone completely off topic to attack the President. He was not remarking on an issue he was dealing with, but rather made a purely political statement on an issue his position was not part of at the time. That is not being impartial in any sense of the word.

As you can imagine, many people are outraged, while other people are ecstatic. For conservatives, it's another step in the right direction for the Supreme Court. For liberals, it's another slap in the face and a clear indication that the court is operating based on political bias and not neutral interpretation of the law.

Some people are calling for Scalia to resign, which may be appropriate in this situation. However, I doubt it will happen. As long as Scalia refuses, there's really not much anyone else can do.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

AZ immigration

Yesterday, the SCOTUS struck down key provisions of the AZ immigration law. While they allowed part of it stand, the general consensus is that the law has been seriously scaled back.

Today, a number of articles are still coming out that detail some of the interesting implications of the law. In particular, this one explains how the ruling will likely mean big money for private prison companies. This has been an issue in debates before. Just how much influence do these companies have over immigration policy. After all, these companies make money almost entirely from states who pay them based on how many inmates they have. These companies have a vested interested in keeping their prisons full longer, and in having a steady stream of easy-to-convict people to replace those who inevitably have to leave. That's why illegal immigrants are so great.

Illegal immigrants come to America at a pretty good clip. I don't know what the most recent estimates are, but they certainly reach into the hundreds of thousands. Technically, each one of those individuals is a lawbreaker, meaning they could be imprisoned, which makes the prison company money. Prison companies, therefore, want to strike a balance between laws and regulations. They want laws that will allow strict sentencing of illegals so they are sent to prison more and stay longer. But, they don't want any policy that is too effective at preventing illegal immigration or that prevents illegals from being imprisoned.

The recent ruling on AZ immigration is a good one because it keeps a key provision (the "show me your papers" bit) which will allow police to question the citizenship of any individual they stop for another reason. In context, that's pretty relaxed policy; some European countries require citizens and foreigners to carry identification at all times, and can demand to see it at any time. But what the rule means is that these prisons will have an easier time tapping into this money-making population.

Imagine what would happen if the prison lobby were not able to push legislation in their favor? What would the outcome be? Would we have tighter border security? Would we have prisons that weren't overfull with inmates? Would we have more rehabilitation rather than retaliation for lawbreakers? Possibly. But as long as money is involved, you can bet there won't be any serious progress made in the area of immigration reform.

The Uninsured

This  a brilliant article by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine. The article outlines one of the biggest issues that hangs in the balance with the Affordable Care Act: What is the cost of repealing that ACA?

One of the most popular, and controversial, parts of the ACA has always been the individual mandate. Some called it Socialism; other called it social justice. Everyone is welcome to their own opinion on this topic, but when it comes to policy, facts and evidence must be presented for both those in favor of the ACA and those against it.

But those who do not support the individual mandate, or the ACA in general, do so in terms of a strongly held belief about society: that people aren't entitled to anything. The established GOP, and many (if not all) Tea Partiers, see society as a get-what-you-deserve kind of system. If you can't afford it, you don't get it. In some ways, everyone agrees with this view. I can't afford a wall-sized television, so I don't get one. I can't afford a BMW or a Chrysler, so I drive something else. It's all about getting what you can with what you've got. The debate comes when we try to classify what should be and should not be given by society to all people, regardless of their ability to pay.

For a long time, education in America was free to everyone, regardless of whether they could afford it. Today, we're seeing that change as more and more public education funding is being taken away and private education is being touted more and more by local and state governments. The same debate is now entrenched in the health care discussion. Is it morally permissible for the government to require all people to have insurance, regardless of their ability to pay, or if healthcare should only be available to people who can pay for it themselves.

There are a lot of negative consequences that come with making health care a luxury. What happens as low-income workers get sick or injured and can't receive medical care? What happens if someone is seriously injured but doesn't have insurance? In our medical system today, everyone receives care first, and is billed later. But without insurance, if they are not able to get treatment, our workforce is going to suffer immensely. More and more people will be unable to work due to preventable or curable injuries and illnesses. And if all those people get placed on assistance, that will have a huge impact on state and federal programs as well. It's a downward spiral that would inevitably lead to those programs being cut, leaving more and more people without any way of supporting themselves.

I don't know if the ACA will hold up in the SCOTUS. I actually doubt that it will. But, if that's the case, then our political leaders need to come up with an alternative. If the GOP wants to dismantle Obama's signature health care plan, then they need to come up with something all their own. But I haven't heard a word on it yet. Why? Because the GOP wants people to be responsible for their own health insurance and not rely on the government. Ideally, I think people should support themselves, but I'm also a realist and I see that's it's not possible for millions of people, especially when you let companies drop people due to "pre-existing conditions" or cancel their plans when they get sick. Regulations are important, and the ACA helped stop the fraud of these insurance companies. We need that, regardless of whether you believe health care is a right of the people or not.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Truth about Romney

Romney has been saying a lot of things lately, not all of which have been true. So, here to help is Steve Benen, who has taken it upon himself to catalog Romney's most interesting lies in a given week. So far, he has something like 24 weeks of these. At the bottom of the linked page, click on the roman numerals to see the next week's finds.

Working out our Problems

Political Irony recently posted a couple of videos that are very informative about how our financial crisis could be fixed, and how the major banks and investment firms have become like the Mafia in their practices.

The second video is long, but worth the time for how it lays out the way in which firms like JP Morgan Chase is operating now and how it makes so much money by screwing over the People.

Over and over again, we have a discussion about what kind of oversight is required by Government. At this point, most sane people argue that there should be at least some oversight. The discussion is, what should be regulated, how they should be regulated, who should be overseeing them, and who should be held accountable for waste, fraud, and abuse? Democrats tend to advocate for stronger oversight and regulation, while Republicans believe in less government intrusion and more autonomous business. What these videos point out is that, not only does deregulation lead to riskier business practices, it also encourages banks to be destructive with their funds, since they have government backed security over their deposits. I've written about this little tidbit before.

The funny thing is, it makes perfect sense for businesses to act irresponsibly if it nets them huge profits and they don't have to worry about any consequences. This is not a problem that falls squarely on the shoulders of one party or another; it's an issue across the board. No matter who is in power, it seems as though investment and Wall Street powerhouses get the best deal while the rest of us pay for it. Look at the unemployment rate, still pretty high, and the housing market that is just now starting to come back, and you can see the kind of widespread devastation that comes from letting these firms run wild.

And after JPMC lost $2 Billion in a bad trade that they couldn't understand, Jamie Dimon the CEO gets a pat on the back from the Senate. Granted, he was pretty well beaten to a pulp by the House committee, but even then he was not sworn in, meaning he could say whatever he wanted without fear of legal recourse. It's mind-boggling to me that people who have clearly acted irresponsibly in the private sector are defended as a side effect to free markets, while those who act irresponsibly in the public sector are turned into political punching bags (think Eric Holder). In Holder's case, the F&F program resulted in the deaths of many, including a border patrol agent. In the case of Wall Street irresponsibility, we had a global recession, struggling recovery, and continued abuse in the markets. Are we willing to say that global financial catastrophe is an infinitely lesser crime than a stupidly planned and executed government operation? This may be comparing apples to oranges, but both were brought before Congressional panels, telling me that they at least have similar levels of importance.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Some things never change

No matter what else happens in the world, you can rely on Republicans doing whatever they can to increase the wealth gap in America. A new report indicates that the Republican tax plan would cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, while it simultaneously raises taxes on the middle class, causing a hike between $1000 and $4600 a year in taxes.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the Republicans are targeting the middle class in favor of the wealthy. At least, if that's not what they're doing then they are very bad at math...

Executive Privilege

In a breaking news story, President Obama has used the power of Executive Privilege to block a subpoena targeted at Eric Holder by Darrell Issa that was meant to force Holder to release documents about Operation Fast & Furious. As you can imagine, this is a story that is echoing loudly across the media at this very moment. Left-wingers are saying it's a reasonable use of the power, and pointing out that this is Obama's first use of said authority. Right-wingers are calling it a blatant cover-up tactic and a roadblock in the way of justice. Honestly, it's probably a little bit of both.

To be sure, the F & F investigation may be important. But, Issa has already proven to be incompetent and highly partisan in this case. After all, he defied a court order from a federal judge and released documents from the investigation. And, his subpoena would have forced Holder to provide documents of a sensitive and legally questionable nature. Given Issa's track record, this would have slipped to the media almost immediately.

And it's also worth noting that this now-infamous government operation was organized and started under Bush (yes, I'm invoking our past President, but facts back me up). Holder actually put a halt to the operation, but Issa and his Senatorial minions seem hell-bent on nailing him to a post anyway. It seems more and more like a political witch hunt than an honest investigation. After all, Holder has appeared before this committee on numerous occasions, answered all questions, and is now even facing a contempt of Congress vote, again initiated by Issa. Based on all of this, it seems Issa is only out to get Holder and to smear Obama, not actually find the truth to what happened during F&F.

On the other hand, if you want to play Devil's Advocate, you could concede that Obama is stepping in and using his authority to usurp the Senate panel. You could argue that Obama is overreaching and must therefore have something to hide. You could say that Obama and Holder seem to want to keep things private so that the rest of us don't know what really happened.

To which I say this: Bullshit.

Obama stepping in is out of character, but it's the first time he has done so, compared to the six times Bush used it and the fourteen under Clinton. Comparatively, Obama has been a hands-off Commander-in-Chief. But the nature of the subpoena itself would have forced Holder to break the law, since Issa has been known to slide this information to the media. Holder, therefore, decided to stop the subpoena before he had to do something unethical and illegal.

And the public doesn't need to know everything about the government's doings. Isn't that the argument that was used after the Patriot Act was put into effect? That we shouldn't be given full disclosure in the name of "national security"? Whatever happened to that? Why is that not being used in this case? It's funny, because this is a similar situation: information about a clandestine operation being demanded for public scrutiny, and being denied on the basis (I think) that it would compromise security or otherwise harm the interests of the country if such information was released." Seems pretty clear-cut to me. Anyone else have a problem with protecting our national interests?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Immigration Issues

America has always been a nation built on immigration. We have not always been welcome to immigrants (think 1920's and 30's), but we are at a point now where we seem to be opening our arms just a bit wider to the world, and beckoning those who want a better life to join us.

There are those who say this is bad, or at least needs to be controlled better. Mexican immigration has long been the first and only topic covered when some mentions "immigrant." Think about it. The first thing that comes to your mind when someone says "Immigrant," "migrant worker," "Illegal alien," or "immigration policy" is Mexico. We have been conditioned to believe that Mexican immigration is the biggest concern we have at this time.

But according to a new, in-depth study by the Pew Research Center, Mexico is no longer the primary source of immigrants. Nope, now we are seeing a surge in the number of Asian immigrants coming into the country.

There are a few reasons for this upswing. First of all, the main increase in job growth in America is coming from technology rather than manufacturing. Technology development is a strong field for Asian nationals to be in due to the intense focus on mathematics and science that Asian schools tend to have. They also are coming from countries where technological innovations are practically dropping out of the sky. Bringing that expertise to a country that is lagging behind in that area means Asian immigrants are highly sought after for their skills.

Asians are also flooding college campuses. Again, thanks to the outstanding schools in Asian countries, international students from those countries tend to do very well in American universities. They get a good education, and many of them stay, opting to renew their Visa's or going for citizenship.

Clearly, there are some big differences between the Mexican immigrant population, and the Asian immigrant population. But rather than focus on the illegal immigration of Mexicans, which Obama has been addressing in fine fashion, why aren't we talking about the implications of Asian immigration?

In regards to Mexican immigrants, those who come here tend to take physically taxing, low-paying jobs that Americans refuse to take. While there is a problem with illegal immigration from Mexico, the Pew report points out that illegal immigration has slowed, some Mexicans in America are actually leaving, and deportations are going up. On the other hand, Asian immigrants come here through legal channels, tend to take high-paying and highly sought-after jobs in the technical fields, and are flocking here in ever-increasing numbers.

How should the US respond to Asian immigration? We already have limits on the number of immigrants allowed into the US from certain regions, but we also fast-track individuals who are immigrating here for education or business investment purposes. We also take on the highly-skilled before laborers. But what this does is sets up a system in which the country is taking in immigrants who are taking job opportunities from citizens. This has been the argument about Mexican immigrants for a long time, but the difference is that, rather than these jobs being labor positions that Americans refuse to take anyway, these are high-quality tech jobs that require extensive experience and likely a college education. That means, this is opening up immigrant competition in the emerging fields of technology. While that may be good for our economy as a whole, it does not bode well for citizen job-seekers.

So, what do we do? In my opinion, there's not much we can do, unless we want to start employing isolationist tactics. One option would be the classic standby of tax subsidy to businesses that balance their hiring between immigrant and citizen workers. Another could be to further limit immigrant worker's time in the country, forcing them to return to their native country on a regular basis. But no matter what steps are taken, there are certainly no easy answers.

I would argue that this immigration issue is much more concerning than that of Mexican immigration, especially considering the recent trends. But to shift the national discussion in a new direction after so many years of hard-nosed debate over the the southern border will be difficult, to say the least.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Speech vs. Censorship

Recently, Google released a report stating that it had received thousands of requests to remove content from their Google searches by various governments, including the US. Google reported that they have complied with some, but not all of these requests, but remarks that the requests are becoming more frequent, more politically-based, and more in line with censorship. In some cases, this removal is so that the searches are in accordance with the laws of that particular country (such as removing links to videos with Nazi references in Germany, because such references are banned). But in others, Google says, the requests are clearly politically motivated.

To date, Google has refused to comply with many of these requests, but not most of them. The question this raises is, how much control should governments have over internet content, and can they legally petition to have certain information censored.

The answer to the second question is clearly "yes", or at least has been interpreted that way by the government's of the world. The first question, though, is much more difficult to answer. It's worth looking at our own free speech rights as a reference to help answer this question.

We know that, as Americans, we enjoy relative freedom to speak our mind. While we can't do things that are blatantly dangerous (yelling "fire" in public) or defamatory (lying under oath; publishing falsehoods as fact), beyond that we have pretty free reign to say what we want. That means we can celebrate or criticize any person, product, organization, etc. and be fully within our rights. We can accuse the POTUS of anything under the sun, and get away with it (provided we are not, in the process, threatening them or inciting violence against them).

But with the internet, we have a new dimension to this. Sure, it's the 1st Amendment that allows me to write this blog and not be arrested for it. It's what allows anybody to say or do anything without having to worry about their freedom. But then one has to ask: what happens when you have a repository for all the information of the entire world? What happens to secrets? What do you do if something is classified as "need-to-know only"? There are clear boundaries to what people are allowed to know, sometimes for legal reasons, sometimes ethical, and sometimes for security and safety. Where is that line drawn, and how do we maintain it in a world where information is a few clicks away?

That's where "censorship" comes in. Countries like China are notorious for their strict censor of the internet. America has largely been seen as a free-thinking, free-information kind of place, but that's not entirely accurate either. After all, we have no idea what our government is doing at any given time. If we did, how would that affect us and our way of life? Undoubtedly, making all information about our country public would compromise security, and probably spark some protests and negative responses for the public. So, we are left not knowing.

I guess people shouldn't be surprised that America, along with many other countries, are petitioning sites like Google to limit search results. In a way, I think people should be happy about this. After all, it keeps certain information and sites unavailable, and there are certainly things on the internet that should be kept off-limits. What I think people need to do, though, is stop thinking in terms of "slippery slope" logic. Just because our government is asking Google to block access to certain sites does not mean they are going to continually get more extreme in their requests until they are censoring dissension. First of all, Google would surely not allow this to happen. And arguing that we have a "right to know" everything that our government does is a bit of a stretch too. Where does it say that we have the right to omniscience? It's not in the constitution, and I'm not sure I want to know everything that our government does. I like to know what Congress does, what the President does, and what the SCOTUS does, but that's about it.

So, having governments attempt to censor information, while questionable, is not inherently evil. In some ways, this is a good thing. While I don't agree with the censorship that other nations employ, the balance that America is attempting is admirable. The balance between freedom and censorship is difficult to find, but it is an important balance to make.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Solutions to problems

It amazes me how one change can fix so many problems. Right now, the American economy is struggling to come back. Things are getting better, but slowly. The question everyone seems to be asking is, how can we get our economy moving again? How can we create jobs? How can we make America better? I have an answer, but it may not be something everyone can agree on.

My answer is: infrastructure investment. Specifically, investing in threecategories: utilities, transportation, and telecommunications.

First, let's talk utilities. That's water, energy, heat, etc. This is probably the most difficult for us to improve and expand because it's the most expensive and will require a long time to study, test, and implement solutions. But the thing is, it will have to be done at some point anyway. Why not now? As I've stated before, our water system is in desperate need for repair. It is estimated that completing fixing our water system will cost $300 Billion. Then, you have to account for expansion, upgrades, and the price tag reaches nearly $1 Trillion. In the realm of energy, we could develop a massive renewable energy-based power grid that would provide nearly all the energy we would need. Ever. Start by constructing small wind turbines on homeowners' properties for personal use. Construct homes with solar panel roofing. Or, even better, cover those roofs with some of the new centrifugal wind generators that can provide more energy than a large turbine. All of these are possible solutions. And here's the best part: it will save money for individuals, create jobs, and put people to work making good money. That $1 Trillion price tag for updating the water system? Much of that will be for paying the workers. Those workers will then go and spend that money in the marketplace, boosting the economy. And, as I've stated before, you can target high-unemployment or low-income areas to be the first places where these jobs are available to help with the local economy. It's a huge win-win.

Second, we have transportation. This includes roads, runways, railways, subways, and any other public transportation system. Our national highway system used to be a phenomenon of the world. Now, it's falling apart and lagging behind places like China and Europe. Along with our bridges, the roads need immediate attention. Again, this is a huge job creating opportunity that can be targeted to places with high unemployment or low average income, and these projects can be a boon to the economy. Runways, similarly, are in need of repair. Our entire commercial airline system needs to be updated with new technology, better tracking and communication systems, and needs to be expanded to reach more rural populations. Again, all of this means jobs, and a stronger economy. Then we have our rail system. We are woefully deficient when it comes to our railroads. People don't use train transportation anymore because it's slow, expensive, and burdensome. But it doesn't have to be. Look at China and Europe again, to see the positive impact of high-speed rail. Trains moving twice as fast as they do now, able to carry more freight faster at a fraction of the cost for fuel means cheaper goods, more efficient transportation, and reduced cost to travel. All great things. And the additional bonus of spending money on infrastructure is that it will help businesses move their goods faster and cheaper, which will make them cheaper, more affordable, and add another layer of growth to our economy.

Third, we have telecommunications. This is one area that seems to be getting at least some attention on the local and state level. While our telecommunications system is not in a state of major disrepair, we are very behind in terms of speed, efficiency, availability, and value when it comes to internet and phone services. Many people are still forced to use dial-up internet and land lines. Some are not able to afford internet connectivity and phone plans in the same month. Other countries in Europe, China, and even South America have more extensive, efficient, and cost-effective service than we do. Improving our telecommunications would, again, create jobs, improve productivity for businesses, reduce costs for businesses, spur economic growth, and so on.

In just these three areas, there is a huge potential for growth. And it all needs to be done eventually. We can't simply expect roads to fix themselves, water mains to remain whole, and phone lines to keep on operating year in and year out. We can't continue to rely on outdated, well-worn, and decaying machines for our energy and transportation. It is time for us to enter the 21st century with the rest of the world. This is just a brief glimpse into one area where heavy investment by the federal government (deficit spending and borrowing, to be paid back in better times) would make all the difference. As everyone knows, however, getting our government to act on a common-sense proposal is nearly impossible. But it's the job of government, the job of our Congress, to make sure that these areas receive the money and attention they need to continue functioning. I would hope that our government can soon get out of its own way and focus on what needs to be done to make America that land of opportunity and wealth it has been in past.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dirty Dealing

It's not often that I criticize the Obama administration. I tend to find more interesting things to discuss coming out of the GOP camp. But this one is really upsetting to me, and should be to most people.

For a while now, apparently, the Obama administration has been working out a trade deal with a number of other countries. Congress has been kept mostly in the dark about this, which is new for this sort of thing, and many representatives and senators have been demanding more access to records. Well, in a recent leaked document, the American People are getting a look at this trade deal. And it's not pretty.

Essentially, the trade deal is designed to encourage the growth of foreign companies domestically. The deal would make it so that companies that are based in other countries (China, for example) do not need to abide by the laws of the United States when operating here. The same goes for American-based companies operating in other nations. The domestic companies would be at a severe disadvantage because of this, since they would still have to abide by federal laws and regulations. So, if a company is not large enough or otherwise unable to compete internationally, they're going to be sunk by foreign competitors.

And that's not all. Apparently, the deal would also force companies to air grievances in an international tribunal, and bring complaints against other companies or countries to this group for recompense. So, instead of the US being able to go after foreign countries for their practices in our borders, the government would have to take their complaints to this tribunal, which would make the decision. And since the tribunal would be made up of business lawyers rotating into and out of judge positions and positions as advocates for the various companies being represented, it appears as though businesses will be getting a lot of flexibility from this oversight organization.

All in all, this looks to be an appalling bill. In fact, the only American companies that will benefit from this at all will be those who operate heavily in foreign countries. But think, for a moment, about what this will mean for foreign companies in the US. Complete immunity from our domestic laws and regulations to protect the environment and consumer health and wellness. Complete immunity from national investigation and prosecution. And who knows how consumers will redress grievances to these companies, if there are no national laws that affect them? It's a mess.

So, I sincerely hope that this plan is scrapped. At this point, there is no saving it. I hope that there is enough public outcry over this that it will be laid to rest, and we can have more sensible agreements from now on. If this were to go through, you can bet there'd be serious repurcussions for years to come.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Looking at the National Debt

FOX News, as you may know, is considered to be somewhat less than neutral on political issues. Time and again, they have been shown to have a right-wing slant to their stories, and have used their vast media exposure as a counterpoint to the "lamestream media," even as they practice their own unique brand of partisanship.

So when the FOX News website released a story about the true cost of our national debt, you can imagine what it said. Well, you don't have to imagine, because here's a link. And this is what is interesting about it: it's actually a pretty good piece. In fact, with the exception of the final few paragraphs, it steers clear of most politicizing of the issue at hand: the national debt.

Now, to be sure, the national debt is a highly publicized and debated issue in Washington. The GOP has a bad habit of declaring that we need to reduce the national debt whenever they are not saying that we need to create jobs. I've noticed that, whenever they do this, and the Dems try to steer in that direction, the GOP will switch tactics and claim the Dems are ignoring the bigger problem.

To the GOP, I think the national debt symbolizes a job-killing weight on the economy. That's not exactly true, since that debt is held primarily by our own government, countries continue to lend us money, and that debt is not impacting our private sector. It really doesn't do anything to harm job growth at all.

The article in question is about a report that tries to point out, again, that the national debt is not the only issue at hand, and that the real concern are the interest rates. As the article points out, if the interest rates rise too high, it will cost our government even more money to pay them off, meaning it will slow down government spending and so get the idea. The dire warnings are good to hear, but should also be looked at with a bit of logical sense.

First of all, yes, our interest rate is incredibly low, and an increase would be difficult to manage. But this does not mean that the debt is our biggest national issue. In fact, it's not even that big a problem at the moment, since it could be mostly eliminated with a strong economy. In other words, if Washington would just get off its hands and do something to help the economy, the debt would take care of itself. This has been said over and over and over again, and is getting tiresome for people like me who can't stand watching it come to nothing in Congress.

Secondly, the interest rates are likely not going to increase any time soon. Why? Because our own federal reserve has so much influence over the global markets and interest rates. Really, the only way that could happen is if Ben Bernanke and the other leaders at the Fed decided to raise interest rates. Then, we would be in deep trouble. But until that happens, we should be fine with paying the interest on our loans.

Finally, and as I've said so many times before, deficit spending is not only par for the course, it's expected and even helpful in the midst of a recession. Time and time again, economists all around the world have stated that austerity in the name of debt and deficit reduction slows down the economy, and that countries must spend to jump start demand, get the marketplace up and running again, and use that momentum to pay back the debt. We just happen to have a huge debt that was incurred through unfunded wars, major tax breaks, an unpaid-for prescription drug program, bailouts, and stimulus packages. When all is said and done, that money will have to be paid back.

So, is the national debt going to ruin our economy? Is it the reason for the slow rate of recovery? Do we need to fix it before we fix anything else? No, no, and definitely not. It's a fact of life, has been for a loooonnnnggggg time. And you know what? Before this congressional cycle, it's never been used as a cudgel to push for mass austerity and deep tax cuts for the wealthy. If we want to eliminate it, we must do the opposite of these things: spend our way to massive job growth, levy taxes on the wealthy and on tax-cheating businesses, and get the American People back into the habit of working for themselves. Doing that will reduce dependency on government programs, further lowering operating costs for those programs, and will lead to more vibrant economic growth than trying to cut the national debt while ignoring the people. It's simple, yet difficult for Congress to grasp. Let's put aside the partisanship and start working for the people.

Idiocy in Action

This one really grabbed my attention. Seems a Mr. Chris Stolle of the Virginia State Legislature, is attempting to strike left-wing terms from a bill meant to fund a study on the impact of global climate change.

See, in Virginia, there has been a dramatic increase in coastal flooding due to the sea level rising. While we can surely have a debate over what is causing this, Mr. Stolle went a step backward and challenged the term itself. According to the lawmaker, the term "sea level rise" is a left-wing term, and we should ignore it.

As quoted from the article linked above, Mr. Stolle had this to say about his position:

"What people care about is the floodwater coming through their door... Let’s focus on that. Let’s study that. So that’s what I wanted us to call it.”

Here's the thing. That floodwater that people are concerned about (and rightly so) has been attributed, at least initially to....sea level rise. If the sea level is rising, people on the coast are going to experience more flooding. That's logical reality. Yet, for some reason, we're going to focus on studying the symptoms, not the root cause of the issue? Really?

And then the Tea Party gets involved, and screams about how this is just another ploy to suck money from the pockets of mild-mannered red-meat Republicans, and further control our water, air, lives, and everything else that could conceivably exist. I'm exaggerating of course, but that just means I'm ahead of the curve on their insane rhetoric.

Look, whether you like it or not, the Earth is getting warmer. How much more evidence do you need than the recent weather? This past winter, my area had so little snow that it was the first year without a snow day in....I believe forever. Then, we had 70 degree weather in FEBRUARY! Now, it's topping out at the 80's, and will probably be getting over 100 by the middle of the summer. Just for reference, I live in New England. This is not the weather I grew up with.

And if you know anything about science (which, Mr. Stolle, seems questionable), you would know that, when things get warm, things melt. Ice melts. Scientists have proven...proven beyond doubt that the ice caps are shrinking. All that extra water in the oceans is causing them to rise, which causes flooding in coastal areas. What you are apparently trying to do is get away with fixing the immediate problem while ignoring and denying what caused it. This is a lot like having your car towed everywhere you go instead of filling the gas tank. It makes no sense, and will only delay the point where you have to start dealing with the problem.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Assessing the damage

We've all seen, or at least heard, evidence of the devastating effect that the recession had (and continues to have) on the American people. From high unemployment, lower compensation, lower value for homes, and so much more, we can clearly see that there has been a lot of change for we workers, and not much of it has been good.

Well, if you needed more evidence of this, consider a recent study released by the fed, which shows a sharp drop in the net worth of people's assets between 2007 and 2010, the worst years of the recession to date.

The thing that really upsets me about this is that no one in Washington is going to do anything with this information. The Republicans will take it and say it's evidence that the wealthy need more tax breaks, while the Democrats will just complain and then agree to whatever the GOP says in the name of "bipartisanship" that only seems to go one way.

And while that's going on, people like you and I are going to continue seeing wealth slipping from the hands of the many into the pockets of the few. We are going to continue seeing the wealthy grow in wealth while more and more people slide into poverty. This has to stop soon, or there won't be a way to make a living anymore.

I posted a story earlier today about a man who said he wants to bring the state budget under control. His ideas are very Republican: target public employees and school teachers, cut their benefits, freeze their pay, force them into private retirement accounts, and shut down any new job growth. Why? Because they are paid through tax dollars. Here's a suggestion. Instead of harming honest, hard-working people, why not demand all the stimulus money back from Wall Street and the major corporations who are sitting on trillions of dollars? Why not stop oil and corn subsidies? Why would you target flesh-and-blood Americans before going after corporations or the wealthy? It makes no sense to me.

Whatever happens, I hope it brings some aid to the ailing American workers. We could come back tomorrow if we just had the right people doing the right things. So far, it hasn't happened, and we're continually at the mercy of those who have paid our governments off.

A little taste of Austria, Chinese style

Listening to NPR the other day, I happened to hear an interesting story about what some Chinese officials have spent unknown (but undoubtedly huge) amounts of time and money to create. Here's the transcript, copied from the NPR site, which you can check for more fun stuff.

SAGAL: Roxanne, you're familiar with Chinese knockoffs of handbags and sunglasses. Well they're doing more audacious this time. They've made an exact replica of what?
ROXANNE ROBERTS: Is this a fashion item?
SAGAL: It is not. It's bigger than that.
ROBERTS: Is this a building?
SAGAL: It's bigger than that.
ROBERTS: A city?
SAGAL: Yes. It is an entire Austrian town that they have created a knockoff of.
SAGAL: Halstatt is a quaint, scenic alpine town of 900 people in Austria, but now there are two of them.
SAGAL: Chinese developers spent a year secretly photographing the Austrian town, and now they have built their own replica in Southern China. It's an exact copy, down to the statues and flowers.
ROCCA: Oh my gosh.
SAGAL: If you woke up there, you'd think, "I'm in Austria." And then you'd think, "Why is everybody in Austria Chinese?"
ROBERTS: But why? It's hanging there, why?
SAGAL: Well, for a tourist thing. It's sort of this beautiful picturesque alpine village.
ROCCA: Oh, I thought it would have like a terra cotta goat herd.
SAGAL: Something like that.
SAGAL: It's hard to capture everything of the original Austrian Alps spirit. For example, their version of the "Sound of Music" is hard. You can't really have a family singing group when everybody only is allowed to have one kid.
SAGAL: It's a problem.
O'ROURKE: And what are they doing for anti-Semitism?
SAGAL: That would also be a problem.
ROCCA: Yeah, where do they escape to at the end?
SAGAL: I know.
O'ROURKE: Tibet.
ROCCA: Tibet, they go to Tibet.
O'ROURKE: Tibet.
SAGAL: The songs would change. It would be like "Do, a name, a Chinese name, Fa, another Chinese name."

You can't handle the Truth

While listening to the morning radio show this morning, I found myself hearing some interesting discussions between the radio hosts and their various guests. Two in particular caught my attention.

1. A retired public official, who now makes a living berating the public sector, was on talking about how the state government was in hot water financially, and that the only way to get out of it was to cut the pay of public workers, cut their benefits, cut their retirement, cut their positions, and cut agency budgets. Cut, cut, cut. And this has to happen NOW, he says. It had to happen YESTERDAY!

Now, it's true that the average compensation for public workers in this state is about 10K higher than the average private sector compensation, and if you add in benefits, the difference is about 25% in favor of government workers. Here's the thing though: public worker salaries fall in a much closer margin than private sector. Consider this: the minimum amount a public employee makes is around 25K/ year. The minimum amount a private employee makes is considerably less (not sure on the specifics, but considering how many people work 20 hours a week or less for the minimum wage, you can probably figure it out.). Then, look at the top-tier earners. In public positions, top-tier is far less than 250K, while top-tier in the private sector can easily reach into the millions.

Now, this individual also wanted to get rid of the public-sector unions, pay raises based on cost of living increases, annual pay raises in general, and retirement packages that were not 401Ks. No where in this entire debate did this man suggest raising taxes, reducing tax loopholes, cutting subsidies, or anything else. He's specifically going after state employees and teachers. His argument is that these individuals are being overcompensated, and that they are making huge amounts of money on the backs of the taxpayers. Considering the amount of money being made by some people in the private sector, this accusation really hits a wall.

2. This one goes in a slightly different direction. A local realtor, who is a regular on the program, came on the show today and said (and I paraphrase): Your home is like your own personal savings account. If you sell your home, and downgrade to something smaller, you'll have a good amount of money left over to live on!

Okay, that's true. But when you start thinking of your home like your own personal bank account, you start down the same road of logic that led to the housing bubble. You're talking about people tapping into their home's value, and using that money to live on and make investments. Well, that's exactly what happened in the 2000's and what caused the crash in 2007/2008.

It really bothered me that a prominent realtor would be making the same argument in 2012 that led to the financial collapse and recession of 2008. It's as if the last few years never happened, and that the economy is bad for some reason other than rampant greed and mismanagement of the mortgage market. And this person should know better. Sure, having a person downgrade to a smaller home is good for their business, but they should know that the avenue of thinking they are promoting is dangerous and has been shown to be devastating to people's livelihood.

__________    ____________    ______________

What these stories showed me was that we are most certainly a long way from acknowledging the truth about our circumstances, the logic in the solutions being proposed, and the root causes of our national recession. It shows me just how hard it is to get through to people like this, who honestly believe what they say, and for whom facts have no consequence. In the first story, there is the added bonus of a person who clearly has no comprehension of the fact that he is advocating for the dissolution of people's legacies, that he is talking about wiping out people's retirement plans, slashing the pay of people who depend on it, and seems to misunderstand the impact of what he is advocating. All of this, presented through the radio, and practically heralded as the end-all solution to our greatest woes. How do you compete with such ignorance and shallowness of reasoning?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Campaign Season!

If anyone hadn't noticed yet, we are in the midst of campaign season, when the attack ads and ridiculous Congressional antics are ripe and ready for the taking. Here are just a few great examples of what our lawmakers are up to at this most interesting time of year.

1. Really nothing new, except that this one bill has bipartisan support in the House. Shocking! It just happens to be a bill that will protect House members' own budgets from being cut. Yes, the one time our politicians can come together in support of something is when it only benefits themselves. Fantastic.

2. Republicans also fashioned and passed a bill that will defund major parts of Obama's immigration program. Funnily enough, the deportation rate under Obama has been a huge increase. Conservatives who constantly complain about immigration policy should be celebrating. Instead, they are demanding that these helpful programs be defunded. Really? Could this have anything to do with thwarting the success of the sitting President? Hmm...

3. In another bill affecting the DHS, Congress has passed a bil that limits the circumstances under which the ICE team can provide funding for immigrants to receive abortions. The bill would require ICE to deny abortion funding except in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother. Here's the funny part: that's already the law. An ICE spokesperson said that, not only is this already the standard policy for ICE (and has been for quite some time), it has not been used to provide abortion funding since 2003. In other words, this is at least doubly a non-issue.

I bring up these examples to highlight the point that election-year politics has nothing to do with solving problems, and everything to do with defining positions on issues. These are three examples where the outcome of the bill that was passed have no impact or are completely ass backwards in their aims. Yet they have strong support because their writers and supporters want to draw their line in the sand. The GOP is going to end up drawing so many lines, they're going to box themselves in logically.

Consider the second example. The GOP has always been trying to look tough on immigration. Obama comes along, and really is tough on immigration. But the GOP needs to distance themselves from Obama, yet still maintain their earlier argument. So, they seek to defund the programs that are clearly working so that they can claim Obama is a failure on immigration, which is not even close to true. It's all about scoring political points with voters, which means even less will get done in Washington, and what does get done will be not only unhelpful, but downright harmful for the country as a whole.

It really bothers me that so many Americans will read these stories and hear about these votes from politicians and pundits, and not realize that it's complete political posturing. There's no work being done here. It's rewriting laws already on the books so that they look good for voting for them. They're acting like that idiot who tells the same joke over and over because everyone laughed the first time. And the reason it works is because the American attention span is such that we can never remember the punchline.

Federal Spending

As most people are aware, there is a huge battle going on in Washington over spending, with folks like Paul Ryan becoming standard bearers for the conservatives who want to drive the federal government into the toilet and those like Harry Reid who want to have a more balanced approach to dealing with the economy, deficit, debt, and all the rest. It's gotten so bad that presidential candidate Mitt Romney is receiving criticism from conservatives for not being more austere in his approach to budget-balancing.

There are voices who are speaking out for more reasonable solutions, though. Ben Bernanke, the Bush-appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve, is calling on Congress to spend more money to help stimulate growth in the US economy, rather than continuing to cut. It's a very interesting move for Bernanke, who has been under fire for quite some time now over his handling of the economic crisis in 2007/ 2008. His arguments, though, are valid, and have been echoed among others who see austerity at the federal level as being a response that will lead to outright depression.

Then you have Paul Krugman (of course) who points out that we should really be following the example of Ronald Reagan, just as conservatives have been saying! Of course, the catch is that Reagan's spending increases outpace Obama's and that Reagan actually employed Keynesian economic policies during the recession that he faced. While the situation was rather different, Krugman points out that Reagan's policies, not to mention that "tax and spend" practices of the states, was very effective in bringing the economy around. Because interest rates are so low right now, reducing them is not an option, so spending is the only avenue for growth.

I happen to believe that we need to fund our nation at the state and federal level. We need to see the government paying out for contracts to fix our infrastructure, to revitalize our education and health care systems, and to start looking at more balanced taxation of the wealthy and of major corporations so that we can start paying back our debt. That's the only way to keep growth going in a recession, when people are no longer spending in the marketplace. The government is the only institution that can create demand, create jobs, and fuel the economy when the consumer is not able or willing to.

The problem is, we have a major rift in our government, with deficit hawks (many of them "chicken hawks" according to critics) scouring state and federal governments for excess spending and taxation. We have a large conservative movement that has changed the discussion and has refused to negotiate it's narrow views on spending and taxes in order to get the economy moving again. Indeed they have willingly accepted the failure of the American economy instead of agreeing to strike a deal with those who don't agree with them.

We can analyze the mindset of that conservative branch all we want, and try to understand that quasi-religioous fervor that drives them in this way. But at the end of the day, we need to see progress. We need to have agreements and a government that is willing to work with itself for the betterment of our society. It does not bode well for anyone to have hyper-partisanship dissolve any form of governmental practice before it even starts. People must be willing to come to the table and work out a solution, rather than issuing statements and creating soundbites to disrupt, distort, and dishonor the work that our nation's leaders are meant to engage in.

Spending at the state and federal levels is a major issue at any time, but especially now when our nation needs to come back after being struck down by greed and excess. If we are going to make it as a nation, we have to demand progress and civility in our government. Without that, without common respect and cooperation, we are doomed to collapse and fail as a society. It is an inevitable result of being unable to resolve our differences and understand those who disagree with us. We must be human, human, and humble if we are to succeed in this, and grow stronger through it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

News of the Day

1. A I'm sure you've noticed, Scott Walker won the recall election last night with 53% of the vote. Not surprising, this has a lot of different implications, depending on how you look at it. For those who favored Scott and look at the raw numbers, it was a victory for Democracy and a sign that the American People have "had it" in the words of John Boehner. If you were not happy with last night's result, you came away seeing that big money won the election, not Walker himself. He outspent his Democratic rival by nearly 8:1, much of that money coming from outside the state. If you didn't support Walker, this victory means little going in to the Presidential election in November. If you were a Walker supporter, it's a sure sign of the sentiment of the nation. What are people's thoughts?

2. The Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have helped women secure equal pay for equal work in relation to men. All Republicans, including several women, voted against the bill. While the measure technically "passed" by vote (52 for, 47 opposed), a Republican filibuster turned it into a dead bill anyway. The argument made by Republicans is that such a bill is a) bad for business, and b) a political stunt by the Democrats to try and garner support  and attack the GOP. You know what the GOP could have done to nullify that second accusation? Vote for the bill.

3. European nations, clamoring for aid from the German leadership, are being told that they must give up some of their sovereignty if they wish to continue receiving help. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing for extending the powers of the European Commission as well as other centralizing entities, and wants to deny futher support to countries who refuse to give up sovereignty to a centralized system (that Germany will no doubt control). German officials have been criticizing nations for refusing to make deep enough austerity cuts to their budgets in order to offset the amount that they borrow from the central banks. They are further suggesting that borrowing and debt increases are a poor way to jump-start economic growth. Interestingly, those same austerity measures in other countries makes Germany a more powerful player in Europe that now controls most of the loans and debt of the rest of the eurozone.

4. Obama and his staff are saying, again, that they will not extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy beyond their end date of January 1st. The issue is becoming a major political debate topic in Washington, as Republicans try to use the extension as a bargaining chip for raising the debt ceiling. Incidentally, Boehner has already said he will not raise the debt ceiling unless he gets additional cuts to the federal budget. Oh, and for good measure, the GOP has backed out of the deal they made last year over the debt ceiling debate. Really, they just want everyone to agree with them or be quiet. The Obama administration is doing neither.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Over the Edge

Louisiana has announced a bold new program for their public education: don't have any.

The new program would phase out public education programs while phasing in taxpayer-subsidized vouchers for each student to attend private schools across the state. The idea is that this will make the schools more competitive for students, and will lead to higher outcomes. The voucher program will start this fall, with low-to-middle income families receiving vouchers for full tuition to a number of private schools. The following year, all families will apply for mini-vouchers which, taken together, will cover educations costs for students. Whenever one of those vouchers is granted to a student, that student's public school loses corresponding funding. This will eventually phase out public schools entirely, and place roughly 100% of children in private school, subsidized by state funds.

Here are just a few problems with this plan.

1. The vouchers. Like all voucher programs before it, these vouchers are funded by tax dollars. In other words, these private institutions will be sucking up tax money from the government, but will not be a part of the government. Essentially, it's  a long-term bail-out for private companies, even though those companies are not struggling financially. Rather than hiring teachers, the state is opting to give that money to private institutions, which will result in layoffs of state employees (who are members of a union).

And another point about voucher programs. What happens if/when Louisiana finds itself with a budget deficit? Will they be cutting the voucher amounts? Almost certainly. And that will leave low-income families without a way to pay for education. The public school system was a remarkable institution because it guaranteed an education to every student regardless of whether their family could afford it. Vouchers take that certainty away. Education then becomes a matter of wealth, not an inherent right to the children of America. When times get tough, and vouchers are put on the chopping block, what will Louisiana lawmakers say? That the poor need to pull their own weight, even as the state has been funneling money into private companies? Oh, and there is no limit on what those private institutions can spend this money on. As we've seen with charter schools, voucher money can be used to give the principals bonuses, to pay for fancy equipment, and not one cent must be spent on the value of the education.

2. The curriculum. As the linked article above points out, there are some serious questions about the curriculum at some of these state-approved private schools. For example, schools where science classes don't mention the theory of evolution, teach children that liberals are evil, promote conservative Christian ideology, and places where students literally work in isolation. These are just some examples. In the public school, there are standards for what must be taught, right down to lesson plans. In this case, Superintendent of Education John White states that he is leaving it up to the principals of these institutions to make sure that they are teaching their students all the necessary skills, and that it will be up to the parents, not the state that is funding these schools, to make sure the schools are doing what they're supposed to. I ask you: what parent has the time to go to a school and snoop around into what their children are learning? There will be no panel of parents or community members to preside over the school. Instead, there will be a board of directors that is paid through taxpayer funding. There are no limits on what can and cannot be taught in private schools, and the state of Louisiana is stepping back from providing oversight of private institutions.

3. School Choice. Many of the schools that have been approved for this program are religious in nature. It used to be that a family could choose which school to send their child to. Now, it will be based on how much funding the family can secure through the state (which I complain about above). That means that those who can afford choice will get it, and those who can't, won't. It also means that those who can't afford a local school will have to send their children elsewhere. And then, what if they can't afford anything except a school whose curriculum does not coincide with their beliefs? What if a Jewish family is forced to send their children to a Christian school that promotes biblical rhetoric in it's daily lessons? The problem with this voucher program is that it limits the poor in their choice of school, and will continue to do so as funding for the voucher program inevitably drops.

4. Standards. As I've said, there are no standards for private schools in terms of curriculum. Furthermore, they are not required to admit students to their programs. What this means is, private institutions have much more autonomy when it comes to cherry-picking students for enrollment. Since federal funding is dependent on standardized test scores (thanks to NCLB), these private institutions have it in their best interests to filter out low-performance students. Traditionally, those students who are low-performing in private or charter schools (in LA, they are essentially the same thing now) would be kicked back to public schools, or shuffled off into a program where they're labeled in such a way so that their scores don't count. But without a public school system, what will happen? These students will fall through the cracks, possibly even denied a spot in a private school and will therefore receive no education. Oh, but wait. In Louisiana, private schools are not required to administer standardized tests to their students. So, the only measure of student performance will now no longer be used. There will be no way to know how effective these school's programs are. There will be no way to look over the shoulders of these institutions, because there will be no overall comparison to other states, the nation, or even other districts.

5. Space. And what happens when these private institutions run out of space, or run out of people to teach the new influx of students? The school with the most openings currently has 315. How many thousands of students in Louisiana are going to be displaced? Without public schools, how will the overflow students get an education? Answer: they won't. The state will have to have some public institutions around to handle the extra students that the private schools aren't able to take. But how will those public schools be funded? They are going to be bare-bones schools with no supports, meaning they will finally embody the negative view that proponents of this plan have always had.

6. Jobs. So, let's say that in five years, all the public schools in Louisiana are gone. Private schools have taken over all of the students. What about all those public school teachers? What about the union? Well, the union will be gone, and those teachers that aren't hired by private schools will be out of a job. Remember, those who push for private schools have an immensely negative view of teachers as being overpayed, underworked, and indoctrinating. I'm sure they won't care that so many teachers will suddenly be out of work.

This is just a list of things that jumped out at me. I'm sure if I spent more time on it, I could come up with more. These are very serious concerns, major problems with this proposal. It reflects a dangerous precedent in our nation that places more emphasis on value than on quality. Louisiana is going to be a test case for the rest of the nation, but I fear the results of this social experiment. And unlike a study that is done in the lab, or a test that is taken in the classroom, the effects of this program will be felt for years, decades, generations to come. We are witnessing the beginning of the end to public, free, quality education for all. This is the first step to the world where education is a luxury for the elite, and the poor are left ignorant and powerless. America is better than this, has always been better than this, and I am sad to see that so many children will have to suffer to prove this point once again.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Cooking the Books

Florida has been doing something interesting in the name of preventing illegal voters from voting. They are purging names off of their voter lists that they suspect belong to illegals. But the fed has told them to stop. Why? Because the state has been purging people that are eligible to vote. The state decided to identify "illegal" voters by taking the voter roles and cross-referencing them with DMV records. The DMV was supposed to then look up possible illegals on the national database, but were told they were not allowed to. Instead of reworking the process, the state just started striking people from the rolls, including a WWII vet and a naturalized citizen who had been a legal resident for nearly ten years. What the Florida purge reflects is exactly why. Other ID laws are thought to be discriminatory. People targeted in this purge were targeted because they don't have a record with the DMV, which is not a requirement to be a registered voter. The state has claimed they need access to the DHS database on illegal immigrants to effectively target and remove ineligible voters, but there are legal deterrents to this request that need to be worked out. At a time when voter ID laws are being adopted across the nation, it's an ironic twist to see a state that has followed this trend further limit the rights of Americans by removing them from voting lists for no reason whatsoever. At what point does the solution to the problem become worse than the problem itself?