Monday, May 9, 2011

Dismantling the Public School System

My latest post at The Faster Times is up and I am commenting on the on-going dismantling of our public education system via the time honored tradition of privatization.

Colorado GOP Prepares to Play Victim Card on Congressional Redistricting

In Colorado we are entering the final 3 days of our annual legislative session, the first session in 10 years to feature a divided legislature with Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans running the House. As we head into the final days of the session one major outstanding item remains on the agenda - Congressional redistricting. 

Yesterday on Twitter I asked,
Would like to see explanation for why seems so anxious to send redistricting to the courts. Compromise obvsly not an option.
Allow me to proffer an explanation of my own - the state GOP wants a court to intervene and the more lopsided the decision for Democrats the better.

With most legislative issues there is no escape route should the legislature fail to act. If the House and Senate can't agree on a budget to send to the governor then there simply is no budget until they agree. No other branch of government is going to swoop in and save them.

But with redistricting if the two sides can't agree then it is off to the courts where a judge will do the legislature's work for them.

The 2010 census shows that Colorado gained over 700,000 new residents (me included) in the last 10 years. That's not enough for a new Congressional seat but it is enough to require some tweaking of the districts. Democrats have proposed numerous maps that emphasize competitive districts - and, it should be noted, not even Republicans dispute that the maps are genuinely competitive. Republicans though have proved intractable to any sort of compromise and have fought to skew the districts for partisan advantage. The GOP team sent to bipartisan negotiations wasn't actually authorized to agree to terms. The GOP Speaker of the House, Frank McNulty, has consistently undermined negotiations in other ways as well and publicly declared that he sees no hope for compromise nor any reason to bring the legislature back for a special session in order to finish their jobs.

The GOP's intention to refuse any compromise on redistricting has long been clear, but the question remains - why?

Quite simply it's a safe political bet. The population shift in Colorado hasn't been such that we need a major redrawing of our maps. In reality the maps that the Democrats have proposed, with their emphasis on competitiveness, will likely form the basis of any court decision. So if you're the Colorado GOP and compromise or a court decision both get you to essentially the same place why compromise? Instead you can demagogue the Democrats in the legislature, demagogue the judges and courts who have imposed their (read, partisan) will upon the process and fund raise off of the issue for the next 18 months.

The Colorado Republican party figures it can't lose - and given the overwhelming sense of victim-hood amongst its base I think that is a smart and safe bet.

Cross-posted at Progressive Majority

Friday, April 15, 2011

Private insurers opposed to Ryan plan, for now

Josh Marshall rightly notes, 

But it's critical to understanding the economics and seriousness of the Republican proposal for shutter Medicare and have seniors buy private insurance with the (not that much) help of vouchers. Basically, no one wants to provide that insurance. And frankly, why would they? How much money do you think there is in insuring 75 year olds? How many headaches? If you go back into the history of Medicare, one of the factors -- in addition to the politics and ideological and social push -- was that the private insurers wanted the senior portion of the population taken off their hands. And they still want it off their hands. The private insurance industry is based on getting steady premiums for as healthy as possible of population of people. That's why 'pre-existing conditions' have become such a big issue. And every person over 65 has at least one pre-existing condition: they're old...

As the Ryan plan stands today, yes private insurers are opposed. What makes me nervous though is that with some modification the Ryan plan basically becomes a way to more fully subsidize private insurance for the over 65 set. It's as simple as increasing the dollar amount that seniors will be given for their vouchers or, in the alternative, you simply have the Federal government guarantee against the amount of the vouchers and any loss for the insurers.

To me it looks like a parallel of the student loan boondoggle. Young college kids with no credit history are bad credit risks. But with Federal guarantees these kids have been able to accumulate a hundred thousand dollars of debt with a few pen strokes. Why? There's no risk to the banks - the Feds are guaranteeing the loans.

Naval Gazing...

An anonymous commenter in my post on the Obama trap,

First optimistic post in a long while. Coincedence?

I assume that he/she means, coincidence that my first positive  post comes after a month of no blogging. And of course the answer is no, definitely not a coincidence. Besides not blogging, I also stopped reading most blogs and news and only occasionally fired up Twitter. I don't feel like I was purposefully taking a break from the news per se, but rather was feeling burnt out on the general direction of the country. Frankly, it's damned depressing.

So yes, I definitely believe that Obama laid a trap for the GOP and they fell right into it. But I also wish that we weren't talking about the damned deficit in the first place and instead were talking about jobs. It's easy to see how beating ones head against that and similar walls for months on end can lead to burn out.

My mood fluctuates but I'm hopeful about the future (and am generally a fairly optimistic and happy fellow) even if I feel like the present state of affairs is an unholy mess and we have no clear path out, or apparent leadership to get there.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Someone print up some bumper stickers...


You go to war with the neoliberal party you have, not the social democrat party you wish you had.

The Obama Budget Trap

My latest at The Faster Times, 

In his speech on Wednesday the President closed the trap that he laid for Republicans in 2012.  It was, in terms of sheer gamesmanship, a master stroke. And, best of all, neither Representatives Paul Ryan, or Eric Cantor, nor any of the legion of dutiful GOP shock troops, nor any of the leading Republican Presidential candidates has any idea that they have been ensnared by Obama.


Radio Silence

Sorry for the radio silence here as of late. More blogging to come shortly. I just haven't had much to say as of lately and have been feeling a bit burned out.

On the upside I have had a lot of time to read some really great books. So I got that going for me... which is nice.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Is our children learning? Yes!

Yes! Despite the chicken-little tactics of education reformers our schools are performing pretty well actually by historical standards. Kevin Drum points us to a Brookings Institute study which shows the following,

The... numbers show how American students compared to the average of the entire dozen countries. In 1964, we were 0.35 standard deviations below the mean. In the most recent tests, we were only 0.06 and 0.18 standard deviations below the mean. In other words, our performance had improved.

And here is the study's author blowing a hole in the myth of America as the world's former leader in education,

This is a myth. The United States never led the world. It was never number one and has never been close to number one on international math tests. Or on science tests, for that matter....[And] there has been no sharp decline—in either the short or long run. The United States performance on PISA has been flat to slightly up since the test’s inception, and it has improved on Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) since 1995.

This is the big fallacy in the school reform movement - that we are somehow falling behind and doing much worse today than we were 30, 40, or 50 years ago. It's simply not true.

We do need to better serve our poor and urban students but so far no one has been able to demonstrate that privatizing schools through vouchers and charters and making teachers easier to fire has actually improved education outcomes. At best schools that operate under these reforms do about as well as any other school.

So the vitriol aimed at teachers and unions is misguided at best and likely in many cases is more about politics and personal animus, not simply the best interest of the kids as reformers claim.