Reason delves into it with some humor and expected results.
Leaders are not what many people think–people with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. The include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, determination, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head even when things are going badly. This is the opposite of the “charisma” that we hear so much about. – John Holt
He released his economic plan last week. Take a look at it and the feedback on it in comparison to the 2012 GOP field.
A neat website that checks to see if a website is down for everyone viewing it or just you. Check it here.
This readers story from the Dish is eye opening:
I have a best friend who would take the shirt off his back to help (almost) anyone. We’ve been friends since childhood (we’re now in our late 40s). I’m a liberal atheist Democrat, he’s a conservative Christianist Republican. Certainly if we had met as adults we would never have become friends. But because of our history we remain friends, despite our differences and our friendly, but increasingly, vehement arguments.
About a year-and-a-half into Obama’s presidency we had to agree to stop talking about politics and the world in order to preserve our long-standing friendship. He wasn’t quite a birther, but he suspected something quite wasn’t right there. Our final, incredible, blowout argument was over the “Ground Zero Mosque.” He had succumbed to the “Muslims are bad” theory and had become a bit zealous, even going as far as saying “Fox News is the only media outlet telling the truth.” Sigh. We screamed at each other, there was spittle, and HUGE anger; if we hadn’t known each other for so long it might have devolved into fisticuffs. But, with incredible restraint, we remained friends; it was clear we were skirting around current topics and trying valiantly to stay the course without saying “you’re an idiot” to each other. We were hanging out a lot less frequently than we had previously. Sad, but necessary?
Finally, Norway was a breakthrough. I would not have broached the subject, to keep the peace, but his wife brought it up tonight at a backyard BBQ. I didn’t say a word for a long time; they talked it out. In essence, the conversation went like this:
Wife: But he (Breivik) identified himself as a Christian.
My friend: Nope, he couldn’t be a Christian.
Wife: I know, not any Christian we know or could identify with.
My friend: Ridiculous how he says he’s Christian.
Wife: But it got me thinking about how a lot of Muslims say the terrorists aren’t true Muslims.
My friend (I was holding my breath at this point): Yea, I’m starting to see that. This crazy guy wants to represent Christians. He’s fucking insane. Maybe the 9/11 guys were insane too and didn’t represent Muslims?
He looked me in the eye at that point and … apologized. Ohmygod! He said, “I never saw the other side.” We both cried. I’m trying not to be melodramatic here, but it was literally a life changing moment for my friend. He had truly believed that Muslims were really bad and Christians were good, with some aberrations (he used the Tiller murder as an example of a bad Christian, but never would give that “aberration” description to any Muslim). Anyway, tonight was unbelievable in my world. One of my best friends, and a rabid Christianist, acknowledged that all Muslims weren’t bad. Sounds simple? But, really, a major breakthrough.
So maybe there is something positive to come out of the tragedy in Norway. Very sad to say that, but in my little world, it’s a positive thing. Obviously this is incredibly anecdotal, but maybe there are other Christianists seeing that there are extremists who don’t represent all Christians just as there are Islamists who don’t represent all of Islam?
Looking in the rear view yields some interesting images. On May 26th, 2010, I posted for the first time on here under the blog name VMG. Nearly six months later, I posted my 1,000th post. Now nine months after that milestone, this stands as my 2,000th post. Over the past year of this blog being in operation, it has gone through several themes, shared posts by four authors, and not even I know what is in store for it over the next 1,000 posts.
This summer has been a slow one for blogging and at times even non-existent. I hope with my new job at a public library doing IT/Information Service, it will lend me more time to read online and hopefully blog about it.
AllGov shows what domestic programs we could spend the $7.6 trillion defense budget since 2001 on:
Fill the Medicare Gap: If Congress redirected just one-fifth of the budget increases from 2000 to 2011 for defense spending, it would be enough to eliminate the long-term budget hole in the Medicare program.Fund Head Start for 15 Years: Instead of 10 years of warfare in Afghanistan, the U.S. could have secured 15.6 years of early childhood education and support through Head Start for the same price.Insure the Uninsured: Another way to spend the Afghanistan war chest would be on the uninsured. The budget for fighting the Taliban is enough to cover every American without health insurance for 1.7 years.Help State Capitols: A total of 46 states are facing budget shortfalls this fiscal year. Collectively, they need about $130 billion. Ending the war in Afghanistan and getting entirely out of Iraq would save $170 billion—more than enough to wipe out the red ink from Albany to Sacramento.Instead of Iraq…: Even with the end of combat operations in Iraq, the U.S. is still spending $50 billion annually to maintain a large contingent of troops in the country. For this same amount of money, Washington could ensure a year’s worth of health care for 24.3 million poor children, or salaries for more than 725,000 elementary school teachers or nearly 830,000 firefighters.
Conor Friedersdorf makes the case:
Give the hawks their due: terrorism is an ongoing threat to the United States. In fact, it’s likely to pose a bigger threat with every year that passes, insofar as technological advances are permitting people with meager resources to obtain ever deadlier weapons. Heaven forbid they get a nuke or a killer virus. What the hawks fail to recognize, however, is that perpetual war poses a bigger threat to the citizenry of a superpower than does terrorism. Already it is helping to bankrupt us financially,undermining our civil liberties, corroding our values, triggering abusive prosecutions, empoweringthe executive branch in ways that are anathema to the system of checks and balances implemented by the Founders, and causing us to degrade one another.
Alas, we still have an ambiguous exit strategy from the Middle East.
Public Opinion columnist Matthew Major writes as if a moral and societal emergency is about to be upon Chambersburg residents. What is he writing about? Out of control yardsales. In his eyes, its worth raising taxes to enforce borough laws about yardsales.
Borough council will consider an ordinance June 13 that would limit residents to one yard sale per month, with a maximum of four per year. Each sale would be limited to three days’ duration, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. It would require “all evidence of yard sale activity” to be stored out of sight outside of permitted hours.
It strikes us as an aggressive, but necessary, crackdown on people who effectively run underground commercial operations out of their yards every day of the week. Greencastle, Mont Alto and Washington Township have also had to rein in yard sales with similar restrictions.
Underground commercial operations. Striking use of terms there. Now some more strikingly logical and deep reasoning behind the need to enforce yardsales:
People have always needed to get rid of unwanted stuff that somehow piles up in their homes. But cultural and economic trends have conspired to emphasize the deals over the house-clearing. For example, we now have numerous TV shows glorifying the nation’s pawn shops and junk circuits.
Major finishes with some final words:
And so with the inevitable overreach on the part of yard retailers comes the correction from the authorities. If people cannot conduct yard sales without becoming a nuisance to their neighbors, someone will have to do it for them.
It’s a shame to have to legislate proper behavior and consideration for others, but Chambersburg’s proposed yard sale restrictions should become law as soon as possible.
Is this more important than dealing with local poverty, local runaway educational costs, or local unemployment (which on a Pennsylvania county level, Franklin County is dead last)? Then again, these regulations would employ a few individuals (at the cost of higher taxes, mind you).
Ezra Klein provides some points on the above and below:
The bottom line, however, is that fewer than 5 percent of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are unemployed, while more than 14 percent of those who haven’t finished high school are unemployed. You really want to bet that there’s nothing causal going on there?
I know of maybe one friend (and many more people I knew of in college) who shouldn’t have gone to college, but we should remember this:
This seems like evidence that students are being ill-served by the cultural stereotype of college as a period of enjoyment and exploration that precedes entry into the “real world.” College, rather, is a period of preparation for the real world, and if you don’t take it as such, the real world can make you pay and pay big.
The Daily Beast has a list:
According to The Daily Beast’s second annual ranking of the best cities for recent college graduates, many of American’s most livable cities for those seeking low rents, cheap eats, good job prospects, and decent pay are not the traditional destinations of New York City or Los Angeles. Austin has a huge rental market, Savannah is packed with those in their early 20s, and Seattle bears a boast-worthy cost of living. In general, it seems grads should try to unpack their bags in the South, where cost of living is low, job growth is strong, and average earnings are high.
To put together the list of the top towns for recent graduates, we looked at the cities through the lens of the basics of quality of life: housing, employment, affordability, and relationships. The cities that land among the top 25 have relatively low unemployment, high average salary per capita, a low cost of living, a high portion of housing units devoted to rental properties, and a large population between ages 22 and 24. Figures were drawn from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, C2Er, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Census.
Corpus Christi, TX comes in 14th:
Percent of population between age 22-24: 4.3%
Cost of Living Index: 91.3
Percent of housing units for rental: 37%
Unemployment rate: 7.9
Average per-capita personal income: $36,558
David Harsanyi explains how the mantra of “buy American!” can actually be anti-American:
If we all mechanically bought American, wouldn’t we allow manufacturers to avoid competition and rely on their locations rather than the excellence of their products? Sounds like the opposite of exceptionalism.
Harsanyi connects this to companies in America that are taking government handouts or have been propped up when nearly failing by the government. I believe in certain seasons of history this logic may work. This current one doesn’t seem to fit into that mold.
HALF of all health care costs in the US is concentrated in only 5% of the population, and 80% of costs are accounted for by the top quintile! (source: Kaiser Foundation PDF)
So the effect here is that with such a concentration of costs in such a small segment of the population, the ability of the larger population to move the market is highly restricted. You can make 80% of consumers highly price sensitive, but they can only affect a tiny fraction of healthcare spending. And for the generally well, their costs are probably those which are least responsible for the spiraling inflation. They’re not getting $30,000 stents or prolonged ICU stays, or needing complex chronic disease management.
Conversely, those who are high consumers of health care simply cannot be made more price sensitive, since their costs are probably well beyond what they could pay in any event, and for most are well beyond the limits of even a catastrophic health insurance policy.
Once you are told that you need a bypass/chemo/stent/dialysis/NICU etc, etc, etc, the costs are so overwhelming that a consumer cannot possibly pay them out of pocket. Since, by definition, these catastrophic costs are paid by some form of insurance, the consumer cannot have much financial interest in cost containment. For most, when they are confronted with a major or life-threatening illness, their entire focus shifts to survival, and they could care less about the cost
This combats both Obama’s and the Republican approach to reform health care and Medicare. Some more feedback on this can be found here.
As they say, with the passing of Memorial Day weekend, we now enter summer. With that, here are some books mostly geared towards education and information. I have churned through a few fiction (Ordinary People) and nonfiction (Underboss, the History of God, which I am only 70 pages in) lately and am on the lookout for some others for the summer.
6. THE FILTER BUBBLE
We live in a culture that puts a premium on customization, but this ultra-personalization has its price when it comes to the information we’re being served. That’s exactly what Eli Pariser, founder of public policy advocacy group MoveOn.org, explores in his fascinating and, depending on where you fall on the privacy spectrum, potentially unsettling new book, The Filter Bubble — a compelling deep-dive into the invisible algorithmic editing on the web, a world where we’re being shown more of what algorithms think we want to see and less of what we should see. (Did you know that Google takes into account 57 individual data points before serving you the results you searched for?) Implicitly, the book raises some pivotal questions about the future of the information economy and the balance between algorithm and curator — something I feel particularly strongly about.
Ezra Klein has a few scathing ones for our POTUS:
1. You have repeatedly lauded the economy of the Clinton years, yet in a time of high and mounting deficits, you want to make most of the Bush tax cuts permanent. Economically speaking, what makes you believe the Clinton-era tax rates are too high?
4. The main differences between your budget and the Simpson-Bowles report is that your budget raises less in taxes and cuts less in defense spending. Why were those decisions made?
5. You’ve talked frequently about the need to “win the future” through new investments and initiatives. But unlike the budgets proposed by the House Progressives or Andy Stern or EPI, Demos and the Century Foundation, there’s nothing in your budget that specifically commits to any such investments, nor any particular funding source dedicated to them. If these investments are so important, why not build them into your budget? Why accept the framework that this discussion should be entirely about cuts?
Joel Kline has an excellent article on the current state of American schools. You cannot mention American schools without including it’s unions. He delves into that subject and exposes some hard truths that even I as a certified teacher am alarmed to hear.
As we all hear day in and day out, America is falling behind when it comes to equipping our upcoming generations with the skills they need to get quality jobs and ultimately compete in the global market (the part about the global market always makes me chuckle. Can you imagine this being ingrained into teachers heads as they work with elementary and middle school teachers?)
now our technological progress is advancing more rapidly than our educational attainment. From 1960 to 1980, our supply of college graduates increased at almost 4 percent a year; since then, the increase has been about half as fast. The net effect is that we’re rapidly moving toward two Americas—a wealthy elite, and an increasingly large underclass that lacks the skills to succeed.
This division tears at the very fabric of our society. Nevertheless, there’s little national urgency to fix its underlying causes. Unlike a bad economy, poor educational achievement creeps up on us. Right now, if you were running for office, would you be more concerned with unemployment or education? Also, unlike terrorism, an educational crisis has a different impact on the powerful than it does on most of society. Their children, who are in private schools or elite public schools, receive a decent education, so it’s hard to get them fully engaged in the broader national debate. Plus, unlike in health care, for example, where we perceive the quality of care to be good and worry instead about controlling costs and covering the uninsured, in education, despite massive increases in expenditure, we don’t see improved results. That leads too many people to suspect that poverty is destiny, that schools can make only a small difference, and that therefore we’re unable to fix this problem, regardless of its seriousness. So why try?
This, along with some other common gripes, Klein digs into.
One of the general threads in this article is the type of career many teachers want and how far removed their desires are from other normal jobs:
The school system doesn’t want to change, because it serves the needs of the adult stakeholders quite well, both politically and financially.
Now to the unions. The American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association have roughly 4.7 million members. That is a lot of money and pull. As the union connects to their political counterparts, one of their goals is to keep the union members happy:
And what do the members want? Employees understandably want lifetime job security (tenure), better pay regardless of performance (seniority pay), less work (short days, long holidays, lots of sick days), and the opportunity to retire early (at, say, 55) with a good lifetime pension and full health benefits; for their part, the retirees want to make sure their benefits keep coming and grow through cost-of-living increases. The result: whether you work hard or don’t, get good results with kids or don’t, teach in a shortage area like math or special education or don’t, or in a hard-to-staff school in a poor community or not, you get paid the same, unless you’ve been around for another year, in which case you get more. Not bad for the adults.
Also worth noting, the legal process is equal to jumping through hundreds of hoops just to fire a teacher.
Klein also digs into the pension system that really hits many districts hard:
None of these pay increases makes sense. Why pay someone more for simply working another year or for taking a few courses? Starting last year, Mayor Bloomberg refused to give teachers in New York a raise, because he was facing budget cuts. But the overall pay for teachers still went up nearly 3.5 percent automatically, simply for longevity and college credits. (According to a Department of Education internal analysis, the average NYC teacher works fewer than seven hours a day for 185 days and costs the city $110,000—$71,000 in salary, $23,000 in pensions, and $16,000 in health and other benefits.) And why give all teachers making $80,000, or more, a 10 percent raise? They’re not going to leave, since they’re close to vesting their lifetime pensions. By contrast, increasing starting salaries by $8,000 (rather than $4,000) would help attract and retain better new teachers. But because of seniority, we can’t do it that way.
Consequently, elected officials have had every incentive to make extraordinarily optimistic assumptions about the pension plan—or to simply underfund it—so they can put as little as possible into the reserve. Unfortunately, but predictably, that’s exactly what has happened: most states “assumed” they would get an average 8 percent return on their pension reserves, when in fact they were getting significantly less. Over the past 10 years, for example, New York City’s pension funds earned an average of just 2.5 percent. Now virtually every pension plan in America that covers teachers has huge unfunded liabilities. A recent study by the Manhattan Institute estimated the total current shortfall at close to $1 trillion. There’s only one way to pay for that: take the money from current and future operating budgets, robbing today’s children to pay tomorrow’s pensions. In NYC, for example, the portion of the overall budget set aside for education pensions went from $455 million in 2002 to $2.6 billion in 2011, most of it for teachers. Not surprisingly, retirees remain politically vigilant, and vote at much higher levels than active teachers in union elections (50 percent versus 24 percent in New York’s last UFT election).
Klein also compares schools lack of incentive to make their product (education) better to their practical monopoly-like strangle hold on their niche (which also keeps many charter schools from starting up):
Accountability, in most industries or professions, usually takes two forms. First and foremost, markets impose accountability: if people don’t choose the goods or services you’re offering, you go out of business. Second, high-performing companies develop internal accountability requirements keyed to market-based demands.
Public education lacks both kinds of accountability. It is essentially a government-run monopoly. Whether a school does well or poorly, it will get the students it needs to stay in business, because most kids have no other choice. And that, in turn, creates no incentive for better performance, greater efficiency, or more innovation—all things as necessary in public education as they are in any other field.
Klein had a few good takeaway points:
…we unions talk reform, but firing incompetent teachers will never be a real part of that.
Change is possible. In New York City, it took a mayor willing to assume control over the system and risk significant political capital. It required time—Mayor Bloomberg and I had more than eight years together, while most urban superintendents serve for about three and a half years. It required taking risks, knowing that not every change will work out and that your critics will focus mercilessly on those that don’t. But most of all, it required building community and political support.
McKinsey estimates that the benefits of bringing our educational levels up to those of the highest-performing countries would have raised our gross domestic product by about $2 trillion in 2008.
Finally, Al Shanker spoke in 1993 about the school system:
We are at the point that the auto industry was at a few years ago. They could see they were losing market share every year and still not believe that it really had anything to do with the quality of the product I think we will get—and deserve—the end of public education through some sort of privatization scheme if we don’t behave differently. Unfortunately, very few people really believe that yet. They talk about it, and they don’t like it, but they’re not ready to change and stop doing the things that brought us to this point.
Paul Farhi offers a contrarian (but much shorter) opinion.
“They can participate in debates, or in ongoing series of speeches. Being tapped as commencement speaker is different. There is no debate, no opportunity for meaningful dialogue, in these cases. And the university is granting an honor, not just hosting a forum. If Boehner ever said in public that nobody has any obligation to help the poor, and persisted in saying so after pastoral attention, then it would be wrong for Catholic universities to have him give commencement speeches.
I suspect that liberal Catholics would call for disinvitations in such a circumstance. Maybe the reason they didn’t this time is that at some level they realize that what Boehner has done isn’t at all equivalent to a violation of Church teaching.”
–Ramesh Ponuru on Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner speaking at Catholic Universitites commencement and the uproar surrounding the clash between the Catholic ideals of helping the poor and Boehner’s support of Paul Ryan’s budget plan (which was voted down yesterday in the Senate) that proposed major cuts in programs and support for the poor, for women, and for children while giving billions of dollars in tax cuts to the rich and various corporations.