Rising costs over three decades


The textbook cost thing is ridiculous, yes. But the red line right below it is the rise in medical costs, which have gone up 575% since 1978. The brown line at the bottom is the current consumer price index (CPI) that measures overall inflation, which has only gone up by about 250% over the same time period.

Next time someone tells you that chained CPI, which would lower the estimated rate of inflation used to calculate Social Security and veterans’ benefits, is ‘more accurate’ … think about how much time people spend with doctors after they hit 60, think about this graph, and laugh at them.

Image source/larger image.

Education policy outcomes are funny things

by Natasha
Today, Matt Yglesias praised Students First for coming out with a state-by-state education policy report card. In his own words, “Importantly it’s a report card assessing the state of education policy in different places, not outcomes.”

Maybe you’re different, but when I think education policy, outcomes rank pretty high up there on the list of things I care about. Students First even claims to care about outcomes, though how anyone could say with a straight face that they think we’ll get a better quality of education from a constantly churning, insecure, overworked, poorly paid, barely-graduated-yesterday teaching workforce, I can’t even pretend to know. But I digress. Let’s get to the funny bits … and remember, laughing is healthier for you than crying.

So, outcomes. While no one metric seems enough to convey the absolute quality of education, there are a lot of things we can look at to give us a general idea. One of them is high school graduation rates, which is a good way to say that 13 or so years worth of teachers managed to keep kids engaged enough that they completed a curriculum conferring basic literacy, numeracy, and at least some sense of history and global perspective. It’s not a perfect system, but it sure beats mass illiterate serfdom or sending most of the kids to the satanic mills, as was formerly the custom of our people.

This is the Students First state education policy report card. This is a map compilation of the 2010-2011 high school graduation rates by state. The chart below is a matchup of the top nine states in the country for high school graduation rates, with graduation rates expressed as a percentage, next to their Students First letter grade for education policy:

State      Grad %    SF grade
IA 88% F
VT 87% F
WI 87% D+
IN 86% C+
NE 86% F
NH 86% F
ND 86% F
TN 86% C-
TX 86% D

Do you find it hysterically funny that something calling itself an education metric gives some of its worst grades to the state education systems that come the closest to 90% high school graduation rates? Oh, come on. Are you trying?

What really makes that a laugh-riot for the ages is that the charter schools Michelle Rhee and the Students First crew are pushing often seem to get graduation results on the same order by getting rid of problem students. Or, as Laura Clawson detailed today at DailyKos, the cheesy plot of Pump Up The Volume is now a model education policy, supported by billionaires looking to squeeze a profit out of our public education dollars. In New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, DC, Ohio, Michigan and Texas, charter schools have been reported to have senior classes as much as 25-60% smaller than their freshman classes, allowing some of them to report near-miraculous high school graduation rates.

Not only do education privatization activists want to make it easy to fire teachers, they want to make it easy to fire students. Little Johnny or Susie can’t read? Learning disability? Didn’t get enough to eat last night or enough sleep in the car their family lives in? Mom is always too tired after her second shift to make them do their homework? They’re fired. I bet you care about that outcome if there’s even a chance we’re talking about your kid, or any kid you care about even a little bit. Public schools can’t usually give up on kids quite so easily; though some have been caught trying, it’s generally regarded as a scandal rather than a desirable plan of operations.

And is there anything funnier than firing kids? Of course!

Because the wackiest thing about the Students First report card is that Louisiana gets the highest grade of any state in the nation, with a B-. Louisiana. Just stew on that for a sec. Then click here for a list of hilarious things being taught in Louisiana’s state-approved charter school curriculum. Here’s a sample:

“[The Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”—United States History for Christian Schools, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2001

Are you laughing yet? Okay, try this Yglesias quote on for size, “The Students First perspective more wisely dings states that make it too hard to open charters but also dings states (like, say, Arizona) that do much too little to hold charter schools accountable for performance,” and then go look again at what made the approved curriculum for Louisiana’s charter schools. If you were wondering, Students First gave Louisiana a passing grade of C- on the metric entitled, “Spend Wisely & Govern Well.”

If the governance bit wasn’t funny enough, here’s some of what spending wisely looks like in Louisiana: spending money on creationist ‘science’ curriculum and scholarships for middle class and wealthy students, favoring high administrative spending over direct instructional costs, and neglecting need-based higher education supports. Hilarious, amirite!?

Let the market decide.

When you’re having a political conversation like advocating for some election or public policy result and you hear someone say, “Let the market decide,” what they mean is this:

Let’s do nothing.

There’s no law against businesses and individuals donating to charity or offering adequate healthcare to the destitute or being generous to the poor or giving out decent wages for menial labor. The market can already choose to do those things. It mostly hasn’t.

Saying that the market should decide is saying that everything that should be done is being done and there’s no reason to pool resources together through the government to make things better. Except it’s saying it in a sneaky way that sounds more serious than, “Eh, so what?”

Why don’t you give all your money to Third World children?

That was an actual question I was recently asked over Twitter during a disagreement with a conservative over the role and importance of individual vs. collective action, in response to my arguing that good outcomes were a big moral deal.

Twitter is a terrible place for an in-depth conversation, but I’ve had people throw that down in similar conversations before like it’s some kind of trump card. ‘If you care so much, why aren’t you giving away all your money to private charity?’

First, I do give to private charities that directly help low-income people in the US and abroad. But I was also raised believing that it’s morally odious to brag a lot in public about how many good things you do. And I hope those contributions do some good, but a) I know they aren’t going to solve anything and b) if they’re the only thing I have in my favor good-personwise, I’m so going to Hell, which I both do and absolutely don’t believe in.

Though second, and more importantly, I think reliance on private charity is a crappy way to run the world. Which is why I want government to work better.

If you would like to read a very thorough explanation of my position, follow me below the fold …

Continue reading “Why don’t you give all your money to Third World children?”

A Middle Class White Guy

There was a recent incident where some middle class white guy wrote to me, in two successive emails, the following things:

“You are sick, stupid and a plague on the world.”

“The only thing you could write that would improve the world, is your suicide note.”

Here’s what made it worse: it wasn’t a random trolling, I have known this person for years and we have mutual friends.

Here’s what other middle class white guys thought made it better: he’s a regular guy with a regular job that we have known for years.

Sorry, that also makes it worse. This may be tricky if you are a middle class white guy who’s never had your personal safety depend on understanding this, but bear with me.

Continue reading “A Middle Class White Guy”

Near-As-No-Matter Feudalism

One of the US’ founding laws is a prohibition on creating a titled aristocracy. A couple centuries on, this seems quaint. But considering that our nation is violating the crap out of it in spirit, which I will illustrate below, it’s worth revisiting.

Setting aside a long list of unjust aristocratic perks and abuses, the worst thing about feudal systems was their everyday suckitude. Most people lived in hopeless misery, were held to harsh standards by authorities and had no protection from injury by their superiors in wealth or power. Following the invention of epidemiological studies, it was discovered that chronic poverty and mistreatment causes illness and shortened lifespans, to no one’s very great surprise.

While we can’t ask them, I’m pretty sure that most of the misery in feudal societies wasn’t caused by philosophical disagreements with Divine Right of Kings theory.
Continue reading “Near-As-No-Matter Feudalism”

How To Help Egypt, For Americans

It’s awesome to see people rise against their oppressors, more awesome to see them succeed, as Egyptians have done today. Though since this is far from over, I expect to continue to hear a lot of talk about what Americans’ role, or the role of our government, should be.

Other than being aware of what the people there are doing and cheering them on, I think the best thing any American, or American politician, or group of Americans who aren’t of Egyptian descent could do for people in Egypt and the cause of freedom generally is this:

Mind our own damn business.

Because the business of the American people has long been neglected. Sure, we can pull together a great candlelight vigil for other people, in other countries, or march on their embassies. We can weep for forests and environments destroyed on continents we will probably never visit. All good. All fine steps towards broadening our empathy and expanding our compassion. But mostly, we’re leaving our power on the table when our first concerns are the problems of other countries.

We, US citizens, vote here. We pay taxes here. We live here. There is no country on the planet over whose policies we can have more influence as private citizens than ours. There is also no other country on the planet more broadly influential or more generally impervious to outside pressure.

Want to advance the cause of freedom? Advance it here, for our fellow citizens. Set an example.

In 2009, the 74 top income earners in America made as much as the 19 million lowest paid workers. That is our business.

The US’ poorest residents, and its most historically disadvantaged residents, are forced to live next to our worst polluters and bear the largest share of health and early mortality costs from our fuel and chemical habits. Which is our business.

The mortgage and investment banking industries destroyed our economy by committing epic fraud. Instead of being sent to jail, they were appointed to run the *ing Treasury department and the Federal *ing Reserve. This is our business.

The US government trained Mubarak’s torturers, and torturers for vile regimes all over the world. The US government used that network of torturers, in acts of extraordinary rendition, to brutalize people who were never charged with any crime. The US government tortured people in Iraq, and still in Guantanamo, and still in our domestic prisons, and with high voltage Tasers in broad daylight on our own *ing streets, sometimes to the point of death. That, goddamnit, is Our. Motherf*cking. Business.

Among other things.

You may recall that the Egyptian rallies were inspired in part by the Tunisian rallies. The Egyptians aren’t holding solidarity rallies for the Tunisians. The British aren’t holding solidarity rallies for either of them, they’re demanding that their own corporate crooks pay up.

If we, Americans, would rattle the bars of our own cages, if we would insist that our freeloading billionaires start paying for the fine business climate, security protections, roads and educated workers they enjoy here, I think that would help the people of Egypt. If we, Americans, would stand to protect each other’s interests so that the wealthy couldn’t pay us enough to turn us against each other, I think that would help the people of Egypt. If we, Americans, would sharply limit our country’s exports of both pollution and Mephistophelean misanthropes high as kites on their own unspeakable power, I think that would help the people of Egypt.

That would put fear in the heart of every dictator and plutocrat in the world. That would tell people everywhere who long to be free that, yes, we are with you, we get it. We’re in this sh*t together and sweet Jeebus, we want out, too.

Anyway, if there’s anything we can do to help, I think that would be it. Because sure as anything, no one wants us to ride to their rescue on a desert camo armored personnel carrier wrapped in a fugue of righteous helpfulness.

Bureau of Salmon

The president’s salmon quip was one of the better received parts of the State of the Union. Though it ticked me off to the point where it’s been bugging me ever since.

Obama: Then there’s my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.

He might as well have said, ‘Government, how does it work?’ As many Republicans have said before in their own way, from John McCain wondering why government pays for planetarium projectors to Bobby Jindal wondering why it funds volcano research. To which I’d say, to each and every one of them, ‘Government, why does it cut you a check?’

Though this is really all pretty simple to understand, and I don’t even work for the government. As follows …

Continue reading “Bureau of Salmon”

Getting Rid of Those Pesky Teachers’ Unions

Wall Street has had a long, tough fight against the terrible scourge of the all-powerful teachers’ unions. These people, and who knows what they’re really teaching anyway, have for years used their stranglehold on the nation’s politicians to insist that America continue pushing towards universal literacy and that they themselves be able to afford a modest, middle class lifestyle with modest, middle class pension.*

The nerve.

Maligning them in public never quite worked. Most Americans are foolishly blinded by a misty sense of gratitude towards the people who taught them to read and, possibly, to do math problems without obviously counting their fingers.

Continue reading “Getting Rid of Those Pesky Teachers’ Unions”

Also, Obama Appears To Be In Good Health

Yesterday, Marshall Ganz wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times yesterday, entitled, “How Obama lost his voice, and how he can get it back.

Ganz was a chief architect of the Obama campaign’s organizing strategy, and before that, he had a long career of organizing for progressive causes. Considering Ganz’ eminent respectability, he makes some sharp points about the president’s failure to push forward on campaign promises and the disastrous decision to dismantle progressive infrastructure and coalition groups from the 2008 elections onward.

I’d pass it along with an unreserved thumbs up, except … the fundamental premise, that Obama’s come down with political laryngitis, or maybe some other affliction, makes a hash of the rest of it.

Before Ganz even gets to the substantive part, he’s already humming a chorus of ‘you have a secret friend in Obama.’ And I hate that song.

My friend in politics wouldn’t, for example, …

  • … call up the chair of the appropriations committee and ask him to pay for a jobs bill by cutting food stamps in a year where 20% of US children now live in households that have to skimp on food.
  • … have gone on television yesterday and agreed with Republicans that government had gotten too big, too intrusive, or that it spent too much.
  • … have held a press conference the day after a major electoral loss to apologize for what liberal policies he did manage to pass by explaining them away as responses to a crisis instead of a governing philosophy.

And, forget friends, a few years ago, I wouldn’t have even thought a Democrat would do all that.

So Ganz is wrong from the headline, from the first few paragraphs. He wants to explain all this as a screw up, a wavering of courage, a tactical error. I don’t buy that argument and I’m tired of watching people waste time trying to encourage the president to have an epiphany on the error of his ways.

Obama the president acts with the genderpolitik nuance of an easily squicked, anxiously masculine, teenage libertarian. He expresses more concern for markets than people. He doesn’t like progressives and he surrounds himself with other people who don’t like them, either. Youth unemployment is sky high, over-50 unemployment is sky high, and his most vaunted solution for all of that seems to be tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts. Also, [your favorite Obama complaint from the left, here.]

Obama’s are such consistently conservative behaviors, even as measured against the Democratic Party’s own 2008 platform, that explaining them as the lapses of a basically liberal or progressive person seems more outlandish by the day.

No one should have to spell out that a man in his late 40s not suffering from illness or trauma didn’t get to be as he is overnight. Anyone looking to the words spoken by candidate Obama to excuse the actions of President Obama is someone who won’t deal with the fact that people’s words are, charitably, more changeable than their actions.

Obama the president would have gone down in flames in the 2008 primary. He would have looked like the Lieberman clone he is (More Joe, less whining!) without this smokescreen of buyer’s remorse denialism.

But Ganz can’t seem to admit he’s been had, that Obama isn’t a progressive and this isn’t the West Wing episode where they figure out they can fix everything by ‘letting Bartlet be Bartlet.’

Obama boldly stole the party out from under the liberal coalition that built power during the Bush years and swung to elect him. He then boldly worked to dismantle that coalition while incrementally undoing their credibility and incrementally shifting the Democratic Party to the right. If this has all been an unknowing misstep, then it’s an amazing one, undertaken as it was with such enthusiasm and persistence.

The worst tactical error of the last two years was the one made by liberal coalition groups who believed, probably sincerely, that Obama was their friend and had their constituencies’ best interests at heart, then voluntarily stood down, disarmed, went quiet. The error of courage is ours (self-inclusive) in every case where he did something we believed in our hearts was wrong and we said nothing.

No matter how good an organizer a person is, goals matter. Focusing efforts on the hope of bringing Obama back to values you can’t prove he ever had just seems wasteful, and I think we should stop compounding our mistakes by moving on to do other things with our time.