Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

In “Dog Bites Man” Article, NYTimes Illustrates USDOE’s Complicity in Sustaining a Failing For-Profit College

July 24, 2019 Comments off

If you want to see how the US Department of Education’s tilt in favor of for profit education institutions works, read Erica Green and Stacy Cowley’s thoroughly researched NYTimes article titled “Emails Show DeVos Aides Pulled Strings for Failing Colleges“. The article offers evidence that USDOE officials conspired with officials at Dream Center Education Holdings, a subsidiary of a Los Angeles-based megachurch, when they continued to use misleading and dishonest advertising in an effort to keep their institution alive. Because the USDOE failed to act when Dream Center was clearly bankrupt both financially and educationally, US taxpayers and– most sadly– Dream Center students are on the hook for millions of dollars.

Here’s what I find to be most infuriating about this whole episode: the complicated inter-relationships between accreditors, the USDOE officials, and USDOE regulations make it very difficult to explain what happened in a way that is readily understandable. Consequently, when this kind of issue surfaces, there is no easy fix and politicians are left to point fingers at each other and voters often take sides based on their faith in one side or another or one economic theory or another. The only clear losers in all of this are the former students of Dream Center schools who lost money out of the pockets to take the courses or face the demand to pay debts for courses that led them no where. For those who see privatization and deregulation as the best way forward, this might not be a problem. Their mantra— caveat emptor— means that the students “got what they deserved” by enrolling in a failing institution. The only problem with that line of thinking is that the government who serves as the quality control gatekeeper knowingly allowed a failing institution to advertise itself as “accredited”. The government that was complicit in misleading the consumers should pay the price… not the consumers who thought they were enrolling in a government approved institution.


WHAT??? USDA to Cut SNAP Benefits for 3,000,000 People, Mostly Children, in the Name of Re-Regulation

July 23, 2019 Comments off

A recent Bloomberg News report by Mike Dorning reports that Sonny Perdue, Secretary of the USDA, is recommending cuts of SNAP benefits that will affect 3,000,000 individuals, most of whom are children. Why?

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said state governments “have misused this flexibility.”

“We are changing the rules, preventing abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it,” he added.

So, as reported earlier this week, the same USDA that intends to deregulate the use of a dangerous chemical used on foods in the name of providing flexibility to chemical companies is now regulating the distribution of SNAP funds in the name of “preventing abuse of a critical safety net system”. How cutting funds for a “critical safety net system” will help those who benefit from it is beyond me. If anything, this decision is reminiscent of the strategy used in Viet Nam where villages were burned to the ground in order to save them. Something is very wrong with this picture!

Meanwhile, the same USDA that is looking to save nickels and dimes by shredding the safety net continues to subsidize millionaire farmers. As Forbes reported a year ago,

Last year alone (i.e. 2017), a very fortunate 400 entities, including farmers, corporations, and agri-businesses, harvested between $1 million and $9.9 million each in federal farm subsidies.

Contrast that to the new regulations proposed by the USDA:

Forty states and the District of Columbia currently use alternative eligibility criteria that allow participants in some federally funded welfare programs to automatically receive food stamps as long as their income is less than double the poverty level.

Brandon Lipps, an acting deputy undersecretary in the Agriculture Department, told reporters in a conference call previewing the regulatory changes that in some cases states enroll residents for food stamps even though they are receiving federal welfare benefits of minimal value — including brochures.

The proposed regulations, to be released Tuesday, would only allow automatic enrollment of people who receive welfare benefits worth at least $50 a month on an ongoing basis for at least six months. Other than cash, the only welfare benefits that would qualify are subsidized employment, work supports such as transportation, and child care, Lipps said.


NYTIMES Editors Provide Hard Data on How Progressive Tax Policy Diminishes Income Inequality.

July 21, 2019 Comments off

This editorial on Illinois efforts to change its tax structure should be embraced by Democrats across the country.

What Trump is Teaching Our Children… and What Schools Are Teaching Our Children

July 18, 2019 Comments off

What Trump is Teaching Our Children“, Charles Blow’s column in today’s NYTimes, decries the lessons our children are learning from our current President’s conduct. It describes the lessons parents try to instill in their children and contrasts those lessons with the lesson President Trump is teaching:

…He is everything we teach our children not to be. In Trump’s world of immorality, the lessons being taught undo all the principles parents struggle to instill.

He is teaching our children that there is no absolute truth, there is “alternative fact.” It’s not what you say, but how you say it and how vociferously you can defend it.

He is teaching little boys that women’s bodies exist as playgrounds for privileged men, and that there is no price to be paid if you are popular enough or rich enough.

He is teaching little girls that if they are ever victims of sexual assault by a popular, wealthy boy and deign to reveal it, they will likely to come under withering verbal assault.

He is teaching our children that the color of one’s skin does indeed supersede the content of one’s character. He is teaching them that there is a skin-color hierarchy in which whiteness is perched on top.

He is teaching the black and brown children that their citizenship and connection to this country is tenuous and fractional, not like white children.

He is teaching them that it is a perfectly normal to separate some children from their parents, put them in cages, and argue that they don’t need soap, or toothbrushes or have the lights turned off so that they can go to sleep.

He is teaching them to never acknowledge an error, that apologies are for suckers, that what’s right is whatever you say it is.

And, here’s the thing: The children growing up in enormous portions of American households accept, defend and even applaud Trump’s behavior. What lessons are those children absorbing? What behaviors will be modeled on Trump’s example?

In an ideal world public schools would be reinforcing the behaviors parents want to emphasize, things Charles Blow describes in his opening paragraphs:

We try to teach them to always tell the truth, to be kind and generous, to be brave enough to do the right thing even if others aren’t as brave.

We try to teach them empathy and compassion, that caring about the less fortunate betters society and is also self-edifying.

We teach them to have self-respect and to respect others. We teach them that everyone is equally worthy and valuable, no matter who they are, what they look like, how much or little they have or to which God they pray, if they pray at all.

We teach them to be gracious and thankful and not to brag or bully. Also, don’t lie, cheat or steal.

And public schools DO reinforce these behaviors in their conduct codes and in the expectations they have for student decorum. But the way we “measure” student and school performance makes the lessons more difficult. If a school or student is deemed “failing” and students are categorized based on their “ability” it sorts students and schools into pecking orders whereby groups are “superior” to others. We can never create a world where everyone is equal… but we can create a world where everyone has the same set of opportunities over time to master skills and learn about themselves. The best way public schools can teach children that “…everyone is equally worthy and valuable, no matter who they are, what they look like, how much or little they have ” is to set up a system based on that premise… and not a system where the children raised in affluence attend “high performing” schools and children raised in poverty attend “failing” schools.

Thomas Edsall Sees a Link Between Racial Segregation and “Trouble”… I See the Same Link Between ECONOMIC Segregation and “Trouble”

July 17, 2019 Comments off

Thomas Edsall’s column in today’s NYTimes is titled “When Segregation Persists, Trouble Persists“. The kind of “trouble” that persists is the reinforcement of negative white stereotypes of blacks, the inability of blacks to improve educationally or economically, and the continued vicious circle of poverty. Like all of Mr. Edsall’s columns, this one is full of graphs, quotes from political and social scientists, and lots of links to supporting articles. At the end of the article he includes several quotes from researchers who believe in the power of racial integration, summarizing their sense of optimism or pessimism about the future. Here’s that portion of the article:

I asked a number of those I contacted, all of whom support integration, whether they were optimistic about the prospects of school and community integration. The answers varied:

Rucker Johnson of Berkeley was positive:

I am very hopeful because the research evidence is strong about the path forward, about the lessons we can draw on from past efforts, and there’s a groundswell movement and revival of integration efforts led by current students across the country who are dissatisfied by the segregated environments they are confined to and demanding a response from those adults in positions of power.

Douglas Massey of Princeton: “I tend to be on the pessimistic side when it comes to housing segregation.”

Ann Owens of U.S.C.:

As far as pessimism/optimism goes, in a world of rising income and other inequalities and a tendency toward policies that emphasize individual choice and responsibility and market-based reforms, integration is not going to just magically happen. It’s certainly possible, but it will take a political will and a public orientation toward the collective that, in my opinion, does not currently exist.

Ingrid Gould Ellen of N.Y.U.:

Many white households continue to harbor racially based stereotypes about neighborhoods, associating the presence of minority neighbors, and in particular black neighbors, with declining property values, disinvestment and crime. Over time, I’d like to think that these associations are weakening as integration becomes more prevalent.

Sean Reardon of Stanford:

Racial intolerance (and outright racism) seems on the rise, and white-black income and wealth disparities remain very large and have not narrowed in decades. So there is little reason to expect much decline in racial segregation in the near future, particularly given the lack of policy interest in addressing it. Economic segregation likewise shows no sign of declining. So I am currently pessimistic, given today’s political and economic winds, but am more hopeful about the long arc of the future, which I think will ultimately bend toward equality and fairness.

As I noted in a comment I left, I am pessimistic about any efforts to equalize opportunities given the experiences in my home state of NH where economic segregation persists despite a series of lawsuits won by property poor districts.

The vicious circle Mr. Edsall describes in Southern Cook County IL based on RACE is identical to the vicious circle we have in NH based on ECONOMICS. In NH, affluent, well educated parents avoid a purchasing ANY home in a property poor district with a critical mass of children raised in poverty. Instead they purchase a more expensive home in a district with college educated parents. Why? Because the property taxes they pay will be identical and they know that their home will hold its value and their children will attend schools with better teachers, better facilities, and a “better peer group”.

The way to address economic inequality is obvious: impose a progressive income tax and increase business taxes. This would provide the funds needed to improve the schools in less affluent communities and in turn improve opportunities for children in those communities and improve the well-being of those who live in property-poor districts.

Alas, affluent parents and businesses oppose ANY form of broad-based taxes designed to “redistribute” resources to those in need. Broad-based taxes that could provide the resources needed to help those in need has been shelved in favor of “policies that emphasize individual choice and responsibility”.

Live free or die- but only if you can afford it… and, as Anne Owens noted, as long as we live in a country that favors “…policies that emphasize individual choice and responsibility” New Hampshire’s credo will be our nation’s credo… and the Horatio Alger dream will die along with democracy.

Merger Mania: The Military-Industrial Complex on Steroids

July 17, 2019 Comments off

I’m posting this article on the reality of and expansion of the military-industrial complex for two reasons, both of which are included in the following paragraph:

President Eisenhower’s proposed counterweight to the power of the military-industrial complex was to be “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.” And there are signs that significant numbers of individuals and organizations are beginning to pay more attention to the machinations of the arms lobby. My own outfit, the Center for International Policy, has launched a Sustainable Defense Task Force composed of former military officers and Pentagon officials, White House and Congressional budget experts, and research staffers from progressive and good-government groups. It has already crafted a plan that would cut $1.2 trillion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade, while improving U.S. security by avoiding unnecessary wars, eliminating waste, and scaling back a Pentagon nuclear-weapons buildup slated to cost $1.5 trillion or more over the next three decades.

First, I fear that public schools are not doing nearly enough to help create the “counterweight” President Eisenhower envisioned. I seriously doubt that a graduating senior understands how the revolving door works for the military let alone how it works in virtually every other industry. This concept is not taught because it is not tested, and it is not tested in large measure because those who devise tests have their own revolving door.

Second, if there is a way to save $1,500,000,000,000 in military spending over the next three decades there IS a source for the funds we need to upgrade every public school in our nation, particularly those serving children raised in poverty.

Source: Merger Mania: The Military-Industrial Complex on Steroids

The Question NEITHER Party Wants to Answer: Why are We Spending $649,000,000 to Subsidize on Fossil Fuel?

July 14, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday I read a CNN headline (that could have appeared in any mainstream media outlet) reporting that Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin is alarmed that the US is experiencing a ballooning deficit. This is not a surprise to anyone who passed basic Economics class.  There is no real world evidence that the trickle down theory of economics, the beloved paradigm of the libertarian wing of the GOP, results in economic growth and lots of real world evidence showing that it inevitably leads to a point where politicians must choose between cuts to government programs or cuts to the safety net.

Today I read a June 12 article by Forbes writer James Ellsmore, an article I wrote about a few weeks ago from a purely educational perspective. Titled “US Spends Ten Times More on Fossil Fuel Subsidies Than Education”, Ellsmore’s article has a clear link to schooling. But upon re-reading the article it is evident that the US is not alone in making this subsidy and underspending on education is the least of the problem:

A new International Monetary Fund (IMF) study shows that USD $5.2 trillion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017. The equivalent of over 6.5% of global GDP of that year, it also represented a half-trillion dollar increase since 2015 when China ($1.4 trillion), the United States ($649 billion) and Russia ($551 billion) were the largest subsidizers.

The largest governments in the world are spending more and more money subsidizing an industry that marketed a de facto drug— fossil fuel— to the world knowing that in doing so it was damaging the planet possibly beyond repair. At the same time, these same nations supported environmental deregulation that enabled these fossil fuel pushers  to pollute the air and waters with impunity while enacting labor “reforms” that stripped workers in all parts of the economy of benefits, suppressed their wages, and prevented them from banding together.

China and Russia are not democracies and never have been. It is not news that their governments are operating at the behest of a small group of oligarchs. The US has been a highly functioning democracy, one that has balanced the needs of consumers and citizens with the needs for profits. But instead of marketing democracy to the world, we are marketing capitalism. We are willing to see China and Russia as “trading partners” in order to ensure that our businesses can “compete in the global marketplace”… and we’ve been willing to bargain away our democracy in order to satisfy the needs of a small group of businessmen who promote expansion of their businesses at the expense of civilization and the health of the planet.

And what would happen if the money spent on fossil fuel subsidies disappeared? Where could that money be spent?

IMF leader Christine Lagarde has noted that the investments made into fossil fuels could be better spent elsewhere, and could have far reaching positive impacts: “There would be more public spending available to build hospitals, to build roads, to build schools and to support education and health for the people. We believe that removing fossil fuel subsidies is the right way to go.

And if what if that money had been spent on subsidies for renewable energy instead of fossil fuel?

Had nations reduced subsidies in a way to create efficient fossil fuel pricing in 2015, the International Monetary Fund believes that it “would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28 percent and fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46 percent, and increased government revenue by 3.8 percent of GDP.”

So.. why isn’t our country debating these subsidies? The GOP is clearly and unequivocally in support of the status quo in terms of energy use and the Democratic National Committee has declared the topic of climate change as “of limits” in their debates. Why?

Readers can draw their own conclusion. When I am try to answer this question through an optimistic lens, I believe that both political parties are focussed too much on the sacrifices we might have to make as a nation if we shift away from fossil fuel and not emphasizing the opportunities that would be available if we made such a decision. The fossil fuel industry, who wants to maintain the status quo in our energy policies and spending patterns, promotes the notion that any rapid shift away from their products will destabilize the economy and require the imposition of more government regulations and higher taxes on carbon products. Meanwhile, those who want seek to expand the use of renewable energy try to “out-fear” the fossil fuel promoters, emphasizing a future of weather catastrophes and hardship. As long as the arguments are framed in this fashion there is no upside to debating climate change. In my optimistic moments, I want to believe that some Presidential candidate will re-frame the debate and focus on the potential benefits of addressing climate change. The funds that would be available for public spending to build hospitals, to build roads, to build schools and to support education and health for the people, the jobs that would be created if we subsidized renewable energy over fossil fuel, and the clean air and water that would be sustained if we continued enforcing the environmental regulations put in place. When I answer this question through an optimistic lens I believe that given the facts voters will support a shift of our subsidies away from fossil fuel toward renewable energy and democracy will prevail.

When I try to answer this question through a pessimistic lens, though, I believe that both parties are beholden to the fossil fuel donors who have made it abundantly clear that climate change needs to remain off limits in debates and subsidies need to remain in place at all costs– even if those costs are to the well being of the planet. When I try to answer this question through a pessimistic lens, I see that democracy is in peril as well as the planet.

I hope that as voters realize that our country spent $649,000,000 on fossil fuel they might ask leaders in both parties why this is happening and think of ways this money could have been spent elsewhere without raising any taxes whatsoever.