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Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Bernie Sanders Tries to Keep 500,000 Hungry Children in the Limelight

September 28, 2019 Comments off

With everything else garnering headlines in Washington DC and on the campaign trail, I’m glad to see at least one candidate hammering home the importance of providing children with the nutritious meals they need to succeed in school. Common Dreams writer Jake Johnson describes how the Trump administration sidestepped Congress by issuing a rule change that diverted funds intended for school children to… well… who knows?

Congress last year approved a farm bill that excluded SNAP changes sought by the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers, so the president and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have worked to unilaterally slash eligibility for the program, which is widely recognized by policy experts as an effective way to reduce hunger.

As Mr. Sanders notes, the notion of providing food to hungry children hardly seems like a radical idea:

“In America today, one in every six kids goes hungry,” Sanders states on his website. “Instead of addressing this crisis, students with lunch debt are sometimes denied meals, have debt collectors sent after their families, and are even denied their diplomas. Unacceptable. It is not a radical idea that no child in this country should go hungry. We must ensure that all students have access to healthy school meals.”

It evidently is not a radical idea that funds Congress wanted to send to school districts to feed hungry children can be unilaterally diverted for other uses…. We are truly living in an upside down world.

Mexico Is NOT Paying for the Wall… The Children of Military Officers Are

September 6, 2019 Comments off

A couple of days ago President Trump used a Sharpie to modify a US Weather Service map to “prove” that Hurricane Dorian was, at one point in time, going to graze the NE corner of Alabama thereby making his erroneous claim about that true.

Yesterday, while news headlines focussed on the track of the same hurricane and the President’s efforts to “prove” his “forecast” was accurate, the Secretary of Defense released an itemized list outlining the cuts he needed to make to his budget to divert $3,600,000,000 to pay for the wall along the southern border…. a part of the enormous costs for the wall that “Mexico will pay for”. Here’s a portion of the list:

The planned multi-billion-dollar transfer — which has been strongly denounced by Democrats — is expected to defund more than 120 construction projects that the military was hoping to conduct over the next years.

Documents obtained by CBS News show the reprogramming request by the White House will divert funds that the Pentagon had previously designated for a diverse set of projects in the U.S. and around the world, from a missile facility in Alaska and an engineering center at the U.S. Army Academy at West Point, to a hangar at a U.S. Air Force Base in Japan and a veterinary facility for working dogs at the U.S. Navy Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Funds for the construction of schools at military bases and facilities will be transferred to finance the construction of border barriers, including a $62,634,000 grant for a middle school at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and a $56,048,000 grant for an elementary school for children of U.S. troops stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany. 

The $118,682,000 diverted from new schools is less that 2% of the $6,100,000,000 the Trump administration asked the Department of Defense to “divert” in order to fund the wall he claimed “Mexico would pay for” and an even more minuscule percentage of the $59,800,000,000 the wall would reportedly cost even after the plans were modified to substitute fencing in some stretches….

As the election season begins in 2020 I fully expect the President to wield his Sharpie to show us how “Mexico will pay” for the wall through fees collected at the border, higher tariffs, and other fiscal hocus-pocus. The shell game he will use to justify his “promise” is no different than the Sharpie he used to justify his erroneous tweet about the hurricane. In the meantime, the children of military service personnel will be denied new schools in at least two places and $3,600,000,000 that COULD have infused funds into communities near to military bases will be spent for a 12th century technology on the Southern Border.

Video Surveillance in School Hallways + AI = Training Students for a Future WITH Guns and Stealth Mental Illness Screening

August 27, 2019 Comments off

I’ve written several posts decrying the expanded use of surveillance cameras and cautioning against the use of facial recognition software in schools, so when I read that President Trump is proposing to use AI to flag potential mass murderers I was immediately appalled. To be clear as possible, here’s a synopsis of the President’s proposal as reported by Common Dreams reporter Julia Conley:

As The Washington Post reported Thursday, the Trump administration has worked with Bob Wright, a close friend of Trump’s and his collaborator on the reality show “The Apprentice,” to develop a proposal for a new federal agency that would be called the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA), within the Health and Human Services Department.

HARPA would be modeled after and led by a top official at the Pentagon’s research office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has developed drones, artificial intelligence meant to merge with deadly weapons, and technology to help U.S. soldiers detect safety threats during deployments.

Instead of developing military equipment, HARPA would draw information from people—gathered strictly from people who opt in to the program, the administration says—to identify “neurobehavioral signs” of “someone headed toward a violent explosive act.”

This would be disturbing enough if our President supported world leaders who value the rule of law, but given that we have a President who extols the virtues of leaders like Vladimir Putin, whose nation has used psychiatry to deem political opponents as mentally unsound, this proposal is very unsettling.

Since school shootings seem to be an area that everyone agrees is the most distressing and every level of government from local school boards to the Federal government seems to think that “hardening” schools is a good idea, it would not surprise me at all to see this new agency conducting field tests in schools.

We are already training our children to accept video monitoring, limited access to public facilities, and training drills designed to protect them from individuals who are unconditionally allowed to purchase military grade weapons designed to inflict maximum damage on soldiers. Do we now want to subject them to profiling based on untested algorithms? Do we want to use AI to identify “neurobehavioral signs” of “someone headed toward a violent explosive act.”? This voter does not want to allow that to happen.

Four Student Presidents at Prestigious Colleges Identify the REAL Admissions Scandal: Inequitably Funded Public Schools

August 13, 2019 Comments off

Robert Blake Watson, president of the Undergraduate Students Association Council at UCLA, Trenton Stone, president of the Undergraduate Student Government at USC, Erica Scott, president of the Associated Students of Stanford University, and Kahlil Greene, president of the Yale College Council co-authored an op ed article that was widely published in newspapers across the nation over the past few days. In our local newspaper, the Valley News, it was titled “This is the Real College Admissions Scandal” while the Chicago Tribune titled it “What’s Legal in College Admissions is the Real Scandal“. Both headlines underscore the reality that the general sense that college admissions are based on “merit” is deeply flawed. When one strips away all of the external— test scores, essays, visits, resume-building— college admissions comes down to one factor: money. And when these four student body presidents peel the onion all the way down to the core, they find that money matters most when it comes to funding public schools, and that the property-based funding of public schools is the true scandal in college admissions.

…one of the main mechanisms through which our public schools are funded — property taxes from their local neighborhoods — disadvantages students from low-income areas. High school students at underfunded public schools do not receive the same access to high-quality college prep resources as do their peers at public and private schools in wealthier ZIP codes — resources that are necessary to navigate the increasingly daunting landscape of college admissions.

As students at selective universities, we acknowledge the many ways in which we have personally benefited from this system of privilege. Many of us come from well-resourced parts of the country and were surrounded by people familiar with the college admissions process. As students at selective universities, we acknowledge the many ways in which we have personally benefited from this system of privilege. Many of us come from well-resourced parts of the country and were surrounded by people familiar with the college admissions process. We would not be where we are today without certain opportunities provided to us that other students could not afford, and we want to make sure that this significant injustice is not lost in the sensational headlines about Operation Varsity Blues.

The real scandal is about the millions of kids who will never have an equitable chance in an extremely complex, competitive and costly process.

The college admissions scandal is not confined to a handful of privileged families and institutions. It is embedded in the fabric of the U.S. education system. In a 2017 article for Stanford Politics, “The Aristocracy That Let Me In,” Andrew Granato, a Stanford student, reflected on the ways in which the U.S. has developed a modern-day aristocracy based on the myth of a meritocratic education system. Instead of passing down social status through inherited titles or land holdings, today’s elites are able to provide their children with special resources to prepare them for admission into selective universities, thereby ensuring that they too will enter into America’s top economic tier.

This “secret” is now out in the open thanks to a group of egregiously greedy and manipulative parents who went so far as to photoshop their children’s faces onto pictures of rowers to “prove” they were participants in crew at their high school. Those parents showed the public that the admissions system could be gamed if someone had enough money and, in so doing, enabled writers like the four student body presidents to dig just a little bit deeper, find that they “would not be where we are today without certain opportunities provided to us that other students could not afford“, and bring that core injustice to the attention of as many people as possible.

Their op ed commentary offers several solutions for college admissions offices, solutions that would encourage elite colleges to identify students who are likely to succeed in their programs despite the disadvantages they faced in their high school. And they offer one paragraph on what I have long believed is the primary problem facing public education:

Making our education system a true meritocracy will also require fundamental political and cultural changes outside of individual universities. The way we finance public school districts has to change — using property taxes only serves to reinforce geographic, racial and socioeconomic disparities in education quality. These disparities affect students’ chances of success before they reach middleschool, much less college.

Will anyone listen to four accomplished college students? My answer: they MIGHT if someone running for President echoed this message and amplified it in the months ahead; they MIGHT if anyone running for Governor in a state with inequitable funding (i.e. virtually all the states in the nation) echoed this message and amplified it in the months ahead; they MIGHT if parents and voters in those towns suffering “…geographic, racial and socioeconomic disparities in education quality” echoed this message and amplified it in the months ahead. Absent a groundswell, however, the truth of this article will be forgotten and the myth of the meritocracy will persist. 

This is America Today: Bullet Proof Backpacks, Retailers’ Active Shooter Drills… and Fear

August 12, 2019 Comments off

I read with dismay that the sales of armored backpacks is peaking and that businesses like Walmart– like public schools and churches– are contemplating active shooter drills. This is our country today, where fear outsells hope and open carry laws and “second amendment rights” are more important than the safety of children, consumers, churchgoers, and citizens gathering in public venues.

Are we headed for a time where we will eventually do everything on-line? As schools scare children with realistic active shooter drills, businesses are invaded by open-carry advocates with AK-47s outfitted in body armor, church activities are invaded by gunmen, public events are disrupted by shootings, more and more Americans become convinced that their lives are in peril whenever they set foot outside their homes. And the 2nd amendment advocates are OK with all of this because in their view everyone will be safe when everyone carries a gun and everyone protects their home, presumably with some kind of rapid fire weapon. Those of us who are presumably foolish enough to believe that being armed is unnecessary will be viewed with disdain should we be shot and killed just as a school that fails to offer active shooter drills would be criticized for failing to provide the training needed should they experience one of the regrettably routine school shootings.

And here’s what I find especially troubling: astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was roundly criticized for a tweet he issued pointing out the cold hard fact that statistically speaking gun deaths are relatively rare. He wrote:

In the past 48 hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings.

On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose…

500 to Medical errors
300 to the Flu
250 to Suicide
200 to Car Accidents
40 to Homicide via Handgun

Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.

Mr. deGrasse Tyson did not comment on the rationale for his tweet… but I believe he was trying to stem the groundless fears that compel us to overreact to widely reported sensational news stories. For example, if we used the DATA Mr. deGrasse Tyson gathered to set priorities for how schools might address problems that confront students over the course of their lives, we would spend far more on counseling services and health education, and less on security personnel and surveillance gadgetry. We would be examining the sales of handguns as well as the sales of military grade weapons. We would be spending more to ensure that fewer errors are made in the provision of health care. And last, but not least, children would not be living in fear every time they set foot inside of school. Their parents would not be purchasing bulletproof backpacks. And Walmart would not be worried about conducting active shooter drills.

ICE Raids Leave Mississippi Children Homeless

August 8, 2019 Comments off

This USA Today article describes the impact of the ICE raids on the public schools in one Mississippi County. At the end of the article the Superintendent asks how children who are afraid that their parents will be taken away can possibly concentrate on their school work. With thousands of undocumented parents in our nation this is a question many teachers, administrators, and school board members will be asking in the weeks ahead.

apple.news/AH0nu5hxFRyKsuK9P-9tBrw

Upshot Article Oversimplifies “Solution” to Complicated Problem Congress Created

July 31, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an article by Upshot writer Kevin Carey written on July 24 titled “It’s Easy to Forget, but a Program to Forgive Student Loans Already Exists“. There are two problems with the article from my perspective.

First, the “program to forgive student loans” is so convoluted that it’s “existence” is arguable. Contrary to the sub-headline that reads, “Democrats are campaigning to fix an issue that is already starting to resolve itself for many teachers and other public servants“, the article describes an issue that desperately needs to be fixed because the laws underpinning it were ill-conceived, allowed only five days for the initial application process, and changed directions several times over the course of time.  

Second, and most importantly, the implementation was botched because Congress failed to provide the funds needed to provide the staff required to make the implementation possible. Here are the most telling paragraphs from Mr. Carey’s article:

“(The borrowers) needed some good advice. Whom would they call? Not the Department of Education, which subcontracts the work of helping borrowers to “loan servicing companies”. Unfortunately, the servicers didn’t prove up to the task.

Loan servicers are paid a flat rate per borrower for processing loan payments and helping people navigate the repayment process. That means that the more time and effort a borrower requires, the less money the servicer makes. Someone who sets up an automatic debit from a checking account and never picks up the phone is a source of profits. Borrowers who need a lot of time-consuming assistance to ensure that their job, their loan and their repayment plan are all eligible for the forgiveness program are a financial liability.

The results were predictable. In June 2017, a few months before the first public servants were (theoretically) eligible for loan forgiveness, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report describing the many ways loan servicers were messing things up.

This sums up the whole problem with government today: it is understaffed and therefore incapable of functioning effectively. Taxpayers want the government to come up with a FAST, CHEAP solution to complicated problems and to run like a business. As Mr. Carey explains later in the article, when USDOE outsourced their work to “loan servicing companies” they operated like a business and got a FAST and CHEAP “solution” to the complicated problem Congress created… a “solution” that padded the wallets of the “loan servicing companies” but left the borrowers high and dry…. and “proved” that government is the problem. The headline to this should read: “It’s Easy to Forget that an Effective Government Requires Bureaucrats”….

Mr. Carey concludes his article with evidence that more and more borrowers are becoming eligible, and seems to think that since the percentage of approved borrowers has increased the problem is taking care of itself. After reading the article and looking at the daunting amount the government is on the hook for, I’m not confident that there will be sufficient funds available to honor the promises they made to public employees— especially since the current administration is intent on keeping its promises to the billionaires and shareholders who received massive tax breaks.