Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

We CAN have Both Our Humanity and Technological Advancement

January 16, 2017 3 comments

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by Claire Cain Miller titled “A Darker Theme in Obama’s Farewell: Automation Can Divide Us”. In the essay, Ms. Miller outlines the ways technology is being used to automate jobs in a fashion that displaces low-skilled workers. What the essay fails to emphasize is that this displacement is done to enrich shareholders without regard for the “collateral damage” being done in the name of creative destruction of the marketplace. After reading the essay, I left this comment:

One set of tasks cannot be automated: those requiring a caring, compassionate, and empathetic service provider. These kinds of service providers are valued by retailers— the ideal waitstaff at the restaurant or fast food emporium, the ideal Walmart “associate”, and the ideal help desk worker at the other end of the line when you call to make inquiries about your credit card are all expected to show they care and expected to provide you with the best “customer service” possible, albeit for minimum wage.

In an ideal world— where profit and efficiency are not valued over humanity— health care providers would also be caring, compassion and empathetic. But in our effort to provide efficient and cost-effective health care our insurance companies force health care providers to see as many patients as possible without regard for the way service is provided.

In an ideal world we would find a way to fully fund the jobs that explicitly require caring, compassion and empathy: teachers, social workers, and those who aid the helpless. But, alas, those are all “government jobs” and we wouldn’t want to raise our taxes to fund “government jobs”.

In an ideal world we could realize the benefits of technology without losing our humanity. We could achieve this if we used technology to reduce the workloads of everyone instead of using it to increase the profits of the .01%.

In an ideal world, everyone would work four days, schools would be fully staffed, social service agencies would have larger staffs, and— yes— wealth would be more evenly distributed. We COULD make this happen by design… or we could continue along our current path and achieve the dystopia envisioned by many science fiction writers and, arguably, George Orwell. While we have a choice we should make it.


Martin Luther King Junior’s Other Speech

January 16, 2017 1 comment

On the annual holiday commemorating civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Junior, we often hear excerpts from his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963. That speech captured the uplifting spirit of the movement to end racial discrimination and, some contend, contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 roughly six months later. Unless this year is different from the past, though, we are likely to overlook one of Dr. King’s most challenging and thought provoking speeches.

Dr. King’s activism did not end with the passage of the Civil Rights bill, nor did his oratory end with the “I Have A Dream” speech. Over the last four years of his lifetime Dr. King became an outspoken advocate for peace and economic justice for all citizens in the world. In April 1967, Dr. King gave a speech at Riverside Baptist Church that is as relevant today as it was in 1967. Called the “Beyond Vietnam” speech, his address to a group called the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam included this admonition:

When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

This warning seems particularly pertinent today, because the “giant triplets” have not been conquered and our devotion to “machines and computers, profit motives and property rights” is stronger than ever.

Racism, the first “giant triplet”, is with us more than ever. Over the past several decades we’ve witnessed a re-segregation of our schools and neighborhoods and observed a decline in civility in our public discourse on race issues. Worse, we just concluded an election where 14 states enacted voter suppression laws, some of which federal courts eliminated because they unfairly limited the participation of African American voters. And the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck instituted in 27 states to address “voter fraud” may have prevented over 7,000,000 African American, Asian, and Hispanics from voting.

The extreme materialism Dr. King referenced is our consumer culture that is driven by our belief that “more” is “better”, that possessions— i.e. property rights— are more important than human relationships. To change this perspective, Dr. King advocated a “true revolution of values”, a “shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society”. Looking at his world in 1967, Dr. King urged a chance in perspective:

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

Fifty years later we continue to value things more than people, continue to live in a world and a country that has a glaring contrast of poverty and wealth, and continue to ally with “landed gentry” whose governing principles are antithetical to ours.

And militarism, the third “giant triplet”, dominates our globe today as much as it did in 1967. In identifying the changes needed to achieve his “true revolution of values” Dr, King wrote:

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Fifty years after this speech, our nation still spends more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift; and many would argue that as a result we are getting ever closer to the spiritual death Dr. King foretold. One of the primary reasons Dr. King decided to oppose the war in Vietnam was the realization that the resources needed to fight poverty were being spent on the military. The situation is no different today. The money spent on fifteen years of war in Afghanistan and fourteen years in Iraq is compounding our debt problems and taking resources away from “programs that contribute to social uplift”.

Were Dr. King alive today I expect he would be discouraged to see the backsliding that has occurred in race issues, frustrated to see how we continue to accept huge disparities in wealth and place a premium on “things”, and disheartened to see how much money we spend on the military. But I also expect he would urge us to seek the same solution he advocated fifty years ago:

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism…

(O)ur loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing — embracing and unconditional love for all mankind… When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality…

When I recently read Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech I was struck by its prescience and its applicability to our times. But I was also struck by the sense that the speech has been “overlooked” because it’s message is as unsettling today as it was in 1967. Lyndon Johnson, the President of the United States who fought hard to pass the Civil Rights legislation four years earlier, felt betrayed by Dr. King’s opposition to a war the President felt was justified. And Dr. King’s colleagues in the Civil Rights movement also questioned his decision to take a stand on the War in Vietnam, fearing that his focus on the Anti-War issue diverted attention away from their cause. “And 0ver 160 newspapers wrote editorials condemning Dr. King for his “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

As we commemorate Dr. King this year on the eve of the inauguration of a Presidential campaign that divided our country, I believe the overarching message of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech is crucial. As we passionately debate contentious issues in the coming years we need to heed Dr. King’s words from fifty years ago:

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

Note: This appeared as an op ed in today’s edition of the Valley News


An Open Letter to President Obama on His Encore Career

January 11, 2017 1 comment

Dear President Obama-

I listened to your farewell speech last night realizing that it will be at least another four years before I hear such an eloquent, thoughtful, measured, and reasonable voice speaking under the Presidential Seal. At the same time, I realized that our nation will miss more than your oratorical skills. They will miss having an exemplar for calm, lucid and passionate leadership, an example of a politician who strives for compromise and advocates for the good that government can do if it is funded and if the public is engaged.

But I also realize that your career as a public figure is far from over and sense that you still have the fire in your belly to speak for the voiceless and promote the unity our nation needs. With that assumption in place, I humbly offer two suggestions for paths you should pursue: one short term and one long term.

In the short term, your party needs to clarify it’s vision. Today the Democrat party is the “not-Republican party”. AS a result, it is unclear what the party is FOR, apart from being pro-choice and pro-LGBT rights. The Democrat party seems unwilling to be unapologetically FOR government regulation, FOR redistribution of wealth, FOR racial and economic justice, FOR worker’s rights, or FOR guaranteed health care for EVERYONE without the intermediation of the profiteering health insurance and without the provisions assuring pharmaceutical industries a piece of the action. And because the Democrat party failed to accept the label of “liberals” who supported “government regulation”, our country has fallen under the spell of an illiberal salesperson who now has the full support of a party beholden to amoral billionaires who want to strip government controls to increase their bottom lines. I trust you to develop a set of principles for your party to embrace going forward and trust that those principles will reflect the ideals you set forth in your speech last evening.

In the long term our country needs the voice of a civil rights advocate like Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. We need a leader who will speak against what Dr. King called “the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism”. In his speech at the Riverside Church fifty years ago, Dr. King spoke against these three forces, which he believed were tearing our country apart. Like you, Dr. King saw the force of the ballot box as the means of defeating these corrosive elements and, after the passage of the Civil Rights bill in 1964, he spent the last four years of his life dedicated to fighting the poverty of resources and the poverty of spirit that arose from the gross disparities in wealth in our country. You could provide our country with the kind of moral clarity Dr. King offered. In doing so, you could seal your legacy as a leader who sought high-minded unity in the face of bigotry, greed, and perpetual war.

I wish you had a Congress that was willing to work with you. I wish you led a party that had the courage to speak out against racism, greed, and war. And I wish that those who are suffering at the hands of the creative destruction of capitalism understood that the cause of their problems is not too much government but too little. If you help define your party’s mission and purpose and continue to speak out for all that is good in our country, maybe the next President who is elected will have what you lacked… and if that occurs, our country will be stronger and more united than ever.

Agreeable Fantasy: Mr. Trump’s Business Acumen Will Solve Complicated Problems Like Health Care

January 5, 2017 Leave a comment

I just finished reading an article in today’s NYTimes titled “The Health Care Plan Trump Voters Really Want” and am wondering what will happen when these voters faith in Mr. Trump’s “business skills” vanishes. The article, written by Kaiser Health Care CEO Drew Altman, is based on the findings of six panel discussions held in “Trump territory”. The facilitators of these focus groups were trying to determine what the Trump supporters sought in health care policies… and they found that most of them did NOT want what Trump was proposing based on his appointee’s philosophies and track records. But almost to a person, they were confident that Mr. Trump knew what they wanted and would be able to deliver it. Here are some quotes that I found unsettling:

They trusted Mr. Trump to do the right thing but were quick to say that they didn’t really know what he would do, and were worried about what would come next.

A (health savings) plans has been proposed by Representative Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s nominee to be secretary of Health and Human Services. These voters said they did not understand health savings accounts and displayed skepticism about the concept….When told Mr. Trump might embrace a plan that included these elements, and particularly very high deductibles, they expressed disbelief. 

They were also worried about what they called “chaos” if there was a gap between repealing and replacing Obamacare. But most did not think that, as one participant put it, “a smart businessman like Trump would let that happen.”

They were unmoved by the principle of risk-sharing, and trusted that Mr. Trump would find a way to protect people with pre-existing medical conditions without a mandate, which most viewed as “un-American.”

But once a Republican replacement plan becomes real, these working-class voters, frustrated with their current coverage, will want to know one thing: how that plan fixes their health insurance problems. And they will not be happy if they are asked to pay even more for their health care.

I noted two overarching concepts in these reactions. First, a blind faith in President-elect Trump’s skill at crafting some kind of solution to this problem that would not require them to pay higher taxes or higher health care costs, and a willingness to absolve Mr. Trump of any responsibility for the failure of Congress to find a means of solving this problem. In short, Mr. Trump is the embodiment of the “agreeable fantasy” of a “Great Leader” able to quickly solve complicated and costly problems with no sacrifice required by the American public. In the meantime, Congress is forced to present the “disagreeable truth” that this is not possible. But… the vicious cycle will continue so long as conservative Congressmen can blame liberals and welfare recipients for the problem and liberal congressman (if there is such a thing any more) can blame intransigent Republicans without having to stand up and defend the efficacy of good government.

The way out of this? SOMEONE in office needs to make a commonsense argument that SOMEONE has to pay the bills for health care and there are two ways to do it: through higher taxes or through higher health care premiums…. or MAYBE someone will catch on to Bernie Sanders’ assertion that Medicare for all— universal health care— is the best way forward. In the meantime, the children being raised in poverty remain the group most affected by this logjam— but they don’t vote and they have no lobby so they get no attention.

Medicaid Block Grants = De Facto Cuts to Voiceless Children Board in Poverty

December 29, 2016 Leave a comment

For the past several years, austerity minded Republicans have championed the need to cut back on entitlements in order to achieve a balanced budget. The notion of balancing the federal budget seems commonsensical: a household cannot spend moe than it takes in and a government shouldn’t do so either. But of course a responsible household almost always spends more than it takes in so that it can afford a house and, in many cases, an automobile, furniture, and other large acquisitions that it acquires on credit…. including the payment for health insurance to pay for unforeseen medical expenses. Analogously, the federal government sets aside funds to pay for medical insurance to cover expenses incurred by the elderly (Medicare) and the financially strapped (Medicaid). These funds are characterized by those seeking to balance the budget as “entitlements”, a convenient misnomer that reinforces the notion that they are provided to undeserving recipients.

In “The Quiet War on Medicaid“, an op ed piece in this past Monday’s NYTimes, Gene Sperling, who served as director of the National Economic Council from 1996 to 2001 and from 2011 until 2014, warns progressives to keep an eye on Medicaid when the debate on cuts to medical “entitlements” ensues in the coming year because he foresees a shell game about to play out. Here’s the way it will work. Paul Ryan and his fellow austerity-minded colleagues will propose cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. The seniors, who vote in large numbers, will lead a charge to push back against Medicare cuts and as a result they will be taken off the table. In the meantime progressives will argue that cuts to Medicaid will hurt those with the greatest needs. To show their magnanimity, the Republican leadership will offer block grants to states that marginally increase the budget and argue that by giving the money to the states with “greater flexibility” and “less bureaucracy” that there will be no harm done to the neediest. The reduction in the increase will result in an overall cut to the budget, but will do far more harm than the austerity minded congressmen will lead the public to believe. But Mr. Sperling describes how this gambit will play out:

Sweeping cuts to Medicaid would hurt tens of millions of low-income and middle-income families who had a family member with a disability or were in need of nursing home care. About 60 percent of the costs of traditional Medicaid come from providing nursing home care and other types of care for the elderly and those with disabilities.

While Republicans resist characterizations of their block grant or cap proposals as tearing away health benefits from children, older people in nursing homes or middle-class families heroically coping with children with serious disabilities, the tyranny of the math does not allow for any other conclusion. If one tried to cut off all 30 million poor kids now enrolled in Medicaid, it would save 19 percent of the program’s spending. Among the Medicaid programs at greatest risk would be those optional state programs that seek to help middle-income families who become “medically needy” because of the costs of having a child with a serious disability like autism or Down syndrome.

In the concluding paragraph to his op ed piece, Sperling notes that this gambit effectively shifts the costs for Medicaid to the states– the majority of whom are led by Republican governors– and ultimately to the local hospitals who will not turn away a patient for lack of funds. Sterling concludes that ultimately

…these anodyne-sounding proposals would lead to an assault on health care for those in nursing homes and for working families straining to deal with a serious disability, as well as for the poorest Americans.  

And assuming the worst, that these cuts DO find their way through the budget process, you can bet that the ultimate victims will not be the “…working families straining to deal with a serious disability” for they have a voice in the State houses. It will be the poorest Americans… the children who are being raised in poverty.

Bruce Baker’s Thorough Analysis Overlooks One Major Issue: Public Schools Interface with Public Agencies

December 28, 2016 Leave a comment

Economic Policy Institute writer Bruce Baker recently issued a lengthy white paper on the consequences of charter school expansion in the United States that offered dozens of charts and graphs supporting his overarching assertion that school choice in and of itself will not lead to the outcome of “great schools” for all children. In order for schools to achieve both equity and excellence, Mr. Baker suggests centralization and regulation are required as outlined in the concluding section of the report’s Executive Summary:

If the broad, long-term policy objective is to move toward the provision of a “system of great schools” in each of America’s communities, then those systems must be responsibly, centrally managed to achieve an equitable distribution of excellent (or at the very least adequate) educational opportunities for all children, while protecting the interests and legal rights of children, parents, taxpayers, and employees. Achieving this lofty goal requires determining which functions of the system must be centrally and publicly regulated and governed. Systemwide public responsibilities include but are not limited to:

  • The equitable management of enrollments and schooling access
  • The equitable distribution of financial and other resources across the system, including allocation of resources to centralized functions that serve all schools
  • The centralized management and equitable use/allocation, maintenance, and operations of the public’s capital stock of schools and related land and facilities
  • The centralized management of systemwide debt obligations and long-term liabilities including employee retirement and health benefits

Numerous analyses have found chartering to lead to an imbalanced distribution of students by race, income, language proficiency, and disability status. So too does magnet schooling, or concentration of any specialized services across buildings within districts. The point is not that all such variations must necessarily be erased, or even could be, but that these variations must be acknowledged, and managed for the good of the system as a whole. To the extent that student needs continue to vary across school settings, resources must be targeted to accommodate those needs. This is a central function, and includes budget allocations, space allocations, and personnel allocations that draw on a substantial body of research on costs associated with providing equal educational opportunities (Duncombe and Yinger 2008).

Capital stock—publicly owned land and buildings—should not be sold off to private entities for lease to charter operators, but rather, centrally managed both to ensure flexibility (options to change course) and to protect the public’s assets (taxpayer interests). Increasingly, districts such as those discussed herein, have sold land and buildings to charter operators and related business entities, and now lack sufficient space to serve all children should the charter sector, or any significant portion of it, fail. Districts and state policymakers should not put themselves in a position where the costs of repurchasing land and buildings to serve all eligible children far exceed fiscal capacity and debt limits.

Finally, pension and health care costs are systemwide concerns that cannot be ignored by shifting students, and thus teachers and public dollars, across sectors.

Mr. Baker’s list of systemwide public responsibilities overlooks one important element: the need for public schools to interface seamlessly with other public agencies that support the well being of children, especially those children who are raised in poverty. Over 15 years ago I wrote an op ed article that was published in Education Week titled “A Homeland Security Bill for Public Education” that suggested that social agencies be able to communicate seamlessly in order to provide wraparound services to children struggling in schools. The article cited specific cases I encountered as a county Superintendent in Maryland where the lack of these formal interfaces resulted in uncoordinated efforts in dealing with children, a lack of coordination that arguably put schools at risk, had agencies working against each other in the case management of children, and clearly resulted in duplicative ends. As I read Bruce Baker’s analysis of the flaws of private charters, one issue he overlooked was whether a private charter would be obligated to report suspected child abuse; or whether a social worker or parole and probation officer would be allowed to discuss a child’s performance with them; or whether a privately funded health provider would be required to report cases of infectious disease to the public health department. These issues don’t cross the mind of for profit charter operators because their interest in earning money  means that their first and only obligation is to their shareholders— not to the public at large and certainly not to the school district.

So my suggestion is that advocates for equity keep in mind that publicly funded wraparound services might not be available for privately operated charter schools— a factor that will contribute to more inequity and a greater disparity in opportunity.

The “Undeserving Poor” vs. the “Undeserving Corporations”

December 24, 2016 Leave a comment

One of Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday included a link to a Washington Post op ed piece by Charlotte Rampell titled “Why the White Working Class Votes Against Itself”. In the article, Ms. Rampell suggests that many Trump voters supported him because they “..believed any Big Government expansions would disproportionately go to the “wrong” kinds of people — that is, people unlike themselves.” But I felt the most compelling rationale for the Trump support is found in this paragraph:

Rhetoric this election cycle caricaturing our government as “rigged,” and anyone who pays into it as a chump, has only reinforced these misperceptions about who benefits from government programs and how much.

Diane Ravtich emphasized a different element of Ms. Rampell’s column. She wrote

Trump played the demagogue role perfectly, stirring  resentment of the Others, the equivalent of Welfare Queens, living an easy life because of government benefits.

The narrative of the “undeserving poor” and “welfare queens” who live “an easy life because of government benefits” gained traction in the Reagan era and has not been countered effectively since. But the narrative conveniently overlooks a large group of “deserving poor”: children. As educators we should repeatedly emphasize the point that children born into poverty didn’t make ANY “bad choices” and don’t “deserve” the consequences of the presumably “bad choices” their parents made.

And here’s the conundrum: public education and public agencies could make a difference in the lives of children born into poverty if they were given the resources… but giving more money to “the government” is seen as “wasteful spending” and, as Ms. Rampell notes, “…anyone who pays into it is a chump”.  So the public tends to sympathize with corporations who pay no taxes to “the government” and view the President-elect’s unwillingness to pay taxes as evidence that he is a “good businessman.” And voters fail to see the connection between corporate tax avoidance and their own tax bill. When corporations offshore their profits to avoid paying taxes to the government and seek tax benefits from all levels of government in exchange for low-paying jobs, is it any surprise that local and state taxes increase for the average citizen?

One would hope that those born into wealth would be full of gratitude for their good fortune. But many (if not most) of the billionaires who inherited their wealth (e.g. the Kochs, the Waltons, the and– yes– the Trumps and DeVos) fuel narratives about how the “undeserving poor” need to work harder and how “the market” can solve virtually every problem, especially if the market is free of regulation and turned over to private enterprise. And when those same corporations suppress wages, send jobs overseas, and spend billions on automation to maximize the profits of their shareholders, is it any surprise that there are fewer jobs and lower wages in our country?

The only way to break this vicious circle is to make voters aware of the way the economic system is rigged against them and for the billionaires. Until that message penetrates we will continue to have billionaires scolding the rest of us for the bad choices we made and lecturing us about the way the invisible hand guides the economy in a fair and just fashion.

Somewhere Ronald Reagan is smiling benignly and assuring us that it is morning in America…. And from the same place, FDR is  thinking America should be in mourning.