explanations


Out here on my limb, I have a different take on the whole not-releasing-my-taxes thing by candidate Romney.

Think about this, as polarized as the electorate is, people who are already committed to voting for Romney don’t give a hoot how much he paid in taxes. Hell most of them would probably stand up and cheer if it turns out he didn’t pay any taxes for some of the past 10 years, because that’s what they want to do themselves – not pay taxes.  People who don’t want to pay taxes are probably MORE likely to vote for a candidate who has demonstrated the ability to get out of paying taxes. 

People who are already committed to voting for President Obama will get upset about Romney not paying taxes, but they weren’t ever going to vote for Romney anyway. And unlike previous elections the number of undecided, swing voters is miniscule. The Republicans already know this, that’s why they are putting so much of their efforts into preventing people likely to vote Democratic (poor people and young people and people of color) from voting, through restrictive registration rules, voter ID rules, and narrowing the time periods when voting can take place.

So why is Romney so adamant about not releasing his taxes?  My theory is that it has nothing to do with how much income he made, or how much taxes he paid, as neither of those would affect his base.  Instead, I suspect that 1) he has income from sources that would upset his base, and/or 2) he’s given money to organizations that would upset his base. 

Given Romney’s life history, I could imagine either Romney or his wife making donations to Planned Parenthood.  It’s a charity that many moderates used to like, because PP provides so much basic health care for poor women, it took some pressure off providing tax supported health care.

Or what if the Romney’s have made significant investments in the health care industry – it’s certainly been a very profitable industry in recent decades and the Romneys are savvy investors – and some of that health care money was made health care corporations that provide or pay for abortions?

I’m telling you, that whatever it is that Romney is hiding, it isn’t how much taxes he did or didn’t pay; it is almost certainly something else, something that WOULD upset his base supporters.

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Community Colleges in America are well on their way to being institutions that provide no real “college” education at all. Thus insuring that low and middle income students who have no choice but to attend community colleges, will have an education that increasingly below the standard of four year college education.

My friends who teach in community colleges acknowledge that already their courses really do not measure up to those at four year colleges. These faculty know that they simply cannot get low income students who work full-time jobs, are married, have small children, and who lack adequate college preparation (many of whom have never read a single book cover to cover), to read the same amount or level of material, such as the primary sources and research articles typically assigned to four year college and university students.

But in recent years things are getting worse, the gap in what community college students and those in four year institutions learn has gotten wider, and current trends in developmental and technical education threaten to expand the divide to a chasm rivaling the Grand Canyon.

The emphasis in Community Colleges is on developmental education (what we used to call “remedial” before that became politically suspect) and on technical education or narrow job training. In other words, Community Colleges, rather than providing the first two years of a college education, are doing the things that American secondary schools no longer are able to accomplish.

Across the nation, Community Colleges have seen the state tax money available to them decline, if not in absolute terms, certainly in terms relative to the cost of the education they provide. As a result many community colleges, like four year colleges, have raised tuition rates, and instituted a variety of cost saving measures to make up for lost funds, as well as amping up efforts to attract grant and corporate money.

In true political contrarian fashion, states and regional accrediting bodies have increased demands for accountability at the same time that they have decreased overall state tax support for community colleges. The demand for accountability focuses on three things – assessment of learning, increasing retention and graduation rates and the employment of students exiting community colleges.

Rising tuition costs and pressures to improve retention and post-degree employment, push Community Colleges to bow to the short-term, often short-sighted, pragmatic goals of their “customers” – the potential college students and their parents (who rarely have college educations themselves). Colleges scramble to come up with new programs to meet current, localized job demand, with little thought to long range trends or life time career paths.

As a result community colleges crank out graduates that have practical skills but no liberal educational content behind those skills. As a result occupational graduates in fields like real-time closed captioning where the graduates can type as a fast as news anchors can talk, but lack a liberal education with the humorous result that the ancient runner “Pheidippides” turns into “three fip disease” during Olympic coverage, and a commentators view that British youth’s rioting as “inchoate” (August 12, 2011) turns into rioting “in Kuwait”!!

In doing so, they shift resources (classroom space, computer labs, faculty lines, technology funds) away from traditional college instruction and to meeting the needs of technical programs. Classes like literature, mathematics, history, communications, psychology, and political science can share the use of standard classrooms, most of the allied health professions and technical fields require dedicated classroom and laboratory space, removing those facilities from the pool shared by all the other regular college courses.

To meet the stringent demands of national accrediting bodies in allied health and technical fields, colleges must staff these programs (new or old) with a core of full-time faculty. There are no such accrediting bodies to make sure that the faculty teaching history, communications, or college math, are up-to-date in their fields, or certified (once they earn the minimum graduate hours), and certainly no oversight bodies to require that courses in history and literature are taught by full-time faculty rather than part-timers and adjuncts. So full-time faculty lines shift to the allied health and technical fields, while instructional needs in traditional college liberal arts and even basic sciences classes are more and more often taught by a growing army of temporary and part-time instructors.

Pressures for both accountability and the need for tuition dollars have placed more emphasis than ever on retaining students, and the research is very clear, the students most at risk for failure and dropping out are those that come to college under-prepared – the students needing multiple developmental/remedial classes. Colleges are motivated to retain developmental students, and the recent flood of grant funding for improving and experimenting with developmental education (see previous post), has placed developmental education at the top of community colleges agendas.

Good, thoughtful, educators and liberals who care about inequality in the schools like developmental education. On its face, developmental/remedial education is an opportunity to reverse educational inequalities, to provide the background and support that able but ill prepared students need to “make it” educationally. If remediation were happening in high schools, if high schools all over the country were seriously addressing the college readiness of all their students, than I would applaud that unreservedly. However, as needed as developmental education is, the attention and dollars available to community colleges for it, are like allied health and technical fields pushing real college instruction to the side lines.

Whole computer labs get removed from use by statistics classes, computer science classes, political science classes, physics classes, etc. and become dedicated laboratories in which developmental math and reading students can spend their days learning the things they should have received in high school. Technology and instructional money comes from grants, but when grants run out, colleges are heavily pressured to continue funding for developmental needs, and faculty lines are shifted from traditional college level classes where adjuncts can fill in the gaps to developmental instruction.

In the quest to retain developmental students, subtle shifts in course designations begin to take place. New “college” credit bearing courses are invented to provide ways for developmental students to work towards graduation requirements while struggling to bring their skills up to college level, and instructors in traditional college classes are pressured to become part-time developmental instructors by adding “supplemental instruction” to their college courses and allow marginal students in before they are able to meet testing guidelines.

Thus the gap between the quality and content of the community college education drifts further and further below that of the four year college or university.

Only half of students who receive a high school diploma in the United States are academically prepared for post secondary education. A recent study of high school juniors and seniors taking the ACT college entrance exam confirms this; half of the students were ready for college-level reading assignments in core subjects like math, history, science, and English. Yet two-thirds of high school graduates head to post-secondary institutions to continue their education.

Most four year colleges and universities deny admittance to students who do not attain college level readiness as evidenced by tests like the ACT and the SAT. So those students unprepared for college, but desiring a college education any way, head for the nations community colleges where all comers (with a high school diploma or GED) are welcome. Ill-prepared students feel the need for a college degree because American businesses rely on formal educational credentials to narrow their applicant pool, and because bottom-line oriented businesses have decided that they no longer want to waste their resources with on-the-job training, more and more occupational specific training has been pushed to community colleges. More and more blue-collar, construction, manufacturing and even service industry jobs are requiring community college certification as a minimum occupational entrance requirement.

Consequently community colleges are flooded with students lacking basic reading, writing and mathematical skills – students that require developmental (what we used to call “remedial”) education in multiple areas.

The failure of American high schools to prepare students, to actually educate students in the basic skills and knowledge expected of a high school graduate much less of a college entrant, is widely recognized in the United States. In recent years a deluge of money, from government agencies, corporations, and charitable foundations (such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), has been directed to programs to better provide developmental/remedial education.

One might think that this flood of funding to provide students with high school level skills and knowledge would go to high schools. This is after all high school topics that students are failing to master. But that is not where the money is going. Instead, the grant funding is sloshing into the doors of Adult Education programs and especially community colleges. So that students, their families and society end up paying twice (taxes for high schools and taxes and tuition for community colleges) to education students to the level of a high school diploma. [See “Paying Double: Inadequate High Schools and Community College Remediation”]

The key question is why? Why does the funding go to community colleges and adult education programs instead of high schools. The answer, I believe, is quite simple. It is that in the United States, high schools, like all public education is locally controlled by local political entities, and therefore subject to all the abuses and corruption of local politics. Local schools may be constrained to hire only teachers with a college degree and a teaching certificate, but from the pool of all possibles it is the rare locality that doesn’t place kinship, friendship and political patronage above skills, knowledge and even subject matter certification when hiring teachers.

There are outstanding elementary and secondary schools in the United States – in communities made up of upper middle class families, where parents are all college educated and very knowledgeable of what is required for their own children to enter the nations top colleges and universities. Local control works in these communities to insure high quality secondary education – at least for those in the college preparatory tracks of the school. But in most of the country, high school education is in the control of an electorate and their political representatives who care more about the quality of their athletic fields and protecting their babies from being infected by heretical ideas like evolution, than they do for actual education.

I’ve personally known school boards and many working class and lower middle class parents, who want their children to have access to jobs, but are quite clear that they don’t want those children to be contaminated by education. They want degrees without all that troublesome knowledge.

The funders of developmental/remedial education know this about American secondary education. They know that the schools that would actually use funding to raise the skill and knowledge level of students don’t really need the funds, and that the schools that need the funds won’t be able to use them appropriately. So they turn to community colleges, which are generally governed by state-wide bodies and accountable to regional accrediting agencies, and are therefore more likely to actually provide the needed developmental/remedial education. Moreover, high schools are motivated to get rid of poor students students quickly, while colleges who receive tuition payments, are motivated to hang on to poor students as long as the possibly can.

Both right-wing and left-wing extremes (I’m part of the latter) do agree on one thing, we’re “on the wrong track” and going “to hell in a handbasket” if we don’t make some serious changes. Other than that basic agreement these two ends of the political continuum fail to agree on anything else — such as what the wrong track is, why it is wrong, and who is responsible for us being on that mistaken track, and what we should do about it. This is why the typical opinion poll which simply asks the bald question “is America on the right track?” gives us such a deceptively high percentage of people (64 percent in a March Ipsos’s poll) saying that we’re on the wrong track.

As a left winger, I think we’re on the wrong track because: 1) we keep reducing taxes on the rich and corporations when we ought to be increasing them, 2) we keep cutting programs for the poor, disabled, elderly, students and children, when we ought to be increasing them, 3) we keep giving subsidies to gas, oil and coal companies when we should be eliminating them and investing heavily in hydro, wind, solar, and everything else renewable, 4) the rich are getting richer while the poor (and the middle class and, well, everybody except the very rich) keep getting relatively poorer, 5) we’re not closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, and we’re not getting out of Afghanistan, and 6) we’re letting evangelical Christians impose their version of Biblical law on us. And the cause of all these problems is unrestrained, unregulated capitalism, and unfettered capitalism is beginning to collapse from its own internal contradictions, just like Marx said it would (he was only wrong about the timing).

Anyone with half a brain knows that the right-wing version of we’re going down the wrong track is almost exactly the opposite of every point on my list.

The longer that the oil continues to gush from the Deepwater horizon well, the more oil that contaminates the gulf, the greater the destruction of the Gulf, the better it is for the oil industry. Seriously.

What does the oil industry hate the most — all those safety and environmental regulations. Even when they don’t really follow them, they still have to waste the time of paid employees to go through the motions of complying with environmental and safety regulations, of regulatory visits and all those forms to fill out.

So, what if the gulf is so polluted, so toxic that all marine life is just gone. No dolphins, no whales, no fish, no fishing industry, no shrimp, no shrimpers. All the beaches contaminated, all the tourist industry gone elsewhere. If it’s all destroyed then protecting it becomes moot. No more need for all those troublesome regulations. The oil industry will then be able to drill where ever and when ever they wish in the gulf. No one will care (at least politically) if the wells leak because the damage is already done.

A toxic swamp gulf is exactly what the oil industry needs.

The right wing seems to think that the political climate in the U.S. is ripe at the present moment for getting rid or at least drastically scaling back unemployment insurance. I hope they are wrong and that general public sentiment is not represented by the Tea Party types who so dominant the news coverage by both those who approve (fox news) and those who disapprove (msnbc left of center prime time).

Stopping the extension of unemployment insurance payments for the long term unemployed is all upside for the republicans and conservatives.

First it throws 1.2 million people into dire straits that will help put even more downward pressure on wages, not only for those forced to take poverty level jobs in lieu of unemployment, but also for those still in jobs, whose position becomes just that much more tenuous and thus vulnerable to employer pressure.

But even more importantly, throwing long term unemployed off unemployment in really bad economic times will appear to “work” as a tactic for reducing unemployment. Those receiving unemployment must actively seek work to receive their checks, by actively seeking work they fit the labor department’s official definition of unemployment. But once the checks stop and the pressure from unemployment offices to seek work, within weeks, those in areas where there are no jobs (which is most of the country right now), will soon become discouraged. People don’t keep on actively seeking work when there is no work to be had, unless they are required to do so to get unemployment. When their active work search stops, they don’t have a job, but they also no longer fit the official definition of unemployed, and by magic the unemployment rate will decline. Of course the number of people employed doesn’t rise, and the labor force declines, but most people don’t understand the way in which unemployment numbers are created.

Within months the republicans will be able to point to the declining unemployment numbers and say “see our strategy of cutting people off of unemployment insurance works — unemployment has declined.” Democrats will of course, try to educated the public, explaining about discouraged workers and declining size of the labor force, but it will be for nought. That strategy didn’t work well in 1985-86 when official unemployment under Ronald Reagan finally began to drop below 10 percent. The average person doesn’t want to know that official unemployment numbers are really not a very good indicator of the economic health of society.

Us folks on the far left should a) actually listen to the folks on the far right and b) tell the truth. How many left/liberal folks have you heard stand up and belittle conservatives for jumping from a proposal for funding advance directives (i.e., living wills) to being concerned about “death panels”? A lot I imagine. Did any of these left/liberal folks ever take even 60 seconds to try to figure out where all you conservatives might have gotten the idea from — or consider that there might actually be some logic to seeing a link between those two things.

The link is Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Emanuel is Head of the Department of Bioethics at The Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health. He is currently on extended detail as a special advisor for health policy to the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. These are facts obtained from the National Institutes of Health. Other facts also available from the NIH website include that Dr. Emanuel developed The Medical Directive, a comprehensive living will that has been endorsed by Consumer Reports on Health, Harvard Health Letter, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. also, he has published widely on the ethics of clinical research, health care reform, international research ethics, end of life care issues, euthanasia, the ethics of managed care, and the physician-patient relationship in the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, JAMA, and many other medical journals.

One particular publication by Dr. Emanuel is frequently cited by the far right is “Where Civic Republicanism and Deliberative Democracy Meet” in The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 26, No. 6, In Search of the Good Society: The Work of Daniel Callahan (Nov. – Dec., 1996), pp. 12-14. Official URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3528746 –however, since you have to have a paid subscription to see the whole article at this URL, here’s an alternative that that has the entire (brief as it is) article in pdf format: http://www.ncpa.org/pdfs/Where_Civic_Republicanism_and_Deliberative_Democracy_Meet.pdf. The portion of this paper that is most frequently cited by those on the right is taken out of context from this larger quote:

Thus, it seems there is a growing agreement between liberals, communitarians, and others that many political matters, including matters of justice–and specifically, the just allocation of health care resources–can be addressed only by invoking a particular conception of the good. We may go even further. Without overstating it (and without fully defending it) not only is there a consensus about the need for a conception of the good, there may even be a consensus about the particular conception of the good that should inform policies on these nonconstitutional political issues. Communitarians endorse civic republicanism and a growing number of liberals endorse some version of deliberative democracy. Both envision a need for citizens who are independent and responsibile and for public forums that present citizens with opportunities to enter into public deliberations on social policies. This civic republican or deliberative democratic conception of the good provides both procedural and substantive insights for developing a just allocation of health care resources. Procedurally, it suggests the need for public forums to deliberate about which health services should be considered basic and should be socially guaranteed. Substantively, it suggests services that promote the continuation of the polity–those that ensure healthy future generations, ensure development of practical reasoning skills, and ensure full and active participation by citizens in public deliberations–are to be socially guaranteed as basic. Conversely, services provided to individuals who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens are not basic and should not be guaranteed. An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia. A less obvious example is guaranteeing neuropsychological services to ensure children with learning disabilities can read and learn to reason. Clearly, more needs to be done to elucidate what specific health care services are basic; however, the overlap between liberalism and communitarianism points to a way of introducing the good back into medical ethics and devising a principled way of distinguishing basic from discretionary health care services.[emphasis added]

So here we have a current advisor to President Obama, who is well known for developing the definitive living will (advance directive), who has also published work that refers to the use of “public forums” to make decisions about who should and who should not be guaranteed health care paid for with public dollars. [Note no where does it say that people would be denied health care, just that they would not be guaranteed public money for that care.] So if I’m a conservative, who has been trained since the days of Ronald Reagan to distrust everything about the federal government — except of course the military — and I dislike the current president intensely, perhaps because of his race or just because I think he’s a socialist and I’ve been trained from infancy to have a knee jerk reaction to socialists and socialism, then I learn these facts (above) about someone who is clearly in a position of influence on developing the health care plans of the current administration, well then….

I’m not saying that I is reasonable or correct to decide that a provision in the legislation to pay for a visit to your family doctor to discuss a living will is the same thing as advocating “death panels,” but I am saying that this connection did not come out of thin air, there is a logic — however, twisted — to it. This is why we should listen to the far right. The things they are concerned usually have some shred of truth and reality in them, even if they are highly distorted.

That gets me to part b) telling the truth. Read Dr. Emanuel’s short article. He is speaking truth — we cannot as a society afford to provide all the technologically, medically possible treatments to all the citizens of this society. We do not do it now. Now, we allow the problem of not having enough resources to provide all treatments to all people to be solved by corporations. We let Humana and Cigna and Blue Cross/Blue Shield determine what treatments will and will not considered “basic” and who will be entitled to care. Depending upon the state and on the insurance company, various studies estimate that between twenty and twenty-five percent of claims to insurance companies are denied as “medically unnecessary.” One example in a CNN article from two years ago was surgery for cleft-palates in children in the United States, are frequently denied as being for “cosmetic” purposes.

We should be honest, both the right and the left know that our society cannot afford to provide every possible medical treatment to every single individual in society. The difference between the right and the left is who they want to have make the decision and on what basis they want the decision to be made. The right wants private corporations to go on making the decision about who gets treatment and what treatment they get, and the right wants the basis of the decision to be a monetary decision, based on who has the money to pay. The left wants the citizens of the country to make decisions through the political process, and to based those decisions on societal consensus. What Emanuel suggests is that one criteria that might be used has to do with contributions and participation in society. But that is only one possibility, the idea is for members of society themselves to discuss and debate this and set ground rules.

I suspect that one of the problems that the right has with the left on this, is that folks who are conservative is basically distrusting of human nature, and do not trust their fellow citizens to make fair and equitable decisions. Another problem is that most people don’t want to be responsible for making decisions about life and death, they’d rather leave that to faceless corporations that they can then bitch about if they don’t like what happens, rather than feel responsible for the lives of others.

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