Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Security! Security! Brown skin alert

    How to describe Congressman Paul Ryan's reaction when Ray Jose showed up at his Florida book signing?

    Let's say it was like a vegetarian who, suitably bibbed for a suitable meal, sees a rack of lamb slide before him.

    Jose is an organizer for United We Dream, a political group made up of young people for whom the DREAM Act was written.

     He's been in this country for almost all of his life, having been brought here by undocumented parents. He is eloquent. He is educated. He owes President Obama for the fact that he is not facing deportation.

    If Republicans like Ryan had their way, Jose would be deported to a country that is as foreign to him as it is to you and me.

   So it was not studious sycophancy that brought Jose to Ryan's book signing. It was the desire to have the congressman look squarely in the eye of the kind of person Ryan would banish with a vote he cast before heading out for recess.

   The vote was to abolish DACA -- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – Obama's directive to delay deportation of 550,000 individuals like Ray Jose, for whom the DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship.

   That path is paved with every quality Americans exalt: perseverance, scholarship, in some cases military service. The citizenship at the end of the line is a reward not just for the Dreamers in question, but for the nation itself, a tacit return for the investment it has made in them.

   The anti-DACA vote was a tea party-inspired jab at Obama based on the false assertion that DACA is why a swarm of young Central American refugees has shown up on America's door step. But in reality, the only U.S policy to which the surge of children can be linked is a broadly supported 2008 child trafficking law signed not by Obama but by George W. Bush. 

   The DREAM Act, blocked by GOP lawmakers, not only is compassionate but smart policy. It is the harvesting of America's best intentions. American exceptionalism? This is it.

    Ah, but it is opportunity of a different shade, one that leaves some congressional constituents less than enthused. An analysis found that virtually all of the 212 members of Congress voting to end DACA were white. Only three Hispanic Republicans voted affirmatively. Three Hispanic Republicans – California's David Valadao, and Florida's Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz Balart -- bucked their party.

   We know what message was being sent to milky constituencies back home. We also know what message is being sent to Hispanics nationwide.

   As Huffington Post columnist Raul Reyes writes, though some moderate Republicans have sought to find compromises on the immigration front, the DACA vote shows "the GOP has taken another hard lurch to the right, and Latino voters will not forget it." After the 2012 election, GOP strategists said they had to find ways to appeal to the burgeoning Latino vote. This is not the way.

  The same can be said for the reception Jose got at Ryan's book-signing, where security quickly ushered him away as he tried to engage the congressman.

   Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, faced the same discomfort at an Iowa campaign event when confronted by an eloquent young lady who remains in this country because of DACA. Visible in a You Tube video showing this, Rand Paul, in mid-bite of a barbecue sandwich, scoots away from the dire prospect of having to deal with the likes of her.

   Someone has to provide these policymakers protection, some buffer from such uneasy moments. To that end, I do think Texas Gov. Rick Perry has come up with an answer: the National Guard.

   Whereas Guardsmen have dubious value at the border, lacking the power to arrest or apprehend, in this case they can be invaluable: positioned at all campaign and publicity events to intersect the path of any person of brown skin who might turn a glad-handing congressman's complexion from fleshy to pea-soup green.

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

So much ‘accountability,’ so little learned

  For Colorado, with a new wave of state test scores just released from the previous school year, it's a "gulp" moment. Years of intensive school "accountability" have yielded little but air.

  The Denver Post editorial board says it this way: "Despite 10 years of bold efforts in educational reform, very little seems to have changed in terms of student achievement."

   You could say the same for "accountability" as practiced nationwide over the last three decades. Any actual gains have been barely statistically significant.

   Those are not my words. They come from Duke University researcher Helen Ladd: "Accountability has not generated the significant gains in student achievement that policy makers intended."

   Where the nation has been able to identify actual statistical gains, such as with Hispanic students in math, they are of insufficient significance to justify the egregious warping of actual education that test-heavy "accountability" has wrought. A key result has been the narrowing of instruction, the "de-skilling" of teachers, to achieve what policy-makers desire: higher test scores.

     Among the greatest critics of this system are Latino leaders who know that the emphasis on math, for instance, has come at the expense of things that make education vibrant and school worth attending.

    It is no cheap shot to assert that the "math-first, and -second, and -third" approach is a good reason why drop-out rates for Hispanic children remain high.

  Indeed, Rice University professor Linda McNeil calls it "a new form of discrimination" when "fragmented and narrow information on the test comes to substitute for a substantive curriculum."

   And yet, why so little progress even on core subjects, despite the efforts of policy makers who have treated school reform as the moral equivalent of war? Haven't we put our best minds behind the effort?

   No, actually. What we've empowered is a generation of data wonks who are less like educators and more like factory-oriented CEOs. "Data-driven" is the catch-phrase, and nothing I know can stifle the quest for real education like treating children as data.

   Ah, those numbers. The real truth: "Accountability" is an abomination of the information age. Give the people what they want: numbers. Give the media what they want: numbers. (Yes! Charts and graphs here!) Give the public just enough information to be misinformed.

   In his book "Standardized Minds," Peter Sacks denounces this in no uncertain terms. "This reform crusade has created a near-perfect model of accountability for a public that has neither the time nor patience to understand what is happening in neighborhood schools."

    Duke's Ladd says the "biggest failing of the current approach" is "the implicit assumption that the education system alone can fully offset the racial and economic disparities that children bring to the school."

   This is self-evident, and yet for decades we've operated under one-size-fits-all approaches that have put the hurt on students of all skill levels. Those above grade level have been kept in a mayonnaise jar of standardized, criterion-based, test-driven repetition. Those at the lower end, as McNeil observes, have been deprived of a real education on the altar of test prep.

  So much accountability, so little learned — by policy makers. If the test-driven system you have isn't producing the results you want, try another test-driven system.

  Congratulations to those on the left and right who have bumped elbows coming together to question the Common Core, one more top-down initiative to make everyone row in unison.

  It never ceases to amaze that people who tout the virtues of charter schools – that they have independence and theoretically can experiment on best practices – don't see that a sense of freedom and a move away from standardization would help schools in general. Let the teachers teach. Conscientiously reduce time spent on state tests.

   What we're doing hasn't produced the results expected. And the answer to that, always and apparently, is to do more of it.

  Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Profitability and social responsibility – an incompatibility?

   The name is New Belgium, and if you're a beer drinker, most likely you are familiar.  It started 23 years ago in Jeff Lebesch's basement in Fort Collins, Colo. Now, with Fat Tire its most popular label, it's the nation's eighth-largest brewery.

   It's also one of the most socially responsible corporations in America.

   Observe the New Belgium representative at a recent Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Denver. She came to speak in favor of the Obama administration's new carbon restrictions.

  "Ack," squawked various business interests in reaction to those standards, which couldn't be more moderate and reasonable, unless maybe you mine coal.

   "Can't be done," parroted forces of the status quo. "Polly want a profit."

   But as New Belgium demonstrates, as Starbucks demonstrates, as Costco demonstrates – well, let New Belgium director of strategy and sustainability Jenn Vervier say it: "Being honorable and making a profit go hand in hand."

   Beg your pardon, Miss Vervier (that name sounds less than American), but in our sacred free-market system, profit is the definition of honor.

    Whether the issue is clean air and water, a livable wage, health coverage for all or anything to curb worker exploitation – OSHA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and of course hiking the minimum wage -- the mantra is voiced: "It'll kill jobs. It'll kill profits."

   Regarding livable wages: If the "job-killer" claim is the case, San Jose, Calif., is a burned-out wasteland.  Ah, but it's not. It's one of the nation's most prosperous cities.

   And last year it voted to raise its minimum wage to $15 over the next several years, the highest in the nation -- this as compared to a federal minimum wage frozen at $7.25.

   A University of California-Berkeley study of San Jose's move has detected no serious hit on the jobs front. How did businesses adjust? Among restaurants, for instance, prices were hiked by a barely noticeable average of 1.75 percent.

   Oh, agony. Oh, woe.

   Businesses can do the right thing for their employees, whether in pay or benefits.  "Can't do it," say so many mega corporations. "Market won't bear it." But, of course, mega corporations do it. Consider Starbucks, the General Motors of caffeine. Not only does it provide generous benefits, but it began a program this year to provide scholarships to its employees through a program with Arizona State University.

   Costco routinely is listed along with Starbucks as one of the best places to work in the business of big-ness. You wonder how it does it – paying employees an average $21 an hour, 65 percent higher than Walmart.

   What? Is Costco crazy? Of course not. Its management long ago came to understand that investing in its employees means better morale, lower turnover and a better product in general. 

   Costco's home state of Washington is one of 10 states that recently have raised the minimum wage — in its case, to $9.32. Costco starts its employees at $11.50.

   A job killer? Without doubt, raising the minimum wage nationally would result in marginal job loss in the short term. But it also would result in more buying power and the consequent economic activity over the long term. 

    The Center for American Progress studied states that hiked the minimum wage and found that over 20 years there was "no clear evidence" of aggregate job loss, even in times of high unemployment.

    It is tragic that this nation is living in a Milton Friedman fantasy while so many Americans live the working-poor reality of laboring frantically just to put food on the table and electricity in the heater. And for what? To keep prices artificially low for people who can afford the difference.

    The bottom line is irrefutable: When corporations act in the public interest, they act in the private interest.

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Monday, August 4, 2014

GOP's answer now: 'Dynamite the bridges'

   By review: If the Affordable Care Act were blown up as congressional Republicans desire, 12 million Americans who now have health insurance would have none.

  That being the case, one of the most telling comments of the last six rip-roarious years came the other day from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

    In McConnell's state of Kentucky, the ACA has been a major success under Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear. McConnell recently was asked: If ACA went away as he wished, what would become of the 521,000 Kentucky residents ACA now insures – either via Medicaid expansion or having enrolled on the state exchange?

   McConnell, who is in a tighter-than-anticipated re-election fight, said he saw no reason why those people would not keep their insurance.

   Pause for spit take.

   Dab face and table with napkin.

   Cough. Swallow. Clear throat.

   Um, really, Senator?

   Time magazine's Stephen Brill composed himself after gagging on McConnell's beyond-the-pale claim. Then he asked the senator's office to explain.

   How to continue to cover half a million Kentucky residents without the ACA? Would the senator choose a Scandinavian-style single-payer plan, perhaps?

     Brill got no answer.

     Nothing could be more emblematic of what the party of McConnell, John Boehner and Ted Cruz now embodies.

   Whether it's health care, or immigration, or outsourcing, or the nation's infrastructure, or the scandalously growing gap between rich and poor, the Republican Party is mostly busy being indisposed.

   Like auctioneers who make run-on sentences their living, Republicans in Congress couldn't stop assailing the president about the recent influx of Central American children, their presence tied to a bipartisan law signed by, ahem, George W. Bush.

   President Obama suggested a means of addressing the problem, with faster deportation. Then when -- wonders of wonders – an actual compromise bill emerged to do that, the tea party wing of the GOP refused to consent.

   This brings to mind a lazily parsed news report that called this "Obama's immigration problem." How so? How is it that only one man can be responsible for the situation? How can Congress evade any accountability or ownership?

   Actually, we know the answer to that question. Most of the U.S. House is inhabited by individuals in seats drawn to order by partisans who have assured such political homogeneity that these so-called representatives need never explain themselves to anyone other than the "base."

  When one's base is the tea party, that means being accountable to constituents of mostly one pastel, and mostly one creed. Their needs are mostly met. (No health insurance? Get some.) And a lot of them still can't accept the fact that this country twice elected a president so unlike them.

   And so back to the signature achievement of that president -- if you don't count shepherding the nation out of the Great Recession, winding down two wars, leading the way to equal rights for gays and lesbians, and ordering an unprecedented move toward alternative fuels and energy conservation.

  Disregard all of the above, and the Affordable Care Act remains. Brill observes the irony of how the people of red-state Kentucky roundly praise Kynect, the state health exchange by which so many have enrolled for coverage, while dissing "Obamacare." Of course, the two are one. It's a little like loving milk and detesting dairy cows.

   It's easy to understand why the Affordable Care Act is unlikely to be as popular as Social Security or Medicare. As Brill writes, unlike those two entitlement programs, which are for everyone who should live so long, the ACA if fully implemented means coverage for roughly 25 percent of us.

   Many Americans whose needs are comfortably met will never warm to something government does to help others. However, on national health coverage, this country is being served by the fact that at least one American, this president, committed himself to doing something about it, and had the votes to make it happen.

   Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.