It’s The Poverty, Stupid

If it’s true, this is one of the saddest stories I’ve read in a long while.

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.

The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade were eligible for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program in the 2012-2013 school year.

The worst part of all this is that most of our “leaders”, like the writer of this article, view this situation as an educational problem, not a major deficiency of our larger society.

The Obama administration wants Congress to add $1 billion to the $14.4 billion it spends annually to help states educate poor students. It also wants Congress to fund preschool for low-income children. Collectively, the states and federal governments spend about $500 billion annually on primary and secondary schools, with about $79 million coming from Washington.

No! You don’t spend billions on helping to “educate poor students”. Poor test scores (which, of course, is what these people mean by “education”) are not the primary problem here, and only one symptom of the far larger issue.

Instead, you work to change the situations that cause so much poverty in what is supposed to be an “exceptional” country, according to all those super patriotic politicians.

We spend money on improving communities and rebuilding our rapidly deteriorating infrastructure, especially public transportation. Provide funds to develop clean energy and other forward looking industries. And rewrite policies to support small and medium businesses, where the real job growth potential is, instead of providing welfare for giant corporations.

Unfortunately, we’ll spend at least the next two years arguing over trivial crap while largely ignoring the growing poverty and other elephants in the room.

What You Don’t Know, Can Hurt You

You’ve probably never heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – and that’s by design. TPP is “is a secretive, multi-national trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement.”

The governments involved, and the hundreds of corporations who are helping to write the provisions, want us to know as little as possible before it becomes law.

Fortunately, enough information about the contents has leaked to offer a good, if very chilling, picture of how the package “would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples’ abilities to innovate.”

Because supporters of TPP are worried about the backlash that would result if more people had a good look at the provisions, they are pushing Congress to pass a “fast track” bill for this and similar trade agreements.

If passed, the “Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act” would give over to the executive branch much of the exclusive constitutional authority over trade policy that Congress is supposed to exercise. Sponsors of the bill claim that this process “provides greater transparency and gives Congress greater oversight of the Administration’s trade negotiations.” But in fact, fast track does precisely the opposite, ensuring that there’s even less transparency and less democratic oversight over trade negotiations, while making it easier for Big Content to impose its wish list of draconian copyright provisions on the US and its trading partners through secretive trade pacts.

Read the facts that are known about TPP and the efforts to force it’s provisions into American law. Then join the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups in demanding that Congress “stand up for your digital rights and preserve our constitutional checks and balances in government.”

That’s Not In The Terms of Service

With the stories this week about the James-Bondish sounding PRISM program, the general public is beginning to learn just how commonly those little bits of their data were being aggregated by the US government into one huge pile for analysis. In the name of “national security”, it appears that many big communications and media companies were only too willing to pass along information generated by their customers to the NSA.

However, as explained by David Sirota, there is a big difference between a corporation collecting our data and when it’s done by a government.

He argued not only that a program sweeping in data from millions of Americans is modest, but also that it is no different than companies analyzing consumer data. Like so many carefully sculpted political talking points, it sounds logical, except when you remember the key facts being omitted – in this case, the fact that the government is using its law enforcement power to obtain the data without the public’s permission. Yes, that’s right: unlike a company with which you personally do business – and with which you sign an agreement about your personal information – the Obama administration is using the government’s unilateral power to simply grab your information across multiple platforms.

For better or worse, if we choose to use Google, Amazon, iTunes, Facebook, and the rest, we generally expect them to analyze and use the data on our activities, usually to sell us more stuff and improve their next quarter results. The fact most of us don’t read their terms of service before clicking Agree is no excuse.

What we don’t expect, and what is not in any TOS I’ve read, if for them to help the government spy on it’s citizens.

Time to Grow Up

On the eve of our 235th birthday, a columnist for the Post business section tells the USA it’s about time to realize we could learn a few things from our elder nations.

Government as the problem? “Government” is not the problem, “bad government” is the problem. There is an enormous distinction between the two.

Being surrounded by two oceans – and being so powerful since WWII – has allowed you to become too insular. Your “not-invented-here” attitude has led you to miss many other good ideas. Have a look around the world and see what other countries are doing right:

Canada managed to come through the financial crisis unscathed – what was it about its banking regulations that protected it? Why is Finland the best country for education? Why does Australia have the world’s lowest jobless rate? How are Germany’s highways so darned good? What is it about Japan’s health-care system that has made it the best in the world? Norway has the highest adult literacy level and is often ranked as having the best quality of life; what is it doing right? And Singapore has the highest per-capita GDP and one of the recession’s fastest-growing economies. Why?

It sure wouldn’t hurt you to put your pride aside and take a few lessons from the best ideas in the world.

He has many other examples of ways we as a society need to grow up and take responsibility for maturely addressing our problems.

Unfortunately most of the politicians out touting their patriotism this weekend will pay attention to none of it.

Hypocrisy in the Desert

Following up on my previous post (from ten days ago??!), I’m recovering from a very busy two-week trip to Arizona, visiting family and friends located all over the state, and generally doing a nostalgia tour.

However, even with family and college connections, I’m not sure I could ever live there again.

For one thing, I like having four seasons, even with some snow in the winter, as opposed to the one and a half (hot and warm) in the major population areas of Phoenix and Tucson.

But another big stopper is the wide gulf between my social/political views and that of most areas in Arizona.  I’m moderate to liberal on most subjects, while the majority of people running the state are conservative to moon-bat, far right reactionary.

Some of that extremism is on public view all over the place on billboards and road signs, most critical of any sort of government, especially federal.

Which is both ironic and not a little hypocritical since much of the state and especially Phoenix, the 6th largest city in the US, would not exist in it’s current form (a textbook illustration of suburban sprawl) without at least one particular major government program.

Starting in the early 70’s, US and Arizona taxpayers spent nearly $5 billion on the Central Arizona Project, a 330 mile canal that carries water from Colorado River, plus more billions over the years for a network of distribution aqueducts.

In addition, both federal and state governments are deeply involved with water rights and allocation, not to mention price subsidies, especially when it comes to farmers, who grow far more product than the desert would normally support.

Of course, all of this is just one example in one state of the hypocrisy at the foundation of these anti-government hypocrites. Is there any reason to discuss how Arizona is full of retired teabaggers receiving Social Security, Medicare, and other government benefits?

So, there you have one aspect of Arizona that doesn’t show up in the travel brochures.

A nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.