Today, ThinkProgress and others noted that the Sunday morning news shows did not feature any labor movement leaders or members last week — and none had been booked for this weekend — despite the ongoing protests in a host of states. A Main Street Movement of workers, students, and lawmakers has come together to push back on conservatives attempting to strip collective bargaining rights from public employees, yet the Sunday shows hadn’t see fit to include any of their voices, instead opting for a slew of conservative commentators and Republican governors. However, ThinkProgress has learned that NBC’s Meet the Press today booked AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka for Sunday. We applaud NBC’s decision and encourage the other networks (ABC, CBS, Fox News, and CNN) to also give a voice to working people.
Following Judge Roger Vinson’s ruling invalidating the Affordable Care Act, a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that almost half of Americans either believe that the health reform law has been repealed (22 percent) or don’t “know enough to say whether it is still law (26 percent).” Still, a majority want to keep major elements of the law, oppose defunding the measure, and would like to see Congress expand it or keep it as is:
The public’s unfamiliarity with the legal status of ACA is probably the most interesting finding, but it’s also the easiest to explain. The GOP’s hyperbolic campaign against the law (the conflicting votes for repeal in the House and the Senate) is at least partly responsible for the public confusion, but so is Vinson’s ruling itself — he issued a declaratory judgment without an injunction and the federal government continues to implement the law while some states are already sending money back. (It also doesn’t help that the media is much more likely to cover Vinson’s ruling than other district court decisions upholding the law.)
Americans have consistently said they they’re much more interested in jobs and the economy than revisiting the health law and given the general lack of knowledge about civics and all of the other competing priorities that populate daily life, the state of the law (which has not yet kicked in to a large degree) is a back-burner issue.
The Corn Ultimatum: How long can Americans keep burning one sixth the world’s corn supply in our cars?
Bill Clinton warns: Too much ethanol could lead to food riots
I am not a fan of our corn ethanol policy as I made clear made clear during the last food crisis (see “The Fuel on the Hill” and “Can words describe how bad corn ethanol is?” and “Let them eat biofuels!“). In a world of blatantly increasing food insecurity — driven by population, dietary trends, rising oil prices, and growing climate instability — America’s policy of burning one third of our corn crop in our engines (soon to be 37% or more) is becoming increasingly untenable, if not unconscionable.
I was glad to see former Pres. Bill Clinton start talking about this in a Washington Post piece headlined, “Clinton: Too much ethanol could lead to food riots” — though I tend to see the world’s increasing use of crops for fuel as an underlying cause for growing food insecurity, something that makes the whole food system more brittle and thus more vulnerable to triggering events, like once in 1000 100 year droughts and once in 500 year floods, which is to say climate instability (see WashPost, Lester Brown explain how extreme weather, climate change drive record food prices).
If you want to understand why it will be politically difficult to roll back US ethanol production to saner levels, Reuters has a good article, “Analysis: In food vs fuel debate, U.S. resolute on ethanol.” Yet it is that piece which notes, “U.S. ethanol production this year will consume 15 percent of the world’s corn supply, up from 10 percent in 2008.”
Tim Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton, had an excellent piece in the WashPost explaining “How biofuels contribute to the food crisis,” which I excerpt below:
Our guest blogger is Theodora Chang, an Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the state of Connecticut’s challenge to the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The original lawsuit was filed after the U.S. Department of Education refused to waive Connecticut’s annual testing requirements under the law, which Connecticut argued was an unfunded mandate. The state claimed it had spent at least $41.6 million of its own money from 2002 to 2008 to comply with NCLB.
Connecticut’s claim is problematic because it conveniently forgets that education is a state responsibility, and that federal accountability provisions kick in only if states accept federal money. Connecticut’s lawsuit attempted to duck responsibility for monitoring student achievement — a disappointing decision in light of the state’s ongoing struggle to close the achievement gap.
Experts have long identified achievement gaps between white students and minority students, low-income students and more affluent students. Under the current law, states are required to demonstrate that all students are learning by breaking down testing data into racial, socioeconomic, and other subgroups and holding schools and districts accountable for the performance of their subgroups. In Connecticut, the disparities between student subgroups are very clear:
Connecticut is not alone; achievement gaps pose a challenge in every state, including Arkansas, Illinois, and Iowa. The upcoming reauthorization of ESEA (formerly NCLB) should address this by including well-designed accountability measures to highlight discrepancies in performance by subgroup. It’s clear that when educators are aware of — and committed to — closing achievement gaps, they can have significant success and see long-term progress.
Thoughtful decisions about accountability and achievement gaps are especially critical in light of recent Census results that document a changing nation with a growing majority of minority children. Lawmakers have long recognized that accountability measures are critical to closing achievement gaps, and Secretary Duncan recently noted in Minnesota that we have lost our “sense of urgency” around bridging the achievement gap. Avoiding accountability should be a mistake of the past. It’s time for states and lawmakers to leave excuses behind and support smart accountability provisions for all students.
Songs about sex:
— Abortion bans are “the mother of all government regulation”.
— Slouching toward slave labor.
— Everyone hoping to make money selling economic analysis thinks stimulus works and austerity sucks.
— Ken Salazar makes the case for wilderness.
— Most people don’t follow politics closely and actually have no idea what’s happening in DC.
— Most cheeseheads support collective bargaining.
Raveonettes, “Love in a Trashcan”.
Raveonettes, “Love in a Trashcan”..
Talking with Mike Huckabee on Fox News last night, host Greta Van Susteren wondered why Republicans don’t call what they’re doing in states like Wisconsin and Ohio what it is: Union busting. “Whether it is or isn’t, my point would be, so what?” Huckabee shot back, adding, “It could be!” The former GOP Arkansas governor later suggested that that is indeed what these Republicans are doing:
VAN SUSTEREN: But there’s a little bit of a problem if part of this is also — if they are union busting why don’t they admit they are union busting a little bit as well. Instead, nobody wants to say that.
HUCKABEE: They may not want to say it. But the harsh reality is if they are union busting it is because the unions have broken the bank. And they’re putting them in a position where they can’t afford to continue to go on. They’re going to lay a bunch of people off. Public employee unions are different than private sector. Private sector unions have a right to exist and have actually provided some decent check and balance to jobs and businesses.
Yes, the GOP is launching an assault on unions, but Huckabee didn’t explain how public unions “have broken the bank.” It’s probably because it’s not true. In the case of Wisconsin, the state’s budget shortfall did not come about because of the existence of public unions, but as the AP noted, mainly because of “anticipated Medicaid expenses and a court-ordered repayment to a fund that was raided four years ago.” In fact, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) made his state’s budget woes worse by insisting on a slew of tax cuts.
As the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo has noted numerous times, “stripping workers of collective bargaining rights won’t actually make it any better, saving taxpayers ‘almost nothing.’” And as Policy Matters Ohio has pointed out, states that deny public workers the right to collectively bargain are in no better fiscal shape. Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) recently could not explain how eliminating collective bargaining rights would reduce budget deficits.
Moreover, if Wisconsin eliminated its public unions, the state would actually lose $46 million in federal funding that are contingent on workers having collective bargaining rights. Ohio would stand to lose $171 million for the same reason.
Kevin Drum is an education reform skeptic:
More importantly, though, I’ve simply become less convinced about the value of all the ed reforms that periodically capture the hearts of the Beltway chattering classes. I’m generally in favor of things like charter schools and disciplinary reforms that make it slightly easier to fire bad teachers, but even if they’re worthwhile on their own merits there’s not an awful lot of evidence that these things actually improve the overall quality of the educational system. It’s not that there’s no evidence to support these kinds of reforms, just that the evidence is thin and contradictory every time I look at it. Test scores haven’t dropped over the past 30 years. Other countries largely haven’t leapfrogged us during the same period. High-stakes testing doesn’t appear to have a big impact. Charter schools aren’t unquestionably superior to equivalent public schools. Merit pay might work but it might not. The presence or absence of teachers unions doesn’t seem to have much effect on educational outcomes. For more on this, try reading Joanne Barken’s contrarian take on the ed reform community in the winter issue of Dissent.
I think this is overstated, but the deeper issue for teacher’s unions is that pushing this kind of line is ultimately self-defeating. Say it’s true that we don’t know how to make schools better. That could be for two reasons. One is that it’s an epistemological problem—we have no idea what makes a school effective. Another is that it’s impossible—learning outcomes are all about parenting and schools are irrelevant. Either conclusion makes the sense for less investment in education and more decentralization of the system. If we had really convincing research that teachers who wear green hats produce better learning outcomes, then unions would swiftly reach an agreement to incentive the wearing of green hats and there’d be no problem. But that’s not the case.
So Scott Walker and his odious partisan gambit aside, you’re still left with a strong case for reform. I think the evidence is pretty clear that school quality does matter and that there are measurable differences in teacher performance. That’s why I think it makes sense to invest in good schools through charter school “smart caps” (see Erin Dillon) and invest in good teachers by paying generous salaries and getting rid of the teachers who don’t perform (see Robin Chait). But the kind of “it’s all about poverty” edu-nihilism that’s often the most convincing argument for skepticism about the merits of reform simply makes the case for across the board disinvestment in educating children. If that’s what you think, that’s what you think, but obviously it’s not a position that teacher’s unions are going to like either.
As Housing Market Heads For A Double-Dip, House GOP Threatens To ‘Pull The Plug’ On Foreclosure Prevention
House Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL) — who has said that Washington’s role is to “serve the banks” — announced today that his committee will mark up legislation to “pull the plug” on the Obama administration’s foreclosure prevention efforts:
“It’s time to pull the plug on these programs that are actually doing more harm than good for struggling homeowners,” he said. “These programs may have been well-intentioned, but they’re not working and, in reality, are making things worse.”
House Republicans want to rescind the funding that has already been allocated for these programs. This effort comes at the same time that the housing market is staring at a double-dip, due in part to a buildup of empty, foreclosed-upon homes. “You have massive oversupply” thanks to overbuilding in boom times and the current glut of foreclosed homes, economist Dean Baker told the Los Angeles Times.
Republicans have been no friend to foreclosure prevention programs recently, even though one million homes were foreclosed upon last year and another one million will likely enter foreclosure this year. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) said last month that foreclosure prevention efforts “need to stop,” and the GOP even blocked an Obama administration nominee because they though he might have been sympathetic to helping underwater homeowners with their mortgages.
While the administration’s foreclosure prevention efforts have fallen far short of their goals (and in some cases did put homeowners in worse financial shape than if they had simply foregone federal aid), the answer is to fix the programs, not abandon them. For instance, we could allow housing counselors to approve HAMP modifications (instead of waiting months as banks lose paperwork and punt the problem down the road) and make more of a push to implement automatic foreclosure mediation programs, which have been quite successful across the country in preventing foreclosures. We could also end the absurd practice of “dual-tracking,” under which the foreclosure process continues even while homeowners are under evaluation for a loan modification, which results in families who are eligible for modifications losing their homes anyway.
There is nothing to be gained by allowing more preventable foreclosures to go forward, blighting more neighborhoods and acting as an even bigger drag on the economy. But the GOP is pretending that the housing crisis simply doesn’t exist.
In a statement, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) said:
I am very disappointed that the Republican House members who during the debate on government spending last week refused to limit agricultural subsidies to $250,000 per individual have announced that they will attempt to eliminate programs which help the victims of the financial crisis.
As Col. Muammar Qaddafi begins to lose control of his country to anti-government protesters, the Libyan dictator announced this week that he won’t go down without a fight. In a rambling speech on Tuesday, Qaddafi vowed to track down and kill protesters “house by house.” “I will fight on to the last drop of my blood,” he said. In fact, forces loyal to Qaddafi launched a counter offensive today, and to date, the unrest has already claimed hundreds — if not thousands — of lives.
President Obama yesterday condemned the Libyan government for of using violence to quell demonstrations and said he asked his team “to prepare the full range of options that we have to respond to this crisis.” But unlike with U.S. allies Bahrain and Egypt, the White House has limited options to assert much leverage with the Libyan government. While some rights groups have offered ideas on how to positively influence the situation, CAP’s John Norris and Sarah Margon note that the White House “needs to convince Libyan business leaders that Qaddafi is a liability they can no longer afford” and since Libya is Africa’s largest oil producing country, a good place to start would be the oil industry:
One doesn’t normally look to oil companies to do the right thing. But they now have an enormous vested interest in helping push Qaddafi out. Libya has Africa’s largest crude oil reserves and the uncertainty in that country has already started to rattle markets. If Qaddafi stays on his current course and remains Libya’s leader, there will invariably be calls for an oil embargo from Libya, a proper U.N. war crimes investigation, and possibly a civil war. The oil business will be disrupted for a considerable period under all of those scenarios.
The situation in Libya “has been the immediate cause for the spike in oil prices recently” and the industry is worried about greater negative effects on the oil markets. But Qaddafi doesn’t appear to be concerned about markets, let alone his own people. In addition to promising all out war with anti-government demonstrators in order to maintain power, he has also reportedly ordered his security forces to institute an if-all-else-fails-slash-and-burn policy — starting with Libya’s oil, as Time Magazine reports:
There’s been virtually no reliable information coming out of Tripoli, but a source close to the Gaddafi regime I did manage to get hold of told me the already terrible situation in Libya will get much worse. Among other things, Gaddafi has ordered security services to start sabotaging oil facilities. They will start by blowing up several oil pipelines, cutting off flow to Mediterranean ports. The sabotage, according to the insider, is meant to serve as a message to Libya’s rebellious tribes: It’s either me or chaos.
While Libya produces only 2 percent of the world’s oil supply, most of its exports go to Europe, which would be directly effected by any more turmoil in the industry. But oil is a world commodity, and the rest of the world, including the United States, is still “addicted to oil” and thus is “not immune to the price shock waves.”
Read more about the situation in Libya in today’s Progress Report.
Lydia DePillis summarizes ANC2E’s demands on Georgetown University:
— New enrollment caps should be set lower than the current student population, in order to remedy past injustices.
— Limits must be imposed on the number of students living off-campus, with further enrollment decreases if those limits are not met.
— Magis Row on 36th Street should revert from undergraduate housing to accommodations for older faculty.
— The University should not be permitted to acquire more property in zip code 20007 without approval from the Board of Zoning Adjustment.
— University and Hospital buses should not be allowed to go through the neighborhoods, but rather enter and exit the campus via Canal Road only.
— Students who commute to Georgetown by car should not be allowed to park in the surrounding neighborhood.
— Georgetown should create a shuttle system to ferry students from M Street bars back to campus on weekend nights.
— Georgetown must develop strong measures to address off-campus student conduct, treating parties outside the university gates, for example, as strictly as those inside it.
Obviously, when neighborhood governing bodies put forward these kind of proposals they’re making local real estate policy. They’re not trying to make nationwide education policy. But these kind of town/gown conflicts are by no means rare. And when each and every college-adjacent neighborhood in America adopts an expansion-hostile policy regime, the aggregate impact must be pretty large. It’s conventional to focus on “[a]ccreditation constraints and social signaling constraints” as the main barriers to more normal higher ed competition, but I wonder about real estate factors. Most of America’s old-timey colleges did, in fact, have periods of aggressive expansion that these days are furiously resisted by neighbors. If the downside to making it easier for Georgetown University to expand is that rich Georgetown residents might lose some home equity is that really something we should cry over?
I think “broader college opportunities and more competition in the higher education sector” should be a higher social priority than “protect rich people’s fear of change.”