The historian Alan Brinkley
has observed that we will soon enter the fourth decade in which
Congress — and therefore government as a whole — has failed to deal
with any major national problem, from infrastructure to education. The
gridlock isn’t only a function of polarized politics and special
interests. There’s also been a gaping leadership deficit.
– Frank Rich on the States of the Union and of Congress
George W. Bush had a much easier time enacting his agenda because he
simply decided to finance the entire thing with borrowing and got his
party to go along.
The second problem is that, even if Democrats could reduce the
deficit on their own and somehow could be insulated from the political
harm, they have no incentive to do it. Why should they, when the
Republicans don't share the goal? [...] There's no set of fiscal circumstances
under which Republicans would not enact large tax cuts if given the
votes to do so.
Ordinary people, making it by guess and by God, or not quite making it, are just as susceptible to dreams as the ambitious and greedy, and respond as excitedly to the adventure, the freedom, the apparently inexhaustible richness of the West. And the boosters have been there from the beginning to oversell the West as the Garden of the World, the flowing well of opportunity, the stamping ground of the self-reliant.
If you believe that the world owes you not merely a living but a bonanza, then restrictive laws are only an irritation and a challenge.
— Wallace Stegner, writing about his father, the boom-and-bust West, and its drill, baby, drill spirit
One of the boys I've written about here before was not at school today. In itself, not unusual. There are all kinds of reasons kids don't show up for preschool in the shelter on a given day.
He is an active, bright and cheerful boy who showed some unexplainable fears on a recent field trip. The other teachers knew about it, but with my once-a-week schedule, I'd never seen him running in terror from something so benign, like moving clouds on the ceiling of the Children's Museum. (Even my best monster act never fazed him.)
Today I found out he had some sort of seizure at nap time yesterday and was taken to the ER as a precaution. He's still at the hospital for testing.
I found out one more thing. One of his brothers was murdered; he was a twin, though I didn't catch whether he was the twin of my sweet little charge.
Oh, yes, environment is not destiny. But I wonder how many of those politicians giving us the lecture know these kids. Not just their statistics or their stories or their records, but them.
WebProNews is among the many observers asking whether pay walls for newspaper web sites, like the one recently announced by the New York Times, are really going to fly:
According to the New York Observer, [New York-based Newsday] revealed its 35-member subscription base in a
newsroom-wide meeting last week, when a reporter asked how many people
subscribed. 35 people at $5 a week for 12 weeks is $2,100. If they are
all signed up for the year, that's $9,100 so far. Cablevision purchased
Newsday for $650 million in 2008.
I heard NPR's Marketplace report that the Newsday redesign cost $4 million to get the new site ready.
Some critics use the anemic response to question whether the pay model can work, but they miss a couple points, which Ed Kohler can address far better than I.
Subscribers to the print edition are Newsday's core readership. The pay wall could be aimed at retaining those print subscribers, who don't pay extra for web access, rather than getting new web users to pay for content. Without the wall, people who currently buy the paper could decide to get the content for free.
Why would Newsday's advertisers care about occasional traffic from people like me who aren't likely to patronize Long Island businesses? Lower traffic might justify lower ad rates (and therefore revenue), but also give advertisers a better deal.
The New York Times is a very different publication, with a very different audience. I think they could get 35 subscribers from Golden Valley alone. Here's free access to more profound analysis.
Michele Bachmann was in town yesterday, and the Animal asked her if she
still planned to go [to the National Tea Party Convention]. Bachmann is another scheduled marquee speaker,
though she will not receive a speaking fee, her office said. Here is
what she told us:
"At this point I am. I know that we are concerned in light
of the Supreme Court decision that came out last Wednesday. We need to
make sure that there are no violations of any ethics rules because as I
understand it is a for-profit group that is running the convention. And
if there's a conflict with ethics rules, then we will have to decline.
So, we're trying to get a final answer through ethics in Washington,
D.C. as to that decision."
That had us scratching our heads, as it did academics familiar with
the Supreme Court's recent campaign finance decision. It wouldn't seem
to prevent Bachmann from attending, speaking to or visiting an event
A spokesman cleared it up: Bachmann was confused about her
situation. "Clearly, our staff failed to communicate this to her well
enough," the spokesman emailed us.
Former Strib editor Tim McGuire comments on the move afoot to reduce copy editing as a cost-saving measure. Although many people think copy editing is a form of proofreading that would prevent the increasing bone-headed errors we see cropping up in daily newspapers, McGuire sets it straight:
Copy editing corrects context errors, provides expertise on local
points of history and location and supplies subject matter expertise
that often saves a piece of copy. Copy editors also supply a little
thing called judgment. Every writer pushes a point too far, uses
language that is ill-advised or makes assertions that can’t be
supported. A copy editors [sic, was that a test?] job is to catch those.
In addition, he points out that copy editors are in the flow of production in a very particular way. They have an appreciation not just of the story being written but where it fits the paper being made and how it's being read.
I've had the varied experiences of being edited at a newspaper, editing the work of experts and not-so experts, editing other writers, and editing myself — as a blogger and the head of writing company where, if we didn't get the nuances as well as the basics right, we lost clients, which is far more painful and concentration-inducing than losing a subscriber.
[Copy editors are invited to have a go at that paragraph.]
I should add that I've had the experience of editing former newspaper reporters, and I would agree with McGuire: "Reporters and others are simply not prepared for the sophisticated enterprise called copy editing." [h/t to Hal Davis, who must be a hell of an editor]
would make medical
expenses, including health care premiums, 100% tax-deductible for all
individuals. Under current law, health insurance is tax-free for those
who receive it through their employers. My bill would give this same
tax benefit to people who buy their own health insurance or pay for
medical care “out-of-pocket.” This would give all Americans the
freedom to purchase the health plan of their choice, to pick their
preferred doctors and to make their own medical decisions.
In the buildup to her rollout, the decidedly non-bipartisan Bachmann said, “We are rejecting politics as usual in Washington D.C. in dealing with this health care issue.”
Apparently, proposing tax cuts as the solution to all that ails us is not politics as usual.
I haven't read the bill, but let's examine her description 100% tax deductibility as giving people freedom to purchase the health plan of their choice.
The average American family with employer-subsidized health care coverage (earning about $50,000 in household income) pays out about $7,000 per year in its share of premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Employer contributions average nearly $10,000.
The current federal tax system already allows deductibility of medical expenses. You can deduct the amount of your medical and dental expenses that is more than 7.5% of your
AGI [Adjusted Gross Income]. For example, if your
AGI is $35,000, 7.5% is $2,625. If your family of four paid medical expenses of
$7,000, you could deduct $4,375. Filing as the head of the household, you would pay $3,996 in federal income taxes.
So who really benefits from the Bachmann proposal?
The poor? No. They don't save enough to afford insurance.
Taking the example above, the Bachmann bill would lower the family tax bill by $393 — or about 10 percent. That's about enough to pay for one month's premium on a moderately high deductible insurance policy in Minnesota for that family of four.
levels of expenses does not yield any larger relative savings under the
Bachmann plan, because the only difference is the tax that's applied to the family's first
$2,625 in expenses under the current system.
The real question for lower income households is whether they can come up with the money at all. They are less likely to be covered by employer plans, and they also have less income
available to pay regular premiums and out-of-pocket costs. A tax deduction doesn't help the cash flow for people living paycheck to paycheck.
The middle class?They'd see a modest benefit.
The Bachmann proposal would result in an additional $562 in tax savings over the current system — worth a little more than one month's premium for a Medica HSA plan.
The top earners?You won't be surprised.
1. The top 10 percent of earners — at least those who are employed — are generally covered by health insurance. (In 2006, only 8.5% of those earning $75k+ were uninsured, sompared to 21.1% of those earning $25-50k.)
2. The higher the income, the more likely the insured has a Cadillac plan as part of an executive compensation package.
3. Once you reach top 5 percent of earners or so, your own medical expenses cease being deductible under current tax law. For example, at $200,000 AGI, only your expenses above $15,000 would qualify for deduction.
Someone earning $100,000 and paying the average $7,000 for medical expenses would not be able to deduct any of it. Under Bachmann's bill, they could deduct it all, worth $1,680 in tax savings.
The bottom line?
Wealthier tax payers, who are more likely to be well-covered, do better under the tax portion of the Bachmann plan.
A tax-deduction scheme favors those who pay more taxes. Look at it this way. Someone earning $500,000 who had $35,000 in medical expenses could deduct them all and save $12,250 in taxes. Someone earning $35,000 with the same medical costs would simply be bankrupt.
A tax deduction for all also means less revenue, and less revenue means program cuts. No doubt
"Health Care Freedom of Choice" would be used to justify cutting public
health care expenditures, which primarily benefit low-income people.
A couple years ago, Grand Junction's economy was still booming, housing was in short supply and local retailers had trouble filling jobs because the oil and gas companies paid better for low-skilled workers.
Some people thought that the energy economy was going to sustain western Colorado and Grand Junction would continue to outperform the state and national economies. After all, gas was around $4 a gallon and it wasn't going back.
Locals who lived through the last boom and bust in the earlier 1980s, or the ones before that, weren't quite so optimistic.
And now the recession and the tail end of the recession is snapping around like a dead alligator's tail. It still has plenty of power to hurt. Some of the impacts are familiar to other parts of the country, but others have a local flavor.
State budget cuts closed a skilled nursing unit in town that served severely disabled adults. Without the special unit, residents had to find new homes with non-profit agencies that run group homes in the community.
As a writer, I once made my living from the reality that many highly functional people can't write as well as their as their jobs require. Jack Miller teaches "developmental" English at Normandale Community College, where he sees students who arrive equipped with "life experience" but not the rudiments of written language. For some of them, it's a new language; for most, it's a language they have used for decades but not learned.
Some of his essay for Center of the American Experiment makes the liberal in me cringe, the college scholarship reviewer in me nod, and the citizen in me glad for teachers like Miller.
Don't judge the essay just by these excerpts. The whole thing is worth a read. [h/t Hal Davis]
Other causes, less
tangible, contribute to students’ poor record and performance in
college (especially that 20 percent or so who demand extra time and
energy from the professor), and here I venture on more speculative
ground. Some are not sure what is done in the classroom—how to
behave. They don’t know when or how to take notes. They perennially
miss due dates, drift in late, drift out during the break not to
return. They sabotage themselves and then seem to expect forgiveness
and accommodation from their professors. Someone showing up one day
after having been missing for five or six weeks, only vaguely
recognized by the professor, will assume that a way can and will be
found to bring him up to speed and on track with the rest of the
class. Is all this the result of repeatedly being forgiven in the
past? I think so.
A system is in place
to cushion failure, and students who have always been praised for just
showing up need it. They have been told time and again, “You can be
anything you want.” All that is needed is “passion.” So when the
academic path contains a detour, explanations to yourself and to others
can come easily. Scholastic problems don’t emanate from within but
from without. So determined is the college to offer “support” and so
long is the list of reasons to receive that support that almost
anything can be explained by or blamed on an external cause—poor time
management, attention deficit disorder, you name it.