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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hollywood, Education Reform, and a State Election

In our textbook, we mention the political role of the entertainment media, the politics of education reform, and the significance of state elections.  This item, from The San Francisco Chronicle, touches on all three:
Hollywood isn’t shy about putting its star status and cash behind big-deal political candidates.
But candidates running for the wonky state superintendent of public instruction job doesn’t usually draw A-list interest.
Until now.
Marshall Tuck, who is running against incumbent Tom Torlakson, has released a video featuring Joel McHale (“Community”); Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”); Dax Shepard (“Parenthood”); and Kristen Bell (“House of Lies”
The ad features Tuck at a kitchen table with McHale, Shepard and Bell, who are grilling him about public education in California. They ultimately throw their support behind Tuck, with Scott joining them between bites of pizza.
John Hrabe writes at
Election Day is still a month away, but Marshall Tuck’s campaign for State Superintendent of Public Instruction has already delivered the best ad of the 2014 cycle.
With the perfect blend of facts and humor, “Tuck Gets New Consultants” explains why the education reformer and charter school executive is qualified to oversee California’s public school system. In the ad, actors Joel McHale, Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell and Adam Scott grill Tuck about his background and California’s under-performing schools, which rank 45th in math and reading.

There’s so much to love about this ad: It’s funny. It uses celebrities in a constructive way. It educates the public about California’s failing education system. It informs voters about Tuck’s background. It corrects the misconception that he’s the private school candidate. And it includes a dig on the San Francisco Chronicle.
“You’ve been endorsed by The San Francisco Chronicle. Who gives a (BLEEP)?” Shepard says.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A New Constitution?

At Salon, Andrew Burstein calls for replacing the Constitution.
Though they haven’t articulated it as such, Americans want a new constitution that actually does what the original Constitution was supposed to do: serve the public good.

So, what would that document ideally look like?

It would surely reject outright the decadent, cowardly impulse to fashion a body of laws with special perks designed to prop up the few and wealthy while more or less throwing crumbs to the poor and powerless. Its overall function would be to improve the quality of life across the country, in places big and small. Let’s put it in all caps, and maybe stick it in the Preamble: TO CALL ITSELF A REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY, A NATION MUST BE REASONABLE AND EQUITABLE IN THE DIVISION OF POWER.
James Madison had a different take.  In Federalist 10, he explicitly said that government should protect "different and unequal faculties of acquiring property."
The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Affordable Care Act: Limited Access to Doctors

Enrollment in Medicaid is surging as a result of the Affordable Care Act, but the Obama administration and state officials have done little to ensure that new beneficiaries have access to doctors after they get their Medicaid cards, federal investigators say in a new report.
The report, to be issued this week by the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, says state standards for access to care vary widely and are rarely enforced. As a result, it says, Medicaid patients often find that they must wait for months or travel long distances to see a doctor.
The inspector general, Daniel R. Levinson, said federal and state officials must do more to protect beneficiaries’ access to care, in view of the program’s rapid growth. Just since October, the administration says, eight million people with low incomes have enrolled. By 2016, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, one in four Americans will be on Medicaid at some time during the year.
Twenty-seven states have expanded Medicaid eligibility since the passage of the health care law in 2010, and President Obama is urging other states to do so.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
Finding a doctor who takes Obamacare coverage could be just as frustrating for Californians in 2015 as the health-law expansion enters its second year.
The state's largest health insurers are sticking with their often-criticized narrow networks of doctors, and in some cases they are cutting the number of physicians even more, according to a Times analysis of company data. And the state's insurance exchange, Covered California, still has no comprehensive directory to help consumers match doctors with health plans.
This comes as insurers prepare to enroll hundreds of thousands of new patients this fall and get 1.2 million Californians to renew their policies under the Affordable Care Act.
Even as California's enrollment grows, many patients continue to complain about being offered fewer choices of doctors and having no easy way to find the ones that are available.
Some consumers have been saddled with huge medical bills after insurers refused to pay for care deemed out of network. These complaints have sparked a state investigation and consumer lawsuits against two big insurers.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jefferson, Patriotism, and Civic Education

At The Wall Street Journal, Donald Kagan writes:
Jefferson was convinced that there needed to be an education for all citizens if they and their new kind of popular government were to flourish. He understood that schools must provide "to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts, and accounts, in writing."
For Jefferson, though, the most important goals of education were civic and moral. In his "Preamble to the 1779 Virginia Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge" he addresses the need for all students to have a political education through the study of the "forms of government," political history and foreign affairs. This was not meant to be a "value free" exercise; on the contrary, its purpose was to communicate the special virtues of republican representative democracy, the dangers that threatened it, and the responsibility of its citizens to esteem and protect it. This education was to be a common experience for all citizens, rich and poor, for every one of them had natural rights and powers, and every one had to understand and esteem the institutions, laws and traditions of his country if it was to succeed.
Jefferson meant American education to produce a necessary patriotism. Democracy—of all political systems, because it depends on the participation of its citizens in their own government and because it depends on their own free will to risk their lives in its defense—stands in the greatest need of an education that produces patriotism.

I recognize that I have said something shocking. The past half-century has seen a sharp turn away from what had been traditional attitudes toward the purposes and functions of education. Our schools have retreated from the idea of moral education, except for some attempts at what is called "values clarification," which is generally a cloak for moral relativism verging on nihilism of the sort that asserts that whatever feels good is good.

Even more vigorously have the schools fled from the idea of encouraging patriotism. In the intellectual climate of our time, the very suggestion brings contemptuous sneers or outrage, depending on the listener's mood. There is no end of quoting Samuel Johnson's famous remark that "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," but no recollection of Boswell's explanation that Johnson "did not mean a real and generous love for our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest."

Many have been the attacks on patriotism for intolerance, arrogance and bellicosity, but that is to equate it with its bloated distortion, chauvinism. My favorite dictionary defines the latter as "militant and boastful devotion to and glorification of one's country," but defines a patriot as "one who loves, supports, and defends his country."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Holder Legacy: FAQ

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that he is stepping down.

What is his legacy?
New York Times editorial lists several issues:

  • Same-sex marriage: he refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, part of which the Supreme Court has now struck down.
  • Voting rights:  he successfully fought voter-identification laws and other changes in voting procedure.
  • Criminal justice:  he supported a law eliminating differences in sentences for crack v. powder cocaine, and has called for an end to mandatory minimums.

What controversies surrounded his tenure?

Matt Apuzzo reports at The New York Times:
Mr. Holder approved of the National Security Agency’s authority to sweep up millions of phone records of Americans accused of no crime. He subpoenaed journalists and led a crackdown on their sources. He defended the F.B.I.’s right to track people’s cars without warrants and the president’s right to kill an American who had joined Al Qaeda.

“This is an attorney general who displayed an odd approach, an odd schism between civil rights and civil liberties,” said Elizabeth Goitein, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, a group that frequently supported Mr. Holder’s civil rights policies.
Clarance Page notes:
His refusal to turn over some internal documents related to a botched gunrunning probe known as Fast and Furious, for example, resulted in a House vote in 2012 largely along party lines to hold him in contempt of Congress.
What has the AG's impact been on California? 

Bob Egelko writes at The San Francisco Chronicle:
[Law professor Rory] Little said California has also been affected by Holder’s position on immigration, in which he supported legislation to allow undocumented minors to gain legal residency if they attended college or served in the armed forces. Although Congress rejected the measure, Obama enacted a version of it by executive order, and Holder’s support gave Gov. Jerry Brown “a lot of leverage to pass a California version,” which lowered tuition and extended financial aid, Little said.
Even on medical marijuana, Little said, Holder’s policies have been “the most liberal and the most forgiving of any attorney general since marijuana was illegalized in the 1920s.”
That’s not a universal view. After Justice Department officials issued much-publicized memos declaring that prosecution of state-approved medical marijuana operations would be their lowest priority — in line with Obama’s pledge as a presidential candidate — California’s four U.S. attorneys announced a crackdown on pot suppliers in October 2011. They have since filed civil suits that have led to evictions and closures of hundreds of dispensaries.
That campaign has slowed, but the Justice Department is still seeking to shut down Harborside Health Center in Oakland, the nation’s largest licensed medical marijuana provider.

News and Social Media

  • When you take into account both the total reach of a site (the share of Americans who use it) and the proportion of users who get news on the site,Facebook is the obviousnews powerhouse among the social media sites. Roughly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults use the site, and half of those users get news there — amounting to 30% of the general population.
  • Half of social network site users have shared news stories, images or vidoes , and nearly as many (46%) have discussed a news issue or event. In addition to sharing news on social media, a small number are also covering the news themselves, by posting photos or videos of news events. Pew Research found that in 2014, 14% of social media users posted their own photos of news events to a social networking site, while 12% had posted videos. This practice has played a role in a number of recent breaking news events, including the riots in Ferguson, Mo.
  • Our analysis of comScore data found visitors who go to a news media website directly spend roughly three times as long as those who wind up there through search or Facebook, and they view roughly five times as many pages per month.
  • Unlike Twitter, where a core function is the distribution of information as news breaks, Facebook is not yet a place many turn to for learning about breaking news.
  • Our recent survey revealed social media doesn’t always facilitate conversation around the important issues of the day.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tech, Lobbying, and Transparency

Julian Hattem reports at The Hill:
Tech companies spend millions of dollars on political donations and lobbying, yet they are also some of the least transparent, according to a new report.
A new analysis from the Center for Political Accountability and the University of Pennsylvania’s Zicklin Center for Business Ethics showed that the information technology sector ranked near the bottom of industries it reviewed, with an overall score of 44 out of 100.

Two tech companies — Netflix and Salesforce — were given a score of 0 on the organization’s annual list.
Derek Willis and Claire Cain Miller write at The New York Times:
To a large extent, the index represents a political maturity list. The top ranks are occupied by companies that have extensive contacts with the political world, usually through lobbying and campaign contributions, and who understand the public relations benefits of disclosing such information.
From that perspective, the index also illustrates the tech industry’s relative lack of political savvy. “Tech is really bad at figuring out how to contribute to political causes and issues,” said Josh Mendelsohn, a tech investor and co-founder of Engine, which does policy research and advocacy to help link Silicon Valley to Washington. “I don’t think it’s anything pernicious, but it’s us not being really sophisticated.”
Up until a decade ago, the tech industry wanted little to do with Washington, mostly because it seemed to epitomize the old-fashioned way of getting things done. Regulators don’t understand technology, tech executives often said. Washington moves too slowly to keep up with fast-changing technology, and technology can solve problems more efficiently than the public sector, many of them believed.

Yet Silicon Valley’s attitude has recently evolved from dismissive to grudgingly cooperative. It has realized it has no choice but to develop a relationship with Washington. Its companies are getting so big and powerful that they are attracting the attention of regulators and surveillance agencies. The industry has realized that Washington is the route to address issues it cares about, like net neutrality and the push for more visas for highly educated immigrants. Many companies have hired executives from deep inside government, opened Washington offices and increased their lobbying and political spending.