Tag Archives: David Axelrod

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Our Politicians Need an Education

Why Both Democrats and Republicans Miss the Big Picture

Public education is mirroring American society overall: a tiny island of haves surrounded by a vast ocean of have-nots.

For worried parents and students, the good news is that spending on public education has become a campaign issue. Mitt Romney is pushing a warmed-over version of the old GOP school voucher scheme, “school choice.” The trouble with vouchers, experts say (and common sense supports), is that allowing parents to vote with their feet by withdrawing their kids from “failing schools” deprives cash-starved schools of more funds, leading to a death cycle—a “winner takes all” sweepstakes that widens the gap between the best and worst schools. Critics—liberals and libertarians—also dislike vouchers because they allow the transfer of public tax dollars into the coffers of private schools, many of which have religious, non-secular curricula unaccountable to regulators.

Romney recently attacked President Obama: “He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of [the failed recall of the union-busting governor of] Wisconsin?”

“I would suggest [Romney is] living on a different planet if he thinks that’s a prescription for a better planet,” shot back Obama strategist David Axelrod.

Both parties are missing the mark, the Republicans more than the Democrats. Republicans want to gut public schools by slashing budgets that will lead to bigger class sizes, which will reduce the individual attention dedicated to teaching each student. Democrats rightly oppose educational austerity, but are running a lame defense rather than aggressively promoting positive ideas to improve the system. Both parties are too interested in weakening unions and grading teacher performance with endless tests, and not enough in raising salaries so teaching attracts the brightest college graduates. Not even the Democrats are calling for big spending increases on education.

Is the system really in crisis? Yes, said respondents to a 2011 Gallup-Phi Delta Kappa poll, which found that only 22 percent approved of the state of public education in the U.S. The number one problem? Not enough funding, say voters.

Millions of parents whose opinion of their local public system is so dim that they spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on private school tuition and—in competitive cities like New York City, force their kids to endure a grueling application process.

According to one of the world’s leading experts on comparing public school systems, Andreas Schleicher of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. is falling rapidly behind other countries. In Canada, he told a 2010 Congressional inquiry, an average 15-year-old ahead is a full year ahead his or her American counterpart. The U.S. high-school completion rate is ranked 25th out of the 30 OECD countries.

The elephant in the room, the idea neither party is willing to consider, is to replace localized control of education—funding, administration and curricula—with centralized federal control, as is common in Europe and around the world.

“America’s system of standards, curriculums and testing controlled by states and local districts with a heavy overlay of federal rules is a ‘quite unique’ mix of decentralization and central control,” The New York Times paraphrased Schleicher’s testimony. “More successful nations, he said, maintain central control over standards and curriculum, but give local schools more freedom from regulation, he said.”

Why run public schools out of Washington? The advantages are obvious. When schools in rich districts get the same resource allocation per student as those in poor ones, influential voters among the upper and middle classes tend to push for increased spending of education. Centralized control also eliminates embarrassing situations like when the Kansas School Board eliminated teaching evolution in its schools, effectively reducing standards.

A streamlined curriculum creates smarter students. It’s easier for Americans, who live in a highly mobile society, to transfer their children midyear from school to school, when a school in Peoria teaches the same math lesson the same week as one in Honolulu. Many students, especially among the working poor, suffer lower grades due to transiency.

Of course, true education reform would need to abolish the ability of wealthier parents to opt out of the public school system. That means banning private education and the “separate but equal” class segregation we see today, particularly in big cities, and integrating the 5.3 million kids (just under 10 percent of the total) in private primary and secondary schools into their local public systems. Decades after forced bussing, many students attend schools as racially separated as those of the Jim Crow era. The New York Times found that 650 out of New York’s 1700 public schools have student bodies composed at least 70 percent of one race—this in a city with extremely diverse demographics.

If we’re to live in a true democracy, all of our kids have to attend the same schools.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at MSNBC.com)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

And Yet

Despite the fact that nothing has been done to create new jobs, the U.S. hasn’t created any net new jobs above population growth. Meanwhile, 20 million people remain jobless. Which makes one ask: why doesn’t the Obama Administration think this is a problem?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Death and Trivia

Bankrupt and Corrupt, U.S. Can’t/Won’t Address Issues We Care About

Millions of Americans won’t vote this November. “Voter participation in the U.S. remains consistently below corresponding levels in most other western democracies,” the International Business Times reported last year. “In countries like Italy, Belgium, Austria and Australia, more than 90 percent of the voting public cast ballots at election time.”

They—the corporate politicians and their media mouthpieces—call it apathy. Obama advisor David Axelrod blamed it for the Iraq War. “There was apathy in 2000, and Al Gore lost that election to George W. Bush by 300 votes, and as a result we wound up in Iraq,” he told the Harvard Crimson. That’s crap. People don’t boycott elections because they don’t care. They are alienated.

We don’t care about two-party electoral politics because two-party electoral politics don’t care about us.

What are Americans most worried about this election season? The same thing we’ve been most worried about for years: the economy. You name the poll: local or national, liberals or conservatives doesn’t matter. Tens of millions of people are unemployed. People who still have jobs live in terror of layoffs. Real inflation is out of control but salaries are frozen or falling. (The fact that we have to specify “real” says a lot about the gap between life out here “on the ground” and over there “inside the Beltway.”)

We’re being ground down. Demoralized. Bankrupted. And they don’t care. Not only do they not care, they don’t notice.

The Fed and the White House are colluding in their quadrennial tradition of ginning up a pseudo-boomlet to support the incumbent. Thus the latest Dow bubble and phony 8.3 percent unemployment rate, which count people who have given up looking for work as “employed.”

Everyone knows the recovery is fiction. Who are you going to believe—the talking heads or your lying, overdrawn, second-mortage line of credit? According to the latest Gallup tracking poll, which actually asks actual people how they’re actually doing in the actual world, 9.1 percent of Americans are unemployed and 19.0 percent are underemployed. When 28.1 percent of Americans are broke, that affects everyone, including the richest 1% trying to sell goods and services.

People expect their “representative” democracy to represent their interests. To address their problems. And solve them.

No wonder why we’re so apathetic. Our “leaders” hardly talk about the economy.

Santorum is more worried about how easy it is to get sex than how hard it is to find work.

Romney thinks it’s 1992 and that he’s Ross Perot, the businessman who promised to run America like a corporation. As though it wasn’t already. As if that wasn’t the problem.

Obama imagines that we didn’t notice that he only started asking Congress to work on the economy after Congress fell under the control of the other party. We’re slow. We’re not deranged.

Our dying political system is unwilling and unable to address joblessness and the widening class divide because our misery isn’t an aberration. It’s an inherent manifestation of corporate capitalism. Ordinary Americans understand this. Half the citizens of this “conservative” country already prefer socialism or communism, according to a Gallup poll conducted in December—watch that go up—yet the political class dares not question the Crappy Economic System That Must Not Be Named.

Since they can’t take on the real issues the elites are reduced to the politics of distraction.

Kids and death.

Those are the D-grade “issues” the powers that be are using this week in order to avoid talking about the atrocious economy.

Federal regulators announced on February 27th that all cars manufactured after 2014 must feature rearview cameras that allow drivers to see what is behind them. The National Highway Traffic Administration says that “95 to 112 deaths and as many as 8,374 injuries could be eliminated each year by eliminating the wide blind spot behind a vehicle,” reported The New York Times. The estimated cost of the devices is $2.7 billion per year.

“In terms of absolute numbers of lives saved, it certainly isn’t the highest,” admitted Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety. “But in terms of emotional tragedy, backover deaths are some of the worst imaginable. When you have a parent that kills a child in an accident that’s utterly avoidable, they don’t ever forget it.”

No doubt. I can imagine. By all means, put in those cameras.

But there’s something screwy about a political culture that slaps this trivial story on the front page of the biggest newspaper in the country and makes it a Congressional priority while the elephants in the room go unaddressed. Every year 17,000 Americans die in slip and fall accidents—151 times the rate from backover car accidents. Maybe we should install cameras on the backs of our heads.

Yo, moron journalists and politicos: Jobs! We care about jobs!

If you idiots must obsess over cars, why aren’t you pushing through radical improvements in fuel efficiency, like requiring that every car made after 2014 be either electric or a hybrid? Autos are a major cause of air pollution, which triggers asthma attacks, which kill at least 5000 people annually in the U.S.

It’s not just about the kiddie-poos. The establishments is still wallowing in Bush’s hoary post-9/11 death cult.

The day after its hold-the-presses car-cameras scoop the Times was back with another page-one heartstopper:

“The mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware disposed of body parts of some victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by burning them and dumping the ashes in a landfill,” began the story. The victims were killed on Flight 93, which crashed in western Pennsylvania.

Gross? No doubt. Inappropriate? Unquestionably. Important? Hell no.

The worst thing that could ever happened to the people to whom those body parts belonged occurred before. They were dead. Murdered. What went down after that was comparatively trivial.

Not to stir up the Truthers (with whom I disagree), but a more appropriate front-page story would ask: “More Than 11 Years After 9/11, Why Hasn’t There Been an Independent Investigation?”

Here’s what we’ve come to: Get killed on Flight 93 and no one bothers to find out what really happened to you. Have your remains disposed of in a culturally insensitive manner and it’s a scandal.

What if Flight 93 had landed safely? Some passengers would gotten laid off. Some would have been foreclosed upon. And the government wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass about them.

Why don’t people vote?

A better question is: Why do people vote?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL