What is the greatest mystery in American history? Rattle off a few answers. I bet you won’t think of mine…
Here is my nominee for biggest mystery: the decline and fall of public school education. Don’t agree? Give me a minute and I’ll convince you.
Here are the towering facts: The U.S. spends a huge amount on education; more per student than anyone else; more and more every year. Simultaneously, over the last 70 years, literacy has fallen, SAT scores have fallen, American competitiveness has fallen, and the general knowledge of ordinary citizens has fallen. Teenagers graduate from high school who can’t read their diplomas; the country now has 50,000,000 functional illiterates. I recently saw on television that the wealthiest, most successful country in the world–that would be us–hovers around 18th internationally on reading, and 25th in science.
I submit that all of these facts taken together are paradoxical; one might say, impossible. It’s as if I told you that an ordinary man consumed 5000 calories a day and lost weight. So this, I submit, is the greatest mystery in our history.
But why have our educators allowed this decline to take place? Or is “allowed” a trick word, and they have actually abetted this failure? Ah, mystery on top of mystery. This is a puzzle that academic historians should be trying to solve.
For starters, can’t we all agree that genuine experts, making a sincere effort, would have our schools functioning at a higher level? Why, oh why, don’t our educators do a much better job?
In the interest of brevity, let me just list the three most common answers given to that question:
1. Our educators mean well but they get caught up in fads.
2. Our educators have a lot of bad luck. Who could guess that all their wonderful ideas would have so many unintended consequences?
3. A harsher theory is that our educators, alas, are nitwits. (Smart people, it’s often remarked, don’t go into Education.)
The problem with all these theories is that, if true, we would see a greater range of outcomes. After all, there are thousands of these people. Now and then they’d have to get lucky; the law of averages would have to have its day. There’s only one problem with this: there are, it seems to me, no successful results, and no good ideas. All we see is a grinding mediocrity.
It goes beyond a failure to find ideas that increase education; many have embraced ideas that are clearly destructive. Our experts really don’t seem all that interested in education as most people understand this term. Reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography, for example, don’t seem to be priorities. What we see in education makes sense only if we assume that our educators have an agenda we don’t know about, or that they are malevolent, or both.
So what agenda, you’re wondering, are they actually focused on? What’s the answer to the mystery? Here is my deduction: that those at the top of the Education Industrial Complex, since the time of John Dewey, have been collectivists first, and educators second or third. The goal of creating an educated child was too often superceded by the goal of creating a cooperative child.
Broadly speaking, they undermined educational success in two ways. First, they found reasons to delete and dilute the curriculum. Second, the things they did teach, they often taught in confusing, unhelpful ways. I could reel off a list of 50 failed pedagogies, none of which lived up to the hype or the hope, things such as New Math, Reform Math, Constructivism, Bilingual Education, Self Esteem, et cetera.
The paradigm of bad pedagogies, of course, is Whole Word, I.E. any non-phonics way of teaching reading. Around 1931, every public school in the country was told that phonics was out, and the children should be taught by Look-Say (think Dick and Jane). This switch is one of most amazing (and revealing) events in American educational history. Try to think of another instance where a profession abruptly decided to reverse everything ordinarily done for centuries.
Once you assume that all these conclusions are true, you find there’s no mystery at all. Everything that’s happened in American education is as logical as 1 + 2 = 3. My estimation is that if we tossed out the ideological admixture, we’d see steady improvement. Don’t think we can improve things by tweaking around the edges. We need an intervention. We need surgery.
White House: Budget deficit to top $1.8 trillion, 4 times 2008’s record
* Andrew Taylor, Associated Press Writer
* On Monday May 11, 2009, 11:09 am EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — With the economy performing worse than hoped, revised White House figures point to deepening budget deficits, with the government borrowing almost 50 cents for every dollar it spends this year.
The deficit for the current budget year will rise by $89 billion to above $1.8 trillion — about four times the record set just last year. The unprecedented red ink flows from the deep recession, the Wall Street bailout, the cost of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus bill, as well as a structural imbalance between what the government spends and what it takes in.
As the economy performs worse than expected, the deficit for the 2010 budget year beginning in October will worsen by $87 billion to $1.3 trillion, the White House says. The deterioration reflects lower tax revenues and higher costs for bank failures, unemployment benefits and food stamps.
For the current year, the government would borrow 46 cents for every dollar it takes to run the government under the administration’s plan. In one of the few positive signs, the actual 2009 deficit is likely to be $250 billion less than predicted because Congress is unlikely to provide another $250 billion in financial bailout money.
The developments come as the White House completes the official release of its $3.6 trillion budget for 2010, adding detail to some of its tax proposals and ideas for producing health care savings. The White House budget is a recommendation to Congress that represents Obama’s fiscal and policy vision for the next decade.
Annual deficits would never dip below $500 billion and would total $7.1 trillion over 2010-2019. Even those dismal figures rely on economic projections that are significantly more optimistic — just a 1.2 percent decline in gross domestic product this year and a 3.2 percent growth rate for 2010 — than those forecast by private sector economists and the Congressional Budget Office.
For the most part, Obama’s updated budget tracks the 134-page outline he submitted to lawmakers in February. His budget remains a bold but contentious document that proposes higher taxes for the wealthy, a hotly contested effort to combat global warming and the first steps toward guaranteed health care for all.
Obama’s Democratic allies controlling Congress have already made it clear that they will reject key elements of his plan. Already apparently dead is a plan to raise $267 billion over the next decade to pay for his health care initiative by curbing the ability of wealthier people to reduce their tax bills through deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions and state and local taxes.
And the congressional budget plan approved last month would not extend Obama’s signature $400 tax credit for most workers — $800 for couples — after it expires at the end of next year.
Obama’s remarkably controversial “cap-and-trade” proposal to curb heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions is also reeling from opposition from Capitol Hill Democrats from coal-producing regions and states with concentrations of heavy industry. Under cap-and-trade, the government would auction permits to emit heat-trapping gases, with the costs being passed on to consumers via higher gasoline and electric bills.
Among the new proposals is a plan — already on its way through Congress — that would increase the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s borrowing authority from $30 billion to $100 billion in order to grant a two-year reprieve from higher deposit insurance premiums while the industry is struggling.
Also new are several tax “loophole” closures and increased IRS tax compliance efforts to raise $58 billion over the next decade to help finance Obama’s health care measure. The money makes up for revenue losses stemming from lower-than-hoped estimates of his proposal to limit wealthier people’s ability to maximize their itemized deductions.
The updated budget also would repeal an unintended tax windfall taken by paper companies that use a byproduct in the paper-making process as fuel to power their mills. The tax credits were never intended for paper companies, but now they could be worth more than $3 billion a year, according to a congressional estimate.
The budget would make permanent the expanded $2,500 tax credit for college expenses that was provided for two years in the just-passed economic stimulus bill. It also would renew most of the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003, and would permanently update the alternative minimum tax so that it would hit fewer middle- to upper-income taxpayers.
Does Obama’s bullying of investors portend real problems for the US?
Johnathan Pearce (London) Globalization/economics • North American affairs
I have not written about the subject of the Chrysler bailout so far since, not being close to the action in the US, I did not feel I had much to say that was not already voiced by the US blogs. But it does occur to me that there is a general problem right now in the way that the US administration – and arguably the UK one as well – has been acting in respect of bailouts of certain industries, such as carmakers as well as banks. What do I mean? Well, this report (H/T: Instapundit) suggests there is real fear about the “Nixonian” tactics employed by Mr Obama’s administration against bond-holders who have been angered by the expropriation of their capital via the Chrysler bailout.
For those who have not been following this story, bond-holders have been pushed to the back of the queue, as far as potential recovery of capital is concerned, with the auto union membership getting preferential treatment. Maybe Mr Obama figures that investors can be rained on right now because it is more important to get the votes and support of traditionally Democrat-leaning car workers. With mid-term Congressional elections a couple of years away, he will have his sly, Chicago machine-politics mind working out how to garner important support in the event that the US economy is still sluggish by that time. But pissing off investors – such as, let it be noted, pension funds – is not smart. The US requires large amounts of capital for any economic recovery that may take place. Ask yourself one of the most basic questions any investor should ask: can I get my money back if I need to? If the answer is no or only maybe, and if there is the threat of governments robbing investors, then less investment occurs. The problems of such behaviour explain why, for example, Africa has been such a bad investment bet for so many years.
It is an ugly business. Part of the trouble with the automakers is that even if they had been put into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, with the banks and bondholders put on a more even footing for any recovery of assets, there is still the issue of what to do about the enormous unfunded pension obligations that these heavy industrial companies have. It is the same with airlines and steel. I have heard it said of British Airways – to take a UK example – that is is a pension scheme that happens to have a lot of aircraft. The pension tail can wag the corporate dog. And that is a hideous issue to deal with against the background of an ageing population. So in fairness to US policymakers, running down Chrysler involves dealing with a lot of tricky contractual issues.
Even so, it strikes me that the Obama administration is showing a level of political ruthlessness and “bugger-the-investor” attitude that is hardly going to endear people towards investing in that economy. My fear is that Mr Obama is making the cynical calculation that memories will fade; after all, how many investors in the UK remember how the Blair government, in the form of the charmless Stephen Byers, the-then industry minister, shafted investors in Railtrack?
Like I said, an ugly business.
As usual, there is no such thing as accountability within the Obama Administration:
This morning, Fannie Mae (FNM) announced that it had lost another $23 billion in the quarter, and would have to call down $19 billion more in taxpayer support. It also said that it would face losses as far as the eye can see.
Do you know how much we’ve committed to backstopping Fannie and its partner-in-crime Freddie Mac (FRE)? $400 BILLION! Back in February that was doubled from the original $200 billion.
But the news of the quarterly loss is getting hardly any attention. Nothing here at the NYT business section, for example. Nothing at the blogs that were going nuts when AIG was revealed to have paid out bonuses back in March.
The problem is that the Fannie and Freddie disasters don’t fit into any conventional media narrative. At AIG you had Joe Cassano, lurking in the shadows, turning AIGFP into his own personal casino, while taking home gargantuan pay.
Fannie Mae? They help nice families get into homes. Their motto is something about helping the people who help house America. Who could be against that? Plus, the Fannie and Freddy story doesn’t help explain the idea that laissez-faire deregulation is what allowed Wall Street to go crazy. Fannie and Freddy had their own freakin’ regulator, OFHEO. Two companies with one regulator to look into both of them.
And then you have all the Democrats on the inside (Rahm Emanuel, for example) on the outside (Barney Frank), who have ties to the company’s worst years.
If AIG (AIG) ever has to ask for one more dollar to pay counterparties like Goldman Sachs (cue the ominous music!), there’ll be a fresh round of media outrage. Fannie and Freddie continue to blow through cash though, and it goes without a peep, depriving the public insight into one of the more important aspects of the housing bubble and the crisis.
Obama is willing to spend TRILLIONS for banks and unions but nothing to help DC kids get the same opportunities that he demands for his own children
For more info, go here.
FIRST, there is news that the Treasury Department REFUSES to keep tabs on how money is being spent:
It is safe to assume, however, that the investigations now in progress represent not even the tip of the iceberg. The most troubling feature of the SIG’s report is its documentation of reluctance on the part of Tim Geithner’s Treasury Department to make even modest efforts to protect the interests of the taxpayers. To take just one glaring example, Treasury has refused to require banks to account for what they do with the billions of dollars they receive in TARP money:
Treasury has indicated, however, that it will not adopt SIGTARP’s recommendation that all TARP recipients be required to do the following:
• account for the use of TARP funds
• set up internal controls to comply with such accounting
• report periodically to Treasury on the results, with appropriate sworn certifications
In light of the fact that the American taxpayer has been asked to fund this extraordinary effort to stabilize the financial system, it is not unreasonable that the public be told how those funds have been used by TARP recipients. Treasury is now conducting regular surveys of the banks’ lending activities; however, with the exception of Citigroup and Bank of America, Treasury has refused to seek further details on TARP recipients’ use of funds.
Not just failed, but “refused.” The report adds:
The American people have a right to know how their tax dollars are being used, particularly as billions of dollars are going to institutions for which banking is certainly not part of the institution’s core business and may be little more than a way to gain access to the low-cost capital provided under TARP.
Barack Obama’s hundred days have not gone as badly as Napoleon’s. In money terms, however, they have been considerably more expensive. Since his inauguration on January 20, 2009, President Obama has proposed new spending programs that will add over the next 10 years $6.5-trillion (all figures U.S.) to the American national debt. That’s $6.5-trillion over and above the debt that would have been incurred had the existing policies been left alone. (Not that those existing policies were so great either.)
That’s $65-billion in new debt every single day of the first 100. Expensive.
And this figure is surely too low, because it is based on (1) almost certainly unduly optimistic assumptions about the growth of the U.S. economy over the next few years and (2) unduly optimistic assumptions about the costs of President Obama’s health-care ideas.
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