Occupy Movement: Next Step Convergence

There is a growing convergence of thinking about where the US Occupy movement should go as a next step to turning its values, concerns and commitments into changing what most Americans see as broken government under control of corporate interests.  When it comes to political and social movements, history shows us that they usually fail not because they disappear, but rather because they become marginalized, unimportant despite a core group of committed people and groups.

They lose popular appeal and support or never expand beyond a small early group of supporters.  The nation and many supporters move on.  Other movements grab the interest of the most informed, dissident-type people seeking truth, justice or change.  A good example of such a failed contemporary movement is the 911 truth effort.  The groups, websites and true believers keep on pushing their objectives a decade after the historic event.  But the goal of revealing what really happened that the official government story does not divulge is like a moldy piece of forgotten food in the refrigerator.

Movement death by inattention happens despite good resources, charismatic leaders and even great organization and communication skills.  Critical mass of public support simply never materializes, in large measure because diverse segments of the population never buy into the central arguments of the movement.  The Internet is littered with websites of activist groups that persist despite clear evidence of decay and wide disinterest.  True believers have a mission in life tied to their egos that prevent them from admitting defeat.  They do not move on.

The biggest mistake that passionate advocates for a cause make is overestimating their ability to reach critical mass and underestimating the competition of other movements with greater appeal which rob them of both attention and supporters.

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A Modest Suggestion on Improving High School Education

 

College education is different in many ways from K-12 education. Unlike high school or elementary teachers, for instance, professors actually know what they are talking about. Another difference: America’s colleges are the best in the world, while its high schools are quite mediocre.

There are many reasons why this is so. One reason is that the average college student pays several thousand dollars for his or her education, funding the average public high school can only dream of. Another one is that American society respects college professors, but not high school teachers so much.

Nevertheless, there is at least one thing colleges undeniably do better than high schools – and which high schools can readily adopt. This is the professor evaluation. At the end of every class, college professors hand out anonymous evaluations for students to fill out. College professors then get an unbiased view of what students think of them, and what their weaknesses are.

For some strange reason, high schools have never implemented this procedure. Most probably nobody has thought of it before.

They should. Nowadays education reformers are quite passionate about improving teacher performance. What better way to do so than by asking the students themselves?

For this reason, however, teacher unions may be resistant to the idea; they may argue that high school students are not mature enough to effectively evaluate a teacher. There is also a simple way to address this opposition: keep teacher evaluations for teacher’s eyes only. This does little to dilute the effectiveness of this reform, because teacher evaluations have their greatest effect on the teachers themselves. It also gets rid of the fear that bad evaluations may lead to teachers being fired.

Teachers truly do care about their job, and they often strive to improve themselves. Yet often they are groping in the dark. A teacher may hear rumors that he or she is boring or too political, but students are naturally reluctant to say this to his or her face. Anonymous student evaluations enable teachers to actually find out what they’re doing right and wrong. Indeed, they probably are the most effective way of doing this.

Teacher evaluations are simple, extremely effective, and cost practically no money. There’s no magic cure to the ailments that assail America’s high schools, but instituting teacher evaluations may come the closest that there is to one.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

Vote Yes on Proposition 25: Majority Vote to Pass a Budget

This is the fifth part of a series of posts giving recommendations on California’s propositions. This post recommends a “yes” vote on Proposition 25, which requires a majority vote in the legislature to pass a budget.

Proposition 26 will be the subject of the next post in this series.

The Structural Problems in California’s Budget Process…

Proposition 25 is the most important proposition being proposed this year. While Proposition 25 may not exactly ignite passion in the hearts of voters, it is far more important for California’s future than the much-debated Propositions 19 and 23.

To understand why this is so, one needs to take a look at the structure of California’s budget.

California’s budget is governed by a set of stringent regulations. Constitutionally, passage requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature. Proposition 13 mandates that tax increases also require a two-thirds majority in the legislature.

In both requirements, California is very much an exception. The general rule is that tax increases and budgets need only a majority vote. Several states, mostly in the West and South, require a supermajority for a tax increase. Only Arkansas and Rhode Island (an odd couple) mandate supermajority votes for budgets to pass.

No other state in the union, however, requires that both budgets and tax increases be passed with a supermajority.

A two-thirds majority for both tax increases and budget passage necessitates compromise between the two parties. Unfortunately, the ideological difference between Democrats and Republican is unusually wide in California. The Democratic Party in Mississippi is probably more conservative than many moderate Republicans on the national level, while the Republican Party in New York is probably more liberal than many moderate Democrats on the national level. In the Democratic stronghold of California, however, the Republican Party’s positions lie quite far to the right on the national spectrum.

Combined, these factors make passing a budget in California one of the hardest endeavors in American politics. Since 1980 – shortly after the two-thirds requirement for tax increases was instituted – California has passed an on-time budget a grand total of five times. Every budget is subject to torturous negotiations as state officials desperately attempt to reach the two-thirds supermajority requirement (imagine the chaos that would take place if the House of Representatives required a two-thirds vote to pass a budget!)

This has quite negative implications for the well-being of California. Constant budget fights have done bad damage to California’s image, hurting private investment and creating great uncertainty. Budget impasses hurt public sector workers and public services provided by the government.

And How Proposition 25 Solves One of Them

Proposition 25 ends the two-thirds requirement to pass a budget. This will make passing budgets substantially easier, and it constitutes one part of a plethora of necessary reforms in fixing California’s flawed budget system.

There are some that oppose Proposition 25, arguing that it constitutes a union-backed power grab for California’s Democratic Party – and that it therefore ought to be opposed.

It is true that Proposition 25 is funded by unions, and that it will benefit the Democratic Party in California (which has a majority in the legislature). But just because a proposition helps one party or another doesn’t mean that it deserves opposition. Getting more people to vote would probably help the Democratic Party, but nobody argues that higher voter turn-out is a bad thing because of that.

Moreover, there is an easy way for Republicans to stop Proposition 25 from benefiting Democrats: they can win elections, and take over the legislature. This is what happens in 47 other states and the federal government. It works much better than what happens in California.

Passing Proposition 25 will not end budget crises; even if passed, there will still be a number of problems with California’s budget. Tax increases will still require supermajority votes, for instance. California’s budget still relies too much on income taxes, which fall steeply during recessions, as a result of Proposition 13. Solving that problem necessitates a larger rainy day fund. Then there is reforming the broken proposition system itself.

But despite all this, Proposition 25 is a fundamental reform to California’s broken budget process. It constitutes a change that is vitally important for California’s future well-being – even if, horror of horrors, it happens to help the Democratic Party.

That is why I strongly, strongly recommend a “yes” vote on Proposition 25.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

On the first anniversary of immigration detention reforms, what has changed on the ground?

From Restore Fairness blog. From the Detention Watch Network

On the first anniversary of an announcement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)) would overhaul the nation’s immigration detention system, reports show that for the nearly 400,000 immigrants ICE has detained this year, little has changed.

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On the first anniversary of immigration detention reforms, what has changed on the ground?

From Restore Fairness blog. From the Detention Watch Network

On the first anniversary of an announcement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)) would overhaul the nation’s immigration detention system, reports show that for the nearly 400,000 immigrants ICE has detained this year, little has changed.

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