Commonweal contributor Rand Richards Cooper flags a typically blunt reaction from Diane Ravitch to news that U.S. students performed less well than kids from other countries on international standardized tests. Ravitch castigates what she calls the Bad News Industry for making a big deal of this because the United States has never, in half a century, performed much better than it did this time and, further, it probably just doesn’t matter how our kids stack up against their counterparts in Finland, Japan, or Germany.
In my recent book, Reign of Error, I quote extensively from a brilliant article by Keith Baker, called “Are International Tests Worth Anything?,” which was published by Phi Delta Kappan in October 2007. Baker, who worked for many years as a researcher at the U.S. Department of Education, had the ingenious idea to investigate what happened to the 12 nations that took the First International Mathematics test in 1964. He looked at the per capita gross domestic product of those nations and found that “the higher a nation’s test score 40 years ago, the worse its economic performance on this measure of national wealth-the opposite of what the Chicken Littles raising the alarm over the poor test scores of U.S. children claimed would happen.” He found no relationship between a nation’s economic productivity and its test scores. Nor did the test scores bear any relationship to quality of life or democratic institutions. And when it came to creativity, the U.S. “clobbered the world,” with more patents per million people than any other nation. …
Never do [test proponents] explain how it was possible for the U.S. to score so poorly on international tests again and again over the past half century and yet still emerge as the world’s leading economy, with the world’s most vibrant culture, and a highly productive workforce. From my vantage point as a historian, here is my takeaway from the PISA scores … If they mean anything at all, [they] show the failure of the past dozen years of public policy in the United States. The billions invested in testing, test prep, and accountability have not raised test scores or our nation’s relative standing on the league tables. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are manifest failures at accomplishing their singular goal of higher test scores.
Ravitch can always be counted on to re-introduce rationality to the debate over education “reform,” whether via her rapid-response blogging or opinion pieces in the press. The recent book she refers to was of course reviewed last month in our pages by Jackson Lears – a review Ravitch herself called “The. Most. Brilliant. Review. of. Reign. of. Error. Ever.” [punctuation hers] If you want to know what’s being done to schools (and to kids, teachers, and communities) in the name of “reform,” it’s always a good time to read it -- maybe no more so than when the Bad News Industry is on full alert.
Just posted to the homepage: my piece on elective abortion coverage on the health exchanges. I'll have more to say about this later, but for now, here's a preview:
On Sunday, the Obama administration’s self-imposed deadline for fixing Healthcare.gov passed, with seemingly decent results. For the past month, the administration had been consumed with that task. But in the meantime another serious problem seems to have escaped its attention: Federal and state health-care exchanges make it nearly impossible to tell whether their plans cover elective abortion. And in some states customers don’t even have the option to purchase abortion-free coverage.
Last month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius was brought before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to be questioned about the failures of Healthcare.gov. “If someone…has strongly held pro-life views, can you commit to us to make sure that the federal exchanges that offer that [abortion coverage] is clearly identified and so people can understand if they're going to buy a policy that has abortion coverage or not?” asked Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). “I don’t know,” Sebelius answered. “I know exactly the issue you’re talking about. I will check and make sure that is clearly identifiable.”
That was November 1. It’s still nearly impossible to determine whether plans on the exchanges cover elective abortion. For example, on the New York State exchange—supposedly one of the best—the signup process is painless. You create a username and password, enter your legal name, address, Social Security number, and within moments you’re shopping for coverage. You can compare several plans at all levels of coverage (bronze, silver, gold, platinum). Monthly premiums are displayed first, followed by deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. You can explore a plan’s outpatient-services coverage, its prescription-drug coverage, mental-health services, lab tests, etc. You can even see its pediatric-vision coverage. But you can’t find out whether a plan covers elective abortion.
Read the rest right here.
Andrew Sullivan flags this piece from Mike Dwyer, headlined “My Complicated Relationship with Catholic Education.” It’s not about what’s taught or what isn’t, or about how best to instill in children values and traditions given insufficient weight in a secular culture. Instead it’s about what many education stories seem to be about these days: Money, the divide between the educational haves and have-nots, and the emergence of a separate class of students whose parents can afford annual tuitions approaching or exceeding $20,000 per year.
The once erroneous perception that a Catholic education was only for the well-off has now become a reality. What does this mean for a faith with deep roots in the middle class? Whereas parochial schools were the norm for most Catholic children a half-century ago, will there be a day when American Catholics become sharply divided among the haves and have-nots, with a private education being the wedge? I don’t know what the future holds for us, but right now is a time of great change for Catholic education and it remains to be seen how things will play out.
Raising two children in New York City has presented no shortage of challenges when it comes to selecting how they should be schooled; cost was a significant factor but so was belief and commitment to public education, and we were lucky enough to have landed in a district that was just beginning to see big improvement when my older child entered kindergarten. Over the years we’ve made (and continue to make) significant contributions, almost entirely in time volunteered; but these days, more and more fellow parents make significant contributions in treasure, and the effect is being felt in ways that do not always comport with my sense of what public education is supposed to mean. The calving off of some public schools into de facto private collectives funded by wealthy parent-teacher associations is to me a particularly troubling trend in public education.
Friends and fellow parishioners have made other, and understandable, choices in terms of educating their children – some selecting Catholic schools and others opting for well-known prestigious non-Catholic private schools, with prices topping $30,000 a year in some cases (and even higher in others). I can’t challenge their decisions; they’ve done what they feel is best in their situations, and having gone through it myself I’m aware of the difficulty of it, the weighing of variables and the sacrifices required. But it can make for interesting conversation around the dinner table. In trying to impart to our kids a sense of being attuned to the needs and differences of others, of the importance of the lived and experienced over the purchased and "consumed," the topic of their friends’ schooling sometimes comes up. Education – public, Catholic, non-Catholic-private – as an economic marker is something that even they are becoming aware of.
When I saw that Russell D. Moore had written a long piece about the so-called Evangelical “retreat” from American politics and culture wars, I was elated.
I am updating a syllabus for a course in religion and American politics, and I hoped this would be the perfect fresh take to round out our coverage of Evangelicalism. Certainly the media-savvy and next-generation Moore, the newish President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, would help my students understand the movement better than when they read speeches by his predecessor, Richard Land.
In short, I was primed for this essay.
Sadly, it is not assignable. This 4000-word feature, authored by the most prominent official of the Southern Baptists, is composed almost entirely of straw men.Read more
When I first read the headline "Health Law Rollout's Stumbles Draw Parallels to Bush's Hurricane Response" on my phone last Thursday, I ignored it because it seemed just another in the long line of attempts to identify President Obama's very own "Katrina" (2010 Gulf oil spill, 2009 H1N1 flu, 2009 GM bankruptcy -- expanded list here). Little did I know how eager the usual suspects (really, Chris Wallace?) were ready to run with it. Jon Stewart last night reintroduced some perspective.
Poor, prescient Don DeLillo, forever to be condemned for his ability to tell us how we live now a quarter of a century before we start to think about it ourselves. Rereading Libra during what Paul Elie calls “assassination season” I’m struck again by DeLillo's ability to anticipate (foretell? Warn of?) the ripple effects of each small advance in technology, every incremental expansion of media’s reach – including especially the shrugging acceptance of the manipulation of word, image, and what has come impersonally to be known as personal data. One of the characters in DeLillo’s 1988 fictional reimagining of John F. Kennedy’s assassination assembles a plot centered on a fabricated killer, a would-be assassin conjured out of fake ephemera:
He would show the secret symmetries in a nondescript life. An address book with ambiguous leads. Photos expertly altered (or crudely altered). Letters, travel documents, counterfeit signatures, a history of false names. It would all require a massive decipherment, a conversion to plain text.
The italics are mine, and meant to highlight DeLillo’s particular expertise in concisely expressing how reality can be made to seem more real by making it seem less so. A lot of “seems” in there but that’s the point; Libra is a hall of mirrors about a hall of mirrors. The notion of fractured images endlessly reflecting back on themselves, a jumble of past, present and future, is captured in the lines of another character:Read more
Space has been in the news: The Kepler telescope found five Earth-sized and possibly habitable planets oribting distant stars; scientists are able to predict the Earth is likely to be hit by more asteroids as often as every decade; and India became the seventh nation to launch a mission to Mars (four have been successful). This has us wondering – in all senses of the question – how did we end up here? And, how much has it cost?
For this Throwback Thursday we're linking to three articles from the Commonweal archives assessing the political, philosophcal, and financial implications of man’s first steps into space.
Scientist Charles M. Herzfeld wrote in 1958, a year after Sputnik and the seven other satellites soon launched by both the U.S. and U.S.S.R.:
The impact of the earth satellites on technology and the cold war are closely related. The large guided and ballistic missiles which play such a critical role in the cold war are also the tools used to launch the satellites. Thus the satellite programs have given added incentive to the expansion of the new rocket and missile industry. The development of special rocket engines, new fuels and special guidance systems is required, and because of the complexity of satellite and missile systems this demand affects large sectors of the aircraft, chemical and electronics industries.
Herzfeld contended that satellites could not be used as "launching platforms for missiles," but predicted that "some years from now satellites will be important observation and reconnaissance tools."
The expansion of the rocket and missile industry caused what John Hunt called an "Inner Space Race" in Washington. He wrote of the conflict between the Air Force and NASA in 1963 as one between "philosophies":
One philosophy, espoused by Eisenhower and officially by President Kennedy, at the insistance of the State Department, holds that U.S. rocketeering should be divided into two parts, to wit, war and "peace." The war missilery is considered useful for deterring the Russians and impressing the rest of the world with U.S. military strength. The ‘peace’ part is supposed to show off American scientific genius as superior to that of the Russian, and also to demonstrate America’s intention to build a better, brighter world with the new technologies and not just a more dangerous one.
Ronald Steel and William Lineberry wrote in 1963 on the controversies surrounding the budget for NASA:
Despite its humble beginning in the post-Sputnik year of 1959 with a $339 million budget, NASA has managed the remarkable feat of getting Congress to double its budget nearly every year until it is now asking $5.7 billion for fiscal 1964.
This proposal – along with Kennedy’s $20 billion request for the Apollo mission – was met with scrutiny.
The Kennedy Administration [had] been issuing reams of publicity handouts to justify the scientific importance of the Apollo project. The nation’s scientists have been supporting the basic goals of the space program – although not necessarily the priorities of the moon landing project – largely because of its scientific importance. They continually stress that science should be the primary consideration in the program.
If [British physicist] Dr. Boyd’s estimate [that man is a nuisance in space] is correct, and if the Apollo can be kept within its $20 billion budget, that would make our man on the moon effort add up to $2 billion for science and $18 billion for a try at prestige.
Back to Herzfeld in 1958:
Man is again extending into new worlds, and with him goes his potential for good and evil. If he has profited from his past experience, the good will far outweigh the evil, and men will formulate ethics and create institusions for the Space Age, rather than dismiss the whole challenge on a note of condemnation and ridicule.
Whether he did or didn't, there are several million angry people out there who are getting "pay more or be cancelled" notices from their insurance companies for 2014.
So what's going on? On the RIght, of course, Obama was caught in a bald-faced lie, having given his personal guarantee that all Americans could keep their current insurance if they wished. On the Left, technically Obama wasn't lying, because there is nothing in the PPACA (Obamacare) statute that says that insurance companies have to cancel policies or that anyone at all has to be forced onto the exchanges. But Obama can't control the insurance companies and their own business decisions. So it's their fault.
Everyone is spinning as fast as they can. What's really happening?Read more
A couple of new stories now on our homepage.
First, Joseph Sorrentino's photo essay on the laborers who help harvest New Mexico's green chile crop -- which amounted to about 78,000 tons worth a total of $65 million in 2012:
The people who pick it ... barely eke out a living, and some of them can’t even afford their own lodging. Sin Fronteras Organizing Project’s shelter in El Paso, Texas, opened in 1995 to house farmworkers who don’t earn enough to rent an apartment. ... The shelter can accommodate up to 125 people. A majority are men who stay there to sleep in a crowded main room; a few more are tucked in the narrow hallway outside the bathrooms. A dozen or so sleep upstairs, in a smaller room where bedding is stored on plastic shelves. A few women, generally only two or three, sleep in a tiny room off the reception area. The shelter’s accommodations are, to put it mildly, rough. There are no beds; people sleep on thin mats or blankets spread on the linoleum floor. And there is no privacy. The men’s bathroom has only one functioning urinal. The shelter is crowded, hot, and stuffy. But there aren’t many alternatives for these workers.
Read the whole thing here, and see the slide show that appears at the bottom of the story.
Also, E. J. Dionne writes on Washington's misplaced obsession with the deficit:
Since a Republican Party driven by tea-party thinking managed to make government spending and deficits Washington’s paramount concerns, the administration has backed off aggressive efforts to use government to pump much-needed energy into an economy whose tepid growth since the 2008 implosion has left 11.3 million Americans still out of work.
By putting so much effort into negotiating a failed “grand bargain” with House Speaker John Boehner in 2011 and subsequently agreeing to the sharp, across-the-board cuts of the “sequester” to get out of a crisis, President Obama contributed to the deficit chorus. Because of the fiscal tightening, our unemployment rate is probably a point higher than it would have been otherwise. We’ve done a heck of a job on the deficit, reducing it from about 10 percent of the economy in 2009 to 4 percent now. We’ve done badly by the jobless.
Read the whole thing here.
Just posted to the homepage, two new stories. In this web-exclusive response to Germain Grisez, Dennis O’Brien writes on Francis and the character of Christian truth:
It is often commented that unlike many other great sages and spiritual leaders of humankind, Jesus never wrote a word; his impact was in live speech. The primacy of live speech, face-to-face communication, is a deep lesson about the nature of Christian truth and teaching. I believe that Pope Francis in the interview places the particular person speaking prior to instruction. The interview with Civilità Cattolica starts with “Who is Jorge Maria Bergoglio?” The answer: “I am a sinner—a sinner who has been forgiven by Christ.” For Francis, the voice that claims to teach the truths of Christianity is the voice of a forgiven sinner. Grisez might counter that this is all very well for Bergoglio, but not for one charged with the office of pope. The pope should speak in a “universal” voice, not as Ratzinger or Bergoglio. I think a universal voice fails to carry the full Christian message, and that is the radical shift that Pope Francis effects. Face-to-face is the site of Christian teaching.
Also posted: E. J. Dionne Jr. on where Obamacare is working, and where it isn’t.
States that created their own healthcare exchanges -- and especially those that did this while also expanding Medicaid coverage -- are providing health insurance to tens of thousands of happy customers, in so many cases for the first time.
Those seeking a model for how the law is supposed to operate should look to Kentucky. Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat in a red state, has embraced with evangelical fervor the cause of covering 640,000 uninsured Kentuckians. …
Beshear urges us to keep our eyes on the interests of those the law is intended to serve, our uninsured fellow citizens. "These 640,000 people are not some set of aliens,” he says. “They’re our friends and neighbors ... some of them are members of our families.” As for the troubled national website, Beshear offered this: “If I could give unsolicited advice to the critics, and maybe to the media, it’s: Take a deep breath.”
Wise counsel. But there can be no denying the system failure that is a profound embarrassment to the Obama administration and threatens to undermine all the good the law could do, since its enemies will use any excuse to discredit it.
George McKenna, then a political scientist at the City College of New York, wrote a terrific piece for the Atlantic in 1995, “On Abortion: A Lincolnian Position.” I recommended it to friends, both defenders and opponents of Roe, and quoted from it on occasion in talks. McKenna argued that Lincoln, although firmly opposed to slavery as a great moral evil, knew that it was politically impossible to abolish the practice where it already existed. The only tenable political position for those seeking to end slavery was to oppose its establishment in new territories and states. Once cabined in that fashion, slavery would eventually collapse on its own. McKenna drew a strong parallel between Lincoln’s position on slavery and the prolife cause. It was a long essay and a subtle argument, but McKenna summarized his proposed prolife strategy in the following phrase: “permit, restrict, discourage.” That position made a lot of sense to me, especially McKenna’s observation that “we must remember that [Lincoln] intended to conduct his argument before the American people. Lincoln knew that in the final analysis durable judicial rulings on major issues must be rooted in the soil of American opinion. ‘Public sentiment,’ he said, ‘is everything’ in this country.’”
Given my familiarity with McKenna’s Atlantic article, you can imagine my surprise when I read his criticism in the current issue of the Human Life Review of Peter Steinfels’s Commonweal essay on abortion, “Beyond the Stalemate.” Peter hardly needs me or anyone else to defend him, and he may respond to McKenna’s “A Bad Bargain” essay here at dotCommonweal or elsewhere at some point in the near future. But I will comment on what McKenna has to say about Commonweal and what he presumes motivates the “liberal or progressive” Catholic audience for which Peter is writing.Read more
Now featured on the homepage, Charles R. Morris on what could happen should the U.S. default on its debt:
What is most scary about the possibility that Congress will fail to authorize an increase in the national debt limit is that no one really knows what the consequences might be. But it is not alarmism to fear that such a step could trigger a global recession....
The most immediate impact of a default will be on countries—from the Middle East to East Asia—that currently hold trillions in surplus dollar balances. They will suffer major losses, which will accelerate the move toward trading in other currencies, something long-bruited by countries that resent America’s financial dominance. The United States will be punished as its own cost of borrowing rises substantially, and possibly permanently....
The effect on world trade could be catastrophic, as buyers and sellers attempt to reprice cargoes in midstream. When Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan Chase, said that a default “would ripple through the global economy in ways that you can’t possibly understand,” he really meant it.
Though the House did nothing yesterday to address the crisis, the Senate could review and announce a deal today that would fund the government through January 15 (at the levels reflecting the cuts enacted in March) and raise the debt ceiling through February. Sen. John McCain says that, as he predicted, Republicans have lost a battle they never could have won, and Sen. Lindsey Graham says Republicans "really did go too far."
From yesterday's Wall Street Journal:
This is the quality of thinking—or lack thereof—that has afflicted many GOP conservatives from the beginning of this budget showdown. They picked a goal they couldn't achieve in trying to defund ObamaCare from one House of Congress, and then they picked a means they couldn't sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit.
Jonathan Strong at The Corner has an insider's account, quoting a senior GOP aide--"It's all over. We'll take the Senate deal"--and passing this along:
The Christian rite accompanying legislative chaos [Tuesday] was Florida representative Steve Southerland’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” — “all three verses,” said Representative Michael Burgess (Texas) afterwards in amazement. But Southerland is an undertaker by trade, and the song is normally sung at funerals. It’s hard not to see [Tuesday's] failure as the death of the House GOP’s role, in at least this standoff.
Now on the website, our editors on the strategy of the Republican majority in Congress.
Initially, the House Republicans’ refusal to pass a continuing-funding resolution to keep the government open was tied to the unreasonable demand that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) be repealed, defunded, or delayed. … Recognizing that the ACA cannot be stopped, Speaker John Boehner has shifted his position and now wants the president and the Democrats to negotiate a budget bill that includes significant spending cuts before he will allow a vote on the continuing resolution. But earlier this year the Democrats already agreed to cut $70 billion from the budget without increasing revenues, only to have the House reject the bill. Understandably, the president and the Democrats are now determined that the government be reopened before they negotiate a final budget. If he were to capitulate to the House’s demands, the president argues, every future budget could be held hostage by a radical and unrepresentative minority in Congress, and the constitutional system would grind to a halt. If democracy is to work, a minority cannot nullify the legislative will of the majority.
Even worse, Tea Party Republicans are also refusing to extend the nation’s debt ceiling unless the president and the Democrats comply with their demands. This is an invitation to anarchism. If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling by October 17, widespread economic damage is almost certain. Whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, the vast majority of Americans are shocked and outraged that some in Congress are endangering the economic well-being and security of the nation, if not the world, in pursuit of their narrow ideological agenda….
“Americans,” Andrew Bacevich writes [in his book Breach of Trust], have “abandoned collective obligation in favor of personal choice.”… It is hard not to see this dynamic at work in the current political crisis. The Tea Party scoffs at the notion that “collective obligation” or “sacred civic responsibilities”—to provide health-care insurance to those who cannot afford it, for instance—might even exist. Rather, the movement upholds as sacred the right to be left alone.
Read the whole thing here.
Now on the website: At the end of Day 1 of the government shutdown, E. J. Dionne Jr. writes on the real goal of the right wing:
Can anyone now doubt who is responsible for Washington’s dysfunction? The Republican right still does not accept the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency. This is why much of the government shut down.
The issue here is not that Congress failed to reach a “compromise.” The Democrats already have compromised, lopping about $70 billion off their budget proposal, to the dismay of many liberals. That was meaningless to a tea party crowd that seems to care not a whit about the deficit, despite its fulsome talk. It will be satisfied only if Congress denies health care coverage to about 25 million Americans, which is what “repealing Obamacare” really means.
It needs to be said over and over as long as this stupid and artificial crisis brewed by the tea party continues: Financing the government in a normal way and avoiding a shutdown should not be seen as a “concession.” Making sure the government pays its debt is not a “concession.” It’s what we expect from a well-functioning constitutional system. It’s what we expect from decent stewards of our great experiment. The extremists who have taken over the House do not believe in a normal, constitutional system. They believe only in power.
"Who's affected by the government shutdown?" "What does it mean for you?"
Those are the stories media outlets have ready to go today. There will be lots of worthy accounts. Already I got a text message from my best friend -- an Iraq veteran and cancer researcher in both the Public Health Service and the National Institutes of Health. "Not bad traffic today. LOL." Sometimes one has to laugh in the face of idiocy.
The NIH already suffered under sequestration, as Francis Collins tried valiantly to continue the world's leading medical research facilities despite across-the-board cuts. Also affected today will be the Center for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency, and several other "common good" entities, the kind of organizations disrespected by the roughly 30 Republicans who shutdown the government last night.
As GOP insider Byron York noted yesterday, the Republicans overall did not want this.
"Analysts say the Congressional GOP doesn't understand strategy," the Republican said. "I'm like, 'Congressional GOP' my ass! It's 30 idiots who can't get us to 217."
This morning I'm wondering whom those 30 Republicans have in mind, when they think about the effects of a shutdown.
Do they ponder the Republican business-owner in Arizona, the one who has been trying to expand her workforce and do right by her employees, trying not to hire undocumented immigrants but also not to racially profile potential hires? Do they think of her, when she finds out that "E-verify" is not going to work this week?Read more
Here we are: Government Shutdown Week, a new biannual tradition. If you're just tuning in, the House Republicans are holding the global economy hostage unless President Obama repudiates the Affordable Care Act, his administration's signature domestic policy achievement.
That law was passed by Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court. Its passage was not a surprise to anyone paying attention, having been preceded by very open debate going back decades. Its basic principles were developed by a conservative think tank, a similar plan was tried at the state level by a Republican governor of a large state, and its details were debated repeatedly in the Democratic primaries of 2008. It was debated so much during those debates that most viewers were bored. Everyone watching knew that a Democratic president would seek health care reform. Most people thought it would be more left-wing than the final product. Far from being "pushed through" or "rammed through" or whatever other tyrannical metaphor one might choose, the road to the Affordable Care Act was in reality a model of procedural governance in a modern democracy.
A small band of Republicans now will shutdown the government because they are mad that they lost. But they are pitching it as a prophetic action to call attention to the federal government's spending problem. The problem with that analysis of the spending problem is that deficits have been going down under Obama (handy charts here). A further problem is that not raising the debt ceiling will have no effect on any of the issues that they want to address. It won't change the prior commitments Congress has made, in terms of expenses or revenues.Read more
The Affordable Care Act is more popular among Republicans than Obamacare, by a 22% to 14% margin, and among the general population, 39% to 34%, according to a Fox News poll.
According to Pew, of the 53% of Americans surveyed who disapprove of the ACA, 27% want Congress to make it work as well as possible, while 23% want Congress to “do what they can to make it fail.” Among the Tea Party, 64% want their representatives to work actively at making it fail. “The Tea Party wing of the GOP is dead set on sabotaging Obamacare above all else,” writes Kevin Drum at Mother Jones.
Jonathan Chait looks at that effort, and gives details on the status of reforms:
Health-care inflation since 2011 has fallen to its lowest level in half a century. The Congressional Budget Office estimates of Obamacare’s costs, widely derided at the time of its passage as too optimistic, have thus far proven too pessimistic. The agency has already cut $600 billion off the expected ten-year spending total for Medicare and Medicaid. If the reforms continue to bear fruit, costs will come in even lower.
And health experts increasingly expect the reforms will bear fruit. “The ongoing slowdown in the health-care growth rate defies historical post-recession patterns and is likely to be sustained,” concluded PriceWaterhouse-Coopers in June. “It appears that the reforms will stick and health-care exchanges and other policies will bring competitive pressure to markets,” says Randall Ellis, a professor of health-care economics. “Although the proof for this point of view is not yet definitive,” reports the Health Affairs blog, “the depth and breadth of change suggest that significant transformation in the nation’s delivery system is under way.” Among health-care wonks, this is no longer a controversial assertion: The evidence thus far suggests Obamacare’s cost reforms are a staggering success.
The Wall St. Journal says the defunding drive is a political loser:
Mr. Obama is never, ever going to unwind his signature legacy project of national health care. Ideology aside, it would end his Presidency politically. And if Republicans insist that any spending bill must defund ObamaCare, then a showdown is inevitable that shuts down much of the government. Republicans will claim that Democrats are the ones shutting it down to preserve ObamaCare. Voters may see it differently given the media's liberal sympathies and because the repeal-or-bust crowd provoked the confrontation. …
We've often supported backbenchers who want to push GOP leaders in a better policy direction, most recently on the farm bill. But it's something else entirely to sabotage any plan with a chance of succeeding and pretend to have "leverage" that exists only in the world of townhall applause lines and fundraising letters.
The Congressional Budget Office warns of unsustainable debt levels by 2023, due mainly to the rising costs of Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. In response to the report, Paul Ryan, leader of the House Budget Committee, suggests eliminating Obamacare.
Our September 27 issue is now live. Here are some of the stories we’re highlighting.
Paul Moses, in “Here to Stay,” looks at how Latinos are changing the country and the church.
[Long] term, it’s unclear how Latino voters will respond as their incomes rise—and as they are assimilated into American culture. Will they follow the path of other once-impoverished immigrant communities, such as Italians? Another open question is how many Latino Catholics in this country will remain Catholic. Young Latinos are not immune to the effects of secularism. Nor will they be unaffected by Protestant efforts to win them over—a trend across Latin America.
What is clear, as the Pew Research Hispanic Center predicted in 2007, is that “Latinos will bring about important changes in the nation’s largest religious institution.” Like politicians, Catholic bishops are learning that they can’t succeed if Latino Catholics don’t share their priorities. The bishops’ campaign against the Obama administration’s contraception-coverage mandate may have helped Mitt Romney take 59 percent of the white Catholic vote, but the Latino-Catholic vote overrode it to deliver the overall Catholic vote to Obama. The bishops’ new, more activist approach to seeking citizenship for undocumented immigrants—urging priests to give homilies on the subject, targeting members of Congress with phone calls, parish pilgrimages, and Masses dedicated to immigration reform—seems to reflect an awareness of the 2012 election’s demographic lesson. This new approach is similar to the one often taken to abortion or same-sex marriage. In June, when Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to all parishes of the Archdiocese of New York asking Catholics to support the bishops on “two important issues,” immigration reform and abortion, he mentioned immigration first.
Andrew J. Bacevich and R. Scott Appleby debate the current state of the peace movement, and whether it’s capable of exerting influence on U.S. policy [subscription]. “For Dorothy Day,” Bacevich writes,
The unfolding of salvation history may have provided an appropriate context in which to situate the Catholic Worker movement (or Christianity as a whole). In that context, the timetable may be unknown, but the outcome is predetermined. The Good News ultimately culminates in good news. Hence Day’s counsel of patience.
For the peace movement, however, it’s what happens in the meantime that counts. Whatever may await humanity at the end of time, afflictions endured in the here-and-now matter a great deal. Peace activists cannot state with confidence that history will ultimately yield a happy verdict. The persistence of large-scale political violence suggests grimmer possibilities.
Andrew Bacevich’s essay is confused—theologically, conceptually, and factually. As a result, it delivers half-truths, not least regarding “the peace movement.” Let’s begin with the theological. Dorothy Day is not our only option for gauging the impact of peacebuilding. Indeed, Bacevich’s version of Day is not even a recognizable theological option. Contra Bacevich, Kingdom of God theology—what he refers to as “salvation history”—hardly ignores “afflictions endured in the here-and-now”; nor does it postpone the pursuit of justice and the repair of the earth until “the end of time.” The reason Day and her followers concentrated on the works of mercy, prophetic witness, and solidarity with the victims of structural, cultural, and physical violence is that such actions constitute participation in God’s redemptive presence now, here, on this earth. Living as the poor and among the homeless, eschewing all forms of violence, railing against militarism—these were not futile acts or hollow metaphors but primary symbols, fully participating in the reality to which they refer.
Also in the new issue, Lucja Swiatkowski Cannon on the grim and largely untold real history of Poland’s wartime suffering, Celia Wren on the PBS series “The Hollow Crown,” and Mary Frances Coady on her sojourn through the Jordan desert.
And, E. J. Dionne Jr. writes on the repercussions of last week’s vote in Colorado that saw proponents of recently passed gun laws recalled from office – this more or less the same time as Iowa passes a law allowing the blind to carry weapons in public, as new data reveals the effect of gun violence on women, and as authorities continue to investigate the latest mass shooting: eleven reported killed today at the Washington, D.C., naval yard.
A few months ago, there was some good discussion on the blog about the persistently large gap in income inequality. And though the Occupy movement no longer garners headlines, the problem of income inequality remains a core moral issue for many Americans. It is widely thought that Bill de Blasio's focus on the topic has aided his rise in the New York City mayoral race. Andrew Sullivan's influential blog continues its coverage of the data, which shows that just since 2009, top 1% income has grown by 31.4% and everyone else's has been basically flat. Our own E. J. Dionne continues to cover the politics of inequality, and the U.S.C.C.B. has not shied away from it in its advocacy.
Last time we talked about it on this blog, we focused on ratios of CEO-to-worker pay in a given year, and David Cloutier followed up with a longer analysis at Catholic Moral Theology. But the problem is about more than a given year -- it's about the long-term trend from the late 1970's to the present. Timothy Noah has called this period The Great Divergence, in a multifaceted analysis of the possible causes of the growing gap. To my mind, the long-term story offers a compelling moral problem for our time, and one without an easy solution.
Average CEO compensation, according to EPI’s calculations, rose 726.7 percent between the years of 1978 and 2011 — more than double the percentage increase in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. Meanwhile, pay for the average private-sector nonsupervisory worker rose a startlingly meager 5.7 percent. ...
My guess is that it’s this inequality that really erodes worker satisfaction and guts employee morale far more than the discrepancy between the top and bottom in any one year’s pay.
I think she's right. Everyone expects annual ratios of 20-to-1 or even 200-to-1 in our form of capitalism. But the fact that purchasing power has not trickled down in the long run -- over my whole lifetime -- is what drains energy and optimism.
One feature of Pope Francis's pontificate has been a renewed emphasis on moral issues that had been thought of as peripheral for many Catholics. He has expanded the core of what counts as a central moral issue. But it's worth remembering that his predecessor had strong words on growing inequality, such as those quoted in the U.S.C.C.B.'s letter from Labor Day:
The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require, particularly today, that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner, and that we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone. . . . Through the systemic increase of social inequality . . . not only does social cohesion suffer, thereby placing democracy at risk, but so too does the economy, through the progressive erosion of "social capital" . . . indispensable for any form of civil coexistence. (Caritas in Veritate no. 32)
Evangelical leader Jim Wallis is famous for saying, "The federal budget is a moral document." I agree. But every budget is a moral document -- from that of Wal-Mart down to that of each family's breakfast table. In a democracy, the problem of income inequality is everyone's problem. And it's not going away.
Our September 13 issue is now live on the website.
Some of the highlights:
Leslie Woodcock Tentler writes on Detroit:
Those of us who have watched Detroit’s long dying tend to think in terms of the physical city—the abandonment of buildings, their subsequent decay and finally, if the city does its job of demolition, the rubble-strewn lot. For a very long time, I found love in the ruins (to borrow from Walker Percy). Life has hung on stubbornly in Detroit, in such unexpected forms as the flourishing Hungarian bakery, now gone, that I stumbled upon in a decaying working-class enclave close to the city’s western border. (The proprietor had provided each of the often-married Gabor sisters with wedding cakes, which presumably helped his bottom line.) St. Cecilia’s Church, with its apse mural of a black Christ, provided refuge to the Tentler family when it seemed that nearly every Catholic in our nominal home parish worshipped at the shrine of Ronald Reagan. Those memorable Cecilia’s Sundays, suffused with incense and gospel music, probably kept my children in the fold. The Detroit Institute of Arts, a refuge of another sort since my adolescence, still delights with its dazzling collection and especially its famed Rivera murals, paid for with a second generation of Ford money. Flower Day at the city’s sprawling Eastern Market, a plant-buying orgy for gardeners throughout the region, provided—and indeed continues to provide—a pageant of interracial good fellowship.
One can still find love in the ruins of Detroit, but it’s harder now. So much of the city has disappeared that recent visits have left me disoriented. (I tend to navigate by landmarks, an astonishing number of which are gone.) A new generation of urban pioneers now hoists the banner of optimism—“say nice things about Detroit!”—while I alternate between rage and despair. Yes, there are signs of life there, some of them new, like the city’s flourishing arts scene. But the decay is so vast and the human suffering so appalling that optimism seems not just delusional—an old Detroit problem—but almost obscene.
Margaret O'Brien Steinfels on the Catholic church as a "lazy monopoly" (subscription required):
Some would argue that the Catholic Church, claiming a monopoly on truth as well as salvation, has no course correction to make. That has been the stand of recent popes and their episcopal appointees, who have rescinded or tinkered with Vatican II reforms and ruled out further change. Complaints have gone unheard, while conforming members have been embraced. And many have left.
Parents and friends of former Catholics now singing in a Baptist choir, serving on the vestry of an Episcopal parish, or meditating in a Buddhist monastery may be relieved that they’re still praying, still believing in something. Perhaps even the “lazy monopolists” consider that these sheep are not lost, simply misplaced. But what of the “nones,” those who abandon religion altogether or just drift away from it. We seem strangely indifferent to their exit. If 12 million people stopped brushing their teeth, we’d all take notice.