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“Confronting The Pathologies Of Poverty:” Do We Invest In Preschools Or Prisons?

Congress is often compared to pre-K, which seems defamatory of small children. But the similarities also offer hope, because an initiative that should be on the top of the national agenda has less to do with the sequester than with the A.B.C.’s and Big Bird.

Growing mountains of research suggest that the best way to address American economic inequality, poverty and crime is — you guessed it! — early education programs, including coaching of parents who want help. It’s not a magic wand, but it’s the best tool we have to break cycles of poverty.

President Obama called in his State of the Union address for such a national initiative, but it hasn’t gained traction. Obama himself hasn’t campaigned enough for it, yet there’s still a reed of hope.

One reason is that this is one of those rare initiatives that polls well across the spectrum, with support from 84 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans in a recent national survey. And even if the program stalls in Washington, states and localities are moving ahead — from San Antonio to Michigan. Colorado voters will decide next month on a much-watched ballot measure to bolster education spending, including in preschool, and a ballot measure in Memphis would expand preschool as well.

“There’s this magical opportunity” now to get a national early education program in America, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told me. He says he’s optimistic that members of Congress will introduce a bipartisan bill for such a plan this year.

“When you think how you make change for the next 30 years, this is arguably at the top of my list,” Duncan said. “It can literally transform the life chances of children, and strengthen families in important ways.”

Whether it happens through Congressional action or is locally led, this may be the best chance America has had to broaden early programs since 1971, when Congress approved such a program but President Nixon vetoed it.

The massive evidence base for early education grew a bit more with a major new study from Stanford University noting that achievement gaps begin as early as 18 months. Then at 2 years old, there’s a six-month achievement gap. By age 5, it can be a two-year gap. Poor kids start so far behind when school begins that they never catch up — especially because they regress each summer.

One problem is straightforward. Poorer kids are more likely to have a single teenage mom who is stressed out, who was herself raised in an authoritarian style that she mimics, and who, as a result, doesn’t chatter much with the child.

Yet help these parents, and they do much better. Some of the most astonishing research in poverty-fighting methods comes from the success of programs to coach at-risk parents — and these, too, are part of Obama’s early education program. “Early education” doesn’t just mean prekindergarten for 4-year-olds, but embraces a plan covering ages 0 to 5.

The earliest interventions, and maybe the most important, are home visitation programs like Nurse-Family Partnership. It begins working with at-risk moms during pregnancy, with a nurse making regular visits to offer basic support and guidance: don’t drink or smoke while pregnant; don’t take heroin or cocaine. After birth, the coach offers help with managing stress, breast-feeding and diapers, while encouraging chatting to the child and reading aloud.

These interventions are cheap and end at age 2. Yet, in randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of evaluation, there was a 59 percent reduction in child arrests at age 15 among those who had gone through the program.

Something similar happens with good pre-K programs. Critics have noted that with programs like Head Start, there are early educational gains that then fade by second or third grade. That’s true, and that’s disappointing.

Yet, in recent years, long-term follow-ups have shown that while the educational advantages of Head Start might fade, there are “life skill” gains that don’t. A rigorous study by David Deming of Harvard, for example, found that Head Start graduates were less likely to repeat grades or be diagnosed with a learning disability, and more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

Look, we’ll have to confront the pathologies of poverty at some point. We can deal with them cheaply at the front end, in infancy. Or we can wait and jail a troubled adolescent at the tail end. To some extent, we face a choice between investing in preschools or in prisons.

We just might have a rare chance in the next couple of months to take steps toward such a landmark early education program in America. But children can’t vote, and they have no highly paid lobbyists — so it’ll happen only if we the public speak up.


By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, October 26, 2013

October 27, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Education, Poverty | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Tyranny Over The Most Vulnerable”: Women Are Bearing The Brunt Of The GOP Shutdown Fallout

The “non-essential” programs that are currently unfunded due to the shutdown are in fact essential for many women and children.

The GOP likes to say the war on women is a myth. But the government shutdown, now in its 11th day, is just the latest evidence that it is indeed alive and well. It should be no surprise that women are among those hurt most by the closure, which, predictably, is in part a reaction to the benefits that the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature achievement, guarantees women, as we wrote last week.

From the nation’s elite institutions to the oft-neglected rural areas of this country, women and their families are caught in the middle of a political impasse that has furloughed an estimated 800,000 government workers, threatens to upend the global economy, and has left critical government programs and services scrambling to secure emergency funds in order to serve America’s most vulnerable populations.

The shutdown threatens a number of programs and funding streams, including domestic violence shelters and service centers; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); the Woman, Infants, and Children Program (WIC); School Lunch; Head Start; and Title IX investigations of sexual assault on college campuses. This will have a serious impact on the health, physical safety, food security, and economic stability of women and their families.

Physical Safety

As Bryce Covert wrote last week, funds for domestic violence programs designated under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) have been suspended since October 4. (It should be no surprise that many of the House members leading the shutdown also voted against VAWA itself earlier this year.)

Small centers without access to independent funding – those that serve women with the fewest options – will only be able to weather the storm for so long. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing economic downturn, violence against women has been on the rise, with eight out of 10 shelters reporting increases in the number of women seeking help, and 74 percent of domestic violence victims staying in unsafe situations because of economic insecurity.  Demand for these services is increasing, while funding is being cut from every source. Nearly four out of five of domestic violence service providers have reported decreases in government funding over the past five years, and since October 1, many have closed their doors completely or limited their services.

The shutdown is also affecting the safety of women on college and university campuses across the country. An increasing number of institutions are under investigation for ineffective handling of sexual assault cases adjudicated under Title IX.

And with the shutdown, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has suspended investigations into alleged violations and has halted campus visits necessary for holding institutions accountable.

Food Security

The shutdown threatens the food assistance on which millions of America’s most vulnerable women and children rely. At this point, federal funding for TANF, WIC, and school lunches has been suspended. State and USDA reserve funds are being reallocated so that states can continue to provide these essential services, but they will only be able to function with these limited resources for a short time.

States are shouldering the burden to keep TANF running while the government is shuttered, but last week, 5,200 eligible families in Arizona did not receive their monthly check. Thus far Arizona has been the only state to deny this important benefit for families in need, but every day the program is more strained.

WIC, the federal program that most crucially provides formula and breastfeeding assistance for mothers in need, has also been left in the lurch. On Tuesday, officials announced that no additional WIC vouchers would be issued in the state of North Carolina, where approximately 264,000 women rely on the program. In Utah, the WIC program shut its doors and only reopened four days later because the USDA provided a $2.5 million emergency grant. Other centers are sure to face the same challenges so long as workers are furloughed and grants are on hold.

Economic Security

Head Start programs that provide childcare and education for 7,200 low-income children ages 0-5 did not receive grants due on October 1. Thousands of low-income women are able to go to work every day because their children participate in Head Start programs. Without them, women already struggling in low-wage jobs and lacking benefits are forced to miss work, because no one else is able to care for their children. For women, secure employment is contingent on secure childcare and education for their families. The New York Times reported that programs in six states had closed due to the shutdown and then reopened temporarily thanks to a $10 million gift from a couple in Texas. Head Start will continue as a result of this short-term rescue, but private philanthropy will not be able to do the job of the government over the long term.

In sum, what some define as non-essential government services are, in fact, essential to the economic and physical well-being of America’s most vulnerable women and their families. It’s just another variation on the old adage that one man’s public interest may be another’s tyranny – in this instance, largely tyranny over women and children.


By: Andrea Flynn and Nataya Friedan, The National Memo, October 13, 2013

October 14, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down, War On Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Making Governing As Miserable As Possible”: Republicans Discover Sequester Budget Cuts Are Politically Unpopular

Back in February, a Pew Research Center poll showed that while Americans like the abstract idea of “spending cuts,” they don’t support reducing actual spending on, well, anything. Foreign aid very nearly (but not quite) achieved a majority in support of cuts, but for every other government activity – including education, entitlements, environmental protection and infrastructure – Americans are loathe to reduce the level of investment.

The GOP recently seems to have taken the public’s position to heart. Exhibit A is Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who took to the House floor last week to decry the so-called “sequester” because it “breaks everyone’s heart” to see services such as Head Start and Meals on Wheels cut. “There are numerous Republicans that voted against the sequestration because we knew all of these calamities were in the future,” Bachmann said. “Didn’t you know this was going to happen? We knew it. That’s why we voted against this bill.”

As the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler ably details, Bachmann is significantly rewriting history by claiming that she was against the sequester because it cuts too much from key services. At the time, she very publicly explained that she was against it – and other far more severe budget plans – because it did not cut enough.

But this trend goes far beyond Bachmann. Take, for instance, the GOP’s latest debt ceiling gambit. Come the fall, the federal debt limit will have to be raised again, and Republicans are already making noise about which policy concession they hope to wring out of the White House this time.

Unlike previous episodes, though, it seems that the GOP won’t demand entitlement cuts, but has instead decided that a revenue-neutral rewrite of the tax code (which would do nothing to reduce the deficit) will be the price of avoiding a self-induced economic calamity.

The reason for this shift is Republicans fear that embracing entitlement cuts such as those included in the president’s most recent budget “would be political suicide.” As New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait puts it, “Oh! So you threaten to melt down the world economy unless Obama agrees to cut spending on retirement programs, and then he offers to do that, and then you decide it’s too unpopular?”

The only GOP goal at the moment seems to be making governing as miserable as possible for the Obama administration. That leads to a lot of heated rhetoric about the threat of the deficit and the imminence of a debt crisis, scaremongering about the U.S. turning into Greece and creating the impression that there are gobs of taxpayer dollars being flushed down some bureaucrat’s toilet somewhere, thus playing off the public’s fear of a budget deficit that it doesn’t understand but knows it doesn’t like.

But when push comes to shove – and people are actually living with the effects of government spending cuts as they, for instance, try to travel by air – the GOP’s true colors show.  So we wind up with a cockamamie budget discourse in which one party doesn’t really want to cut spending but offers to do so anyway, while the other demands spending reductions but then turns them down when the president agrees.  (Unless, of course, those cuts affect discretionary spending on the poor, in which case, the GOP does nothing to stop them, but, ala Bachmann, wants none of the credit.) And all the while, the economy sputters along without the support it so desperately needs.


By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, April 30, 2013

May 1, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, Sequestration | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Wait, The Sequester Thing Is Still Happening?”: Well-Off People Soon To Finally Be Inconvenienced By Sequestration

This week, the FAA began keeping 10 percent of America’s air-traffic controllers home every day, because of a stupid federal budget argument that turned into a purposefully bad law. Furloughing a bunch of air traffic controllers has a pretty easy-to-predict effect on air travel: It causes delays. Airlines have been sending out automated emails warning travelers to expect as much. The Washington Post yesterday reported on how the first day of furloughs turned out: The New York airports had delays of “one to three hours.” By later in the day, those delays had rippled out to airports in the middle of the country. By late Monday night, LAX was still dealing with delays of more than an hour.

I am guessing that over the next few days a lot of Americans are going to hear about these delays, or be personally inconvenienced by them, and think to themselves, wait, the sequester thing is still happening? Well, yes, it is, because so far it hasn’t been that bad, for certain Americans. Other Americans, though, have been aware of the cuts since they went into effect.

Thus far, many of the people directly affected by sequestration cuts have been the sort of people whose desires and policy preferences are easily ignored by our political institutions. Larry Bartels has shown that politicians are quite responsive to the views of their rich constituents, but not particularly concerned with anyone else. “The views of middle-class constituents matter rather less, while the views of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent effect on their senators’ roll call votes.” Martin Gilens has found basically the same thing.

So far, the sequestration cuts have been particularly hard on people who rely on food pantries and Head Start and Meals on Wheels and unemployment benefits, along with more middle-income government employees and contractors. (And a bunch of scientists, but no one listens to scientists unless they’re building death rays or something.) For rich people, the most inconvenient thing about the sequestration thus far has been trying to figure out why it caused the president to threaten to drone Bob Woodward that one time.

That is going to change, once flights everywhere — but especially out of the Northeast — are suddenly being delayed and canceled all the time, for no good reason. For a really dumb, easily fixable reason, in fact. (And no, we don’t need to “fix” this with a “balance” of cuts and tax hikes, we just need to not do the sequestration. Just repeal it! Super-simple. Then have your idiotic Grand Bargain Budget Showdown.)

“Shuttle flights between Washington and New York were running 60 to 90 minutes late,” the Times reports. Do you know who takes weekday shuttle flights between Washington and New York? People who think they are too important for the train, let alone the bus. People Congress listens to. (People Congress is, also.)

Members of Congress are more likely to fly commercial than attend school on an Indian reservation. Their rich constituents, the only ones they listen to, are more likely to fly often than their constituents who, say, rely on federal housing vouchers.

So Congress may feel a bit more urgency, then, about addressing the sequestration cuts. (Pundits and journalists, too, may start treating them more seriously.) The DCA-LGA shuttle is at risk.

Not that the inconveniencing of the usually convenienced will cause an immediate sensible end to sequestration cuts. The defense cuts were supposed to ensure that right-wingers hated this, and that didn’t work. A lot of people are pretty committed to this weird showdown between the president and House Republicans. And delays and flight cancellations may make a certain type of conservative more committed to mass austerity.

There are certain Simpsony-Bowlesy people who believe quite strongly that the United States will — must — pay for the sin of Debt, by self-imposed austerity or by “becoming Greece.” Plenty of right-wingers already believe a sort of millenarism-via-Drudge in which the United States is already Greece, or some other failed state on the verge of collapse. Mass airport congestion will only nurture that pleasant feeling of inevitable, deserved decline. (This is related to the common elite opinion that mass unemployment is a sign of a country “taking its medicine.”) For some, the worse things get in America, the more evidence it is that we need to make things worse.

So, if your flight gets canceled sometime soon because a bunch of knuckleheads in Congress don’t know how sovereign debt works, just be grateful you’re not a Medicare cancer patient. (Unless you are one, too.)


By: Alex, Pareene, Salon, April 23, 2013

April 24, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Sequestration | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Outraged”: Republicans Overcome With “Sequestration NIMBYism”

It’s been about two weeks since Brian Beutler coined a helpful phrase: “sequestration NIMBYism.” Republicans love the sequester policy they hated as recently as last month, and think it’s terrific that these deep, mindless spending cuts have taken effect.

But they’re not at all pleased about sequestration cuts that hurt their own constituents. As Brian explained two weeks ago, the across-the-board nature of the policy makes it nearly inevitable that lawmakers will see some consequences in their districts and states, “but when those consequences materialize, Republicans either blame the administration or plead for special treatment.”

Jed Lewison explained this morning:

After years of doing nothing but talk about the need to cut spending, Republicans have finally started to get what they want — and it turns out they don’t like it. But instead of doing the obvious thing, which would be to change their position on austerity, they’re simply issuing press releases and statements about how they don’t like the cuts that are taking place in their own back yard.

The problem is that their solution — to make the cuts in somebody else’s back yard — isn’t really a solution. It’s just political spin. There is no magic wand to make spending cuts be painless and for Republicans to pretend otherwise is transparently dishonest and defies common sense.

We’ve covered this a bit in recent weeks, but Republican criticism of sequestration cuts appears to be intensifying. Of particular interest at this point is which cuts, in particular, have become cause for alarm.

Is it concern over Head Start closings? Food-safety furloughs? Struggling Americans going without housing assistance? Setbacks for medical research into Alzheimer’s disease and influenza? Layoffs at nuclear containment sites? Disruptions in the courts?

No, as is it turns out, the one issue that finally managed to capture Republicans’ attention is … airports.

We learned last week that the FAA, left with no choice thanks to the sequester Republicans are so fond of, is closing many air traffic control facilities in April. GOP members of Congress are outraged.

Sequestration generally provides agencies little flexibility to determine what parts of their budgets to cut — agencies with broad missions have to cut every program by the same percentage. But the majority of FAA’s employees are air traffic controllers, and as a result, FAA has identified and announced its intent to close nearly 150 relatively low-volume towers to help meet its $600 million sequestration this fiscal year.

A group of Senate Democrats and Republicans led by Jerry Moran (R-KS) attempted to reverse the scheduled closures during the debate over funding the government, and make up the spending cuts with unobligated FAA capital funds, but their amendment did not receive a vote.

The effort reflects a pattern among lawmakers — particularly GOP lawmakers — to decry sequestration cuts in their own states and districts, but decline to support a sequestration replacement plan that includes higher revenue. Instead, they support keeping small airports in their jurisdictions open at the expense of financing improvements at higher-traffic airports.

A variety of far-right Republicans, many of whom demand deep and lasting spending cuts, are now demanding that sequestration cuts bypass their constituents.

In one especially amusing story, a Texas Republican whined that spending cuts under the sequester may — wait for it — hurt the economy.

As Greg Sargent recently put it, “Welcome to Sequestration Nation.”

Note to Congress: it’s a stupid policy doing real harm to real people. Just turn the darn thing off.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 27, 2013

March 29, 2013 Posted by | Sequestration | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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