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“It Takes A Policy”: The State Of Child Care In America Is Cruel And Shameful

U.S. politicians love to pose as defenders of family values. Unfortunately, this pose is often, perhaps usually, one of remarkable hypocrisy.

And no, I’m not talking about the contrast between public posturing and personal behavior, although this contrast can be extreme. Which is more amazing: the fact that a long-serving Republican speaker of the House sexually abused teenage boys, or how little attention this revelation has received?

Instead, I’m talking about policy. Judged by what we actually do — or, more accurately, don’t do — to help small children and their parents, America is unique among advanced countries in its utter indifference to the lives of its youngest citizens.

For example, almost all advanced countries provide paid leave from work for new parents. We don’t. Our public expenditure on child care and early education, as a share of income, is near the bottom in international rankings (although if it makes you feel better, we do slightly edge out Estonia.)

In other words, if you judge us by what we do, not what we say, we place very little value on the lives of our children, unless they happen to come from affluent families. Did I mention that parents in the top fifth of U.S. households spend seven times as much on their children as parents in the bottom fifth?

But can our neglect of children be ended?

In January, both Democratic candidates declared their support for a program that would provide 12 weeks of paid leave to care for newborns and other family members. And last week, while the news media was focused on Donald Trump’s imaginary friend, I mean imaginary spokesman, Hillary Clinton announced an ambitious plan to improve both the affordability and quality of U.S. child care.

This was an important announcement, even if it was drowned out by the ugliness and nonsense of a campaign that is even uglier and more nonsensical than usual. For child-care reform is the kind of medium-size, incremental, potentially politically doable — but nonetheless extremely important — initiative that could well be the centerpiece of a Clinton administration. So what’s the plan?

O.K., we don’t have all the details yet, but the outline seems pretty clear. On the affordability front, Mrs. Clinton would use subsidies and tax credits to limit family spending on child care — which can be more than a third of income — to a maximum of 10 percent. Meanwhile, there would be aid to states and communities that raise child-care workers’ pay, and a variety of other measures to help young children and their parents. All of this would still leave America less generous than many other countries, but it would be a big step toward international norms.

Is this doable? Yes. Is it desirable? Very much so.

When we talk about doing more for children, it’s important to realize that it costs money, but not all that much money. Why? Because there aren’t that many young children at any given time, and it doesn’t take a lot of spending to make a huge difference to their lives. Our threadbare system of public support for child care and early education costs 0.4 percent of the G.D.P.; France’s famously generous system costs 1.2 percent of the G.D.P. So we could move a long way up the scale with a fairly modest investment.

And it would indeed be an investment — every bit as much of an investment as spending money to repair and improve our transportation infrastructure. After all, today’s children are tomorrow’s workers and taxpayers. So it’s an incredible waste, not just for families but for the nation as a whole, that so many children’s futures are stunted because their parents don’t have the resources to take care of them as well as they should. And affordable child care would also have the immediate benefit of making it easier for parents to work productively.

Are there any reasons not to spend a bit more on children? The usual suspects will, of course, go on about the evils of big government, the sacred nature of individual choice, the wonders of free markets, and so on. But the market for child care, like the market for health care, works very badly in practice.

And when someone starts talking about choice, bear in mind that we’re talking about children, who are not in a position to choose whether they’re born into affluent households with plenty of resources or less wealthy families desperately trying to juggle work and child care.

So can we stop talking, just for a moment, about who won the news cycle or came up with the most effective insult, and talk about policy substance here?

The state of child care in America is cruel and shameful — and even more shameful because we could make things much better without radical change or huge spending. And one candidate has a reasonable, feasible plan to do something about this shame, while the other couldn’t care less.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 16, 2016

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Child Care, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton | , , , , | 1 Comment

“I Don’t Vote My Self-Interests”: Get Off My Lawn, Bernie Kids! Why I’m Voting For Hillary Clinton

So I see from Twitter that some genius has gone on Zillow and found my house. I think this must’ve happened in response to something I said on the Stephanie Miller radio show on Wednesday, discussing my last column, about how some people can afford to cast votes around their hopes and dreams while others vote to protect rights and gains that the other side wants to take away from them.

I don’t recall my exact words, but they were something to the effect that that idiot Susan Sarandon’s life isn’t going to change one way or the other no matter who’s president, and for that matter, neither is mine, not that I’m rich, but I make a good living, so my life won’t change, yadda yadda, which I suppose is what put the wheel in spin. So now people who want to know such things know what I paid for my house, and yeah, it’s kind of a lot, this being suburban Washington, D.C., and I guess the point is supposed to be that I’m an out-of-touch elitist or something, just the kind of sellout you’d expect to support Hillary over Bernie.

So I have a nice house. So what? I earned it. I didn’t inherit much. Dad made a lot of money, but he lost a lot, too, always trying to outsmart the market. And he made a hell of a lot less than he could have. His funeral was like George Bailey’s funeral—I lost count of the number of grown men who came up to me crying, telling me about the mountains of legal work Dad had done for them over the years for free.

I mention my father because he’s the one who taught me that people like us don’t vote our self-interest. We’re going to be fine. So I listened to him. I don’t vote my self-interest. I vote the interests of people with houses that cost a quarter of what mine cost. If I wanted to vote according to my naked self-interest, I’d vote Republican. They’ll give me a nice tax cut. No thanks. Don’t want it.

So I vote for other people’s interests. The kinds of interests I wrote about the other day—economic welfare, of course, but voting rights, rights for immigrants, all the rest. The things the Republican Party wants to yank away from people. And you know what? I actually just think that Hillary Clinton will do a better job of defending those interests than Bernie Sanders will. Nobody makes me say that. Chelsea isn’t sending me secret messages. I just think it.

How can that possibly be? It is true that Clinton is too much an incrementalist and centrist for my tastes. She’s gotten a lot of things wrong—the Iraq vote, those speeches and all that lucre, way more money that any normal person needs to have. And yet, I also think two other things. She’s tough as steel; and she might turn out to be good at persuading the Republicans to deal.

Can anyone seriously doubt the first point? For a quarter-century, she’s been called everything you can call a person. They wanted to finish her. Put her in jail. Still do. And this wasn’t because she did anything wrong. Jill Abramson got it right this week: Clinton is fundamentally not corrupt. So it wasn’t that. Rather, it was because to the hard right, she was just too aggressive for a woman. But you can’t destroy a person for that, so you have to find something else.

But she’s endured all of it and stayed in the game. And no, it’s not because she’s power-mad, another well-worn right-wing (and seriously sexist) trope. She’s in it for mostly the right reasons—and because she doesn’t want to let the people trying to destroy her have her scalp, which is a damn good reason on its own.

As for my second point, we have her record as a senator to look back on. True, neither she nor Sanders did much in terms of legislation, but legislation is an overrated part of what a senator does. From what I’m told from senators I know, she’s a better kibbitzer, especially with Republicans. Remember—what do I mean, remember? You don’t even know this!—she went into the Senate with the then-Republican leader wishing her dead (kinda jokingly but kinda not) and harrumphing that in the event that she did survive, she would surely be put in her place. Within a year, many of them loved her.

Yeah, I know. To some of you, more evidence of her hackery. But maybe it’s just evidence that she’s a person whose word is good and who is someone to be taken seriously. So maybe she can sit down with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and horse-trade her way to a paid family leave bill. That one thing would make life dramatically better for millions.

And I think it’s one more thing than Sanders would pass. As for my two criteria applied to him, let’s have a look. One, we don’t know if he’s tough. Yeah, he’s originally from Brooklyn. But Vermont isn’t exactly Cook County. And as for horse-trading, he doesn’t talk as if it interests him very much, but if you’re going to be a successful president, it has to.

It has to interest you because millions of people are counting on you to do something to help them. Not people like me. My needs from the state are few. I’m for the person who I think will do more for people whose needs from the state are great. On paper, I probably agree with Sanders as much as I do with Clinton. But politics isn’t about having one’s own views reflected back to one.

And a people’s revolution that can be blocked by a mere 41 senators, which the Republicans will never not have, is going to fail and disappoint.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Women in Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Challenge Of Being Paul Ryan”: He’s Been Anointed As A Savior, And Saviors Often Meet A Bad End

Paul Ryan had excellent reasons for not wanting to be speaker of the House. He’s a smart guy and knows that the Republican caucus he is about to lead is nearly ungovernable. He’s been anointed as a savior, and saviors often meet a bad end.

Moreover, the Wisconsin native (and ardent Packers fan) is still very much a work in progress. He was happy to stay away from the center stage as he mapped out the next steps of his life and the direction of his thinking. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he could pick his fights and choose the issues he wanted to highlight. As speaker, the issues will often pick him and he may well have to wage battles he might prefer to avoid.

Ryan has always wanted to be several things at the same time, and they have not been easy to keep in balance.

On the one hand, he is, from my experience, a genuinely nice and warm person who wants to be seen as thoughtful, wonkish and willing to delve deeply into policy details. He’s a religious man who knows that his faith teaches the imperative of compassion and the urgency of justice. He has repeatedly given speeches declaring his determination to alleviate poverty.

But he is also an ideologue — one reason the right-wingers in the House could accept him as speaker. He has said that the unforgiving libertarianism of Ayn Rand — whose books include one called “The Virtue of Selfishness” — inspired him to enter politics. In a speech before the Heritage Foundation in 2011, he divided the world between “takers” and “makers” and spoke of government programs as creating “a hammock that ends up lulling people into lives of dependency and complacency.” I doubt that poor people think they spend their lives swaying gently between the trees.

The budgets he has proposed over the years are his signature. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal group that is very careful about its numbers, repeatedly found that roughly two-thirds of the cuts in Ryan’s budgets came from programs for low- and moderate-income people. Take that, you takers!

Had Ryan not been pushed toward the speakership, he would have more room to refine his views and would not face constant pressure to appease the right. That pressure led him to criticize the process that outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) used to save Ryan from having to deal with impossible problems around the budget and the debt ceiling. Being Paul Ryan has just gotten even harder.

But let’s give Ryan a brief respite by focusing on his virtues. When he insisted that he would not take the speaker’s job unless he could protect his “family time,” he showed what kind of person he is and made a statement that could transform the debate about work and family.

I personally identify with Ryan because we were both 16 when our dads died and, like him, I have three kids. Time with my family has been a treasure for me, too. Good for Ryan for placing his family at the heart of his life.

Yet his statement brought him immediate and sharp criticism because he had voted against mandatory paid family leave. Rather than resenting his critics, he should take them very seriously by admitting that he enjoys a degree of bargaining power that so many Americans lack. And he should not pretend that the “flex time” proposals he has endorsed are the answer. They would merely undermine employees’ existing rights to overtime.

Ryan might take a look at a 2006 essay in the Weekly Standard by Yuval Levin, a conservative thinker I am sure he admires, acknowledging the tension between the market and the family. Levin noted that the market “values risk-taking and creative destruction that can be very bad for family life” and that “the libertarian and the traditionalist are not natural allies.”

Sometimes, despite what Ayn Rand says, government action is essential to preserving individual rights in the marketplace and protecting the integrity of family life. Many families are under severe economic pressures. There are times when only government is in a position to relieve them, often through the programs Ryan would cut.

Thus a hope: Ryan could use the first days of his speakership to signal his intention of bridging at least some of the great ideological gaps in our country. A man who so honorably values his own family could start by changing his mind on family leave.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 28, 2015

October 31, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, Ideologues, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“From Someone Who Was Raised In Privilege”: Jeb Bush Wants Us To Work More For The Collective Good. Who’s The Socialist Now?

Former governor Jeb Bush’s announcement this week that he thinks people should work more hours puts him in direct opposition to the two leading contenders on the Democratic side – both of whom are pushing proposals that will allow people to work less. This could mean that 2016 will be an election in which work hours play a central role.

Bush’s comment came during a speech in which he listed the things that Americans need to do to reach his target of 4.0% annual GDP growth “as far as the eye can see”: increase labor force participation, work longer hours, and increase productivity. (It was not the first time that Bush said that he thought people should work more – he previously argued for raising the normal retirement age for Social Security.)

The sight of someone who was raised in privilege and relied on family connections to make his careers in business and politics telling the rest of the American public that they have to work more will make good fodder for Bush’s political opponents. But this position is actually held by many people in policy circles in both political parties.

Even if almost no one thinks that Bush’s 4.0% permanent growth target is remotely plausible, those that agree with his premise that Americans need to work more argue that we need more workers in order to sustain economic growth at all. In particular, they posit that, as our population ages, we will have to keep people in the work force beyond the current retirement age and get more hours of work from them each year until they do retire.

This view is striking given that the United States – and most of the rest of the world – has been suffering from the opposite problem for the last eight years: we don’t have enough jobs for the people who want them. The United States, Europe, and Japan all have fewer people working than would like to work because there is insufficient demand in the economy. Obviously we can’t both have a shortage of workers and a shortage of jobs at the same time.

One of the theories that is getting widely (and wrongly) repeated is that none of us will have work because robots are taking all the jobs. But, while the robots taking all our jobs story is an exaggeration, the basic point is right: we are seeing rising productivity, which means that we can produce more goods and services with the same amount of labor. Productivity, including that spurred by technological innovation, is the basis for rising living standards.

Historically, the benefits from higher productivity are higher pay and more leisure – if we go back a century, for instance, work weeks of 60 or even 70 hours a week were common. But while the American work week has been largely fixed at 40 hours a week for the last 70 years, other countries have pursued policies to shorten the work week and/or work year through paid sick days, paid family leave, and paid vacation.

Several European countries have actively pushed policies of work sharing as an alternative to unemployment: the government compensates workers, in part, for a reduction in hours rather than paying unemployment insurance to someone who has lost their job. Germany has led the way in pushing work sharing policies, which is an important factor in its 4.7% unemployment rate. And, as a result of work sharing and other policies, the average worker in Germany puts in almost 25% fewer hours each year than workers in the United States, according to the OECD. Most other wealthy countries are similar to Germany: in the Netherlands, the average work year is 21% shorter than in the US and, in Denmark, it is 20% shorter.

The leading Democratic contenders are proposing policies to bring the US more in line with the rest of the world’s work weeks. Secretary Clinton indicated that she will support paid family leave and paid sick days, although she has not yet produced specific proposals. Senator Bernie Sanders, the other leading contender, also supports paid family leave and paid sick days, and he recently offered a proposal that would guarantee all workers two weeks per year of paid vacation. That might seem like small change compared to the five to six weeks a year that is now standard in Europe, but it would be a huge gain for tens of millions of workers.

There is a long way yet before the parties select their nominees, but if the general election ends up being a contest between Jeb Bush and either Clinton or Sanders, it will present the country’s workers with an unusually clear choice. We will have one candidate who wants to ensure that people can work less but keep the same standard of living, and another who wants people to work more hours and retire later for the good of the country’s economy – and the latter candidate is the one who doesn’t identify as a socialist.

 

By: Dean Baker, The Guardian, July 12, 2015

July 13, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Lot More Incentive To Stick With Him”: Bucking Conventional Wisdom, Hillary Clinton Declines To ‘Distance Herself’ From Obama

For a long time, the conventional wisdom has been that Hillary Clinton needs to “distance herself” from Barack Obama. It’s something we hear in just about every presidential election that comes at the end of a two-term presidency, as the candidate from the same party as the departing president is told that “distancing” is key. This line is repeated whether the president is popular, unpopular, or something in between.

But if you actually look at what Clinton has been saying, it’s been hard to find any distance at all between her and the President. So if she’s worried about creating that distance, it isn’t in evidence yet.

For instance, campaigning yesterday in South Carolina, Clinton spent her time telling African-American voters that she and the President are as close as can be:

But the message Mrs. Clinton got across was specific, and it was clear: She was on Barack Obama’s side from the moment she conceded the nomination to him in 2008, she had done everything she could to help him in office, and she would follow through on much of his agenda if she were elected to succeed him.

“Some of you may remember we had a pretty vigorous campaign in 2008,” she joked, knowingly, to an approving crowd of lawmakers, local Democratic officials and others. She added, “Both President Obama and I worked really hard.”

“I went to work for him” as secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton said, “because he and I share many of the same positions about what should be done in the next presidency.”

One might argue that this only happened because she was speaking to an African-American audience, among whom Obama retains enormous loyalty. But African-Americans are the Democratic Party’s core constituency, and encouraging strong turnout among them is critical to any Democratic nominee; this won’t be the last time she does something similar.

Furthermore, it’s hard to find issues she’s discussed so far in the campaign where there’s much “distance” at all between her and Obama. That isn’t to say Clinton is going to take the identical position as Obama on everything; for instance, she’s been vague about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, suggesting she may end up opposing it. But in general, the “move to the left” people have noted in Clinton’s positions has essentially made her more in tune with Obama’s presidency than with her husband’s. Much of that is just about the evolution of their party; if Bill Clinton was running today, he’d be more liberal on many issues than he was 20 years ago, too. But the effect is to draw her closer to Obama.

Whether you believe that Clinton is taking a more liberal stance than she has in the past on issues like immigration or paid family leave because of conviction or calculation, the fact is that those positions are extremely popular. And there isn’t much the Obama administration has done overall that is crying out for distancing. Obama hasn’t had any monumental scandals or screw-ups on the scale of the Lewinsky affair or the Iraq War. His most controversial policy achievement is the Affordable Care Act — which Clinton has embraced wholeheartedly.

Reporters are going to continue to pore over Clinton’s statements with Talmudic care to try to find any evidence of distance between her and Obama. But in reality, if anyone’s working to distance themselves from a president, it’s Republicans trying to shuffle away from George W. Bush, despite the fact that he left office over six years ago.

Clinton won’t be identical to Obama, for the simple reason that they’re different people. Though they come from the same party and thus agree on most things, there will no doubt be an issue here or there on which she promises something slightly different. But let’s not forget that as much as Republicans despise Obama, he did get elected twice. If Clinton can hold his coalition together, she’ll win, too. So she has a lot more incentive to stick with him than to distance herself.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 28, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, President Obama | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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