Thinking Minimum and Waiting For Yes

The minimum wage in Nevada is $7.25 per hour if the employer sponsors group health insurance policies, or $8.25 if health insurance is not part of the compensation package.  This doesn’t mean a person will automatically receive those wages because some employers are taking advantage of loopholes in current statutes [LVRJ] There are other elements which are the subject of FAQs on the Labor Commissioner’s web site. 

However, the bottom line is still that the minimum wage in Nevada is not a living wage.  The point is driven home in the realm of fast food operations, and there is talk of a bill in the upcoming session of the state legislature to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour.   Because minimum wage levels are a topic inserted in the state constitution, the raise would have to pass in two sessions and go to the voters. [LVRJ]  The second important point is that Nevada job growth is showing in sectors which employ a high number of minimum wage workers – in the sector we are pleased to call “leisure and hospitality.”

Nevada Job Growth 2014

The median wage for a fast food cook in Nevada is $18,890 per year.  [DETR]  A counter attendant can expect median annual wages of $20,990. [DETR]   Now, look at the 2014 Federal poverty guidelines:

Federal Poverty lines 2014

Obviously, there’s ample evidence from the charts above to support the contention that if employers pay sub-living level wages, then the state and local governments must make up the difference in the form of social safety net programs. In short, the taxpayers are subsidizing the businesses. 

But, but, but…  Spare me the noble story of How I Started Mowing Lawns in the 7th Grade And Worked Up To….  Only about 7% of the low wage work force in this country is composed of teenagers.  This means 93% of low wage workers are adults.  Women make up about 60% of the low wage work force, and a growing number of low wage workers are men. [LWW]

But, but, butgranted that wages are low in retail and fast food sectors but this is insufficient to raise the minimum for everyone… yes, fast food work considered nationally makes up about 5% of low wage employment.  However, we’re forgetting about data entry operators, bank tellers, child care workers, teachers’ aides, home health care providers, maids, cooks, porters, cashiers, pharmacy assistants, parking lot attendants, ambulance drivers, dry-cleaning workers, hotel receptionists, and a plethora of other low wage occupations.   The median annual wage for a home health care provider is $26,170; for a bank teller $24,940; for a grocery cashier about $21,370.  None of these jobs would get a person with a family of four above the federal poverty line.

But, but, butif we raise the minimum wage that will actually destroy jobs… this bit of mythology has been around since time out of mind.  It’s purely theoretical, rising from the minds of well paid lobbyists from the United State Chamber of Commerce, and at least five academic studies have debunked it:

“A significant body of academic research has found that raising the minimum wage does not result in job losses even during hard economic times. There are at least five different academic studies focusing on increases to the minimum wage—including increases ranging from 7 percent to 12.3 percent made during periods of high unemployment—that find an increase in the minimum wage has no significant effect on employment levels. The results are likely because the boost in demand and reduction in turnover provided by a minimum wage counteracts the higher wage costs.

Similarly, a simple analysis of increases to the minimum wage on the state level, even during periods of state unemployment rates above 8 percent, shows that the minimum wage does not kill jobs. Indeed the states in our simple analysis had job growth slightly above the national average. [...]

All the studies came to the same conclusion—that raising the minimum wage had no effect on employment.” [emphasis in original] [TProg]

But, but, butthink of the Mom and Pop store… which we would except for the fact that 2/3rds of low wage workers don’t work at the corner bodega. 2/3rds of our low wage workers labor for large corporations.  For example, WalMart has seen profits grow by 23% since the Recession, Yum! Brands by 45%, and McDonalds by a hefty 130%, with help from U.S. taxpayers supporting their personnel.  [TP]  From the April 15th edition of Forbes we learn that WalMart workers cost U.S. taxpayers approximately $6.2 billion in public assistance.  One certainly wouldn’t want to disparage the efforts of the Walton’s to create a successful business – but on the other hand there’s no reason to give the ultra-rich family gifts from the taxpayers.  McDonald’s cost the U.S. taxpayers some $1.2 billion in public assistance. [HuffPo]  A billion here, a billion there, and soon, as the late Senator Everett Dirksen opined, it starts to add up to real money.  That would be real money Mom and Pop are paying in taxation to support their competition.

And then there’s the concept – repeated to the point of redundancy – that increasing wages increases aggregate demand, and increased demand produces increased sales, and increased sales yield increased profits – for any business, large or small.

We should be asking Nevada politicians who are out seeking our votes this season: Do you support raising the minimum wage in Nevada to $15.00 per hour?  If what comes back is a “No” qualified by the standard talking points – it’s just kids, or it’s just a few jobs, or it’ll kill employment – then the politician in question is simply regurgitating the corporate line, the big corporate line.  The big corporate lie.

We’re waiting for Yes.

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Nevada politics

There were some weddings in Las Vegas

Rainbow Flag 2 Some couples got married in Las Vegas, NV yesterday, a headline which now joins “Dog bites man,” and “Spring Flowers Bloom” in the archives of conspicuous banality.   The question in Nevada shifted from “could it ever happen?” to “will it happen?” to “how come it has taken so long?”  [more from Ralston]

Conservatives who are still uncomfortable with the idea of letting a relatively small number of homosexual citizens in the state take on the joys and obligations of marriage may not take much comfort in the thought that part of their message over the last 30 years has been received:  Government should not intrude on our private lives.  And, when we’re talking about truly private matters – who can argue with that?

It’s never been a simple matter to claim religious authority in the public sphere.  It’s especially difficult in a country in which initial religious practice ranged from the Brownists in Plymouth – marriage was an invention of man without scriptural authority, to Catholics in Maryland – marriage was a sacrament. [CJPH]   However, it’s also never been a simple matter to avoid entangling religious beliefs and political ideologies – witness the Rovian formula welding Patriotism and Christianity for the benefit of the Republican Party.

The result has been a right wing conglomeration of the fiscal ultra-conservative (Grover Norquist) added to the religious ultra-conservative (Patriot Pastors) mixed with the military/financial interests (Koch Brothers, Wall Street).  At some point the seams start ripping.

Small But Not Too Small?

It’s impossible to have “small government” if the government is tasked with supervising individual sexual behaviors.  It’s impossible to have “small government” if the government is charged with executing statutes on family matters and women’s individual healthcare decisions.

It’s impossible to have “small government” while maintaining a military budget of at least $682 billion – as large as the combined military budgets of the next ten highest national budgets combined. [WaPo]  And, it’s impossible to have “small government” if we also want to secure fiscal and economic stability.  We tried ‘de-regulation’ and what we got was Enron and Lehman Brothers – and the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Now the frazzle shows up in the religious realm.  It’s now impossible to anchor a political ideology on a  floating buoy – public opinion has moved remarkably on same sex marriages in the last decade.  What was a useful wedge issue in 2004 has become something to avoid in 2014.  Witness the palaver over Blundermeister John Boehner’s decision to campaign on behalf of a gay Republican in California? [TDB]

No majority is ever permanent. No radical ideology is ever secure.

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Filed under Nevada politics, privacy, religion, Republicans, Rove

Laxalt Endorsed By Famous Person: Word Salad Shooter Version

Laxalt First Republican candidate for Attorney General, Adam Laxalt,  told me he wanted my vote because he’s a native Nevadan, “ready to serve,” making much of his stint in the U.S. Navy – thank you for your service sir.  BUT it escapes me exactly  how prosecution of terrorists in military courts  prepares a person for administering the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Consumer Complaints, Insurance Fraud, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Mortgage Fraud Unit, resolution of questions regarding the application of the Open Meeting Law, Worker’s Compensation Fraud, and Special Prosecutions.  Nor does this explain to me how Mr. Laxalt is ready to participate in the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice, the Attorney General’s Substance Abuse Working Group, the Committee on Domestic Violence, the Nevada Board of Examiners, the Nevada Council on Domestic Violence, the Nevada Information Technology Board, the Nevada Supreme Court Commission on Statewide Juvenile Justice Reform, and the Nevada Open Meeting Law Task Force.

And, then there’s that not so little matter of having some really dismal evaluations from one’s own law firm.  Rather than demonstrate he did not earn the sobriquet “Train Wreck,”  Mr. Laxalt is outraged his opponent could be the source of the leaked evaluations – which Mr. Miller is not.  That would be a denigration of Mr. Jon Ralston’s skills as an investigative journalist – Ralston got them, Ralston shared them. [NVProg]  Even a layman can figure out “promotion to counsel” doesn’t equate to “promotion to partner.”  There’s little left but the whining that Evil Doers have sabotaged his campaign?  Most of the time using the Victimization excuse  merely serves to remind voters that those who are good at making excuses are rarely good at much else.

“Adam is running for Attorney General to protect the safety of Nevada’s families, to preserve the liberty of Nevada’s citizens and businesses and to stand up for Nevadans against federal government overreach.” [Laxalt]

And for this he gets the endorsement of none other than the most infamous Word Salad Shooter the conservatives have to offer – Sarah Palin.

“While most of the focus leading into 2014 elections has been on the country’s life and death fight for our future with a conservative majority serving in the U.S. Senate, there are other offices we need to count on to put a stop to the liberal Obama agenda. In individual states, good Attorney Generals have led the legal fight against Obamacare, to protect religious liberties and states’ right, and to uphold other imperative core Constitutional principles. Here are four conservative Attorney General candidates I’m supporting. They will continue the fight for all of us!”

OK, sometimes I do get into “Comma Queen Mode,” but “death fight for our future with a conservative majority…” says to me the fight is with the conservative majority, which as a progressive is something with which I could agree.   This, in turn, reminds me that Mr. Laxalt told me he wanted to “stop Obamacare.”  Translation: Mr. Laxalt would like to repeal the health care insurance reforms enacted in the Affordable Care Act.

Seriously? He doesn’t want Nevadans to have any recourse if an insurance corporation rescinds a policy because the person made a legitimate mistake in the medical history portion of an application? Forgot you had measles in 1972?  He wants policies for women to automatically be more expensive than those for men?  He wants to kick the kids off family policies before age 25?  He wants to allow insurance companies to sell junk “life time limit” policies?  He wants to tell new entrepreneurs they can’t go to an insurance exchange (market) and pick out a policy from Anthem, Nevada Health Care Co-Op, Health Plan of Nevada, or Saint Mary’s [SSE] that fits his needs and finances?  Perhaps Mr. Laxalt hasn’t yet figured out that Obamacare isn’t a thing.  There’s are no government issued insurance policies.  There are only markets (state and federal) where people who do not have employer sponsored insurance policies can find affordable plans to purchase.   If candidate Laxalt hasn’t figured this out, perhaps there is a reason those evaluations weren’t stellar?

Speaking of families, there’s the gay marriage issue on which Mr. Laxalt has made his opposition clear, in spite of advice from Governor Sandoval and AG Masto.  There is something to be said for following the news:

“Case law over the last year and a half has completely turned our argument upside down,” Masto told the Reno Gazette-Journal on Tuesday. Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican and former federal judge, also said the state’s ban is “no longer defensible” in court and told the Gazette-Journal on Tuesday that he looked at the case “as a judge and a lawyer” and agrees with Masto.” [LVSun]

Indeed, the case law is changing, and in light of the recent refusal of the Supreme Court to take same sex marriage cases Mr. Laxalt continues to say he will “enforce the law” whatever that might be – a far cry from his adamant opposition to LGBT rights in 2010. [RGJ]  We might say, given Mr. Laxalt’s Navy experience, that that ship has sailed.

There’s one other arrow in Mr. Laxalt’s quiver – Tough On Crime – he wants to keep women and children safe – and who doesn’t?  However, Mr. Laxalt is not running for District Attorney.  Or Sheriff. Or applying to be Chief of Police. Or, even running for a state legislative seat wherein crimes are defined and penalties assigned.  He’s running to be an an administrator, and thus far his agenda is to fight anything Federal, fight anything that impinges on health insurance corporation profits, and fight anything that says members of the LGBT community should have equal rights.   For some this agenda will be adequate, even acceptable.  For others it’s an admission that he’s frozen in the politics of the past.

Indeed, those congealed into the Rovian politics of the Culture Wars will find our National Word Salad Shooter only too pleased to endorse them.  The remainder of the electorate may see only the candidate’s imploring brown eyes, seeking our votes, and looking for all the world like a young beagle trying desperately to comprehend house-breaking instructions.

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Filed under Nevada politics

Please Excuse Me If I Don’t Panic

ebola isis If It Bleeds It Leads – and I am getting really tired of cable and network news blathering on about The Next Great Scary Bacteria/Virus.   First, let’s get some perspective – there are an estimated 316,148,990 people in the United States. [Census]

Remember the West Nile Virus?  If memory serves, the media served up mosquito pictures on television screens and print versions ad nauseam not so many years ago.  The largest number of cases occurred in 2003, at 9,862. There were a grand total of 39,557 cases of which only 1,668 were fatal, between 1999 and 2013.    [CDC pdf] Do the arithmetic.  Divide 39,557 by 316,148,990 on your handy plastic calculator.  (Ans: 1.2521 e-4)

Remember SARS?  The coronavirus showed up in 2003.  Lord knows how many “travel alerts” there were, and how many were reported as major news stories.  By April 2003 there were 115 suspected SARS cases in the U.S. reported from 29 states, there were no deaths reported.  By the end of the year the World Health Organization reported 8,096 cases globally, leading to 774 deaths. In the United States there were 8 SARS infections documented by laboratory testing and an additional 19 probable cases. [CDC]  Again, play with the arithmetic problem: Divide 115 by 316,148,990. What are the odds someone will contract SARS?

Now it’s Ebola! A virus which is relatively difficult to contract, but whose photograph graces the pages and screens, along with breathless speculation about how control this “ISIS of Viral Evil.”  Thus far we have 1, repeat ONE, case reported in the United States.  One case, one fatality. And that of a man who sought treatment, was turned away from a hospital in Dallas, TX – which has some explaining to do to his family – and so far that’s IT.

Yes, this is a nasty virus. It is also primarily running rampant in west Africa, a region generally ignored by the U.S. media even when uncivil wars are decimating the populations,  but there’s a reason the medical professionals in the U.S. aren’t panicking like, say CNN, for Faux News, or some  “billionaire with bad hair:”

“It’s important for us to remember here in the US that the likelihood of an outbreak due to bringing back two patients with Ebola virus disease is incredibly small, and that conditions here in the US and other developed nations are such that it is unlikely that such an outbreak, even in the unlikely event that it happened, would spread very far, given the differences in medical care, availability of resources, and differences in funeral practices. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be vigilant, but there is really nothing particularly unusual about Ebola virus other than the rapid onset and severity of the disease it causes.” [SciBMed]

Now, breathe.

Meanwhile —  The CDC reports 11,068 firearm homicides, with a death per 100K of 3.6 [CDC]  The last CDC report showed 39,518 suicides, of which 19,990 were completed with firearms; death per 100K at 12.7. [CDC] Now, if a virus had killed 31,058 people in a single year – that would be a story.  However, we can’t consider the epidemic of gun violence as a public health problem because the GOP controlled House of Representatives refuses a meager $10 million for funding gun violence prevention research. The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics begged for the research funding, but Republicans and the NRA said we simply need to “prosecute more people, not carry out more studies.”   [ProPublica]

Meanwhile – Heart disease will kill 596,577 people in the United States, and another 73,831 will die from Diabetes.  So, faced with this obvious public health problem, what did the U.S. Congress do?  Republicans sponsored a bill to roll back school nutrition standards. [MMA] The implications are obvious, Republicans are favoring the food manufacturing interests over the advice of professional nutrition experts.  Oh, and did we remember that the “School Nutrition Assoc.” receives most of its funding from companies which sell food to schools?

Meanwhile – What are we doing to cut the numbers of stroke victims (128,932)? Cancer victims (576,691)? Chronic respiratory disease victims (142,943)? Alzheimer’s victims (84,974)? Flu and Pneunomia (53,862)? Nephritis (45,591)?   We cut the budget for the Centers for Disease Control.

“The agency’s budget in 2014 is $5.9 billion, compared to the $6.5 billion allotted in 2010.  Last year’s budget deal delayed the across-the-board sequester cuts until fiscal 2016, but the law required the CDC to cut 5 percent, or more than $285 million, from its fiscal 2013 budget, the agency said.” [TheHill]

And while the right wing is screaming about how we’re not being kept safe from Ebola and ISIS, or Ebola and ISIS, or Ebola with ISIS, or ISIS with Ebola,  what did the GOP House do to the funding for the agency tasked with securing public health?

The sequester resulted in a $195 million cut in 2013 to the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, which aims to prevent illness and death by a wide variety of infectious diseases, according to the CDC. A CDC report from earlier this year also noted its funding for public health preparedness and response activities was $1 billion lower in fiscal 2013 than in 2002.  [TheHill]

However, all the statistics in the world won’t be as entertaining as Jon Stewart’s rendition of the Million Ways to Die in the U.S.   DO click and enjoy!

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Filed under Gun Issues, health, Health Care

Profits Without Prosperity

If there’s just one item which ought to be remembered from Vice President Biden’s recent  speech in Las Vegas it’s this – If the minimum wage were to be raised to $10.10 per hour this would add $19 billion into the national economy.  For 256,000 minimum income earners in Nevada that would pay for 19 months of groceries and three months worth of rent.  [LA-AP] So, if we really are “pro-business” then this information should be well received?

Once yet again to the point of unmentionable redundancy, here’s how we measure the growth in our national economy:

GDP formula

Consumer spending + business spending + government spending + the difference between imports and exports = the GDP.  So, why all the gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair over spending?  Why not promote that which will increase consumer spending? And why the inordinate attention to national spending?   Because the tail is wagging the dog.

The titans of finance – the banking sector – are wary of inflation.  That which puts more money into the hands of middle and working class families may cause inflation – the banker’s big bug-bear.  However, they’ve not mentioned the other side of the ledger; if income levels are dropping or if they remain stagnant those same bankers might be looking at deflation.  “The opposite of inflation, deflation has the side effect of increased unemployment since there is a lower level of demand in the economy, which can lead to an economic depression. Central banks attempt to stop severe deflation, along with severe inflation, in an attempt to keep the excessive drop in prices to a minimum.”

In other words, for average families the income will be spent.  Increasing the minimum wage would put more money into local businesses – furniture, appliances, groceries, clothing, entertainment, food service, hardware and home improvement, and so on.  However, for the top .01% whose income is primarily derived from investment earnings, increasing the minimum wage is of relatively little interest.  They are more interested in The Market (read Stock Market) than in the grocery market, the furniture market, the home improvement market, or the clothing market.

Not sure how this works?  Witness the plans for Hewlett-Packard to split up:

A close follower of the company’s stock price, Ms. Whitman may have also decided that the two separate companies would be worth more on Wall Street. Since Ms. Whitman became chief in September 2011, HP shares have risen about 50 percent. [NYT

HP also confirmed the split will result in the loss of another 5,000 jobs, in addition to the 45,000-50,000 layoffs announced with the company’s second quarterly earnings report for 2014 back in May. HP plans to invest the money saved in research and development, and projects full year non-GAAP (Generally accepted accounting principles) earnings of $3.83-$4.03 per share in 2015, not including one-time tax costs of the split. The companies will each have more than $57 billion in annual revenue.” [SDTimes]

There are structural reasons for the split, but the bottom line is that investors have decided the corporation would be more profitable split into at least two entities. And those 5,000 jobs lost?  The layoffs announced in May 2014?  The Market won’t be bothered by those at all; the value of the stock will increase whether or not the former employees are able to find new jobs, or have money to spend on housing, food, clothing, entertainment, furniture, etc.   The value of the stock is the pinnacle of success in the “Shareholder Value” construct of modern American capitalism.  There’s really nothing dramatically new about this – when share value for the sake of share value becomes the primary force in management then other considerations are necessarily secondary.

Hewlett-Packard’s focus on shareholder value isn’t unique either. Remember how the old Trickle Down Hoax was supposed to work? Corporations were supposed to have more revenue to invest on research and development, more to spend on expansion and hiring, more to spend on marketing and product sales?  Not. So. Much.

“Instead of investing in new plants, equipment and products, instead of paying their taxes and giving a long-overdue raise to their employees, big corporations are spending their record profits — plus gobs of newly borrowed money — to buy back their own shares and those of other companies.” [WaPo May 2014]

And we’re not speaking of just a few corporations, and the arithmetic is fairly simple:

“Meanwhile, the corporations of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index spent $477 billion last year (2013)  buying back their own shares, a 29 percent increase over 2012 and the most since the peak year of 2007. The idea behind buybacks is that they are a tax-advantaged way to return profits to shareholders by boosting the market price of their shares. Since the stock market tends to value companies by multiplying the profits per share times the number of shares, reducing the number of outstanding shares has the arithmetic effect of boosting the stock price. [WaPo May 2014]

During 2013 this “tax advantaged way to return profits to shareholders” was applied by 80% of the companies on the S&P 500.  This is precisely how Wall Street and the Corner Offices can see profits without prosperity. What we need to observe is the interplay between value creation and value extraction.  The Harvard Business Review explains:

“For three decades I’ve been studying how the resource allocation decisions of major U.S. corporations influence the relationship between value creation and value extraction, and how that relationship affects the U.S. economy. From the end of World War II until the late 1970s, a retain-and-reinvest approach to resource allocation prevailed at major U.S. corporations. They retained earnings and reinvested them in increasing their capabilities, first and foremost in the employees who helped make firms more competitive. They provided workers with higher incomes and greater job security, thus contributing to equitable, stable economic growth—what I call “sustainable prosperity.”

This pattern began to break down in the late 1970s, giving way to a downsize-and-distribute regime of reducing costs and then distributing the freed-up cash to financial interests, particularly shareholders. By favoring value extraction over value creation, this approach has contributed to employment instability and income inequality.”

Does that last sentence sound familiar?  So, we know that stock buybacks were popular as of 2013, how about 2014 – it’s now reported (Bloomberg) that 95% of the S&P 500 have engaged in the activity – of value extraction rather than value creation.   The Economist chimes in on the subject:

“Over the past 12 months American firms have bought more than $500 billion of their own shares, close to a record amount. From Apple to Walmart, the most profitable and prominent companies have big buy-back schemes (see article). IBM spends twice as much on share repurchases as on research and development. Exxon has spent over $200 billion buying back its shares, enough to buy its arch-rival BP. The phenomenon is less extreme in other countries, but is becoming popular even in conservative corporate cultures. Led by firms such as Toyota and Mitsubishi, Japanese companies are buying back record amounts of their own shares.”

Yes, stock buybacks can artificially elevate share prices, and give quick bucks to the short term investors.    Someone needs to flash on a yellow caution light.

“In 2013, 38% of firms paid more in buy-backs than their cashflows could support, an unsustainable position. Some American multinationals with apparently healthy global balance sheets are, in fact, dangerously lopsided. They are borrowing heavily at home to pay for buy-backs while keeping cash abroad to avoid America’s high corporate tax rate.” [Economist]

Yet when we have a corporate compensation system which rewards share value why would the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, or IBM, or any other major corporation NOT focus on share prices? Even if they are in peril of having lopsided ledgers. Even if they are extracting more value than they are creating?  Even while they are avoiding America’s corporate taxes? The GAO calculates the actual tax rate paid by these corporations at 12.6%. [CNN]

So, instead of creating value (building new plants, new equipment, new products, paying taxes, or raising wages and salaries) the companies are busy trying to extract value at the risk of making themselves uncompetitive. The financialists, focused as they are, on short term investments, in debt incrusted corporations, are far more interested in value extraction than in value creation, and that’s how we get profitability without prosperity.

Capitalism requires value creation, a balance of consumers and producers, and the accumulation of assets. Financialism is focused on value extraction, feeds on the notion that one firm’s debt is another M&A firm’s asset, and demands that “costs” whether for plant upgrades, employee wages, or research and development not impinge on the “tax advantaged ways to return profits to shareholders.”   The Economist closes the argument: “shareholder capitalism is about growth and creation, not just dividing the spoils.”

The creation of value means investing in more products, better products, more goods, better goods, more services, better services – and now we’re back to the point at which we need to restart the conversation about how to increase aggregate demand for these goods and services – by increasing the minimum wage.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation

Hutchison, Schools, and Reforms: A questionable mixture

Hutchison Mark Hutchison, Republican candidate for Lt. Governor has a message for public schools – and it’s not all that supportive. Yes, he wants more funding for schools, BUT there are some ropes attached:

“As for students, they should be able to read at grade level or higher by the time they’re in third grade.

For teachers, he said it should be easier to fire bad ones and hire those just out of college or in the “Teaching for America” program that sends the best and brightest to schools that need help.

And parents should be given a choice between sending their children to public schools of government-subsidized private schools to encourage competition.”  [LVRJ]

Read and Heed: Okay, having kids read at grade level is fine, and a worthy goal. However, perhaps the first thing we ought to note is that third grade isn’t the big hurdle. It’s the 4th one.  In most school curricula reading changes during the 4th grade. 

First grade is about the mechanics if you will, how to decode those printy things on the pages. Second grade is still pretty much reading for the sake of  knowing how to read.  And, two years isn’t all that long to introduce phonology (sound units), morphology (word formation), syntax (sentence structure), sematics (relationship between language and meaning), orthology (fancy name for spelling), and “pragmatics” (choosing the best word.)  [Ed.gov pdf]  We also know from the research that children have different vocabulary levels associated with socioeconomic levels, with youngsters from professional families coming to school with an average 1100 word oral vocabulary, those from working class families average about 700 words, and those coming from disadvantaged households having about 500 words. [Ed.gov pdf]

Third maintains and reinforces the flow.  Nevada tests little readers in the 3rd grade using passages about 300  to 500 words long, and measures things like knowledge of prefixes and suffixes, and reading comprehension items like “themes.” 

Then the scene changes, during the 4th grade it’s not just reading to understand the words being read, and the story being told;  it’s reading to learn.   Here comes the notorious 4th Grade Slump. Along with this, enter the Curriculum Debate, especially with the advocates of phonics and other mechanics of reading. Vocabulary development is crucial. “Understanding key words that support the main idea or theme and details that contribute shades of meaning further enhance comprehension to create a richer experience. This association is reflected in the results that show that on average students who performed well on the vocabulary questions also performed well in reading comprehension.”  [NAEP]

Now, think back to the numbers given above.  Some kids will start school with a vocabulary of 1100 words mastered, some will show up with a vocabulary half that – and then there are all the youngsters in between. So, what are we measuring in the 3rd grade?  This is the point at which we’d be better served by looking  locally rather than globally at the testing results. For example, which is a better question? (A) How well do Nevada children score on reading/vocabulary tests in comparison with children in other states? or (B) How much progress has Student X made in vocabulary development and reading skills from the end of the 1st grade to the end of the 3rd?

The answer to Question A is interesting, and informative for general policy discussions, but ultimately the answer to Question B is a better indicator of instructional success – especially as that 4th Grade Slump looms:

“Suddenly, it’s not good enough to simply sound out words. The child has to make sense of the context in ever more difficult textbooks. Whether or not he (or she) has the motivation, maturity or physical (including brain development) capacity to do that, teachers will now throw more and more sophisticated reading materials at him, along with expectations that he’ll do plenty of reading outside of school hours.” [Keen]

With this  information in mind,  we have to figure out what candidate Hutchison means by “reading at grade level.”  Does he mean that 100% of Nevada’s third graders will score 100% on CRT items covering spelling, common prefixes and suffixes, pragmatics, and vocabulary? Are they to score 100% on basic questions about content and theme?  100% from 100% is indeed laudable, if somewhat unrealistic – and is further from the subject of educational success if we take the view that basing educational policy on the test scores of 8 year olds is taking the easy way out.  The real test is how well the kids can do when faced with the transition from reading to read, and reading to understand short passages and stories, to reading for learning.

Undue Process:  For the 1000th time (or so) Nevada does NOT have teacher tenure.   Not sure about this? Read NRS chapter 391.  Now take a look at the teacher evaluation process; half based on test scores and half based on modeling good instructional practices. [LVSun]   It really isn’t all that hard to fire “bad” teachers.  Every teaching contract is for one year. The only safeguards teachers have is that after completing a probationary period they have access to due process if fired.  Here’s what makes it hard to fire “bad” teachers:

Bad administrators – the ones who don’t adequately document poor instructional techniques, poor classroom management, and inadequate preparation.  These are usually the first to complain that they “can’t” fire Mrs. Sludgepump because of the “union.”  They could, if they’d adequately documented Sludgepump’s slumbers at her desk, but since they didn’t do that the hearing isn’t going to have their desired outcome.   Or, we have the Fill in the Blank Administrator – the one who will hire absolutely anyone to teach almost anything just to get the position filled.  You get what you want, even if it’s not what you want.  Which brings us to Hutchison’s next recommendation.

“It ought to be easier to hire those just out of college or in the Teaching for America program.”

We might assume that Hutchison means anyone, with any degree, just out of college?

The Teach for America program assumes, almost as a point of reference, that currently trained professional teachers are failing, and that highly motivated top tier college students who complete a five week training program will ride in to save the day. Not quite, the internal numbers indicating success are “not up to the standard for research,” and in most cases show TFA personnel are “at least as effective” as non-TFA teachers. That’s a relatively low bar if the initial assumption is that non-TFA teachers are less competent or effective.   [Atlantic] [Rubenstein]

Since a leadership change in 2013 TFA is becoming ever more closely associated with “market based” educational reforms – such as those coming from the often debunked Michelle Rhee et. al.  [Ravitch] [Rubenstein]  Nothing says “Marching with Michelle Rhee” quite so clearly as  catch phrases about making it easier to hire untrained teachers, and ascribing Silver Bullet qualities to TFA, a route to the classroom which seeks to bypass licensing requirements and longer preparation programs.  

This isn’t to argue against those effective, dedicated, and successful TFA teachers out there, many of whom have made teaching a career choice rather than a 2 yr. stint.  However, there is evidence aplenty that teacher retention is more important in low income areas than in upper income level schools in terms of student achievement. [EdUtp] [AEFP pdf] [Harvard 2013 pdf] Interestingly, those TFA teachers who had more Education background or who held Education degrees were the ones most likely to stay in the field – probably a matter of both initial interest and preparation?

Ask one of those non-TFA professionals what improves instruction and most of them will offer answers falling into the categories of (1) lesson plan preparation, (2) classroom management and discipline, (3) continuous student evaluation, and (4) support from parents and administration.  Ask teachers what factors motivate them to stay and most responses will relate to administrative support, collegiality, appropriate in-service professional development, and  school culture. [Harvard 2013 pdf]  Notice that none of these elements  directly relate to norm-referenced or criterion-referenced testing.

And finally, we ought to ask why students at Harvard University have asked its president to cut ties with TFA?  Answer here.

In short, what Mr. Hutchison is proposing is little more than the platitudes of market based educational “reform,” and a preference for the “reforme du jour” Silver Bullet approach to educational improvements.

When Choice isn’t a Choice?  And then there’s the blatant give-away that Mr. Hutchison isn’t talking about supporting public schools at all. Not really.   Awaiting the next round of public school funding are those who would like nothing better than to get their mitts on the money.  Some of these organizations are relatively effective, some are demonstrably close to criminal.  CPD recently blew the lid off in an expose of “Fraud and Financial Mismanagement in Pennsylvania Charter Schools.”  No one wants to read something like the following conclusion:

“Charter school officials have defrauded at least $30 million intended for Pennsylvania school children since 1997. Yet every year virtually all of the state’s charter schools are found to be financially sound. While the state has complex, multi-layered systems of oversight of the charter system, this history of financial fraud makes it clear that these systems are not effectively detecting or preventing fraud.”

Then there’s Chicago’s dismal history of top down reform.  This doesn’t diminish the expectations of the budding “Charter Industry” whose formula is to use standardized testing to “prove” public schools are failing, then put these schools under unelected authorities and have the authorities replace the public schools with charters. [Nation]

“Thus, what “slum clearance” did for the real-estate industry in the 1960s and ’70s, high-stakes testing will do for the charter industry: wipe away large swaths of public schools, enabling private operators to grow not school by school, but twenty or thirty schools at a time.”  [Nation]

The Bottom Line

And there we have it. Mr. Hutchison’s version of Heaven on Earth:  Third graders who all read at grade level – whatever that might be – and however that might not relate to the development of skills necessary to get beyond the 4th grade slump;  Removing the right to due process when one’s livelihood is threatened; Hiring just about anyone to teach just about anything – ready or not, including from a program with controversial ties to the Market Based Reformers and Goldman Sachs; and Offering up more opportunities for educational entrepreneurs to profit at taxpayer’s expense.

Good enough reasons to support the candidacy of Lucy Flores.

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Filed under education, Nevada politics

SB 385 Cegavske’s Foray into Vote Suppression 2007 edition

Cegavske How can a person tell when a proposition is an effort at vote suppression?  Republicans across the country have offered, and in some unfortunate cases adopted, measures which they say will secure the “integrity of elections.”  There are several reasons why this should set off the BS Alarms.

#1. Because they’ve said so.  Bastion of ultra-conservative women’s subjugation advocate Phyllis Schlafly  who opined that early voting facilitates illegal votes – a term she left undefined – and for which she offered no proof whatsoever. [TDB 2013]  Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai told an audience in 2012 that Voter ID would deliver the Quaker State to Romney in 2012. [TPM 2012]  Pennsylvania GOP chairman Rob Gleason said after the election that voter ID helped to cut Obama’s margin by 5%.  [TNM] Former North Carolina GOP official Don Yelton lauded that state’s new restrictions as “going to kick Democrats in the butt.”   Current gubernatorial candidate in Texas, Greg Abbott, thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to have a GOP controlled legislature gerrymander districts and do so at the expense of Democrats. [TNM] South Carolina state Representative Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach) passed out packets of peanuts with cards attached which read, “Stop Obama’s nutty agenda and support voter ID.”  The GOP chairman (2102) in the second largest Ohio county, Doug Preisse,  advocated cutting early voting hours in Democratic leaning counties and expanding them in Republican controlled areas, saying: “ I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban – read African American – voter turnout machine.” [TNM]

#2. Because none of the vote suppression, gerrymandering, or access restriction suggestions have been paired with proposals to facilitate voter engagement.  For example, when Texas enacted its strict voter ID law someone forgot to mention that because of name changes in marriage some 66% of voting age women in the state might lack the proper identification to vote.  Did anyone think to suggest that along with the marriage license a county official might offer a voter registration form to the couple so SHE could revise her personal information?  Or, when divorce proceedings were finalized, and a name change was recorded, an official could offer the same form? Crickets.

North Carolina’s new voting restrictions forbid the use of a student ID for poll identification.  [BrennanCenter]  Did any North Carolina official propose that county clerks and voting registrars in locations where colleges and universities are located  increase their staffing such that registration and acceptable ID documents could be easily procured?  More crickets.

Indiana enacted strict ID provisions in the wake of voter fraud in absentee ballots – not voter impersonation fraud – in one county election.  Problems arise  for people who are natural born citizens but perhaps because of poverty have difficulty getting access to a birth certificate. [PRI] Did any Indiana official suggest at the time that a voting registrar could access other databases in Indiana and beyond, free of charge, for authentication of a voting registration application?  Crickets.

Wisconsin passed Act 23 in 2011 which requires a government issued ID before a person may cast a ballot.  Officials said they “fixed” the access problem by creating a free program from the state motor vehicle department so that people wouldn’t have to pay for the documents necessary to register. [Bloomberg]  Did any official in Wisconsin put forward a bill to expand the hours and the locations of DMV offices?  More crickets.

If a bill which restricts, impedes, or potentially suppresses a citizen’s right to vote, then if it’s not simply an exercise in partisan vote suppression it seems reasonable to conclude that provisions would be included to mitigate or remove the hurdles placed in front of otherwise eligible voters.

On The Home Front

And now we return to Nevada, and the campaign promise from candidate for Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske that she will insure the “integrity of elections.”  She took a shot at this before, in SB 385 in 2007.  SB 385* required photographic identification in the form of a driver’s license, an Armed Forces ID, a U.S. passport, a Native American tribal ID, or a voter registration card issued by a county clerk (at no charge.) Here we go again.

The DMV issue in Nevada has been the subject of numerous posts already, and there’s nothing free about getting a driver’s license in this state – the going price is $41.25.  The price for an ID issued by the Nevada DMV is $21.25 for those under 65, and $7.25 for those over 65.   [DMV]  If an individual in Nevada who uses public transportation, and hence doesn’t really need a driver’s license, wants to vote should the individual have to pay up to $41.25 for the ‘privilege?”  Poll tax anyone?

The U.S. passport provision in SB 385 was gratuitous immigrant bashing; my passport shows – me (in an unflattering photo), where I was born, and my birthday. That’s it. That’s all.  Mine happens to be a garden variety plain vanilla passport, and the little books cost $110.00.  The passport is no proof at all that I am a resident of Nevada, nor would it show I’m voting in the proper precinct, nor that I’m even eligible to vote in the election at interest.

It was all well and good to have the county clerks issue “free” IDs under the terms of SB 385, however the background costs for the most common ID (the driver’s license, DMV ID) aren’t anything close to free, nor would be the documentation required by the clerk or registrar.   For the moment let’s stick to the basics for the average person who wants a Nevada driver’s license.  The documentation which must be presented to the Nevada DMV is (1) a state issued birth certificate or (2) a valid unexpired passport.  What does a copy of a Nevada birth certificate cost?  That would be $20.oo if issued by the Nevada Office of Vital Statistics.  A birth certificate from California will cost $25.00, from Arizona $20.00; from Utah the going price is also $20.00.  Someone born in New York will have to fork over $30.00.  Massachusetts is a relative bargain at $18.00.

Under the terms of Cegavske’s SB 385, a county clerk would issue a “free” ID for voting purposes if the person comes to the office with “documentation showing the person’s date of birth,” (birth certificate price at least $20), and evidence the person is registered to vote, and documentation showing the person’s name and address.   There’s nothing ‘free’ about this whole process.

And now Barbara Cegavske’s campaigning to be the next Nevada Secretary of State, who doesn’t want to “suppress” anyone – that would be anyone who isn’t put off by the current prices for photo identification like the $41.25 for  the driver’s license, or the $110 for the passport, or the $20 for the birth certificate… and who can get to a DMV or voting registrar’s site during working hours…. that wasn’t quite the interest in “engagement” she was demonstrating in 2007.

Republicans across the country have already made it crystal clear that the purpose of voting restrictions is to restrict voting, especially voting while Democrat.  The only sop to the suggestion that SB 385 might be a form of poll tax was the inclusion of the free IDs from the county.  Nothing in the bill called for an extension of hours for the DMV to handle applications. Nothing in the bill called for additional DMV staffing to deal with applications. Nothing in the bill called for an increase in the number of DMV locations where ID’s could be obtained.   Nothing in the bill mitigated the potential costs of obtaining photo IDs for voting purposes. Nothing in the bill offered assistance to women who needed to update their personal information.  Nothing in the bill encouraged the university system to either provide appropriate IDs or make it easier for students to register.

Thus the BS Alarm should be going off at a decibel level sufficient to drown out  the engine of an F-22 Raptor (150dB).  The Republicans have made their intentions very clear, and when there are no suggestions for alleviating the inconveniences it merely serves to reinforce the contention that they mean to restrict voting by women, minority ethnic communities, and young people.   Period.

* SB 385 was cosponsored by Senators Cegavske, Beers, Heck, and Raggio.

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Filed under Nevada politics, Vote Suppression, Voting