Monday, February 28, 2011

This one is for my friends in Texas

Two articles I've read recently are begging to be connected, and the purpose of this post is to make the connection and get people thinking.

The first one actually came second. In a scathing column this morning, Paul Krugman made it plain that our governor, Rick Perry, having "discovered" a massive budget deficit that he didn't notice while campaigning for re-election, plans to take out virtually all of the damage on our children by crippling education in Texas. This is not an overstatement.

The second one, which I discovered a few days ago, shows how people in Britain realized that they didn't have to take the drastic, punitive cuts being proposed by their new government lying down. They discovered that a single company, Vodafone, owed almost enough in unpaid taxes to solve the crisis.
There was no need for new taxes, it turned out; all that was needed was the will of British citizens to insist that Vodafone and other corporate delinquents pay what they owed so that the entire British social support system did not have to be destroyed.

Naturally, this has me wondering what companies haven't paid their taxes in Texas. Apparently, all it takes is for enough people to make it clear that they won't stand for it. If, like me, you want a decent future for our children, please send suggestions for how we can duplicate the striking success of UKuncut. Who are the corporate tax evaders that stand between us and our children's future? It's quite clear that unless we identify them and hold their feet to the fire, Perry is going to proceed with his plans to destroy education in Texas. It's also clear that we don't have to let it happen.

Ideas? Suggestions?


  1. Good luck. I suspect that the reason Perry was elected is that a majority of Texas voters supported him and are generally aligned with the view that all taxes are bad.

    It's not just corporate tax evaders. Corporate taxes (the actual taxes paid, not the rates that no company actually pays) are very low in this country. Tax rates in the US are among the lowest in the developed world. And yet, we only hear discussion of spending cuts, never tax increases.

    Americans (including Texans) are not ready for a serious conversation about our slide into mediocrity as a nation until we can include the social contract that our parents and grandparents joined to give us the legacy we are in the process of squandering.

  2. That was more or less the point of the Mike Huckabee quote I included in my last post. It is actually considered acceptable for a mainstream politician with a serious chance of being elected president to say that A students are arrogant nerds, and that no amount of brains counts for anything if you can't play baseball.

    What encouraged me about the UKuncut article is that people in Britain also assumed that the massive, punitive cuts their government was making were inevitable. Then some of them just realized that they didn't have to stand for it.

    So, Texans, what does that say about us? Are people in England just smarter than we are? Or can we actually do something about this too?

  3. This story provides some interesting perspective too. Apparently the vast majority of Americans do not support what the governors of Wisconsin, Texas and other states are trying to do. By a margin of almost two to one, they would prefer to raise taxes.

  4. Trouble is, Robin, that not enough of those people vote for people that share that view. Polls like this are worthless. What matters is who makes the laws. There are only two ways to influence that--money and the ballot box. Most folks don't have the money to buy their own politician, so they need to vote. Sadly, most people in this country don't vote.

    Most Americans think national security is about guns and bombs. National security is about fighting the obesity epidemic (most American men of service age are too fat to qualify). National security is about education. National security is about alternative energy.

  5. I'm suggesting that there's a third way: we just don't put up with it. I think you and I both agree that we no longer live in a democracy - at least in terms of what we once learned that that means. Look at Egypt. They get it.

    In fact, I'll go further. Polls like this are not meaningless. What they show is that those who have been claiming that Walker and Perry should be allowed to do what they are doing because it was the choice of a democratic electorate are wrong. A democratic electorate did not vote for this. A bought and paid minority did.

    If Americans are really as good as we think we are, we will gladly admit that we can learn from places like Egypt, which is at a much earlier stage of self-government, and Britain, which is mature enough to stand up for popular sovereignty.

    "Is America more selfish and less humane than Russia? — Is she less honest and benevolent than England? Is she more stolid and insensible to the claims of humanity than the Dutch? — What should hinder her from following the human example, and adopting the enlightened policy of those nations?" - Frederick Douglass

  6. "A democratic electorate did not vote for this. A bought and paid minority did."

    But it remains to be seen whether this "majority" will do anything about it. Wisconsin law provides for recall of the governor after a year in office. I bet it doesn't happen.

    Nope, Robin. The poll is meaningless. The only polls that count are the ones that have consequences.

  7. What limits America is the quality of its leadership on every level. Effective leadership would be goal-directed, while inspiring an attitude of optimism and goodwill. An effective leader for our times would have the ability to pull people together based on common ground and common values, rather than getting bogged down in arguments based on extremism and emotion, which divide rather than persuade and unite. I long for such a leader to arise. I hope he or she is acknowledged as having agreeable goals which will benefit all to some extent, even if it's a modest improvement (as opposed to the hatred, stagnation, and conflict that we boil in now). I hope citizens will participate in achieving these goals with a spirit of cooperative, unselfish activism -- problem solving activism.

    I also hope that the core values of our nation's citizens, regarding values and goals, will be communicated so well that no amount of ignorant assumptions or false characterizations or misquotes will twist the reality that there are some values we all believe in (except the crazies out there, of course.)

    I realize that the idea that there is a consensus of core values in America might seem ridiculous; but I believe that it exists, and that a visionary leader can find them, articulate them, and unite citizens around them and by means of them. JMHO.

    We can unite in reasoned, practical action for our benefit. I'm optimistic. Why shouldn't I be?

  8. Now here's a poll that could matter:

    As the article notes, however, time is not on their side.

  9. I love your optimism, Nanette, even if I don't entirely share it. Can you help me put into words what those core American values might be? As you know, I've been struggling with this. For example, to return to the topic of this thread, do we all agree that quality public education is one of the cornerstones of civil society? If so, how can we who live in Texas reassert that belief?

  10. I'll be as brief as I can be. Many subcultures want to educate their children according to their own values, which mean the "public" part of your suggested core value isn't a word I'd include. Controversy over private versus public education would cause a stalemate in any attempt to create a no-argument core belief amongst sane Americans.

    So, My suggested core American value we can agree on is:

    Texans agree that children should have an education that prepares them to be productive American citizens. Two criteria define an adequate basic education based on a student's achievement upon graduation from high school: First, a student will be able to pass the United States Citizenship Test in English. A student may take the test in their native language if they qualify to do so under federal rules. Second, the student will be able to demonstrate that he or she possesses skills that are adequate for obtaining employment within commuting distance from the school they graduate from.

    That is basic. There are two things which would be incredibly controversial: The English language criteria, and not limiting the core value to "public schools" only. This makes private schools -- under Texas law, this includes home schools -- accountable to the same standards. All of this would be hashed out under the leadership of our theoretical person who has the awesome ability to inspire cooperation and unity. So, there you go. That's my contribution to reasserting a core belief in education.

    If it is possible to develop a core belief in education that people can agree on, how would you reassert it?

    To answer that question, you would have to define precisely what is meant by "reassert."
    How could we "reassert" that belief?
    What exactly do you want to do with that core belief? If you can answer that question accurately and comprehensively, you've taken a big step toward accomplishing it.

  11. I'll take a first step: reasserting that belief would mean giving it adequate financial support. You can't simultaneously cut funding for education and reassert its value. Governor Perry's actions speak louder than any words possibly can.

    That's not a comprehensive answer, I know, but I think it's an accurate one.

  12. "Second, the student will be able to demonstrate that he or she possesses skills that are adequate for obtaining employment within commuting distance from the school they graduate from."

    The skills to collect garbage, clean toilets and serve hamburgers seem a mighty low bar. If that were all I thought I was paying for in public schools, I'd think I was taxed too much, too.

    A high school grad ought to have the math skills necessary to balance a checkbook, to calculate miles per gallon in a car, to figure out which of two boxes of cereal costs more per ounce.

    A high school grad ought to have the science skill to understand the importance of vaccines, the role of balancing calories and exercise in maintaining healthy weight.

    A high school grad ought to have the literacy skills to read and understand the US Constitution, to write a book report free of spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.

    In short, I think our public school systems ought to graduate citizens capable of functioning in civil society. Yes, gainful employment is a worthy goal, but there certainly are a lot of women of child-bearing age who have exempted themselves from this role, yet they still vote and otherwise make decisions that impact others. As a society, we have a responsibility to prepare all our citizens to function in modern society.

  13. It's true; my core statement is as absolutely as low as you can go, and it's intended to be. It must be a no-argument statement.

    The things you mention that are necessary for being a functional citizen in a [civilized?] society, seem like basic goals. I agree with you on most of the goals you mention. The criteria of literacy skills and reading the Constitution is already included by the core requirement of passing the naturalization exam. I agree that basic math skills are essential, but I couldn't think of a way to state it as part of my two essential measures. I need to incorporate basic math skills in those two, or in a third that is just as basic and universally measurable. So, my core statement needs to be improved in the way you say it does, IMHO.

    I disagree with making your other goals part of the basic minimum statement of a functional education. I'm sad to say that, in real life, many adults cannot use science, grammar and math skills toaccomplish the tasks that you mention. Can they understand and apply medical information they get in doctors' offices or on the internet? Are they pleased with how well they spell? Do they like to read? Or do they prefer to watch TV and movies? How do they get their information? And yet these adults are functioning.

    I see this all the time, right out there in the Wal-marts and Gallerias and colleges of the world.

    My belief is that core goals should state the lowest common denominator in measurable terms. Then, an individual community, via the school board, can modify these goals. They can set their own goals and set their own budgets accordingly.

    In theory, that's the system we have now. But I hate this system. When money comes from local people, then local people who see what they are paying for with their own personal money will be disgruntled, no matter how successful the school system is. And, I hate it when there aren't higher standards imposed by thestate, because you wind up with beautiful football stadiums and ignorant students.

    I wish that we had funding at the state level, and not at the outrageously inequitable local level based on property taxes. I wish we had state funding to achieve this core goal, which for many students, would be a better outcome than they have now. Sad, but true.

    Do you really think that parents would allow their child to merely achieve this level? Do you think most communities would let their school systems be this low? Once the state endorses and funds these absolute minimums for every student, both private and publically educated, then communities can be given the risky power that many people are afraid to give to "the great unwashed" -- the power to set their own standards, to innovate and individualize. Can it be an improvement? If you're optimistic about Egypt, then logically you must be optimistic about this idea. I'm optimistic.

  14. "Do you really think that parents would allow their child to merely achieve this level?"

    Many parents can and do. This includes parents who send their kids to religious schools and parents who home-school.

    "Do you think most communities would let their school systems be this low?"

    Most? Probably not. Some? Sure.

    "If you're optimistic about Egypt, then logically you must be optimistic about this idea."

    Uh, no. This is a non sequitur.

  15. I agree that funding school districts at the community level based on property taxes is inequitable. I had a soul-searching discussion recently with some friends about the fact that 90% or Baylor faculty with children, myself included, don't live in the Waco school district. We choose to live in a district with higher taxes and better schools, even though we know that morally there is something wrong with this.

    My parents grew up in New York in the 30s and 40s, and even then it was common knowledge that if you wanted a decent education in the city, you had to go to a private school. So I don't have any illusions about a golden age of public schools. There never was one.

    I have no problem with the idea of local innovation and individualization. Do you think it's possible, though, even under the best of circumstances, to persuade local communities to spend more on good teachers and equipment and less on football?

  16. The importance of getting down to core values is that it cuts through a lot of crap.

    All Texans want to fund education. Funding comes from many sources: Federal, state; local property taxes; private school tuition; home school parents; fundraisers; teachers buying supplies for their own classrooms - which is tax deductible.

    You get resistance and emotion when you talk about school funding. What's that about? Class warfare. Racial prejudice. Hatred towards immigrants. Generational poverty versus the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality. Selfishness.

    What does optimism about Egypt have to do with my optimism? Well, the "great unwashed" of Egypt just kicked out the dictator who gave them no freedom at all. Nobody knows what will happen next; nobody knows if it will be better or worse than before.

    My idea, what I'm optimistic about: "Kick out" (in a manner of speaking) the tyranny of the educational bureaucracy. Nobody knows what would happen. My process would be to go through the mental exercise of stripping the educational system down to the essentials, and then build it back up using a groovy approach of peace, love and freedom.
    The goals would be: 1. Disperse centralized control over education back to communities, 2. Reform the funding system to eliminate funding inequities between school systems, and 3. find simple, core values that cut through the crap and reassert common, no-argument goals, stripped of the layers of complexity that has blinded us to our commonalities, such as adequately and efficiently funding education.
    I'm optimistic.

    Before I finish -- and feel free to stop reading because I surely have blithered for way too long -- one of my pet peeves is when someone states the assumption that many parents would be satisfied for their children to achieve a minimal level of learning.

    I've surely seen this in homeschoolers and private schoolers and religious extremists and if you want me to go into the shocking details, I will. I've also met the children of a mentally ill woman who wouldn't know if her children were educated or not, since she thinks they're dead. I went to church with a retarded woman and gave her and her baby car rides a few times. That mom loves her child, but she probably won't know how much her child is learning. Drug addicted parents usually don't pay much attention, and usually their kids wind up in foster care. Sometimes immigrants don't understand our educational system and are satisfied for their children to receive a superior education to what was possible in their homeland -- the absolute minimum for us. This might seem like "many" parents to you, and where it happens it's problematic, but this isn't as many parents as most people think it is.

    Parents that you might think don't care -- they do care. Check the research. Talk to impoverished people of a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds, as I have. I used to make assumptions about them, but now I don't.

    Another topic: The reason communities favor spending money on school sports is one I've given a lot of thought to. The reasons are pretty simple and straightforward. You can't change them by persuasion. You change them by changing the payoffs. People do what pays off for them. It's as simple as that.

    Another topic: About giving our kids a privileged education: IMHO, It would be morally wrong if we denied a benefit to our child that we were able to give. It would be morally wrong to interfere with a particular child's "fate" unless we had a relationship with that child, and we believed we must provide that child with an educational benefit. Is it morally wrong that I'm not doing anything to change the outrageously (and unnecessarily) inequitable educational system in this country?
    Priorities. Maybe I'll just start with health care, then I'll get around to education.