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An Open Letter

TO: Allison Benedikt

FROM: Pejman Yousefzadeh

RE: Activities of Your Arch-Enemy

Dear Ms. Benedikt:

Someone who truly despises you appears to be hellbent on trashing your reputation in the punditry world by having written this preternaturally awful piece under your name. As you are doubtless a significantly intelligent and educated individual, I am sure that you join me in cringing at the words attributed to you by whatever mortal foe is possessed by an Ahabesque hatred of your illustrious person. Words like the following:

You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad.

I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental. But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good. (Yes, rich people might cluster. But rich people will always find a way to game the system: That shouldn’t be an argument against an all-in approach to public education any more than it is a case against single-payer health care.)

And this:

So, how would this work exactly? It’s simple! Everyone needs to be invested in our public schools in order for them to get better. Not just lip-service investment, or property tax investment, but real flesh-and-blood-offspring investment. Your local school stinks but you don’t send your child there? Then its badness is just something you deplore in the abstract. Your local school stinks and you do send your child there? I bet you are going to do everything within your power to make it better.

And this:

I believe in public education, but my district school really isn’t good! you might say. I understand. You want the best for your child, but your child doesn’t need it. If you can afford private school (even if affording means scrimping and saving, or taking out loans), chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a crappy public school. She will have support at home (that’s you!) and all the advantages that go along with being a person whose family can pay for and cares about superior education—the exact kind of family that can help your crappy public school become less crappy. She may not learn as much or be as challenged, but take a deep breath and live with that. Oh, but she’s gifted? Well, then, she’ll really be fine.

I went K–12 to a terrible public school. My high school didn’t offer AP classes, and in four years, I only had to read one bookThere wasn’t even soccer. This is not a humblebrag! I left home woefully unprepared for college, and without that preparation, I left college without having learned much there either. You know all those important novels that everyone’s read? I haven’t. I know nothing about poetry, very little about art, and please don’t quiz me on the dates of the Civil War. I’m not proud of my ignorance. But guess what the horrible result is? I’m doing fine. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that I got a lame education. I’m saying that I survived it, and so will your child, who must endure having no AP calculus so that in 25 years there will be AP calculus for all.

And this:

Also remember that there’s more to education than what’s taught. As rotten as my school’s English, history, science, social studies, math, art, music, and language programs were, going to school with poor kids and rich kids, black kids and brown kids, smart kids and not-so-smart ones, kids with superconservative Christian parents and other upper-middle-class Jews like me was its own education and life preparation. Reading Walt Whitman in ninth grade changed the way you see the world? Well, getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house did the same for me. In fact it’s part of the reason I feel so strongly about public schools.

(All emphasis in bold italics mine.) I am sure I don’t have to detail just how absolutely terrible this “reasoning” is, or how much the attribution of this “reasoning” to your unquestionably great and good name serves to annihilate any semblance of respect for your in the punditry world. Or outside of the punditry world. Or amongst humans in general. Or even amongst hamsters, gerbils, and paramecium.

Some have claimed that this piece was written purely and exclusively as troll-bait, designed to get Slate some desperately needed clicks, pageviews, unique visitors and attention. But I truly believe that something far more nefarious is at work. I believe that some poor, benighted soul has taken it upon him/herself to play Khan Noonien Singh to your James T. Kirk, and to chase you ’round the quizzes of Ken Jennings, and ’round the bad arguments of Matthew Yglesias, and ’round Perdition’s flames before s/he gives up on making you a pariah in the field of opinion-piece writers. As such, I strongly suggest that you take decisive action to deal with this threat to your standing. Use whatever methods you must, whatever methods are available to you to unmask your personal Lex Luthor and salvage your standing as a pundit. Remember, it’s only a no-win scenario for you if you stand back and do nothing.

I hope and trust that this public missive has been helpful. Please do keep us all informed on your efforts to restore your good name.

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The Audacity of Concern

Really, how dare anyone be alarmed by this:

Republicans have long blamed President Obama’s signature health care initiative for increasing insurance costs, dubbing it the “Unaffordable Care Act.”

Turns out, they might be right.

For the vast majority of Americans, premium prices will be higher in the individual exchange than what they’re currently paying for employer-sponsored benefits, according to a National Journal analysis of new coverage and cost data. Adding even more out-of-pocket expenses to consumers’ monthly insurance bills is a swell in deductibles under the Affordable Care Act.

Health law proponents have excused the rate hikes by saying the prices in the exchange won’t apply to the millions receiving coverage from their employers. But that’s only if employers continue to offer that coverage–something that’s looking increasingly uncertain. Already, UPS, for example, cited Obamacare as its reason for nixing spousal coverage. And while a Kaiser Family Foundation report found that 49 percent of the U.S. population now receives employer-sponsored coverage, more companies are debating whether they will continue to be in the business of providing such benefits at all.

Economists largely agree there won’t be a sea change among employers offering coverage. But they’re also saying small businesses are still in play.

Caroline Pearson, vice president at Avalere Health, a health care and public policy advisory firm, said there’s a calculation low-wage companies will make to determine if there’s cost savings in sending employees to the exchanges.

“The amount you have to gross up their wages so they can get their own insurance and the cost of the penalties may add up to less than the cost of providing care,” she said.

It’s a choice companies are already making. The number of employers offering coverage has declined, from 66 percent in 2003 to 57 percent today, according to Kaiser’s study.

Look on the bright side: At least we are finding out what is in the health care reform bill. You know, now that we have passed it.

From the Department of Simple Solutions to Problems that Never Should Have Existed in the First Place

I see that there are complaints in various and sundry places regarding the dearth of Republicans at the 50th anniversary commeration of the March on Washington. May I suggest that in the future, if one wishes to get certain elected officials to a particular gathering, one ought to give them plenty of advance notice by way of invitation?

Not a single Republican elected official stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday with activists, actors, lawmakers and former presidents invited to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington — a notable absence for a party seeking to attract the support of minority voters.

Event organizers said Wednesday that they invited top Republicans, all of whom declined to attend because of scheduling conflicts or ill health.

But aides to some GOP congressional leaders said they received formal invitations only in recent weeks, making it too late to alter their summer recess schedules.

[. . .]

House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio), the highest-ranking Republican in Washington, was invited to attend Wednesday’s gathering but declined because of a scheduling conflict, aides said.

Boehner was in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and had no public schedule Wednesday but has been headlining dozens of GOP fundraisers nationwide this month. Aides noted that he led an official congressional commemoration of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on July 31 at the U.S. Capitol that other top congressional leaders attended.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) received an invitation to attend 12 days ago, which was too late to change scheduled political appearances Wednesday in North Dakota and Ohio, aides said.

Cantor led a congressional delegation to Selma, Ala., in March to observe the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march at the invitation of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the only surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington.

Daughtry said Cantor tried hard to find another GOP lawmaker to take his place but was unsuccessful. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) also was invited to speak but declined for scheduling reasons, she said.

Now, it is possible that “scheduling reasons” may have been an all-purpose excuse for people who didn’t want to go to the commemorations under any circumstances. But why not give those people plenty of advance notice so that they would have had no excuse whatsoever for not attending? If it is indeed true that Boehner, Cantor, McCain and other Republicans received invitations only at the last minute, then no one who is familiar with the calendars of politicians should have been surprised when those politicians were unable to RSVP in the affirmative.

Oh, and am I supposed to applaud this?

Some Republicans noted that organizers did not invite Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the only black Republican senator, who was appointed to his seat this year. Aides said Scott planned to attend a church service honoring King on Wednesday night in North Charleston, S.C.

What possible justification could there have been for this?

What Justice Ginsburg Gets Wrong

Her disparagement of the Roberts Court notwithstanding, it is not an activist Court:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg believes the Roberts Court is “one of the most activist courts in history,” according to a widely cited interview with the NYT‘s Adam Liptak.   ”Activist” is a slippery label, often indicating nothing more than disagreement with a Court’s decision in a given case.  fortunately Justice Ginsburg provided Liptak with a definition.  Specifically, Ginsburg told Liptak that “if it’s measured in terms of readiness to overturn legislation, this is one of the most activist courts in history.”  This is one way to define judicial activism, but if this is the definition Justice Ginsburg wants to use, her accusation falls wide of the mark.

If activism is “measured in terms of readiness to overturn legislation,” the current Court is not one of the “most activist courts in history,” at least not compared to others of recent memory.  As Liptak’s own reporting has shown,the Roberts Court is the least activist Court of the post-war period by this measure, invalidating federal statutes far less often than did the Warren, Burger, or Rehnquist Courts.  Liptak wrote his earlier story in July 2010, but the conclusion still holds.  Since 2010 the rate at which the Roberts Court has struck down federal legislation has actually declined.  According to the same report, the Roberts Court overturns precedent at a lower rate than did prior post-War courts.

If in calling the Roberts Court  ”one of the most activist courts in history,” Justice Ginsburg meant that the Roberts Court is more activist than, say, the seriatim or Marshall Court, she has a point. If she meant to imply the Roberts Court is any more “activist” than any other court in the past 60 years, she doesn’t.

Maybe the New York Times should correct the record on this point. You know that they would if John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas or Samuel Alito made a similar boo-boo.

This Again?

We appear set to have yet another debt ceiling fight, so let me repeat what I have said in previous situations when a debt ceiling fight was pending: Having a debt ceiling fight is a terribly dumb idea. It brings about financial uncertainty, it flirts with yet another downgrade of America’s credit rating, and failing to raise the debt ceiling only serves to make our country a deadbeat. We are not, after all, raising the debt ceiling in order to have money for new spending, rather, we are raising the debt ceiling in order to have money to pay for all of the things we have already charged to the national credit card.

Some More Stray Thoughts on Syria

In no particular order:

  • Unless there is some serious head-faking going on–and I doubt that there is–maybe it’s not such a great idea for our government to leak its operational plans. Of course, the leaking shouldn’t surprise us; the Obama administration continues to believe, apparently, that telling national security secrets out of school is a bad thing unless it is being done to make the president look good in the eyes of the general public.
  • Like all good dissents, this one will likely turn into a majority opinion relatively soon.
  • All of the sudden, illegal wars are all the rage. I am shocked–shocked!–to contemplate that this might have something to do with a Democratic president getting the kind of pass no Republican president would get in similar circumstances.

Once Again, Please Don’t Be Alarmed

I am sure that this news is of absolutely no significance whatsoever:

The Obama administration has delayed a step crucial to the launch of the new healthcare law, the signing of final agreements with insurance plans to be sold on federal health insurance exchanges starting October 1.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notified insurance companies on Tuesday that it would not sign final agreements with the plans between September 5 and 9, as originally anticipated, but would wait until mid-September instead, according to insurance industry sources.

Nevertheless, Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for HHS, said the department remains “on track to open” the marketplaces on time on October 1.

The reason for the hold-up was unclear. Sources attributed it to technology problems involving the display of insurance products within the federal information technology system.

Peters said only that the government was responding to “feedback” from the companies, “providing additional flexibility and time to handle technical requests.”

Coming at a time when state and federal officials are still working to overcome challenges to the information technology systems necessary to make the exchanges work, some experts say that even a small delay could jeopardize the start of the six-month open enrollment period.

U.S. officials have said repeatedly that the marketplaces, which are the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform law, would begin on time.

But the October 1 deadline has already begun to falter at the state level, with Oregon announcing plans to scale back the launch of its own marketplace and California saying it would consider a similar move.

Just imagine how many impediments to implementation there are out there that we don’t know about. Not that we should be worried about such issues, of course.

And Now, Military Action in Syria?

The Obama administration seems set to attack the Syrian regime with approximately two day’s worth of air and cruise missile strikes in response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian rebels. In the immortal words of Demi Moore, “I strenuously object!”1 Here’s why:

  • We have no strategic interest whatsoever in entering as military actors in the midst of the Syrian civil war, lest we want to prolong the conflict in order to bleed Iran (a Syrian ally) dry. (And yes, there are some very real moral qualms associated with such a move.) Two day’s worth of air and cruise missile strikes will not achieve that goal.
  • We don’t seem to have any idea of what goal we wish to achieve, other than wanting to lash out at the Syrian regime for an admittedly appalling act. Speaking of which . . .
  • Appalling acts go on all over the world. That doesn’t downplay or diminish the outrage that should greet such acts but are we going to respond to all of them with military force? What is special about the Syrian case?
  • As I have written before, the Syrian opposition may not exactly be our best friends.

It is not hard to be angered by the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. And I have no problem with an effort to organize some kind of international response designed to punish the regime for its barbarism. But the administration’s seeming willingness to employ military force appears to rely an awful lot on the use of the politician’s syllogism. And I won’t be caught dead backing that kind of argument.

1. A Few Good Men.

The New Nobility?

I am pretty sure that I don’t agree with Glenn Reynolds’s theory that allowing special privileges for government officials may serve to violate Art. I, Sec. 9 of the Constitution. I do believe, however, that allowing government officials to have special privileges to begin with is fundamentally offensive on a number of levels. And hey, if the advocates of a “living, breathing Constitution” are forced to have their interpretive principles used to curb the growth of government–and the power of governmental bureaucrats as well–I guess I might be able to learn to live with that outcome.

Very Interesting–and Ultimately Irrelevant–Facts about Ali Khamene’i

I will freely admit to finding Akbar Ganji’s article about Iran’s supreme leader fascinating–especially excerpts like this one:

As a young man, Khamenei loved novels. He read such Iranian writers as Muhammad Ali Jamalzadah, Sadeq Chubak, and Sadeq Hedayat but came to feel that they paled before classic Western writers from France, Russia, and the United Kingdom. He has praised Leo Tolstoy and Mikhail Sholokhov and likes Honoré de Balzac and Michel Zévaco, but he considers Victor Hugo supreme. As he told some officials of Iran’s state-run television network in 2004,

In my opinion, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is the best novel that has been written in history. I have not read all the novels written throughout history, no doubt, but I have read many that relate to the events of various centuries. I have read some very old novels. For example, say, I’ve read The Divine Comedy. I have read Amir Arsalan. I have also read A Thousand and One Nights. . . . [But] Les Misérables is a miracle in the world of novel writing. . . . I have said over and over again, go read Les Misérables once. This Les Misérables is a book of sociology, a book of history, a book of criticism, a divine book, a book of love and feeling.

Khamenei felt that novels gave him insight into the deeper realities of life in the West. “Read the novels of some authors with leftist tendencies, such as Howard Fast,” he advised an audience of writers and artists in 1996. “Read the famous book The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck, . . . and see what it says about the situation of the left and how the capitalists of the so-called center of democracy treated them.” He is also a fan of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which he recommended in March 2002 to high-level state managers for the light it sheds on U.S. history: “Isn’t this the government that massacred the original native inhabitants of the land of America? That wiped out the American Indians? Wasn’t it this system and its agents who seized millions of Africans from their houses and carried them off into slavery and kidnapped their young sons and daughters to become slaves and inflicted on them for long years the most severe tragedies? Today, one of the most tragic works of art is Uncle Tom’s Cabin. . . . This book still lives after almost 200 years.”

So, Khamene’i has an intellectual and literary bent that I didn’t know he possessed. I guess that is worth a “wow,” or two, but ultimately, readings like this one do more to inform readers about Khamene’i’s “leadership” than does the list of novels Khamene’i has claimed to have read. As mentioned in my recent New Atlanticist article (this in relation to the election of Hassan Rohani as Iran’s new president), there is precedent for believing that an affinity for Western culture on the part of the leader of some adversary nation means that said leader is inclined to make that adversary nation into a friendly one (see, e.g., Yuri Andropov and his supposed fondness for jazz, which was supposed to bring about the new détente between the United States and the former Soviet Union). But as we saw in Andropov’s case, an affinity for Western culture on the part of a foreign leader is not a sign that the leader in question is going to implement positive changes in his/her country’s foreign policy. Something to remember as we contemplate the larger meaning of Khamene’i’s supposed list of favorite novels.

Because It Is a Monday, and We May Need a Humor Break . . .

I give you this. My favorite part:

The third section is both incoherent and unconvincing. The long digression regarding the work of Richard Wagner is hardly appropriate; again, the author’s personal animosities are unpleasant to have to wade through. I would much rather see a return to the style of his earlier The Birth of Tragedy, which seemed to me altogether more sure-footed in its following of the transcendental achievements of Schopenhauer and Kant, which the author has sadly turned away from.

(Via John Protevi.)

Now Under Attack: School Choice in Louisiana

I am one of those radical revolutionaries who believes that education is the great civil rights struggle of our time, and that as part and parcel of that struggle, parents who don’t like the public schools where their kids are going ought to have the right to take their kids out of a failing public school and use vouchers to exercise school choice–including patronizing private and religious schools where kids can receive better educations.

I believe this strongly enough that if I were re-drafting the Constitution, I would make school choice–along with economic liberty–part of the Bill of Rights. I am glad to see that Bobby Jindal, one of my favorite governors, has decided to make school choice a priority in Louisiana.

Too bad that the Department of Justice has decided that it has nothing better to do than to sue to stop the school choice program. Note that “[a]lmost all the students using vouchers are black,” which means that the Justice Department’s actions will disadvantage minority students by a tremendously disproportionate amount. Should the Justice Department’s suit succeed and should those students once again have to contend with failing schools, they will have Eric Holder to thank for their plight.

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