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copyright © 2012 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

Dearest Representative . . .

My answer to your survey question, “Did you like the ideas the President proposed for our economy during the address?” is No.  In truth, for me it is not that simple.   I know from our conversations and abundant experiences, the query is not meant to close doors; nor will you draw erroneous conclusions from the “data” collected.  I understand that you wish to hear from your constituency.  Therefore, I write.  I will present support for my opinion.  The Economic Policy Institute, CaRDI, a Multidisciplinary Social Sciences Institute of Cornell University, and Michael Winerip, Education Journalist for the New York Times will serve as my surrogates. I understand that the immediate opinion polls show broad support for the President’s speech.  However, I suspect a more nuanced look may reveal that more feel as I do.  Perhaps, my words will also speak for the people who merely marked “Yes,” “No,” or “I do not have an opinion” on your and other surveys.  I can only hope that you might take a moment to ponder.

The President proposed many ideas that I believe relate to our economic health.    He spoke of taxes, the energy policy that has taxed our nation.  As a father, he addressed what I know concerns you too, education.  Indeed, I thank you once again Congressman for your active support of public education.   Enrolling your children in our local community schools speak volumes.  I believe to be one with the people is to live amongst us.  Sadly, few in Congress chose the life of the common man.  

In regards to health care, which Mister Obama also touched on in the State of the Union speech, last evening, the Congress’s separation from society-at-large is evident in policies passed and again in the President’s speech.  Possibly, he too has forgotten how the real people live.  

The President did propose one plan I endorse I think The Buffet Rule enacted would be beautiful.  I believe this might help to more fully embody an actual Democratic Progressive tax structure.

Indeed, I actually think an increased tax rate for all is the ultimate in wisdom.  Even Conservatives such as Commentator-Columnist Ben Stein and former Reagan Economic Advisor, David Stockman are in favor of this more realistic plan. President Eisenhower too would applaud this way of doing taxes.  You likely recall under Ike, the tax rate for wealthiest Americans was ninety-one percent.  Republicans are not alone in their support of a Buffet Rule.  Progressive policy wonks, such as Robert Reich, advocate for higher taxes over all.  Right, Left, and Middle, we might have a consensus.  I sincerely endorse such mutual sagacity.  

Many Economists regardless of political affiliation see the correlation…Services require salaries, supplies, and a tax structure that supports all that are needed to sustain the health of a nation.

However, this aspect of the State of the Union speech was, for the most part, the only point I applauded.  The Buffet Rule aside, overall the ways in which the President proposes we build a nation, for me, only furthers the folly.

I have long been troubled by the belief that we can eat cake endlessly; yet never buy the ingredients to make it let alone bake it.  Some may ask, "Where is the beef?" I yearn to learn where are the eggs needed to bring the cake into being.  For that matter, do we have any butter, flour, or milk?  As the President does, I ponder what is spilled.   It seems all our society thinks it takes to make batter, is sugar.

We want gas to power our cars.  However, we want the price to be low.  I loathe the idea that we might invest in more fossil fuels!  The process is quick for it is familiar.  Nevertheless, it is extremely dirty.  Quick and dirty is not as I desire.  Mother Nature tells us daily that she believes as I do.  Climate change costs us dearly; still, the President’s energy related positions push for more oil and gas.  Please allow me to offer a portion of a comprehensive Cornell University study.

The Economic Consequences of Shale Gas Extraction
The Boom-Bust Cycle of Shale Gas Extraction Economies. The extraction of non-renewable natural resources such as natural gas is characterized by a “boom-bust” cycle, in which a rapid increase in economic activity is followed by a rapid decrease. The rapid increase occurs when drilling crews and other gas-related businesses move into a region to extract the resource. During this period, the local population grows and jobs in construction, retail and services increase, though because the natural gas extraction industry is capital rather than labor intensive, drilling activity itself will produce relatively few jobs for locals. Costs to communities also rise significantly, for everything from road maintenance and public safety to schools. When drilling ceases because the commercially recoverable resource is depleted, there is an economic “bust” -- population and jobs depart the region, and fewer people are left to support the boomtown infrastructure.

Congressman, as I listened to and read the State of the Union text, I cringed.  George W. Bush was all I saw and heard.  Mister Obama spoke of our energy policy and how investments in “clean power” would improve our economy.  I believe our continued investment in fossil fuels, foreign and/or domestic hurts us.  Be it income distribution, equal access to goods and services, or more importantly to me, the harm done to the planet, our continued commitments to natural gas, petroleum, “Clean coal,” and nuclear energy are anathema, as is the President’s education agenda.  

As energy does, education relates to the economy.  You may recall this an issue near and dear to me.  For as long as he has been in office, in respect to schools and learning Barack Obama baffles me.  He speaks of the need for creativity and curiosity in the classroom, and then quashes the possibility!  Often, Mister Obama refers to how teaching to the test is counterproductive to learning.  Yet, all that he and the DOE put in place are Race to the Top and Waivers. Programs.  Each encourages more and more examinations and commercialization!  

While the public is led to belief that the President understands why programs established under President Bush failed, it seems, in deed, this Head of State has only furthered the stress felt in schools.

In truth, I never understood why President Obama appointed Arne Duncan, a man whose work the business community and the Grand Old Party admired.  Again I think of George W. Bush and Jeb!  Economically we move further away from a Democratic Progressive system and closer to the regressive realities of privatization.  Public Schools are closed in favor of “Choice” Learning Centers.  Charters, while labeled public, more often drain dollars from the more egalitarian school system.  These institutions rarely provide the performance statistics promised.  Many, in reality, are privately run management firms.   Education is not their mission; earnings are!

We need only look at who is invited to the White House Education Round Tables.  Pedagogues are not welcome.  Their voices are intentionally absent from the conversation.  Influential "investors" sit with the President and his Secretary of Education.  These same persons now occupy our public schools.  Thus, economically speaking, education is now a growth industry!  

The President said in his speech, "For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning, the first time that’s happened in a generation."  I inquire Congressman, how do we evaluate the minimal cost to the federal government and the so-called rise?   Hmm?

In Obama’s Race to the Top, Work and Expense Lie With States:
By adding just one-third of one percent to state coffers, the feds get to implement their version of education reform.

That includes rating teachers and principals by their students’ scores on state tests; using those ratings to dismiss teachers with low scores and to pay bonuses to high scorers; and reducing local control of education.

Second, the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, and his education scientists do not have to do the dirty work. For teachers in subject areas and grades that do not have state tests (music, art, technology, kindergarten through third grade) or do not have enough state tests to measure growth (every high school subject), it is the state’s responsibility to create a system of alternative ratings.
In New York, that will have to cover 79 percent of all teachers, a total of 175,000 people. The only state tests for assessing teachers are for English and math, from fourth grade to eighth.


Yet, the President and Arne Duncan have persuaded the public and policymakers that the invisibles, learning and the effect a mentor has on our offspring, can be measured in a day, an hour, or on one single assessment.   I know not of you; however, in my life, even when I scored well on a test, the results did not reflect my learning.  Guesstimates, short-term memory, the fluke that is a coincidence, these are not calculated in our high-stakes assessments.  However if it were possible to accurately evaluate these, then perhaps the reliance on test scores might make some sense, although still very little.

I am reminded of a statement President Obama made in his speech last evening that I do agree with. “Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives.” I think every individual outside the Hall can also point to a Professor or Academic who transformed what would be. Yet, we punish our mentors when their students do not perform on command.

I cry for the young and the old.  In truth, tears flow for every American.  The reason, in a society such as ours, there is no reverence for humanity, nay-human health.  Congressman, please indulge me as I reflect on health care coverage.  President Obama stated, "That’s why our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a government program."

Oh, my.  Once more regression is our nation’s reality.  May I present a bit to ponder…This quote is taken from an Economic Policy Institute Report.

Medicare Privatization: A Cautionary Tale
The private plans are only competitive because they play on a tilted playing field. When that is not enough, they resort to hard-sell tactics that take advantage of vulnerable seniors—practices that prompted an ongoing congressional investigation. They also create road blocks and traps that prevent seniors from being fully reimbursed for care.

Medicare privatizers spend a lot of taxpayer money lobbying Congress, and their story keeps changing. The original rationale for private plans was that competition would lower costs, so payments were capped at 95% of the average Medicare cost for each county. The plans still prospered by cherry-picking healthy seniors, a problem that was only partly abated through risk adjusting. Since it is now established that these plans are actually less efficient than the public one, the current claim is that they help minorities and other underserved groups, an argument that also has little merit, according to research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.”


Oh Representative, I lived in California when Proposition 13 and the "No New Taxes" hymn were born.  Today, I realize through President Obama’s speech, this tune grows louder.  The nation, and our democracy die.  Free Enterprise thrives.

Having read to the end, I hope you will understand.  All the information I offer in my missive to you and so much more influenced my answer to your survey question Congressman.  “Did you like the ideas the President proposed for our economy during the address?” No, I did not.  I wonder; did you?

I look forward to future conversations.  May we discuss what for me is the greatest dilemma; The State of the Union divides us as do the plans the President proposed.

Sincerely . . .

Betsy L. Angert
January 25, 2012

Originally posted to Bcgntn; BeThink on Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 09:52 AM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter, I follow and I Quote Meteor Blades in my Diary Group, Teachers Lounge, and Education Alternatives.

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