Now that I've returned home from Penn for winter break, I'll have time to attend to a daily diary entry. For now, that means I can work towards the completion of the 'What I believe in as a Democrat' series. A book I'm reading right now - 'Homegrown Democrat' by Garrison Keillor - is a really good read. He's not as liberal as I openly am, but in a sense, the positions he holds are the same as mine - except he frames it the context of common sense, which, when one thinks about it, is what the Democratic Party is all about.
I didn't speak about the economy as an issue because I felt that it was too large to speak about in one piece. It really has to be broken down into pieces, which is what I've done - I spoke about taxes earlier, and now I'll discuss the issue of jobs. Bush presided over a net loss of 1.6 million jobs in the private sector. The total net loss is around 900,000, only because the increase in government size - under a so-called 'conservative', no less - made up the difference of about 700,000 jobs. While there hasn't been a dip in the number of people working, there hasn't been the increases that are indicative of widespread economic growth. The indicators that most Americans pay attention to - the Dow Jones and the Nasdaq - haven't made the kind of increases that would give everyday consumers confidence that the economy is doing well. Many Democrats point to outsourcing as the reason why job growth has been so tame. While that is true, outsourcing simply cannot be stopped. Businesses will go where costs are lower, and for them, that means getting lower-paid workers in other countries. However, as John Kerry said, we should close those incentives that reward businesses for moving jobs overseas. That's just foolishness. However, nor should we give businesses a tax credit for hiring workers in America, because no tax credit will cover the difference in wages between America and India, for example. What Democrats should really focus on is making sure that we spend money on retraining those who have lost their manufacturing jobs. Unless programs such as those during the New Deal are suddenly reintroduced - which is unlikely, given the political makeup of the current government - those jobs are gone for a long period of time. Instead, we need to focus on hi-tech training. Although Asia is catching up, we are still the preeminent scientific power, and that is where our strength is. We also cannot cut unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs. It's the government's responsbility to look after those who had no control over their jobs. It's common sense.
2) Intelligence reform
I laid out my thoughts about the 9/11 commission in the previous entry of this series. The most important thing for Democrats to do now is to keep Porter Goss honest. For all his proclamations about being nonpartisan, the purging at CIA is not 'reform' but rather the elimination of those who will not bend their intelligence so that it supports the claims of the Bush administration. The Senate Democrats were highly disappointing in Goss' confirmation hearings; we needed to make a statement as we did with John Ashcroft. Now that he's in, we have to make sure he's doing his job - giving the President factual evidence on the threats against this nation. We should also make sure that the 'reforms' that have been passed allow lower-level field agents to be able to reach the top quickly if they have pressing evidence. It won't be the DCI or the NID who prevents the next terrorist attack. It will be the field agents.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was supposed to raise standards for public schools around the country, especially elementary schools. However, I feel that the benefits are too harsh. I think it's totally unfair to cut funding to schools that rank as 'failing'. Common sense tells me that you're not going to improve a school by cutting the money it gets. Having gone through a public school system in Westchester County, NY - a very well-funded school district at that - I can say from personal experience that we need teachers that are inspired to teach, not because they are teachers by profession. I once read an article about a non-profit organization - the name escapes me at the moment - that takes people who are not teachers by profession and makes them teachers. Usually, these teachers teach because they want to make a difference in a kid's life, and it is these teachers that do the best job in educating American youth. Statistics show it; once I find the link, I'll update this diary. We also need a better way than standardized testing to see how well a child is learning. Memorization, a skill that is often not truly acquired as a study habit until the high school years, is essentially what these tests have boiled down to, and you cannot ask elementary kid students to memorize fact after fact because that's not the way they've been taught. We need to have a testing system that has a lot less rigidity, one that allows a student's thoughts to come to the surface. Facts make you knowledgeable, but that does not make one you intelligent. Intelligence is a combination of facts and creativity, and it is creativity that is so sorely lacking on standardized testing. Public education needs to be fixed, and the No Child Left Behind Act is not the way to do it. It is applying the laws of social Darwinism to education. Common sense tells me, and should tell you, that that's not right.