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December 2010

December 31, 2010

Best and Worst in 2010: Are We Reaching Techno-Digital Overload?

Peter Osnos

2010 Year in Review: Peter Osnos on Media from Century Foundation on Vimeo.

Last April, when the iPad was released, I placed it on my dresser next to the iPod, Kindle, and Blackberry Bold 9000, across the room from my desktop computer. My unexpected thought was whether I really needed all this stuff, especially since, only five years ago, I made it through the day with a Treo (e-mail, but few other frills), a laptop for travel, piles of books I intended to read, and a large stack of CDs, plus a radio, which is still the first thing that gets turned on in the early morning for NPR. It wasn’t long before the iPad found its place. I became a huge fan of Pandora, Internet radio that is like having a second iPod, and was a regular visitor to iBooks. I now have nineteen apps, many of which are merely duplicates of print subscriptions I already had, including the Wall Street Journal and the Economist.

Like so many millions of us, I have succumbed to the gadgetry that, on reflection, really are just add-ons to what I have had for years: a television loaded with cable channels, a half-dozen telephones scattered around the house, bookshelves and magazine racks, and the computer, which is a gateway to infinite communication and information.

Lately, as I prepared each week to write about the media issues that are the mainstay of these pieces, I realized that I had become vaguely uncomfortable managing all this accumulated equipment and simultaneously had fallen out of phase with the most popular of the social networking breakthroughs—Facebook and Twitter, in particular. Of course, much of this is generational. Stories about teenagers sending thousands of text messages a month are merely the descendents of complaints about time their parents spent chattering on the telephone. All of the hottest business uses of social networks and the Internet have, we are reminded constantly, co-opted the print and television advertising that had supported the mightiest of enterprises for decades, all of which are now scrambling to stay in the fray.

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December 30, 2010

2010 Year in Review: Michael Wahid Hanna on the Middle East

The Century Foundation

Highlights of Michael Wahid Hanna's comments from the video below:

 

Best

Iraq

The Obama administration has been intent on a reduced footprint in Iraq and has been successful in that.

Afghanistan

This point has a best and worst: This year we are seeing recognition to a political settlement to the war and an understanding that a military solution is not enough to bring stability to the people of Afghanistan.

Worst

Afghanistan

The adjunct to the above Best point on Afghanistan is that the military situation in Afghanistan is mixed. US force levels are not sustainable and its unclear if we have achieved durable "tactical successes" because they will require Afghan security and governance to retain.

Egypt

Recent Egyptian parliamentary elections were markedly repressive and so skewed that they test credulity. It shows how concerned the state is with elections next year, given the question succession. These parliamentary elections demonstrate how much work the opposition has to go through to survive and be taken seriously.

Israel / Palestine

We are at an impasse with no good ideas on how to move forward. There are huge gaps in what the Netanyahu government sees could be a peace and this year any notion of a settlement freeze has collapsed.

Iran

Iranian intransigence and essentially a less than forthright attempt to engage Iran has led nowhere. The issue is at a critical juncture as we hear an increasing drum beat calling for military action.

 

2010 Year in Review: Michael Wahid Hanna on the Middle East from The Century Foundation .

 

 

December 29, 2010

2010 Year in Review: Ruy Teixeira on Progressive Policy

Ruy Teixeira

Ruy Teixeira discusses the best and worst progressive policy developments in 2010. He says that the best development was the successful passing of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.  Progressives have been trying to reform the health care system for 100 years, and while the act is not perfect, it is a huge step in reform. He also notes the Obama Administration's re-regulation of the financial sector as a positive development as it was the biggest regulatory reform that sector has seen since 1930. Another positive is that 2010 was the most productive legislation year in Congress that the U.S. has had since the Great Society days of Lyndon Johnson. The worst things that have happened for progressives has been the failure to recover the economy in a timely manner, which resulted in the historic defeat of the Democratic Party in the midterm elections. Learn more in the video below. 

 

2010 Year in Review: Ruy Teixeira on Progressive Policy from Century Foundation on Vimeo.

December 28, 2010

Best and Worst in Education Policy: 2010

Gordon Macinnes

Gordon MacInnes looks back at the triumphs and downfalls in education policy actions of 2010. Education policy victories on the local front have been abundant as states have been paying attention on the best ways to educate children and curriculum standards have been raised. The U.S. can also take encouragement from the Obama Administration's passing of the appropriations act that helps with the cost of Pell Grants and their regulation of for-profit universities. The worst part of education has been the continuing and relentless acceptance of the demonization of teachers and teacher unions. Gordon sas that it's a false assertion that bad teacher performance is the reasoning for poor testing results in the United States. Learn more in the video below.

 

2010 Year in Review: Gordon MacInnes on Education from Century Foundation on Vimeo.

December 27, 2010

The Best and Worst of 2010: The World

Jeffrey Laurenti

The advent of a new year draws me back to Century’s blog to offer my idiosyncratic picks on the most important developments worldwide of this past year, for better and for worse, that are likely to have repercussions or at least offer telling lessons for years to come.  Summarized compactly in two to three sentences each, the "10 best" and "10 worst" are randomly alphabetized rather than priority ranked:

The 10 Best

Climate concerns regain traction.  The failure of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit to produce a binding treaty deflated the hopes and expectations of scientists and negotiators alike for effective international action, but this December’s follow-up meeting in Cancún yielded surprisingly specific agreements on a 2°C temperature target for mitigation, a system for

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December 24, 2010

This Year's Six Worst Deficit-Reduction Ideas

Greg Anrig

    In the waning weeks of 2010, a variety of commissions and institutions issued reports proposing recommendations for reducing the federal government’s future deficits. The plan developed by The Century Foundation, the Economic Policy Institute, and Demos includes major new public investments to revitalize the economy while also, over time, stabilizing the federal debt as a share of the economy without imposing major reductions in vital social insurance programs. But while most of the other blueprints also  include some sensible ideas, a lot of terrible proposals were also put forward. Here are the six worst deficit-reduction recommendations, most of which appear in the blueprint developed by the National Commission on the Federal Debt, which was co-chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson:

1.    Start cutting the deficit in 2012. The Bowles-Simpson plan, as well as the blueprint put forward by another commission co-chaired by Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici, would begin to reduce net federal spending by 2012. Most economic forecasts show that the unemployment rate is still likely to exceed 8 percent in that year. If the federal government were to downshift into an austerity mode so soon, that could threaten the recovery and produce a double-dip recession. That’s exactly what happened in 1937, when government spending reductions greatly prolonged and exacerbated the Great Depression.

2.    Reduce the federal workforce and freeze their salaries for three years.  The debt commission’s report entails huge reductions in staff across all federal agencies while also cutting the use of government contractors and ending pay raises. At the same time, it calls for improvements in government productivity. But such changes would clearly erode the quality of the federal workforce, making it less rather than more productive. 

3.    Cap Medicaid spending. The Bowles-Simpson proposal includes a variety of cuts to Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income Americans, even as Medicaid is about to become one of the main vehicles for extending coverage more broadly under the new health care legislation. Under the health care bill, which greatly expands eligibility for Medicaid, enrollment is projected to increase from about 60 million a year to 80 million. Yet the commission proposes cutting the money available to states to administer Medicaid, even as the program will be facing those heightened administrative demands. And it would reduce the program’s already low payments to health care providers, which will discourage doctors from accepting Medicaid patients, while requiring beneficiaries to pay even more out of pocket than they already do.  

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December 23, 2010

Voting in 2010: Lessons Learned

Tova Andrea Wang

From the standpoint of voter access and effective administration, the 2010 elections were in many ways a mixed bag. There were a number of troubling incidents that occurred including voter intimidation and threats of vote suppression, and the structural barriers to voting that keep participation rates down were as apparent as ever. Yet at the same time it was clear that much of the worst that might have happened was avoided. While the lower turnout in mid-term elections clearly presents less of a challenge to election administration, we also may be seeing the fruits of close scrutiny of election processes in past years. Voting advocates, election administrators, law enforcement, federal agencies and voters themselves seem to be getting better at dealing with problems in advance of Election Day and in responding to them more swiftly and effectively on Election Day itself. Yet make no mistake: we still have a long way to go when it comes to improving our electoral system.

One theme permeating the election that unfortunately interfered in our having a smoother and more successful voting process is one that presents a greater ongoing challenge to all Americans: the politics of anger and the mistrust of government and all institutions, and the increasingly uncivil discourse that permeates any political discussion these days. Our pre-election report on ten Swing States flagged this as an issue to watch. As is described below, these sentiments led to activities among some groups and individuals in the lead-up to the election and at the polls that were very damaging to the electoral process.

Below are the major themes to emerge in the 2010 vote, including the continuing baseless allegations of vote fraud; the unfortunate emergence of the Tea Party groups inserting themselves into the voting process in counterproductive ways, often at the urging of voter fraud mythologists; the role of anti-immigrant sentiment; voter registration barriers; confusion over provisional ballots; the continuation of deceptive practices meant to confuse voters about the system; progress for military and overseas voters; and major strides forward by election administrators and the Department of Justice in being proactive in responding to allegations of vote fraud and monitoring voter intimidation.

Baseless Fraud Claims Spawn Real Voter Intimidation

Every election year, politicians and citizen activists stridently charge that voter fraud is permeating the system. It went as mainstream as Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain himself in 2008. This year it was tea partiers at their meetings and in the blogosphere, egged on by senior Republican officials. Former House Majority Leader turned tea party leader Dick Armey told Fox News more Democrats were voting early because that's when its easier to cheat more. David Norcross, the Chair of the Republican National Lawyers Association called vote fraud "an epidemic". Fox News played its role, with its anchors constantly trumpeting reports of "voter fraud on a massive scale with the intention of keeping Democrats in office."

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December 22, 2010

2010 Year in Review: Stephen Schlesinger on International Affairs

Stephen Schlesinger
Stephen Schlesinger notes President Obama's efforts to reset relations with Russia and to calm the international economic crisis as the best things to happen in international affairs this year. On the negative side, Schlesinger says that the Obama administration invested a lot of effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, only to have failed so far. He also discusses the administration's difficulty in negotiating with North Korea and Iran. View the video below to hear more on how the Obama administration has opened new avenues of diplomacy and how they have failed.

2010 Year in Review: Stephen Schlesinger on International Affairs from Century Foundation on Vimeo.

December 21, 2010

2010 Year in Review: Maggie Mahar on Health Care Reform

Maggie Mahar

Maggie Mahar looks back on 2010 as a defining year for health care policy. The best thing to happen to health care policy was the passage of the health care reform bill. Even though the legislation is not perfect, it opens many doors to reform. Meanwhile, the worst thing to happen to health care policy is the tax cut deal that was just negotiated between White House and the conservative legislators. The deal will add close to 9 million dollars to the deficit. Maggie says that in one or two years, the conservatives will turn around, look at the huge deficit and say that Medicare must be cut.

View the video below for more on the best and worst of the year in health care reform.

2010 Year in Review: Mahar on Health Care from Century Foundation on Vimeo.

December 20, 2010

Best and Worst in Education of 2010

Richard Kahlenberg

In 2010, the education world was dominated by discussions of which states would win the “Race to the Top” competition for federal money, and which students would win the lottery to attend a charter school in the highly-touted documentary, “Waiting for Superman.”  In Washington D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee resigned after her boss, Mayor Adriane Fenty, was defeated in his bid for re-election, and Cathie Black replaced Joel Klein as chancellor of New York City Public Schools.  Of all the big stories, two developments stand out as the best and worst in education in 2010:

The Worst: The Left Joins in on Teacher Union Bashing

Looking back on the year, the worst development in education was the dubious embrace of teacher union bashing, not just by the right wing but by those on the political left as well.

In March, the President of the United States stunned many observers when he weighed in on a local matter in support of the firing of every single teacher in a struggling high school in  Central Falls, Rhode Island. As I pointed out at the time, the move was both unfair and unlikely to help students.  The primary driver of failure at schools like Central Falls High is the concentration of poverty.  A given student in a high poverty school is surrounded by peers who on average are less academically engaged; a parental community that is not in a position to be actively involved in the school to hold school officials accountable; and teachers, who, on average, teach to low expectations.  Simply firing teachers might look “tough” but it doesn’t do anything to address the root problems that underlie low performance in high poverty schools.

Then, in the Fall, movie director Davis Guggenheim, a self described liberal, released his anti-union tirade, “Waiting for Superman,” that garnered glowing reviews from everyone from President Obama (who met with students in the film) to Oprah Winfrey.  The central thesis of the movie was articulated by liberal Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, who appeared in the film to declare: “It’s very important to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time.  Teachers are great, a national treasure.  Teachers’ unions are, generally speaking, a menace and an impediment to reform.”  The dichotomy, I pointed out in The American Prospect, is one that’s long been invoked by Republicans but as the late leader Albert Shanker asked, “Who started teacher unions?  Who pays the dues that keep them going?  Who elects the officers and determines union policies?”  While teachers' unions aren’t perfect, there is no evidence that non-unionized environments are superior (witness the mediocre performance of charter schools and schools in the American South, where unions are weak.)  Conversely, top performing countries like Finland have very high teacher union density rates. 

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