Government can overestimate college costs

Federal listing of college costs often fail to calculate the rising supplements provided by student aid, grants, and loans.

As the New York Times reports, “The government’s official statistic for college-tuition inflation has become somewhat infamous. It appears frequently in the news media, and policy makers lament what it shows.No wonder: College tuition and fees have risen an astounding 107 percent since 1992, even after adjusting for economywide inflation, according to the measure. No other major household budget item has increased in price nearly as much.But it turns out the government’s measure is deeply misleading.

images“For years, that measure was based on the list prices that colleges published in their brochures, rather than the actual amount students and their families paid. The government ignored financial-aid grants. Effectively, the measure tracked the price of college for rich families, many of whom were not eligible for scholarships, but exaggerated the price – and price increases – for everyone from the upper middle class to the poor.The good news is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has gradually begun to change its methods since 2003, to capture the effects of financial aid. It will take more time to know how well those efforts are working. But the bureau won’t alter the historical data, which means the long-term comparisons will never capture the actual cost of college for American families.

“Those oft-cited comparisons, notes Sandy Baum, a George Washington University professor and an expert on college costs, says, are “certainly misleading.”

“The discrepancy matters because the country is in the midst of a roiling debate about whether college is worth it. Various pundits on both the left and right have taken to claiming that higher education is overrated and often not worth it. The shocking increase in college costs, according to the official Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, is part of their argument. Continue reading “Government can overestimate college costs”

Government tops Americans’ list of “problems”

Americans start the new year with a variety of national concerns on their minds.imgres

Although none is dominant, the government, at 21%, leads the list of what Americans consider the most important problem facing the country.

Gallup reports that “the economy closely follows at 18%, and then unemployment/jobs and healthcare, each at 16%. No other issue is mentioned by as much as 10% of the public; however, the federal budget deficit or debt comes close, at 8%.

“Americans’ current telling of the top problems facing the country comes from a Jan. 5-8 Gallup poll. The rank order is similar to what Gallup found in December, although the percentage mentioning unemployment has risen four percentage points to 16%.

“Mentions of the government as the top problem remain higher than they were prior to the partial government shutdown in October. During the shutdown, the percentage naming the government as the top problem doubled to 33% from 16% in September.

“Compared with a year ago, mentions of government are up slightly. Mentions of healthcare, on the other hand, have quadrupled — from 4% in January 2013 to 16% today, likely related to highly visible problems with the rollout of the 2010 healthcare law. At the same time, references to the federal deficit or debt have declined from 20% to 8%, while mentions of the economy in general have dipped from 21% to 18%, and mentions of unemployment/jobs are the same, at 16%. Continue reading “Government tops Americans’ list of “problems””

Abortion under siege across America

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A three-year surge in anti-abortion measures in more than half the states has altered the landscape for abortion access, with supporters and opponents agreeing that the new restrictions are shutting some clinics, threatening others and making it far more difficult in many regions to obtain the procedure.

  Advocates for both sides are preparing for new political campaigns and court battles that could redefine the constitutional limits for curbing the right to abortion set by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and later modifications by the Supreme Court.

On Monday, in a clash that is likely to reach the Supreme Court, a federal appeals court in New Orleans will hear arguments on a Texas requirement that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals — a measure that caused one-third of the state’s abortion clinics to close, at least temporarily. As the New York Times today reports:

“Advocates for abortion rights, taking heart from recent signs in Virginia and New Mexico that proposals for strong or intrusive controls may alienate voters, hope to help unseat some Republican governors this year as well as shore up the Democratic majority in the United States Senate.

“Anti-abortion groups aim to consolidate their position in dozens of states and to push the Senate to support a proposal adopted by the Republican-controlled House for a nationwide ban on most abortions at 20 weeks after conception.

“I think we are at a potential turning point: Either access to abortion will be dramatically restricted in the coming year or perhaps the pushback will begin,” said Suzanne Goldberg, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia University.

“The anti-abortion groups, for their part, feel emboldened by new tactics that they say have wide public appeal even as they push the edges of Supreme Court guidelines, including costly clinic regulations and bans on late abortions.”

More at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/04/us/women-losing-access-to-abortion-as-opponents-gain-ground-in-state-legislatures.html?_r=0

Shutting down mental health care

In recent days the news has been filled with reports of shutdown related injustices to families of fallen U.S. soldiers, patients in government cancer treatment programs, students reliant on federal aid. As Forbes Magazine reports, mental health care is also taking a hit.

“In the months leading up to World Mental Health Day, DC has been shaken by a series of violent events that ended with innocent lives lost and our country’s mental health services called into question. imgresDuring this same time period, Washington, DC has been consumed by a government shutdown, with lawmakers and policymakers trying to determine how to rein in our country’s financial burdens and overspending. Unfortunately, as federal and state governments look to cut budgets at every turn, mental and behavioral health services are often on the chopping block first. Financial cuts, compounded with US stigma often applied to mental health troubles and disparate access to services across the county, mean that those who need services most are often those left without proper care.

“August though October brought DC into the spotlight for many reasons, the saddest of which is the violence that was covered by mass media as two shootings occurred. In one case, Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old, perpetrated a mass shooting that left 12 people dead, in Washington’s Navy Yard. Previous to the shooting, it was reported that Mr. Alexis was treated at the VA for mental health issues including sleep disorders and paranoia, but had not lost clearance.

“Miriam Carey, also 34, reportedly had an unhealthy obsession with the White House when she drove her car into the White House gates and led police on a chase around DC before being killed. Although she had no reported psychosis or supposed violent intent, it was noted in the months leading up to the incident she believed that the President had been stalking her and might have suffered from postpartum depression. When killed by authorities on Pennsylvania Avenue, she had her 18-month-old child in the car.”

“Although societal stigma and knowledge of where to access behavioral and mental services are often barriers to care, budget cuts continue to make seeking care more difficult. Whether this be through decreases in available services, lack of providers due to poor reimbursements or less preventative actions in communities, the impact of mental health funding shortages is great. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “increasingly, emergency rooms, homeless shelters and jails are struggling with the effects of people falling through the cracks due to lack of needed mental health services and supports.” Continue reading “Shutting down mental health care”

Bullying, disability, and government

As Secretary Duncan has noted, the Department of Education is committed to making sure that all of our young people grow up free of fear, violence, and bullying.Bullying not only threatens a student’s physical and emotional safety at school, but fosters a climate of fear and disrespect, creating conditions


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that negatively impact learning—undermining students’ ability to achieve to their full potential. Unfortunately, we know that children with disabilities are disproportionately affected by bullying.

Factors such as physical vulnerability, social skills challenges, or intolerant environments may increase the risk of bullying. Students who are targets of bullying are more likely to experience lower academic achievement, higher truancy rates, feelings of alienation, poor peer relationships, loneliness, and depression. We must do everything we can to ensure that our schools are safe and positive learning  environments—where all students can learn.

To that end, today, ED’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issued guidance to educators and stakeholders on the matter of bullying of students with disabilities. This guidance provides an overview of school districts’ responsibilities to ensure that students with disabilities who are subject to bullying continue to receive free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under IDEA, States and school districts are obligated to ensure that students with disabilities receive FAPE in the least restrictive environment (LRE). This guidance explains that any bullying of a student with disabilities which results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit is considered a denial of FAPE. Furthermore, this letter notes that certain changes to an educational program of a student with a disability (e.g., placement in a more restricted “protected” setting to avoid bullying behavior) may constitute a denial of FAPE in the LRE. Continue reading “Bullying, disability, and government”

Women, children, and potatoes

Who knew there was a potato war and that poor kids and their moms were the victims?images-1

According to current numbers, Americans eat (or attempt to eat) 112 pounds of potatoes per capita last year. But lately, according to NPR today, “the potato industry has been playing the part of jilted lover and taking its heartache to Congress.

“The National Potato Council is saying the U.S. Department of Agriculture “discriminates” against fresh, white potatoes. Huh?

“Back in 2007, the USDA ruled that women and children enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, couldn’t buy potatoes with the program’s vouchers. Instead, the nearly 9 million WIC participants, who have to be poor and at risk of under- or malnutrition to enroll in the program, are given a monthly benefit ($10 for women and $6 for children) to buy any fruit or vegetable except white potatoes.

“This month, industry groups persuaded some members of the House Appropriations Committee to introduce an amendment to change that — by permitting states the option to include potatoes in their WIC programs. The potato lobby is also hoping to change the final WIC rule on what foods are eligible for the WIC benefit. USDA is taking comments on it until June 29. Continue reading “Women, children, and potatoes”

Nothing to hide, eh?

When the government gathers or analyzes personal information, many people say they’re not worried. “I’ve got nothing to hide,” they declare. “Only if you’re doing something wrong should you worry, and then you don’t deserve to keep it private.”

The nothing-to-hide argument pervades discussions about privacy, says privacy expert Daniel J. Solove in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education: “The data-security expert Bruce Schneier calls it the “most common retort against privacy advocates.” The legal scholar Geoffrey Stone refers to it as an “all-too-common refrain.” In its most compelling form, it is an argument that the privacy interest is generally minimal, thus making the contest with security concerns a foreordained victory for security.

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“The nothing-to-hide argument is everywhere. In Britain, for example, the government has installed millions of public-surveillance cameras in cities and towns, which are watched by officials via closed-circuit television. In a campaign slogan for the program, the government declares: “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.” Variations of nothing-to-hide arguments frequently appear in blogs, letters to the editor, television news interviews, and other forums. One blogger in the United States, in reference to profiling people for national-security purposes, declares: “I don’t mind people wanting to find out things about me, I’ve got nothing to hide! Which is why I support [the government’s] efforts to find terrorists by monitoring our phone calls!” Continue reading “Nothing to hide, eh?”

Israel debates gender on identification cards

A new law being proposed in Israel’s Knesset seeks to get rid of the gender category on the country’s identity cards, reports the Jewish Telegraph Agency. “Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz Party introduced the bill this past Monday, at the start of international LGBTQ month. Zandberg explained, “There is a minority that experiences an incongruity between gender and biological sex, and those who want to change their sex in the registry but experience difficulty with Interior Ministry bureaucrats, the Health Ministry and the establishment.”images-3

“Zandberg cited as precedent Israel’s removal of the nationality category from identification cards. Before 2005, ID cards included a category with the Hebrew word l’ohm, which is translated as nationality, but was more about ethnicity, not citizenship. The most common ethnicities were Jewish, Arab, Druze, Circassian. While it seems like something of a technical issue, there have been legal dust-ups over the categories. In 2002, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that a Reform convert qualified to have Jewish on their identity card, despite the fact that the chief rabbinate does not recognize Reform conversions. The Sephardic Orthodox Shas party subsequently backed the removal of the whole category.

“Still, there is little international precedent for removing the category of gender, though that seems to be changing. Nepal, Australia and New Zealand currently have options for gender-neutral documentation, while two British lawmakers joined a petition asking the government to allow for gender-neutral IDs. In the United States, San Francisco eliminated gender from city-issued IDs; a similar measure is slated to be enacted in late 2013 in Los Angeles.”

Read more: http://www.jta.org/2013/06/04/news-opinion/the-telegraph/doing-away-with-gender#ixzz2VJnazpZ0

Most in U.S. think government too strong

Fifty-four percent of Americans say the federal government today has too much power, reports Gallup. “Despite the recent controversies facing federal agencies such as the IRS, these views are only marginally higher than in 2012, and slightly lower than in 2010 and 2011. At least half of Americans since 2005 have said the federal government has too much power, whereas in the three years prior to that, Americans were more inclined to believe federal power was “about right.

“Americans’ views of federal power have become a renewed focal point in recent weeks with allegations that the IRS used its power to selectively audit certain types of organizations, and news reports of Justice Department imgresinvestigations into Associated Press and Fox News records and emails. It does not appear, however, that these news stories have dramatically altered Americans’ views of the federal government’s power. The 54% who now say the federal government has “too much power” is in the same general range as it has been since 2005.

“Only 8% of Americans say the federal government has “too little” power, while 36% say the government has about the right amount of power.

“As would be expected, there is a major gulf between Republicans’ and Democrats’ views on this issue. More than twice as many Republicans (76%) as Democrats (32%) say the government has too much power, with a majority of independents coming down on the same side as Republicans.”

 

More at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/162779/views-gov-powerful-little-changed.aspx?utm_source=tagrss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syndication

Accounting for victims

images-2There are a number of tools economists, government agencies and lawyers use to translate a death or injury into financial terms, says today’s Wall Street Journal. “These include deriving estimates from surveys about how much value people would place on, say, losing a limb or their sense of hearing; creating a life plan for medical care to estimate long-term expenses; and basing the value of a lost life on how many years it likely would have lasted if not for the unforeseen event that ended it. Feinberg said ze doesn’t take any of these into consideration. “It simply is not doable in the timeframe needed to streamline the program and get money out the door,” ze said. “I don’t think external resources are going to help you very much in what is essentially an emotional assignment.”

“As for parsing such factors as the age of victims, Feinberg said, “Spare me. You’re tying a program like this up in knots.” Ze added, “There is no substitute for getting money out the door.”

“Also, no donors specifically indicate they want their contribution to go to the neediest victims, Feinberg said.

“Kaitlynn Cates, a marathon spectator who suffered a severe calf injury, said ze understood a “sense of immediacy” demanded Feinberg disburse the funds quickly, and not based on a forensic analysis of need. If one victim was no longer able to provide for five children, “I would be the kind of person who says give it to the five children before you give it to me, but I understand from higher levels that would cause problems,” Cates said. Continue reading “Accounting for victims”

The global technological state

Once upon a time, Google concerned itself with seemingly benign, profit-driven things: the optimal position of online ads for erectile dysfunction drugs, mapping the location of every sports bar in America, churning out free services to further cement a quasi-monopoly in global search, writes Mya Fraser in today’s Slate.comimages-1

“But these are no longer the comfortable, well-established guardrails around Google.

“More than two years ago, as governments on two continents were preparing to launch anti-trust investigations against it, Google began moving aggressively onto the turf of states. Today, Google is arguably one of the most influential nonstate actors in international affairs, operating in security domains long the purview of nation-states: It tracks the global arms trade, spends millions creating crisis-alert tools to inform the public about looming natural disasters, monitors the spread of the flu, and acts as a global censor to protect American interests abroad. Google has even intervened into land disputes, one of the most fraught and universal security issues facing states today, siding with an indigenous group in the Brazilian Amazon to help the tribe document and post evidence about intrusions on its land through Google Earth. Continue reading “The global technological state”

Two beers are not enough

Not unlike Coke and Pepsi, two beer companies control most of America’s beer.

Who cares, you say?  Apparently the federal government is mildly concerned, as reflected in its response to Budweiser’s plan to buy Corona, as discussed in a piece in today’s New York Times, as follows:

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“Consumers will benefit from the Justice Department’s antitrust suit to block Anheuser-Busch InBev, the country’s largest brewing company, from acquiring one of its competitors. This kind of action was seen less frequently in the Bush administration.

“Anheuser-Busch InBev announced in June that it would pay $20.1 billion to buy the 50 percent stake in Grupo Modelo of Mexico — maker of Corona beer — that it did not already own. Continue reading “Two beers are not enough”

Most think government threatens their rights

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 9-13 among 1,502 adults, finds that 53% think that the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms while 43% disagree. According to Pew,

“In March 2010, opinions were divided over whether the government

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represented a threat to personal freedom; 47% said it did while 50% disagreed. In surveys between 1995 and 2003, majorities rejected the idea that the government threatened people’s rights and freedoms.

“The growing view that the federal government threatens personal rights and freedoms has been led by conservative Republicans. Continue reading “Most think government threatens their rights”

Americans divided about corporations and government

Once again our friends at Gallup have confirmed that the U.S. population really can’t make up its mind. This time the popular polling organization reports that about equal numbers of people think that corporations and government are okay, with opinion dividing predictably along party lines. As Gallup states:

tragic-1-city-skyscrapers “Americans continue to be worried about the effects of big companies and big government, with 35% saying they are very or somewhat satisfied with the size and influence of major corporations, and 36% saying they are very or somewhat satisfied with the size and power of the federal government. Both of these levels of satisfaction are up slightly from the last two years, but significantly below satisfaction levels recorded in the early years of the last decade, when satisfaction with government was generally higher than satisfaction with major corporations.

“These findings are from Gallup’s Jan. 7-10, 2013, Mood of the Nation survey. Continue reading “Americans divided about corporations and government”

The state department’s merry pranksters

At first the story was that the Syrian government has dropped hallucinogens on insurgents.

But now it seems that U.S. State Department official might have been the ones tripping, or at least imagining things.  Countering a story appearing earlier this week in Foreign Policy about the

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mysterious properties of a substance called “Agent 15,” American officials now say the whole thing was a bit of an exaggeration. Or put in more official language, the report ”did not accurately convey the anecdotal information that we had received from a third party regarding an alleged incident in Syria.” As DangerRoom quoted the State Department, Continue reading “The state department’s merry pranksters”

Intelligence community tries to predict what’s next

Spying is all about predictions: about knowing what someone else can or will do next, about thinking how to win.

At least that is how governments tend to think about spying. In this context it makes sense that the Obama administration would spend some time prognosticating. Turns out they spend billions to satisfy their curiosity, as the U.S. and many other countries have done for decades. Asia Times carries a story today about this curious and expensive enterprise, which begins with the paragraphs below:

“Think of it as a simple formula: if you’ve been hired (and paid handsomely) to protect what is, you’re going to be congenitally ill-equipped to imagine what might be.imgresAnd yet the urge not just to know the contours of the future but to plant the Stars and Stripes in that future has had the US Intelligence Community (IC) in its grip since the mid-1990s.

“That was the moment when it first occurred to some in Washington that US power might be capable of controlling just about everything worth the bother globally for, if not an eternity, then long enough to make the future American property. Continue reading “Intelligence community tries to predict what’s next”

The buzz in California

marijuana_plants“Marijuana is, as a practical matter, already legal in much of California,” sayd today’s New York Times. “No matter that its recreational use remains technically against the law. Marijuana has, in many parts of this state, become the equivalent of a beer in a paper bag on the streets of Greenwich Village. It is losing whatever stigma it ever had and still has in many parts of the country, including New York City, where the kind of open marijuana use that is common here would attract the attention of any passing law officer.

“’It’s shocking, from my perspective, the number of people that we all know who are recreational marijuana users,’ said Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor. ‘These are incredibly upstanding citizens Continue reading “The buzz in California”