Archive for March 2009
With news organizations crashing and burning everywhere, John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney say it’s time to start building better media. They propose, among other ideas: heavy government investment in public media, subscription subsidies, and postal reforms.
What they don’t advocate is “going backward.” Bailing out big chain-owned newspapers shouldn’t be an option, they write in the April 6 edition of The Nation.
“The old corporate media system,” they write, “choked on its own excess. We should not seek to restore or re-create it. We have to move forward to a system that creates a journalism far superior to that of the recent past.”
Government intervention, they say, becomes the only vehicle for providing “an institutional framework for quality journalism.” There is a certain logic to this argument. As they point out, the current “economic downturn did not cause the crisis in journalism; nor did the Internet.” Read the rest of this entry »
This analysis of Illinois funding for public education, published in 1966, shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“One year ago, Gov. Otto Kerner of Illinois set up a 56-member task force to study education in Illinois and to propose policies to upgrade the weaker schools. The chairman of the task force, Prof. William P. McLure of the University of Illinois, reported back that two-thirds of the schools are giving ‘substandard’ education.
“ ‘We have some of the best financed and best organized schools in the world,’ McLure declared, ‘and some that are below the level of the average in Mississippi.’
“Since then, no major improvements have been launched — except that the superintendent of public instruction has now emblazoned in red on all his official envelopes: ‘Quality Education for All Youth Is Our Goal.’ Read the rest of this entry »
It’s appropriate that the invitation to the 50-year high school class reunion came a year early, for the class of 1959 was always “appropriate,” the last “sit up straight” class.
They were “follow the suggested outline” students who were learning to take the road most traveled. Solid folk and fine people, but so unremarkable they have no generation name of their own, only a label identifying them as “between” more illustrious generations. They were the “In-Between Generation” that filled the unused space after the Greatest Generation and before the Baby Boomers. Too late for Korea and too early for Vietnam, they had no war to call their own. Too late for Swing and too early for real rock & roll, they had no music to call their own.
They were expected to stay inside the lines — to become dentists inside the lines, accountants inside the lines, and teamsters inside the lines. 1959 had no authors of imagination, it had no poets.
Forty-nine years later the class of ’59 followed the appropriate agenda and sent the appropriate invitation a year in advance; more than sufficient time for invitees to “follow the suggested outline” and provide:
A. A 1959 photo
B. A current photo
C. A 300-word synopsis of one’s life: Spouse, children, grandchildren, awards won, special interests, career highlights.
Forty-nine years later John Mibbles is attempting to “follow the outline — to the letter.” Read the rest of this entry »
I arrived in Congress in 1965, just as President Lyndon Johnson’s transformation of the U.S. government was getting under way. It was an extraordinary time, as LBJ sent up to Capitol Hill his proposals for Medicare, Medicaid, aid to elementary and secondary education, the Voting Rights Act, and a host of other bills that reshaped Washington and its place in the nation’s life. The United States was a different country by the time Congress finished.
We are at a juncture that may be as far-reaching and no less dramatic. With the economic crisis as a backdrop, President Obama has sent to Capitol Hill a budget that places the government more thoroughly in American life than at any time in the past three decades, and eschews the anti-tax, anti-regulatory approach to public policy that has generally predominated in recent decades. The White House has put Congress on notice that it intends to reform the health-care system, make fundamental improvements to public education, and remake national energy policy. These changes are necessary, it contends, to keep the U.S. economy strong and prosperous.
There is an important difference in the approaches taken by the two presidents, Johnson and Obama. Enjoying the momentum built by his landslide victory in the 1964 elections, Johnson gave Congress specific proposals, like the Medicaid bill and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He told Congress precisely what he wanted and then helped shape its response. Read the rest of this entry »
“Some bad things are good to know. Long ago, I had a little grocery store in a very deprived neighborhood in St. Louis. A salesman and I enjoyed many emotionally comfortable talks together when he made his rounds. I must say that race never entered any of our conversations, not even by inference.
“One day a boy, around 12 years old, came into the store, followed by two pre-school children, a brother and a sister. The boy wore faded and patched blue jeans, canvas shoes and a raveling old sweater. His blue shirt was unironed but unlike the rest of his inadequate clothing it was clean. The two younger children who accompanied the older boy were not only thin and ragged but also very dirty. They were strangely quiet. The 12-year-old bought one gallon of kerosene, one pound of baloney, a small can of molasses, and one loaf of bread — exactly what he bought the day before and every single school day for the two years I had owned the store.
“Both parents worked: the father was a six-day janitor and the mother a five-day-a-week domestic. As a domestic, she was required to be away from home and her nine children 15 hours per day. The 12-year-old got food for the family. They ate cold leftovers for breakfast, and baloney and molasses for lunch. The two preschoolers were left alone all day until the school-age children got home. Read the rest of this entry »
“Do people have a right to social services that will solve their difficulties? Since it is our argument that charities and philanthropies are out of place in a mature society, social services should not be a matter of privilege but should be guaranteed by law.
“In a developed society, responses to human needs are channeled through organizational forms. Such services should be met by public agencies financed primarily by tax funds, and not by voluntary, private agencies financed primarily by non-tax funds.
“The ‘right’ to welfare services should be integrated into our legal system because, pragmatically, it offers the only workable alternative to the continuing and intensifying deterioration of social conditions; and philosophically, human needs precede in fact and in importance the service rendered. . . .
“Because men and women are entitled to life, they are entitled to an adequate diet, decent housing, sufficient clothes, total medical care, adequate treatment for mental health problems, and the freedom and opportunity to search for values.
“What private agency can address itself to the fact that half the hospital beds in the United States are in psychiatric institutions? What constellation of agencies can hope to measure up to the societal demands for food, clothing, health, and shelter? We have tried for many years and have abysmally failed. ‘Topping’ the United Way goal, for example, is the height of irony. We haven’t begun to provide services that would uphold the humaneness of our neighbor. The United Way, and most other fundraising agencies, are classic examples where the service defines the need, rather than the opposite. Read the rest of this entry »
In 2004, Bill Roberti told a group of national educators that the St. Louis Public Schools system was “so dysfunctional that it was on the brink of bankruptcy.”
Roberti was a self-described corporate turnaround expert who’d been hired by the city’s elected school board to fix a troubled system. Unfortunately, Roberti didn’t know what he was talking about, as current school board president Peter Downs details in an illuminating report titled “This is reform?” (either click on the title or go to the link at the right-hand side of this page).
Roberti and the former board were able to act with impunity, Downs shows, because they had the support of powerful interests in St. Louis, including Mayor Francis Slay and the city’s only daily newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Read the rest of this entry »