Monday, August 27, 2012

Andrei Cherney for Congress Part II

I did want to follow up my first post especially since I did get a response from a volunteer on the Schapira campaign regarding his education platform.  I hope I'm not being too presumptive publishing it here:
I have attached the American Federation of Teachers questionnaire and below have pasted the essay questions that were asked by the National Education Association and answered by David.
A.    Please describe the top three public education priorities (pre-k through higher education) on which you would focus in Congress and why. 

A.    1. Reforming ESEA collaboratively with educators and school leaders – focusing on what is best to improve student success. We cannot allow ESEA to continue restricting states and local school districts with burdensome regulations and bureaucratic red tape that does not advance student achievement.   2. Improving access to affordable higher education through Pell Grants to prepare American students for the 21st Century economy. Increased access to higher education will strengthen our economy and increase opportunities for students across the country. An investment in education today will make all the difference in America’s future. 3. Preserving and increasing funding for Head Start so that working families can provide early childhood education to their kids and ensure that our students have a strong foundation to build upon. Working families shouldn’t have to choose between paying their bills and ensuring a strong educational experience for their children – Congress can provide increased financial resources to eliminate that conflict.

B.    Please explain how, as a Member of Congress, you would specifically build respect for the education profession in order to help attract and retain the highest quality educators in pre-k through higher education. 

B.    As a former high-school teacher and university instructor, I would be a positive exemplar of our profession in Congress. Education and increasing student achievement have been the priorities of my political career and will continue to be in Congress. It is important for Congress to include education professionals in policy making so that we can develop teacher evaluation processes that are respectful of teaching as a profession, that apprise teachers of strengths and flaws and provide professional development to strengthen weak areas. I believe as a nation we must bring focus back to the importance of education, recognizing that having a strong teacher in every classroom is one of the keys to student success. I understand that we must work towards a system that offers not only competitive salary and benefits, but also positive work environments that foster professional development in order to attract the best and brightest professionals to education, and give them the respect they deserve.

  1. Please explain your position on increasing federal support for public higher education, particularly given the need for global competitiveness? 

C. The strength of our education system and our economy are intertwined. We must invest in education to build a highly-educated, sustainable workforce that will allow the United States to compete in the 21st Century. In the past, economic competition has been between states, but now the United States is competing with countries around the globe like India and China. Education will be key to our nation’s ability to ensure global competitiveness, and we must make it a national priority. By increasing federal support for public higher education, we can begin to level the playing field for all students, regardless of background or socioeconomic status. Federal support is critical to ensuring that every student is assured the equal opportunity they deserve to achieve the American Dream. We cannot ignore the importance of education as we discuss the future of the U.S. economy in a globalized world.

I think this is all really good and accurate. I recently an article putting into question some of Bush's reforms to put undue national burdens on "failing schools".  I've also have Diane Ravtich's book, "The Death and Life of the American School System". Both echo some of the points Schapira makes here and in other forums.

I am still of the opinion, though, that Cherney has a better grasp of the central issues facing the US nationally that extend well beyond education - medicare reform, unemployment, jobs.  This is a tough race with three really great candidates.  I'm voting for Cherney, but I will definitely throw my support behind the winner of tomorrow's election as they shift gears toward November.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Andrei Cherney for US Congressional District 9


Let me start by saying that I cannot relate to those who vote early by mail.  I'm fine with getting a mail-in ballot, looking at it, doing your homework, then on election day turning it in.  I can't relate to people who feel the need to mail in their ballot early. Ok, maybe if the election is easy and there is a clear difference between the candidates. For example, if the ballot had Paul Penzone running against Joe Arpaio and nobody else? I would fill in that ballot and drop it in the mail months early.

But voting is hard and serious business.  Wait until the last possible minute, read as much as you have time to read, discuss, ponder, change your mind, then when you are finally forced to make a decision,  vote.  Make it count.

Even at this late hour, the Saturday night before the primary election on Tuesday, I'm only leaning toward Andrei Cherney.  I reserve the right to change my mind.   What follows are the reasons I'm inclined to vote for Andrei Cherney if I was forced to vote today.

First of all, all three candidates are incredibly solid.   I've watched now three debates involving the candidates.  To tell you the truth, ideologically, all three are pretty similar, so ferreting out the differences is pretty challenging. 

Kyrsten Sinema

Kyrsten graduated from BYU at 18.  She later received a Masters degree in social work and a law degree, both from ASU. In other words, she is incredibly smart and ambitious.

Based on whatever I can get access to from the internet, her main contributions in the state legislature came in the form of opposition to other bills.  She was a leader in opposition to two bills to ban gay marriage in Arizona, the first failed, the second passed.  And, she was a leader in opposing Russell Pearce in strident anti-immigration bills.  She has sponsored many bills, but very few ever came to a vote. Cherney has given her some heat here, but I given the strong legislative majority the Republican party has enjoyed here, I cut her some slack.

She has gotten a lot of press for her immigration stances, from the NY Times:
In the Arizona Legislature, an elective body of astounding dimness, one of the few bright lights was Kyrsten Sinema, who as a state senator gave a blistering critique of S.B. 1070, the state’s radical, Arpaio-inspired immigration law. (She sponsored several bills to rein in the abuses of Sheriff Arpaio and his ally Mr. Thomas, the county attorney, though her colleagues didn’t go along.) Ms. Sinema, who is a lawyer and on the faculty of the Arizona State University School of Social Work, debated the law for hours with its sponsor, Russell Pearce, ruthlessly exposing its many legal flaws. The law was later eviscerated by the United States Supreme Court, too. Arizona voters eventually recalled Mr. Pearce. Today, Ms. Sinema is running for Congress.
Here is an impressive display as she eviserates the SB1070 law that made Arizona so, well, infamous.  I really wish I had access to this during the heat of the debate.

David Schapira

David Schapira is running for Congress making two fundamental points:   1) That he is the only one of the three candidates with thorough, authentic ties to this community and 2) That he is the only candidate that will make education a priority at the national level.

This really is at the heart of who he is.  He was born in this district and has basically lived here all of his life.  His degree is in political science at George Washington University, but on his return, he has flung himself into politics, volunteering locally while teaching high school at his alma mater.  As soon as he was old enough, he ran for state house and won.  He seems to be most impressive when he's running.  He's everywhere, he has a massive staff of volunteers and deep local connections. He's picked up key endorsements from Tempe, most notably Harry Mitchell and The Arizona Republic.

He also has strong experience on the education issue, working as a teacher for a short time, but serving on education committees in the legislature and serving on the Tempe High School school board.

I've watched three debates now and of the three, he is the most articulate and charismatic. All three are really good, I say Schapira shines in his ability to express himself with energy and charisma.

Beyond all of this, though, I find him the least accomplished of the three.  Accomplished sure, but what specifically has he done?  His internet presence is shallow.  I don't see any significant legislative accomplishments on his resume.  He talks a lot about how he wants to improve education, but I have never heard him share specifics.  I do have an e-mail out to a volunteer on his staff asking for more information, I'll update this blog when I hear back.

I started this campaign leaning Schapira based purely on superficial reasons - he's been my representative for years now, almost my entire time living in Tempe.  But to be honest, I only really hear from him when he's running for office.  Granted, I've had a hard time keeping track of our state legislature other than when something controversial crops up.  But based on the amount of internet research I've been able to muster, he's impressive, but falls short of the other two.

Andrei Cherney 

I think all three candidates have impressive backgrounds, but Andrei's is particularly unique, from wikipedia:
Cherny was born in Los Angeles, California on August 4, 1975. His parents were Czechoslovakian immigrants that spoke little English. His parents struggled to provide for him and his brother and sometimes received assistance. Cherny utilized Pell Grants and worked three jobs to get through college[3].
Cherny graduated with honors from Harvard College. As writer for The Harvard Crimson, he wrote political pieces highlighting Clinton's reelection campaign[4]. The White House communications director noticed his column and circulated it until it finally reached President Clinton's desk. President Clinton used several of Cherny's lines in his 1997 inaugural address and hired the twenty-two-year-old Cherny ten days later[5]. He later received his Juris Doctor from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall).
Those two paragraphs are pretty unbelievable.  He worked three jobs to get through college at... Harvard and later Berkely School of Law.  At age 22, he became the youngest presidential speech writer in US history.  At age 25, he wrote The Next Deal: The Future Of Public Life In The Information Age.   Eight years later, he published, The Candy Bombers.

Here is a short essay that echoes his thoughts on his first book, a book I anxiously want to now read.
The New Covenant addresses provided a break with a liberalism that had become out of date and out of touch. Contemporary Democrats bear both the benefit and the burden of the twenty years that has since passed. Today, in large part because of the eight years of the Clinton presidency, there are fewer litmus tests for politicians; there is less ground that is off limits for discussion. By speaking forcefully and unapologetically about issues such as crime at a time that the discussion was seen by many as a code word for racism, Clinton made it possible for Barack Obama to run for the White House and barely mention the issue. The reform agenda advocated by Education Secretary Arne Duncan might well have led to a civil war among Democrats had Clinton not laid the groundwork for such a debate.
Here's an an interesting interview with him here.  And here's a discussion between him and David Frum.

Since then, he has run unsuccessfully for State Treasurer but has led the Democratic party in the state, getting Democratic mayors in Phoenix and Tucson and helping to recall Russell Pearce.

His main weakness is that he has never really been successful running a campaign.  Running twice, losing both.  Of the three, he has a tendency to go negative and tends to make unfair or irrelevant attacks on his opponents.  Much of what I've heard from him say seems boilerplate to me.  Perhaps he is more insightful in his writing than on the campaign.


I think in this race, you have to look at the position they are running for.  I think Schapira has the best chance of winning in a general election.  He portrays a pretty moderate and pragmatic message, but he tends to stay shallow.  This does work well in a campaign since most people are looking for personality over substance. Once elected, I'm worried not much will get done.

Sinema has a more impressive record of getting things done.  She's done the hard work of getting elected.  And she's been substantive once getting there, making a name for herself locally and nationally.  Her weakness is that she has had a history of taken pretty extreme positions, which may hurt her in the general election: opposing the Afghanistan invasion most notably when there was almost unanimous support for the invasion.  She has moderated since then, but I'm not sure whether independents will cut her some slack on this.

Cherney has not really won an election, but he has deep and significant experience in Washington DC. He is a deep thinker and has worked out issues relevant at the national level.  I think this puts him ahead of both Sinema and Schapira.

This is a fantastic race.  I think we have three good choices.  At this moment, my support is with Andrei Cherney.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Romney vs. Obama on Medicare

A friend of mine recently sent me this article by David Brooks who makes the case that Romney/Ryan are more serious about medicare reform:

Moreover, when you look at the Medicare reform package Romney and Ryan have proposed, you find yourself a little surprised. You think of them of as free-market purists, but this proposal features heavy government activism, flexibility and rampant pragmatism.
The federal government would define a package of mandatory health benefits. Private insurers and an agency akin to the current public Medicare system would submit bids to provide coverage for those benefits. The government would give senior citizens a payment equal to the second lowest bid in each region to buy insurance.
This system would provide a basic health safety net. It would also unleash a process of discovery. If the current Medicare structure proves most efficient, then it would dominate the market. If private insurers proved more efficient, they would dominate. Either way, we would find the best way to control Medicare costs. Either way, the burden for paying for basic health care would fall on the government, not on older Americans. (Much of the Democratic criticism on this point is based on an earlier, obsolete version of the proposal.)
Here's my response:
The reason why Medicare works as well as it does in the way it provides affordable access to health care for our elderly is because it's subsidized through the tax code.  In other words, the entire working population, collectively, are chipping in to provide health care to our elders.   The elderly are our most expensive health care recipients and making sure we provide for them at a time when they are at their most vulnerable without breaking the bank is a really, really tough problem to solve.

What Ryan is proposing here is basically an Obamacare-like exchange for the elderly.  Unlike Obamacare, he's providing a public option.  I'm assuming the public option is different from traditional Medicare because it will be funded by premiums instead of through the taxes.  Otherwise, medicare premiums will always beat private insurance (since tax payers are footing most of the bill).

So, the elderly will receive a voucher to pay for the lowest bid, private or public.  But all insurance companies would have to provide a minimum level of benefit defined by a "assigned board of technocats?"  He doesn't say how this minimum level of benefit will be defined and by whom, but it's sounding suspiciously similar to Obamacare for the elderly.  The problem is an exchange filled with a population of people over 65 will, by definition, be far more expensive than an exchange filled with people under 65.  I hope this is obvious.

The problem I see is that you either enforce a pretty generous set of benefits in which the elderly's health care is provided for at much the same levels medicare does so today.  In that case, I don't see much of a difference from today's system, and I also don't see it saving any money better than traditional Medicare.

Alternatively, you prescribe much more degraded level of benefits, and the elderly are forced to come up with the difference out of pocket.  In this case, you shift the burden from the government onto the elderly.

Where I think Ryan gets this whole thing incorrect is that he thinks if we just provide a regulated marketplace for insurance, competition will drive costs down.  This is wrong in my opinion.  I just don't believe there is a free market solution for elderly health insurance.  Without government support, not a single private insurance company with any interest in making a profit would offer health insurance for those near their life expectancy.  The risk is too high.

I'm not sure there's anything much we can do given the demographic realities our country is facing.  I do offer two suggestions.  Try to offset our aging demographic by allowing a lot more young people to immigrate here: people who can help pay for and take care of our elderly.  Second, hope that we can achieve more innovation, automation, and robotics in our economy, so we can produce more with less.  Why work when robots can do it, and we can all retire and live on medicare if we can automate health care.

The immigration problem is a bit of a red herring, because we would actually be stealing the labor resources from other countries to shore up our own deficiencies, this will exacerbate their demographic problems while helping our own.  I think more automation is actually something we're seeing, allowing us to produce more output with fewer of us working.  We'll have to make sure this doesn't produce high inequalities by the concentration this wealth into the hands of the few to the detriment of the many.  We'll see.

But with an aging population, we will have to bite the bullet and take care of them. I'm not sure there is any other way.   And this is expensive. I'm not sure there's any way around it.  It's a tough problem.
I'm proud of myself because Yglesias  makes a very similar point here. 
Indeed, while at a superficial level there’s a sharp philosophical contrast here between the GOP’s faith in the private sector and Obama’s faith in bureaucratic management but in fact both approaches rely on effective central planning. To make the vouchers work, regulators need to adjust the value of each person’s voucher for age and health status and need to define a minimum acceptable benefits package. Regulators capable of doing that well should also be capable of effectively managing a government-run program and vice versa.
The real difference between the two plans is subtle and relatively small compared to the point of consensus. Under either version, seniors will face the novel situation of potentially being denied useful medical treatment on the grounds that Medicare can’t afford to pay for it. Over the long term, something along those lines is likely inevitable, but it’s striking that both sides have arrived at the exact same figure for how much it’s reasonable for Medicare to spend. Given how far apart the parties are on other economic issues—tax rates, health care for the nonelderly, the appropriate level of environmental regulation, and so forth—the meeting of the minds on the appropriate federal financial commitment to retirees’ health care is truly striking. Even more striking is that since both sides basically agree, we’re getting no real debate over whether this GDP+0.5 percent number makes sense or where it comes from.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Paul Krugman on Paul Ryan Part II

My first hastily written post on this subject didn't come out exactly as I intended, so I wanted a follow up to clarify a few things.  First, I hardly mention Krugman, so let me lay his posts out here now.

First let's start with this post:
In the first decade, the big things are (i) conversion of Medicaid into a block grant program, with much lower funding than projected under current law and (ii) sharp cuts in top tax rates and corporate taxes.
Is this a deficit-reduction program? Not on the face of it: it’s basically a tradeoff of reduced aid to the poor for reduced taxes on the rich, with the net effect of the specific proposals being to increase, not reduce, the deficit. Yet Ryan claims a big deficit reduction, via two big “magic asterisks”. First, he insists that the tax cuts won’t reduce revenue, because they’ll be offset with unspecified “base-broadening”.
Second, there are large assumed cuts in discretionary spending relative to current policy...
In my last post, I summarized these points and defended them in some detail.  I really do have some amount of sympathy for Paul Ryan's point of view.  Our current system of government has been a rather large buildup of the federal government, starting from FDR's New Deal, culminating in LBJ's Great Society and now Obama's Health Care layered on for good measure.

This has meant expensive entitlements promised to the elderly and a fairly significant safety net for the poor.  To pay for this, a pretty steep progressive tax code with an attempt to put much of the burden on the rich.  Some of this progressiveness has been muted by an increasingly complex tax code riddled with exemptions that favor those with the money to purchase tax professionals to take full advantage of these exemptions.   So, far too many of those rich are not paying for it as intended and instead we have plunged the nation into debt, especially as are country ages and more and more people are making claims on these promised entitlements.

I also share some wariness that the federal government can manage to care for our most vulnerable better from their lofty Washington DC towers than those of us who love and care for them more directly.

The Medicaid block grant is an attempt to shift the responsibility for this program to the states and to put a constraint on its burden no matter what happens to the economy.   The states now have the freedom to spend this money how they will and as I said before, the freedom to supplement it further, considering they do have the power to tax locally.

Ryan's plan weakness is that beyond the medicaid grant, it lacks specificity.  Which loopholes will he cut?  Which federal programs will get the ax?  What will be the consequences of each?  Can he really remove the deduction for charitable donations?  Deductions on mortgage interest?  Deductions for employer insurance?   It's all far easier than it sounds, which is why Krugman comes down so harshly on Paul Ryan and justly questions whether he would just add to our debt and deficit, as his tax cuts are not matched by either spending cuts or "base broadening", similar in effect, to the Bush tax cuts before.

I do think Paul Ryan's vision has substance and his views have merit.  If he's willing to be pragmatic, willing to compromise, and willing when it comes down to it, to defend and expand his vision in the face of real attacks and critiques, he will show his meddle as the leader of the Republican party.  We'll see.

I will come to the medicare part of Ryan's plan in another post.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Paul Krugman on Paul Ryan

First of all, I love the Paul Ryan pick.  I agree with David Brooks here, this presidential campaign has been pretty boring.  Largely because both candidates have been unwilling to offer any specific solutions or ideas to solve the very real problems we're facing:
Has there ever been a campaign with so few major plans on the table? President Obama’s proposals are small and medium-size retreads, while Mitt Romney has run the closest thing to a policy-free race as any candidate in my lifetime. Republicans spend their days fleshing out proposals, which Romney decides not to champion.
When Romney selected Ryan as a running mate, he selected a man with a pretty specific plan.  The reason why presidential candidates avoid doing this, though, is because these plans become fodder for the other side to rip into.  Of course, they do so from their own perspective without thoughtfully considering why the other side might think these ideas were good ones.

Paul Krugman has spent some time on his blog critiquing Paul Ryan's plan.  Consider this post a small defense of Paul Ryan.  First of all, Krugman believes at this point in time, all Republicans are currently unreasonable idealogues:
It’s kind of the “treason never prospers” argument (“for if it prospers, none dare call it treason”); if someone declares that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, or that printing money when you’re in a liquidity trap isn’t deeply inflationary, or that fear of Obamacare isn’t holding the economy back, he ceases to be considered a member in good standing of the GOP. There are, therefore, no reasonable Republicans on these issues.
My impulse is to completely agree with this, to post this on facebook with a commentary lamenting how terrible the Republican party has become.  But smart, reasonable, even Nobel prize winning economists have supported Romney along with all of these seemingly unreasonable policies.  There has to be a reason.  The reason I think is Krugman just shares a different worldview from most Republicans, for which I'll use Paul Ryan and his plan as a proxy.

First, the Republican mindset consists of a strong distrust in government to manage economic affairs.  This comes out indirectly in Ryan's economic plan.  Paul Ryan wants to make the income tax code less progressive, giving the top earners a significant tax cut as a result.  Consider also, that since the US has among the highest corporate tax rate in the world, Ryan's plan also wants to cut this rate with the hope of leveling the competitive field and enticing more business back to the US.  He balances these pretty substantial revenue cuts by removing many, perhaps all, of the current deductions and loopholes in the tax code.  He hand-waves on this, but to make the tax cuts revenue neutral, basically all deductions must go.  The end result is a lower, flatter tax code.

But, this does not get us to a balance budget.  To get us there, he has to do something about our spending and entitlement reform.  He protects defense and social security (in the past he was a proponent of social security privatization), but he basically cuts nearly everything else practically to zero.  He doesn't explicitly say this, but he does provide target spending as a percentage of GDP and to get to those targets, while preserving the programs he's intent on preserving, discretionary spending is cut to the bare bones.

Finally, medicaid spending, much of which goes to the elderly in the form of long-term care support, is reduced and controlled.  Rather than an open-ended federal entitlement, they turn it into a fixed block grant that is transferred to the states.  The states, then are free to meet the health care needs of the poor and the elderly in the ways that make sense to them.

This all sounds harsh, but consider the worldview.  First, it gives the states the opportunity to step up.  States can increase taxes and spending to compensate for the tax and revenue cuts at the federal level.  This moves spending from the federal to the local levels, providing the benefit of localizing problem solving.  Further, and perhaps more profoundly, reduced federal tax obligations on those with higher income, free them up to direct those funds to local charities, churches and other institutions.  Providing wage earners greater opportunity to control how these funds are used and to hold the recipients of those funds more accountable.

 Providing less federal support also, in theory and perhaps counter-intuitively, has the potential to decrease inequality.  As corporations get big and as they lose corporate welfare support, smaller businesses have better opportunities to compete, spreading the wealth as they compete and win in the marketplace.

Ultimately, conservatives have a general impulse to distrust federal politicians, who tend to insulate themselves from the larger population.  Folks in Congress rarely lose re-election as they harness powerful money to shoot down challengers.  The lose accountability and as a result use their power to benefit their friends both in business and in politics.  Ultimately, federal funds are used inefficiently and hurt our economy.

I understand the impulse and I share some of these concerns.  But I have to say, I think much of this is  libertarian fantasy in much the same way socialists in the 1920's believed they could create an egalitarian utopia through managed government initiatives.   I'm a proponent of a mixed economy. A free market, balanced by a social safety net. Federal, state and local levels of government have important roles to play, but this is a subject for another post.