For Things You Don’t Need

On Saturday night, my buddies and I rewarded ourselves for a long walk – my Fitbit was already way past 20,000 steps – with a beer and a burger at Fraunces Tavern, which is one of the oldest pubs in Manhattan and worth a visit if you’re in town.

After several hours of talking, which included such lovely topics as the new studies that found a connection between menopause and Alzheimer’s Disease and flaky college students, we started talking about politics.

I asked, “So, what do you think about the proposals that Democrats are starting to float about student loan forgiveness and free childcare?” Two of us have kids who are nearly done with high school, and the other never had kids. “Would you vote for someone who was putting forward proposals that wouldn’t benefit you at all?”

Our town pool has a special section that is just for older people. Nobody under 18 is allowed to be there. Every couple of hours, the life guards blow a whistle and everyone under 18 has to get out of the pool for 15 minutes, so the older people can do the side stroke in peace. The public library has senior reading clubs, introductory classes on email, and daytime movies. Without the buy-in from older citizens in the community, there’s a fear among local politicians that old folks will vote for people to defund those services. I’m sure those fears are justified.

People care about schools for a relatively short period of time. There care from the time that their oldest kid is five to when they’re about a sophomore in high school. Typically, parents are much more involved in schools for their oldest; subsequent kids are on auto-pilot. And then they stop caring about the local schools when they start thinking about SAT scores and colleges for their oldest and after their oldest fails to become the class president or the football captain.

Schools make a lot of enemies. For every kids that becomes the class president and the football captain, there are the parents of the hundred other kids who sit at the unpopular table in the cafeteria who want to throw a pitchfork into the school principal. Parents who aren’t in the audience for High School Awards Nights will never, ever vote for a school bond issue ever again. Screw ’em.

So, there’s only about ten to twelve years, when a person has a real stake in making better schools. And that’s why there are places in the country where teachers are paid around $30,000 per year and students have few chances to make it to college.

Childcare affects a family for three or four years, if you have multiple kids.

Student loans can haunt a person for ages, but for every person that defaults, there are nine others who paid off their loans working boring jobs and doing overtime.

And let’s be honest. Our grandparents didn’t have the material comforts that we have today. I mean we put in more hours at an office and have invested more in education, but that generation cut coupons and never bought prepared meals at Whole Foods. So, when they look at younger folks complaining about childcare costs, they’re thinking about how they survived on one income and never ever went on a vacation that involved an airplane.

So, really the question isn’t “”Would you vote for someone who was putting forward proposals that wouldn’t benefit you at all?” Instead, the real question is “would you vote for something that you worked really, really, really hard to pay for on your own, making lots of personal sacrifices, and destroying your own health in the process. And then the benefits went to people who you perceive to be privileged, entitled, smug, and unwilling to help you?”

My generation is in the middle. Gen-Xers have a foot in both worlds. We can remember the difficulties of juggling childcare and work, but we’re also done with it. It wasn’t easy, but we did it.

Self-interest is a basic component of human nature. The founders knew that and created a democratic system based on that notion. With a system of checks and balances, ambition would counterbalance ambition. A large nation, divided up with federalism, would create a large state with a multitude of interests, all checking each other, so no one group would dominate and abuse others.

So, lecturing people that they should vote for schools, student loans, and childcare because virtuous people do that, is pointless. I think we should look to the model of the local town pool and figure out ways to make sure that everyone benefits from childcare centers, schools, and colleges. I’ve always thought that childcare centers and senior citizen centers should be housed in the same buildings. Invite people from the community to give lectures in the high school on their expertises and careers. Colleges could provide job training to people with autism or provide free tickets to concerts to people in the community.

Free childcare and student loan forgiveness might get headlines and tweets from the 30-something crowd, but it’s a tough sell to those who are freaking out about menopausal plaque on the brains and are counting their steps on a Fitbit.


Pie-in-the-Sky Proposals for College

Today, the buzz among the education folks that I follow on twitter is Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for student debt forgiveness. From the Daily Beast:

According to a Medium post detailing the policy, the debt cancellation would also apply for every person with a household income between $100,000 and $250,000, with the cancellation amount declining a dollar for every three dollars in income above $100,000, so that a person earning $130,000 would have $40,000 in cancellation. It would not cancel debts for people earning more than $250,000.

The immediate reply was from Phillip Klein at the Washington Examiner, who said that this plan was a cash handout to millennials and wouldn’t help Gen Xers who have already paid off that burden. His article then led to more angry tweets.

Whenever I interview a college student or a recent grad, the number one thing that always comes up is the cost of college and the noose of student loan debt. It is the rare family that has enough saved to choose the college of the choice for their kids without the concern about price.

I’ve talked with recent grads with over $100K in student loans. I’ve talked with others who worked three jobs to pay for school. I know people who will never, ever own a home, because they took out too many loans in grad school for a PhD program.

I talked with a student a few weeks ago (for an article that hasn’t been published yet), who had no clue that her family couldn’t afford a four-year college until she got her acceptance letter. Nobody is really sure how much money they’ll receive from a college until that final letter arrives.

This young woman’s family couldn’t contribute anything towards her college education, while colleges expected that she could find $50K per year. She could get about $7K in federal loans, but the rest would come from horrible private loans. But since her parents wouldn’t co-sign for the private loans, the point was moot. She went to a community college for two years before transferring to a local four-year school.

But she was exceptional kid. Most students like her wouldn’t have made it.

Making college affordable must be a big part of any 2020 Democratic platform. Student loan reforms are only one part of the problem and do nothing to stop that process that creates them. There has to be more money for lower-middle class families, easier transfer process between community colleges and four year schools, more social supports on the college campus, more inclusion for people with different learning styles, better pay for the majority of professors who don’t have tenure jobs, and great support for various career goals.

Does It Matter if Barron Has Autism?

Joe Scarborough has a big article in the Wash Post about how he and Mika have been attacked for socializing with DT. He says that the media are hypocrites, because they all hung out with Obama.

Whatever. Talk about that if you like. My attention was drawn to one small paragraph in the middle.

At 7:30 p.m., Mika and I were guided by security through a sea of tuxedos and evening gowns, were introduced to a 10-year-old boy by PEOTUS, and quickly made our way upstairs. The topic for Sunday night’s discussion was intended to involve an interview we wanted to conduct before the inauguration, but personal topics came up, as they do in many such meetings we have with public officials. Mika and I have known Trump for more than a decade, so we caught up on each other’s families and we asked how his son was adapting to the big changes happening all around him. Without getting into personal details, the entire family is nonplussed by the transition process and is taking most things in stride, other than the relentless media glare that exasperates every presidential family.

So, I’ve been participating in some whispered conversations with journalists and some UUMC parents in New York City, who have kids with autism. They all swear that Barron has autism and that Milania has turned their apartment into a huge ABA therapy zone for Barron. I was dissmissive of these rumors at first, but some pretty good sources made me rethink things.

Well, if Barron does have autism, does it matter? On a personal level, I have to admit that it makes me slighly less hateful of DT, because I’m irrationally protective of any parent of an autistic kid. It’s going to make the transition to DC more difficult for the family, and I feel very badly for Barron and Melania for having to deal with the spotlight. My guess is that they’ll never really move to Washington, and we’ll have a president that commutes between DC and NYC for four years.

On a policy level, it might make a difference for other families of autistic kids, if DT listens to the right people. If he listens to the anti-Vaxxers, then we’re all screwed. Here comes a measles epidemic! If he listens to the scientists, then we’re going to just get more research on the causes of autism and little funding for existing children and adults with autism. If he listens to families — the sane, rational families – then we might get more funding for special education, more housing and job training for adults, and more insurance coverage for outside therapies.

I hope he listens to the right people.

The Media and Donald Trump

Last week, there were a small storm on Twitter. Two journalists who criticized Donald Trump were targeted on Twitter by his supporters. I suppose it’s old news, but let me just recap. Julia Ioffe was let go from Politico a week before her contract was up for an inappropriate tweet. The anti-semitic comments on her twitterfeed were truly frightening. Another journalist was set a flashing gif that caused him to have an epileptic fit.

Among journalists, there is a strong fear that the next four years will mean more personal attacks and reprisals against the whole industry. Freedom of the press is in jeopardy.

But at the same time, Donald Trump is good for business. People want to read articles about him. Any articles – positive or negative – about him go to the top of the charts. Those same newspapers and magazines are watching numbers bump up and are making big ticket hires, because they anticipate good business in the next year.

Trump is a master of the media. He knows that his actions gather attention. The whole country has become a reality show with him as the star.

Today’s news is all about the electoral college. What will they do? (Nothing) The last couple of weeks were all about his picks for the cabinet. When have we ever paid such close attention to this process before? (Never)

He has orchestrated the pick process perfectly with people going up in the elevator to his office. It’s drama, dammit. And people love the drama.

Meanwhile, we have the Russian involvement in the election. More drama. And that Kellyann snake doing her evasion magic on the morning news shows.

Politics should not be drama. It’s serious, boring business. How do we make sure that people get health insurance? The details are horribly boring, even though the outcomes are so important. How do we keep people from getting massacred in Aleppo? There aren’t clear answers. Instead, we get a photo-op with Kanye.

It’s the media’s job to not jump at the easy hits and sensational headlines. We have to stop letting Donald Trump use us. And it’s up to the readers to demand facts and figures.

UPDATE: This New York Times story.

Would “Free Tuition” Make Inequality Worse?

I’ve got a couple of work phone calls today, so Steve is taking the boys to look at a SLAC in Pennsylvania without me.  I would have liked to go, too, but it will be really nice to work without a million distractions. I can’t properly getting into the writing mode with the boys around. I’m always bracing myself for an interruption that tears me away from a thought. I hate that. I’m not the most admirable parent, when that happens.

Ronald Brownstein has an interesting article in the Atlantic today about the impact of Bernie’s — and now Hillary’s — plan for free tuition at public colleges. He quotes research from Anthony Carnevale from Georgetown.

If tuition is eliminated at public universities for families with income up to $125,000, as Clinton has proposed, more upper- middle-class students who now attend private schools may decide that Austin, Ann Arbor, or Berkeley are better bargains—and intensify competition for the limited slots available there. “What this will do is create a lot of people competing for spaces at public institutions and it will have a bumping effect,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “For minorities and low-income students it will push them down the selectivity queue, toward open admission and two-year colleges.”

I know that there are parts of the country where a family income of $125,000 is upper middle class, but it isn’t around here. It certainly isn’t around Carnevale’s Georgetown neighborhood. A $125,000 is the family income of a school teacher with ten years of experience married to an office manager. That’s not upper-middle class.

$32,000 — that’s the in-state tuition for Rutgers — is a stretch for a family making $125,000. College tuition might amount to a third of the take-home income for that family. If that kid is lucky enough to finish in four years, that B.A. will cost the family more than an entire year of salary.

A kid with an average GPA and test scores from a family like this isn’t going to Georgetown or other very selective private colleges that have a price tag of $70K. Rich kids are hardly going to be swamping the campuses of Rutgers and Delaware and pushing out more needy kids, if a plan like Hillary’s actually makes it through Congress (pretty unlikely anyway).

Now, a plan like this would be great for the lower and the middle middle class. For families that have enough resources to prepare their kids for college, but not enough to afford them. Would it help many lower income families? No. Because not enough of those kids are going to college and those that do are going to less selective colleges and many of them don’t finish school, because they weren’t adequately prepared in high school.

Brownstein does hit on a real problem in his article. The problem is that public colleges have become too competitive. While $32,000 is a lot of money, it is still cheaper than the $70K for the private colleges. With all the new amenities on these public school campuses, they are drawing kids that would have gone to the private schools. There aren’t enough seats in the classrooms for kids with average academic backgrounds. So, the traditional students of public colleges – middle class kids with B’s – are in a jam. Parents are sending them to out of state colleges with price tags in the $40-$55K range and racking up more debt.

So, there are three separate problems all of which need different solutions. Problem One is that college is unaffordable to middle class families. Problem Two is that there aren’t enough seats in public colleges in some states, like California, New York and New Jersey. Problem Three is that lower income kids are getting funneled to less selective schools and failing out.

The “free tuition” proposal solves Problem One, but doesn’t do anything about Problems Two and Three. Unlike Brownstein, I don’t think that “free tuition” will make Problems Two and Three worse.

The Trump Wild Card

Blog hiatus be damned. It’s an election year, and a girl’s gotta blog!

How did we get here?

Bernie’s doing far, far better than he expected. I think he was asked to step into the race in order to keep Hillary in the news cycle with debates and speeches. He thought he might push her a little to the left. A few months of work and then done.

Surprise! He’s a contender! In the end, Hillary is still going to get the nomination, but Bernie is really killing it.

And, of course, we have the asshole as the leader for the Republicans. WTF? Nobody predicted this. NOBODY. First of all, how are all us so stupid? How come all these people who professionally predict these matters were so totally wrong. Take away their six figure paychecks and give them to me! Failures all of them.

Second, why are so many people supporting him? WTF? Well, I do think there something to the theory that a lot of people are pissed off for their crappy jobs, their kids’ crappy education, their crappy car, and the credit card debt. When you’re that pissed off, you take the Hail Mary shot. You vote for a fascist or a socialist. American Exceptionalism says that Americans never do this. We never vote for the extremists. Well, that whole theory of American Exceptionalism is out the window, too.

Third random point, Trump may have indeed brought about a party realignment. A party realignment is a really, really rare event. It’s only happened like five times ever in American history. It’s a massive and sudden change in a political party’s demographic composition and policy priorities. For example, in 1930, FDR totally changed the Democratic party bringing in new immigrant groups, urban areas, and African-Americans. Trump has started saying that he was doing that. Maybe.

Fourth random point. I think Trump’s appeal is more than simply speaking to pissed-off, working class whites. I’m not sure what it is, but I think it’s because he really doesn’t talk about policy at all. Because nobody wants to hear that. They just want slogans about walls and shit. This is awful.

Alright, I’m walking away for a bit. Back later.

My Experience With Cops

This Sandra Bland story is super sad. I can’t comment on the race part of the story, which is obviously the most important part of the story. But I thought I would share a couple of experiences that I’ve had with cops.

If you drive often enough, you’ll deal with a cop now and then. The insane parking rules in New York City guarantee parking tickets. Someone once told me that it will cost you $200 in parking tickets before you get the hang of the rules. In the seven years that I had a car and lived in Manhattan, Steve and I probably had about $300 to $400 in parking tickets. Once we moved back to the suburbs, there were more issues.

One time, I was pulled over for speeding. I had an asshole cop that time. He pulled me over. I asked nicely what I did wrong. He said, “give me your license.” I asked what I did wrong. He said, “give me your license.” I did. He went back to his car, looked me up on a computer, wrote me a ticket for speeding, and walked away. I had to look at the ticket to figure out what I did wrong. Continue reading