TPM Cafe: Opinion

Supporters called it “The Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act.” Opponents referred to it as the “rape insurance” bill. Whichever name you use, the new measure that passed in Michigan will make it impossible for a person’s private insurance plan to cover an abortion under almost every circumstance – even in cases of pregnancy as a result of sexual assault – unless a separate rider is purchased.

Michigan is by no means the first state to require a separate rider for abortion coverage for insurance policies, and in fact joins eight other states that separate out elective abortions. In many of these cases riders don’t technically exist, and it’s unclear if Michigan will be any different.

However, Michigan’s “Opt-Out” act is groundbreaking, not just in the way that the measure was passed – by a 300,000 signature citizens’ petition and ratification by the House and Senate, rather than a bill that could (and last year did get) vetoed by the governor – but because it became a vocal and public debate revolving around whether or not a pregnant rape victim should be forced into giving birth.

Read More →

News coverage of the Senate’s confirmation of Congressman Mel Watt on Tuesday to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency was all about politics, not the housing or banking issues he now has to address. Nominated by President Barack Obama in May, Republicans blocked his approval for seven months. They claimed that Watt was not qualified for the position, despite his Yale law degree and his two decades of service on the House Financial Services Committee. In fact, their opposition had nothing to do with Watt’s qualifications. He was simply a victim of Washington’s partisan gridlock. On October 31, the Senate voted 56-42 on his behalf, but it was four votes shy of the 60 needed on the cloture motion to move forward. That made Watt the first sitting member of Congress since 1843 to be rejected by his peers for a cabinet-level position.

For Democrats, the Republicans’ rejection of Watt, as well as their rejection of Patricia Millett for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was the straw the broke the camel’s back. It galvanized them to change the rules to allow the President to make executive-level and court appointments by garnering a simple majority. Under the new rules, Watt finally got the support he needed, securing a 57 to 41 vote to lead the powerful agency that regulates mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own or guarantee about half of the nation’s mortgages.

Although news reports paid little attention to Watt’s new responsibilities as FHFA director, housing and bank reform advocates view his confirmation as a major victory.

Read More →

Nearly a year later, I still find myself crying when I think of the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre of 20 first graders and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Christmas. I didn’t know any of them personally and I don’t live anywhere near Newtown – I live in Atlanta, almost 1,000 miles away. But I am the mother of two stepsons and a 4-year-old little girl who are dearer to me than anything, with another little girl on the way, and I cannot bear to think of the anguish those parents and family members faced that day. Beyond that, I am a human being, and like so many others who heard the news from Newtown from afar, I felt horror and heartbreak on that day last December.

Finally, I am a psychologist in a country where mental illness is still stigmatized, despite the fact that one in four Americans has a diagnosed mental health condition. So when Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius recently announced the long-awaited final rules and regulations requiring all private American insurance plans to cover mental health treatment on an equal footing with more traditional medical care, I began to feel hopeful. The new regulations for mental health care as an essential service benefit in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) have the potential to significantly improve lives and reduce overall health care costs. Together with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, these regulations are extending federal parity protections, i.e. equality between mental health care and other types of medical care, to 62 million Americans.

Read More →

Today, policy makers think of education solely in terms of its secondary purposes. They speak of children as future global competitors. They sometimes refer to children in rather ugly terms as “human assets,” forgetting that they are unique people and they are not fungible. They want all students to be “college and career ready.” They tend to speak only of preparation for the workforce, not education for citizenship. But this is misguided. The central purpose of education is to prepare everyone to assume the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy.

What does this mean for schooling?

It means first of all that all citizens need the essential tools of learning, which are reading and mathematics. Knowing how to read and knowing how numbers are used (and misused) to characterize almost everything are basic necessities for citizens.

Basic skills are necessary, but they are not enough to prepare the citizen.

Read More →

American public education has never been subject to as much upheaval and chaos as it is today. Schools need stability, not constant disruption. Yet for the past dozen years, ill-advised federal policies have rained down on students, teachers, principals, and schools.

George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top are a double whammy. Together, they have severely undermined state and local control of education, even though the federal government puts up only 10% of the cost of public education. The tail is not only wagging the dog, it is controlling its every movement.

Read More →

Every time the Republican Party goes through adversity—whether it’s losing an election or suffering a plunge in popularity or falling into what is sometimes called a “civil war”—there are constant internal and (especially) external calls for some exercise in “soul-searching” or “rebranding” or “adjustment to political reality.” In recent years, these wilderness periods have been extremely brief, and have universally concluded with defiant pledges among an array of GOP leaders to remain true to their “conservative principles” regardless of the cost. We’ve seen a reprise of this predictable drama in Virginia this week, with state party chairman Pat Mullins leading a chorus of objections to any ideological recalibration at a GOP retreat.

Read More →

The question may seem fatuous on its face. In his lifetime, Mandela had to insist he was not a saint, but a sinner. Abbas has no doubters. Mandela was the leader; Abbas, the follower; yet Mandela poured your tea, while Abbas presses a buzzer to have an aide light (and ration) his cigarettes. In his death, Mandela filled a stadium with global leaders and common people. For Abbas, a legacy of this kind seems improbable: a negotiator is not a liberator.

Moreover, the question suggests parallels between Apartheid and the Occupation that are, at best, forced. Israel, even Greater Israel, is not a privileged minority enriching itself on the labor of a racially despised majority. On the contrary, the Zionists worked from the start toward separation, to revive the Hebrew language; settlement hurt Palestinian workers as a by-product of the drive towardeconomic self-sufficiency. To this day, if most Israelis could just saw their land and global technology businesses off from Palestine, and float out toward Cyprus, they would. Their racism, if that’s the word for it, derives from generations of violence.

But all of this is beside the point, now. The real question is whether Abbas, with Mandela-like courage and grace, was prepared to both confront the Occupation and yet renounce terror, face down his own nationalist radicals, and advocate for diplomatic pathways and (mainly) non-violent resistance.

Read More →

More than anyone else, Michelle Rhee is the face of the corporate reform movement.

When she was appointed to run the D.C. public school system, Michelle Rhee had never run a school system or even a school. In the early 1990s, as a member of Teach for America, she taught for three years in a Baltimore elementary school that was part of a for-profit experiment in privatization, which was terminated by the district after four years. After her teaching stint, she ran a program to recruit teachers for urban schools called the New Teacher Project. When Adrian Fenty selected her to lead the D.C. public schools, she was thirty-seven years old. Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City public schools, recommended her to Fenty; Klein, too, had come to his position without education credentials.

Rhee became renowned for her candor and toughness. She minced no words in castigating the culture of complacency, inefficiency, and incompetence that she encountered. The D.C. school system, whose students were overwhelmingly black and poor, had a long history of abysmal test scores. Rhee blamed their low academic performance on lazy and indifferent teachers; she often complained about the “crappy education” that students in the D.C. schools were getting.

Read More →

Michelle Rhee has been one of the most polarizing figures in American education in recent years. Some consider her the face of the current “reform” movement. After serving for nearly four years as chancellor of the D.C. public schools, she then created a group called StudentsFirst, whose goal was to change education policy across the nation by raising $1 billion. Although she has not raised $1 billion, she has raised large sums of money to elect candidates to state legislatures who favor charters and vouchers and who want to eliminate collective bargaining, end due process rights for teachers, judge teachers by the test scores of their students, and ensure that teachers have no job security.

I don’t know Rhee personally, and I had hoped to debate her at Lehigh University in February, but she canceled her original agreement to debate.

I admit that I oppose her policies because I believe they promote privatization of public education and the destruction of the teaching profession. No other nation—at least, no high-performing nation—judges teachers by the test scores of their students. None of the nations that score at the top of international tests takes such a harsh and punitive approach towards teachers. Instead, they have high standards for selection into teaching (they would not permit young college graduates with only five weeks of training to join their teacher corps); they support and develop their teachers; and they help them improve their craft.

Read More →

What people cannot see can be very harmful. In 2012, a report on the Global Burden of Disease found that pollution from dangerous tiny particles and droplets in the air – what scientists call “fine particulate matter” – is among the leading causes of death and severe disability. According to estimates in this report, over 3.2 million deaths per year may be attributable to people breathing dangerous particles in their general environment.

The good news is that over many decades, America has figured out how to reduce emissions of fine particulate matter from smoke stacks and tail pipes, phasing in increasingly effective pollution-reducing technologies.

The bad news is that there is another kind of air pollution from even tinier particles – “ultrafine particles” – that are concentrated next to freeways and other places with a lot of motor vehicle traffic. Pockets of this kind of invisible, odorless and often overlooked pollution may be especially dangerous for people who live and work next to busy highways. Researchers are only just beginning to quantify the dangers and find ways to protect people’s health.

Read More →
Want to contribute to TPM Cafe? Email ideas for your pieces to us at talk@talkingpointsmemo.com
Want to contribute to TPM Cafe? Email ideas for your pieces to us at talk@talkingpointsmemo.com

TPMLivewire