NAFSA Formally Joins Boycott of Arizona, Urges Repeal of SB1070

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At the NAFSA: Association of International Educators Annual Conference and Expo this week in Kansas City, Missouri, members and the board of directors approved a resolution formally opposing SB1070, Arizona’s unjust immigration legislation.

NAFSA’s own Everett Egginton, a past president, describes the resolution in a blog post at the NAFSA website:

The resolution calls for the immediate repeal of anti-immigrant legislation by the State of Arizona urges other states to refrain from passing similar measures; asks the U.S. Congress to act quickly to enact comprehensive immigration reform; and resolves the association to not hold national and regional meetings in the State of Arizona until the situation is rectified.

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Of course there is great meaning in this resolution for me at personal level as well, related to where I live, work, and seek personal satisfaction in my life. New Mexico, one of Arizona’s neighbors, is a majority-Hispanic state. But it’s not only the Hispanics in New Mexico that are hurt and embarrassed by this legislation; the hurt and embarrassment are felt across the entire state. As such, we as New Mexicans are concerned with the burdens of this legislation on our Arizona colleagues…

As an employee working in higher education (and a student studying it), I am encouraged to see higher education groups mobilizing on this issue. Unfortunately, those opposed to the legislation are in the minority nationally. This makes standing up and speaking out against this legislation even more paramount. Props to NAFSA for taking a stand. Hopefully similar groups follow its lead.

Do Millennials Prefer Suburban or Urban Living?

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Over the last several months, I have noticed a discrepancy emerging among commentators regarding whether or not Millennials prefer suburban or urban living.  Examining such a conflict is important given the size and growing political influence of the Millennial generation in today’s society.

In their most recent piece, Morley Winograd and Michael Hais use the Brookings Institution’s “State of Metropolitan America” report and some polling conducted for thinktank NDN to argue that as the Millennial generation comes of age, America will move to an exclusively suburban society.

While suburban living was once seen as the almost exclusive preserve of the white upper-middle class, a majority of all major American racial and ethnic groups now live in suburbia, according to the newest report on the state of metropolitan America from the Brookings Institute. Slightly more than half of African-Americans now live in large metropolitan suburbs, as do 59% of Hispanics, almost 62% of Asian-Americans, and 78% of whites. As a result the country is closer than ever to achieving a goal that many thought would never be achieved—city/suburban racial/ethnic integration. This is particularly so in the faster growing metropolitan areas of the South and West.

The trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. A majority of Millennials live in the suburbs and 43% of them, a portion higher than for any other generation, describe suburbs as their “ideal place to live.”

Winograd and Hais use this to further argue that policymakers and developers should not resist this movement to the suburbs, but instead embrace it by passing legislation that safeguards our children, strengthens schools, and brings jobs to the suburbs.  In their mind, this would play to the heart of the 21st Century electorate.

A recent piece in the Atlantic by Christopher Leinberger contradicts Winograd and Hais’s claim, arguing for better urban transit systems and walkable neighborhoods.  Leinberger explains that with housing’s ability to lead us out of recessions, one should note the gradual increase in lost values as one moves away from urban centers.

But housing hasn’t cratered everywhere. According to Stan Humphries, the chief economist of Zillow, an online housing-research firm, if you plot changes in home values within a typical metro region on a satellite map, the result “looks like an archery target, with the outlying areas having experienced substantially higher total declines in home values” than areas closer to the central city.

Zillow data for metropolitan Washington, D.C., for instance, shows that housing prices on average have declined 33 percent since the peak. But this average masks big differences. In densely built inner suburbs, like Arlington, Virginia, and in the walkable, urban neighborhoods of the District of Columbia, prices typically dropped about 20 percent. Housing on the suburban fringe, on the other hand, lost about half its value. Many exurban homeowners who had purchased or refinanced in the mid-2000s are now well underwater.

Leinberger uses this data to make the claim that policymakers and developers should instead focus on using transit and biking infrastructure to re-develop urban neighborhoods into walkable, navigable areas.

Urban-style housing in walkable neighborhoods—including those in the inner suburbs—is what’s in demand today. And for a variety of reasons, that demand will intensify in the coming years. Only by serving it can the country kick-start growth in an enormous and essential part of the economy.

Yet the creation of new, attractive urban spaces is slow and difficult, and becomes all but impossible without substantial new infrastructure. Most of all, it relies on good transit options—especially rail links—around which walkable neighborhoods can develop. Rail, biking, and walking infrastructure is the backbone of urban development, and as a country we’ve for the most part neglected to build it in recent decades, in favor of new roads for new suburbs farther and farther away from metropolitan hubs. To support growth in the next decade, we need to change that dynamic—and nourish our walkable urban spaces and neighborhoods. Complicating matters, in these cash-strapped times we need to find a way to do so on the cheap.

I’ve argued for something similar to Leinberger’s vision in the past.  Part of the appeal of Leinberger’s contention is that it aligns with Millennial values.  Urban living leads to leaving less of a carbon footprint and a more sustainable lifestyle.  Not only this, but real estate surveys yield data disputing the numbers cited by Winograd and Hais above.  75 percent of Millennials actually prefer to live in an urban core, emphasizing the importance of convenience, connectivity, and “environment” when selecting a place to live.  Though Winograd and Hais argue that organizers and politicians should go to the suburbs to find Millennial values, Leinberger’s piece and the accompanying data supports a continued investment in re-developing urban areas.  Such a focus is not mutually exclusive from good schools and the other quality of life issues Winograd and Hais discuss.

Youth and Health Insurance: Link between Insurance and Income

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Catherine Rampell, from the New York Times blog Economix, suggests an alternative to the conventional wisdom that youth aren’t insured (and don’t care about reform) due to their invincibility.

Rampell constructs her argument using some Gallup data released last week. First, she confronts the idea that young people, assumed to be healthier than the rest of the population, would rather risk not buying health insurance, thus leading to higher costs for the rest of the pool. In fact, Rampell finds that young people are actually less willing to take risks than you might think:

Three-quarters of those 18-29 year-olds describing themselves as healthy still purchased health insurance. As Rampell explains, one can dig deeper into this data, inquiring about variables like income. Rampell does that and finds something.

Perhaps people who are likely to have health insurance are also likely to be healthy for an independent reason: It costs money to buy health insurance, and it costs money to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In other words, perhaps it is money, not perceived risk of getting sick, that determines whether young people get insurance.

As it turns out, people who can afford health insurance are much, much more likely to get it:

Among young adults, 86 percent of those in the top third of the income distribution (people earning $48,000 or more annually) have health insurance. In the middle third (those earning between $24,000 and $48,000), 72 percent have health insurance. And in the bottom third (those making less than $24,000), just 58 percent are on a health plan.

It appears to be affordability, not recklessness (or even rational cost-benefit analysis of health risk), that is driving young people away from insurance policies.

Though reporters and pundits might think something is true, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other unseen or unmentioned possibilities or factors affecting the phenomenon. Thanks to Catherine Rampell for digging deeper.

Comparing Universal Health Care with Bush’s Tax Cuts

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Paul Krugman makes an interesting comparison at his blog:

Now the real thing has been scored — and it’s OK. Something like 97 percent coverage for people already legally here, at a total cost somewhere in the $1 trillion range. Bear in mind that the Bush tax cuts cost around $1.8 trillion over a decade. We can do this — and have no excuse for not doing it.

Tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires = $1.8 trillion.

Health care for everyone = $1 trillion, at most.

Health Care Reform Progress

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A few big things have happened today regarding health care reform.

First, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) has released a health care proposal that will cover 97 percent of Americans, will cost $600 billion, and will include a public option.

Democrats on a key Senate Committee outlined a revised and far less costly health care plan Wednesday night that includes a government-run insurance option and an annual fee on employers who do not offer coverage to their workers.

The plan carries a 10-year price tag of slightly over $600 billion, and would lead toward an estimated 97 percent of all Americans having coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Chris Dodd said in a letter to other members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The AP obtained a copy.

By contrast, an earlier, incomplete proposal carried a price tag of roughly $1 trillion and would have left millions uninsured, CBO analysts said in mid-June.

The letter indicated the cost and coverage improvements resulted from two changes. The first calls for a government-run health insurance option to compete with private coverage plans, an option that has drawn intense opposition from Republicans.

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Additionally, the revised proposal calls for a $750 annual fee on employers for each full-time worker not offered coverage through their job. The fee would be set at $375 for part-time workers. Companies with fewer than 25 employees would be exempt. The fee was forecast to generate $52 billion over 10 years, money the government would use to help provide subsidies to those who cannot afford insurance.

This is huge, as Jed Lewison reports at Daily Kos, because it takes away the scare tactics Republicans and most conservative Democrats have been fanning in this debate. No one can claim now that the public option costs too much, and in addition, the effectiveness of such a policy can’t be argued.

The second thing to happen is the American Medical Association announcing its support for a public option, which, in May, it had opposed.

Dr. J. James Rohack told CNN that the AMA supports an “American model” that includes both “a private system and a public system, working together.”

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“The AMA does not believe that creating a public health insurance option … is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs across the health care system,” the organization wrote, explaining that a public insurance plan could lead to “an explosion of costs that would need to be absorbed by taxpayers.”

Rohack, who recently became AMA president, suggested Wednesday that the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program available to Congress members and other federal employees could be expanded as a public option. That would avoid having to create a new program from scratch, he said.

“If it’s good enough for Congress, why shouldn’t it be good enough for individuals who don’t have health insurance provided by their employers?” Rohack said.

These two events, along with the president’s town-hall meetings, should be enough to create some positive momentum toward getting something passed. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Youth and Food Policy

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Cassandra Leveille wrote a nice piece that was published the other day on Campus Progress’s site. The piece focused on the link between declining health among low-income neighborhoods and the lack of healthy and organic foods available in those areas.

Leveille explains throughout the piece that, whereas many supermarkets carrying the fresh produce — the most nutritious food in the store — are exclusively located in suburbs thanks to the white flight of the 1960s and 1970s, those trapped in poverty in urban areas are forced to rely on convenience stores overflowing with fatty, over-processed alternatives. And because of their lack of resources, many impoverished shoppers are trapped in the cycle of buying these foods, because it is the only option (other than simply not eating). In other words, living paycheck to paycheck usually means a diet of frozen dinners, Twinkies, and dollar menus at fast food joints for youth.

Leveille examines the roots of the problem from a policy perspective:

For many, the Obama administration offers hope for changing the massive amount of unhealthy foods Americans are exposed to. However, our current food agenda is largely out of Obama’s hands, by policy set forth in the 2007 Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill legislation is amended every five years and largely determines what products are available for Americans on a mass scale. The original farm bills produced during the Great Depression paid farmers to not overproduce their crops, but the current farm bills promote overproduction of subsidized foods, such as corn. The five foods that receive the highest subsidies are soybeans, corn, wheat, cotton and rice. These products appear in abundance on our supermarket shelves, often in the form of highly processed foods.

A piece in The American Prospect commented on the 2007 version of the Farm Bill, particularly the ramifications of overproducing the main five crops cited by Leveille — not just leading to a lack of diversity in food choices, but threatening the small farmers who simply can’t compete with the extremely low prices caused by overproduction.

Subsidies are marketed as an important protection for America’s food-production system and a necessary support for hard-working farmers who maintain our rural heritage. But most beneficiaries are not part of that pastoral tradition, and artificially low prices have devastated many small farmers. Since 1948 the number of farms has dropped from 5.8 to 2.1 million, and the number of farmers who actually benefit from subsidies is even smaller — a mere ten percent of farms receive 74 percent of the subsidies. Smaller farms do receive some money, but it’s hardly on par with what becomes agribusiness profit. In many ways, this consolidation is caused by the very subsidies that claim to protect the traditional farmer.

Furthermore, only five crops (corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, and rice) receive more than 90 percent of the allotted funds. And because the subsidies are crop-specific, crop diversity decreases. Banks are less inclined to lend to farmers who want to plant non-subsidized crops, as there’s no guaranteed return. Thus, more farmers plant more corn or soy, which escalates overproduction and reduces the safeguards that a diverse crop load provides.

Leveille’s piece does a good job of pulling together the economics, public health issues, and agriculture policy involved in this matter. Leveille suggests a combination of new zoning laws, which serve to keep unhealthy fast food options out of low-income neighborhoods (already either being pursued or passed by city governments in New York and Los Angeles) with improved agriculture policy, which subsidizes more fruit and vegetables over the traditional crops listed above. Certainly the big five will continue to be the most popular, but I agree with Leveille that policy should create more of a demand for produce than it currently does. I endorse all of these actions.

However, our responsibilities don’t stop there. Our youth are being poisoned thanks to the policies we have set forth. School lunches are little more than the “drunk food” on which many college students snack — chicken nuggets, french fries, etc. In an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, explains why:

But [Vilsack] has a mission to make “nutrition” the watchword of the nutrition programs in the Department of Agriculture: School Lunch, Food Stamps, WIC. Now, that sounds kind of “duh,” but, in fact, those programs have nothing to do with nutrition right now. They’re essentially ways to dispose of agricultural surpluses. So if they actually raise the nutrition standards and make that the focus—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, they’re the way to—

MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, the reason we have a School Lunch Program, you know, it began as an effort really to get rid of this incredible overproduction of American agriculture. I mean, we’re using our children as a disposal for excess, you know, cheap ground beef and cheese and all these corn products, and that the—you know, under the School Lunch Program, we feed our kids chicken nuggets and tater tots in school. We’re using the School Lunch Program to teach them how to become fast-food consumers. So, it’s not about health, and it needs to be about health. So, if he can move that program in that direction, I think that will be wonderful.

So after the adjusted subsidies that Leveille advocates produce more fruits and vegetables, we should be getting those into the School Lunch program and avoiding the stale, corn-laden taco shell filled with the 20/80 ground beef most kids are eating. Perhaps we should also manufacture some creative signage to place on our cafeteria’s serveries that inform students in an understandable, fun way what they are eating.

Food is such an important part of the lives of young people. Of course, they need it to survive in the short-term, but it also forms the foundation of many of their daily schedules. The importance of nutrition, then, should be that much more apparent. In addition to doing a better job of educating our students on the foods/drinks they eat, we should also be keeping an eye on agriculture/food policy which is the driving force for many of our public health and economic problems today. While it would seem that those worse off would be afforded more of the resources needed to get to a better place instead of less, that’s not what’s happening now. As DeNeen Brown put it in a story for the Post earlier this month on the poor, “You have to be rich to be poor.” It’s up to us to change that.

An Education Policy to Get Things Started

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I’ve had this problem lately. After coming of age in the middle of Republican dominance, having to read about GOP legislative victories over bad policy, the trampling of civil liberties, and the prosecution of inept wars, the political events of 2008 and 2009 still seem like something of a dream to me. This week, as I was reading the Youngstown Vindicator, a regional newspaper covering my hometown, I saw another surprise — an education policy that is innovative and progressive!

The governor wants to expand the school year by 20 days to an average of 200 days over the next 10 years.

Strickland … is also calling for the end of “the outdated practice of giving our most impressionable students only a half-day of learning. Ohio will now require universal all-day kindergarten.” The governor also called for the end of the Ohio graduation test and replace it with the ACT college entrance test and “three additional measures.”

Those measures are: statewide ‘end of course’ exams, complete a service learning project, and submit a senior project.

“Students will, of course, continue to learn the timeless core subjects like math and science that are critical to their success,” he said at today’s State of the State address. “But we will also add new topics including global awareness and life skills to the curriculum. And we will use teaching methods that foster creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, media literacy, leadership and productivity, cultural awareness, adaptability and accountability.”

Strickland said his proposed two-year budget will increase the state’s share of the cost of school funding and reduce the reliance on property tax.

Governor Strickland is also aiming to improve the quality of teachers in the classroom in Ohio with an innovative residency program.

…“Just as future doctors begin their careers under the watchful eye of an experienced colleague, we will give our new teachers the benefit of thoughtful guidance from an accomplished senior teacher. After a four-year residency, successful candidates will earn their professional teaching license.”

Since August, I’ve been discussing the need for elementary and high school curriculum to go beyond the trendy math and hard sciences that not-so-qualified teachers try to teach. And now here comes Strickland with policy that would educate students as if they’re — surprise! — future citizens of a country that is facing sustained competition. Understanding global languages and culture is going to be more important than ever as we move forward. It’s not just about jobs, and Strickland seems to recognize that here.

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