The Catholic University of America
Dec 5 2011

Coaching Seriously

Recently at the IPR office, after I gave an overly detailed analysis of my volleyball team’s recent performance (I am the head coach of a girls varsity volleyball team at a local high school), I was accused of taking sports seriously.  Guilty as charged. 

In my mind, coaching parallels teaching, and both involve a sacred duty to help boys and girls, young men and women, progress toward their full development as human persons.  Excellent coaches serve as mentors, role models, counselors, and teachers.  They inspire, motivate, support, console, encourage, and challenge their players.  They model virtue and look to instill it in their players.

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0 comments - Posted by Robert Christian at 1:43 PM - Categories: Education

Nov 23 2011

No, There Isn’t “Blame to Go Around”!

The blame for the failure of the deficit “Supercommittee” to reach agreement on a long term plan for fiscal sanity can be placed squarely at the door of its Republican members.  Anyone who levels an ounce of blame on the committee’s Democrats or the President are delusional at best and liars at worst.  The President has always indicated his desire for a balanced plan of spending cuts and revenue increases.  The supercommittee’s Democrats offered significant cuts to entitlement programs in exchange for minimal revenue increases through the closing of tax-loopholes and an end to the Bush tax cuts.  To a person, the Republicans balked, partly because of an intransigent allegiance to a bankrupt ideology and partly out of fear of the electoral retribution they would suffer from their Faustian bargain with the “no tax increase ever” demagogue Grover Norquist and his vigilante organization Americans for Tax Reform.  Understand this.  There was no reason for this Supercommittee in the first place except as yet another presidential bow to Congressional Republicans.  Thoughtful, workable, and truly bipartisan plans already existed in the plans offered by the Bowles-Simpson and Domenici-Rivlin commissions.  Unfortunately,  both of these plans, while proposing significant and, to some, excessive spending cuts, also proposed significant increases in tax revenues.  The latter, of course, was the proverbial “nail in the coffin”.  I’ve been reading and hearing in the various news media about the disgust Americans harbor against the failure of our lawmakers to get things done.  Well, for this last debacle, there is one and only one group towards which the disgust should be directed—Congressional Republicans.               

0 comments - Posted by Ernest Zampelli at 2:12 PM - Categories: Economy | Government & Civil Society

Oct 26 2011

Whither the Government in a Market Economy

That Republicans have scuttled President Obama’s proposed jobs bill is no surprise.  Their obsessive compulsive adherence to an “expansionary fiscal austerity” philosophy, debunked by recent scholarship, along with their summary dismissal of the Congressional Budget Office analysis that estimates the bill would create about two million jobs if passed, is par for the proverbial course.  Their goal, of course, is not simply, nor primarily, to change the way fiscal and monetary policies are used for general economic stabilization purposes.  Their ultimate goal is to change fundamentally the role of government in a market-based economy by ridding private markets of any government involvement or interference, unleashing fully the power of self-interest and Adam Smith’s invisible hand to guide the nation’s resources to their most productive and valuable uses.  Witness the extreme right’s attacks on health care reform,  financial market regulation, climate change policies, and the Environmental Protection Agency, to name a few. 

Now, lest anyone get the wrong impression of me, please understand that I am first and foremost a market economist.  I believe in markets driven by the pursuit of self-interest and I marvel at the efficiencies with which they operate.  Just think about the fact that you can go into a grocery store at any time of day and find whatever you might want at a price you can usually afford.  Next time you’re in a Starbuck’s enjoying a cappuccino or latté or espresso, think about the myriad of transactions that had to take place to bring that drink to you in that place at that time.  Little or no government involvement, no central planning required—just price signals providing the proper incentives to businesses and consumers.  It really is astounding and each and every semester I implore my economics students to appreciate how amazing the mechanism is.  So the bottom line here is that you’re not reading the rants of a Marxist or radical.

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0 comments - Posted by Ernest Zampelli at 3:20 PM - Categories: Economy

Sep 28 2011

At Extremes

We  live, so it seems, in an age of extremes.  Perhaps it’s too obvious a point to dwell upon, but recent events from Washington to Norway have me circling in thought about the culture of extremes, and of extremisms.  To judge from our fondness for the word itself, Americans are quite happy with the idea of extreme culture.  Extreme weather explains away global climate change and makes good TV fare to boot.  Extreme sports bring daredeviltry somehow within the fold of healthy athleticism, while still letting the wingsuit flyer or buggy roller keep his sense of being  above you inside-the-envelope types.  (The symbiosis of extreme sports, body-mountable mini video cameras, and YouTube’s exhibitionist theater is a sure sign of the times.)  Extreme makeovers of homes and bodies are entrancing media spectacles that provoke viewers’ unsettled desire for some ineffable, radical change, then channel it towards attainable catalysts like high fiber cereal, light beer, and sleeved blankets.  We may feel great sympathy and approval for the foster-mom’s fabulous instant home-cum-amusement arcade, and so transfer that sympathy to Craftsman power tools.  We may feel a horrified superiority to the face-and/or-body makeover subject’s willingness to undergo plastic surgery on her extremities while we can happily suffice with some new deodorant or eyeliner.  Extreme rides, extreme weight loss, extreme couponing, extreme yoga.  There seems to be no end of it, which is, I suppose, one meaning of “extreme.”

Even where the word doesn’t figure, extremism infuses the cultural air.  And water: Discovery Channel’s marketing-blitz Shark Week—nearly every commercial vaunts a clever tie-in—is always big in my house.  But as I watched Shark Week shows with my kids this summer, I felt a quasi-bored annoyance as each successive segment took us—cue ominous cello notes—Free swimming! Out of the cage! With the tigers and whites!  And what one Blakean voice-over called their “fearsome dentition”!  We gazed at stunts that “dramatically increase the danger of an attack” (so warned our narrator, Frontline’s sober Will Lyman, moonlighting from his usual work in political documentary).  We lowered our slices of pizza to exchange the knowing glance that says, “But I can to bring that risk to zero!”   I keep thinking back to one free-diving, dorsal-fin riding sharkist—his graceful and solitary silhouette against the mirrored sea surface accompanied by an almost religiously contemplative soundtrack.  At one level it was clear he wanted to be the shark—the pure and extreme top predator, the organism beyond all argument—and yet also be the prey who craftily, or luckily, escapes being dinner.  He remarked, on coming up for air, “It was the most profound moment of my life.”

Perhaps this strange mixture of solipsistic yearning and deathless deathwishing puts us onto something about our extreme fondness for extremes.  It’s there too in performance art extremism, like extreme ironing, which points to the deconstructive core of the culture of extremes as issuing from a real human urge to connect with something beyond the mundane and ordinary but also and in the same moment dejectedly admitting that, whatever this extreme activity is, it won’t fulfill that need longer than a free dive or free fall (in both cases and on several levels a striking abuse of the word “free”).  There is no lasting transcendence in our culture of extremes, hence the compulsiveness of extreme activities and their spectation, as well as their inevitable entanglement with consumerism.  From this position, perhaps we can see the self-consuming contradiction of the extremist as one who puts herself beyond the usual range of human activity or beliefs, yet still asserts to belong to and to represent, even more organically and essentially somehow, the core reality of things. Extremism is thus a conflicted phenomenon, a No that asserts its Yes-ness, a perfectionism claiming pragmatism, a fundamental irrationality.  Perhaps this revelation, if it is one, applies even to political extremism, limning a basic incoherence in the term.
To be continued…

Posted by Stephen J. McKenna at 9:41 AM - Categories:

Sep 26 2011

Millionaires and Taxes: A Reality Check

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0 comments - Posted by Ernest Zampelli at 9:18 AM - Categories: Economy

Sep 21 2011

Poverty Rates Climb… And Congress is Silent. Why?

The U.S. Census Bureau has released some disturbing new numbers measuring poverty in the United States.  More than 46 million Americans are currently living below the poverty line – a whopping 15% of the U.S. population.  Not since the early 1990’s has the percentage been this high.  And even worse, the data show sharp declines in real income, a record number of people without health care insurance, and particularly harsh economic conditions for women.

Yet despite widespread media coverage of these alarming figures, the reaction from Congress has been surprisingly muted.  Why?

To be sure, the current political environment is not conducive to Congress taking action.  The talk in Washington is about debt reduction, not federal spending.  Congress is sharply divided along partisan lines – Democrats control the Senate, Republicans the House – a recipe for policy gridlock.  Democrats, thinking to the next presidential election, worry that pushing the issue may only further connect Obama with the struggling economy.  And Congressional Republicans, an increasingly conservative party, do not want to lose the support of activist Tea Party groups, most of which are so opposed to government programs and regulations that they sometimes sound like the Anti-Federalists of the 1780’s.

But there are three bigger reasons that Congress is less likely to deal with poverty than it should.

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0 comments - Posted by Matthew Green at 10:16 AM - Categories: Social Justice | Education | Government & Civil Society

Sep 15 2011

Poverty, Civic Education, and Democracy

I happen to be working on a paper dealing with strategies that enhance civic education. There are extensive data showing that the quality of civic education differs according to the population being served. For example, in California, schools serving low income, “disadvantaged” students, tend not to have supplements to civics classes such as service, simulations, or discussions, whereas schools serving higher income students have these supplements (Kahne and Middaugh, 2009). Across the country, schools serving disadvantaged students tend not to have student governments and if they have them, student governments tend not to have a voice in policy (McFarland and Starrmans, 2009).

Recently published data on civic knowledge (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2010) demonstrate that the failure to use enriching practices is a lost opportunity. Disadvantaged students, defined here as being eligible for free lunches, benefit greatly when their teachers use discussion of the material being studied. 8th and 12th graders whose teachers say that they never or only a few times a year used discussion, scored 125 and 126, respectively, on the NAEP test. Their peers in classes where teachers used discussion on a regular basis, scored 155 and 152, respectively. (These are my calculations using the on-line data provided for NAEP by the National Center for Education Statistics.) The differences are statistically significant and indicate that disadvantaged students benefit from enriched civic education classes. (Advantaged students benefitted as well.)

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0 comments - Posted by James Youniss at 12:41 PM - Categories: Education | Government & Civil Society