Archives: June, 2007

Burying the Good News

There’s good news tonight:

The rate of death from heart disease in the U.S. was cut in half between 1980 and 2000 thanks to better medical treatment and a reduction in the incidence of some risk factors, a new study shows.

That’s wonderful news, the kind that ought to be celebrated. We hear about threats and dangers and cancer clusters and transnational viruses and flying TB carriers, and many of those are real concerns. But the big picture, as Indur Goklany demonstrates at great length in his new book, is — well, let his title explain it: The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet. 

But this great news about heart disease appeared on page D4 of the Wall Street Journal and on page 13D of USA Today. As far as I can tell, it didn’t appear in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or the Washington Post at all, nor on any NPR program. Though on the NY Times website, you can find an article the same day on the tiny increase in deaths from West Nile virus. And the heart disease story can be found on the Post website, though not in the print paper.

 More details appeared in the Journal’s Health Blog:

The decline in heart disease, reported in the current New England Journal of Medicine, saved an estimated 341,000 lives in 2000 compared with the number of deaths that would have been expected if the levels of heart disease in 1980 persisted.

341,000 fewer deaths from heart disease in one year! There’s good news tonight — even if you won’t find it in the newspapers.

Back to Square One on Immigration

Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are undoubtedly congratulating themselves on the apparent demise yesterday of S. 1348. The bill failed to win enough votes in the Senate for cloture and a final vote. Leading the charge to defeat the bill were a group of Republicans opposed to just about any legalization or expansion of visas for low-skilled workers.

We’ve made the case at the Center for Trade Policy Studies for an immigration system that recognizes the need of our growing economy for more foreign-born workers and the benefits we would enjoy from more legal immigration. The only alternative offered by opponents of reform is to spend more on the same enforcement efforts that have failed in the past to stop illegal immigration. Conservatives who are normally skeptical of big government place all their hope in dramatic increases in spending for border enforcement, longer fences to nowhere, more raids on U.S. workplaces, and more red tape and national ID cards for American workers.

The bill before the Senate was flawed in many ways. The number of temporary worker visas was insufficient, its interior enforcement provisions too intrusive, the point system too convoluted. But the bill was at least pointing in the right direction.

The Republicans who brought the bill down have yet to put forward any practical and principled alternative.

Romney Still Loves His Health Plan…Sort Of

In an interview with the Associated Press, Mitt Romney called for Republicans to follow his lead in proposing universal health care coverage. “This is a topic where I don’t think the Republican Party can sit on the sidelines and just say no,” he told the AP, which reported that “he boasted about passing universal health care in Massachusetts.” However, the AP also reported that Romney “treaded carefully when asked about a national mandate requiring all workers to have health insurance. ‘In our evaluation of what worked in our state, the only way it could work … was to make sure that everybody participated in the system,’ he said.”

Of course it’s worth pointing out that:

Romney’s plan didn’t achieve universal coverage in Massachusetts. The state has exempted 20 percent of the uninsured from the individual mandate. For that matter, the mandate doesn’t actually take effect until July 1, so we don’t know how effective it will be. Given the rate of noncompliance with Massachusetts’ mandate for auto insurance, we can expect less than universal compliance even among those still affected by the health care mandate.

Romney’s plan involved far more than a mandate. It also created a Hillary Clinton managed-competition-style regulatory authority called the Massachusetts Health Care Connector. This new regulatory body has already mandated that every health care policy sold in the state must cover prescription drugs and has outlawed policies with deductibles of more than $2,000.

And Romney also significantly increased Medicaid eligibility and provided taxpayer-funded subsidies for families of four earning as much as $62,000 year, effectively extending welfare well into the middle class.

I can understand why he would “tread carefully.”

House Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture Does Their Bit For Fiscal Responsibility

Following on from Chris’ post yesterday, the House Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture came up with some nifty recommendations for the programs under their jurisdiction yesterday. The press release is here.

Take particular notice of the operative words in the paragraph that outlines the proposals. The clauses begin with, respectively: expands, doubles, extends, requires, funds, expands, provides, establishes, authorizes, and establishes. Nary a “cuts,” “abolishes,” “ends,” or “repeals” in sight.

I have searched thoroughly through my pocket Constitution (available here) but I can’t find the basis for these (or, for that matter, many other) government programs anywhere.

Scandlen on “The Grand Poobahs of Massachusetts”

In the most recent newsletter from Consumers for Health Care Choices, Greg Scandlen has some fun with the Massachusetts “Connector Authority” created by then-Governor Mitt Romney:

It must be fun to be a Grand Poobah of health insurance in Massachusetts. Here you sit on your Grand Poobah cushion while the peasants come before you to plead their cases. One begs you to limit copays for visits and drugs because they add up pretty quickly. A doctor asks you to disallow deductibles of $2,000 because it provides “inadequate coverage.” Yet a business owner says that is the only kind of coverage they can afford. A self-employed artist requests that you consider net income, not gross income because she spends so much of her gross on art supplies. A consumer advocate asks you to disallow Health Savings Accounts, while an AIDS activist wants you to provide unlimited lifetime benefits. And it is up to you - the All Powerful and Mighty Grand Poobah of the Connector - to grant these wishes or deny them on behalf of the entire fiefdom. All must obey or be severely penalized.

And yet the deadline for obedience (July 1) approaches and a mere 100 people a week (out of the 160,000 required) are signing up for coverage. In the Olden Days we could send Paul Revere to “every Middlesex village and farm” to alert the peasants to their new “responsibility,” but today we’ll have to settle for spending $3 million in taxpayer money on advertising and delay the deadline until November. Surely by then, they will humble themselves before the Poobahs and do as they have been told. There will be no Tea Parties this time around.

NCLB: What a Mess

Only two days after a fatally flawed but positive report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP) inspired No Child Left Behind (NCLB) fans to declare NCLB a success, two new analyses have come out showing that far from being a triumph, the law has mainly produced just two things: confusion and deception.

The first report comes from the Gannett News Service (GNS), which compared results on state tests to scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math and reading exams. What GNS found is that in many states far more students reach “proficiency” on state reading and math tests – the only ones that “count” for NCLB – than on NAEP. This strongly suggests that states are setting low proficiency bars, probably in order to stay out of trouble under the law.

The second analysis comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). IES’s report makes similar comparisons to GNS, but with more statistical rigor. Essentially, it equates scores on state tests in schools that administered NAEP with those schools’ NAEP results. (NAEP is based on representative sampling of schools and students rather than giving tests to every student in every school). What the analysis reveals is that most states’ “proficient” levels are equivalent to NAEP’s “basic” designation. That is, except in 4th-grade reading, where most state proficiency levels are actually below NAEP’s basic level.

The results of these studies, taken in conjunction with the cavernous data holes and inconsistencies in CEP’s report, make clear that no reasonable conclusions about NCLB’s effectiveness can be drawn using state test scores. Unfortunately, no proof of the law’s effectiveness can be drawn from NAEP, either. As the CEP folks noted in their report, so many reforms have been implemented simultaneously with NCLB that no one could ever tease out which initiative is responsible for which changes in achievement. NAEP is, though, a much more consistent measure than state tests. Unfortunately for NCLB fans, its results have not been too encouraging.

Perhaps one slightly heartening outcome from today’s news is that U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who ordinarily seems to declare almost any education news proof that NCLB is working, tempered her rhetoric a bit.

This report offers sobering news that serious work remains to ensure that our schools are teaching students to the highest possible standards. States have made significant strides under No Child Left Behind to close our nation’s achievement gap, as evidenced by the Center on Education Policy study released earlier this week. But today’s report finds that many states’ assessment standards do not measure up to the rigorous standards of The Nation’s Report Card.

Unfortunately, the slight uptick in NCLB sanity coming from Spellings was cancelled out by at least one federal standards advocate, who took advantage of the results to plug his favorite reform. According to the New York Times, after Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation acknowledged that “parents and communities in too many states are being told not to worry, all is well, when their students are far behind,” he went on to conclude that “we don’t need a national curriculum, but we certainly should have national standards for reading and math.”

Of course! We know that state and local politicians are self-serving jerks who will set low standards to keep themselves out of hot water even if it hurts kids, but federal politicians are as pure as the driven snow, and were they able to set standards they’d set them as high as possible, let the political chips fall where they may.

Right.

It’s just this kind of baseless assumption about Washington goodness that got us into this filthy NCLB mess to begin with.