Saturday, October 24, 2009

Under the radar..

I'm still here! Hoping to revive Beyond Me after the new year...

Thanks if you still stop by!


I wanted to make sure that as many people as possible noticed this article by David Brooks. There is at least one area in which the Obama Administration is doing tremendous things: education.

I've been fortunate to work closely on this effort over the past few months - and based on my personal experience I can say that our country has a chance to make dramatic (and desperately needed) reforms in public education in the coming years - and the Race to the Top initiative that Brooks discusses could be the catalyst for that change.

Here is another link to the article.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame

Today I read the recent speech President Obama delivered at Notre Dame. I wanted to pass it on to those of you that missed it and call out a few passages that spoke to me.

I was going to try to provide some commentary as well, but after a few reads, I've decided just to call out some of my favorite parts and let you reflect on your own. And hopefully, you'll read the whole thing. You can find it here. of the vexing things for those of us interested in promoting greater understanding and cooperation among people is the discovery that even bringing
together persons of good will, men and women of principle and purpose, can be
The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved.

The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort?

How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?


In this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you've been raised and educated. Be unafraid
to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your faith and
allow it to guide you on your journey. Stand as a lighthouse.

But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness, and service that moves hearts and minds.

For if there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It is no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated. The call to love. To serve. To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Cost of Weak Public Education

In Wednesday's New York Times, Thomas Friedman cites a new study by a respected global consulting firm that actually attempts to quantify the impact of our under-performing public education system on the national GDP.

The numbers are pretty striking:

If America had closed the international achievement gap between 1983 and 1998 and had raised its performance to the level of such nations as Finland and South Korea, United States G.D.P. in 2008 would have been between $1.3 trillion and $2.3 trillion higher.

If we had closed the racial achievement gap and black and Latino student performance had caught up with that of white students by 1998, G.D.P. in 2008 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher.

If the gap between low-income students and the rest had been narrowed, G.D.P. in 2008 would have been $400 billion to $670 billion higher. What strikes me most about these numbers - and the value they attempt to convey - is what they do NOT include.

Friedman (and the study he cites) is basically saying that improving public education will make the economy more productive - presumably paying for some (or all?) of the expenditures it would take to accomplish. This seems straightforward enough and easy to accept - but in my opinion, it doesn't go far enough.

Improving education would do more than simply grow GDP - it could also shrink the need for certain government expenditures (further offsetting education costs). For example, it seems logical that reducing the number of poorly educated Americans would result in decreased spending for law enforcement, welfare and Medicaid (which incidentally averages about 20% of states' budgets).

So to summarize- better education leads to a more productive economy and a reduction in demand for some of our government’s more expensive services. Fine.

So the important question becomes - how do you improve education?

I’m not going to lay out my personal opinion in this post – but I will say that I firmly believe that one of the keys is to get our best citizens teaching in our classrooms. This probably seems obvious to the point of being uninteresting – the question is how do you do it? Hopefully someday soon I can make the time to write more on this – but in the meantime – the end of Friedman’s article provides some evidence that substantial progress towards this goal is already being made:

Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, called the other day with these statistics about college graduates signing up to join her organization to teach in some of our neediest schools next year: “Our total applications are up 40 percent. Eleven percent of all Ivy League seniors applied, 16 percent of Yale’s senior class, 15 percent of Princeton’s, 25 percent of Spellman’s and 35 percent of the African-American seniors at Harvard. In 130 colleges, between 5 and 15 percent of the senior class applied.”

Very, very exciting.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In a Single Sentence

Don't miss Thomas Friedman's article in the NYT today.

The entire brief article is worth a read, but here is my favorite paragraph:

This problem is more complicated than anything you can imagine. We are coming off a 20-year credit binge. As a country, too many of us stopped making money by making “stuff” and started making money from money — consumers making money out of rising home prices and using the profits to buy flat-screen TVs from China on their credit cards, and bankers making money by creating complex securities and leverage so more and more consumers could get in on the credit game.

The last sentence in that paragraph is by far the best single sentence I've heard that explains why we've found ourselves in the current economic fix.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Quick read on basic economics

Wow - a full month since my last post! Thanks to any one that still drops by from time to time.

I found an interesting link that was quick to pass on and may be interesting to some of you as we are all trying to learn a little more about economics these days.

A link to quick post by Greg Mankiw that outlines 14 easy to understand but important economic questions on which almost all economists agree. You can read it here.

Thanks again to those of you that still check in from time to time. I'm digging out from under work and hope to be posting a little bit more often from now on.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Important Message to Young Democrats

A few days ago, I found some very important remarks embedded in a Washington Post essay arguing that liberals should finally give George W. Bush credit for the surge.

The argument was somewhat compelling although I think fully exploring the issue requires closer to a thousand pages than a thousand words.

The surge and George W. Bush's role aside, the author, Peter Beinart, made a very important argument halfway through the essay that I felt important to quote here: entire generation of Democrats now takes it for granted that on the big questions, the right is always wrong. Older liberals remember the Persian Gulf War, which most congressional Democrats opposed and most congressional Republicans supported -- and the Republicans were proven right. They also remember the welfare reform debate of the mid-1990s, when prominent liberals predicted disaster, and disaster didn't happen.

Younger liberals, by contrast, have had no such chastening experiences. Watching the Bush administration flit from disaster to disaster, they have grown increasingly dismissive of conservatives in the process..... They have never had the ideologically humbling experience of watching the people whose politics they loathe be proven right.

In this way, they are a little like the Bushies themselves. One reason the Bush administration fell prey to such monumental hubris was that it didn't take its critics seriously.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Courage in Afghanistan

The New York Times ran an incredibly story today about the terror that has been inflicted on young females in Afghanistan that have been trying to attend school following the overthrow of the Taliban.

I'm going to include the first few lines of the article below, but if you need an uplifting story of courage or a bit of perspective on the challenges our society faces relative to others, you should consider reading the whole thing.

One morning two months ago, Shamsia Husseini and her sister were walking through the muddy streets to the local girls school when a man pulled alongside them on a motorcycle and posed what seemed like an ordinary question.

“Are you going to school?”

Then the man pulled Shamsia’s burqa from her head and sprayed her face with burning acid. Scars, jagged and discolored, now spread across Shamsia’s eyelids and most of her left cheek. These days, her vision goes blurry, making it hard for her to read.

But if the acid attack against Shamsia and 14 others — students and teachers — was meant to terrorize the girls into staying home, it appears to have completely failed.

Today, nearly all of the wounded girls are back at the Mirwais School for Girls, including even Shamsia, whose face was so badly burned that she had to be sent abroad for treatment. Perhaps even more remarkable, nearly every other female student in this deeply conservative community has returned as well — about 1,300 in all.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Long Overdue

This morning, President-Elect Obama introduced his selection to fill a new position created by his new Administration: The Government Chief Performance Officer.

This is one of those ideas that makes you wonder why it wasn't done two or three decades ago.

Basically, the new Performance Officer, who will report directly the President (giving her real power), will be in charge of developing and monitoring metrics to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs.

It will almost certainly take a few years for the new organization to have a substantial impact, but this is a big step in a positive direction.

You can read about the office and the selection here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Noonan on Political Dynasties

Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal about the possible appointment of Caroline Kennedy to the U.S. Senate, made some general remarks about the effects of nepotism on our political system.

I found some of it quite insightful so I want to cite a bit of the essay here.

People who've seen politics up close when young tend to be embarrassed to be in politics. This is because they have seen too much of the show-biz aspects, the balloons and smiles and rallies. They are rarely (and this is odd) tutored in the meaning behind the artifice: that the artifice exists for a purpose, and the purpose is to advance a candidate who will advance a constructive philosophy. And so they find the idea of coming up with a philosophy sort of show-offy, off point and insincere.

This is one reason modern political dynasties tend to have a deleterious effect on our politics. When you get new people in the process who think politics is about meaning, they tend to bring the meaning with them. On the other hand, those who've learned that politics is about small and shallow things, and the romance of dynasties, bring that with them. (They also bring old retainers, sycophants and ingrained money lines, none of which help the common weal.) Those who are just born into it and just want to continue it, bring a certain ambivalence. And signal it. They're always slouching toward victory. It's not terrible, but it doesn't do any great good, either.

Because I have not studied Caroline Kennedy, I would be uncomfortable agreeing that Noonan's generalization can be fairly applied to her. That being said, it does seem accurate in general.

I was especially struck by Noonan's choice of words at the end of the first paragraph. She is saying that veteran political candidates and operators find the advancement of a philosophy insincere - as if they believe that they are powerless to promote any agenda they claim to support once they are in office.

I reject this mentality if for no other reason than the ability it gives politicians to shun any sense of responsibility for what they say and how they vote. And yet... the more I learn about how our political system works, I wonder if the belief is not largely valid - and what can be done to change it?

Noonan's entire essay can be found here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thinking about NASA's Future

The Bush Administration made some fateful decisions about NASA's future shortly after it arrived in 2001 - most notably the decision to cancel major components of the International Space Station.

It seems as though The Obama Administration will be in a position to make even more important decisions regarding the future of the space program over the next few years.

The Space Shuttle is scheduled for retirement in 2010 and America's replacement vehicle, the Ares I rocket and the Orion capsule, is not expected to be ready for manned flights before 2015 (under extremely optimistic scenarios). If this timeline holds, it will mean that Russia and China will be the only two countries capable of sending humans into space for at least 5 years.

In tough economic times, some will make the argument that the United States should not spend money on manned space flight. It's a reasonable statement on the surface. But when considering the fact that NASA's entire budget is far less than 1% of federal expenditures, it seems like a painful and shortsighted way to save a relatively small amount of money.

You can read more about the Ares and Orion here.