Posts by Paul Constant

Did You Know That Washington State Made Great Strides in Low-Income Education This Year?

Did You Know That Washington State Made Great Strides in Low-Income Education This Year?

So much noise has been made about the Washington State Legislature’s bumbling of K-12 education this year . This is for good reason, obviously: our state constitution demands that we consider education to be our first and highest priority, and our lawmakers in Olympia have failed that charge again and again. But here’s something you likely haven’t heard: the state legislature celebrated two enormous educational successes this year. First, a bipartisan group of legislators came together and passed the Early Start Act , which helps ensure that every child in Washington has access to high-quality early learning. And second, the legislature fully funded the state’s College Bound Scholarship program , which provides financial aid for low-income students. Together, these two programs help low-income kids earn the same opportunity to live productive lives as any other child born in Washington state. Frank Ordway is the Director of Government Relations—“that’s just a dressed-up term for political strategist,” he demurs—for the League of Education Voters , an organization devoted to giving “all students an equal opportunity for success from cradle to career.” We met at the League’s headquarters on Lake Union to talk about Early Start and College Bound, which Ordway characterizes as “a pair of bookends that are really quite transformative.” Early Start “ensures that by 2021, every low income child in Washington state will have access to all-day high-quality early learning,” Ordway explains. (By low-income, the law means children living up to 110% of the federally established poverty line ( PDF ), which right now totals roughly 30,000 kids in Washington—a number that could climb to 40 or 45,000 by the time the law is implemented.) He says this makes us the first state in the union to accomplish such a far-reaching goal. Ordway admits that the legislation is “complicated” to describe, but it’s packed with thoughtful flourishes that ensure these early learning programs will not be a race to the bottom. For one
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Postal Banking Is an Idea Whose Time Has Come (Again)

Postal Banking Is an Idea Whose Time Has Come (Again)

If you hear about the US Postal Service at all these days, it’s likely because of a failure. The Post Office continually posts significant operating losses, which are generally accompanied by news stories about the slow demise of the USPS. These stories rarely give you the full story , which is the fact that the USPS only posts losses because the Republican Congress of 2006 strapped the service with an impossible financial burden—a bizarre mandate demanding that the USPS pre-fund retiree health benefits for 75 years in the future. This is a burden that no other government agency (or, for that matter, private company) has ever had to carry, and it amounts to over five billion dollars a year in annual payments, an operating cost that no organization could bear. Also, it’s important to note that the USPS has not taken a penny of your tax dollars since 1982 , and the service they provide is unparalleled: no private corporation could offer the network and consistency that the USPS offers. Joe Pinkser at The Atlantic highlights one of Bernie Sanders’s best ideas —a way for the USPS to become even more useful while also helping the poorest Americans save a little money. Here’s what Sanders has to say about it: If you are a low-income person, it is, depending upon where you live, very difficult to find normal banking. Banks don’t want you. And what people are forced to do is go to payday lenders who charge outrageously high interest rates. You go to check-cashing places, which rip you off. And, yes, I think that the postal service, in fact, can play an important role in providing modest types of banking service to folks who need it. As Pinkser points out, this is not a crazy idea. Plenty of European countries provide banking by post—in fact, a vast majority of post offices around the world provide some sort of banking services—and too many Americans rely
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Poverty Is the Toughest Job You’ll Ever Have

Poverty Is the Toughest Job You’ll Ever Have

Most of us have a vision of how we intend to get away from it all one day. We’ll leave our smartphones behind, abandon all the clutter and nonsense of daily life, and go live in a tiny house somewhere with very few possessions: just some books, and pictures, and the things that really matter. We won’t worry about paying bills. Everything will be simple and we’ll finally have time to think. I suspect that this idea of voluntary simplicity colors the way most people think about being poor. Many of our problems are money-related after all—mortgages and student loans—and middle class America fetishizes simplicity to a ridiculous extent (think Real Simple magazine). Surely, we assume somewhere down in the ficklest parts of our brains, people who have less money also have fewer problems? For Lifehacker , Eric Ravenscraft has written a post titled “ Being Poor Is Too Expensive .” When you’re poor, you can’t buy your food in bulk, buy high quality stuff that will last, or own your own tech instead of renting. It costs money up front to save money over the long run. Worse yet, being poor often comes with hidden, intangible costs that make digging yourself out of poverty even harder. Those costs include food (when you’ve got a couple jobs, who has time to cook?) and transportation (cheap cars break down more often than expensive ones) and clothes (manual labor is tough on shoes) and much more. It’s not simple at all–it’s a complicated pattern of shuffling your meager funds around from one emergency to the next. This is incredibly stressful. Most people in the middle class could underpay a bill or two if things got tight without much more than a sternly worded letter in response, but for a person in poverty, that missed bill could kick off a
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Every Reporter Writing About Paid Leave Needs to Ask Themselves These Questions

Every Reporter Writing About Paid Leave Needs to Ask Themselves These Questions

Over at Salon, Donald Cohen and Peter Dreier address a very problematic question from Dana Bash in this week’s Democratic presidential debate. Bash asked the candidates: Carly Fiorina, the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company, argues, if the government requires paid leave, it will force small businesses to, quote, ‘hire fewer people and create fewer jobs.’ What do you say not only to Carly Fiorina, but also a small-business owner out there who says, you know, I like this idea, but I just can’t afford it? Cohen and Dreier rightfully take Bash to task for shilling for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and they present several more acceptable ways she could have phrased the question. It’s important to hold the media to their statements, and to present acceptable alternatives for inquiry. This has happened time and again; only recently has the environmental movement made strides in their attempts to convince media outlets not to seek out creationists and other anti-climate change forces. While it’s widely accepted as Journalism 101 to report on “both sides” of the issue, it’s important to keep that idea in perspective. Reporting on both sides of the so-called climate “debate” is not about finding one of the handful of people who believes that climate change is a Satanic trick and giving them equal time. It’s about addressing the reality of climate change—the fact that it’s happening—and discussing the pros and cons of various actions to address it, or even the possibility of ignoring it. But you do a disservice to reality when you give a kook a platform and equal time. That’s exactly what Bash did in the debate. By promoting the “job killer” lie that’s perpetuated by the right—the idea that if bosses pay their hard-working employees what they’re worth, they’ll go out of business—Bash was guilty of lazy
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Rand Paul’s Upcoming Defeat Is a Failure of Libertarian Ideals

Rand Paul’s Upcoming Defeat Is a Failure of Libertarian Ideals

Yesterday, Rand Paul livestreamed his entire day, which is a gimmick that just reeks of desperation. Here’s the best moment: So if Paul hated doing that “dumbass” livestream, why was he doing it? For media attention? To prove his transparency? Uh, maybe. But it certainly couldn’t be an attempt to draw attention way from the fact that Paul’s dad, Ron Paul, took the stand yesterday to testify in a trial, could it? Two 2012 Ron Paul aides have been charged with devising “a scheme to pay an Iowa state legislator for a primary season endorsement.” The elder Paul claimed to have no knowledge of the alleged scheme: Paul, who appeared as the government’s witness, appeared to take a benignly neglectful approach to campaign nitty-gritty. Asked how well he knew Kent Sorenson, the disgraced state senator whom Benton and Kesari are accused of paying for his endorsement, Paul said they “probably crossed paths,” then recounted how he was actually irritated when Sorenson showed up at a pre-Iowa caucus press conference. “I was annoyed, because I was thrown off balance,” Paul said. “Here I was, ready to give a speech, and I was told three minutes beforehand that a state senator was there to endorse me.” Quite a coincidence that Ron Paul’s appearance on the stand happened on the same day that his son decided to livestream his entire day, isn’t it? Anyway, the above video isn’t the only dumb thing Rand Paul said yesterday. He was asked about his feelings on workplace discrimination against LGBT employees, and his response was a misguided attempt to revive Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for the American workplace: I think, really, the things you do in your house, just leave those in your house and it wouldn’t have to be part of the workplace, to tell you the truth… I think society is rapidly
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The NRA Still Talks About Guns Like It’s 1986

The NRA Still Talks About Guns Like It’s 1986

This Washington Post story indicates that the NRA has decided to not change their rhetoric in the face of strengthening opposition. Grover Norquist, a leading conservative activist and member of the NRA’s board, went so far as to predict Democrats would “now lose the presidency” for speaking out on guns. “Democrats tend to be urban, the kind of people who aren’t invited to go duck hunting, and if they do go hunting, they find it slightly icky,” Norquist said “When that part of their party comes through, they lose. When they start to say that people with guns are the problem, that they don’t trust people with guns, and that people with guns are somehow connected to mass murders, that’s what turns voters off.” Uh-huh. That’s what this debate is all about, Grover: duck hunting. That’s why Martin O’Malley passionately spoke against duck hunting on the debate stage last night. Norquist, of course, used to be a big deal . His no-tax pledge was once considered to be the litmus test for any Republican candidate. But now he’s reduced to parroting the same old NRA talking points that they’ve been dragging out since the 1980s. What’s different? Well, we have an American public that’s finally realized that this pattern of shoot, mourn, repeat isn’t going to go away by itself. And we’ve got a media that finally doesn’t just republish NRA talking points. The Washington Post fact-checks Norquist’s claims and finds them false: Support for background checks is extremely high — between 85 and 92 percent in recent polls — and wins backing from both gun-owning households and other households. Support is also high for laws preventing those with mental illness from purchasing guns and for a federal gun database. It might seem odd to praise Washington Post writers Philip Rucker and Robert Costa for doing their jobs, but a
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Tonight’s Democratic Debate Was Inspiring and Substantive (Except for the Parts with Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee)

Tonight’s Democratic Debate Was Inspiring and Substantive (Except for the Parts with Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee)

Tonight’s Democratic debate felt like that first gust of fresh air after being stuck on a transatlantic flight for altogether way too long. The clowning and capering of the last two Republican debates had transformed our ideas of normalcy to something unrecognizable. Of course a bunch of adults would spend three hours pretending to have seen nonexistent videos and creating scary straw men for us to fear. Isn’t that what politicians do? Well, no. The truth is, politicians are supposed to talk about issues. That’s what happened tonight. Let’s be clear: the debate wasn’t perfect. Very little attention was paid to LGBT issues. Host Anderson Cooper spent the first half an hour trying to incite petty squabbles. And the two conservative Democrats on the stage—the stodgy Jim Webb and the loopy Lincoln Chafee—were not deserving of our time or our attention. (Chafee was out of his league and Webb didn’t seem to understand that he was not running for the Republican nomination.) But for most of the night, real issues were discussed: income inequality, the Black Lives Matter movement, criminal justice reform. And the candidates didn’t try to pick fights with one another. It was downright civilized. Hillary Clinton, by any metric, won the night. Even when she was saying something disagreeable to most Democratic voters—she sounded conservative when talking about Edward Snowden, for example, and she sounded old-fashioned when talking about marijuana legalization—she demonstrated a reasonable and authoritative air. She seemed, yes, presidential. Her moment of real passion, a sturdy defense of Planned Parenthood and a refutation of conservative attempts to control the reproductive rights of women, was a truly powerful argument. She didn’t let anyone trample over her, and she was mostly gracious toward her fellow candidates. Bernie Sanders, too, had a great night. At first, Sanders seemed
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Big Money Gushes Into Presidential Politics as the Media Gushes Over Big Money

Big Money Gushes Into Presidential Politics as the Media Gushes Over Big Money

Last night, Politico breathlessly reported that Marco Rubio is romancing Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson. It’s one of those stories whose very publication says more than the content of the piece itself: we’re at the stage in politics when wealthy donors are celebrities who are worthy of celebrity coverage. Have you read the brilliant New York Times story about the 158 wealthy families that have financed nearly half of the 2016 presidential race so far? It’s really something, a data-rich dive into who’s spending money on what and why. The 158 families each contributed $250,000 or more in the campaign through June 30, according to the most recent available Federal Election Commission filings and other data, while an additional 200 families gave more than $100,000. Together, the two groups contributed well over half the money in the presidential election — the vast majority of it supporting Republicans. The walls between donors and politicians are increasingly porous, if not downright flimsy. Sure, the contributions are supposed to end up with “Super PACs” that do not coordinate with campaigns, but that’s pretty much an open joke. Even Jeb Bush can’t seem to keep that distinction separate anymore: he just said in an interview with an Iowa public radio station that “We just started to advertise,” before stumbling and stopping and starting again: “actually, the Right to Rise PAC started to advertise, not our campaign.” If we know anything about the Bush family by now, it’s that their gaffes are often more telling than what they’re supposed to say, and this gaffe indicates that Bush doesn’t know where his campaign ends and his super PAC begins. We’ve learned that there are limits to super PAC cash. For all his billions, Adelson couldn’t buy us a President Gingrich, after all. In 2012, super PACs basically ran out of television advertising space to buy, super-saturating the market. But at some point super PAC heads could figure out more effective
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What We Expect to Happen at Tomorrow Night’s Democratic Presidential Debate

What We Expect to Happen at Tomorrow Night’s Democratic Presidential Debate

            [What follows is a lightly edited transcript of a Slack discussion between Civic Ventures coworkers Zach Silk, David Goldstein (Goldy), Nick Cassella, and Paul Constant.] Paul: Okay! So the very first Democratic presidential debates are tomorrow night, and I have no idea what to expect. Goldy: What is this “Slack” thing? I think I remember something like this on Compuserve. Or was it Prodigy? Paul: At first, I thought Hillary Clinton was going to be all over Bernie Sanders for his lackluster record on guns, but it looks as though Sanders is going leftward on guns now. So what’s this debate going to look like? Is it going to be all email servers and Benghazi? Goldy: No, not just email servers and Benghazi. Maybe they’ll get to some important issues, like Whitewater. Nick: I think Martin O’Malley comes out swinging on these two issues. I expect him to spend most of his air time hammering Hillary on her trustworthiness and authenticity. Will that strategy work? I doubt it. I think it will make O’Malley look desperate, especially as Bernie and Hillary talk about policy solutions, as opposed to personally attacking one another. Zach The Republican field lends itself to a carnival vibe—complete with a barker named Trump. By comparison, this will seem civil, thoughtful and maybe even serious. In some ways, these early primary debates are a reflection of the essential qualities of each party’s electorates. Elephants = conservative AM radio / Donkeys = NPR. Paul: I’ve been dreading this debate in a way that I’ve not dreaded the Republican debates. In part, I worry because CNN is hosting it, and CNN is terrible at hosting debates. They lack tenacity and credibility on issues, they focus on personalities, and they try to start fights. I hate to say it, but Fox News generally
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There Have Been Two Campus Shootings Today in America (So Far)

There Have Been Two Campus Shootings Today in America (So Far)

There have been two shootings on American college campuses today. (So far.) The first was this morning at Northern Arizona University. Three students were injured and one was killed. The most recent shooting just ended with the alleged perpetrator in custody at Texas Southern University. At least two people were shot at the latter shooting and the university was on lockdown for an extended period of time. President Obama is on his way to Oregon right now to meet with the families of victims of last week’s mass shooting. This is never going to end unless we do something. But what should be done? Time magazine published an article by Stan Stumbo, a former Navy commander, explaining why he finally resigned his membership to the NRA in 2012. Stumbo cites the NRA’s opposition to even the most common-sense legislation as the reason why he quit. What does Stumbo believe should happen? I feel that four things can help prevent such tragedies in the future. Requiring background checks on the state and federal level is the sensible first step. In addition, there should be penalties for officials of city, state and county governments who fail to enter people’s names in the database when they’re judged to be mentally ill, or a danger to themselves or others, or have convictions that would make them no longer eligible to own firearms. Another safety precaution would be to make sure that when a protection order is issued by a judge, that person’s guns are confiscated until the order is lifted. Finally, no one needs high-capacity magazines, firearms capable of holding more than 10 rounds, for target shooting, hunting for personal protection. Not only should they not be sold, but their possession should also be illegal. These are ideas that make perfect sense. Polls suggest that the American people agree with these proposed policies. Who doesn’t
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