Friday, May 29, 2009
Schwarzenegger plans $2.8 billion more in state cuts
11:53 AM PDT, May 29, 2009
Reporting from Sacramento — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed $2.8 billion in additional cuts to state government this morning that would slice deeper into funding for education, health and welfare programs.
Schools would be hit by $680 million in new cuts, while the state's social safety net would lose $1 billion more in funding for the poor, disabled and aged. A 5% salary reduction for state employees, reported by The Times on Thursday, would save the state $470 million.
"We really scrapped the bottom of the barrel here," said Mike Genest, Schwarzenegger's finance director. "We cut everything we could think of. . . . It's unfortunate, but it is what it is -- and we have to live within our means."
The new proposals come on top of more than $21 billion in slashed spending plans announced by the governor little more than a week ago. State economists forecast California's budget deficit at more than $24 billion for the fiscal year that will begin in July. Several of the cuts, including those for schools, would be contingent on whether the state's tax revenues in the coming months dip as deeply as the forecasts suggest.
Schwarzenegger's latest bid to save money would affect nearly all quarters of state operations. Mass transit funding would take a $315 million hit in the new plan; roads and other transportation projects would lose an additional $242 million.
The healthcare cuts would include the elimination of the adult day-care program in its entirety, which would net $117 million in savings. Also eliminated will be a $10.5-million caregiver program that helps the severely disabled, such as people with traumatic brain injuries.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
(05-27) 04:00 PDT Sacramento - --
More than 200 state parks would be closed, college students would no longer receive Cal Grants and millions of Californians would lose health and welfare assistance under the latest proposal by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to deal with the state budget crisis.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
(05-28) 14:45 PDT DUBLIN -- Eight former Hooters employees filed a class-action lawsuit today against the restaurant chain known for its provocatively dressed servers, saying management systematically stole their tips at four Bay Area restaurants.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Sotomayor nomination splits GOP
6:07 PM PDT, May 26, 2009
Reporting from Washington — Rush Limbaugh called her a "reverse racist." The conservative Judicial Confirmation Network said she was an activist with a "personal political agenda" and should be blocked from the Supreme Court.
But underneath the predictable bombast from conservative groups that had been waiting to pounce on whomever President Obama picked to fill his first vacancy on the court, the nomination Tuesday of Sonia Sotomayor brought a surprising development: The Republican senators who will actually vote on her were not following the activists' script.
Instead, GOP senators offered muted, sometimes admiring, responses, and seemed to be taking their cues from a quieter group of voices within the party cautioning that to oppose the country's first Latina Supreme Court nominee would amount to political suicide.
Moreover, some party strategists are telling GOP senators that to attack Sotomayor is to waste an opportunity for Republicans to appear welcoming and repair damage from recent policy debates in which conservative support for restricting immigration turned off many Latino voters.
"A lot of Republicans are worried that [fighting the Sotomayor nomination] could be the last straw when it comes to the party's ability to reach the Hispanic community," said Robert de Posada, a Latino GOP strategist who said he was advising Republican staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Republicans are in a very awkward position."
Lionel Sosa, a Texas-based Republican ad maker who designed Latino outreach for Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush, said that opposing Sotomayor "would be one more nail in the Republicans' image coffin in terms of Latino voters."
"When you're anti the first Latina on the Supreme Court, you're anti my family," Sosa added. "As a Republican, I would take it that these people are anti-Latino. The worst thing the Republicans can do is oppose her."
The GOP's dilemma on Sotomayor is the latest example of the party's internal struggle over how to reinvent itself at a time that its ranks and voter base are increasingly dominated by Southern, conservative white men.
Five years ago, Bush won reelection by performing unusually well among Latinos for a Republican -- winning more than 40% -- and some Democrats were fretting over how they would respond if Bush were to name his longtime friend, Alberto R. Gonzales, to be the Supreme Court's first Latino justice.
But conservatives blocked Bush's efforts to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants, and the harsh rhetoric of the debate sent Latino voters fleeing the party -- with fewer than 1 in 3 Latinos voting for the GOP presidential nominee last year, helping put crucial states such as Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico into the Democratic column.
Democrats, seeking additional gains in Florida, Texas and Arizona, did not hesitate to seize on the potential political benefits.
The national party distributed an announcement in Spanish. And Obama, in his formal White House announcement and in a similar taped message e-mailed to voters, pointed to Sotomayor's Puerto Rican roots and her Latina appearance when he said she had shown "it doesn't matter where you come from, what you look like, or what challenges life throws your way -- no dream is beyond reach in the United States of America."
The GOP dispute broke out almost instantly, and not everybody was willing to concede that the pick was a guaranteed net positive for the White House.
Conservative advocacy groups, citing Sotomayor's recent ruling on the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals against a white firefighter claiming racial discrimination in hiring and promotions, thought her nomination could open an emotional battle over bigger questions of race and affirmative action -- issues that Obama has tried to avoid.
Limbaugh, the conservative radio commentator, sought to fan those flames Tuesday, citing a 2002 quote from Sotomayor in which she said that her experiences as a Latino woman might guide her to more thoughtful decisions. "If that's not a racist statement, I don't know what is. Reverse racist or whatever," Limbaugh said.
But the words coming from GOP senators struck a sharp contrast.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is a member of the Judiciary Committee and heads the GOP's Senate campaign panel, told reporters that Sotomayor offered a "compelling American success story and something that we can all admire and respect about our country."
In interviews and printed statements, Cornyn and other Republican senators tread carefully as they promised an aggressive -- but respectful -- confirmation process.
"Our job now is to find out the rest of the story when it comes to temperament and judicial philosophy," Cornyn said.
"While I celebrate Sonia Sotomayor's life story," said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), in a common refrain, "I am troubled by some of her statements. She deserves a fair and respectful hearing."
Sen. Mel Martinez, a Cuban American who has said that his party's rhetoric on immigration drove away Latino voters, said in an interview that he had so far been satisfied with the language being used by his colleagues, though he added: "I'll be trying to talk to my colleagues about my thoughts on how to approach it."
Some GOP strategists and officials said they believed a full-blown confirmation battle could prove damaging for a number of reasons beyond the further alienation of Latino voters -- particularly given that Republicans are unlikely to have enough votes to block her.
"We don't want to give more reasons to be perceived as the 'party of no,' " said one official, quoting a favorite line from Democratic attacks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Terry Holt, a former Bush White House advisor, said the "real question" is whether taking on a losing fight is worth the political capital. But he added that the party should ensure that the debate over Sotomayor should be about her merits as a justice -- not her ethnicity.
"Special interests in the Republican Party should not be in the position of forcing us to do something that's politically stupid," Holt said.
Some Republicans said that the Sotomayor nomination could actually present an unusual opportunity. If they fall into line and vote for the first Latino justice, then Republicans might regain enough credibility with that voting bloc to neutralize any political benefit to be gained by Obama.
Specifically, said de Posada, if Obama does not act this year on his campaign promise to pass a legalization program for millions of undocumented immigrants, Republicans can make the case to Latinos that the Democratic president failed to deliver.
"They would have grounds to go to the Hispanic community and say, yes it's great to have a Hispanic justice, but on the most important and immediate issue that you care about, you're being ignored," de Posada said. "That's an opening for Republicans."
Credit cards may go charging into the past
May 26, 2009
Fresno was the proving ground for the BankAmericard, the granddaddy of mass market credit cards, and Hockett was one of the first 65,000 people to get one. He used the new tool carefully, never failing to pay off his balance when he bought a TV or a dinner out.
If the industry -- and its customers -- maintained the prudence of Hockett's Depression-era upbringing, the new credit card law signed Friday by President Obama might never have been necessary.
Instead, most people probably have more in common with Barbara and Albert Sanchez, who got their cards decades later, on the other side of Fresno from Hockett and a world away from mid-century attitudes about debt.
The Sanchezes entered a far less regulated credit card system in which Americans faced constant entreaties to take advantage of easy credit. They say the tantalizing opportunities almost led to their financial ruin.
The middle-aged Fresno couple racked up $20,000 on their cards, which helped them maintain their lifestyle after Albert's overtime at the lumber yard dwindled and Barbara's housekeeping clients scaled back. They finally sought help from a credit counselor.
"I figured I could deal with it myself, but then I couldn't do it," said Barbara Sanchez, 52. "I don't want to lose my house."
In 1958, the Sanchezes might not have qualified for the BankAmericard -- and certainly wouldn't have been able to rack up tens of thousands in debt. Back then, average customers had a credit limit of $300; "preferred" BofA clients were entitled to carry $500.
Although the new measures set to go into effect early next year won't roll back Americans' attitudes toward plastic payment, the latest credit card reform bill seeks to address what consumer advocates have called the most egregious practices. But even those, some credit card watchers say, aren't enough.
Among other provisions, the new rules will require credit card companies to give more notice before changing clients' terms such as interest rates, and the issuers won't be allowed to apply those rates retroactively to existing balances unless the cardholder's minimum payment is 60 days overdue.
Issuers won't be allowed to charge interest on bills consumers pay on time, extract extra fees for paying by phone or bank transfer, or issue cards to people under 21 without proof of income or a parent's signature. And issuers must apply any payment over the minimum to the balance with the highest interest rate.
Banks also won't be allowed to accept charges that put consumers over their limits.
The American Bankers' Assn. says that the new regulations fundamentally will change what credit cards are and who will be able to use them.
"It means that there will be less credit available," said Edward L. Yingling, the trade group's president. "That means some people will not be able to get a credit card who got it in the past, and those who get the credit card, in some instances, will have a smaller line of credit."
"We're turning back the clock to the credit card of the 1960s," he added. "Everybody paid $25 a year and was charged 18% and it was a very straightforward card, but a lot of people couldn't qualify, the lines of credit were smaller and those who handled credit well subsidized those with credit issues."
Consumer groups, however, say the rules will temper some of the practices that trapped people such as Charles Clark, a 26-year-old medical student from a poor neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.
Clark didn't have any experience with credit cards when he got his first piece of plastic, lured by a promotion that gave him an expensive anatomy book for free.
He figured that he was building up his credit as he juggled his finances by charging gas, lab equipment and books while attending Nashville's Meharry Medical College. Bank of America, which issued his MasterCard, raised his limit about every three months -- proof, he thought, that his strategy was working.
"I thought that as long as I made my payment and never was late, I'd be OK," Clark said.
But although he was always on time with at least a minimum payment and made sure to stay under his credit limit, Clark soon found himself crossways with the credit card issuer.
"In the old industrial economy, the best client was one who could pay off debts," said Robert D. Manning, director of a consumer financial center at the Rochester Institute of Technology. "In the post-industrial economy, the best customer is the person who can't pay it off."
Clark was a gem. His credit limit was $8,000, and his debt nearly as high.
Then one day, he found that Bank of America had jacked up his interest rate to 15.99% from 7.99%.
With a phone call to the bank, he learned that the higher rate was triggered when his balance hit about $7,700. Clark protested; he was still under his limit and always paid on time. No matter. The bank said it had sent him a letter warning of the rate change, Clark said. He says he never received it.
Clark's minimum payment was about $90 before the rate hike. Afterward, it shot up to about $200. Late fees and over-the-credit-limit fees -- at $39 a pop -- added to his burden.
Within a few months, his minimum payment was $688 and his rate kicked up again, to 24.99%. He missed the next month's payment while waiting for his next student loan check. His minimum payment for the month after that, including late-payment and other fees, soared to $990.
Clark got out of his mess by getting a friend to co-sign a personal loan. He used that to pay off the credit card, which he now reserves for emergencies.
"I would have been OK if they hadn't changed my rate," Clark said. "But they put extra weight on and say: Now lift this. It becomes unbearable."
Bank of America declined to comment on Clark's case, saying customer privacy concerns prohibit discussion of individual accounts.
But a spokeswoman added that in 2007, when Clark first got into trouble, nearly 94% of its customers had the same or lower rate at the end of the year compared with their rate at the beginning.
The industry, meanwhile, says that tighter rules mean tighter credit -- less charging power for those with blemished records and higher interest rates for almost everyone else.
"The one thing we all agree on is disclosures and making sure the customer understands what the pricing is and making it simpler," said Richard Struthers, the head of BofA's global card services.
But to judge from today's promotional materials, the last thing credit card companies want is for consumers to understand what they're getting into, said Patricia McCoy, who teaches consumer finance law at the University of Connecticut Law School.
"The lending industry has accomplished disclosures that satisfy the law and totally obfuscate what people need to know," she said. "The disclosures are an utter failure -- at least in the consumer's eye and this law professor's eye."
The new rules also hope to offer some additional clarity, although consumer advocates say this effort, as well, doesn't go far enough.
For many people, credit card catastrophes have become the more democratic cousin of the mortgage meltdown; with no house needed, people like Clark got in over their heads.
"The problem isn't individual practices. It's a structural problem with credit cards," said Adam J. Levitin, an associate professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and an expert in bankruptcy and the credit card industry. "It's impossible to know in advance what it will cost to carry a balance on a credit card."
And, Levitin added, the new legislation does little to change that.
Indeed, banks still will be allowed a host of practices that are anti-consumer and just plain unfair, Manning said. These practices include:
* No caps on interest rates or on fees for transfers, late payments or going over a spending limit.
* No way to ensure on-time payment. New rules mandate that payments be due at least 21 days after a statement is mailed, but Manning said it would be more fair to adopt a postmark standard, whereby payments are deemed on time if mailed by the date specified.
* No curb on credit line reductions or capricious closing of accounts.
* No mandate against what consumer advocates call "behavioral profiling," Manning said. Start shopping at Wal-Mart after years of buying at department stores? Charge a large quantity of alcohol -- just for a friend's party? Take out a subprime mortgage? To some banks, those have been signs that a customer's finances are hitting the rocks, Manning said -- and reason enough to reduce the customer's line of credit.
And those are just some of the shortcomings of the new measures, reform advocates said.
"This legislation deals with today's problems, not tomorrow's, and it doesn't set up a framework for dealing with tomorrow's problems," Levitin said.
Research conducted by a team including Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School professor and consumer debt expert, suggests that people who fall into serious debt tend to do so because of a harsh roll of the dice -- job loss, illness, divorce -- and not profligate spending.
"This is not that people go out each month and buy too many iPods or other crazy things," said Warren, whose 2001 study was based on an analysis of bankruptcy filings. "It's that they spent so much of their salary on the basics -- mortgage, child care, college tuition, health insurance, whatever -- that month after month they end up short on day-to-day living. They can't do it anymore."
In Fresno, the Sanchezes say they first ran up their credit card debt making repairs and necessary improvements on their 1,200-square-foot home. Paying off that debt seemed reasonable given the couple's good jobs and capacity for hard work.
But once the economy soured, the Sanchezes both faced a reduction in their hours.
They've entered a credit counseling program with ByDesign Financial Solutions, which set up a payment plan with their creditors and negotiated a lower interest rate until their bills are settled.
When that day comes, Albert Sanchez expects to start charging things again.
"You have to have one card or you can't get anything," he said. "The counselor told us that once we pay it all off, the companies will send us another card automatically."
Times researcher Scott J. Wilson contributed to this report.
Obama signs credit card law
The White House staged a signing ceremony in the Rose Garden, an indication of the legislation's importance to Obama.
Obama said he didn't champion the changes to facilitate "reckless spending or wishful thinking."
"Some get in over their heads by not using their heads," the president said. "I want to be clear: We do not excuse or condone folks who've acted irresponsibly."
Obama said many "got trapped" because of the downturn in the economy that has turned family budgets on their heads. But, he said, "part of it is the practices of the credit card companies."
He criticized policies that allowed for confusing fine print; the sudden appearance of unexplained fees on bills; unannounced shifts in payment deadlines, interest charges or rate increases even when payments aren't late; and payments directed to balances with the lowest interest rates rather than the highest.
One part of the bill Obama did not publicly celebrate at the signing was a gun amendment.
The measure by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) allows people to bring loaded guns into national parks and wildlife refuges.
The addition of the amendment to the bill -- and Obama's acceptance of it -- were viewed as a bitter disappointment for gun-control advocates.
The new credit card rules, which go into effect in nine months, prohibit companies from giving cards to people under 21 unless they can prove they have the means to pay the debt or a parent or guardian co-signs.
A customer also will have to be more than 60 days behind on a payment before seeing a rate increase on an existing balance.
Even then, the lender will be required to restore the previous, lower rate if the cardholder pays the minimum balance on time for six months.
And consumers also will have to receive 45 days' notice and an explanation before their interest rates increase.
Psychiatrists rewriting the mental health bible
May 26, 2009
And what of Internet addiction: Should it be diagnosed and treated?
The answers will determine how Americans' mental health is assessed, diagnosed and treated.
Over the next 18 months, psychiatrists will hammer out a draft of the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Assn.'s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, more commonly called DSM-V. Nowhere have the discussions been more heated, the ramifications most vividly foretold, than here at the organization's annual meeting.
Some psychiatrists warn that the tome runs the risk of medicalizing the normal range of human behaviors; others vehemently argue that it must be broad enough to guide treatment of those who need it.
But all agree that the so-called bible of psychiatry is expected to be considerably more nuanced and science-based than the last edition, DSM-IV, published in 1994.
Brain imaging and other technologies, plus new knowledge on biological and genetic causes of many disorders, have almost guaranteed significant alterations in how many mental afflictions are described.
"There are no constraints on the degree of change," said Dr. David J. Kupfer, chairman of the DSM-V task force and a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.
The book will describe disorders in more detail, acknowledge variations that haven't been viewed as part of "classic" illness and explain how conditions differ based on age, race, gender, culture and physical health, Kupfer said.
Planning on the text began almost a decade ago, and leaders delivered a progress report to their colleagues last week. They emphasized that the book, slated for publication in 2012, should better reflect the lives and complexities of real people, not simply the most severe cases or most cut-and-dried diagnoses.
Critics of the current edition -- and there are many -- say that it allows for diagnosis only after a dramatic threshold has been reached.
"We are really hoping we'll be able to improve things," Kupfer said. "And that will help us do a better job of taking care of our patients."
Used around the world and available in 13 languages, the book has evolved from its humble origins in 1952 as a dry collection of statistics on psychiatric hospitalization. It is now used by not just psychiatrists, but internists, family practitioners, psychologists, social workers, courts and education professionals to guide the diagnosis and therapy for a host of mental and behavioral conditions. More than 1 million copies of DSM-IV have been sold.
Having a DSM diagnosis can mean an autistic child will get services from the public school system or that an adult is covered by workplace anti-discrimination laws.
For health insurance companies, it has become a basis for decisions on paying for care.
Some have questioned whether those writing the new book may be influenced by the pharmaceutical industry. Over the last two decades more medications have become available to treat mental disorders, and some doctors worry that the text may be written in a way that expands the market for drug therapies.
A study published online in the current issue of the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that of 20 work group members writing clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depression, 18 had at least one financial tie to industry.
A commentary in the May 7 New England Journal of Medicine said that 56% of DSM-V task force and committee members have industry ties.
DSM-V committee members have been asked to abide by conflict-of-interest rules, including agreeing to receive no more than $10,000 annually from industry sources during the period they serve on the committee.
But that isn't going far enough, said Lisa Cosgrove, lead author of the Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics analysis and an associate professor and clinical psychologist at the University of Massachusetts. "There are currently work groups where every single person has ties," Cosgrove said. "It doesn't seem like genuine progress has been made."
Regardless of the potential pitfalls of the upcoming edition, mental health professionals say, the current DSM doesn't always describe the people they are seeing, those with more than one disorder, a less-severe version of a disorder or one clearly diagnosable disorder but hints of other problems.
"In reality, there are a lot of shades of gray," said Dr. William E. Narrow, research director of the DSM-V task force.
The new version will help doctors craft more complex assessments. A person may meet the criteria of having depression, for example, but may also exhibit elements of anxiety or impulsiveness.
Also, mood disorders range widely from mild to severe, said Dr. Jan Fawcett, chairman of the mood disorders work group, one of 13 committees on the task force. A person with four of the nine listed symptoms for depressive disorder can be more troubled and disabled than another person with six of the nine symptoms.
"We don't want to take everyone who is demoralized by life and call it depression," he said. "But we also don't want to miss something."
Attention to finer shades will also help doctors and therapists recognize disorders in their earliest stages, when they are mild and easier to treat or prevent. Psychiatrists are especially interested in identifying prodromal forms, or earliest symptoms, of conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and dementia, said Dr. William Carpenter Jr., psychiatry professor at the University of Maryland and chairman of the psychotic disorders work group.
Other changes simply reflect modern times, with obesity, for example, potentially to be labeled as a symptom of, or risk factor for, a mental disorder. This, among other things, may help doctors address a growing controversy on whether candidates for bariatric surgery are being adequately screened for their psychological health before they undergo the procedure.
"We know obesity is a risk factor for physical disorders and is probably a risk factor for psychiatric disorders too," Kupfer said. "The work group has spent time on what to do with obesity in DSM-V."
Gambling, sex addiction and Internet addiction -- formerly dismissed as harmful habits that could be defeated with willpower -- may also be labeled illnesses.
"It isn't a question of whether these things are real," Kupfer said. "They are. The question is whether there is enough empirical evidence to meet the threshold."
Leaders of the APA acknowledge the controversial nature of some of their discussions and have posted recent progress reports on the association's website, www.dsm5.org.
The meeting may have ended Thursday, but debates, revisions and studies are slated to last for 18 more months. And the new edition won't land on psychiatrists' desks with a note saying, "See you in 15 years." Task force members say it will be updated frequently.
Bitterness as mental illness?
May 25, 2009
This behavior is so common -- and so deeply destructive -- that some psychiatrists are urging it be identified as a mental illness under the name post-traumatic embitterment disorder. The behavior was discussed before an enthusiastic audience last week at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Assn. in San Francisco.
"They feel the world has treated them unfairly. It's one step more complex than anger. They're angry plus helpless," says Dr. Michael Linden, a German psychiatrist who named the behavior.
Embittered people are typically good people who have worked hard at something important, such as a job, relationship or activity, Linden says. When something unexpectedly awful happens -- they don't get the promotion, their spouse files for divorce or they fail to make the Olympic team -- a profound sense of injustice overtakes them. Instead of dealing with the loss with the help of family and friends, they cannot let go of the feeling of being victimized. Almost immediately after the traumatic event, they become angry, pessimistic, aggressive, hopeless haters.
There are only a handful of studies on the condition, but psychiatrists at the meeting agreed that much more research is needed on identifying and helping these people. One estimate is that 1% to 2% of the population is embittered, says Linden, who has published several studies on the condition.
"These people usually don't come to treatment because 'the world has to change, not me,' " Linden says. "They are almost treatment resistant. . . . Revenge is not a treatment."
Nevertheless, Linden suggests that people once known as loving, normal individuals who suddenly snap and kill their family and themselves may have post-traumatic embitterment syndrome. That's reason enough for researchers to study how to treat the destructive emotion of bitterness.
Campus isn't the most stressful thing
Whether in college or not, young adults have a lot of mental health issues to sort out.
Judy Foreman, Health Sense
March 2, 2009
A troubled, gun-wielding 23-year-old student at Virginia Tech goes on a campus rampage, killing 32 people and eventually himself. An MIT student commits suicide by ingesting cyanide, and another dies in a fire after a drug overdose.
Such highly publicized incidents underscore the sense of personal angst on today's college campuses. But contrary to popular belief, the stress on today's young people has nothing to do with meeting the demands of higher education.
It comes simply with being a newly minted adult.
Whether in college or not, almost half of this country's 19- to 25-year-olds meet standard criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder, although some of the disorders, such as phobias, are relatively mild, according to a government-funded survey of more than 5,000 young adults, published in December in the Archives of General Psychiatry. The study, done at Columbia University and called the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, found more alcohol use disorders among college students, while their noncollegiate peers were more likely to have a drug use disorder. But, beyond that, misery is largely an equal-opportunity affliction.
Across the social spectrum, young people in America are depressed. They're anxious. They regularly break each other's hearts. And, all too often, they don't get the help they need as they face life's questions: "Who will I be? Will I make friends? The romantic relationships, planning for the future . . . there is all kinds of stuff going on at the same time, including raging hormones," says Ronald Kessler, a medical sociologist at Harvard Medical School.
Some evidence suggests that college students may even be less miserable than non-students their same age. Suicide -- the third leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- is one-third lower among the college than noncollegiate set, says Dr. Paul Barreira, a psychiatrist who is director of Behavioral Health and Academic Counseling at Harvard University Health Services.
The reason is not entirely clear, but studies have shown that, generally, higher education is often linked with better mental health. Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety affect slightly fewer college students than noncollegiate peers, researchers say.
And the biggest cause of despair? Even among college students, it's not academics, but love that hurts most. Emotional problems were more than twice as common among students who had recently had a major loss -- typically a romantic breakup -- than among those who had not, says Dr. Mark Olfson, the Columbia University psychiatrist who led the research for the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.
The universality of youthful angst may come as a surprise in light of tragic college incidents. But to the experts, it makes perfect sense.
For one thing, early adulthood is the time when serious psychiatric problems such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia often surface. For another, unhappiness in general follows a U-shaped curve, with the greatest unhappiness among young and very old adults, according to Kessler, the Harvard medical sociologist.
For the young, the trick is navigating a steep developmental curve -- figuring out who you are; getting work, family and finances on track; and generally stumbling toward independence.
An open question is whether life has always been this way for the young, or whether psychological problems are on the rise.
A 2006 survey of directors of college counseling centers suggests things are getting worse. But Dr. Andrew Leuchter, a psychiatrist and associate dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, says, "We don't know to what extent kids are having more difficulties and to what extent we are much better at recognizing and diagnosing them."
Barreira of Harvard agrees. "Most college counseling people would say students are more depressed today. But my hypothesis is that we're looking for it more and better at diagnosing it in high school. More students are showing up in college on medications -- they've been successfully treated so that they can get into good colleges."
For its part, Harvard is conducting a multi-year survey of mental health among incoming freshmen. And UCLA, despite general financial austerity, has launched a new initiative to help students with psychological problems.
That said, the Columbia study suggests that mental-health treatment is actually better outside the ivy-covered walls. While only 1 in 20 college students with psychological problems gets treatment, 1 in 10 of same-age non-students gets help. It's not clear why, says Olfson, the Columbia University psychiatrist.
"College students may be more concerned" that if they seek help they might jeopardize career opportunities or academic achievement, Olfson says, though he adds that, even so, "colleges should make more of an effort to make services available and acceptable, particularly for alcohol use problems."
Worried parents can help, too, whether their offspring are in school or in the job market. They can reassure their sons and daughters that it's not necessary to get all A's or move like lightning up the job ladder.
And perhaps most important, that broken hearts usually do heal.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Compromise seen as elusive in budget battle
John Wildermuth,Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writers
Monday, May 25, 2009
Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh called last week's shattering defeat of five budget-related measures a "political nuclear bomb" hitting California, while one of the state's most progressive legislators, Democratic Sen. Mark Leno, appeared to agree for entirely different reasons.
"This is as serious and as desperate as the governor is suggesting," a weary Leno said at the end of a week in which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed eliminating huge swaths of children's health care, welfare, education and social programs - which the San Francisco legislator has ardently supported.
"The bottom has fallen out. ... There is just no money. We have to make deep cuts, first and foremost," Leno said. "It is just a fact of life."
With conservative opponents hailing Tuesday's special election as an anti-tax victory - and supporters decrying it as the defeat of a last-chance legislative compromise budget plan to close a yawning deficit - one thing is clear: California's finances are in chaos, raising questions about whether compromise is possible in an increasingly partisan state.
"It will take someone like a King Arthur to pull the blade out of the stone," said Michael Semler, a political science professor at Cal State Sacramento. "The governor and the Legislature have a few months, a short time, to come to a resolution."
It was just three months ago that a bleary-eyed Schwarzenegger emerged from closed-door negotiations to tell reporters that all-night meetings had brought a solution to California's budget deficit.
The historic agreement, the governor said, "required Democrats to compromise on their opposition to spending cuts and required Republicans to compromise on their fierce opposition to tax increases" in an effort to do what was right for the state.
But voters slapped down five out of six of the fiscal measures by nearly 2-to-1 ratios and ordered legislators back to the drawing board to find a way to close a deficit that has today ballooned to more than $24 billion, according to a report by the nonpartisan legislative analyst last week.
Voters want more answers
A poll taken May 16-20 by David Binder Research showed that voters not only were tired of legislators going to the ballot with political gimmicks and temporary budget fixes, but a majority of them think legislators "do not make the necessary compromises to get things done."
Voters have very specific ideas of what constitutes a compromise, and February's budget agreement wasn't it, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. While Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders called their agreement a compromise, it didn't solve the state's budget woes at a time when voters wanted answers, not more problems, he added.
"What was brought to the voters (in the special election) looked like a hodgepodge, not a coordinated effort to close the deficit," DiCamillo said.
The Legislature's long-running history of partisan squabbling, combined with the state's growing economic problems, helped push voter approval of the Legislature to an all-time low of 14 percent in a May 1 Field Poll. Against that background, even a budget agreement billed as a landmark compromise wasn't greeted with loud cheers.
"If it comes from the Legislature, it's already suspect," said Tracy Weston of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.
But the new budget negotiations forced by last week's election and the continuing deterioration of the economy are guaranteed to be painful. While voters talk about the need for compromise, Democrats and Republicans agree they typically want to see it on someone else's issue.
"Are we ungovernable? Right now we are," said Ted Costa, a conservative anti-tax crusader whose People's Advocate group has been a regular sponsor of state initiatives.
"There will be a knock-down, drag-out fight," he predicts, should liberals try to do away with the two-thirds majority needed to pass budgets and taxes in California - a requirement that conservatives insist has kept finances at least partially in check.
But Leno argues that with the looming possibility of "the state safety net dismantled," the school system funding raided and health care programs destroyed, "Californians will have to communicate to their leaders that this cannot be all about just cuts. The price is too high."
Bill Whalen, a Hoover Institution research fellow, said liberals and conservatives share one value: their anger with the Legislature.
"They see the Legislature has 1,800 aides," generous pensions, state-funded cars and more, Whalen said. "They want to know (politicians) think times are tough, too."
But even February's budget compromise might be harder to duplicate this time around because legislators can see what that agreement cost the people involved.
Both GOP legislative leaders, Assemblyman Mike Villines of Clovis (Fresno County) and Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto, lost their leadership posts, largely because they agreed to back a tax increase. Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia (San Bernardino County), is facing a recall effort because he supported the compromise plan.
On the Democratic side, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, lost some friends and political allies when he supported taking money from Proposition 63, a mental health measure he co-wrote. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D- Baldwin Vista (Los Angeles County), is battling her supporters in labor over her backing of spending cuts.
Chance to change government
There are plenty of questions about whether legislators will be willing to take the heat any new budget compromise will involve, especially when there's no guarantee they'll win in the end. But some legislators, watching the fallout, see a chance for opportunity - and good.
"We, as voters, have created this Winchester House of governance - it's our responsibility," said state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who is proposing a constitutional convention to redo government in California.
Even in crisis, he argues, California may yet find its silver lining.
"This has stark opportunity to change the way we govern for the better," he said.
Ideas for fixing the state budget
|Cut the budget across the board.||Change Proposition 13.||Get rid of the two-thirds rule for passing a budget.||Lay off state workers, and cut their salaries.||Legalize marijuana, and tax it.||Scrap the state Constitution, and start all over.||Reinstate Proposition 187, and deport all illegal residents.|
|Pro||Fast, easy to understand and sure makes the math easier.||Since 1978, residential property has been picking up more of the tax burden.||Prevents a minority of legislators from holding a budget hostage.||Cutting workers saves the state money for years to come.||A new tax on pot could raise as much as $1 billion a year for the state.||California's got big problems, so the state should look at big solutions.||Undocumented workers cost the state billions in unreimbursed services.|
|Con||Do we really want to build 90 percent of a bridge?||Prop. 13 is still ground zero for the tax revolution and remains mighty popular.||Majority party could ignore the opposition completely.||Even huge employee cuts aren't enough to cover California's budget deficit.||Users and sellers would have to be persuaded to pay the tax.||Be careful what you wish for.||Those same undocumented workers bring billions to California's economy.|
|The bottom line||All government isn't created equal. While almost every program in the state is likely to get trims, expect more cuts in health and welfare than in the California Highway Patrol.||Expect to see a ballot initiative to change Prop. 13's reassessment rules for commercial property. Don't expect it to pass.||This is almost guaranteed to show up on a ballot next year. Voters overwhelmingly turned down a similar plan in 2004, but may be angry enough to back it now.||Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger already has cut 5,000 workers' positions and could renegotiate some state worker contracts. But as the economy gets worse, there's more demand for state services and the workers who run them.||There's surprising mainstream support for this, but as long as marijuana is considered an illegal drug by the federal government, expect more talk than action.||Support for a new state constitutional convention is growing and could go on the ballot next year. But any changes would have to be approved by voters, which opens the way for more expensive ballot fights.||Prop. 187, which banned most state services for illegal aliens, was rejected by the courts and isn't coming back. Until the federal government comes up with a national solution, expect California to concentrate on clearing illegal residents from state prisons.|
E-mail Carla Marinucci at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schwarzenegger follows Brown's route
May 25, 2009
From Sacramento — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger must be reading the playbook of a previous California governor in trying to recover from his thumping in last week's election.
That governor was Jerry Brown, the current attorney general and early front-runner to recapture his old office next year when Schwarzenegger is termed out.
In 1978, Gov. Brown was the leading opponent of Proposition 13, the revolutionary measure that sharply cut local property taxes. Brown called the ballot initiative, sponsored by anti-tax crusader Howard Jarvis, "the biggest can of worms the state has ever faced."
He was correct, of course. Prop. 13 not only reduced property taxes -- which was all the voters cared about that spring -- it set up an unfair assessment system. Property would be taxed based on its length of ownership, rather than mostly on its value. Two similar, adjacent houses could have vastly different tax bills.
More important for state and local governments, Prop. 13 shifted control over the remaining property tax to Sacramento. That meant transferring more governing power and financial burden to the state.
Another "worm" was the requirement of a two-thirds majority vote for legislative passage of a tax increase.
California government has been sliding downhill ever since Prop. 13's big shove. There also are other culprits, but that's for another column.
Back to Brown, who recently told me: "I'm not going to advocate messing with 13. That's a big fat loser."
After Californians overwhelmingly passed Prop. 13 with 65% of the vote -- roughly the same margin that voters rejected Schwarzenegger's budget proposals last week -- Brown quickly began to implement the measure. So enthusiastically that he earned the nickname "Jerry Jarvis" and became a self-described "born-again tax cutter."
"We have our marching orders from the people," announced the premier practitioner of Darwinian politics. He called it "a great opportunity" for governments to get more bang for the taxpayer's buck.
Within a month, a Times poll found that a majority of Californians even believed that Brown had supported Prop. 13. Jarvis, a Republican, was so enchanted with the Democratic governor that he cut a TV spot praising him as he ran for reelection. (He won easily.)
Brown's chief of staff, Gray Davis -- the future governor who was recalled and succeeded by Schwarzenegger -- recalls writing the ad script for Jarvis, who told viewers: "I wrote Proposition 13, but it takes a dedicated governor to make it work."
Fast-forward 31 years.
The fatal flaw of Schwarzenegger's Proposition 1A, the spending control linchpin of the ballot package, was that it would trigger a two-year extension of tax increases he and the Legislature had agreed to in February. That sparked a Prop. 13-like anti-tax rebellion among voters.
For months, the Republican governor had been asserting that anybody who thought the state's gargantuan deficit hole could be filled "with just cuts doesn't know math. And they should go back to Math 101. . . . I despise tax increases, but mathematics is much more powerful than ideology."
But the voters' voice apparently is even more powerful than math.
Although the electorate's rejection of his proposals put the state $6 billion deeper in the hole -- a pit of perhaps $24 billion that seems to grow every day -- the governor is swearing off higher taxes.
"The message was very loud and clear," Schwarzenegger has been reiterating. "One thing is for sure. There will be no revenue increases. This means cuts, cuts, cuts and living within our means."
Schwarzenegger has experience reinventing himself. After his "reforms" were adamantly rejected in a bitterly partisan 2005 special election, he morphed into a gentler "post-partisan" governor who enjoyed his most productive year in 2006 and easily won reelection.
But now he faces a more difficult dilemma -- and one much tougher than Brown's. Before this fiscal fiasco is resolved, Schwarzenegger will need to fill deficit holes totaling tens of billions, mostly with mutilated programs for schools, the poor, parks -- fired state workers, freed prisoners. Nothing escapes.
Brown only had to shovel out money. The state was sitting on a $6-billion surplus, which state Treasurer Jesse Unruh called "obscene." The cache was used to bail out the locals and schools -- a bailout that never ended. Now the chickens are roosting. And the state probably will be "borrowing" -- raiding -- $2 billion from the locals for its own bailout.
Time is also running out for this lame-duck governor, whose successor will be elected in just 17 months. His power to sway voters and legislators already has atrophied.
Like Brown, he's trying to react to the voters. But unlike in Brown's case, the voters this time sent a mixed message: Don't tax, don't cut, solve it yourselves. And, by the way, we don't trust you.
The politically practical response is to cut unmercifully and show people the carnage. Maybe they'll change their mind about taxes. Maybe not.
"There's only one thing he can do and if he does it his legacy will be restored," says Steve Merksamer, who runs a big political law firm and was Gov. George Deukmejian's chief of staff. "He needs to follow through with what he said he'd do. There will be a lot of screaming and demonstrations, but he has to show bold, tough leadership. And, frankly, that is what the public expects."
I asked Davis.
"This is the closest we have come to a Prop. 13 revolt," the former governor said. "This was a smack-down. Now is the time you take to heart what the public is saying. What it's saying is, 'Look, you've already taxed us. We don't have any more money budgeted for Sacramento.' "
Schwarzenegger must become a born-again slasher.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Nudity complaint near Maine topless doughnut shop
Published - May 24 2009 10:49AM EDT
Prosecutors will review a complaint that a waitress from a Maine topless doughnut shop was outside the business without a shirt on.
The Central Maine Morning Sentinel says a state trooper was sent to the Grand View Topless Coffee shop on Saturday after someone called in a complaint. Police say no one was charged, but the matter has been turned over to the district attorney for review.
It's unclear whether nudity outside the cafe is prohibited.
Vassalboro had considered banning nudity altogether after the shop opened in February, but officials now are proposing to specifically regulate where, when and how such businesses may operate. The revised ordinance comes up for a vote June 8.
Information from: Morning Sentinel, http://www.onlinesentinel.com/
An alarming attack on auto dealershipsWhen market forces cause a business to close, it's sad. But when the government does it, it's stunning.
By SCOTT LAMBERT
Last update: May 21, 2009 - 7:39 PM
Well, at least we now know what businesses the U.S. government considers not "too big to fail" -- the ones on Main Street.
The Obama administration's auto task force is driving changes well beyond Wall Street and Detroit, and is forcing thousands of new-car dealerships to close.
The failure of any small business is sad, and unfortunately it happens all the time. But the wholesale closing of profitable businesses by our government is disturbing. Unless the task force is stopped, it is about to throw dozens of Minnesota's Chrysler and GM dealerships out of business and put thousands of employees out on the street.
This pain is bewildering. Dealerships impose no real cost on auto manufacturers. We own our own property, carry the mortgage on our buildings, buy the inventory from the factory and pay for our own supply of parts. We even shell out for factory signs and marketing material. It is a cost-free distribution system for Chrysler and GM.
Detroit's problems have more to do with overcapacity of manufacturing, union contracts and legacy costs. The economic calamity we all seem to share is the sudden lack of customers that this new economy has brought us.
But the administration was determined to fill the auto task force with Wall Street turnaround guys, not industry experts. On one level, you can understand that logic. The task force has forced some changes that Detroit couldn't bring itself to do. But in the rush to remodel America's biggest manufacturing industry, with people learning as they go, there are bound to be missteps. The downside is becoming apparent. In the eyes of the task force, everything needs to be smaller, including distribution. But it fails to realize that someone else pays for distribution. And these dealers are ready to continue selling Chrysler and GM products.
That Washington is picking winners and losers in the marketplace, closing working businesses against their will, is alarming. That it's happening in a very nontransparent process is surprising.
In Minnesota, this could result in more than 80 stores being shuttered and more than 3,500 people being laid off from good jobs.
This is especially difficult for rural areas, where dealerships are often among a community's cornerstone businesses. They sponsor the ball teams, provide cars for the July 4th parades, keep good jobs in town and are usually the biggest taxpayers. Once they are shut down, it is unlikely they will reopen as dealerships. The local businesses they support will feel similar pain because of their absence. Customers will have to drive a little further on cold winter mornings for warranty and service work, and the market strength of competition will be surrendered just a bit.
No one denies that change is happening. Last year more than 40 dealerships closed. This year another dozen had already decided to do so. But those were market-driven decisions and were carried out in an orderly fashion. Dealers decided to sell to other dealers. Consolidations of stores and the absorption of employees were easier to accommodate. But most important, businessmen and women made their own choices and decisions. The heavy hand of the U.S. government did not make it for them.
Congress needs to step in and put the brakes on this unnecessary and avoidable destruction of Main Street.
Scott Lambert is executive vice president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association.
Pawlenty held the aces in this game of poker
Unallotment was a too big a weapon at his disposal for the Legislature to match.
By LORI STURDEVANT, Star Tribune
Last update: May 20, 2009 - 7:14 AM
On the Minnesota political calendar, yesterday was the traditional Blame the Legislature Day -- the annual morning-after-session time for recrimination, accusation and general grousing about how little good was accomplished in St. Paul this year.
Here's a mark of how bad the 2009 session was: Blame Day arrived five days early.
It started at almost the very moment last Thursday when Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced that the Legislature had done all that was necessary for him to take over and balance the state budget alone, which he was fully prepared and maybe even eager to do.
Pawlenty's fans crowed about his strong leadership, his "no new taxes" principles, and his skillful out-foxing of the Legislature's DFL majorities -- all stuff the national GOP kingmakers were sure to notice, they said. DFL legislators huffed about "King Tim" and assured their allies that he couldn't be serious.
But not only could he be serious, he was. People who were counting on legislators to shield the poor, the sick, and the property taxpayer from the pain of the deep spending cuts Pawlenty was prone to inflict were beyond nervous. They were mad.
At Pawlenty? Not so much. Most of them gave up on him long ago. They were hot about what they said were DFL blunders. All weekend, second-guesses hissed through Capitol corridors. Why were all the budget bills sent to Pawlenty days before the required finish? Why weren't some big bills held in abeyance, as bargaining chips?
Why did the House and Senate go their usual disparate ways, with differing messages until nearly the end of session? Why weren't the whole session's efforts geared toward wooing and winning at least three House Republican votes, the number needed to join DFLers for a veto override?
Why wasn't the effort for a tax increase mounted earlier, and with a united DFL front? Why did it focus on taxes most detested by the business lobby, and hence by their Republican allies -- a high-end income tax, and the state's business property tax?
Why were no shiny new ideas brought to bear on the budget debate this year? (The lobbyist most voluble on that point, when asked for a for instance, came up with a rusty old idea, more gambling.)
On Blame the Legislature Day, a sympathetic cluck is the response etiquette demands. I'll hold to tradition: Second-guessers, there's something to what you say.
But given that today is already Day Six of this year's postsession spleen venting, permit a gently contrarian note: Any governor, even one less wily than Tim Pawlenty, is a tough fellow for an opposition party Legislature to beat in a year like this one.
Minnesota's laws and Constitution stack the budgetmaking deck in a governor's favor. A governor cannot authorize a new budget on his own. But he can insist that the Legislature live up to its responsibility to set one, using his bully pulpit, veto power and exclusive authority to call a special session to bludgeon a lethargic legislative branch to do its constitutional duty, and send him spending bills.
Once the Legislature has acted, a governor who only wants to cut or delay spending is fully in the driver's seat. He can shrink appropriations with line-item vetoes. He can reject new revenues. If a forecasted deficit remains (and this year, a huge one will), he can drain reserves (they're already gone) then cut appropriations some more, through a statutory process called "unallotment."
No other governor has been brazen enough to flex his unallotment muscle at the start of a biennium. Until now, it's been a midcycle patch for a leaky budget.
But most other governors have approached budget-setting with a wish list and a desire to do some horse-trading: You take my old nag; I take your racehorse.
This year, Pawlenty appeared to want only one thing: No new taxes. Only that would look good to the tax-averse national Republican forces he's out to impress. He likely saw early that, given the DFL's big majorities in the House and Senate, the trading table would not give him what he wanted. To win, he needed no deal. And he always had all the tools he needed to get his way, either in May, June or July.
DFLers kept expecting him to come to their table. They even put his nameplate in front of a comfy chair, looking pathetic as they did. What they learned to their sorrow is that the legislative branch doesn't have the tools to force an unwilling executive to compromise. Short of a change in unallotment laws or a governor's constitutional powers, they never will.
Unkindest cut may come back to haunt
Will voters notice the veto of health care for the poor? They will if Thissen has his way.
By LORI STURDEVANT, Star Tribune, Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota
Last update: May 23, 2009 - 10:00 PM
No one who watched the failed veto override attempt last Sunday in the Minnesota House will soon forget Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of funding for health care for the poorest of the poor.
Memorable moments were many in the eerily hushed chamber that day. There was the choked voice of ordinarily stoic Rep. Lyndon Carlson, as he spoke of friends who died too soon because they lacked health insurance. There was Rep. Jeremy Kalin's warm regard for the man he unseated, Rep. Pete Nelson, R-Lindstrom, whose life was saved after a butcher shop accident by Regions Hospital -- an institution set to lose $46 million in fiscal 2011 because of the veto.
There was the silent witness in the gallery of three jobless men whose treatment for multiple mental and physical disorders depends upon the vetoed program. With it, the men said, they have hope of recovering and working again. One dreams of joining the Navy. Without it? They sadly shrugged.
And there was the GOP response: Charity isn't government's role. (Was that an echo from the 19th century?) People who make bad choices should feel the consequences. (If the mentally ill don't get medicine, who bears those consequences?) The program wouldn't be in jeopardy if DFLers had spent less elsewhere. (Then why didn't the governor veto those lower priorities instead?)
The debate was riveting -- for the few Minnesotans who caught it on a lovely springtime Sunday afternoon.
But to those who weren't listening that day, the May 14 veto of General Assistance Medical Care likely came across as something about a troubled car finance company with a similar acronym. GAMC pays for no-frills health care for about 34,000 people per year whose annual incomes fall below $7,800. More than 70 percent of them are either mentally ill, chemically dependent or both.
Many, before Minnesota went out of the state hospital business, would have resided in such places. Many are just as invisible today as if they did.
Sunday's outcome foreshadowed the session's finale: a party-line vote; override fails; Pawlenty wins. By the morning after adjournment for the year, Pawlenty's health care veto was already melding into the end-of-session blur. It didn't come up at a gubernatorial press conference.
But later that day, I spoke with someone determined to keep that veto in public view. Rep. Paul Thissen, a leader in the Legislature's health policy brain trust, is running for Pawlenty's job.
Thissen is far from a household name, so permit an introduction: He's 42, a Bloomington native, four-term legislator from south Minneapolis, and a Harvard and University of Chicago-educated attorney (he used to play pick-up hoops with a skinny new U of C professor named Obama). He's a smart, serious, un-flashy fellow.
It's too early to assess where he stands in the big DFL gubernatorial wannabe pack. But this much is clear: When the candidates at forums are asked to contrast themselves with the incumbent, Thissen will take aim at Pawlenty's veto. Here's a sample:
"That veto was absolutely wrong, for two reasons," Thissen said. "We are breaking a promise that we've had in Minnesota for generations, that we are going to take care of those least able to take care of themselves.
"The other thing is, it's a clear example of short-term thinking. It's thinking we can solve problems by not paying for them, or just moving them off of government's books. That's just not true.
"What the governor is doing with GAMC in marquee style puts up the fundamental debate we've been having for the past decade. We've had this notion put before us that we can keep the Minnesota we've always known without paying for it. That's tied to a notion that we're all on our own, and should be able to take care of ourselves.
"The pendulum is swinging back to the idea that we do owe obligations to each other. That is what the next election is going to be about."
Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. She is at email@example.com.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Sat May 23 2009 10:32:18 ET
In a sobering holiday interview with C-SPAN, President Obama boldly told Americans: "We are out of money."
C-SPAN host Steve Scully broke from a meek Washington press corps with probing questions for the new president.
SCULLY: You know the numbers, $1.7 trillion debt, a national deficit of $11 trillion. At what point do we run out of money?
OBAMA: Well, we are out of money now. We are operating in deep deficits, not caused by any decisions we've made on health care so far. This is a consequence of the crisis that we've seen and in fact our failure to make some good decisions on health care over the last several decades.
So we've got a short-term problem, which is we had to spend a lot of money to salvage our financial system, we had to deal with the auto companies, a huge recession which drains tax revenue at the same time it's putting more pressure on governments to provide unemployment insurance or make sure that food stamps are available for people who have been laid off.
So we have a short-term problem and we also have a long-term problem. The short-term problem is dwarfed by the long-term problem. And the long-term problem is Medicaid and Medicare. If we don't reduce long-term health care inflation substantially, we can't get control of the deficit.
So, one option is just to do nothing. We say, well, it's too expensive for us to make some short-term investments in health care. We can't afford it. We've got this big deficit. Let's just keep the health care system that we've got now.
Along that trajectory, we will see health care cost as an overall share of our federal spending grow and grow and grow and grow until essentially it consumes everything...
SCULLY: When you see GM though as “Government Motors,” you're reaction?
OBAMA: Well, you know – look we are trying to help an auto industry that is going through a combination of bad decision making over many years and an unprecedented crisis or at least a crisis we haven't seen since the 1930's. And you know the economy is going to bounce back and we want to get out of the business of helping auto companies as quickly as we can. I have got more enough to do without that. In the same way that I want to get out of the business of helping banks, but we have to make some strategic decisions about strategic industries...
SCULLY: States like California in desperate financial situation, will you be forced to bail out the states?
OBAMA: No. I think that what you're seeing in states is that anytime you got a severe recession like this, as I said before, their demands on services are higher. So, they are sending more money out. At the same time, they're bringing less tax revenue in. And that's a painful adjustment, what we're going end up seeing is lot of states making very difficult choices there...
SCULLY: William Howard Taft served on the court after his presidency, would you have any interest in being on the Supreme Court?
OBAMA: You know, I am not sure that I could get through Senate confirmation...
U.S. education secretary says California students in peril
May 23, 2009
Reporting from San Francisco — As California schools brace for billions of dollars in budget cuts, the nation's top education official warned Friday that the state's students were in peril, and he challenged politicians and educators to embrace difficult reforms.
"California used to lead the nation in education," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, speaking to dozens of mayors, superintendents and school board trustees at San Francisco City Hall.
"Honestly, California has lost its way. The long-term consequences of that are very troubling."
Duncan's day-long visit to California was part of a 15-state listening tour intended to help shape the Obama administration's proposal to rework the federal No Child Left Behind reform law. But coming three days after voters rejected ballot measures that would have shored up the state's finances, leaving schools facing $5.3 billion in cuts over the next 13 months, budget concerns dominated the day's discussions.
"Here in the state of California, we're in a real dilemma," said Carlos Garcia, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. "We're struggling to stay afloat."
Duncan repeatedly told state leaders and educators that California is at a crossroads, facing a "moment of opportunity and a moment of crisis."
"Despite how tough things are financially, it's often at times of crisis we get the reforms we need," he said.
The U.S. Department of Education is in the midst of administering $100 billion in federal education dollars contained in the economic stimulus package approved by Congress earlier this year. California has received about $4.3 billion of that money but could get billions more, depending on how the state uses the initial funding.
Duncan said that although stopping teacher layoffs and reducing class sizes are important, the money must also be used to drive reform, such as using student achievement data to evaluate teacher effectiveness and turning around the most troubled schools.
"Investing in the status quo is not going to move the ball down the field," Duncan told hundreds of people at a San Francisco School Alliance benefit luncheon.
He also warned that states that use stimulus money to replace state funding -- instead of complementing it -- will disqualify themselves from future funding.
Charles Weis, superintendent of Santa Clara County schools and the president of the Assn. of California School Administrators, raised a gnawing concern among educators around the state: Would Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed $5.3 billion in cuts to schools make the state ineligible for future funding, such as the $4.35 billion in competitive grants in the "Race to the Top" fund?
Duncan demurred, but state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell later said he feared the cuts could jeopardize the state's eligibility.
Duncan challenged state and local leaders to tackle the most difficult reforms, such as reconstituting failing high schools, evaluating teachers based on their students' performance and paying more to teachers who work in challenging communities.
"We have lacked the political courage and we have lacked the will to do the right thing by children," he said. "Our dysfunctional adult relationships have hurt children in far too many places."
Duncan assessed several facets of the state's education policy, praising California standards as more rigorous than those of other states. But he faulted the state for significantly underfunding schools.
Duncan slammed Schwarzenegger's proposal to lop seven days off the school year, saying students need to be spending significantly more time in class to close the achievement gap.
He also said the state's reluctance to use student achievement data to evaluate teachers -- rewarding the best and getting rid of the worst -- was "mind-boggling."
"The data doesn't tell the whole truth, but the data doesn't lie," he said. "This firewall between students and teachers is bad for children and bad for education."
Earlier Friday, Duncan met privately with state officials to discuss the state's data systems.
After years of delays, California is in the initial stage of creating a system capable of tracking student performance over time, which will offer a much more accurate picture of student achievement and failure than currently exists.
Duncan also called for dramatically reforming "drop-out factories," schools that have failed their students for years with little improvement in achievement, and said that more resources are not always the answer.
"More of the same isn't going to make things better," he said. He noted that during his tenure as Chicago's public schools chief, he completely remade two dozen troubled schools -- replacing administrators and teachers -- and saw dramatic improvements. "We have to have courage to start fresh and start over."
Duncan also spoke at UC San Francisco's Mission Bay campus and visited Paul Revere Elementary School, where students peppered him with questions about President Obama and the two men's shared hobby: basketball.(Duncan played for Harvard University, was cut by the Boston Celtics and played professionally in Australia for four years.)
"When you play basketball with the president, who wins?" asked second-grader Jonathan Lopez, 8.
"Everyone asks me that," Duncan replied. "We usually don't play one-on-one. We usually play on the same team. We do pretty good."