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September 13, 2012

The Fed finally takes action to improve the economy with an open-ended stimulus plan

Ben Bernanke Fires Up The Helicopters | TPMDC
The new policy represents a major break from previous policy statements, which conditioned monetary stimulus on the economy remaining weak. It commits the Central Bank to keeping money cheap even once the recovery really takes hold, which many leading economists believe will stimulate consumption and investment. However, the year-long stretch since the Fed’s last big policy shift — known colloquially as Operation Twist — and the two-year stretch since its last quantitative easing program, raise questions about why aggressive steps weren’t taken sooner. Republicans were swift to criticize the development, and characterize it as a consequence of Obama’s poor stewardship of the economy. “There is no clearer indication than today’s Fed action that after 3 � years, the president’s economic policies continue to fail,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), chair of the House GOP conference, in an official statement. “At a time of negative real interest rates and trillions in excess reserves, there is little which monetary policy can achieve today to promote economic growth and much the Fed risks by today’s announcement…. There are limits to what monetary policy can achieve, and it’s clear the Fed has reached them.” Democrats’ response was more muted but positive. “The Fed is fulfilling its obligation to take action to address unemployment,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “Now congressional Republicans need to fulfill theirs.”

Obamacare has already saved Americans $2.1 billion

Obamacare Has Saved Consumers $2.1 Billion | ThinkProgress
Regulations in Obamacare set up a program to review insurance rate increases and instituted an 80/20 rule, requiring insurance companies to spend no more than 20 percent of consumer premiums on profits and administrative costs. And since September 2011, insurance providers have had justify premium rate increase of more than 10 percent for individual and small group markets. Consumers have saved an estimated $1 billion on their insurance premiums as a result of rate review, and 13 million Americans received $1.1 billion in rebates last year from the 80/20 provision.

September 12, 2012

Diane Ravitch lays down the truth about the striking Chicago school teachers

Hint: The media is getting the story very wrong. Two Visions for Chicago’s Schools by Diane Ravitch | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books
According to most news reports, the teachers in Chicago are striking because they are lazy and greedy. Or they are striking because of a personality clash between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and union president Karen Lewis. Or because this is the last gasp of a dying union movement. Or because Emanuel wants a longer school day, and the teachers oppose it. None of this is true. All reports agree that the two sides are close to agreement on compensation issues—it is not money that drove them apart. Last spring the union and the school board agreed to a longer school day, so that is not the issue either. The strike is a clash of two very different visions about what is needed to transform the schools of Chicago—and the nation. Chicago schools have been a petri dish for school reform for nearly two decades. Beginning in 1995, they came under tight mayor control, and Mayor Richard Daley appointed his budget director, Paul Vallas, to run the schools; Vallas set out to raise test scores, open magnet schools and charter schools, and balance the budget. When Vallas left to run for governor (unsuccessfully), Daley selected another non-educator, Arne Duncan, who was Vallas’s deputy and a strong advocate of charter schools. Vallas had imposed reform after reform, and Duncan added even more. Duncan called his program Renaissance 2010, with the goal of closing low-performing schools and opening one hundred new schools. Since 2009, Duncan has been President Obama’s Education Secretary, where he launched the $5 billion Race to the Top program, which relies heavily on student test scores to evaluate teacher quality, to award merit pay, and to close or reward schools; it also encourages the proliferation of privately managed charter schools. This is the vision that Washington now supports, and that the Chicago school board, appointed by current mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, endorses: more school closings, more privately managed schools, more testing, merit pay, longer school hours. But in Chicago itself, where these reforms started, most researchers agree that the results have been mixed at best. There has been no renaissance. After nearly twenty years of reform, the schools of Chicago remain among the lowest performing in the nation. The Chicago Teachers Union has a different vision: it wants smaller classes, more social workers, air-conditioning in the sweltering buildings where summer school is conducted, and a full curriculum, with teachers of arts and foreign languages in every school. Some schools in Chicago have more than forty students in a class, even in kindergarten. There are 160 schools without libraries; more than 40 percent have no teachers of the arts. . . .