Category: Politics

The 21st Century Silver Spoon

ELIZABETH CURRID-HALKETT, associate professor of urban planning, USC’s Price School.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on Nov. 10.

In 1899, the sociologist Thorstein Veblen scathingly critiqued what he called the “conspicuous consumption” of America’s upper class. The rich were so obsessed with their social status, he wrote, that they would go to gratuitous lengths to signal it. His famous example was silver flatware: handcrafted silver spoons, though no more “serviceable” than and hardly distinguishable from aluminum ones, conferred high social rank and signaled membership in what he called the “leisure class.”

A silver spoon is no longer a mark of elite status. Take the nation’s top 10 percent of households. The top 1 percent — those making more than $394,000 annually — are today’s version of Veblen’s leisure class in terms of wealth, but they are not the biggest buyers of silver flatware. Instead, households in the rest of this high-earning cohort — those making between $114,000 and just under $394,000 — take the silver prize.

The Huge Healthcare Subsidy Hiding in Plain Sight

EDWARD D. KLEINBARD, professor of law, USC Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Washington Post on Oct. 15.

The political right has paralyzed government over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, on the grounds that the ACA represents an unacceptable government intrusion into what today is the province of private markets. But the premise is fundamentally untrue.

Government’s hand has long shaped and subsidized health-care markets, for example, in Medicare and Medicaid (which dominate how medical care is organized and delivered in America, even for care that falls outside their reach), or the requirement that hospitals treat urgent care needs of indigents.

How to Reduce Greenhouse Gases, Not Kill the Economy

GEORGE A. OLAH, professor of chemistry, USC Dornsife, and Chris Cox, USC trustee.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 10.

In the three weeks since the Obama administration issued its long-promised proposal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, it has become clear the plan is far from perfect. By placing the burden of expensive new carbon capture and sequestration technology on the U.S. alone, and potentially requiring steep cuts in domestic energy to conform to carbon caps, the proposal could send the U.S. economy into shock without making a significant dent in global emissions.

There is a better approach that can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while growing the economy and increasing U.S. energy independence.

How Los Angeles Can Become Water Independent

KEN MURRAY, clinical assistant professor of family medicine, Keck School of Medicine at USC.

This op-ed appeared in Time magazine on Oct. 11 2013.

As a nation, we dream of energy independence. But in Los Angeles, we wouldn’t dream of water independence. Our local groundwater resources, in this partial desert with Mediterranean weather, provide only 13 percent of what we need. State politics are now consumed with a proposal by the governor for another massive infrastructure project that will move more water, cost billions, and make us even more dependent.

But we may have to think of this problem differently. All three sources of L.A.’s water imports – the Delta in Northern California, the eastern Sierra, and the Colorado River – are maxed out and likely to decline with global warming. The risks of dependence are growing.

So how can we wean ourselves on distant water? Desalination gets attention, but the energy costs are prohibitive. Instead, we should be examining every bit of water that is already here in Southern California.

The Lake Wobegon Effect at Cal State

WILLIAM G. TIERNEY, professor of higher education, USC’s Pullias Center.

This op-ed originally appeared at the Huffington Post on Sept. 27.

Garrison Keillor has long told stories about Lake Wobegon, his mythical home out there on the edge of the prairie “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” California State University is inventing its own Lake Wobegon in dealing with entering freshmen who need to take remedial classes in math and English.

For years, Cal State University has had a significant remediation problem, spending about $30 million annually – or 2 percent of its instructional budget — on preparing entering freshmen for college-level work. In spring 2004, it rolled out the Early Assessment Program to reduce its remedial burden. Prospective students take a test before their high-school senior year that tells them if their English and math skills are college-level. If not, they are encouraged to take courses to correct their deficiencies before enrolling in the fall.

Shame on the Metropolitan Opera

KENNETH FOSTER, director of the Arts Leadership Program, USC Thornton School of Music and Price School of Public Policy.

So, I signed the online petition.

Which petition? The one organized by composer Andrew Rudin urging the Metropolitan Opera to dedicate its opening night, which was Sept. 23, to the LGBT people of Russia in protest of that country’s recently approved anti-gay laws.

I’ll confess I don’t usually sign these online petitions, thinking them largely a waste of time. And I had no real expectation that it would have any real impact on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still, it seemed important to be part of a growing effort to call out Russia for its barbaric laws banning so-called “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships”?

Iran’s in the Mood to Negotiate on its Nuclear Program

HASHEM PESARAN, professor of economics, USC Dornsife.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Guardian on Sept. 17.

It is well documented that economic sanctions on their own have not generally been effective in achieving their political aims, particularly when they are imposed against non-democratic regimes. Sanctions have their greatest impact in the short term, as their effects tend to be mitigated in the longer term by structural economic and political adjustments. Overall, effective sanctions have been short-lived, whilst ineffective ones have lasted a long time.

California’s High-Speed Rail Needs a New Mandate

LISA SCHWEITZER, associate professor, USC Price.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 11.

Over the last few weeks, the California High-Speed Rail Authority both lost and won fairly significant battles. It lost when a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruled that its proposed funding plan violated the voter-approved law, Proposition 1A, that created the agency. The judge has set a hearing to give the state a chance to show that it can comply with the law and environmental reviews.

Why California Needs Immigration Reform

MANUEL PASTOR, director of USC’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, Dornsife College

This op-ed originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee on May 8.

With the U.S. Senate finally poised to discuss immigration reform, it is important that those of us in California stay focused on what this might mean in the state and what is needed in a bill – and after – to help the state prosper.

California clearly has multiple interests in getting reform right. A wide range of issues currently under discussion are critical: the extent to which our high-tech industries will be able to recruit high-skill workers, the ways in which agricultural labor flows will be stabilized and those workers protected, the degree to which family reunification remains a guiding principle for decisions about who to let into the country and how. But one of the issues most important for our state: insuring a clear and rapid road map to citizenship for the unauthorized or “undocumented” migrant population.

How Community Colleges Can Keep Sacramento Pols Off Their Backs

ALICIA DOWD, associate professor, Rossier School of Education, and co-director for Center for Urban Education, and ESTELA MARA BENSIMON, professor of education, Rossier, and co-director of CUE.

This op-ed originally appeared at the Huffington Post on April 30.

The recently released California community college system’s Student Success Scorecard has rightly drawn praise. The web-based scorecards contain comprehensive information on students’ performance at each of the state’s 112 community colleges, making details about student outcomes the most easily accessible in the nation. The Scorecard reveals how colleges are doing in retaining and graduating students, remedial education and job-training programs, with data broken down by gender, age, race and ethnicity. The added information about race and ethnicity, new to this accountability report, is crucial in a system in which latinos and other students of color form the majority.

While students can use the scorecard to pick a campus, its main purpose is to provide data to community college leaders that they can use to zero in on what is impeding students’ performance and design remedies. But as important as the Student Success Scorecard is as an accountability tool, it does not ensure meaningful change because neither rewards nor penalties are attached to using the data or to improving scores.