The Outrageous Cost of the Angelina Jolie Test

DAVID AGUS, professor of medicine and engineering, Keck School of Medicine of USC.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on May 21.

Angelina Jolie’s revelation that she had had a preventive double mastectomy was eloquent and brave. She had learned that she inherited a faulty copy of a gene, BRCA1, that put her at high risk for invasive breast cancer as well as ovarian cancer. Now women everywhere are asking: Should I get the same test? What will it cost?

Only one in about 400 women carry mutations to BRCA1 or to a related gene BRCA2, though such hereditary defects are implicated in between 5 percent and 10 percent of all breast cancers. The majority of the 230,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed annually in the United States are not related to these genes. But if you’re that one in 400 women, you’d want to know so you could make informed decisions about your health care.

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.

Our Internal Food-Traffic Regulator

KATHLEEN A. PAGE, assistant professor, Keck School of Medicine of USC, and ROBERT S. SHERWIN, professor of medicine, Yale University.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on April 28.

Imagine that, instead of this article, you were staring at a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. The mere sight and smell of them would likely make your mouth water. The first bite would be enough to wake up brain areas that control reward, pleasure and emotion — and perhaps trigger memories of when you tasted cookies like these as a child.

That first bite would also stimulate hormones signaling your brain that fuel was available. The brain would integrate these diverse messages with information from your surroundings and make a decision as to what to do next: keep on chewing, gobble down the cookie and grab another, or walk away.

Studying the complex brain response to such sweet temptations has offered clues as to how we

So Much Tension, so Little Defense Spending

DAVID KANG, professor of international relations, Dornsife College.

This op-ed originally appeared at Foreign Policy.

Are tensions high in Asia? It certainly appears so. Over the last few months, North Korea has tested missiles and threatened the United States with nuclear war. China spars regularly with Japan over ownership of a group of disputed islands, and with several Southeast Asian countries over other sparsely inhabited rocks in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the United States is in the midst of a well-publicized “pivot” to East Asia, and continues to beef up its military deployments to the region.

Yet as of 2012, military expenditures in East and Southeast Asia are at the lowest they’ve been in 25 years — and very likely the lowest they’ve been in 50 years (although data before 1988 is questionable). While it’s too early to factor in recent tensions, as China’s rise has reshaped the region over the past two decades, East and Southeast Asian states don’t seem to have reacted by building up their own militaries. If there’s an arms race in the region, it’s a contest with just one participant: China.

A Low Tax Burden — and Still Complaining

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

This op-ed originally appeared April 22 at CNN.

Tax day may be over, but many Americans are still suffering from tax hangovers.

If it’s any consolation, here’s our country’s best-kept fiscal secret: According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Americans in 2012 enjoyed the lowest tax burdens as a share of our national economy of any developed country in the world.

How can it be that we feel so much tax pain, but compared to other developed countries our tax burdens are so low?

There are three reasons.