"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Deadly Policies Of Red States”: Lots Of Students Are Being Left Behind

Last week, 35 former Atlanta educators were forced to take a perp walk, reporting to law enforcement authorities for arrest in connection with the nation’s biggest (so far) academic scandal. It was a disturbing spectacle. Once among the pillars of metro Atlanta’s middle class, they’ve been reduced to pleading that they don’t belong in jail.

And that may be true. The charges of a widespread conspiracy to cheat may represent the ambitions of a local prosecutor rather than any top-down plot carried out by a confederacy of criminals. But I don’t waste sympathy on the defendants: They deserve the ignominy of association with thugs.

I’m reserving my pity for the students in Atlanta’s public schools. They’re the victims of this massive fraud, the helpless pawns of adults who callously overlooked the needs of their charges and focused on preserving their careers.

Unfortunately, that’s been a recurrent theme in 40 years of school-reform efforts across the country. Whether represented by unions or organized as a powerful voting bloc or both, public school educators have put their paychecks front and center, discounting the needs of their students. Even good teachers — dedicated, hard-working and inspiring ones — have rallied to protect their peers, some of whom don’t deserve their support.

Atlanta’s scandal has reinforced long-standing criticisms of widespread testing in schools, a strategy that was exalted by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. The critics are right: The overdependence on standardized tests has calcified instruction, failed students and encouraged fraud. Educators in poor neighborhoods, where students are more likely to score poorly, are singled out for official reproach.

Conversely, teachers, principals and superintendents who show miraculous results — turning failing students into suddenly brilliant ones — are showered with praise, promotions and, frequently, money. It’s no wonder, then, that some Atlanta teachers had after-school “parties” where they erased students’ answers and replaced them with the correct ones.

While Atlanta may have the best-documented case of test-related fraud, it’s by no means the only one. In an exhaustive investigation published last year, USA Today found evidence of fraudulent test scores in six states and Washington, DC. Even the vaunted Michelle Rhee, who led a reform effort in Washington, has been implicated, accused of turning a blind eye to suspicious test results.

But for all the problems associated with No Child Left Behind, Bush deserves credit for this much: He recognized the failures of public schools that are not doing very much to educate children from less-affluent homes. He described a culture freighted with “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” a phrase that still rings true.

For years, too many teachers in low-achieving schools have blamed their failures on children and parents, describing homes in which discipline is poor, mediocrity is lauded and failure is acceptable. If those teachers believe there is nothing to be done to improve the academic standing of those children, why teach? If the children are too “dumb” or too deprived to profit from their instruction, why do they stay?

Reams of research bear out the complaints of educators who say teaching poor kids is challenging: Children from less-affluent homes are more likely to read below grade-level, to need special help, to score poorly on standardized tests. But that hardly means they can’t learn.

They need teachers who believe in them. Those who believe they’re being unfairly tarnished by unworthy students don’t fit the bill. As psychologists point out, kids pick up those signals easily enough and behave as the teachers expect them to. In other words, they learn little or nothing.

In addition to dedicated teachers, those children need a community that’s also committed to them. That includes the politicians, activists and church groups who spend an inordinate amount of time defending educators rather than demanding good schools for the kids.

As Atlanta’s disgraced educators surrendered last week, a group of activist preachers — Concerned Black Clergy — assembled to suggest that racism was involved. “Look at the pictures of those 35,” said the Rev. Timothy McDonald. “Show me a white face.”

Would that McDonald and his allies were as concerned about Atlanta’s public school students, 80 percent of whom are also black.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, April 6, 2013

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Education Reform, Educators | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Time To Hunt Democrats”: Gun Rights Activists Must Stop Threatening Rhetoric

This will be short.

So, being the liberal I am I was listening to NPR yesterday just after I debated my weekly sparing partner, Republican Jim Innocenzi, on WTTG-TV here in DC. We went at it on guns. The story on NPR was about the president’s trip to Colorado to highlight his effort on universal background checks and to focus on that state’s passage of legislation to control guns.

Here is what I heard, verbatim, from Dudley Brown, head of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners in Colorado and the NPR announcer:

“This is a very Western state with traditional Western values,” he says. “And citizens had to have firearms for self-defense, and right now that’s still the case.”

…He’s promising political payback in next year’s election that could cost Colorado Democrats their majorities.

“I liken it to the proverbial hunting season,” Brown says. “We tell gun owners, ‘There’s a time to hunt deer. And the next election is the time to hunt Democrats.'”

Really? After the murders in Kaufman County, Texas and West Virginia of prosecutors and police, he really wants to talk about hunting Democrats, like deer? Is he trying to channel Sarah Palin? Wayne LaPierre, too, I guess. Can we just stop talk of bulls eyes and hunting public officials.

Come on. No one is taking away the 320 million guns in America; no one is stopping the $12 billion the gun industry makes a year; no one is preventing hunting; no one is taking away your constitutional rights.

Sadly, Dudley Brown and the NRA’s answer to gun violence is more guns. What a shame.


By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, April 4, 2013

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Master Manipulator Of Emotion”: Mike Huckabee Stokes Fear With Nazi Gun Control Comparison

Pastor-politician Mike Huckabee continues to stoke fear and paranoia regarding the sensible gun safety measures proposed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting that killed 20 children and six adults, the latest gun-related massacre that occurred because of what many consider to be lax gun laws in America, compared to other developed nations.

On his radio show Wednesday afternoon, Huckabee responded to a caller who repeated the lie that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis turned Germany from a democracy into a dictatorship by registering and collecting guns, by saying:

“When you bring that up there are people that get crazy on us. They’ll start saying, ‘oh there you go, comparing to the Nazis.’ And I understand the reaction. But it’s the truth. You cannot take people’s rights away if they are resisting and have the means to resist. But once they’re disarmed and the people who are trying to take over have all the power — not just political, not just financial — but they have the physical power to domesticate us and to subjugate us to their will, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it, other than just plan to die in the course of resistance…in every society and culture where dictators take over, one of the things they have to do is get control of the military and police and ultimately all the citizens and make sure the citizens are disarmed and can’t fight in the streets. Gosh I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Besides making a slippery-slope argument that modest gun reform will somehow lead to weapon confiscation and a Nazi-style dictatorship, Huckabee and the caller display a dangerously ignorant reading of history regarding gun laws in Nazi Germany. Mother Jones, Salon, and other publications have refuted the oft-repeated assertion among gun rights absolutists that gun control allowed Hitler’s rise to power and made the Holocaust possible.

First, it is worth noting that other developed, democratic nations with stronger gun laws, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and others, did not see a dictator rise to power and “domesticate” and “subjugate” their people when they enacted new gun measures. In fact, their democracies are still intact with the people still deciding important issues peacefully through the ballot box. What these countries have done is made their societies safer by decreasing gun violence.

Now back to the right wing’s seemingly favorite comparison when discussing anything President Obama has proposed to help the American people — Nazis.

The reality is that the Weimar Republic following World War I actually had tougher gun laws than the Nazi regime, in part to disarm the violent extremists causing havoc, like the paramilitary SA brownshirts. The Nazi Weapon Law of 1938 actually loosened gun restrictions, except for Jews and other persecuted minorities.

But there were only 214,000 Jews living in Germany when World War II started and between 160,000 and 180,000 were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. That is a small fraction of the six million Jews from other countries who were murdered and who wouldn’t have been subject to the Nazi gun laws. The mighty Russian army lost more than 10 million soldiers fighting the Wermacht on the Eastern Front, so it is unrealistic to think that a Jewish armed uprising in Eastern Europe would have beaten back the German military machine. That is why many say a strong Israeli army is so important to preventing another holocaust, the reasoning being that a Jewish state with a modern military is the only match for a genocidal force like the Nazis.

In reality, it is the Tea Party “patriots” intimidating people with loaded assault rifles, Republican efforts to suppress the vote, and right-wing radio hosts like Huckabee stoking fear and paranoia that more closely resemble the tactics used by Hitler’s Nazis to gain power.

Gun control and Second Amendment-analysis website GunCite concludes the following in a story titled “The Myth of Nazi Gun Control”: “There are no lessons about the efficacy of gun control to be learned from the Germany of the first half of [the 20th] century. It is all too easy to forget the seductive allure that fascism presented to all the West, bogged down in economic and social morass. What must be remembered is that the Nazis were master manipulators of popular emotion and sentiment, and were disdainful of people thinking for themselves. There is the danger to which we should pay great heed. Not fanciful stories about Nazis seizing guns.”


By: Josh Marks, The National Memo, April 5, 2013

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“More Republican Fringe Views”: Tinfoil Hats, Black Helicopters, And The Politics Of Paranoia

Public Policy Polling released the results of an interesting survey this week, which you probably heard a bit about — it dealt with public attitudes towards conspiracy theories (some of which weren’t really conspiracy theories). Not surprisingly, we learned that a lot of folks believe a lot of strange stuff.

But it’s worth appreciating the fact that this phenomenon isn’t limited to the general public. We’re occasionally reminded that federal lawmakers buy into some bizarre conspiracy theories, too.

We talked yesterday, for example, about the Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations, and the oddity of watching Republicans align themselves with the position adopted by Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Let’s also take a moment, though, to highlight the GOP’s reasons for doing so. For example, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) appeared on a right-wing radio show yesterday, arguing that the treaty would “literally change” and “essentially repeal” the Second Amendment. This is patently ridiculous, but Fleming said it anyway.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose affinity for conspiracy theories is bordering on unhealthy, wrote a fundraising letter on the treaty for the National Association for Gun Rights that was truly crazy, even for him.

“I don’t know about you, but watching anti-American globalists plot against our Constitution makes me sick. […]

If we’re to succeed, we must fight back now. That’s why I’m helping lead the fight to defeat the UN “Small Arms Treaty” in the United States Senate. And it’s why I need your help today.

Will you join me by taking a public stand against the UN “Small Arms Treaty” and sign the Official Firearms Sovereignty Survey right away? Ultimately, UN bureaucrats will stop at nothing to register, ban and CONFISCATE firearms owned by private citizens like YOU.

Paul’s letter added that the United Nations intends to “force” the United States to “CONFISCATE and DESTROY ALL ‘unauthorized’ civilian firearms,” while creating “an INTERNATIONAL gun registry, setting the stage for full-scale gun CONFISCATION,” which isn’t part of the Arms Trade Treaty and also isn’t sane.

But it does offer a reminder about why the politics of paranoia makes governing so difficult.

Reflecting on the hysterical opposition to the ATT, Greg Sargent raised an important point yesterday.

Republican Senators (and too many red state Dems) have fallen into line behind the NRA’s lurid claims not just about the treaty, but also about gun control, endorsing its paranoid and false claim that expanding background checks would create a national gun registry. With United States Senators eagerly feeding such fringe views rather than engaging in genuine policy debate, is it any wonder that it’s a major struggle to implement even the most modest and sensible effort to limit the ongoing murder of innocents, one that is supported by nine in 10 Americans?

I strongly agree, and the more I thought about it, the more I started noticing how broadly applicable this is.

We couldn’t pass a disability treaty because Republicans believed conspiracy theories. We can’t address global warming because Republicans believe the entirety of climate science is a giant conspiracy. We couldn’t pass bipartisan health care reform in part because Republicans were too heavily invested in the “death panel” conspiracy theory.

This problem, in other words, keeps coming up, and probably won’t get any better until the electorate sends fewer conspiracy theorists to Washington.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, April 4, 2013

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Like Sands Through The Hourglass”: The Original GOP Gun Flip-Flop

If you’ve been following the gun control debate, you probably know that universal background checks are on life support after Republicans lawmakers flip-flopped on their support for closing the private seller loophole. You may also know that the National Rifle Association itself once supported universal background checks, even though it’s leading the charge against them now.

But would Republicans really kill a bid to expand background checks, even though they supported them so recently and despite polls showing nine in 10 American favor an expansion?

We don’t have to wonder because they already did, back in 1999 after the Columbine shooting. Thirty-one Senate Republicans — including current Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — joined with Democrats to close the gun show loophole, only to have their colleagues in the House kill it. The saga has largely escaped notice so far this year, but offers some important lessons for those who favor gun control today.

By 1999, pro-gun control forces hadn’t seen progress since Republicans captured control of both houses of Congress five years earlier. But after the Columbine school shooting in late April, public opinion shifted dramatically and President Clinton pushed to close the so-called gun show loophole and pass a host of other gun control measures.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 89 percent of Americans favored background checks for people buying guns at gun shows — almost identical to polls today.

In fact, when Senate Republicans narrowly defeated a Democratic measure to close the gun show loophole on May 12 of that year, the public outcry was so intense that the GOPers reversed course within less than 24 hours. “As outraged constituents lit up phone lines on Capitol Hill to protest the earlier vote and the Clinton administration launched a barrage of criticism, Senate leaders huddled with National Rifle Association lobbyists and GOP strategists to undo what several Republicans feared could arouse voter reprisals in next year’s elections,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported at the time.

Sen. John McCain joined with Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and Sen. Larry Craig, an NRA board member, to come up with their own proposal. The GOP bill required anyone attending a gun show with the intent of selling a firearm to get a background check on purchasers, but gave law enforcement only 24 hours to review the check, instead of the typical three days, and didn’t cover flea markets or pawn shops. It passed by a single vote, largely along party lines.

“There was a realization that there was a loophole that had to be closed,” McCain said. (A year later, McCain would go on to cut an ad endorsing two state measures to enact universal background checks, as Greg Sargent reported yesterday.)

But Democrats weren’t satisfied and demanded more. Clinton said the GOP bill was “riddled with high-caliber loopholes” and Republicans caved — they dismissed their own bill and took up the Democratic proposal once again. “They’re getting the shit kicked out of them in the media and they know it; they’re in complete disarray. Basically, the country is seeing just how beholden the Republican caucus is to the NRA,” an unnamed Democratic staffer told Jake Tapper, then at Salon.

Just two weeks later, victory came when Vice President Al Gore cast the deciding vote to approve the Democratic amendment, which was attached to a larger juvenile justice bill introduced by New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg, one of Congress’ most outspoken proponents of gun control.

Six moderate GOPers voted for the amendment to close the loophole. But a whopping 31 Senate Republicans voted for final passage of the larger bill, including the Democratic provision to mandate background checks at gun shows, giving it a huge 73-25 majority. McConnell voted in favor, as did Orrin Hatch and Jeff Sessions, two of the most powerful Republicans in the upper chamber today, along with conservative stalwarts like Rick Santorum, Strom Thurmond and Jon Kyl.

“This is a turning point for our country,” Gore proclaimed. But the victory was short-lived.

In June, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill with a much weaker background check provision, and rejected the Senate version. Then nothing happened. Usually, the Senate and House would each appoint representatives to hash out the differences between their two bills. But instead, House Republicans simply refused to appoint negotiators for months, sapping momentum from the bill.

By the time the first anniversary of the Columbine shooting rolled around in April of 2000, there had still been no forward motion.

Activists kept up the pressure for months, as did Clinton, but the public had grown weary and lawmakers no longer faced the constituent pressure of the previous year. ”Despite a series of tragic shootings in our nation’s schools, places of worship, day care centers, and workplaces Congress has stalled passage of common-sense gun safety legislation that passed in the Senate for over one year,” Clinton said in November of 2000, 18 months after the Senate passed a bill with a large bipartisan majority to close the loophole. But by then, the election had sealed the fate of the Democratic bill and universal background checks, at least until 2013.

The saga provides two big lessons. First, it shows that advocates must move quickly in order to capitalize on the public outcry following a mass a shooting like the one at Columbine. Already, three and half months after Sandy Hook, momentum seems to be flagging as Republicans walk away from one commitment after another. It may be too late, but if it’s not, Democrats need to move quickly while they can.

And second, it shows that those opposed to reform are not above using every procedural hurdle at their disposal to thwart reform, even when the vast majority of Americans support change and when their own party has voted for it just months earlier. In 1999, the public opinion landscape was even more favorable than it is today, but a minority of Republicans in leadership were able to kill it. More important, they weren’t punished for it in the next election. If you were a Republican lawmaker today, the experience of 14 years ago might convince you to obstruct, hunker down and hope the issue just goes away.

UPDATE: In 2001, the NRA’s official magazine wrote a lengthy article attacking John McCain, calling him “one of the premier flag carriers for the enemies of the Second Amendment.”


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, April 4, 2013

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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