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“Not Just For The Few”: A Government To Love, One That Works For Everybody

Rep. Steve King of Iowa told a local TV station a few weeks ago that “the best thing anybody can do” in Congress is not come up with positive solutions, but to “kill bad bills.” He wasn’t just speaking for himself. He was explaining the philosophy of today’s right wing.

Of course elected officials should oppose bills they disagree with. But King and his party have taken this to an extreme, opposing any efforts to use the power of government to fix problems that affect ordinary people. This anti-government strain of the Tea Party that is calling the shots in today’s GOP doesn’t represent just hands-off libertarianism, as many would like us to believe. The Tea Party does want government to work: but they only want it to work for a few of us.

This growing movement that claims to be anti-government has caught us up in almost daily skirmishes over federal programs and budget line items. But these battles have obscured the real issue. It’s not a big government vs. small government debate. It’s a debate about who the government works for.

It’s not enough for progressives to fight these selective battles. We must also go on the offense, envisioning and proudly defending a government that works. A government that works serves the needs of all Americans. A government that works provides a safety net that allows us to take reasonable risks. A government that works is one that helps make the American Dream possible for everyone.

It’s important to note that the bashers of big government aren’t really against government in any form. They’re fine with the government that they want; they just don’t want one that serves all of us. When the Ted Cruz wing of the Republican Party shut down the federal government for weeks on end last year with their bluster about cutting the size of government, not everyone was hurt equally. Hundreds of thousands of government employees were sent home without pay, and government agencies shut down many services for low-income people, veterans, pregnant women, and National Institutes of Health patients. Also on hiatus: yes, environmental and financial regulators.

When the Senate refused to confirm any of President Obama’s nominees to the influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, it wasn’t just a refusal to let government do its job and thereby limit the work of the court. It was an attempt to preserve a Republican-appointed majority on the court that had been consistently rewriting the law to favor the interests of large corporations — that kind of government, they like just as is.

When the House Republicans voted to make drastic cuts to food stamps and Senate Republicans filibustered an effort to extend unemployment insurance to the long-term jobless, they weren’t concerned with shrinking the size of government. Instead, they focused their “small government” rhetoric on the minor portion of federal spending that goes to helping everyday Americans get a chance.

Unsurprisingly, the right, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also favor “small government” when it comes to letting corporations and wealthy individuals give huge amounts of unaccountable money to political campaigns, drowning out the voices of individual Americans. Limits on campaign spending, some of which go back more than a century, are what allowed us to build our strong, vibrant government of the people — a government that is now under constant attack.

When President Obama said in his State of the Union address that “it should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank accounts, that drives our democracy,” he wasn’t offering a platitude. He was outlining a clear vision of government that works. We must remain aware of what the government-bashers are really after and proudly stand for a government that works for all Americans.


By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Huffington Post Blog, February 7, 2014

February 9, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Government | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Incidents And Events Can Tell Us A Lot”: The Teacher Commitment That Cannot Be Evaluated With Tests

Teachers, parents and students are pushing back against high-stakes testing, over-testing and the fantasy that education is made better by preparing for, conducting and evaluating tests.

As American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten says: “The current accountability system has led districts to fixate on testing and sanctions, has squeezed out vital parts of the curriculum that are not subjected to testing, and has sacrificed much-needed learning time. That is not what high-performing countries do, and it is not what the United States should do.”

That’s an increasingly common sentiment, even among former advocates for testing-obsessed initiatives such as George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top. Diane Ravitch, who served as Bush’s assistant secretary of education, now says: “I had never imagined that the test would someday be turned into a blunt instrument to close schools—or to say whether teachers are good teachers or not—because I always knew children’s test scores are far more complicated than the way they’re being received today.”

How then should we “evaluate” teachers and schools?

The truth is that many measures exist, some structural and some practical.

America asks a great deal of teachers. And while carefully developed and cautiously implemented testing can tell us a little, incidents and events can tell us a lot.

Take, for instance, the response to the winter weather that last week brought the Atlanta area to a standstill. State and local officials—led by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal—neglected warnings and failed to respond appropriately. Thousands of children were stranded overnight in schools, on buses and in firehouses and stores. Teachers and school employees were faced with an unexpected, and in some cases overwhelming, new demand on their time, their energy and their ingenuity. And they rose to it.

There are plenty of tales of humanity and heroism from last week. A cafeteria manager at an Atlanta-area high school made it home and then learned that hundreds of students were stranded at the school. Unable to drive a car on the gridlocked roads, he walked back to the school and prepared 800 dinners. The next morning, he prepared 800 breakfasts. Bus drivers cared for and comforted children.

All the stories mattered. But this one from an Atlanta Journal Constitution article published the morning after the storm stood out:

At Centennial High School in Roswell, about 33 students—most of them with special needs—slept in classrooms or on wrestling mats in the school’s media center after only five out of 50 buses arrived and students relied on their parents to get home.

Fifteen teachers and staff members that work in the special needs program stayed with the children, some of whom are in wheelchairs or require special medication.

For some of the children, it was their first night away from home, and teachers kept worried parents informed through cell phone calls and text photos. One group of teachers walked through the snow to a nearby Kroger to get emergency prescriptions filled, including seizure medication.

Few of them got any sleep, and they’re not sure when or if they’d be able to get home.

“I’d love to go home,” said teacher Traci Coleman. “But this is where I need to be right now. This is like my second family.”

All the students made it home, thanks to teachers and bus drivers and cafeteria workers and custodians.

“That no children died or were even seriously hurt is testament to the caring and resourcefulness of those frontline workers,” noted the Journal Constitution’s Maureen Downey.

That is right. We will always expect more of teachers than just getting children home safely. But the response from teachers like Traci Coleman when the storm hit offers a measure of an essential commitment that will never be measured by standardized testing.


By: John Nichols, The Nation, February 5, 2014

February 9, 2014 Posted by | Educators, Teachers | , , , | Leave a comment

“Rand Paul Remains Preoccupied With Bill Clinton”: Beware Of Those Who Protest Too Much

Nearly two weeks ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) decided to go after former President Bill Clinton, focusing on the Lewinsky affair from 19 years ago. The former president, Paul said, was guilty of “predatory behavior.” He added that this would be relevant if Hillary Clinton runs in 2016 because “sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”

Asked later about the comments, Paul suggested that Clinton isn’t really on his mind. “It’s not as if I’m bringing this up 20 years later. I was asked a direct question,” the Kentucky senator said. “However, if I’m asked a direct question, I’ll usually answer it.”

For a guy who only mentioned Clinton because he was “asked a direct question,” Rand Paul seems oddly preoccupied with the former president.

The senator’s original criticism came on “Meet the Press” on Jan. 26. Paul then took another rhetorical shot at Clinton on Jan. 28. And then another on Jan. 29. And then another on Feb. 5. And then again later on Feb. 5.

This morning, there was the Kentucky Republican, once again talking about the subject he only reluctantly broached in the first place.

“[Democrats] can’t have it both ways,” Paul said on C-Span’s “Newsmakers” set to air Sunday.

“And so I really think that anybody who wants to take money from Bill Clinton or have a fundraiser has a lot of explaining to do. In fact, I think they should give the money back,” Paul said. “If they want to take position on women’s rights, by all means do. But you can’t do it and take it from a guy who was using his position of authority to take advantage of young women in the workplace.”

This is getting a little weird.

To reiterate a point from last week, much of this likely has to do with 2016 and Paul’s concern that Bill Clinton remains a very popular national figure. Indeed, even Republicans who hated Clinton with a passion during his time in office – up to and including impeaching him – have since decided he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Robert Schlesinger labeled the phenomenon “Clinton Nostalgia Syndrome.”

The senator is no doubt aware of this, all while remaining cognizant of the fact that Hillary Clinton is a possible candidate. The calculus isn’t subtle: Rand Paul is probably worried that Clinton nostalgia will make the former Secretary of State that much more difficult to defeat. As a consequence, he’s become oddly preoccupied with a sex scandal from the mid-90s, which the American mainstream has long since given up caring about.

But I also wonder if there’s a touch of defensiveness lurking just below the surface. After all, Paul not only supports government intervention in restricting reproductive rights, he’s also voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Violence Against Women Act, while voting for the Blunt Amendment on contraception.

With a record like that, the senator may be understandably concerned about alienating women voters. I’m not a political strategist, but I don’t imagine constant complaining about Bill Clinton will address Paul’s underlying trouble.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 7, 2014

February 9, 2014 Posted by | Rand Paul, War On Women | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP’s Immigration Conundrum”: A Perils-Of-Pauline Soap Opera

House Republicans’ latest revolt against immigration reform spells potential trouble for the party’s 2016 presidential candidates. The last thing the GOP needs in 2016 is another primary season marked by debate and dissension over the fraught issue.

The party’s handling of immigration-reform legislation since President Obama won reelection with 71 percent of the Hispanic vote reprises a decades-long pattern that has weakened the GOP in the competition for Hispanic votes. On the one hand, there is a recognition that the party needs to do more to attract Hispanic votes. On the other, there are repeated actions, both individual and collective, that send the opposite signal.

That is what has happened over the past few weeks. At one point, House leaders, led by Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), issued a list of principles for reform legislation that included a path to legal status but not to citizenship. That suggested a collective determination to pass something this year. Then, after a backlash from the outside groups that have long been Boehner’s nemeses, the speaker did an abrupt about-face, saying that a lack of trust that Obama would enforce the law made passage this year a heavy lift.

Perhaps the speaker is playing an exceedingly clever game to keep everyone guessing, a perils-of-Pauline soap opera in which he has already sketched out the scenario that ends with the passage of some notable piece of legislation this year. After all, he’s given every indication that immigration reform is something he wants to do, something he believes is good for the country and good for his party.

More likely, he is reflecting the views of the party’s most conservative members and those outside groups, who in turn reflect the views of many rank-and-file Republicans. Comprehensive reform, including a path to citizenship, enjoys majority support nationally. But conservative Republicans continue to oppose a bill that includes any path to citizenship.

Some Republicans are suggesting that they should not clutter up the midterm elections with an issue that divides their party and instead try to energize their voters by focusing on the issue that most unites Republicans, Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Many House Republicans hate the bipartisan bill that was passed by the Senate last year. If the GOP could win control of that chamber, it might be able to write legislation more to its liking and force the president to accept it.

There is no question that the politics of this are difficult for Boehner. Could he wait to push forward this year until it would be too late for conservative challengers to mount primary campaigns against incumbent House Republicans? Will there be a better opportunity next year? Will Republicans trust Obama more next year? What is the maximum Boehner can get now as opposed to then? Would support for legal status, rather than a path to citizenship, be enough to position Republicans better to start courting Hispanics on other issues?

But another question that Republicans should be asking is: What are the consequences of inaction? Can they afford another presidential nomination contest in which immigration reform plays a central role, as it did in 2012? There is debate inside the party over how much immigration hurt Mitt Romney in the general election. But no one is arguing that it helped him, and few would say a fresh debate in 2016 would be a net plus for their nominee, unless that nominee had run forcefully in favor of comprehensive reform.

A year ago, it looked as if most of the likely GOP presidential candidates in 2016 would be advocates of comprehensive reform. The task force created by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus — a group that was weighted toward the establishment wing of the party — recommended support for such a measure. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took a lead role in helping produce a bipartisan Senate bill. Others who are considering running in 2016 made statements indicating at least some level of support for comprehensive legislation.

Today, that support is far more muted, if it exists at all. The conservative intelligentsia is split on what to do. The base is clearly opposed to comprehensive reform. Given the prospective field of candidates for 2016, it’s likely that those running will include outright opponents of a path to citizenship. Whoever becomes the nominee will risk having been pushed further to the right than is politically safe for a general election.

Romney said after the 2012 election that he had recognized the potentially debilitating impact an intraparty debate on immigration could have on the nominating process. He had hoped there was a way for the party to come together on some set of principles to at least prevent the issue from being front-and-center during the primaries, he said, but that didn’t happen. Romney then mishandled immigration during the GOP primaries, as his advisers later admitted (though he had a different, somewhat contrarian view of that).

Romney’s advisers discovered that, whatever problems were caused by the former governor’s talk of self-deportation and the hard line he took on immigration reform, their biggest obstacle to reaching Hispanic voters in the general election was health care. Hispanics strongly supported Obama’s health-care initiative.

That points to another problem. Republicans have long argued that they can appeal to Hispanics on issues other than immigration. So far, they have yet to prove it. Appeals to the patriotism of the Hispanic community have not worked consistently. Appeals to Hispanic small-business owners haven’t done it. Efforts to reach socially conservative Hispanics on issues such as abortion have produced few dividends. The party is still looking for an effective message for Hispanics.

Immigration remains a gateway issue. Passage of immigration reform won’t necessarily win the next presidential nominee significantly more Hispanic votes. But its absence as a divisive issue in the nomination contest would give Republican candidates an opportunity to talk to Hispanic voters about new ideas or issues.

Republicans already face significant problems winning the Rocky Mountain states in a presidential election. Growing Hispanic populations in Nevada and New Mexico have made those two states major challenges for the party. Colorado is still competitive but could become more difficult for the GOP in future elections. Arizona, which has remained in the Republican column, could become a competitive state because of Hispanic population growth.

Perhaps an immigration reform bill will be enacted before the presidential primaries begin in 2016. What Boehner did this week in bowing to pressures from the right was to underscore that Republicans continue to think more like a congressional party than a presidential party. It will be interesting to see whether any of the prospective presidential candidates is ready to challenge that orthodoxy.


By: Dan Baltz, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 8, 2014

February 9, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Turbulence Of The Post-Soviet Period”: Sochi’s Opening Ceremony Forgot To Mention A Few Things About Russian History

It’s fair to say that by the time the opening ceremonies began last night at 20:14, they were facing an uphill battle to impress. Russia, via Western journalists, had shown the world just how very corrupt and incompetent it is: $51 billion and years of preparation yielded upside-down toilet lids and yellow water and busted-through bathroom doors made of cardboard. There’s even a popular hashtag for the debacle: #SochiProblems.

And yet, the Russians put on a lush and wonderful show. It was grand pageantry and exquisitely choreographed theater, the kind the Russians have been so exceptional at for a century. The giant figure skating stuffed animals were a bit weird, “vodka” was missing from the alphabet of Russian cultural treasures that opened the show, and there was only one glitch to speak of: only four of the snowflakes turned into Olympic rings, a muck-up the Russians managed to fix via spliced rehearsal footage from the rehearsal. But on the whole, it was yet another exhibit, if any were needed, in the long show window proving the fantastic might of Russian artistry.

But the show was a very specific view of Russia, one that glossed over some of the cruelest parts of its history. Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg, for instance, was all ships and marching cadets, without the bones and swamp on which the city was built. World War II, which is a hallowed, painful spot for all Russians merited just a sentence on the destruction—”the scariest hour in Russia’s 1000 year history”—and some searchlights slicing through the darkness. The Russian Revolution got the mixed treatment it deserved: it was portrayed as a gathering snow storm over the sumptuous imperial waltz of tsarism broken through by a locomotive glowing red as it screamed into the stadium. The benefits of the Revolution were praised, and its costs received an elliptically diplomatic acknowledgment: “The color red reigns, even though it is the color of blood,” the announcer intoned dramatically. “The country is galloping forward, but at what cost?” Early Soviet history was all gorgeous red constructivism and machinery, the perfect ode to the revolution in technology and the arts that it brought to the country. Malevich and the Constructivists were lauded, even though the Revolution that enabled them eventually turned on them and labeled their art counter-revolutionary.

This, by the way, is a curious, bitterly ironic element of contemporary Russian pride in its artistic figures. These days, Aeroflot planes are named for the poet Osip Mandelstam, who was brutally murdered by the state in 1938. So too the opening ceremony praised Leo Tolstoy, who became an outcast for giving up his landowner status. It reveled in Sergei Diaghilev, the flamboyant ballet master, who stayed abroad after the Revolution and whom the new Soviet state condemned in perpetuity. The opening of the opening gave the letter “N” in the alphabet to Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote his most famous works in English and outside a country where it was too dangerous for a son of the aristocracy to remain. When showing the post-War period, the ceremony showed the stilyagi in their poodle skirts, swinging and boogie-woogie-ing. They too were condemned for their emulation of Western “bourgeois” trends. And so on and so forth.

The spirit carried over into the march of the athletes, where the announcers on state-owned Channel 1, the biggest Russian channel, tried to take credit for every athlete with any Russian heritage, though, of course, there are usually profound economic and political reasons that so many millions of Russians—like me, for example—ended up living not in Russia, but in the West. (The announcers also took credit for the hats of the British team—”those are our Russian hats!”—but that’s another story.)

One glaring omission throughout the parade of Russian culture was any pretense of cultural diversity. The announcers importantly declared how big Russia is—”the biggest country in the world, as big as the ocean”—and that it contains multitudes, “180 nations, each with their own culture and language,” but we saw only one of them: the ethnic Russians. The world saw only traditional Slavic garb, with its lush brocade and big head pieces (kokoshniki), but nothing of the lezginkathe dance of the North Caucasus, or, say, the throat singing of Tuva. Putin is, after all, a Soviet man, and in the Soviet Union, the Russians were the first among the brothers of all the Soviet nations.

Missing also was the post-Communist period, the period that created Vladimir Putin. The world did not see how Russians see themselves today, but only that, even now, they view themselves as products of their history, forged in the cruel smelter of the centuries. It is a deft way of glossing over the turbulence of the painful, post-Soviet period, one that has produced very little of the kind of art and music and national treasure that Russia can flaunt before the world. (In fact, we did see modern Russia—in the upside-down toilet lids.)

And this is the cornerstone of Putin’s Russia: a historically significant nation but one that is still climbing back up to its historic heights after a historic fall, one that has many nations but of which one is dominant. Throughout Putin’s reign, this vision has been brought to life by his main showman, Konstantin Ernst, the head of Channel 1 and the director of the Opening ceremony. Joshua Yaffa wrote in The New Yorker of Ernst’s vision:

Programming on Channel One, Floriana Fossato, who worked on media projects in Moscow in the aughts and now studies Russian television at University College London, said, showed “people surviving a cruel but, to a certain extent, necessary system.” Above all, Fossato told me, Russia was shown as a heroic nation. Viewers could hear about some of the country’s mistakes but remain secure that, as she put it, “we didn’t waste our lives.” The picture onscreen should be grand, proud, and, most important, attractive.

And Ernst achieved it, this time, for a wider audience.


By: Julia Ioffe, The New Republic, February 8, 2014

February 9, 2014 Posted by | Sochi Olympics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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