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Tuesday
Oct172017

America "Land made of ideals, not blood and soil"

By John McCain

Thank you, Joe, my old, dear friend, for those mostly undeserved kind words. Vice-President Biden and I have known each other for a lot of years now, more than 40, if you’re counting. We knew each other back when we were young and handsome and smarter than everyone else but were too modest to say so.

Joe was already a senator, and I was the navy’s liaison to the Senate. My duties included escorting Senate delegations on overseas trips, and in that capacity, I supervised the disposition of the delegation’s luggage, which could require – now and again – when no one of lower rank was available for the job – that I carry someone worthy’s bag. Once or twice that worthy turned out to be the young senator from Delaware. I’ve resented it ever since.

Joe has heard me joke about that before. I hope he has heard, too, my profession of gratitude for his friendship these many years. It has meant a lot to me. We served in the Senate together for over 20 years, during some eventful times, as we passed from young men to the fossils who appear before you this evening.

We didn’t always agree on the issues. We often argued – sometimes passionately. But we believed in each other’s patriotism and the sincerity of each other’s convictions. We believed in the institution we were privileged to serve in. We believed in our mutual responsibility to help make the place work and to cooperate in finding solutions to our country’s problems. We believed in our country and in our country’s indispensability to international peace and stability and to the progress of humanity. And through it all, whether we argued or agreed, Joe was good company. Thank you, old friend, for your company and your service to America.

 

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil

 

Thank you, too, to the National Constitution Center, and everyone associated with it for this award. Thank you for that video, and for the all too generous compliments paid to me this evening. I’m aware of the prestigious company the Liberty Medal places me in. I’m humbled by it, and I’ll try my best not to prove too unworthy of it.

Some years ago, I was present at an event where an earlier Liberty Medal recipient spoke about America’s values and the sacrifices made for them. It was 1991, and I was attending the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The World War Two veteran, estimable patriot and good man, President George H W Bush, gave a moving speech at the USS Arizona memorial. I remember it very well. His voice was thick with emotion as he neared the end of his address. I imagine he was thinking not only of the brave Americans who lost their lives on December 7, 1941, but of the friends he had served with and lost in the Pacific where he had been the navy’s youngest aviator.

“Look at the water here, clear and quiet …” he directed, “One day, in what now seems another lifetime, it wrapped its arms around the finest sons any nation could ever have, and it carried them to a better world.”

He could barely get out the last line, “May God bless them, and may God bless America, the most wondrous land on earth.”

The most wondrous land on earth, indeed. I’ve had the good fortune to spend 60 years in service to this wondrous land. It has not been perfect service, to be sure, and there were probably times when the country might have benefited from a little less of my help. But I’ve tried to deserve the privilege as best I can, and I’ve been repaid a thousand times over with adventures, with good company, and with the satisfaction of serving something more important than myself, of being a bit player in the extraordinary story of America. And I am so very grateful.

What a privilege it is to serve this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, magnificent country. With all our flaws, all our mistakes, with all the frailties of human nature as much on display as our virtues, with all the rancor and anger of our politics, we are blessed.

We are living in the land of the free, the land where anything is possible, the land of the immigrant’s dream, the land with the storied past forgotten in the rush to the imagined future, the land that repairs and reinvents itself, the land where a person can escape the consequences of a self-centered youth and know the satisfaction of sacrificing for an ideal, the land where you can go from aimless rebellion to a noble cause, and from the bottom of your class to your party’s nomination for president.

We are blessed, and we have been a blessing to humanity in turn. The international order we helped build from the ashes of world war, and that we defend to this day, has liberated more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. This wondrous land has shared its treasures and ideals and shed the blood of its finest patriots to help make another, better world. And as we did so, we made our own civilization more just, freer, more accomplished and prosperous than the America that existed when I watched my father go off to war on December 7, 1941.

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain “the last best hope of earth” for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.

I am the luckiest guy on earth. I have served America’s cause – the cause of our security and the security of our friends, the cause of freedom and equal justice – all my adult life. I haven’t always served it well. I haven’t even always appreciated what I was serving. But among the few compensations of old age is the acuity of hindsight. I see now that I was part of something important that drew me along in its wake even when I was diverted by other interests. I was, knowingly or not, along for the ride as America made the future better than the past.

And I have enjoyed it, every single day of it, the good ones and the not so good ones. I’ve been inspired by the service of better patriots than me. I’ve seen Americans make sacrifices for our country and her causes and for people who were strangers to them but for our common humanity, sacrifices that were much harder than the service asked of me. And I’ve seen the good they have done, the lives they freed from tyranny and injustice, the hope they encouraged, the dreams they made achievable.

May God bless them. May God bless America, and give us the strength and wisdom, the generosity and compassion, to do our duty for this wondrous land, and for the world that counts on us. With all its suffering and dangers, the world still looks to the example and leadership of America to become, another, better place. What greater cause could anyone ever serve.

Thank you again for this honor. I’ll treasure it.

  • A transcript of Senator John McCain’s remarks at the 2017 Liberty Medal ceremony
Friday
Sep222017

Why Block Grants Would be Disaster for Health Care

Peter Edelman is faculty director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Republicans are advancing yet another effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act that is as bad as the one defeated in July, if not worse. This one makes large use of block grants, a long-standing Republican idea to promote “state flexibility.” The concept might sound good, but in reality, it would be disastrous for the millions of low- and moderate-income people it purports to help.

The Cassidy-Graham bill adds a new coat of paint to the Republican repeal-and-replace effort, but the content is still poison. It would slash the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and premium subsidies by $243 billionbetween 2020 and 2026, and then completely end federal funding in 2027. It would also turn these provisions into a block grant, which lends states enormous leeway in spending the money. On top of all that, the bill would hit each state’s federal Medicaid spending with a per-person limit, allowing states to receive pre-ACA Medicaid dollars in the form of block grants for non-elderly, non-disabled people.

Those facts should end the discussion. But it’s still worth diving into the destructive potential of block grants. We’ve had them since the days of President Richard Nixon, and all of them — tiny compared with those Cassidy-Graham would enact — have come to the same end: programs withering on the vine and, in some cases, no accountability for spending of federal money.

I should know. I resigned in protest from the Clinton administration when it turned the guaranteed cash assistance for low-income families into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant. Unfortunately, virtually everything I warned about this change came to pass.

Republicans say it was a success, but in fact it produced deeper povertyfor children and badly spent federal funds. More than 6 million peoplenow have no income other than food stamps, which provide a little more than $500 monthly for a family of three. Cash assistance is essentially gone in most of the country. Half of the states help fewer than 20 percentof families with children living in poverty. In 1996, before welfare was converted into a block grant, more than two-thirds of families with children in poverty received welfare benefits; by 2015, less than 1 in 4 did.

This is what block grants — and their cousin, per-capita caps — do. They disconnect funding from need. They offer a capped amount of federal money to states or local governments and allow them to spend it with little to no oversight. Block grants typically mean massive funding cuts immediately, over time, or both, as is the case with Cassidy-Graham.

And with fixed funding levels, block grants create a powerful incentive for states to reduce assistance even as need rises. After all, they get to keep the “savings” in what essentially becomes a slush fund. As has been seen in the TANF program created by the 1996 welfare law, states have used the malleability of the block grant to make it harder for people to receive benefits. As a result, the number of families experiencing poverty who receive TANF has fallen precipitously.

It appears that Cassidy-Graham could have similar effects: Beyond the gargantuan budget cuts, states could use these funds for a broad range of health-care purposes, not just coverage. We should expect states to make it harder to get coverage so they can use the money for other things.

Block grants can’t respond to changing conditions. Past attempts have been unsuccessful in reacting to economic downturns, and block grants have trouble adjusting to the dramatic increase in need due to natural disasters. In the wake of the massive hurricanes that have recently hit Texas and Florida, we should remember former Florida senator Bob Graham’s observation in the mid-1990s: “Acts of God and block grants do not mix.”

Finally, block grants are likely to exacerbate racial disparities. As has been seen with TANF, limited federal oversight of block-grant programs can lead to differential access to benefits based on race. Some argue that states don’t need the federal government to guarantee civil rights. But those claims are evidently wrong: Just look at all the efforts to restrict voting access that would disproportionately affect people of color.

We have already seen what happens when programs for lower-income Americans become block grants, and it isn’t pretty. Access to health care through insurance coverage helps ensure the foundation for well-being and economic opportunity in the United States. Transitioning that to a block-grant system would put the health of millions at risk.

Monday
Sep112017

Single-Payer Health Insurance Gaining Support

David Leonhardt/NYT

Bernie Sanders plans to introduce his Medicare for all bill this week, and it’s already winning support from some Democrats. Even Max Baucus, the powerful former Montana senator who long opposed single-payer, now supports it.

With Republicans controlling every branch of government, single-payer health care has no chance of becoming law anytime soon. But the attention to it still matters. The odds are rising that Democrats will make a push toward single-payer when they next are in charge.

So here are five questions to consider as you follow the story:

1. What is single-payer, anyway? 

Good question! People are too often afraid of asking basic questions about complicated policy debates.

Single-payer health care describes a system in which only one entity — the government — pays basic medical bills. If all Americans had Medicare rather than insurance through their jobs, it would be a single-payer system.

But single-payer doesn’t necessarily involve the elimination of private insurance, as Larry Levitt points out. In Medicare, for example, private insurers sometimes act as a middleman between the government and hospitals or doctors.

The key difference is that taxes, rather than payroll deductions or disposable income, pay the bills.

2. Does single-payer work well in the countries that have it?

Generally, yes, it works very well. Costs are lower across Europe, Canada and Australia, where government plays a bigger role in medical care than here, and citizens in many of those places live longer than Americans. This is the single best argument for single-payer.

“In America, we should join every industrialized country and guarantee health care to all Americans as a right,” Sanders told Stephen Colbert last week

3. Could the United States keep its distinctive advantages under single-payer?

The American system is expensive and inefficient. It also produces many of the world’s most important medical innovations — new drugs, devices, treatments and the like — and is home to many of the best hospitals and researchers. That’s why wealthy people from other countries often come here for treatment.

It’s certainly conceivable that a single-payer system could retain these advantages while making American health care less wasteful. But I’d like to hear a fuller explanation from advocates about how it all would work.

4. How will single-payer overcome its political obstacles?

Even if single-payer reduces costs and lifts quality, the transition would be very tricky. Many people would be forced to change insurance plans even if they liked their current coverage. (Ask Barack Obama how popular that would be.) And money that Americans are now spending on private health care would instead have to be funneled into higher taxes

Sanders deserves credit for both the passion and detail he is bringing to the subject. Yet his plan from the 2016 campaign was not realistic about the necessary tax increase, as an analysis by the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank, showed. The recent failure of single-payer in left-leaning Vermont, which helped end the governor’s political career, shows how brutal the politics are

5. Is this a yes-or-no subject, or is there a middle ground?

Ah, my favorite question. There is indeed a middle ground

It’s entirely possible for the country to move toward single-payer without going all the way. This approach would involve expanding Medicare and Medicaid over time.

The Republican Party’s radicalism on health care over the past decade has made this sort of transition all the more likely. The conservative alternative to creeping single-payer is an expansion of the private markets. But the Trump administration and many (though not all) Republican governors have been actively undermining Obamacare’s private markets

Ron Pollack, a longtime advocate for expanding health coverage, has a nice breakdown of the gradualist approach in Vox

I recommend reading Paul Krugman’s argument that progressives should now focus their energies on issues other than health care, and The Times’s Editorial Board on why single-payer may yet be a bridge too far. Clio Chang of The New Republic has written a piece asking why more progressive wonks don’t favor a single-payer push

And anyone interested in this issue should go to the source and read Sanders’s proposals here. It’s also worth watching the more gradual approach of Senator Chris Murphy, which Elana Schor of Politico explains.


Tuesday
Aug222017

U.S. Destroyed KKK Once and Could Do it Again

By Allyson Hobbs, associate professor of history and director of African and African American Studies at Stanford University via the Guardian

In 1870 and 1871, Congress passed three Enforcement Acts that safeguarded the rights of African Americans to vote, hold office, serve on juries and receive equal protection under the law. These acts, also known as the “Ku Klux Klan Acts,” targeted the Klan for acting murderously to prevent African Americans from exercising their rights as citizens.

Today 146 years later, we could use the Enforcement Acts once more. 

President Ulysses S Grant pushed the legislation through Congress and called on the Army to help federal officials “arrest and break up bands of disguised night marauders”. Grant’s attorney general, Amos Akerman, a 49-year-old graduate of Dartmouth College and an outspoken champion of black suffrage, relished the opportunity to fight white terrorists in southern states. 

In a biography of Grant published in 2001, Jean Edward Smith quoted historian William S. McFeely who observed that “no attorney general before or since ‘has been more vigorous in the prosecution of cases designed to protect the lives and rights of black Americans’”.

Grant believed in the power of the franchise; he thought that once African Americans had the right to vote, which was guaranteed by the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, their rights would be secure. But Grant did not anticipate the barbarous violence and virulent opposition that exploded across the South. 

Terror reigned as masked night riders burned black schools, intimidated voters and attacked, whipped and killed African Americans. The Klan was hellbent on dismantling the policies of Reconstruction. The Republican Party had to be crushed. In all forms of southern life and culture, black subservience and white supremacy had to be restored. 

The Klan raised its ranks from bitter ex-soldiers who could not accept the Confederacy’s defeat and from the sons of wealthy slaveholders who could not abide the loss of social standing and power after the war.

The worst violence occurred in South Carolina. Grant cited “a condition of lawlessness”, declared martial law and suspended the writ of habeas corpus. The Senate heard eloquent and wrenching testimonies of hundreds of African Americans who had been terrorized by the Klan. 

Maria Carter of Haralson County, South Carolina testified that Klansmen broke into her home, pointed a gun at her husband and frightened him to the point that he could not speak. They forced Carter’s husband to go with them to a neighbor’s house where they assaulted a woman so ferociously that Carter remembered that the house looked “as if somebody had been killing hogs there”. The men shot and then severely whipped the woman’s husband. Carter’s husband was beaten mercilessly; his clothes were blood soaked, and the next morning, they clung to his body.

With Akerman’s oversight, 600 Klansmen were convicted and 65 men were sent to the US penitentiary in Albany for sentences that could be as long as five years. The intervention of the federal government marked an important divergence from the norm of letting state and local authorities handle racial crimes. With the passage of the first Enforcement Act, Congress made it a federal offense to deprive a person of civil or political rights.

Akerman knew that destroying the Klan would require “extraordinary means”. To his mind, there was only one side in this fight, not “many”. There was no equivalence to be drawn between the Klan and the African Americans who had been attacked and murdered. 

Grant did not view the Confederates as heroes. He did not embolden them or stoke their resentment about the Confederacy’s defeat. Instead, after the Enforcement Acts were passed, he sent federal troops to the South and stated categorically that “insurgents were in rebellion against the authority of the United States”.

By 1872, the Klan had been defeated. The weight of the federal government broke the back of the organization and reduced racial violence throughout the South. Frederick Douglass declared that without Grant’s actions, black Americans likely would have been trapped in a condition similar to slavery. The violence did not end altogether, but the Klan was no longer a formidable player in American politics. Nor would it be until 50 years later, when the second Klan rose in the 1920s. 

In Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary, The Civil War, historian Barbara Fields explained, “The Civil War is not over until we today have done our part in fighting it.” The tragic events in Charlottesville have shown us just how urgent and necessary it is for us to continue the fight. There is still much to fight for. 

The right to vote needs protection against hysterical accusations of voter fraud, restrictions on registration, voter identification laws, decisions to relocate polling places at the last minute, the redrawing of district boundaries and the removal of names from voter rolls. 

Confederate monuments – built decades after the end of the Civil War during periods of extreme racial violence – must fall. 

The Civil War, Fields observed, “is still to be fought and regrettably it can still be lost”. The president has shown that we can expect nothing from him in terms of moral leadership. We have yet to see if other branches of government will take strong action to condemn white supremacy and carry on the fight.

Allyson Hobbs is associate professor of history and director of African and African American studies at Stanford University.

Tuesday
Aug152017

Evangelical Tradition Threatened by Supporting Trump Agenda

Jonathan Merritt, who writes On Faith & Culture for RNS, invited Peter Wehner — senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing op-ed writer at The New York Times — to write this guest column on his blog.

(RNS) — We’re at a hinge moment in the public witness of American Christianity.

The evangelical Christian movement in America is being compromised and discredited by the way prominent leaders have associated themselves with, first, the Donald J. Trump campaign and now, the Trump presidency. If this is allowed to define evangelical attitudes toward political power, the public witness of Christianity will be undermined in durable ways.

I say this recognizing that the last election involved difficult choices upon which reasonable and well-intentioned people disagreed. I understand the argument of those who believed that Mr. Trump was the better of two bad options, whose policies would do less damage to the country than Hillary Clinton’s.

But the worry is that now that the election is over and there is no binary Trump-Clinton choice, many evangelical Christians have lost the capacity to hold the president accountable when he transgresses norms, violates principles and acts in malicious ways. In fact, they have become among his most prominent and reliable public defenders.

Either by their public defense of Trump or their self-indicting silence, certain prominent evangelicals — including Franklin Graham, Eric Metaxas, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed and James Dobson — are effectively blessing a leader who has acted in ways that are fundamentally incompatible with a Christian ethic.

The same qualities that Mr. Trump showed during the campaign have continued in his presidency. He lies pathologically. Mr. Trump exhibits crude and cruel behavior, relishes humiliating those over whom he has power and dehumanizes his political opponents, women and the weak. He is indifferent to objective truth, trades in conspiracy theories and exploits the darker impulses of the public. His style of politics is characterized by stoking anger and grievances rather than demonstrating empathy and justice.

Evangelical Trump supporters aren’t responsible for the character flaws and ethical failures of the president. But by their refusal to confront those flaws and failures, they are complicit in the debasement of American culture and politics. Even more painful, they are presenting a warped and disfigured view of Christianity to the world.

A non-Christian I know recently told me that what is unfolding is “consistent with what sociobiology theorizes about religion: Its evolutionary purpose is to foster in-group solidarity. Principles serve rather than rule that mission.” This certainly isn’t my view of faith, but in the current circumstances – given what is playing out in public — this is not an unreasonable conclusion for him to draw. And he’s not alone. This kind of perception is multiplying.  

I’ve worked in politics much of my adult life, including in presidential campaigns and at the White House. I understand that governing involves complicated choices, transactional dealings and prudential judgments. No one ever gets things exactly right, and all who choose to serve deserve our prayers for wisdom. Politics is certainly not a place for the pursuit of utopia and moral perfection; rather, at its best, it is about achieving the best approximation of the public good, about protecting human dignity and advancing, even imperfectly, a more just social order. That is why Christians shouldn’t exile themselves from politics.

But with political involvement come temptations and traps, and it is the responsibility of Christians to act in ways that maintain the integrity of their public witness. And that is why this moment is so troubling. It seems clear to me, and I think to others, that many evangelicals, even unwittingly, are subordinating the Christian faith to partisan loyalties and political power.

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state,” Martin Luther King Jr. said. “It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.” Today, far too many evangelical Christians are tools of the Trump presidency.

To be sure, the people with whom I have differences on this matter often do worthy work in other areas of their lives. But in this area, I believe their words and actions are harming the faith we share.

I’m speaking out at this time because I’m a Christian who places himself in the evangelical tradition and senses that some important lines have been crossed, some significant damage is being done, and some substantial repair work needs to take place. I hope others who share these concerns – who might feel anguished by what they perceive as the abuse of their faith – will take a stand in their own lives and in their own way. We can all be part of a politics of redemption.

Wednesday
Jul192017

Guardian: Six Ways Trump is Dismantling America

From The Guardian

by and 

Business and the economy

Given all that Donald Trump promised the business world during his bombastic campaign it’s tempting to dismiss the president’s first six months with a “meh”. It would also be myopic.

While protesters are worried about the future, the president has so far failed to pass his tax reforms, which business wanted. But at the same time fears that his China rhetoric, threats of trade wars and Tweets about penalties for US businesses who ship jobs overseas, have not amounted to much. 

The economic trends started under Obama have continued: stock markets have continued their giddy ride to uncharted highs, unemployment has continued to drift down and interest rates have remained low. 

Trump’s overture may seem a little weak but the president has already made significant moves and still more may be happening in the wings. 

Trump has ordered a review of Dodd-Frank, the regulations brought in to tame US financial institutions after they triggered the worst recession in living memory. He has appointed a sworn enemy of net neutrality over at the Federal Communications Commission who is now working to dismantle Obama-era open internet protections. He has freed up energy firms to start polluting rivers again and scrapped a rule which barred companies from receiving federal contracts if they had a history of violating wage, labour or safety laws. 

After years of gains for consumer, environmental and worker rights groups, the pendulum is being swung the other way – but most often those changes are happening behind closed doors. 

In March, Trump pledged to “remove every job-killing regulation we can find” and deregulation teams have been set up to comb through the statutes looking for rules to cull. A recent ProPublica and New York Times investigation found Trump’s deregulation teams were being conducted in the dark in large part by appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts of interest.

It’s hardly surprising given that the Trump administration has literallyremoved the White House visitors book, so we may never know who has been whispering in the president’s ear. Six months in, it is hard to tell what is being cut and by whom. We may never know the consequences of Trump’s regulation death squads until it’s too late.  

The environment 

In the past week, both Emmanuel Macron and Sir Richard Branson have claimed that Donald Trump has been gripped by regret over his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement. But hopes that the US president will reverse this decision sit uneasily with the consistency of his administration’s environmental rollbacks.

In Scott Pruitt, Trump has an Environmental Protection Agency chief who understands how the agency works and how to hobble it. Pruitt, who has dismissed the mainstream scientific understanding of climate change, has spearheaded a concerted effort to excise or delay dozens of environmental rules.

Emissions standards for cars and trucks, the clean power plan, water pollution restrictions, a proposed ban on a pesticide linked to developmental problems in children, regulations that stop power plants dumping toxins such as mercury into their surrounds – all have been targeted with efficacious zeal by Pruitt.

The EPA administrator was also a fierce proponent of a US exit from the Paris accord, ensuring that Trump wasn’t swayed by doubts raised by Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, and Ivanka Trump, his daughter and adviser. The US won’t be able to officially pull out until 2020, but the decision has dealt a hefty blow to the effort to slow dangerous global warming and provided a tangible victory for the nationalist, climate change denying elements that now roam the White House.

Elsewhere, public land has been thrown open to coal mining – an industry repeatedly fetishized by Trump – and oil and gas drilling is being ushered into America’s Arctic and Atlantic waters. Two dozen national monuments are under review, several may be shrunk or even eliminated.

Trump is delivering on his crusade to transport the environmental and industrial outlook of the late 19th century to the modern day. Composite: AP, Getty Images & Rex Features

In less than six months, Trump has begun to tear up almost all of the key planks of Barack Obama’s environmental agenda. This blitzkrieg is likely to slow now that it faces a thicket of legal action launched by enraged environmental groups and some states, such as New York. But to Trump’s supporters, the president, who pledged during the campaign to reduce the EPA to “tidbits”, is delivering on his crusade to transport the environmental and industrial outlook of the late 19thcentury to the modern day. Oliver Milman

Immigration

Donald Trump’s bluster over his harsh immigration reform – namely the implementation of a diluted Muslim-targeted travel ban and a crackdown on undocumented immigrants – belies the cost these self-proclaimed victories have had on both the fundamental institutions of democracy and the most vulnerable communities in the United States.

Take the travel ban, which targets refugees and visa applicants from six Muslim majority countries. The president’s first failed order, haphazardly issued in January, provoked scenes of chaos at airports around the country – temporarily separating familiescancelling legitimately issued visas and propelling the country towards a constitutional crisis, before a series of federal courts intervened to block it.

After his second attempt in March was blocked again in the lower courts, the president, seemingly without care for due process or respect for the co-equal branches of government, threatened to simply abolish the federal appeals court he incorrectly identified as responsible for the decision.

Trump’s bullish perseverance on the ban, which has left many in Muslim and refugee communities around the US living in fear, has resulted in a temporary ruling in the supreme court that allows a much diluted version of the order to come into effect. Although the president heralded the decision a victory, the ultimate test comes in autumn when the country’s highest court will ultimately rule on the ban’s constitutionality.

The president has also moved quickly to supercharge efforts to round up and deport undocumented immigrants. By empowering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), the federal agency responsible deportations, to target essentially anyone in the country without legal paperwork, the number of immigration arrests has soared. Although the administration has celebrated this uptick, it has actually been able to deport people at a much slower rate due to the crippling backlog inside America’s immigration courts.

Trump’s attempt at a solution to this has been to create a network of new courts, attached to remote detention centers and far from the reach of immigration attorneys. The strategy, plagued with due process concerns, has enjoyed mixed success. But, once again, it is those most vulnerable – many of whom have lived in America without paperwork for decades and have no criminal history – who have paid the highest price. 

Diplomacy 

First, the good news. Donald Trump has not started a war. He has therefore, so far, avoided the worst case scenario that some predicted for his presidency. One eighth of the way through his term, he does not yet have a stain on his record like George W Bush has with Iraq. Instead his Twitter spats with cable TV hosts and their indulgence by the media are a luxury of peacetime.

 

But in other, important ways, the US president has set about diminishing America’s global leadership role and diplomatic standing. He has emphasised the defence of America and western civilisation and downplayed democracy and human rights. He has warmed to authoritarian leaders in China, the Philippines,Russia and Saudi Arabia while going cold on Britain (still no visit), the European Union and Australia. His attacks on the press send an alarming message to dictators everywhere.

The world has noticed. A major survey of 37 countries by Pew Research last month found that just 22% of respondents had some or a great deal of confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. After his performance at Nato and G7 meetings, German chancellor Angela Merkel said pointedly: “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over. I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.” At the G-20, he cut a lonely, isolated figure.

 

This damage could be undone relatively quickly but the “America first” president’s proposed 30% cut to the state department, where many top staff have left and not been replaced, threatens to be a lasting legacy. Max Bergmann, a former official, wrote in Politico: “The deconstruction of the state department is well underway... This is how diplomacy dies. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. With empty offices on a midweek afternoon.”

The outlier in Trump’s foreign policy came on 6 April, when the US launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at an airfield in Syria in retaliation for the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. It was a move welcomed by hawks and loathed by “anti-globalists” in Trump’s support base. But the most urgent issue, enough to test any US president, is North Korea. There is little evidence so far to suggest he will succeed where others have failed. David Smith

Gender and equality

Trump’s White House has wasted little time erasing many of the changes that advocates for trans rights, reproductive rights and survivors of sexual assault achieved under the Obama administration. 

The Trump team is in the middle of sharply reversing how the federal government enforces laws against gender bias. In February, the administration withdrew the Obama-era guidelines requiring schools to give transgender students unfettered access to bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity. And Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, may restrict the federal government’s ability to intervene when colleges and universities do a questionable job of handling students’ complaints of sexual assault.

Trump is also attempting to dismantle the nation’s public safety net for family planning, with an assist from his party in Congress. The president has signed legislationencouraging states to withhold federal family planning dollars from Planned Parenthood. The latest version of Republican’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act would eliminate the birth control mandate – which is also under fire from Trump’s health department – not to mention maternity coverage requirements

Every repeal attempt has contained a measure to block women on Medicaid from using their insurance at Planned Parenthood – measures that would shutter scores of Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. And the administration is poised to give the green light to states, like Texas, that axe Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs.

The White House also has aims to zero out funding for the government-funded Legal Services Corporation, which is the main source of legal assistance for women attempting to escape domestic violence, when Congress passes a budget this fall.

Finally, there’s US supreme court justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia, who observers say “has all the makings of an extreme anti-abortion justice”. Trump named Gorsuch eleven days into his presidency, fulfilling a longtime campaign promise to nominate justices who will vote to overturn Roe v Wade. 

Criminal justice 

Much of what the federal government can do on criminal justice is left to Congress, since most criminal justice happens at state and local, rather than federal levels. However, Trump’s administration hasn’t spared much time doing what it can to reverse a roughly decades long retreat from the peak of tough-on-crime, mass-incarceration dogma. 

So far, efforts on criminal justice have been much more sizzle than steak, but the prospect of dramatic policy change looms just around the corner. Stuffed in a suite of executive orders signed in February, Trump commissioned a taskforce to make recommendations on combating “the menace of rising crime”, which has been an enduring theme of the administration despite being debunked by experts. That taskforce, which reportedly, and curiously, does not include police chiefs or criminologists is scheduled to make its recommendations on 27 July.

“If you’re going to see anything from the Trump administration proposing new [or longer] mandatory minimums and a general return to the tough on crime tactics, I think you’ll see those recommendations made by the task force,” said Ames Grawert, a criminal justice researcher with the Brennan Center for Justice.

It remains unclear how much support there might be in Congress for taking up such recommendations. As recently as December there was real momentum behind a bipartisan bill to make sentencing less punitive, not more.

In the interim, attorney general Jeff Sessions has instructed federal prosecutors to seek the highest possible penalty in every case, and has championed initiatives to push state cases for federal prosecutors to obtain harsher sentencing. 

In another reversal from the Obama era, Sessions has also signaled that the DoJ will not use its authority to investigate or reform local police departments, even in cases where gross negligence, or rampant civil rights violations may be occurring. Sessions tried, and failed, to pause a consent decree negotiated in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray unrest, and his department has so far flaked-out of a similar effort that was slated for Chicago under the previous administration.

“We will not sign consent decrees for political expediency that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police instead of the criminals,” Sessions wrote in an April 18 op-ed in USA Today. Jamiles Lartey

Wednesday
Jul192017

Poll: Trump Still More Popular Than Hillary Clinton

by /Guardian

Donald Trump is one of the least popular politicians in the history of the United States. Yet, Trump is still more popular than Hillary Clinton. Let that sink in. According to the latest Bloomberg National Poll, Trump has a net favorability of 41% whereas Clinton has a net favorability of 39%. If Democrats are to escape the political wilderness, they will have to leave Clinton and her brand of politics in the woods.

Now, there is no doubt that Clinton has suffered sexist double standards just as Barack Obama encountered racist double standards. Trump labeled her “Crooked Hillary” and his supporters rallied around the chat “Lock her up.” Rich in hypocrisy, Trump has continued to attack Clinton for her emails even though his son has proven to have done much worse. 

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to pin all of Clinton’s unpopularity on sexism and the conspiracies of the extreme right. The Bloomberg poll demonstrates that more than one fifth of Clinton supporters say they now have an unfavorable view of her. Based on follow-up interviews with poll participants, many Clinton voters expressed that their negative feelings were not simply due to her losing but were about the Democratic party’s positioning for the future. 

Even though Clinton has blamed everyone but herself, it is clear that her campaign’s failure to galvanize voter turnout was one of the biggest reasons why Trump won. Her checkered record on progressive policies, bland centrist message and the Democrats’ presumption that Trump’s nomination sealed their victory probably did not help. 

Clinton has largely kept a low profile since the election, occasionally sending Twitter barbs in Trump’s direction. The best case scenario for Democrats is for Clinton – and her family – to stay away. The wise thing for the party to do is to abandon the failed “Third Way” centrist politics that she and her husband have come to exemplify. 

Even so, the Democratic establishment appears to not be learning any lessons. Kamala Harris, the first-term California senator rumored to be a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, recently mingled with top Clinton donors and supporters in the Hamptons. Apparently tying rising talent to the infrastructure of a politician less popular than Trump is the game plan for moving forward. 

Playing mostly defense against Trump and talking a lot about Russia, the Democratic establishment has struggled to develop an alternative message that Americans find attractive. According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, only 37% of the country believes Democrats “stand for something.” Even the new sticker options for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are depressingly shallow. Some of the slogans read: “Make Congress Blue Again” and “I Mean, Have You Seen The Other Guys?” 

Although the establishment comes across as unimaginative and clueless, it is not as if Democrats lack other options. Bernie Sanders has become and remains the most popular politician in the whole country. His bold and progressive populist campaign may have lost out to Clinton in the primaries, but it may reflect a more viable blueprint for the future. The question is whether Clinton loyalists will put aside their purity politics and be pragmatic enough to change the direction of the party. 

Looking across the pond, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party provides another example to learn from. Dismissed by Blairite centrists in his own party, Corbyn not only over-performed in the general election, he rewrote British politics. 

As Matthew Yglesias argued in Vox, Corbyn’s electoral map looks a lot like Clinton’s; not only did he inspire young voters in a similar way to how Sanders did here, Corbyn ran on a bold policy agenda. In an age in which voters are characterized as irrational creatures who don’t vote because of policy, YouGovfound that the top reason supporters backed Labour was because of the party’s social democratic manifesto. 

Democrats have become a tale of two wings. If the Clintonite establishment wing comes across as hopelessly uninspiring, the Berniecrat progressive wing has appeared energetic and full of ideas. Consider the #PeoplesPlatform sponsored this week by Sanders’ Our Revolution alongside other organizations such as Democratic Socialists of America, Women’s March and Fight for 15. This platform – which Americans can sign a petition for – urges Democrats in congress to support bills such as Medicare for All, Free College Tuition, Voting Rights and Criminal Justice and Immigrant Rights. 

Certainly, Democrats might not win all of these progressive measures in congress. But fighting for these measures would not only shift the political terrain, it would attract Americans desperately looking for a positive alternative to the Republicans. 

Clinton did not provide a true alternative to the status quo. Democrats should look elsewhere for a blueprint forward and leave her politics far behind. Remaining attached to her would be political madness. The majority of Americans know it.

Thursday
Jul062017

WP: Duke Student Says S.C. Public Schools Failing

Ehime Ohue, a student from Sumter, S.C., is attending Duke University on a full ROTC scholarship. Here, in a piece she originally wrote for her “Introduction to Human Rights” class, she writes about what she learned about her home state in her first year at college.

“Lake Marion does not prepare you for college!”

I heard this at my high school College Homecoming, an annual event where recent graduates share their college experience.

This failure does not fall solely on my alma mater, Lake Marion High.

The state of South Carolina perpetuates what’s called the “Corridor of Shame,” a string of rural school districts where students receive inferior educational opportunities.

As a rising sophomore at Duke University, I now see what the phrase means. I was educated in one of those districts from Head Start to 12th grade. I know firsthand the issues these students face.

The “Corridor of Shame” consists of 36 school districts along Interstate 95. Overall, South Carolina’s population is 48 percent minority, but students in the corridor are 88 percent minority, mostly African American. There, schools receive resources that fall below state averages.

I noticed deficiencies in many ways. My kindergarten teacher complained that she could not “do this anymore” and quit.

Other teachers lacked training and asked to be moved to non-teaching positions. It’s hard to blame them when most teachers in the corridor are paid $3,000 to $12,000 less than those in nearby districts.

High school was where I really noticed the disparities.

We didn’t have enough math teachers and barely enough working calculators. When the school added the International Baccalaureate program, the first class of students completed the program, but none were awarded the diploma. I enrolled the second year the program was offered, and our math teacher was still undergoing training. When he announced he would not be returning, training had to start again for another teacher.

Two AP classes were announced my senior year, but were scheduled at the same time. We were considered a technology center, but our computers were always down. Many of my peers ended up dropping out or flunking out of college.

And my school is considered one of the best in the region.

As a freshman at Duke University, I feel the effects of the “Corridor of Shame” every day.

Sometimes, it is hard for me to understand material my peers clearly find familiar. Often, I feel inferior. I never agree with other students who say, “Everything we are going over now we basically learned in high school.”

What hurts worse is that most students like me will never attend a school as prestigious as Duke. Some may not get accepted, but others may not even apply, including those who lack confidence because they know they’ve missed out on opportunities and resources.

What can be done to change this shameful situation? It must start with equitable funding across all schools in the state, regardless of income of local districts. Equitable funding would provide more resources, including increased teacher support, early reading and pre-K programs and equipment like functioning calculators and computers.

Efforts are underway to bring about such change: The corridor’s school districts successfully sued the state of South Carolina seeking equitable funding.

Despite victories in court, though, change has been slow to reach the schools themselves.

Businesses also need to invest in schools, since these kids will be the future workers they need. Students who graduate also need support in college. In addition, South Carolina’s public universities should consider waiving tuition for students who succeed in graduating from these schools.

I love my state. Until there is no longer a “Corridor of Shame,” though, I will never be able to think about it without remembering my peers’ lost potential. We don’t need to have those who follow me face the same obstacles I faced on the path to higher education.

Monday
Jun192017

Washington Post: Senate's Secret Unusual Even in Washington

By Sarah Binder for The Washington Post

Directed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a dozen or so Republican senators have spent weeks behind closed doors crafting a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have not held any committee hearings or legislative drafting sessions for the bill, and Democrats are shut out. Even some Republicans complain they’re in the dark about their own party’s bill.

Dealmaking behind closed doors is common in the contemporary Congress. Still, the GOP’s extreme secrecy in hammering out a health-care deal strikes me as different in both degree and kind from past practice. Is this a legitimate approach, and can it succeed?

Why party leaders like secrecy

A generation ago, even before Watergate, Congress and the president enacted a number of “sunshine” reforms so citizens could follow the legislative process far more easily. In particular, Congress in 1970 put in new rules that made it harder for committee chairs to close hearings to the public, put individual lawmakers’ votes on the record immediately for public review and generally adopted more transparent procedures.

But since then, rising ideological and partisan conflict has pushed congressional leaders back toward opacity. Especially in the House, as political scientist James Curry shows in “Legislating in the Dark,” majority party leaders often limit lawmakers’ access to information on the majority’s high-priority measures, such as the economic stimulus bill adopted in 2009 in the immediate wake of the financial crisis. More and more, House leaders have been releasing bills right before they’re called up on the floor to defang opponents and limit defections from their own party. Limiting transparency with procedural sleight of hand, Curry shows, increases the party’s chances of success.

Even on bipartisan measures, House and Senate leaders prefer to manage all the bargaining behind closed doors. With no ideological sweet spot linking the parties, successful deals — such as the bipartisan budget deals in 2013 and 2015 — require “win-win” bargains: Each party gets its top priority and, in exchange, allows the other party to get its top priority. But negotiating win-win deals requires secrecy. If information leaks out about the less popular parts of a deal before the various constituencies hear about the parts they want, the entire negotiation can blow up. Closing the doors lets negotiators knit together an entire agreement before shaking hands. As the negotiators’ adage goes, “Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”

So what’s different about McConnell’s ploy?

Still, McConnell’s tactics on health care stand out from other secret dealmaking.

First, most closed-door bargaining in the Senate is bipartisan. True, Republicans are trying to repeal the ACA under special budget rules that eliminate the need for Democratic votes. Even so, it is highly unusual for the majority party’s senators to be kept in the dark on a top party priority. Even if House leaders often limit information on pending measures, McConnell’s tactics are far out of the norm for the upper chamber.

Second, when leaders close the doors, it’s often because the legislative process has ground to a halt. For example, negotiations over federal discretionary spending often take place in secret — but only after the annual appropriations process falters. But on health care, Senate Republicans went straight to closed-door negotiations among their own factions, without even trying to move the House bill — or their own alternative — through the usual public drafting and amending sessions in committee.

Third, McConnell’s tactics are particularly unusual because Republicans are trying to legislate on one of the nation’s most complicated policy issues. Health care affects one-sixth of the economy and may have life-or-death consequences for many Americans on Obamacare. Usually, issues that demand secret negotiations are must-pass measures about to hit a nonnegotiable deadline, such as failing to raise the debt ceiling or to fund the government on time. When the stakes are high and the consequences of failure broadly considered unacceptable, hiding negotiations from the public is usually easier to justify.

Fourth, it’s true that senators have in the past often resorted to small, bipartisan groups (such as the Gang of Six that struggled over health care in 2009 and the Gang of Eight that struck an immigration deal in 2013) working in secret on controversial policy matters. Even so, bipartisan deals that emerge from these “gangs” are usually then defended in public in committee and on the floor — and McConnell has said he won’t do that in this case.

Will McConnell back down?

McConnell holds his cards very close to his vest. But at this stage, he seems unlikely to back down under public pressure to open up the legislative process.

First, given the extreme unpopularity of the bill that the House passed, sunshine can only hurt GOP efforts to deliver on their promise to their base to repeal and replace Obamacare. A Senate deal could have fewer rough edges than the House bill, but it is still likely to be deeply unpopular.

Second, no matter how intense public or Democratic pressure might be, McConnell doesn’t have to worry about objections from anyone other than fellow Senate Republicans. McConnell can pass any bill so long as he has 50 Republican votes — meaning he can afford to lose no more than two of 52 Republican senators. And so the only thing that can influence him are GOP threats to withhold votes.

Third, keeping a tight lid on negotiations limits interference from President Trump, who reportedly called the House health-care bill — which he himself celebrated in the Rose Garden — “mean.” Less interference gives McConnell a better shot at crafting a bill that’s likely to pass. And for Republicans, that’s what it’s all about.

 

Monday
Jun192017

Trump Cuts Would Undercut Teacher Support, Training

By Julia Mikuta, Via the74

It’s no secret that traditional teacher training and “professional development” can feel far removed from the real world of the classroom. That’s daunting to many who might enter the profession, frustrating to many already there — and ultimately hurtful to students.

So when Louisiana announced that every new teacher in the state would receive a full year of “residency-based” training, modeled on how doctors learn their craft, the question the rest of the country should have asked is, “How do we make that happen here?”

Unfortunately, the Trump administration is moving in precisely the opposite direction, with a plan to zero out the funding for innovations like Louisiana’s. The administration’s budget proposal — which includes the largest cuts to federal education funding in memory — would undercut an essential means by which innovations in teacher training and support are developed and spread.  

Louisiana’s plans for residencies rely on long-term funding from Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which Congress passed in 2015 to replace the No Child Left Behind Act in a rare moment of deep bipartisan accord. Yet Trump has proposed to ax Title II entirely in his budget for 2018. If the effort to quash Title II succeeds, it will squander some of the country’s most promising opportunities to strengthen teaching.

Some of these new models of professional development are being led by school districts where student achievement has been on the rise. DC Public Schools in Washington, for example, recently overhauled its teacher training. 

Instead of large group workshops, teachers meet weekly in teams to master the lessons they need to understand in order to teach students well. The DCPS teachers grapple with complex content — like working to understand what it means to multiply or divide fractions, going much deeper than just plugging numbers into an algorithm — and then practice their lessons with each other. 

By the time they teach students, they have received feedback from peers and have tested out responses to common misunderstandings. As DCPS — like many other districts — is seeking greater value out of the money spent on professional development, it has contracted with the University of Virginia to conduct research on this approach, which district officials will continue only if it improves teaching and learning.

In addition to derailing such fresh approaches to teacher preparation and support, the administration’s proposed cuts would gut promising partnerships between school districts and partners with track records of providing professional development that results in better student outcomes.

For example, the New Teacher Center, in its work with districts around the country, not only improves student learning; its support of new teachers has been shown to improve teacher retention — addressing another critical need in this time of a growing teacher shortage.

Supporting principals is just as essential to creating great schools. New Leader stakes on that challenge in partnership with districts, and its training of school leaders results in gains measured in multiple months of additional learning. Title II support is make-or-break for continuing and expanding such work.

 Concerns about the education budget run far wider than Title II; it’s a mistake broadly to believe we’ll put “America first” by slashing our investment in our children’s future 

And it’s a particular mistake to dismantle federal supports for improving teaching and school leadership – though perhaps a predictable one.

Why predictable? Because Title II has long been a fund for which budget hawks have harbored evidence-based hatred. In the past, states and districts have directed much of the funding toward low-leverage in-service professional development activities. Perhaps not surprisingly, researchers report that the impact of the funds on professional practice and student learning has been “mixed [and] mostly disappointing.” 

If this were 2015, that critique would be pertinent. But much has changed since then. The biggest difference is the new law underlying the funding, which took into account that critique. ESSA responds by encouraging states and districts to think smarter and deeper about what development of teachers and principals might look like – in keeping with the strongest practices of excellent schools and of other professions. Indeed, the law lays out a wide and enticing list of ways the funds can be used to make teaching more appealing and effective.

What that freedom makes possible, crucially, is a runway for desperately needed innovation. After a decade of working to provide philanthropic support for new thinking, I can say with confidence that Title II is essential to taking good ideas about teacher and principal preparation and support to meaningful scale.

And the timing is crucial: Numerous state ESSA plans are reflecting changes in the reach of more thoughtful, more individualized approaches to developing talent in the field. These new efforts represent the best hope in a generation for fresh, newly effective approaches that draw on what’s been learned inside and outside the education field.

Cracking the nut of helping professionals get better faster is simply essential in education. Schools, fundamentally, boil down to what happens among students and the adults who instruct, guide, lead, and care for them. So much of the quality of education depends upon the skills teachers and principals have, and how long it takes for them to develop those skills. Title II is crucial to any meaningful national vision for improvement — an effort with the twin benefits of serving students better and making the teaching profession more attractive. 

Every day, the world our children will inhabit grows more complex, interconnected, and dynamic. Every day, we raise the stakes on what it means to be prepared to succeed. And that means we’re raising the bar on what we ask of the professionals in our schools.

This is not the time to scrap plans to support them better — it’s a time to make good on our promises and spread smart new ideas. At this moment of exceptional promise, let’s invest wisely. 

Julie Mikuta is senior director of education at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. The foundation has made grants to New Leaders, New Teacher Center, the Louisiana Department of Education, and the District of Columbia Public Schools.