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Thursday
Feb182016

The Stakes in S.C. Primary

EDITORIAL: The stakes in South Carolina

Donald Trump is a lot like Barack Obama. Both have moved through the nation's politics under false colors. Mr. Obama promised hope and change, talking as if he understood and cherished the values, customs and culture of America. Once elected, he revealed that he appreciates none of it, and has governed as if he were an…

Tuesday
Feb162016

Win or Lose, Sanders Ushering in New Political Age in U.S.

How can we interpret the incredible success of the “socialist” candidate Bernie Sanders in the US primaries? The Vermont senator is now ahead of Hillary Clinton among Democratic-leaning voters below the age of 50, and it’s only thanks to the older generation that Clinton has managed to stay ahead in the polls.

Because he is facing the Clinton machine, as well as the conservatism of mainstream media, Sanders might not win the race. But it has now been demonstrated that another Sanders – possibly younger and less white – could one day soon win the US presidential elections and change the face of the country. In many respects, we are witnessing the end of the politico-ideological cycle opened by the victory of Ronald Reagan at the 1980 elections.

Let’s glance back for an instant. From the 1930s until the 1970s, the US were at the forefront of an ambitious set of policies aiming to reduce social inequalities. Partly to avoid any resemblance with Old Europe, seen then as extremely unequal and contrary to the American democratic spirit, in the inter-war years the country invented a highly progressive income and estate tax and set up levels of fiscal progressiveness never used on our side of the Atlantic. From 1930 to 1980 – for half a century – the rate for the highest US income (over $1m per year) was on average 82%, with peaks of 91% from the 1940s to 1960s (from Roosevelt to Kennedy), and still as high as 70% during Reagan’s election in 1980.

This policy in no way affected the strong growth of the post-war American economy, doubtless because there is not much point in paying super-managers $10m when $1m will do. The estate tax, which was equally progressive with rates applicable to the largest fortunes in the range of 70% to 80% for decades (the rate has almost never exceeded 30% to 40% in Germany or France), greatly reduced the concentration of American capital, without the destruction and wars which Europe had to face.

A mythical capitalism

In the 1930s, long before European countries followed through, the US also set up a federal minimum wage. In the late 1960s it was worth $10 an hour (in 2016 dollars), by far the highest of its time. 

All this was carried through almost without unemployment, since both the level of productivity and the education system allowed it. This is also the time when the US finally put an end to the undemocratic legal racial discrimination still in place in the south, and launched new social policies.

All this change sparked a muscular opposition, particularly among the financial elites and the reactionary fringe of the white electorate. Humiliated in Vietnam, 1970s America was further concerned that the losers of the second world war (Germany and Japan in the lead) were catching up at top speed. The US also suffered from the oil crisis, inflation and under-indexation of tax schedules. Surfing the waves of all these frustrations, Reagan was elected in 1980 on a program aiming to restore a mythical capitalism said to have existed in the past. 

The culmination of this new program was the tax reform of 1986, which ended half a century of a progressive tax system and lowered the rate applicable to the highest incomes to 28%.

Democrats never truly challenged this choice in the Clinton (1992-2000) and Obama (2008-2016) years, which stabilized the taxation rate at around 40% (two times lower than the average level for the period 1930 to 1980). This triggered an explosion of inequality coupled with incredibly high salaries for those who could get them, as well as a stagnation of revenues for most of America – all of which was accompanied by low growth (at a level still somewhat higher than Europe, mind you, as the old world was mired in other problems).

A progressive agenda

Reagan also decided to freeze the federal minimum wage level, which from 1980 was slowly but surely eroded by inflation (little more than $7 an hour in 2016, against nearly $11 in 1969). Again, this new political-ideological regime was barely mitigated by the Clinton and Obama years. 

Sanders’ success today shows that much of America is tired of rising inequality and these so-called political changes, and intends to revive both a progressive agenda and the American tradition of egalitarianism. Hillary Clinton, who fought to the left of Barack Obama in 2008 on topics such as health insurance, appears today as if she is defending the status quo, just another heiress of the Reagan-Clinton-Obama political regime.

Sanders makes clear he wants to restore progressive taxation and a higher minimum wage ($15 an hour). To this he adds free healthcare and higher education in a country where inequality in access to education has reached unprecedented heights, highlighting a gulf standing between the lives of most Americans, and the soothing meritocratic speeches pronounced by the winners of the system.

Meanwhile, the Republican party sinks into a hyper-nationalist, anti-immigrant and anti-Islam discourse (even though Islam isn’t a great religious force in the country), and a limitless glorification of the fortune amassed by rich white people. The judges appointed under Reagan and Bush have lifted any legal limitation on the influence of private money in politics, which greatly complicates the task of candidates like Sanders. 

However, new forms of political mobilization and crowdfunding can prevail and push America into a new political cycle. We are far from gloomy prophecies about the end of history.

Thomas Piketty is professor of economics at the Paris School of Economics. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Capital in the Twenty-First CenturyThis piece was first published in Le Monde on 14 Febrary 2016

Sunday
Feb142016

What Happened at S.C. GOP Debate?

By Jeb Lund/The Guardian

What the hell happened on Saturday night?

The umpteenth (or penultiumpteenth) Republican Debate was an ecstasy of noise in which everything was indistinguishable. We are long past you-can’t-do-that-on-television. We are long past manufactured controversy. We are fully into clown slapfight.

You should be forgiven if you can remember almost nothing of this evening, or if you do but cannot make heads or tails of your own memories. 

If Jack Donaghy were real, he’d brand Saturday’s debate the Third Kind of Noise: the first two kinds of noise are meant to turn your brain off, and the third is uncategorizable by a rational mind.

First, the white noise of coddling campaign nonsense would have slipped out of your mind as insubstantially as it entered, be it Ben Carson’s encomia about the constitution, or John Kasich’s performative appeals to political civility that were all about maintaining a brand. Even the Marco Machine whirring up into speech at the speed of an auctioneer would not have made an impression, because there’s no longer any sense in pretending that he’s thinking on his feet with greater authenticity than a Xerox machine with legs. 

Second, the repetitive (and often manufactured) controversies are also meant to denude your brain – to get you to a point where angry static is as soothing as the tide. And there were a lot of repetitive arguments that would’ve washed over viewers like so many peaceful waves, between Trump defending his use of eminent domain, Kasich defending Ohio’s Medicaid expansion and Cruz and Rubio battering each other on amnesty. The policies themselves don’t matter as much as the Sturm und Drang: either you are finally convinced that the other guy is a cretin after your guy has yelled enough, or you just stop caring about all the loud men yelling and no longer run the risk of suspecting that your guy might be a cretin, too. 

But this debate veered fully into absurdity somewhere around the third time that Donald Trump told the actual truth about things that actually happened in actual history and was booed by the audience for his trouble. After stating that the Bush administration lied to the American people in order to drum up support for the war in Iraq, failed to keep us safe on 9/11 and passed up opportunities to assassinate bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks, the sheer mutual antagonism between the candidates and a furious audience caused something between Trump and Bush to come thoroughly unglued. Then, they simply began arguing like two people with mutual antipathy towards one another rather than politicians.

From there, the madness spread through the debate: a great circle of abuse spun around fast enough to fling all sense away. Rubio hates Cruz who hates Trump who hates Bush who hates Trump who hates Cruz who hates Rubio.

The crosstalk overwhelmed all comers and CBS moderator John Dickerson lost all control (apart from Carson and Kasich, whose brand-management plans forbade them from joining in). Eventually Dickerson asked Carson a question just to silence the bickering, forcing the candidates to stand there with the pained/patient expressions that adults have at weddings when the ring bearers give a reading as Carson slowly answered.

In any other circumstance outside of a reality TV show, this debate would be considered a catastrophe for all involved. It was stupid; every last one of those men should go home and be berated by someone they love.

That said, the most depressing of all possible acknowledgements is that it probably doesn’t matter what a mess this was. 

Donald Trump has made his political bones so far by being a bully and a liar. Ted Cruz is a bully and a liar. Jeb Bush is petty and a liar, but he lies with establishment gentility, so we should say that he prevaricates. Marco Rubio is whatever punchcard of antagonistic hogwash was fed into his slot from his days as a Florida political protege. Ben Carson, well ... Let’s not wake him. He looks so peaceful.

This fiasco of a debate won’t change a thing about how these candidates act, and deciding not to cast a vote for this behavior would mean resigning from the current Republican Party, unless you want to vote for Kasich or feel like sending Ben Carson to live in a city paved with constitutions.

It’s hard to tell which is sadder: that millions of people are stuck with these jerks; or that millions of people want to be. Even wrestling with the question for a few seconds makes you want to tune it all out – and, one assumes, plenty of voters already have.

Friday
Jan292016

Six Responses to Bernie Sanders Skeptics

Six Responses to Bernie Skeptics:

By Robert Reich (see Video at His Site)

1. “He’d never beat Trump or Cruz in a general election.”

Wrong. According to the latest polls, Bernie is the strongest Democratic candidate in the general election, defeating both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in hypothetical matchups. (The latest RealClear Politics averages of all polls shows Bernie beating Trump by a larger margin than Hillary beats Trump, and Bernie beating Cruz while Hillary loses to Cruz.) 

2. “He couldn’t get any of his ideas implemented because Congress would reject them.”

If both house of Congress remain in Republican hands, no Democrat will be able to get much legislation through Congress, and will have to rely instead on executive orders and regulations. But there’s a higher likelihood of kicking Republicans out if Bernie’s “political revolution” continues to surge around America, bringing with it millions of young people and other voters, and keeping them politically engaged. 

3. “America would never elect a socialist.” 

P-l-e-a-s-e. America’s most successful and beloved government programs are social insurance – Social Security and Medicare. A highway is a shared social expenditure, as is the military and public parks and schools. The problem is we now have excessive socialism for the rich (bailouts of Wall Street, subsidies for Big Ag and Big Pharma, monopolization by cable companies and giant health insurers, giant tax-deductible CEO pay packages) – all of which Bernie wants to end or prevent. 

4. “His single-payer healthcare proposal would cost so much it would require raising taxes on the middle class.”

This is a duplicitous argument. Single-payer systems in other rich nations have proven cheaper than private for-profit health insurers because they don’t spend huge sums on advertising, marketing, executive pay, and billing. So even if the Sanders single-payer plan did require some higher taxes, Americans would come out way ahead because they’d save far more than that on health insurance.

5. “His plan for paying for college with a tax on Wall Street trades would mean colleges would run by government rules.

Baloney. Three-quarters of college students today already attend public universities financed largely by state governments, and they’re not run by government rules. The real problem is too many young people still can’t afford a college education. The move toward free public higher education that began in the 1950s with the G.I. Bill and extended into the 1960s came to an abrupt stop in the 1980s. We must restart it. 

6. “He’s too old.”

Untrue. He’s in great health. Have you seen how agile and forceful he is as he campaigns around the country? These days, 70s are the new 60s. (He’s younger than four of the nine Supreme Court justices.) In any event, the issue isn’t age; it’s having the right values. FDR was paralyzed.” In any event, the issue isn’t age; it’s having the right values. was paralyzed, and JFK had Addison’s Crohn’s diseases, but they were great presidents because they fought adamantly for social and economic justice.

Sunday
Dec272015

Pay Attention to Who Wins S.C. Primary

By George F. Will

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Sen. Tim Scott, who evidently has not received the memo explaining that politics is a grim business, laughs easily, as when, during lunch in this city’s humming downtown, he explains that South Carolina is benefiting from “halfbacks.” These are migrants who moved from Northern states to Florida in search of warmth but, finding high prices and congestion, then moved halfway back, settling in South Carolina. Doing so, they have located in the state where history suggests that the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will begin to come to closure.

Since picking Ronald Reagan over John Connally and George H.W. Bush in 1980, South Carolina’s Republican primary electorate has sided with the eventual nominee every four years, with the exception of 2012, when Newt Gingrich from neighboring Georgia was rewarded for denouncing as “despicable” a journalist’s question during a debate here. This year, South Carolina votes just 10 days before the selection of convention delegates accelerates with the March 1 “SEC primary,” so named because five of the 12 primaries that day are in Southern states represented in that football conference.

The Human Snarl, aka Donald Trump, is leading polls here, where South Carolinians share the national consensus that, in Mr. Scott’s mild words, “however it is today is not the way it should be.” But it remains to be seen whether Republicans will vote for Mr. Trump while so warmly embracing the senator who is his stylistic antithesis. Mr. Scott is “an unbridled optimist” (his description) who thinks Republican chances in 2016 depend on whether their nominee is an “aspirational leader” or someone “selling fear.”

Mr. Scott’s un-Trumpian demeanor is both a cause and an effect of his popularity: He was elected with 61 percent of the vote in 2014 to complete the term of a senator who resigned. Which is why 13 of the GOP presidential candidates have eagerly accepted his invitations to hold town meetings with him.

He took Ohio Gov. John Kasich to Hilton Head because it has so many Ohioans, some of them halfbacks. All the candidates covet Mr. Scott’s endorsement, which could be a choice between two of Mr. Scott’s Senate colleagues, Florida’s Marco Rubio and Texas’ Ted Cruz. If, he says, South Carolinians choose well — “not sending independents fleeing in the opposite direction” — America will be en route to a Republican presidency.

Mr. Scott, 50, became a congressman by defeating in a Republican primary the son of Strom Thurmond, the Dixiecrat presidential candidate in 1948 and then eight-term U.S. senator. In 2013, Mr. Scott became the second African-American Republican senator since Reconstruction, and today he and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker are the Senate’s only African-Americans.

Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington says that among the four states that vote in February (the others are Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada), South Carolina’s electorate “best mirrors the nation’s.”

At National Review Online, Mr. Olsen wrote that the state’s primary electorate closely reflects the national balance among the GOP’s four factions — “moderates and liberals” (32 percent), “somewhat conservatives” (32 percent), “very conservative evangelicals” (28 percent) and “very conservative seculars” (6 percent). Iowa, says Mr. Olsen, favors candidates who are very religious and conservative, New Hampshire favors moderates, Nevada favors conservative seculars. Here, however, a dominant cohort is that which Mr. Olsen calls the national party’s “ballast” — the “somewhat conservatives.”

When South Carolina’s 1980 primary voters chose Ronald Reagan, the huge Boeing and Mercedes plants in North Charleston and the BMW plant in Spartanburg were still in its future. As were the halfbacks, who are another reason South Carolina no longer has stereotypical Deep South demographics.

And why whichever Republican wins here will have done so in the first 2016 contest that approximates the electorates of the swing states that will determine the 45th president. This fact must be deeply satisfying to Mr. Scott, who was born 44 days after enactment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that made all of this possible.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post(georgewill@washpost.com).

Sunday
Dec062015

George Will Says S.C. a Predictive State on Elections

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Sen. Tim Scott laughs easily and often, as when, during lunch in this city’s humming downtown, he explains that South Carolina’s Lowcountry is benefiting from what are called “halfbacks.” These are migrants who moved from Northern states to Florida in search of warmth but, finding high prices and congestion, then moved halfway back, settling in South Carolina. Doing so, they located in the state where, Scott believes, the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will begin to come to closure.

Since picking Ronald Reagan over John Connally and George H.W. Bush in 1980, South Carolina’s Republican primary electorate has sided with the eventual nominee every four years, with the exception of 2012. This year, South Carolina votes 10 days before the selection of convention delegates accelerates with the March 1 “SEC primary,” so-named because five of the 12 primaries that day are in Southern states represented in that football conference.

Donald Trump is leading polls here, where South Carolinians share the national consensus that, in Scott’s mild words, “however it is today is not the way it should be.”

It remains to be seen whether Republicans will vote for Trump while so warmly embracing the senator who is his stylistic antithesis.

Scott thinks Republican chances in 2016 depend on whether the nominee is an “aspirational leader” or someone “selling fear.”

Scott was elected with 61 percent of the vote in 2014 to complete the term of a senator who resigned. Which is why 13 of the Republican presidential candidates have accepted invitations to hold town meetings with him. All the candidates covet Scott’s endorsement, which will happen only if, as the Feb. 20 vote draws near, polls show a close race.

This could be a choice between two of Scott’s Senate colleagues, Florida’s Marco Rubio and Texas’ Ted Cruz. If, he says, South Carolinians choose well, America will be en route to a Republican presidency.

Scott, 50, became a congressman by defeating in a Republican primary the son of Strom Thurmond, the Dixiecrat presidential candidate in 1948 and then eight-term U.S. senator. Scott is the second African-American Republican senator since Reconstruction, and today he and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker are the Senate’s only African-Americans.

Henry Olsen, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, says among the four states that vote in February, South Carolina’s electorate “best mirrors the nation’s.”

Writing for National Review Online, Olsen says the state’s primary electorate closely reflects the national balance among the GOP’s four factions — “moderates and liberals” (32 percent), “somewhat conservatives” (32 percent), “very conservative evangelicals” (28 percent) and “very conservative seculars” (6 percent).

Iowa, says Olsen, favors candidates who are religious and conservative, New Hampshire favors moderates, Nevada favors conservative seculars. Here, however, a dominant cohort is that which Olsen calls the national party’s “ballast” — the “somewhat conservatives.”

South Carolina’s primary will be as distant from the state’s 1980 primary that chose Reagan as Reagan’s first presidential victory later that year was from Franklin Roosevelt’s last victory in 1944.

When South Carolina voted in 1980, the Boeing plant in North Charleston, the Mercedes plant in North Charleston and the BMW plant in Spartanburg were still in its future. As were the halfbacks who are another reason South Carolina no longer has stereotypical Deep South demographics.

Whichever Republican wins here will have done so in the first 2016 contest that approximates the electorates of the swing states that will determine the 45th president. This must be deeply satisfying to Nikki Haley, 43, South Carolina’s Indian-American governor, and to Scott, who was born 44 days after enactment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that made all of this possible.

Friday
Nov062015

Who is Left Who Can Still Be President?

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

I have been following and/or covering politics for more than 40 years and cannot recall any presidential candidates with thinner skin than Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Grown men answer questions with honest integrity. They do not attack those asking questions. We  need more adults who want to be president. Don't these guys realize difficult, probing questions are part of being the chief executive? 

On the other side of the aisle, Hillary is the most closed off, paranoid candidate perhaps ever. She makes Nixon seem downright open. She thinks she can build a wall that no one has the right to scale, and since she's had a secret service agent assigned to her for a quarter century, she thinks bodyguards and roping off media areas are just normal ways of life. While I don't think Carson or Trump will survive the process and get the nomination, I think Hillary likely will, and unless the GOP finds a less extreme, fragmented strategy, she's more than likely to get elected. 

I had greater hopes for the political process in this country until the polarization of the past couple of decades, where posturing and yelling up front have replaced working out what is best for the country behind closed doors. The GOP invokes the name of Reagan, but he would be unelectable today. His charisma would be overshadowed by stories of his days as president of a union, his divorce and whether or not he colored his hair. Reagan understood the idea of having a short list of priorities and spent much of his two terms working out deals out of the spotlight of the press, behind closed doors, with Speaker Tip O’Neil. Today’s GOP would brand him as too willing to compromise, too friendly with the Democrats.

The last GOP presidential candidate who seemed to understand this was Bob Dole and the party neutered his strengths with a horrible campaign.  

On the on side of the aisle, the Democrats have volleyed the angry extremist elements of the GOP back over the net with little more policy talk than “we’re not like the crazy Republicans.” This has given them the White House 16 of the last 24 years, while Congress has flipped and flopped on who held the majority. 

Sure, there are a few issues  - abortion, gun control, health care, taxation - which separate their rhetoric. But even on these issues, few seem able or willing to offer specific details or plans on how they would make progress toward solving these problems. There was a day not so long ago when every candidate would release hundreds of pages of position papers explaining where they stood on the issues of the day.

Today, these documents are replaced with yard signs, bumper stickers, and, if you we are fortunate, a two-sided panel card with bullet-pointed lists of why the candidate is a great American.

Has 2016 brought the worst group of presidential hopefuls ever? As a class, yes. There may not be a Henry Wallace, Strom Thurmond or Aaron Burr among the group, but as a lot this roster brings more “I don’t really like any of them, but…” than any in history.

A few raise questions of why they are burning money on a presidential run. Does anyone not related to Martin O’Malley think he has any chance at the Democratic nomination? Even if Hillary is indicted and is forced to drop out, the O’Malley would still not be seen as a legitimate option.

Bernie Sanders has captured the imagination of even more voters than Barack Obama and has raised more money from more small donations than anyone in history. Despite this, his insistence on harping on the term socialist and his approach will keep him from getting the nomination. Even when presenting a compelling message, Sanders drifts into lecturing and though he is pushing Hillary to the left, Bernie leans too far that way without apology to get the nomination. 

Meanwhile the Clinton machine has Hillary on a fast track to be the Democrats presidential offering for 2016. The hint of making Julian Castro, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, her running mate, has brought even more energy to her campaign.  

It seems increasingly unlikely she will be indicted on the email controversy, which leaves the question of who will be her opponent 

Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, George Pataki Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, even Carly Fiorina quite simply will never be president. Why anyone is still donating money to any of these campaigns is a real mystery. 

This leaves Donald Trump, Ben Carson, John Kasich, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. As I have already said, Trump and Carson will likely fade after some early successes. Carson leads in Iowa? Pat Robertson won Iowa. Trump wins the New Hampshire primary? Harold Stassen also won in New Hampshire. 

There are 54 more primaries and caucuses to follow. If Rubio can survive the questions of personal finances, pairing him and Kasich offers the GOP their best shot at defeated Hillary Clinton because it could give them victories in the key states of Florida and Ohio. Cruz might step in for Rubio in the same strategy, should Rubio stumble. 

Bush’s best chance at a nomination is the fact the GOP is experiencing something new in this cycle, millionaire/billionaire supporters who can keep candidates running no matter their showing in primaries, caucuses and polls. It is because of this Jeb Bush can stay in the race until the convention, even if he continues to post poor showings.

Bush hopes probably land on the chance of a brokered convention, which the nation has not seen since 1952. If no clear candidate emerges after the campaign season, the choice goes to the convention, where Bush might garner enough support based largely on his ability to have survived the run with enough mainstream GOP support and money left over to run in the general elections. 

Finally, will the candidates please stop whining about debate formats and questions?

If you are not fast enough on your feet to deal with even the worst the media throws at you, thou are not fit to be President of the United States.

Grow up, candidates, and remember you are asking voters to make you leader of the free world.    If you cannot handle questions of newsreaders on television, why would we trust you to handle being president?

Saturday
Oct242015

Study: Standardized Testing Overwhelming Public Schools

By Lyndsey Layton/Washington Post

The number of standardized tests U.S. public school students take has exploded in the past decade, with most schools requiring too many tests of dubious value, according to the first comprehensive survey of the nation’s largest school districts.

A typical student takes 112 mandated standardized tests between pre-kindergarten classes and 12th grade, a new Council of the Great City Schools study found. By contrast, most countries that outperform the U.S. on international exams test students three times during their school careers.

The heaviest testing load falls on the nation’s eighth-graders, who spend an average of 25.3 hours during the school year taking standardized tests, uniform exams required of all students in a particular grade or course of study. Testing affects even the youngest students, with the average pre-K class giving 4.1 standardized tests, the report found.

The study analyzed tests given in 66 urban districts in the 2014-2015 school year. It did not count quizzes or tests created by classroom teachers, and it did not address the amount of time schools devote to test preparation.

It portrays a chock-a-block jumble, where tests have been layered upon tests under mandates from Congress, the U.S. Department of Education and state and local governments, many of which the study argues have questionable value to teachers and students. Testing companies that aggressively market new exams also share the blame, the study said.

“Everyone is culpable here,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. “You’ve got multiple actors requiring, urging and encouraging a variety of tests for very different reasons that don’t necessarily add up to a clear picture of how our kids are doing. The result is an assessment system that’s not very intelligent and not coherent.”

Ahead of the study’s release, the U.S. Department of Education offered a mea culpa of sorts, issuing a 10-page guidance document to states and local districts that spells out ways to reduce redundant and low-quality testing. The department pledged to make money and staff available to help and promised to amend some of its policies.

“At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

The council’s report adds fuel to the national debate about testing that has spurred various “opt out” movements among parents and students and has put growing political pressure on Congress and state legislatures to cut back.

In one of the most notable attempts to reduce testing, Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho earlier this year cut the number of district-created end-of-course exams from 300 to 10 and eliminated them entirely for elementary schools.

“I believe in accountability,” said Carvalho, who runs the country’s fourth-largest school district. “But fewer assessments of higher quality are better. . . .What we have now across the country is confusing, hard to navigate and, I believe, abusive of both teacher and student time.”

California eliminated its high school graduation test three weeks ago, joining Minnesota, Mississippi, Alaska, Rhode Island and South Carolina. Virginia has reduced its number of state-level tests, and Montgomery County, Md., last month put an end to its high school final exams.

Standardized testing has caused intense debate on Capitol Hill as lawmakers work to craft a replacement for No Child Left Behind. Testing critics tried unsuccessfully to erase the federal requirement that schools test in math and reading. Civil rights advocates pushed back, arguing that tests are an important safeguard for struggling students because publicly reported test scores illuminate the achievement gap between historically underserved students and their more affluent peers.

But even testing supporters agree about an overload.

“For those of us who support annual assessments, it doesn’t mean we support this craziness,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, an advocacy group focused on reducing the achievement gap. “There’s a clear problem here.”

Testing tends to be concentrated between February and May. The council’s study found numerous examples of redundant tests, with students often taking an end-of-course test, an Advanced Placement test and a final exam for the same course.

In 40 percent of districts surveyed, test results aren’t available until the following school year, making them useless for teachers who want to use results to help guide their work in the classroom, Casserly said.

Jeffrey Cipriani teaches second grade at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Boston. Even though his students are not in a grade that is required by federal law to be tested, the Boston Public Schools has him administer reading tests to his students three times a year. Because the tests are individual and can be as long as 90 minutes, it takes Cipriani about three weeks to test the whole class.

“It’s a colossal amount of time,” he said. “I probably spend about 60 hours not teaching reading but just sort of giving those assessments. They’re valuable but not that valuable.”

The study found no correlation between the amount of testing in a district and the way its students perform on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a federal test given every two years that is the only consistent measure of student achievement across state lines.

“We can’t assess our way to academic excellence,” said Carvalho, of the Miami-Dade school system.

While public schools have been administering standardized tests for generations, the current buildup began after Congress passed No Child Left Behind in 2001 and required states to test all students in math and reading annually from third grade through eighth grade, and once in high school.

States that failed to make academic progress faced a series of consequences. States and districts responded by adding new tests during the school year to ensure students were on track.

“You prepare for the test to prepare for the test to prepare for the test,” said Robert Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit organization critical of standardized testing.

And, the study found, Obama administration policies have escalated the issue.

To win a grant under the competitive Race to the Top program, or to receive a waiver from No Child Left Behind, states had to evaluate teachers based in part on student test scores. Since federal law only required standardized tests in math and reading in certain grades, states added tests in social studies, science, languages — even physical education — to have scores they could use to evaluate teachers.

“Many of the appalling things reported on here are the direct result of the way the federal government has approached this,” said Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy. “The accountability system is what’s driving this and it’s fundamentally flawed.”

In its new guidance to states, the U.S. Department of Education tries to soften its emphasis on using test scores to evaluate teachers and urges states and local districts to cut down on redundant and low-quality tests.

The agency also pledged to work with states to amend waivers they’ve received under No Child Left Behind “to reduce testing in grades and subjects that are not subject to federal testing requirements and/or find alternative ways” to judge student achievement and use that to evaluate teachers.

“The time is now to take some new and meaningful steps to help schools deal with testing where it is unnecessary,” said John King, who is slated to succeed Duncan in January. “This is something the president and I have talked about, and it will be a key priority for me in our work with states and districts over the next 14 months.”

Friday
Oct162015

Is it Time to End Tipping in Restaurants?

Adam Gopnik/The New Yorker

The news this week that Danny Meyer will eliminate tipping in his restaurants shook up—or, at least, made slightly tremble, like a good panna cotta—people who like to eat out in New York. Although arguments for the abolition of tipping have been around for a while, and Meyer is not even the first to enforce the policy here, the prestige of his mark and chain makes his choice seem less idiosyncratic than pace-setting. Where Meyer goes, many follow, and it seems entirely probable that within a decade or so there will be no tip-line left on any New York restaurant check.

The underlying logic behind Meyer’s decision is, as is usually the case with innovation, more complicated than it might seem. It’s not simply the servile inequity and unfairness of the tip practice that Meyer objects to—the familiar ritual that leaves some poor twenty-somethings so at the mercy of a table full of inebriated arbitrageurs that she feels ready to take the bus back to Oberlin. It is also that eliminating tipping while slightly raising prices is actually a way of balancing the earnings of the front of the house and the back of the house. Meyer told the Times that, in the course of his three decades in the restaurant business, “kitchen income has gone up no more than 25 percent,” while “dining room pay has gone up 200 percent.” All the big tippers buying overpriced Bordeaux and giving the waiter twenty per cent, in other words, is of no help to the kid in the kitchen chopping onions for (relative) pennies. Putting everybody on a wage basis may just help to even things out.

The purely moral arguments for the abolition of tipping have been around for a while now, and they are impressive. There is something corrupting in the habit of having to wheedle money out of people as a favor, rather than a professional obligation, and though it may give the giver some sense of self-importance, that sense is surely not worth the degradation to the one who gets. Even the best diner devolves into a relationship with the to-be-tipped server like that of a tourist with the locals on a resort island, which isn’t healthy for anyone. Undemocratic, unjust, and, worst of all, encouraging of fake, stagy servility—all the odder that tipping has held on here longer than it has anywhere else in the Western world. (Or maybe not so odd, since Americans also stay busy singing about the long summer vacations they don’t have and the White Christmases they never see, pretending that our reality is other than it is being one of the most—or, actually, least—fetching things about us.)

Tipping was long ago abolished in France, where, by law, a gratuity is added automatically to the bill. Service compris is the motto at the end of every menu, meaning literally “service understood” or, closer, “service included.” Certainly, the abolition of direct tipping there has had a minimal effect on the quality of service, which is the ostensible reason for having tipping in the first place—direct payment for politesse, varying with the amount. The surly and irascible men and women servers remain surly and irascible, the pleasant ones pleasant, and the special handful who genuinely enjoy the company of new people in a convivial setting—rare, but they do exist—beam as they would in any case. Temperament is a far more powerful maker of men, and waiters, than even the promise of tips.

Yet the abolition of tipping in France recalls a truth that pertains to the abolition or prohibition of anything: the activity just gets forced into a marshier, twilight area of exchange. Though the service is included in France, and many French people never add anything at all to their bill, it is regarded as good behavior, especially in a familiar or favorite place, to add a little something extra at the end—perhaps five per cent. To further complicate things, Americans visiting France often do add a lot more extra than that, from domestic habit (along with some lingering, dated G.I. sense that Americans are expected to be generous), so that when an American adds nothing at all, in an attempt to seem European, he is likely to hear a slight or even loud grumble from the waiter, who has come to depend upon the American instinct to tip. The American’s attempt to seem sophisticated is thus taken by the waiter as a mark of irredeemable American gaucherie. So the abolition of tipping, far from simply abolishing a servile practice, tips the whole table over into an ever-more subtle and complicated and embarrassing emotional, and transnational, transaction. (Will tipping, one wonders, be truly abolished at Meyer’s joints or merely unnecessary? They are different things. If the servers at his places are under strict orders to return any little pourboire offered for extra helpful service—as is the rule at, say, Whole Foods Market, where a fishmonger who has sweetly pried out the pin bones in your kid’s salmon isn’t allowed to take a few extra dollars for the effort—then the economy has indeed altered. If Meyer’s waiters can still, in extremis, take cash as special thanks for exceptional service…. Well, then we are back in the old arena, and in more complicated ways.)

 

With the end of tipping in New York, though, we will lose as well any number of diverting social habits and prejudices. I had a friend who used to insist at the end of his meals that he would gladly pay a twenty-five-per-cent gratuity if the server swore solemnly that none of it would go toward subsidizing an acting teacher, especially a Method acting teacher. (Apparently, the other kind of acting teacher, who taught dialects and sword fights, were fine with him.) And while all such generalizations should be shunned—and then immediately repeated, for effect—the end of tipping will put an end to the endlessly repeated rumor and libel that women in restaurants tip less generously than men. It is certainly true that some women—they just happen to be one(s) I know—don’t tip adequately: a close female friend of mine, in response to the pleading imprecation offered when she flashes her credit card, responds that women are not really undertippers but seem that way simply in contrast to the male habit of overtipping for an ostentatious—and, obviously, absurdly fleeting—show of big spending.

Presumably, the real drawback to the approaching end of tipping is that you can no longer undertip for poor service. But when has anyone actually done this? You are more likely to overtip a surly waiter to placate him, or her. (The woman in question sighs.) Orson Welles once told a story of his idealized father burning up a hundred-dollar bill in a glass while a disobliging waiter watched, saying “That would have been yours!”—making it plain that the elder Welles was not cheap, merely demanding. The loss of this role of the Big Spender, and also of the Burning Judge, is doubtless well lost, but lost it is. (Although, come to think of it, “Hey, Big Spender!” the Leigh-Coleman classic, is a song addressed to a pathetic loser.)

Power relationships between the servile and the condescending are always less healthy than professional relations between the active and the appreciative. But, human beings being what they are, a certain nostalgia for the old relation, the material of so much great comedy, will linger—the greatness of Bertie and Jeeves is exactly that the servile one condescends with such skill that the condescending one becomes servile. The end of tipping means one more irrational thing rationalized, one more odd little ritual lost. Since such rituals are often the traces of oppression, they are, on the whole, well lost. But since they were also things handed on, as rites of passage, they had their joys. Waiting tables is hard work, mostly undignified—and yet pseudo-servility in exchange for real money does not seem the ugliest of human transactions, and it had, at least, the virtue of extending an ancient and complicated masquerade. One thinks right now of that greatest of all New York restaurant scenes in the movies, the one in Chaplin’s “The Immigrant,” where Charlie squares off with the formidable Eric Campbell as the waiter. What a matchless sense of triumph Chaplin achieves when, having lost his quarter—having imagined, for a reel, that he would have to fight his way out of the café—he can, thanks to a last-minute rescue by the beautiful Edna Purviance, finally, benevolently, patronizingly tip the irascible Eric. The ethics and poetry of service should doubtless always be included. But can they ever be entirely understood?

Monday
Sep072015

Clemson Football, Islam and Cecil the Lion

By Perry Noble

Political correctness strikes again — but this time in multiple places.

 Dabo Swinney, head coach of Clemson, declares himself a "twitter quitter" and bans his players from the use of twitter during the season.

In response to this, Deadspin issued this article criticizing the policy, saying it was wrong.

ESPN also wrote this article calling attention to the ban that raised a few eyebrows.

And Darren Rovell, an ESPN sports business reporter had the following to say about the social media ban: "Clemson football players banned from social media. Another institution teaching kids about the future by putting duct tape over their mouths."

It seems the sports world wants people to use twitter … until …

Curt Schilling, one of the all time baseball greats and a commentator for ESPN was recently suspended … for something he said via TWITTER. (Here is the story.)

What was his tweet?

It was a meme with the Nazi dictator Hitler on it that read, "The math is staggering when you get to true #'s. It's said only 5-10% of Muslims are extremists. In 1940 only 7% of Germans were Nazi's. How'd that go?"

The tweet was later taken down, Schilling suspended and was forced to issue an apology.

Uh … anyone see a problem here?

Apparently you should not put duct tape over someone's mouth unless they are saying something that may be politically incorrect, in which case their freedom of speech should be taken from them because it may offend someone.

My goal is not to start a holy war here … but what Schilling said is true. (No one seems to be bringing any attention to that!) There are record numbers of extreme terrorist attacks happening all over the world, and the one thing all of them have in common is the attackers are radical Muslim extremists — yet the media and some politicians believe if we do not say anything that these things might just stop happening.

Neville Chamberlain learned the hard way — and if the world doesn't wake up history will be repeated.

Let me be very clear. I do not hate Muslims at all. I've spent time with Muslims, listened to their stories, shared Christ with them. However, a very important fact is always overlooked when it comes to dealing with Islam — the more radicalized a Muslim becomes the more violent they will be as well.

This breaks my heart because at the end of the day, they are doing these things ultimately because they want the assurance that they can have peace with God — which is why I am more convinced than EVER that the GOSPEL is so necessary in our world.

However, I am afraid if we continue to go down the path we are on, with political correctness dictating what we say rather than the truth, our world is going to be a pretty horrible place to live.

As I've said before — political correctness has changed our language, but it has changed no one's heart.

Another example would be Cecil the Lion's death.

Several weeks ago I kept hearing about Cecil getting killed. I am serious when I tell you I thought it was some famous actor or musician I was unaware of, until I found out that Cecil was a lion!

The world went crazy!

There were people calling for justice over a lion in Zimbabwe that had been killed.

The man who killed Cecil (a hunter who paid $50,000 to go on a guided Safari) was the target of hateful speech, accusations and some even went as far as to call for him to be extradited to Zimbabwe for prosecution.

Over a lion!

Pause — a lion is an apex predator. They kill things. If you and Cecil were in a room and Cecil would have been hungry you would have been a snack — period.

However, it seemed "politically correct" to jump on the Cecil bandwagon and make a big deal about animal rights.

However, in all of this the REAL problem in Zimbabwe was ignored.

As of 2012 — CNN estimates that around 72% of people in Zimbabwe live below the poverty line. As of 2014 — GDP per capita was around $2,000. There are legitimate humanitarian needs in Zimbabwe, yet political correctness allows people to ignore what is important and instead focus on the trends of the day.

Sadly enough, the August 25 edition of the NY Times had an article in it about Quinn Swales, a resident of Zimbabwe and a safari guide losing his life.

How did he die?

He was mauled by a lion in the same animal park where Cecil had lived.

I waited …

There was hardly ANY press about this at all.

No social media outrage.

No late night talk show hosts offering tearful eulogies over Mr. Swales death.

Why?

It's quite simple — it just wasn't the politically correct thing to do.

My main reason for writing this article is simply to express a serious concern about the muzzle being placed on those who do not share politically correct views.

Tolerance no longer means we can agree to disagree — but rather you must agree with me on everything or I will label you with the word "hate."

I am concerned for the world we live in, but more specifically I am concerned for the Church.

Political correctness says we cannot take a stand for traditional marriage.

Political correctness says we cannot say that adoption is a better option than aborting.

And political correctness, I believe, will soon begin to declare that a person or church can no longer say that Jesus Christ is the ONLY way for a person to be saved.

What is the solution?

I believe there are two things:

#1 — Prayer — The Church today prays for safety, the early Church prayed for boldness. (See Acts 4:31).

We need to pray that Jesus will allow us to see people as He sees them.

But we also must pray that we may be able to speak truth in love — choosing to do what is right over what is easy.

#2 — Participation — Followers of Jesus MUST not be afraid to participate in the conversations that are going on in the world today.

We must participate with compassion.

We must participate with humility.

We must participate with gentleness.

But, for the love of God — this is NOT the time to go silent.

The world has never needed "good news" more than it needs it right now. And as followers of Christ we should not view this turning of the tide in our country as opposition but rather an opportunity to step into conversations people are already having and pointing them to Christ.

This article was originally posted here. 

Perry Noble is the founding and senior pastor of Anderson's NewSpring Church in South Carolina. The church averages 26,000 people during weekend services at multiple campuses throughout the state. Noble, his wife Lucretia and their daughter Charisse live in Anderson, South Carolina. You can read all of Perry's unfiltered thoughts about life and leadership at PerryNoble.com.
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