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The Media on Edge

CBS Playing Politics

November 13th 2013

Libyan riot at US consulate Sep 2012 #3

It’s been 14 months since the attack on our diplom atic mission in Libya cost the lives of four Americans, but Benghazi claimed yet another victim this week: the credibility of CBS News, and especially of “60 Minutes.”

Since its creation by Don Hewitt in 1968, “60 Minutes” has been the gold standard of TV news. By far the most respected news program on television, it’s enjoyed 45 years of excellent, almost blemish-free reporting — until Oct. 27, that is, when CBS decided to play politics with Benghazi and got burned.

You expect Republican politicians to make a political football out of Benghazi. And, indeed, they’ve done so from the start. The very night of the attack, before the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens had even been reported, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused President Obama of choosing to “sympathize with those who waged the attacks” rather than condemn them. Since then, Republicans in Congress have kept up a drumbeat of criticism over the issue, relentlessly trying to blame the attack and loss of four American lives on, in order, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the president. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

The Living Wage in SeaTac: Confronting Suburban Poverty?

November 11th 2013

family with teenagers

The fate of a closely watched ballot initiative in the Seattle region is still uncertain, and its outcome may shape future efforts to tackle suburban poverty.

On Tuesday, voters in SeaTac, WA, a city of 28,000 just south of Seattle that’s home to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, cast ballots on an initiative that would raise the minimum wage for airport-related jobs to $15 an hour, the highest minimum in the country. As of Thursday night, the measure was passing by a narrow margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, with an unknown number of ballots still to be counted. If approved, the new minimum wage is expected to cover about 6,300 workers.

Are local “living wages” a viable strategy for reducing suburban poverty?  Many localities across the country—more than 120, at last count—have some form of living wage law, which typically sets a minimum wage of $10 or more an hour for businesses that receive contracts or subsidies from local governments. While most are big cities, some are suburban places like Manchester, CT; Macomb County, MI; and Lakewood, OH. Most research on the effects of these laws has studied cities where living wages were implemented, and finds that such laws modestly reduce poverty. The Seattle Times profiled the effects of an ordinance similar to SeaTac’s focused on airport jobs in Long Beach, CA, and found generally positive impacts, though perhaps not as positive as advocates might have hoped. Read more ..

Inside Politics

In Christie's Footsteps

November 9th 2013

Chris Christie

Getting reelected with 60 percent of the vote in a blue state wasn’t going to get New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie any thanks or praise from fellow Republicans, and he knew it. So the morning after, he gave them the Jersey treatment, rubbing it in their faces.

After winning 51 percent of the Latino vote, Christie held court with the national press on Wednesday, boasting he had built the relationships and the trust in Latino communities that Republicans have been unable to build as a national party. He asked rhetorically, “Now find another Republican on America who’s won the Latino vote recently.” Then said “When you come just six months before an election people are going to be like, ‘Where have you been? And why should I trust you? This other guy over here he’s been here for years.’ ”

It didn’t take months, or even weeks, after his expected reelection for things to get prickly with Christie, now an official 2016 contender. He is speaking so much like a future candidate his potential rivals wouldn’t give even one day of honeymoon. GOP Gov. Rick Perry of Texas refused when asked directly by NBC’s Chuck Todd whether Christie was conservative enough to win the GOP nomination — not only did he not answer the question, he wouldn’t even say Christie’s name.

It was the same with other Republican presidential wannabes who belittled or dismissed Christie’s smashing victory among women, minorities and Democrats. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul called Christie a “moderate,” while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told CNN that all elections are different and that “some of these races don’t apply to future races.” Though Rubio offered his congratulations to Christie, he said the governor had spoken “to the hopes and aspirations of people within New Jersey.” Key word: “within.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said he appreciated that Christie is “brash, that he is outspoken and that he won his race,” but when asked whether Christie is truly conservative, Cruz walked off without answering. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Jewish Museum's Obsolete Debate on Anti-Semitism

November 8th 2013

Holocaust survivor

There is a beguiling paradox around the term "anti-Semitism." Prejudice of varying degrees toward Jews is a centuries-old phenomenon, yet there remains precious little agreement as to what anti-Semitism involves in our own time.

Anyone who has observed the twists of the anti-Semitism debate during the last decade will know that the quarrel about definition has been extraordinarily polarized. On one side are those who believe that global hostility to Zionism and Israel's existence, frequently based upon sinister theories about Jewish power, represents the most acute form of anti-Semitism today. On the other is a cluster of Jewish and non-Jewish voices who insist that this "new anti-Semitism" is a mischievous attempt to conflate legitimate opposition to Zionism as a political movement with that odious, largely defunct bigotry, anti-Semitism. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Egypt Turning to the Russians? Not So Fast

November 8th 2013

Egyptian bannerman

Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Egypt was a blatant fence-mender. He said the Egyptian interim coalition's democratic roadmap was "being carried out to the best of our conceptions," and added that the aid suspension was not to be seen as "punishment" for what the U.S. administration previously called a "coup." Announcing his desire to restore all elements of military aid, Kerry waxed positively poetic at a news conference with interim Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy. "And then we will march together hand in hand into the future with Egypt playing the vital role it has played traditionally" (in the Arab world).

Fahmy was polite, if a bit more reserved; it was he, after all, who called U.S.-Egyptian relations "turbulent" and "unsettled" only a month ago. He also said before Kerry arrived that that Egypt would look "beyond the United States" to meet its security needs." Egypt would develop "multiple choices, multiple options" including military relationships. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Budowsky: Obama’s Healthcare Katrina

November 7th 2013

No Obamacare

Under the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans are receiving letters from insurers informing them that their health insurance policies have been canceled. They are worried and angry that they may be forced to accept new policies with dramatic premium increases that President Obama repeatedly promised them would not happen.

These Americans are the equivalent of New Orleans residents who were stranded on their roofs after floods engulfed their homes during Hurricane Katrina. They comprise President Obama’s Healthcare Katrina. Obama has a moral and political duty to set this right.

I do NOT suggest the Affordable Care Act itself is comparable to the fiasco surrounding Hurricane Katrina. It is not. The Affordable Care Act includes many worthy reforms that will improve healthcare for huge numbers of Americans. For this the president should be commended. Read more ..

Fast Food on Edge

Fast Food Restaurants Bilk Taxpayers for Billions? Oh Please

November 6th 2013

teen hamburger

According to a new study from the left-leaning National Employment Law Project, government benefits such as Food Stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit have driven down the wages of low-skilled Americans and added not a penny to their standard of living. At least, that's what you must believe in order to accept NELP's claim that "low wages at top fast-food chains leave taxpayers footing the bill" for billions in government benefits.

At the same time, a campaign by Fast Food Forward, a joint project of the Service Employees International Union and the New York branch of ACORN (now renamed as New York Communities for Change), has highlighted low wages paid in the fast food industry, arguing that restaurants - voluntarily or otherwise - should pay employees at least $15 per hour. Read more ..

Education on Edge

A Vote for Schools

November 5th 2013

school kids

On Tuesday, New Yorkers will head to the polls to elect Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s replacement. Barring a Miracle on Ice–type turn of events, Democrat Bill de Blasio — who has led Republican Joe Lhota by as much as 45 percentage points — is expected to take the helm.

This will be no small change: Bloomberg has been in office for the past twelve years. But beyond just a new face and a new political party, a de Blasio mayoralty would have very real policy implications. This is most apparent in education, where de Blasio’s public comments and campaign platform place him diametrically opposite to Bloomberg.

Since taking office, and especially during Joel Klein’s tenure as New York City schools chancellor from 2002 through 2010, Bloomberg made revamping the Big Apple’s school system a hallmark of his agenda. Among his more noteworthy efforts were implementing an A-through-F report card to grade school performance, shuttering over 160 schools deemed failing, and expanding charter schools. These hard-charging reforms have attracted widespread attention, including praise from President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and criticism from union leaders, including American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria's "Black Hole" Threatens the Universe

November 4th 2013

Corpses in Homs

Syria like one of those mysterious black holes in space, is irrevocably sucking its neighbors and the major powers into an unknown vortex that could lead to regional war - or more. Historical analogies are rarely valid but one has to recall a royal assassination at Sarajevo, the Nazi Luftwaffe bombardment of Guernica during Spain's Civil War, the question of the Sudetenland's German minority, the U.S. oil embargo on Japan. All were relatively minor tripwires, which led to much larger unpleasant events.

In Syria all the regional powers already have a critical stake in the outcome of what started out as a peaceful protest against a long-time demagogic, tribal and corrupt dictatorship but turned into a civil war. That, in turn, is leading to the entanglement of all the major powers. Some - certainly the Obama Administration - are trying desperately, but increasingly unsuccessfully, to resist the pull of a political morass they cannot decipher or resolve. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Time Has Come to Address the Challenges of Long-Term Care

November 3rd 2013

Elderly man

As Congress embarks on a new venture to create a bipartisan budget that would strengthen the economic security of families and reduce the deficit without shortchanging our future, it’s our hope that both parties will also work together to find viable ways to help families pay for long-term care.

With the aging of the baby boomers, our country finds itself in the midst of one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in our history. And, as the aging population grows, so too will the long-term-care needs of many in our society.

Providing assistance to family members who can no longer care for themselves can be taxing for all involved.

In fact, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing last month to examine a myriad of challenges facing seniors today, and found many were unprepared.

So, later this year, we’re going to hold another hearing to see what we can do to help. Some of the things we’re going to look at include the possibility of expanding Medicare to cover long-term care, and other various ways to possibly make private long-term care coverage more affordable for those who need it. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Mexico Comes Alive on the Day of the Dead

November 2nd 2013

New Mexico and the borderland will come alive this weekend with activities related to the annual Day of the Dead celebration, which falls on Saturday, November 2, this year. As befits a cultural boom that is drawing in thousands and thousands of people, this year promises bigger and broader events than ever before, encompassing art, music, literature, and culinary treats.

“Without a doubt,” the growth of immigrant and Mexican populations on this side of the border is “exponentially” related to the expansion of the Day of the Dead, said Albuquerque poet and longtime community activist Jaime Chavez. The celebration honors the dearly departed through altars, music, food, and family and community gatherings.

New immigrants have re-infused Chicano and Native cultures long connected to the greater Mesoamerican world, Chavez told FNS. “Our roots are coming to fruit,” he said. Issues of land, water and climate loom large in 2013, conveying a special significance for a holiday that falls at the end of the harvest cycle. “As land-based cultures and New Mexicans, we remember,” Chavez added. “That’s why we look to the three sisters-corn, beans and squash.” Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The Need for Speed in Negotiations with Iran

November 1st 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

Today, two days of talks begin in Vienna between experts from the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) and their Iranian counterparts, who will discuss technical issues relating to Tehran's nuclear program and international sanctions. The meeting will help lay the groundwork for the next round of diplomatic negotiations, scheduled to take place in Geneva on November 7-8.

Expectations of progress were reinforced earlier this week by comments made after separate talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. In a rare joint statement, both sides called the talks "very productive" -- a departure from their eleven previous meetings in recent years, which failed to make progress in resolving what the IAEA has called the "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program. The statement also indicated that a document discussed in past meetings has been set aside and a new approach has been taken. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Time for the American Right to Declare Peace on the US Welfare State

October 31st 2013

American poverty

Are we better off today than we were six years ago? Apparently not. The US Census Bureau finds the pretax income of the median US family nearly 10% lower today — four years into a supposed economic recovery — than at the Great Recession’s start.

Except that alarming statistic on “market income” is deceptive. The federal government’s income definition misses a lot of stuff such as food stamps, subsidized school lunches, Medicare, Medicaid, and Earned Income Tax Credit benefits. Add in all that, factor for taxes, and you’ll find, as e21 economist Scott Winship has, middle-income buying power is essentially back at its 2007 peak — which was an all-time high. “In short, while the middle class—and especially the poor—saw declines in market income after 2007, the safety net appears to have performed just as we would hope, mitigating the losses experienced by households,” Winship concludes. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

A Surfeit of Modesty

October 30th 2013

Susan Rice

Whether it’s “pivoting” or “rebalancing,” the Obama administration’s unceasing efforts to turn retreat into a virtue – particularly when it comes to the Middle East – have become a distinguishing feature of this president’s national security strategy.

The New York Times’ weekend account of its interview with Susan Rice, wherein the national security adviser spins the Syria fiasco as a kind of “midcourse correction,” marks a new chapter in the leading-from-the-rear saga. In elaborating on the president’s recent speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Rice explained that the administration “can’t just be consumed 24/7 by one region, important as it is. [President Obama] thought it was a good time to step back and reassess, in a very critical and kind of no-holds-barred way, how we conceive the region.” Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Turkey's Erdogan - an Autocratic Islamist Bigot

October 29th 2013


After over 50 years of Israeli-Turkish intelligence co-operation and sharing, the Turkish disclosure to Iran of the identities of Mossad operatives – apparently subsequently executed, illustrates the depths to which Israel-Turkey relations have descended under Islamist autocrat, Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan.

Erdogan seeks to conceal his true intentions and convey the illusion that he is himself a role model for an enlightened Islam which blends with democracy.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Erdogan is a fanatical Islamist and a vile bigot who lavishes praise on the Moslem Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah and whose behavior is more reminiscent of an Ottoman Sultan than a democratically elected leader. Read more ..

Broken Government

An Emerging Nightmare: The Impact of U.S. Political "Dysfunction"

October 28th 2013


Ask a U.S. senior intelligence officer what is his recurring nightmare: what is it that wakes him at 3 am trembling in uncontrollable anxiety? In a public place, where he is likely to be quoted, he is almost certain to answer: a terrorist with a nuclear weapon. And that’s true enough. Ever since 9/11, administration officials, both Republican and Democratic, have worried about another terrorist attack against the “homeland,” as they put it. And though we came close on two or three occasions (remember the Christmas “underwear” bomber?), we managed to escape another attack.

But ask this intelligence officer the same question in an off-the-record session, where he is not to be identified or quoted in any way, and he will give you an answer much closer to his true concern: that the United States government has become “dysfunctional.” Meaning what exactly? We have no real budget, he goes on, and haven’t for a long time. Read more ..

The Education Edge

How to Make Toddlers Smarter: Talk to Them

October 27th 2013

Special Ed Teacher

By the age of two, a child raised in a poor household is already six months behind another from a wealthy home in terms of language development, according to new research from Stanford. Psychologists there used video recordings to measure how long it took toddlers to identify images of a dog and a ball; children in well-to-do households were about 20 percent faster. Additionally, children in wealthier homes learned 30 percent more words between 18 and 24 months of age. This age is crucial for development, as demonstrated dramatically by the MIT Media Lab’s Deb Roy, who recorded all of his child’s utterances during infancy, and dramatized how language emerges in this viral 2011 TED talk.

Many theories try to explain such disparities: poor nutrition, lead poisoning, stress hormones, and so on. But a simpler theory is increasingly prominent: poor children simply don’t hear as many words during these critical early years. Children in welfare families hear, on average, only 600 words per hour; those from highly educated families hear over 2,000 words per hour. By the age of 4, the total gap is estimated to be 30 million words. Read more ..

Broken Government

Look to Ron Johnson

October 26th 2013


Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is so preoccupied by our fiscal crisis he calls himself a “one-trick pony” and a “broken record.” But during the government shutdown, the Tea Party conservative wandered into a no-man’s land by criticizing the failed effort to defund ObamaCare — even as he denied our government would default on our debt without raising the debt ceiling — and RedState’s Erick Erickson called him a “liar.”

The unseemly attack from Erickson, who accused him of screaming at Sen. Ted Cruz in a GOP senators lunch where the Texan’s failed strategy became the subject of a heated debate, was simply untrue, says Johnson. But it wasn’t as “galling” to Johnson as being deemed a member of the “surrender caucus,” just because he agreed the “defund” push was intellectually dishonest. Read more ..

Significant Lives

This Brave Congressman Taught Me How to Break News

October 25th 2013


I first learned how to break news in 1982 thanks to Major R. Owens, a canny yet noble fighter for economic and social justice who served 12 terms in Congress and died this week.

My lesson came one Saturday morning in 1982, when Owens had just won the Democratic primary election in his bid to succeed the retiring Rep. Shirley Chisholm in Brooklyn's historic Bedford-Stuyvesant district.

Walking into the Brooklyn Board of Elections that morning as a Village Voice writer, I found supporters of Owens' losing primary opponent, the equally canny but corrupt Vander Beatty, "checking" voter registration cards from the election, which Owens had just won by 2000 votes.

Owens, a Tennessee native and graduate of the famed black Morehouse College who'd come North to be a librarian, had been drawn to Great Society politics serving Mayor John Lindsay as an administrator of Community Action Programs before winning a state senate seat and founding the Central Brooklyn Mobilization. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Shutdown Political Barriers for Women...And Reap the Rewards

October 24th 2013

Nancy Pelois

In an era of government distrust, political gridlock, and legislative dysfunction, women may be the power players who forge solutions and help address our nation’s most divisive problems, argues Swanee Hunt in a recent article in Global Post. Ms. Hunt is a Lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School and Chairwoman of Political Parity—an organization “dedicated to increasing the number of women serving in the highest levels of government.”

In the article entitled, “20 percent women, 100 percent effective,” Ms. Hunt argues that the recent crisis—involving a government shutdown and a threat of debt default—was resolved only after female Senators stepped up and became actively involved.

The article notes:
   Rather than commendation, these women sought resolution. Rather than settle scores, they sat down together. Rather than stick with their teams, they found common ground for common good. Fittingly, Senator Murkowski declared, “Politics be damned.” If we had more women in power, the senators have said, we would have avoided this multi-billion dollar shutdown and globally destabilizing game of chicken over the debt ceiling.

As Senators took to the floor of their chamber after a final deal was reached last Wednesday, there was a remarkable shift in rhetoric. The venom was gone. The snarky, biting “gotcha” lines were tucked away. Instead, Senators praised the agreement and shined the political spotlight on the dedication and toil of women like Susan Collins (R-ME), Patty Murray (D-WA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and others. Senators from both political parties, East coast and West coast, large state and small, conservatives and liberals, long-serving barons of Capitol Hill and wide-eyed freshmen were united by two common characteristics: a desire to solve a serious policy problem and their gender. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Don't Underestimate Ted Cruz

October 23rd 2013

Ted Cruz

How many liberal pundits, bloggers and commentators have attacked first-term Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in personal terms of contempt and ridicule? Almost all. 

There can be little doubt that the GOP congressional strategy of holding up approval of the budget and causing a government shutdown in return for repeal of ObamaCare was ill-founded. Forgive me, let me use a better word: It was stupid. On Tuesday The Washington Post/ABC poll found that 80 percent of the national sample opposed the shutdown, including 2 out of 3 Republicans or GOP-leaning independents and even a majority who support the Tea Party movement. And 53 percent of all respondents blame the GOP for the shutdown, versus 29 percent who blame President Obama.

But like Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who had Cruz in his class as a law student, I don’t impugn the Texas senator’s motives. He is wrong, but he can be sincerely wrong. Dershowitz reminded TV viewers during a recent interview that Cruz was brilliant and that his views were founded on strong conservative principles. 

Many Democrats joke that they are delighted that Cruz has become so popular, saying he would be the easiest Republican to beat. Maybe so. If he doesn’t expand his political base beyond the Tea Party, he surely is not electable in the general election. The Post/ABC poll found that unfavorable opinions of the Tea Party among the national sample of all parties exceed favorable opinions nationwide 59 percent to 26 percent, more than 2 to 1. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Primary Survival Guide

October 22nd 2013

US Capital Day

Congressman Tim Huelskamp warned last week that any Republican who voted to open up the government and extend the debt ceiling would face a primary challenge.

With all due respect to the Kansas congressman, with congressional approval ratings hovering around 10 percent, anyone who is up for reelection next year in either chamber should expect a primary challenge.

Here are some tips for how to survive a primary challenge:

• Under promise and over deliver. My old boss, former Speaker Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), preached this doctrine every day. The reverse is even truer. Promise to vote to defund ObamaCare, but don’t guarantee that ObamaCare will be defunded. Promise to vote to balance the budget, but don’t guarantee that the budget will be balanced. If you make outlandish promises that can never be met, you will lose credibility with your voters. Read more ..

Broken Government

Clouds of Dust Still to Settle

October 21st 2013

Obama pensive with flag

Out of the Washington political chaos of the past few weeks, two overwhelmingly critical questions have yet to be decided. Can a wily President Barack Obama, despite his Administration's repeatedly demonstrated incompetence in both domestic and foreign policy, rescue - by perhaps more constitutionally questionable executive orders - what he may eventually regard as the only monument to his presidency?

Has the fiery populist - if failed - campaign of the Tea Party mobilized an otherwise distracted electorate to the growing problem of debt and bankrupt federal government social welfare programs to an extent permitting tedious and torturous reform?

Answers are going to be long in coming. Read more ..

Ancient Days

Ancient Syria's Local Sourcing has Implications for Today's Electronics Industry

October 20th 2013

An archaeologist at the University of Sheffield has found evidence that, contrary to a widely held theory, ancient Syrians made their stone tools locally instead of importing finished tools from Turkey. The discovery, newly published online in Journal of Archaeological Science, has implications for our understanding of how early cities developed in these regions and how the geographic origins of raw materials affect developing states.

During the Early Bronze Age, around 5300 to 3100 years ago, blades made of chert and obsidian remained important despite the advent of metal tools. Much sharper than bronze tools, the stone blades were used for various cutting and scraping purposes, including agricultural activities, food processing, and crafts such as pottery and textile production. Read more ..

The Arab Winter

Law and Ideology

October 20th 2013

Wounded Egyptian Protester

In the spirit of the ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times," these are interesting times.

It is useful to talk about three places where the times are particularly "interesting"-in the Middle East in general, in Turkey in particular, and in the United States-and how they are connected. I will give it away at the beginning so there is no suspense about where I am going. We live in a dangerous world. Much of the danger comes from Islamist extremism, a force that has been directed at us in the past and will be in the future. But it is a force that in the years ahead will mainly be directed within and among Muslims, just as terrorist acts have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims in the past.

But some of it will come our way, just as it has in the past.

The Middle East

The Egyptian experiment in Islamist government, Muslim Brotherhood government, appears to be over. But much of the so-called "Arab Spring" in Egypt and the tenure of Mohammed Morsi would have been disturbing to Americans, if they had seen it in Western media. It would have clarified for many the difference between democratic government and Islamist government. As the revolution unfolded, Americans saw fascinating coverage from Tahrir Square of the modern, secular side of Egypt and the influence of Twitter and Facebook; not so much of the public rape of a CBS journalist in Tahrir Square to shouts of "Allahu Akhbar." Even less has been seen of the unfolding of undemocratic and dangerous trends. Read more ..

Broken Government

Conservatives Change Tactics but Don't Retreat

October 19th 2013

Star Parker right crop

A number of years ago, I was between flights on a business trip and was sitting in an airport restaurant having lunch. It was right after the 2008 presidential election and I knew that the election of America's first black president, a man of the hard left, would make my job bringing a conservative message to black communities much more challenging and difficult.

As I ate my sandwich, I glanced at the wall and saw a sign with a quote from Gen. Douglas MacArthur. It said, "We are not retreating -- we are advancing in another direction."

I was immediately energized by this quote from the old general. It was exactly what I needed at the moment. It totally captured my state of mind. Perhaps my mission needed a change in tactics, but certainly there was no change in commitment and objectives.


The Way We Are

Born to be Mobile? Why Where You Grow Up Matters for How Much Money You Make

October 18th 2013

Science students

The influence of parental background on future earnings varies according to which metropolitan area you live in. That’s the message of the Harvard economists behind the Equality of Opportunity Project, who have spent years analyzing millions of IRS tax records. (Earlier this week, Brooking scholars enjoyed a presentation from Nathaniel Hendren, one of the authors).

Children born to low-income parents in Salt Lake City, for example, are much more likely to earn high incomes as adults, compared to children born to low-income parents in Atlanta regardless of the parent’s race. After examining the multiple correlations between the characteristics of metropolitan areas and their economic mobility outcomes, the Harvard team tentatively concludes that levels of neighborhood segregation, school quality, and single-parenthood in a metro area seem to matter most for kids’ eventual earnings (in the latter case, even to those born to married couples but in areas with large numbers of single parents). Those factors, in turn, may impact children’s life chances by influencing their behaviors and values; determining their parents’ access to good jobs and social services; and affecting levels of social capital, trust, and community engagement from which families may benefit. Read more ..

Broken Education

Returing to Teaching and Learning

October 17th 2013

Student at Blackboard-Togo

Teaching, or at least teaching well, should be thought of as a“trade” not a “job.” An everyday (or even complex) job requires training, experience, and steadiness to become successful. Teaching does as well but it’s more nuance. Teaching is essentially almost all interaction, and many aspects of life involve “teaching.” Corporations teach and train their employees, parents teach their children, and while it’s a skill that can be developed some are naturally better than others. Therefore you can’t train a teacher like you do a salesman at IBM, because there are a variety of different methods for a host of different subjects.

Despite the proliferation of education degrees (which supposedly perfect the art of teaching) growth in test scores have been tepid at best. These degrees have limited the playing field so a CEO, or accountant can’t become a teacher, bad teachers are believed to be able to overcome their missteps and become mediocre teachers, and schools don’t compete for their kids. Read more ..

Broken Government

The Case for Hostage-Taking

October 16th 2013

capitol building night #2

As the budget and debt ceiling-standoff continues in Washington, many are asking the wrong question: Which party will pay a political price for the government shutdown? Democrats are comparing Republicans to “hostage-takers”; Republicans complain that Democrats refuse to negotiate.

Here’s the right question: Can we afford not to have this fight? With federal expenditures running 30 percent higher than revenues, debt at nearly twice the historical average, and no significant improvement in sight, is it any wonder that a contingent of conservative legislators is willing to ignore political expediency and stand on principle instead?

Over the past 10 years, federal spending has grown twice as fast as GDP. Despite a top marginal tax rate higher than the rate under the Clinton administration, this level of spending has opened up a projected $650 billion-a-year deficit. Without an expected one-time increase in reimbursements from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the deficit would be $100 billion higher, and over $1 trillion at normalized interest rates. For perspective, we only raise $1.3 trillion a year in income taxes. Yes, the deficit is down from $1.4 trillion at depth of the crisis, but on a comparable basis, it’s still six times larger than it was in 2007 before the financial crisis. Read more ..

Broken Education

Uncle Sam Shouldn't Try to Manage School Staffing

October 15th 2013

High school classroom

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been charged by critics, spanning from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to anti-school reform icon Diane Ravitch, with trying to turn the U.S. Department of Education into a “national school board.”  The charge has much merit.

The Obama administration has used its Race to the Top program and unprecedented, far-reaching conditions for states seeking “waivers” from the No Child Left Behind Act’s most destructive requirements as excuses to micromanage what states are doing on teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, and much else.  In a new, particularly troubling twist, the administration has announced that states will henceforth have to ensure that “effective” teachers are distributed in a manner Uncle Sam deems equitable.

On the one hand, sensible steps to encourage district and union officials to get more effective teachers in high-poverty schools is obviously a good thing. That said, skepticism is warranted when considering Uncle Sam's ability to start telling states where to assign teachers. There are three particular concerns.  Ill-conceived policies might move teachers from schools and classrooms where they are effective to situations when they are less effective.  Heavy-handed efforts to reallocate teachers could drive good teachers from the profession. And we are far less able to identify "effective" teachers in any cookie-cutter fashion than federal officials might think. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Indigenous Peoples of Mexico Commemorate 500 Years of Resistance

October 14th 2013

Tens of thousands of indigenous protestors and their allies in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas took to the streets on Saturday, October 12. While the date is officially called Dia de La Raza and celebrated as the Latin American equivalent of the Columbus Day holiday in the United States, indigenous Mayans in Chiapas tagged another name on the day: 521 Years of Indigenous, Black, Campesino and Popular Resistance.

In different zones of Chiapas, from the cool highlands of San Cristobal de las Casas to the tropical rainforest around the ancient ruins of Palenque, residents blockaded highways and large commercial stores, participated in massive demonstrations and, in the case of Palenque, draped a red and black flag on city hall.

“We stress the importance of sharing our thinking and participating with our voice and concrete actions in the destiny of our country,” the protestors declared in a statement. “That’s why we say, here we are.”

Education on Edge

The Nobel Peace Prize Announcement: Why the Education Community Should Not be Discouraged

October 14th 2013

Malala Yousafzai

Within the education community, we often lament that we do not have the equivalent of a malaria net or polio vaccine that can rapidly focus policymakers on the task of getting all children into school and learning well.  Yet, we may have finally found our answer in a 16-year-old Pakistani girl.

Malala Yousafzai has catapulted education onto the international stage.  Since her brutal attack last October, she has spoken twice on the floor of the United Nations alongside U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was featured on  the cover of Time Magazine as one of the "The 100 Most Influential People in the World,”  and was the recipient of Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize and the 2013 Sakharov Prize.  She has come to symbolize the reprehensible injustice that millions of children—and girls in particular—face in merely trying to exercise their basic human right to go to school.  She represents the determination that so many children and young people demonstrate each and every day to overcome enormous barriers to attend school.  In short, her eloquence and influence is a reminder to all of us of the transformative power of education.  Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Appeasement Won't Reduce the Iranian Nuclear Peril

October 13th 2013

Iran holy missiles

Tomorrow morning, more than seven years after the United Nations Security Council first ordered Iran to halt all aspects of its illicit nuclear programme, British and American diplomats – along with representatives of other global powers – will sit down with Iranian nuclear negotiators in Geneva to try, once again, to resolve this crisis. This could be a seminal moment in world history – for what we choose to do about Iran will have consequences for generations.

In the run-up to the negotiations, there has been much talk of a new spirit of détente between Iran and the West. The election of President Hassan Rouhani in June has been followed by a series of diplomatic overtures, including a meeting between the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and his Iranian counterpart. There have even been discussions about Britain and Iran reopening embassies in each other’s capitals. Read more ..

The Edge of Security

ATF: Lost Guns, Lost Cigarettes, Lost Credibility

October 13th 2013

Guns for sale

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had a great idea: facilitate the sale of weapons to gun runners near the Mexican border, then follow the guns to the higher echelon of criminals in Mexico. American and Mexican authorities would arrest the kingpins. Foolproof?

No. Project Gunrunner began in 2005 as an effort to use electronic tracking to trace guns sold illegally in Mexico and the Caribbean. It led to Fast and Furious (2009-11), Wide Receiver (2006-2007), the Hernandez case (2007), and the Medrano case (2008). In these latter operations, rather than create an intelligence trail with the eTrace software, the U.S. simply let straw buyers purchase guns to transport to Mexico. Mexican authorities were not notified. In the case of Fast and Furious, the ATF attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City was not notified. Read more ..

Media on Edge

The Paper Which Hates Britain? Guardian Leaks ‘Worst Blow to British Intel Ever’

October 12th 2013

Big Ben

The title doesn’t represent the hyperbole of a partisan commentator, but the sober warnings of Sir David Omand, the former head of GCHQ (the UK’s counterpart to the NSA) and homeland security adviser to 10 Downing St.

The theft and leak of tens of thousands of top-secret NSA files by Edward Snowden, procured by Glenn Greenwald and published by the Guardian, Oman said, “eclipses the Cambridge spy ring as the most catastrophic loss suffered by British intelligence” in history. He added that ‘The Guardian and others in possession of Mr Snowden’s leaked files had gone on to publish information that was invaluable to foreign spies, terrorists and criminal networks’.

But, that’s not all.

Egypt's Second Revolution

Shall We Kiss Egypt Goodbye

October 11th 2013

Egyptian Court Protests Dec 2012

"You left the Egyptians, you turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won't forget that." Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.  Quoted by Kelly McParland, National Post (Canada), 8 August 2013.

In mid-August 2013 Egyptian newspapers reported that following a "hurried session" the Kremlin had offered its own military facilities to the Egyptian military.  The offer came in response to the Obama administration's cancelling of the annual joint military exercises held in Egypt's Western Desert that involved military units of the United States and Egypt.

There was mention that Egypt would soon benefit from Russian arms sales paid for by Saudi Arabia -- a move that resulted from the waning of United States support for an Egyptian government in the wake of the 3 July ouster of President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimun).  Read more ..

Broken Government

No Compromises on a Ship of Fools

October 10th 2013

Armstrong Williams Headshot

Usually when two sides cannot come to an agreement, they can let an arbiter weigh their arguments and settle the dispute. Some arbiters try to find the optimum compromise, while others simple rule in favor of one side over the other. Unfortunately for America, we have no arbitrator. Instead we have two groups of buffoons flinging muck at each other.
On one side we have a group of Republicans in the House refusing to do anything unless Obamacare’s individual mandate in delayed or, better yet, defunded. On the other side you have the Democrat Senate refusing to vote on any bills. Traditionally, the President tries to act as the arbiter in such disputes, but Obama refuses to entertain negotiations. He insists that the House GOP drop all their demands and give him free reign. Does neither side understand what a compromise is? In a negotiation, unless you are dealing with a fool, you never get everything you want. You must make concessions in order to move forward.
I am a businessman and can tell you that time and again I have to compromise to make a deal. By finding areas of agreement and contention, we can iron out those issues and find some kind of middle-ground. I may not get everything I want, but I get enough to make the deal worthwhile for both my associates and me. The biggest difference between my business deals and the current shutdown squabble is that I can walk away if I think the deal is skewed too against me. President Obama, Boehner, and Reid cannot walk away. The GOP’s idea of a compromise is to offer a delay rather than liquidate the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA). This notion was the strategy behind passing both bills and sending them to the Senate, figuring that the Senate would obviously reject defunding and negotiate on the delay. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

New Extremist Foxes Welcomed into U.S. Chicken Coop

October 10th 2013

Iraq: blood spattered church

Imagine that in recent weeks alone, dozens of Muslims around the world had been murdered by Christian extremists armed with suicide belts and similar paraphernalia. Imagine that at the same time, around other parts of the world, Christian mobs had set fire to, and burned to the ground, the holy places of some of the oldest and most established Muslim communities in the world.

Do you think there would be a reaction to such events? Probably yes. Would that reaction be wholly negative and unceasing in its condemnation? Probably yes. Would it be remotely conceivable that a senior U.S. government official or advisor would have used the opportunity to claim that Muslims who had been targeted had brought it upon themselves? Probably no. Welcome then to the mirror-image of the real-world persecution of Christians that is going on across the globe today. And say hello again to two of the most appallingly over-promoted and sinister figures involved with the current U.S. government: Mohamed Elibiary and Dalia Mogahed. Read more ..

Broken Government

The Government Shutdown: Politics as War by Other Means

October 9th 2013

Bomb blast

With the shutdown of the federal government, we are a nation at war. While the vast majority of citizens would be content with almost any peaceable resolution, their elected leaders at the barricades keep the country in wartime footing. War emerges when political or diplomatic means fail; and war brings destruction. Witness the hardships that have already emerged from even a few days of shutdown, and there is no end in sight.

The political war of the present is a reminder of a larger, bloodier war of a century ago. The First World War was also a standoff in which almost every individual actor felt the absurdity of continuing the slaughter, even as the dynamics of the whole kept pulling them into the morass. The opposing powers in the war that began in 1914 each had advantages that locked them into continuing combat. In particular, the British and French on the Western Front had a long-term advantage with their colonial wealth and manpower, especially with the British navy. The pressures of war spoke to them: why give up now? Meanwhile, Germany had made striking initial gains in the first months of fighting before the descent into prolonged trench warfare; they now controlled Belgium and one-fifth of France. The pressures of war spoke to them: why give up those gains? Read more ..

Broken Government

Yes, Fighting Over the Debt Ceiling Hurts the Economy

October 8th 2013


Senators Coburn and Paul took to the airwaves to argue that going past the so-called X date – the date beyond which the Treasury cannot honor all U.S. financial obligations, believed to be sometime in the second half of October – does not automatically mean that the U.S. will default on our debt. Other prominent conservatives have advanced this argument as well.

They are correct. The U.S. could in theory honor our debt obligations while not honoring other obligations, such as Social Security payments, federal-employee salaries, and payments to government contractors. The Treasury could still conduct auctions to roll over maturing securities past the X date, and the Treasury probably could ensure that it has enough cash to pay interest payments on the debt. But this strategy is not as rosy as many conservatives believe, for a number of reasons. Read more ..

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