Archive for National

Aug
30

Playing Washington for a sucker

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LSU Quad

Nicholas Kristof offers a reverie this morning on “our extraordinary national inheritance, one of the greatest gifts of our ancestors — our public lands.” Visionaries such as Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot fought to preserve them for the enjoyment of all:

Their vision reflected a deep belief at the time, among Republicans as well as Democrats, in public services that transcended class. The result was the world’s best public school system at the time, networks of public libraries, public parks and beaches, and later a broad system of public universities and community colleges.

Those are at risk today in a venal culture driven more by bottom lines than common goods. One half expects any day to hear a plan to sell off Yellowstone or Yosemite as “weekend homes for Internet tycoons,” as Kristof suggests. The Midas cult has not yet taken drills and sledgehammers to our heritage the way ISIS has to the cradle of civilization. But while our financial cult’s methods are more subtle, its goals are similar: to erase the very memory of a culture. Here, monuments to collective achievements dim the gleam of personal shrines erected to Self.

Public universities accessible to all are under threat from the cult’s policy drills and sledgehammers. Washington Monthly  profiles LSU Chancellor F. King Alexander, whose fight to preserve public higher education puts him at odds with efforts to remove the public from higher education. At a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing this summer chaired by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, LSU’s King Alexander argued for more federal regulation:

The “greatest challenge facing public universities,” King Alexander explains, is that states today spend about half as much on higher education on a per capita income basis as they did in 1981. This is a direct result, he says, of a regulatory failure built into federal law. In other areas of federal policy, such as transportation and health care, federal dollars come with strings attached—states have to pitch in a set amount of money too. That’s not the case for higher education, where money follows the student to private and public colleges alike, and states have no requirements to fund public universities at a certain (or indeed any) level. The result is that when states are under budget pressure, as they have been in the years since the financial crisis, they slash spending on higher ed. The burden of those cuts then gets shifted to students, in the form of higher tuition, and to the federal government, in greater spending on grants, tax credits, and subsidized student loans.

Pouring more money into federal higher education support, argued Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, will do no good so long as states keep disinvesting in it. Freshman Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana reluctantly agreed, “I’m against states being mandated to do something, but it appears unless states are mandated to do something they’re not going to do so.” The hearing did not go in the direction Lamar Alexander had wanted. He hopes to rewrite the Higher Education Act (HEA) to remove “costly and burdensome federal red tape imposed on states and colleges.”

To that end, King Alexander wants federal dollars to come with strings requiring states to live up to their obligation to provide adequate public funding as so many state constitutions (and statehood enabling acts) require. He believes “that as a condition of federal higher education aid, states should be required to provide a minimum amount of their revenues to their public colleges and universities.” King succeeded in getting a “maintenance of effort” provision into a piece of 2008 federal legislation that set a floor for state funding as a qualification for federal support. While many states cut their funding to within 1 percent of the floor, they did not go below it. Not until the law expired.

The disagreement over maintenance of effort is one over the proper role of the federal government. Lamar Alexander reflected the Republican Party’s view on states’ rights when he told me that maintenance of effort “usurp[s] the prerogative of the constitutional authority of governors and legislators to decide how to spend state dollars by, in effect, being coercive.” King, for his part, describes himself as a “federalist” when it comes to education policy and says “states’ rights is George Wallace standing in front of the Alabama admissions office not letting anybody in.” To King, the debate over maintenance of effort is nothing less than a battle over whether Americans of modest birth will have anything like the same opportunities as the affluent to better themselves through higher education. Spend enough time around King, and you get the sense that he became a public university president less because he wants to run a school than because it provides him a parapet from which to fend off the hordes trying to destroy public higher education.

King has been making his arguments for twenty years, but until recently Democrats were more focused on expanding the direct student aid program to help poor and middle-class students by increasing Pell Grants and middle-class tax credits, and creating generous repayment plans for student loans. But as student loan debt has risen and governors like Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker in Wisconsin cut higher education budgets, Democrats are increasingly realizing that their unquestioning advocacy of federal direct aid has allowed states to play Washington for a sucker. That’s why they chose King Alexander as their witness.

There is a cost to maintaining a country and its character. Not just in blood, but in treasure. Too many of our leaders quick to spend the former are more miserly when it comes to the latter.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Education, National
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Aug
29

Respect mah accountabilitah!

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Accountability. It’s not just for teachers anymore. Media Matters caught this yesterday morning. So did I:

Fox’s Tucker Carlson declared that a new mandate requiring New York City police officers to provide written justification for stop-and-frisk encounters is “an attack on police practices that have worked.”

NYPD officers will soon be “required to inform some suspects why they’re being stopped and frisked” after a federal judge approved a mandate proposed by the federal monitor tasked with addressing the department’s stop-and-frisk tactics. “The form would explain that officers are authorized to make stops in some circumstances and spell out what might have prompted the stop, including suspicion of concealing or possessing a weapon, engaging in a drug transaction or acting as a lookout,” The Wall Street Journal explained, noting how the move comes after a federal judge found “the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk unconstitutional and ordered an overhaul of the department’s procedures.”

Countering Carlson’s assertion that this is just “another layer of bureaucracy” impeding police from protecting the public from criminals, Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore cop was on message in defense of the new regulation:

“It’s a ‘best practice.’ Many police departments are already doing this across the nation. This is a very important issue regarding the Constitution and the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, where we should be free from unreasonable search and seizure. We should be secure among our persons, our places, and effects. Something this serious warrants documentation.”

John Rafferty, a retired NYPD lieutenant who runs a security guard service, called it a “tactical nightmare,” explaining:

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Aug
29

The Best Vision

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The usually jocular Charlie Pierce appeared shaken last night on Chris Hayes’ show when he spoke about the on-air shootings yesterday in Virginia. He came packing the truth. “Something’s come dreadfully loose in the country right now,” Pierce said, glancing at the floor. “A lot of stuff that was in the kind of foul tributaries of American life has made it into the mainstream.”

Pierce wrote earlier about the shooting at Esquire:

A news crew, doing a completely ordinary happy-face morning feature at a mall get blown away on camera. If this had happened in Somalia, we’d have a lot of earnest talk about the dangers of a failed society. If it had happened in Syria, Lindsey Graham might liquefy entirely and disappear in a rush down a storm drain. But it happened here, in the exceptional home of American exceptionalism, so, once again, we will be told that Alison Parker and Adam Ward are merely more of the price we pay for the exceptional exceptionalism of a free society.

The killings of a reporter and cameraman as they covered a “happy-face” news story brought gun violence perilously close for both Hayes and Pierce. Pierce was blunt about it:

“It is worrisome to be out on the campaign trail now. It is not terrifying. It’s nothing like following a rifle platoon into the Hindu Kush or something, but there’s something unsettling and something that’s come loose in the body politic. And, frankly, I’m worried about it.”

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Categories : National, News
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Aug
26

Biden time, or what?

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Speculation in the press about a Biden run for president caught fire after Vice President Joe Biden met with Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Saturday. But Politico reports that Biden will not attend this week’s Democratic National Committee meeting in Minneapolis. That should dampen the speculation unless Biden turns up by surprise. All the major Democratic contenders are expected.

If Biden decides to run, writes Michael Tomasky, the Warren meeting was brilliant press. But things could get ugly fast. The Obama-Clinton primary fight of 2008 was ugly enough. In the end, Tomasky believes, “Obama had the larger and more morally urgent historical claim to make in the minds of most Democrats and liberals. The woman would have to wait, as women so often do.” Making women wait again while yet another white guy takes the White House could be a gut punch to women who believe it’s now Clinton’s turn. Whatever their policy differences with Clinton, too many of the male persuasion on the left don’t seem to appreciate that. Remember the PUMAs?

The Washington Post offers several more reasons why a Biden run would be risky for his legacy. Also, as pretty much everyone observes, it is pretty late in the game for Biden to get in, unless he is positioning himself, as Tomasky suggests, to be the contingency candidate should Clinton succumb to some new “scandal,” as she never has before.

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Categories : Presidential Race
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Aug
25

Beyond the fringe

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Lazier pundits like to view Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as fringe candidates. But that’s Village-speak for “not establishment.” What fans find attractive about both is their iconoclastic styles, which couldn’t be more different. Writing for Bloomberg News, Will Leitch attended Donald Trump’s event in Mobile, Alabama last weekend and found that the common thread among those standing in line in the heat was this:

They were sick of all the bulls–t. They were sick of being talked to like they’re idiots. They might not be up on the policy papers or every specific detail of the Iran deal. But they can smell bulls–t.

Trump, the flashy billionaire, the reality show host, the consummate bullshitter, uses bullshit to cut through bullshit. They like that. Leitch explains:

They hate Hillary Clinton, they hate Obama, they hate Jeb Bush, and they hate them all for the same reason: They think they’re lying to them. Many, I found, especially hated Bush for his Spanish-language campaign ads. This came up several times. Bush is “as bad as any of them,” said Tony Hamilton, a truck driver from nearby Pensacola, Florida. “I voted for his brother and his dad, but not him, never. He’s just like the rest of them.”

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Categories : Presidential Race
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While we’re believing that Donald Trump is going to deport millions of undocumented immigrants without a plan to pay for it, and while we’re believing he’ll build a 2,000 mile-long southern border fence and get Mexico to pay for it (because Donald knows how to negotiate), why not engage in a military buildup without a plan to pay for it? (And without raising taxes. That’s a given.)

According to Politico, “a growing roster of Republican hopefuls” believe the U.S. needs dozens of new warships if it expects to keep throwing around its global weight. Not that the news outlet could find any to quote for the article. Honestly, this almost reads as if it should be labeled “sponsored content” from the Navy League of the United States for the group’s lobbying campaign, “America’s Strength: Investing in the Navy-Marine Corps Team”:

It’s a love affair steeped in the ideology that more warships bristling with aircraft and missiles translates into more security — and that control of the high seas will not only guarantee international trade but also check the worst ambitions of other powers like Russia and China. And it’s also fueled by a powerful shipbuilding lobby in Washington that is also calling anew for billions more in federal spending to beef up the sea service.

Christie was the first to raise the issue earlier this election season, saying the Navy “should be an armada without equal,” and pledging, if elected president, to reach the goal of 350 ships. Walker also noted earlier this year that “we’re at, what, 275, 280 vessels right now? We’re headed down toward 250. That’s less than half of where we were under Reagan.”

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American presidential candidates debate deporting millions of immigrant families to Mexico as Europe faces the worst refugee crisis since WWII. On the Macedonian border with Greece, CNN reported last night:

Refugees who are soaking wet and hungry in makeshift camps, with only a few nongovernmental organizations present to help, told the CNN team of sheer misery.

A Syrian man said he never imagined Europe would be like this.

“Look at her,” he said, motioning to his 3-year-old daughter in his arms. “In Syria she was a princess, now she is like a rag. They are treating us like animals.”

He said that if someone could get him back to Syria, he would go. “Better to die from bombs in my homeland than die out here,” he said.

The Independent reports this morning:

For a second day, they came. And, for a second day, they faced a wall of riot shields, razor wire and batons. But on Saturday something was different. As the Macedonian police waved a handful of exhausted refugees through from Greece, something snapped and hundreds rushed the lines, causing chaos and police retaliation in the form of volleys of stun grenades and beatings. Many were injured.

And yet they still came and, eventually, with the tide of humanity too much to hold, the Macedonians opened the border with Greece. The police, who only hours before had swiped and batted at the crowds, simply stepped aside as thousands – men, women and children, many from Syria – streamed through, crying tears of joy as they began their next step to sanctuary and escape from the horrors of war in their own countries.

The Guardian, also this morning:

Hundreds of migrants have crossed unhindered from Greece into Macedonia after overwhelmed security forces appeared to abandon a bid to stem their flow through the Balkans to western Europe following days of chaos and confrontation.

Riot police remained, but did little to slow the passage of a steady flow of migrants on Sunday, many of them refugees from the Syrian war and other conflicts in the Middle East, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

Macedonia had declared a state of emergency on Thursday and sealed its southern frontier to migrants arriving at a rate of 2,000 per day en route to Serbia then Hungary and the EU’s borderless Schengen zone. This led to desperate scenes at the border, as adults and children slept under open skies with little access to food or water.

Elsewhere on the Mediterranean, Italian and other naval vessels rescued another 2,000 refugees yesterday, responding to distress calls from more than 20 vessels in danger of sinking.

Donald Trump and others on the right are too busy insisting we have walls to build across our southern border to take notice. But maybe someone should point out that this is a suspiciously “European” solution coming out of the mouths of American politicians:

Throughout Europe, leaders are succumbing to the keep-them-out syndrome. Hungary is building a fence (along its border with Serbia). Spain has done the same (in Ceuta and Melilla). Bulgaria followed suit (on the border with Turkey). More fencing is springing up in Calais.

In Macedonia, which is not in the EU, they are deploying armoured vehicles against migrants. Will this work? Unlikely. When you flee atrocities and war, the desperation to reach a haven will always be stronger than security fences and dogs.

The causes of migration in Europe and the Middle East are more instability than economics, argues Patrick Kingsley in the Guardian. Human smugglers often portrayed as the source of the problem are simply reacting to the opportunities presented by demand for their services, as any conservative economist could tell you. But as I recall, one of the last mass migrations in my lifetime occurred after the U.S. military debacle in Vietnam. Not enough attention has been paid to the fact that the current crisis presents itself in close proximity to American adventures in Iraq and Syria. Strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett has suggested that one of America’s greatest exports is security. Isn’t instability more like it?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : International, National
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Aug
22

Cons not ready for the Big Con

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Real activists work in community organizing, political campaigns, voter registration, call-your-congresscritter, and Get-Out-the Vote efforts, etc. Then there is conservative James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas. Anti-government militiamen play with weapons in the woods, pretending they’re Rambo. O’Keefe’s hidden-camera crews play at being undercover agents, hoping to coax real activists into doing or saying something that, with the right editing and promotion, will appear nefarious on Fox News.

Project Veritas now seems to have set its sights on the Hillary Clinton campaign, Time reports:

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Categories : Presidential Race
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Aug
21

Give me that old time Constitution

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It was good for Samuel Adams. It’s good enough for me.

Donald Trump’s championing the elimination of birthright citizenshhip is a xenophobe’s dream. Trump is getting enough mileage out of hyping the “anchor baby” threat that many among the Republican presidential field are drafting off him, hoping to hang on long enough to pass him in the final laps. Talking Points Memo’s David Leopold debunks some of the nonsense, summing up Trump’s immigration reform plan in four words: They have to go.

When it comes down to it, the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment has very little to do with immigration; it is fundamentally focused on the preservation of civil rights. Trump’s extremist proposal to end birthright citizenship — whether by elimination or reinterpretation of the Citizenship Clause — comes at the grave cost of abridging civil rights, even hearkening back to the days of Dred Scott, when people were viewed as commodities to be bought and sold.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you listen to conservative talk radio in Iowa. Media Matters reports:

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Categories : National
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