2011 - %3, January

State (of Emergency) Education Roundup: Charters and Budget Woes

| Fri Jan. 7, 2011 3:10 PM EST

Click here to see all of MoJo's recent education coverage, or follow The Miss K Files on Twitter or with this RSS Feed.

This week California's new Superintendent of Public Instruction declared a state of emergency in schools; California, which educates one in eight public school children in America, is staring down a $28 billion budgetary hole. Kristina Rizga has the details on what budget woes mean for educators across the land.

Now that the GOP's pro-charter school elements have officially landed in the General Assembly, bills allowing the independently run, publicly funded educational facilities have sprung up all over the place this week. Meanwhile, North Carolina tea partiers aim to eliminate caps on the number of charter schools in the state.

On WednesdayThe New York Times hosted a debate on whether Congress should give tax-breaks to parents who home-school their kids, a plan newly elected conservatives are pushing here and here. For more on the tea party's impending war on schools, read this piece from The Daily Beast's Dana Goldstein. Tax breaks for home-schoolers raise questions about using public funds for religious instruction, since many parents who homeschool do it for religious and moral reasons. Also at stake is money that could go to public schools, which NY Times commenters note everyone should have a role in paying for since everyone has a vested interest in the greater good. MoJo's Stephanie Mencimer detailed what Rick Scott's Florida should expect; in short, privatization. 

How much is a good teacher worth? About $400,000 annually. That's if you consider the future earnings of 20 students in a class, which a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research did recently. According to the abridged, free version of the report:

Replacing the bottom 5-8 percent of teachers with average teachers could move the US near the top of international math and science rankings with a present value of $100 trillion.

The NBER report drives home the point that everyone in the country (people without children included) has a vested interest in the education of kids in their community. HuffPo weighs in with more info.

On Monday, a trial date was set in the case of black children who were improperly placed in Special Ed. Read The Philadelphia Inquirer for more.

Also this week, Kevin Drum reported that teachers now have the option of teaching a censored version of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn that replaces the "n-word" with "slave,"

And, the Advocate reported that a Phoenix-area teenager notified officials at every school in Arizona that if they don't institute policies prohibiting gay bullying, he'll file a lawsuit. The emailed letter was sent to more than 5,000 school administrators.

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Kochs Sue Over Climate Prank

| Fri Jan. 7, 2011 2:46 PM EST

Koch Industries, the Kansas-based oil and gas conglomerate, claims that its "business and reputation were harmed" by a prank last month, when a fake press release and website appeared stating that the company had change its ways on global warming—that is, it had decided to cease pouring millions into climate change-denying campaigns. In late December, the company filed a legal complaint seeking to uncover the individuals behind the prank.

From the filing in the US District Court in Utah that came to light this week, via Wonk Room:

[A]s a result of Defendants’ actions, Plaintiff’s business and reputation were harmed, and Plaintiff incurred monetary damages, including costs associated with spending time and money to respond to inquiries about the fake press release and Defendants’ other fraudulent activities, investigative and legal expenses associated with determining the host for Defendant’s website and contacting the host to have it taken down, and investigative and legal expenses associated with ascertaining the identity of Defendants.

The fake press release stated that after serious reevaluation, the company had decided that the "best course forward includes a discontinuation of funding for these organizations, and organizations like them, whose positions on climate change could jeopardize America's continued global competitiveness in the energy and chemical sectors and Koch Industries’ ability to provide high-quality products and services to the American people."

The press release and website was clearly a prank, one that bore a close resemblance to one pulled on the Chamber of Commerce in 2009 by the notorious pranksters known as the Yes Men. But unlike the Chamber stunt, which put one over on some media outlets, the Koch prank was instantly identified as a "spoof" in news coverage.

Charles and David Koch have become the left's favorite bogeymen. Their company spent $2.6 million on the midterm elections, and both brothers made sizable donations to Republican candidates and campaign committees. For enviros, the Kochs' largesse on climate denial has been a particular bane; the Kansas-based company, its affiliates, and foundations spent almost $25 million on "organizations of the 'climate denial machine'" between 2005 and 2008, according to an analysis compiled by Greenpeace last year. Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, and Citizens for a Sound Economy are among the 35 organizations that have spread misinformation about climate change which have directly or indirectly received money from Koch Industries, affiliates, or family foundations.

In other Koch news this week, Gawker looks at evidence that someone (possibly the Kochs themselves) has been attempting an unsuccessful smear campaign against the New Yorker's Jane Mayer in the months since her blockbuster expose on the brothers was published.

On Friday, Politico's Playbook also noted that David Koch was spotted breakfasting in DC with GOP pollster Frank Luntz at the Four Seasons on Thursday. Luntz is the guy who famously advised Republicans about how to muddy the water on global warming before last year imparting the wisdom to environmentalists that they should just stop talking about the issue. One can only wonder what Luntz and Koch were chatting about over bacon and eggs.

Huzzah for Healthcare Reform!

| Fri Jan. 7, 2011 1:41 PM EST

It's no surprise that President Obama has threatened to veto any repeal of healthcare reform that reaches his desk. (It won't reach his desk, of course, since it'll never get past the Senate. But put that aside for now.) Still, surprise or not, Jon Cohn thinks it's a sign of a welcome new aggressiveness in the Democratic caucus:

For most of last year, Democrats were playing defense on health care, responding to Republican criticisms or, in many cases, trying desperately to change the subject of debate. Now something has changed. Congressional Democrats are challenging Republicans, daring them to come out against the bill's more popular provisions.

....Of course, they may not have a choice. Republicans have made repeal a top priority, so the fight is going to take place whether or not Democrats want it. But I think it also reflects a changing dynamic, as well. According to Greg Sargent, who was among the first to spot the shift, House Democrats in particular are aware of the opportunity they missed last year, while the party and most of its leaders were trying so hard to save endangered incumbents. They think they're in a stronger position now, since people are starting to see the law's benefits and repeal will mean changing an increasingly favorable status quo.

Granted, it's always easier to be aggressive in the minority than the majority. And it's easier still to be aggressive when there's no election looming. But isn't there something else at work here as well? An awful lot of the centrist Dems who considered healthcare reform politically toxic are gone. There's a small rump of Blue Dogs left in the House (mainly the dozen or so dead-enders who voted for Heath Shuler to replace Nancy Pelosi for majority leader), but it's in dire shape. Most of the Democrats left in the House are eager to back healthcare reform and represent districts where it's safe to do so.

The Senate is a somewhat different story, but it matters less there since any attempt to repeal ACA will simply be filibustered and die. Still, whatever the reason, it's sort of refreshing to see Dems fighting for healthcare reform a little more openly these days. It's certainly good practice, anyway.

Few Anti-Reform Dems Riding the Repeal Wave

| Fri Jan. 7, 2011 1:33 PM EST

Conservative Democrats who voted down health reform aren’t jumping aboard the GOP’s push to repeal the law. On Friday morning, the House voted 236 to 181 to move forward with its health care repeal bill, clearing the path for a Wednesday vote on the measure. Only four Democrats voted with Republicans on the procedural vote: Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.), Larry Kissell (D-NC), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), and Mike Ross (D-Ark.). Boren and Ross had already vowed to vote for repeal, and it now looks like they’ll be joined by at least two other Blue Dogs.

But other anti-reform Democrats have already suggested that they’ll vote against repealing the law. As I reported on Wednesday, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) said that taking away the benefits of reform from Americans who’ve already received them would be "immoral." Politico reports that other anti-reform Blue Dogs like Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) are also leaning against reform, while a few others remain uncommitted. The bulk of the Blue Dogs who voted against health reform were voted out of office in November, with just 13 anti-reform Democrats left in the House. And the Blue Dogs who vote against repeal could give the Democrats more ammunition against the GOP and help persuade moderate voters of the benefits of reform.*

*Update: This post has been abridged from the original.

Playing Games With the CBO

| Fri Jan. 7, 2011 1:17 PM EST

Bruce Bartlett on what motivates the longtime Republican hatred of the Congressional Budget Office:

CBO’s great sin, in Republican eyes, is that it’s always telling them that their pet ideas are wrong: tax cuts don’t automatically pay for themselves through the Laffer Curve, the Affordable Care Act didn’t raise the deficit, the budget can’t be balanced only by cutting domestic discretionary spending, and other heresies to Republican dogma.

The latest incarnation of this assault on reality is typically childish: the GOP leadership is declining to officially reappoint Doug Elmendorf to head the CBO even though both the chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees (one Republican and one Democrat) have recommended it. It sure is good to see that the grownups are back in charge, isn't it?

Outside Spending Wars Reignite in Great Plains

| Fri Jan. 7, 2011 1:12 PM EST

Never mind that the 2012 elections, in which a resurgent GOP will try to topple Barack Obama and reclaim a Senate majority, are nearly two years away. Never mind that the 112th Congress is just days old. Already the spending wars for the next election season have begun in an unlikely place: the political backwater that is North Dakota.

A left-leaning independent advocacy group, Commonsense Ten, is doling out $30,000 for radio ads in North Dakota in defense of Sen. Kent Conrad, the Washington Post reports. The ads describe Conrad as a "deficit hawk" and "lifelong North Dakotan, champion for our ranches, and family farms and fiscal conservative." Why now, and why Conrad? As it turns out, C10's new ad buy is a response to recent attacks on Conrad by the conservative American Future Fund. Based in Iowa, AFF recently bought $60,000 worth of air time for commercials that criticize Conrad for backing "wasteful stimulus, massive Wall Street bailouts, and the budget-busting health care bill that Americans didn't want."

Here's more from the Post:

"We saw last cycle what the Republican dominance in outside spending meant," said [C10 co-founder Jim] Jordan. "We're going to do everything we can to play that to a draw, at least, in 2011 and 2012."

In the last election, North Dakota Democrats took a major hit, with Republicans winning an open Senate seat and defeating former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D). Given those gains, Republicans believe 2012 is the cycle where they finally can beat Conrad and have ramped up public pressure on him in the early stages of the race.

Conrad has been mentioned as a possible retiree but has said little publicly about his future political plans. Unlike in 2010, when popular Gov. John Hoeven (R) ran and won a Senate race, Republicans have no obvious candidate to take on Conrad at the moment.

Democrats should be encouraged that C10 is already wading into the 2012 fray. With 23 senators up for re-election (that includes independents Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) and only 10 GOP seats up for grabs, 2012 could very well be the year the Senate flips back to the Republicans. Which is to say, Senate Democrats are going to need all the help they can get.

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Bloggingheads: Corn and Pinkerton on Bill Daley, John Boehner, and Michele Bachmann

Fri Jan. 7, 2011 12:25 PM EST

Mother Jones' David Corn and Fox News' James Pinkerton were on bloggingheads.tv again this week to talk Obama's new chief of staff Bill Daley, new GOP House Speaker John Boehner, and potential presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). Watch:

A (Too) Small Victory for Gay Ugandans

| Fri Jan. 7, 2011 12:10 PM EST

Oh, man, I am so glad I didn't wake up this morning to find my face on the cover of a newspaper under a headline that I should be lynched.

Hopefully gay Ugandans will soon enjoy that same relief. Earlier this week, a court in Kampala ruled that the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone (no relation to, you know, Rolling Stone) can no longer publish the photos, names, and addresses of "Top Homos" under the banner "HANG THEM" after three such alleged homos filed suit for pain and mental anguish. (The identity "leaks" also caused several physical attacks last year.) Rolling Stone's editor has promised to appeal the ruling. And regardless of whether it stands, gay Ugandans are still subject to serving up to 14 years in prison for trying to steal innocent straight children from schools, or whatever it is gay people do. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill that caused such a stir last year for proposing that homosexuality be punishable by death has been watered down (to life imprisonment) and tabled for the moment. But rumor has it that it'll be back on the parliament's agenda after elections in February.

So, one victory but still "a long way to go," as one Ugandan activist points out: "It is still impossible for LGBT people in Uganda to freely be who they are and develop meaningful lives. The fear for life continues."

A Terrorism Trial in the US Neglected by the Media

| Fri Jan. 7, 2011 11:49 AM EST

On Monday, one of the world's most notorious alleged terrorists will go on trial in Texas. Not for anything related to 9/11 or Al Qaeda. But this man stands accused of masterminding terrorist actions that killed scores of innocent civilians. Yet this event is hardly generating a media blitz. Peter Kornbluh previews the trial in The Nation. Here are his opening paragraphs:

On January 10 one of the most dangerous terrorists in recent history will go on trial in a small courtroom in El Paso, Texas. This is not the venue the Obama administration has finally selected to prosecute the perpetrators of 9/11; it is where the reputed godfather of Cuban exile violence, Luis Posada Carriles, may finally face a modicum of accountability for his many crimes.

In the annals of modern justice, the Posada trial stands out as one of the most bizarre and disreputable of legal proceedings. The man identified by US intelligence reports as a mastermind of the midair destruction of a Cuban airliner—all seventy-three people on board were killed when the plane plunged into the sea off the coast of Barbados on October 6, 1976—and who publicly bragged about being behind a series of hotel bombings in Havana that killed an Italian businessman, Fabio Di Celmo, is being prosecuted for perjury and fraud, not murder and mayhem. The handling of his case during the Bush years became an international embarrassment and reflected poorly on the willingness and/or abilities of the Justice Department to prosecute crimes of terror when that terrorist was once an agent and ally of America. For the Obama administration, the verdict will carry significant implications for US credibility in the fight against terrorism, as well as for the future of US-Cuban relations.

With all the tough talk in recent years (and decades) about the US getting tough on terrorism—before and after 9/11—various administrations' wishy-washy handling of the Posada case has offered case studies in hypocrisy. For the sad history, read the rest of Kornbluh's piece here.

 

 

When Will America's Jobs Engine Restart?

| Fri Jan. 7, 2011 10:41 AM EST

On the jobs front, the month of December was hardly cause for celebration.

According to the Labor Department's monthly labor snapshot, released Friday morning, the US added only 103,000 jobs in December, all of them in the private sector. While an increase from November's gains of 39,000, that total is lower than many economists' projections, which were around 150,000. It's also nowhere near the amount of jobs needed to put the country on track for a full economic recovery; to do so, the economy needs to add closer to 300,000 jobs each month, economists say. "The jobs deficit remains large, and we will need much faster job growth than we saw in 2010 to simultaneously bring people back into the labor force and reduce the unemployment rate to acceptable levels over the next few years," said Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The news wasn't all disappointing. The Labor Department revised its job figures for October and November, bumping up the number of jobs added in October to 210,000 from 172,000 and in November to 71,000 from 39,000.

And at first glance, the Labor Department's various jobless rates make December look like a good month for job seekers. The headline unemployment rate dropped to 9.4 percent from 9.8 percent in November, and the real jobless rate—the one accounting for part-time workers, "marginally attached" workers, and more—dipped slightly to 16.7 percent from 17 percent. December marks the 20th straight month with unemployment over 9 percent, the worst jobs crisis since World War II. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed workers decreased by 556,000 to 14.5 million people, and the long-term unemployed (those out of work for more than six months) held steady at 6.4 million, or 44 percent of all jobless workers.

But jobless rates can be deceiving. One crucial statistic to look at is the percentage of working-age people who are actually in the labor force. In December, that figure edged downward yet again, to 64.3 percent. That's the lowest it's been since the early 1980s, and as Calculated Risk notes, down from the normal 66 to 67 percent over the past two decades. In other words, about the same percentage of working-age people collected a steady paycheck in December as did during the Reagan presidency.

And that's why you shouldn't get too excited about that lower, 9.4 percent unemployment rate. It's not that the job market is necessarily improving, but that people are still dropping out of the labor market and making the pool of officially unemployed workers look smaller than it really is. These are people who're tired of sending out cover letters and resumes, attending job fairs, scouring online job boards. To wit: the number of workers who've dropped out of the labor force increased by 1.5 million between December 2009 and December 2010.

The December job figures are especially deflating after a private employment report from earlier this week suggested big gains in the labor market. The December employment report from ADP, a business data analysis outfit, reported that private employers added 297,000 jobs in December. But Friday's government report seems to validate ADP's skeptics, who say the firm isn't all that accurate, especially during the holiday season when jobs numbers fluctuate more than usual.

So how distant is a full jobs recovery? Think of it this way: If the economy adds 150,000 jobs per month going forward, then it will take around 20 years to get back to the pre-recession employment level of 5 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute's Heidi Schierholz. Really, the question isn't when we'll get back to normal but if we ever get there at all.