David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.

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No (Sleeping) Child Left Behind?

| Mon Mar. 14, 2011 9:22 AM EDT

President Barack Obama is making today an education day. He's appearing at a middle school in Arlington, Virginia, to talk about "reforming education in order to win the future," according to a White House press release. And he's calling on Congress to "fix" George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law "before the start of the next school year."

For Marylanders, today is an appropriate moment for such a call. This morning, schools in their state are holding the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) tests for certain grades. This is a series of tests of math and reading achievement that is mandated by the testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools will rise or fall, depending on the results of these tests, which supposedly will reveal how well the schools are performing. But here's one data point that may not be factored into the equation: daylight savings time.

Due to springing forward one hour on Sunday morning, my sixth-grade daughter had a tougher-than-usual time dragging herself out of bed this morning in the dark. She begged to be allowed to sleep in. (That reminded me of a line I once heard Tom Waits growl: The only amount of sleep I ever needed was five more minutes.) Her car-pool friend had the same problem this morning. As we reached their middle school, I saw dozens of kids who seemed to be trudging up the hill toward the school more trudgingly than usual. And many of them were heading toward the MSA test being conducted in the first period.

So this final day of MSA testing will occur when the kids are not all right but exhausted. No doubt, this will affect test results. And I don't think scores are adjusted for weariness. It was a lousy idea to schedule the MSA on a Monday morning following a time change. But this does illustrate a flaw in the law: standardized testing can be significantly influenced by factors that have nothing to do with the actual performance of a school and its teachers. This is not to say that testing has no role in evaluating school systems and teachers. But rigid adherence to testing will not serve the students or teachers. Just ask my daughter later about the value of today's MSA in judging her school experience. That is, if she's not napping.

Boehner, Where Is, "Where Are the Jobs?"?

| Thu Mar. 10, 2011 10:47 AM EST

Before the 2010 congressional elections, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his fellow GOPers developed and implemented a simple campaign strategy: say "where are the jobs?" over and over and over. Even though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had declared thst President Barack Obama's stimulus package had created or saved about 3 million jobs and a recovery (albeit weak) was under way, the Republicans blamed Obama for screwing up the economy (not Wall Street or the Bush-Cheney administration). In politics, an attack doesn't have to be fair or accurate to work—and this one did.

Since then, have you heard Boehner screaming about jobs? No. He and his comrades have focused on one thing: cutting government spending, which will undoubtedly lead to job loss in the short run (if not the long run). Wait—that's not fair. They've also focused on abortion (with legislation that would make it harder for a woman who was raped to obtain federal assistance for an abortion), Planned Parenthood (with legislation that would defund the outfit), NPR (ditto), and American Muslims (with today's hearings on radicalization among Muslim Americans). There's not been much talk of jobs.

Consequently, this new poll from Bloomberg is hardly a surprise:

Americans say President Barack Obama lacks an effective strategy for improving the U.S. economy. They have much less confidence in the Republican vision for success.

By a margin of 51 percent to 40 percent, a Bloomberg National Poll shows Americans say Obama lacks the right formula for long-term growth, a goal he presented in his State of the Union address with the phrase “win the future.”

The Democratic president still does better than Republicans: When asked who has a better vision for the years ahead, 45 percent of poll respondents chose Obama and 33 percent picked the Republicans.

Four months ago, the GOPers shellacked the Democrats. They became the new kids on the block and claimed they were eager to refurnish their image with the American public. Yet once in power, they have reverted to their old ways—culture war and spending cuts. Meet the new boss, same as the...

Obama's Transparent Recovery?

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 6:00 AM EST

My friend of many years, author/thinker/activist Micah Sifry, who is co-founder and editor of the Personal Democracy Forum and TechPresident.com, has a new book out on the WikiLeaks affair. It's not a dig-up-the-dirt-on-Julian-Assange volume. Entitled WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency, this book, as Sifry puts it, is "a report from the trenches where a wide array of small-d democracy and transparency activists are hard at work using new tools and methods to open up powerful institutions and make them more accountable, and to situate WikiLeaks in that movement." In this work, Sifry examines other fronts in the battle for openness.

One telling case study from the book—which was excerpted on TechPresident.com—involves the Obama White House's effort (that is, promise) to make the stimulus a model of transparent government. Sifry writes:

Two years ago, Barack Obama promised the public that he was going to run government in a more transparent and interactive way. Indeed, at public rallies meant to build public support for the signature initiative of his fledgling administration, the $787 billion "Economic Recovery" stimulus spending program, he told audiences that he would "enlist all of you" to help watchdog the spending. The centerpiece was going to a new dynamic and interactive website, Recovery.gov.


Here’s what actually happened with Recovery.gov. According to a White House insider, during the transition planning, Obama was indeed shown a mock-up of an interactive site that would allow citizens to track all federal spending, not just the stimulus. But that vision was whittled down rather quickly, hobbled by a board made of up of the various agency Inspectors General, all of whom come from the old-school way of doing things. The "clay layer" of government bureaucracy, through which no light travels, was in charge.

At first, Earl Devaney, a former Secret Service agent who was appointed as the inspector general to run the stimulus program’s Recovery and Transparency Accountability Board, seemed to embrace Obama's stated vision. He promised that the site would invite Americans to be “citizens inspectors general,” helping track whether the money was indeed being used properly. “The website will unleash a million citizen IGs [inspectors general],” Devaney said in August 2009. “After getting a taste of this, people will not want to go back to the old ways,” he said.

No such thing has happened. First of all, the Recovery.gov site doesn’t really engage the public as “eyes and ears” apart from offering a way for people to report fraud, waste, or abuse via a standard electronic complaint form. In other words, all the real information processing about possible problems with government spending is hidden from the public; people have no way of seeing each other’s complaints or tracking whether something has been addressed. This isn't "Yelp for Government." All the real work is done by a sophisticated “Recovery Operations Center” where traditional law enforcement authorities use data-mining tools to uncover potential fraud. In no way has a community of citizen inspectors general been formed, and it’s not surprising that Recovery.gov has had no discernible effect on public trust in Obama.

Recovery.com yielded no revolution in citizen e-oversight of government.

You can read the rest of Sifry's account of this lost opportunity for government transparency here and find his new book here.

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