Blogs

Four-Day School Weeks: For Real Now

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 12:45 PM EDT

schoolbus-gas.jpgAbout a month ago, I wrote that a handful of school districts—due to rising fuel costs—said they could save thousands of dollars in school bus fuel by switching to four-day school weeks. Apparently things have really ramped up since then.

A recent survey says that 1 in 7 school boards nationwide are considering whether to drop a day off the normal five-day school week. About half surveyed said they were planning to cut out field trips, and more than 30% said they were consolidating or eliminating bus routes.

We've been down this road before. During the oil crisis of the 1970s about 100 districts implemented a four-day week also. One small study in Florida in 1973 found that half the students preferred it (Heck yeah: three-day weekends!).

But gas prices aren't the only issue: a shaky economy and some state budge woes led some districts to switch to a four-day week as many as four years ago.

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Find Out Where a Gas Tax Holiday Might Have Some Serious Appeal...

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 12:37 PM EDT

When you're done checking out our cool interactive map of America's global military footprint, check out this cool interactive map of global gas prices.

Some of the facts are really remarkable. Citizens of Scandinavia pay almost $10 a gallon and the Turks, who labor under a 72 percent gas tax, pay $11.18. Meanwhile, residents of Turkmenistan pay just $0.76 per gallon, and the first 32 gallons each month are free. Comparatively speaking, we get off pretty easy. (Via Andrew.)

Biden's Experience

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 12:31 PM EDT

BIDEN'S EXPERIENCE....Over at the mother blog — a genuinely apt name at this magazine — Jonathan Stein comments on today's paean to Joe Biden from David Brooks:

So Biden is a liberal, not-evil Cheney. I'll agree that's a good thing. I'll further agree that having people like David Brooks on-board with the Obama VP pick is a good thing for Obama. But I won't agree that experience is the primary consideration when choosing a VP. Is Brooks not aware how that undercuts Obama's entire case for the presidency? If we value experience, why settle for a ticket with a VP who has 25+ years of experience in Washington? Why not pick the ticket with the nominee who has 25+ years of experience in Washington?

I imagine I'm probably more sympathetic to Biden than Jonathan is in the first place, but even aside from that I don't think this is right. By picking Biden, what Obama would show is that he's not afraid of experienced colleagues. Think of JFK picking Johnson or Carter picking Mondale as their running mates. It's basically a show of dominance.

And aside from that, there really is some value in Biden's experience. Maybe. All four of the most recent Democratic presidents have chosen their VPs from the ranks of the Senate, and I'll grant that the results have been fairly mixed. Still, the Senate is pretty clearly going to be ground zero for getting Obama's program passed into actual legislation, and Biden has a pretty decent track record of working the legislative process. So on that score it might be genuinely helpful. (Ditto, of course, for Jack Reed.)

My Brooks-related concern would be a little different. Remember how conservatives were singing hosannahs to Obama back before he actually won the nomination? That, um, didn't last long. So call me cynical, but I wonder if Brooks will continue to think so highly of Biden if he gets the nomination? Or will he suddenly discover a column or five's worth of reasons that he's actually a fatal albatross? I'm not saying he'd do that. I'm just saying.

Sunni Awakening Update

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 12:01 PM EDT

SUNNI AWAKENING UPDATE....A couple of days ago McClatchy's Leila Fadel reported "Key U.S. Iraq strategy in danger of collapse":

A key pillar of the U.S. strategy to pacify Iraq is in danger of collapsing because the Iraqi government is failing to absorb tens of thousands of former Sunni Muslim insurgents who'd joined U.S.-allied militia groups into the country's security forces.

...."We cannot stand them, and we detained many of them recently," said one senior Iraqi commander in Baghdad, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue. "Many of them were part of al Qaida despite the fact that many of them are helping us to fight al Qaida."

He said the army was considering setting a Nov. 1 deadline for those militia members who hadn't been absorbed into the security forces or given civilian jobs to give up their weapons. After that, they'd be arrested, he said.

This has always been the risk in the bottom-up strategy of arming the former Sunni insurgents in hopes of giving them enough ground-level influence that Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite government wouldn't have any choice but to deal with them. After all, maybe Maliki would decide not to deal with them after all. What then? The New York Times picks up the story today:

West of Baghdad, former insurgent leaders contend that the Iraqi military is going after 650 Awakening members, many of whom have fled the once-violent area they had kept safe. While the crackdown appears to be focused on a relatively small number of leaders whom the Iraqi government considers the most dangerous, there are influential voices to dismantle the American backed movement entirely.

"The state cannot accept the Awakening," said Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheer, a leading Shiite member of Parliament. "Their days are numbered."

....The Shiite-dominated government has never been pleased with the continuing American plan to finance and organize Sunni insurgents into militia guards, charging that they will stop fighting only as long as it serves their interests.

"These people are like cancer, and we must remove them," said Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti, commander of the Iraqi Army's 5,000-strong Muthanna Brigade, which patrols west of Baghdad, said of the Awakening leaders on his list for arrest.

That doesn't sound very promising, does it? Gen. David Petraeus, however, says Maliki has promised to get with the program. "This is how you end these kinds of conflicts," he said. "That's why they call it reconciliation. It's not done with one's friends, it's done with former enemies."

This is absolutely something to keep a close eye on. If Maliki continues to believe his own PR and figures that he's strong enough on his own to renege on his promise to incorporate the Sunnis into Iraq's security forces, the tribal leaders are almost certain to start the insurgency right back up. And if they do, Muqtada al-Sadr might decide to rejoin the fight as well. And who knows? Maybe the Kurds would decide that chaos in the south was a perfect cover for retaking Kirkuk.

Surge supporters have long been eager to play down everything that's happened in Iraq other than the surge, and even Petraeus isn't immune to that. Yesterday he spoke about the Sunni tribal leaders who teamed up with American forces before the surge to kick al-Qaeda out of Iraq. "They have made an enormous contribution," he said, before catching himself: "or a very significant contribution, to improved security." If Maliki continues to stonewall and the Sunni leaders finally get tired of it, I suspect that "enormous" is going to turn out to have been the proper adjective after all.

McCain's Houses: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 11:43 AM EDT

The McCains spend more each year on house staff ($273,000), than the average American's home is worth ($266,000).

Update: McCain isn't commenting on this story. But that doesn't mean he's not out and about!

McCain, who huddled with advisors at his desert compound in Sedona, Ariz., said nothing in public. A nine-car motorcade took him to a nearby Starbucks early in the morning, where he ordered a large cappuccino. McCain otherwise avoided reporters.

Late update: The McCain's spent more on household help than they gave to charity.

Brooks Dreams of Biden

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 11:03 AM EDT

David Brook's column today is a pretty good indication of what the Very Serious people of Washington will think of a Joe Biden pick.

Brooks likes Biden because of Biden's working class roots, his straight-shooting nature, and his experience in Washington and abroad. One suspects it is this last that really matters. "When Obama talks about postpartisanship, he talks about a grass-roots movement that will arise and sweep away the old ways of Washington," writes Brooks. "When John McCain talks about it, he describes a meeting of wise old heads who get together to craft compromises. Obama's vision is more romantic, but McCain's is more realistic."

So Biden is a liberal, not-evil Cheney. I'll agree that's a good thing. I'll further agree that having people like David Brooks on-board with the Obama VP pick is a good thing for Obama. But I won't agree that experience is the primary consideration when choosing a VP. Is Brooks not aware how that undercuts Obama's entire case for the presidency? If we value experience, why settle for a ticket with a VP who has 25+ years of experience in Washington? Why not pick the ticket with the nominee who has 25+ years of experience in Washington?

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Endless Smears

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:57 AM EDT

ENDLESS SMEARS....When Daniel Kurtzer, an occasional advisor to the Obama campaign, said recently that he hoped Israel could make some progress in negotiations with Syria, the McCain campaign pounced. "If one of Senator Obama's advisers has been to Damascus," said Michael Goldfarb, in a show of classiness that's become his trademark, "we just wonder how many have been to Tehran."

Yuck yuck. Heather Hurlburt comments:

When the McCain campaign goes after an Orthodox Jew, former dean of Yeshiva U., career diplomat who was the Bush Administration's ambassador to Israel on 9-11, was caricatured in anti-Semitic cartoons in the Cairo press during his tenure as Ambassador to Egypt, where he bravely was a public face of Orthodoxy, and is the Commissioner of the Israeli Baseball League (you can't make this stuff up), for doing something the Israeli government is already doing (talking to Syrians), will someone please tell me exactly how this country is supposed to have a diplomatic establishment?

Goldfarb decided to smear the commissioner of the Israeli Baseball League? Nice work there. But I guess if it plays with the rubes, McCain's team figures it's all's fair.

But Honey, Now I Know What the US Military Is Doing in Nauru!

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:41 AM EDT

Sure, everyone knows that America's military is hunkered down in the Middle East, but what's it doing in the rest of the world? Quite a lot, as it turns out. The Pentagon is several years into its biggest overseas base reshuffling since the Cold War, a realignment that is expected to cost US taxpayers $20 billion.

Given these rapid changes, our intrepid editorial and technical teams embarked on a yearlong project entitled "Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide" to find out what our soldiers are up to, country by country. At its heart is this interactive world map that lets viewers zoom in to almost any place on the planet to learn about US involvement there. I'm already hearing it described as "addictive," and I highly doubt so much up-to-date information about America's overseas military presence has ever been available in one place in a fashion so accessible to casual readers. So what if my wife and children no longer recognize me. It's finished! (See more highlights below.)

The End of the Iraq War Is in Sight

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:25 AM EDT

american_flag_iraq165.gif So at this point there is no doubt: the Bush Administration supports a timetable for withdrawal.

Specifically, it supports withdrawing American troops out of Iraqi cities by summer 2009 and out of the rest of the country by the end of 2011. Those are the terms of a draft accord the Bush Administration is putting in front of Iraq's leaders for ratification. The quickness with which American combat operations are supposed to cease is reportedly the price the Administration had to pay for the Iraqi government's legalization of the American military presence in Iraq after this year, when the United Nations mandate currently authorizing the American presence expires. It is unclear whether the accord addresses the issue of permanent bases in Iraq, which are supported by John McCain and opposed by Barack Obama and wide swaths of the Iraqi public.

Of course, the Administration said that these dates are "aspirational goals" and that the actual pace of withdrawal will depend on the security situation in Iraq. But the fact is that the Bush Administration has put a plan for withdrawal on the table.

The Modern GOP

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:24 AM EDT

THE MODERN GOP....You know, in its own way this may be greatest political lead ever written. It comes from Jonathan Weisman and Robert Barnes in the Washington Post:

Sen. John McCain's inability to recall the number of homes he owns during an interview yesterday jeopardized his campaign's carefully constructed strategy to frame Democratic rival Barack Obama as an out-of-touch elitist....

There's something about the bland, nonjudgmental way that it describes both the standard modern GOP smear campaign strategy against all Democratic contenders and the perverse but deliciously fitting way in which it's finally been turned against them this year that just might sum up all of current American politics in a mere single sentence. Congratulations, guys!

As for McCain himself, he huddled yesterday with his campaign advisors to work on some strategery to restore his regular guy image. But first he had to fuel up:

A nine-car motorcade took him to a nearby Starbucks early in the morning, where he ordered a large cappuccino. McCain otherwise avoided reporters.

Jeez, couldn't he just send his valet out instead?