Archive

April 15th, 2016

Clinton-Sanders brawl could spur reforms in the Democratic nominating process

    Over the weekend, Bernie Sanders emphatically declared that there's still plenty of time to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning a majority of pledged delegates, and hinted that if so, he might move to extract concessions from her at a contested convention. That actually could happen, since Sanders has the money to keep on going until the last votes are cast.

    If so, here's one way this could end: Sanders could demand concessions in the form reforms to the Democratic nominating process. That's something voting reformers (and a lot of Sanders supporters) would be very grateful to see happen -- and it would make sense, given that one of the big stories of the Sanders challenge is that it has exposed a number of flaws with that process.

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Why dress codes can't stop sexual assault

    When news broke that Deputy Principal Cherith Telford at Henderson High School in New Zealand told female students that their uniform skirts must be knee-length to "keep our girls safe, stop boys from getting ideas and create a good work environment for male staff," reactions were mixed. Singer Erykah Badu felt that the girls had no business wearing skirts that stopped above their knee to school, while actress Reagan Gomez argued that it wasn't the responsibility of the girls to avoid being a temptation to grown men.

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April 13th

Common Core says to delay algebra to high school; that may be a miscalculation.

    I once lived in Scarsdale, N.Y., one of the most education-obsessed villages on the planet. During a big parents meeting at the public middle school, I amused myself by raising my hand and asking how they were going to decide who would be accelerated into algebra in eighth grade.

    It was an unkind and immature thing to do. As I expected, my question unleashed a wave of anxiety that forced administrators to abandon the night's agenda and deal with nothing else until we went home. In Scarsdale, as well as many parts of the Washington area, few topics grab more parental attention than middle school accelerated math.

    But now, the nation's biggest school reform, the Common Core State Standards, suggests those families restrain their ambitions and delay algebra until high school.

    How's that going?

    In the Washington area, slowly. Districts here seem reluctant to defy parental expectations. Nor are reform advocates explaining their intentions well.

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And It Is Only Mid-April!

    Elections are always contentious but this one seems particularly so and it is only mid-April. Six more months and a few more days before the election and already it seems like it has been the subject of the hour forever.

    Of course, part of what makes this election period so overwhelming is the need for material to fill the airwaves 24/7. In earlier times there was not so much ability to spread the charges and counter charges made by the candidates. With such constancy it is easy to become addicted even while complaining about the saturation.

    Nor can it be denied that controversy draws our attention more than sweetness and light. And, wow, do we ever have controversy! Granted, elections are designed to settle controversy but they usually have some positives too. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find the positive. Most assuredly the Republican side has had no positives and now the two Democratic candidates are indicating they can leave the high road behind too.

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The Senate is waiving its right to give 'advice and consent'

    On Nov. 12, 1975, while I was serving as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Justice William O. Douglas resigned. On Nov. 28, President Gerald R. Ford nominated John Paul Stevens for the vacant seat. Nineteen days after receiving the nomination, the Senate voted 98-0 to confirm the president's choice. Two days later, I had the pleasure of seeing Ford present Stevens to the court for his swearing-in. The business of the court continued unabated. There were no 4-to-4 decisions that term.

    Today, the system seems to be broken. Both parties are at fault, seemingly locked in a death spiral to outdo the other in outrageous behavior. Now, the Senate has simply refused to consider President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, dozens of nominations to federal judgeships and executive offices are pending before the Senate, many for more than a year. Our system prides itself on its checks and balances, but there seems to be no balance to the Senate's refusal to perform its constitutional duty.

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Shocked by the Panama Papers? Blame Switzerland

    The revelations about offshore accounts contained in the so-called Panama Papers are sensational, but they are unlikely to put an end to these tax havens favored by the world's rich and powerful.

    Rather, the disclosures are a reminder that these shelters have been around for close to a century, and have proved remarkably resilient even as they periodically aroused public outrage and calls for reform. In fact, an earlier scandal may have laid the foundation for the tax havens that are now under scrutiny.

    Switzerland has become shorthand for hidden money, and with good reason: The country has long sought to attract foreign capital to its banking system by offering a mixture of secrecy, preferential tax treatment and creative corporate structures.

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Damage control may rule Republican convention

    When House Speaker Paul Ryan released a video laying out his familiar theme that politics should be fought on ideas and issues, the Drudge Report's headline was: "Paul Ryan launches his first campaign ad."

    A dream of some Republicans is that Ryan will rescue them from a looming fiasco in the presidential election. That's not likely. As states assemble delegates for the party convention, there are already demands that no votes be cast for someone who didn't run.

    It would be rational to turn to Gov. John Kasich or Ryan, who might win the election, but neither the season nor the Republican grassroots reward rationality.

    If Donald Trump goes into the Republican convention with close to the 1,237 delegates required to win the nomination, it would be hard to deny him. It's more likely that he'll come in about 100 votes shy.

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Putin puts an army at his personal command

    President Vladimir Putin has overhauled Russia's law-enforcement operations to create a domestic army that ultimately would answer to him personally, not to one of the government ministers. It was the clearest demonstration in years of the Russian leader's concern about preserving his power.

    On April 5, Putin submitted a bill to the Russian parliament that carved out a National Guard from the Interior Ministry's Interior Troops. The Interior Ministry is essentially the police force; the 170,000-strong Interior Troops are the crack riot police and counterinsurgency units. During Putin's first two presidential terms, they bore the brunt of the fighting in the formerly secessionist region of Chechnya, and they have dispersed many unsanctioned rallies.

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The Supreme Court justices are the adults in our democracy as the other branches bicker

    Who would have predicted that the last true democrats in Washington might be found on the Supreme Court?

    As partisanship and jockeying for electoral advantage become all-consuming, Congress refuses to do its job, while the White House reaches perilously toward doing Congress's job as well as its own. The Senate majority and minority leaders no longer work together. President Obama and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan long ago gave up on finding common ground.

    When Justice Antonin Scalia died, it seemed a safe bet that the court, too, would fall victim to partisan paralysis.

    Already reviled by the left for Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. FEC, and by the right for not blocking Obamacare, the court instantly rose to the top of the presidential campaign agenda. Candidates boasted of litmus tests for appointing judges that, until recently, no self-respecting politician would have admitted to. The justices found themselves evenly divided and are likely to remain so for a long time - a scenario, if there ever was one, for gridlock and point-scoring.

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Building a Better Father

    As a child I was schooled constantly in how different mothers and fathers were. TV shows spelled it out. So did examples and conversations all around me, including in my own home.

    A mother’s love was supposedly automatic, unconditional. A father’s love was earned. Mothers nurtured, tending to tears. Fathers judged, prompting them.

    And while mothers felt pressure to lavish time and affection on their children, fathers could come and go. As long as they did their part as providers, the rest was negotiable.

    There was some of that psychology and behavior in the veteran political journalist Ron Fournier, who, at 52, is about my age. He grew up in the same culture that I did.

    But almost six years ago, he learned that the social awkwardness of his son, Tyler, wasn’t just that. It was “high-functioning autism,” in the words of a specialist. Tyler, then 12, had Asperger’s.

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