Archive

December 12th

The faux teacher shortage

    Here's something I've been struggling to understand: What makes the prospect of a national teacher shortage such an immediately compelling narrative, capable of spreading with the speed of a brush fire?

    With almost no real data - because neither states nor the federal government collects the information that would be needed to pronounce the onset of a true teacher shortage - we witness the press, school districts, state school boards and even Congress conclude that we are in the throes of a full-blown national crisis.

    At the root of this crisis is a New York Times news article published two summers ago reporting on six school districts that were having a tough time filling positions (though all but two ultimately started the year just fine). Whoosh! Overnight the teacher shortage became real.

    That early spark was then steadily fed by news articles reporting that teacher preparation programs were facing unprecedented enrollment drops.

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What it was like to look up to John Glenn

    John Glenn was one of my heroes. When I was a kid, we would learn about the exploits of the Mercury astronauts in "My Weekly Reader" and gawk at their photographs in "Life." Each of us had a favorite, and Glenn was mine. I was in second grade in February 1962 when he became the first American to orbit the globe, and like the rest of the country I was ecstatic.

    Glenn, who died this week at 95, was the rare public figure who was just exactly what he seemed -- the smiling, hardworking Presbyterian from a little town in Ohio who joined the Marines as an aviator after Pearl Harbor, won medals in two wars, and became the face of the U.S. space program. He was a genuine hero at a time when heroes were in short supply.

    It's hard to capture for the contemporary reader the extent to which the Cold War dominated public life in the early 1960s. This was the era of fallout shelters and air raid drills. Glenn's flight was sandwiched between the crises in Berlin and Cuba, either of which could have erupted into a conflagration. Children worried as much as adults about Armageddon. My friends and I used to bet nickels and dimes on when World War III would start.

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Raw emotions persist in run-up to Trump presidency

    Every four years, the Institute of Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government assembles the managers of the presidential campaigns for a deep, post-election debrief. It is always illuminating and generally civil, with occasional fireworks. Because the 2016 election was unlike any other, this year's managers conference was also unlike any other.

    In the immediate aftermath of President-elect Donald Trump's victory over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, all the leading players said the right things. Trump called for healing and said that he would try to bring the country together. Clinton asked her supporters to give the newly elected president the space and opportunity to govern. President Barack Obama, despite harsh words for Trump through the campaign, said that he would assure an orderly transfer of power in the spirit of reconciliation.

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December 11th

Our Only Hope

    Following the election I expressed the hope that this President-Elect continuing to promote such extreme views would alarm even his Republican colleagues sufficiently to hold him in check. Alas, his pronouncements and actions have continued in the same vein with concern only being expressed by those Democrats smart enough to have opposed his election in the first place. The concern is more than normal political differences of how to run a nation. It is extremism in the extreme!

    To be sure there were many of his party members who did express opposition from time to time but when push came to shove they were right there at his side supporting his election. So much for responsibility! Yes, there is something to be said for joining him now that he has the office in hopes of mitigating his extreme stated policies. My referral is to the few who cautioned us regarding the candidate who are now under consideration for high posts. The appointment of agency heads whose purpose seems to be to dismantle the agency is a different matter.

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How to Win a Senate Race

    It takes a certain force of will to turn away, even briefly, from the burlesque of Donald Trump’s transition into the presidency. But that’s not the entirety of U.S. politics, just as his election wasn’t the lone political story of 2016. Other contests had important lessons. One especially draws my eye.

    It was a gigantic win for Republicans, who will use it as a model. But Democrats can learn as much from it, because it mirrored some mistakes they made nationwide.

    I’m referring to Sen. Rob Portman’s re-election in Ohio. His seat was one that Democrats identified early as a potential steal, and through much of 2015 and 2016, political analysts tagged the race as one of the most competitive in the country. But he ended up winning by 21 points.

    Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Ohio by a smaller margin of 8 points, so Portman didn’t merely surf a Republican wave. And while the Democratic Party essentially gave up on the race two months before Election Day, diverting money elsewhere, that didn’t fully explain the size of Portman’s victory. Nor did his formidable war chest of funds.

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Finding America’s Mother Teresa

    If this political season has you feeling down, meet Annette Dove. She’s a salve for our aches and wounds, for she represents the American grass roots’ best.

    Dove, 60, is a black woman who dropped out of high school when she became pregnant and who has endured racism and domestic abuse. Drawing on her own experience overcoming difficulties, she now runs a widely admired program for troubled children. Funding the program in part with her own savings — even going into personal bankruptcy to keep it going — she transforms lives.

    Dove works seven days a week and struggles month to month to pay the bills with donations, foundation support and a state grant; when the money runs out, she prays.

    The poverty and disadvantage that Dove is fighting here in Pine Bluff, a poor, majority-black town of 50,000, are found all across America. But so, too, are people like Dove, battling for progress through churches, schools, Big Brother programs, advocacy efforts.

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Donald Trump, Department of Justice, Jeff Sessions

    In his successful run to the presidency, Donald Trump spent a lot of time talking about the Second Amendment and defending gun ownership. He spent very little time talking about the other amendments, other than to say he supported the Constitution. He knew his core support came from those who could effortlessly repeat a phrase, “Donald Trump supports my Second Amendment rights,” without knowing much more than that.

    There’s probably a reason why Trump wasn’t specific about the other rights—he doesn’t know much about the Constitution. That became apparent this past week when he said he would jail anyone who burned the flag. However, the Supreme Court, in Texas v. Johnson (1989), ruled that burning the flag is protected by the First Amendment right of free speech, no matter how hateful or unpatriotic it may seem. Trump’s tweet was soundly condemned by all media and civil rights organizations.

    Trump’s knowledge of the Constitution isn’t as important as his attorney general’s enforcement of Trump’s political beliefs. Most attorney generals have been apolitical; Trump’s nomination may not be.

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Trump's Carrier deal could permanently damage American capitalism

    There are many aspects of the economic policy of the new administration that I find misguided. But I am most troubled by what President-elect Donald Trump did with Carrier to hold on to an extra 700 jobs in Indiana. Ronald Reagan's response to the air traffic controllers' strike was a small act that had profound consequences. I fear in a similar way that the negotiation with Carrier is a small thing that is actually a very big thing - a change very much for the worse with regards to the operating assumptions of American capitalism.

    Market economies can operate anywhere along a continuum between two poles.

    I have always thought of American capitalism as dominantly rule and law based. Courts enforce contracts and property rights in ways that are largely independent of just who it is who is before them. Taxes are calculable on the basis of an arithmetic algorithm. Companies and governments buy from the cheapest bidder. Regulation follows previously promulgated rules. In the economic arena, the state's monopoly on the use of force is used to enforce contract and property rights and to enforce previously promulgated laws.

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Trump's bait-and-switch strategy

    As the nation's news media try to figure out how to handle President-elect Trump, he continues to keep them off balance with the hustler's tactic of bait-and-switch. He tosses out one after another tasty news morsels to draw attention from issues than can do him political damage.

    A recent example is how he countered the fact that he lost the popular vote on Election Day by insisting he had really won it -- and then threw into the mix his allegation that the whole election was rigged anyway.

    With this double dose of malarkey, Trump at least temporarily misdirected eyes and ears away from the more significant question: Is he potentially breaking the law or flirting with a serious conflict of interest by holding onto his huge real-estate business while preparing to assume the presidency?

    At first, in his long interview with editors and reporters of the New York Times in their Manhattan lair, Trump insisted that there was no conflict in him taking over the Oval Office and continuing to run his huge international real-estate empire.

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Trump is setting a terrible precedent. Ask Japan.

    Factory workers should be cheering. Donald Trump, actually living up to a campaign promise, has been badgering corporate America to keep manufacturing jobs at home. On Thursday, Trump announced that Carrier will maintain about 1,000 jobs in Indiana rather than shift them to Mexico. He has prodded Apple to build plants at home rather than outsource to China. And he has taken credit (dubiously) for rescuing a Ford factory in Kentucky.

    Many of you are probably saying: Hey, why haven't we done this sort of thing all along? Finally, we've got a tough guy in the White House who can stop those fat cats from moving our jobs overseas!

    The problem is that Trump's bullying will undermine the rule of law -- and ultimately prove detrimental to the U.S. economy. We know this because he's far from the first government official to try such meddling. In Japan, bureaucrats were once famous for it. And the results there should serve as a warning.

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