Category Archives: The Left

Its all about the Children

Review & Outlook: Crushing Hopes in Compton – WSJ.com.

Can I enroll?

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No good idea goes unchallenged by the forces of the educational status quo, but the tactics they’re using to stop the first experiment at “parent trigger” school reform in California sure are revealing—and ugly.

As we reported in December, a majority of parents (more than 250) have exercised their right under a new state law to petition to replace the administrators at McKinley Elementary school in Compton, California and invite a charter-school operator to take over.

McKinley is one of the worst schools in one of the worst-performing districts in the country. Fewer than half of the Compton Unified School District’s students graduate from high school, and only 3.3% of those graduates are eligible to attend California’s public universities. The parents want McKinley to be run by Celerity Educational Group, which operates three high-performing charters in the Los Angeles area.

The educational empire has not taken this well. At a PTA meeting teachers urged parents to rescind their petitions, and during school hours they pressured students whose parents supported the trigger effort.

When that intimidation failed, the school district suddenly came up with a new signature-verification process. The district required parents—many of whom work multiple jobs—to show up at McKinley at appointed times on one of two days. It also required parents to bring official photo identification, knowing that some of them are illegal immigrants. (The Supreme Court said schools must educate children of illegals in Plyler v. Doe, 1982.)

The parents have sued to stop this harassment. “This is akin to an elected official who is subject to a recall petition requiring that each voter meet with his office,” said their legal team from Kirkland & Ellis, which is working pro bono. “The District intends to make it more difficult to petition a local school for reform than vote for President of the United States.”

A judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping the district’s verification gambit, so the empire struck back again, declaring last week at a hastily-called community meeting that every petition had been disqualified on technicalities: Some legal code numbers were mistyped, for example, and some petitions weren’t stapled. Really. The parents will now also challenge this in court.

Meanwhile, the powers in Sacramento are trying to undermine parent trigger statewide. On his first day in office, Governor Jerry Brown replaced seven reform members of the state board of education with union allies, including a lobbyist for the California Teachers Association. The new board immediately announced that it would write new rules to govern the parent trigger law, throwing out eight months of work by the previous board.

In addition, state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley and new state schools chief Tom Torlakson—both of whom voted against parent trigger last year—are drafting what they call “cleanup legislation” to amend the law. Expect “cleanup” to equal repeal: When Sacramento first debated the trigger option, Ms. Brownley proposed allowing parents in failing schools to petition only for “public testimony and comment.”

This is nasty business, another example of rigging the system to help the adults who run it rather than the children it is supposed to serve. Would it be too much for Education Secretary Arne Duncan or President Obama to speak up for the parents and kids of Compton?

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Is There an Arab George Washington?

Bret Stephens: Is There an Arab George Washington? – WSJ.com.

If “History” wasn’t your thing… It’s not too late!

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On learning that George Washington intended to follow up his victory at Yorktown by retiring to his farm at Mount Vernon, George III told the painter Benjamin West: “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”  [Because its my blog, let me remind you: Washington did.] The British monarch may have wound up stark raving mad, but he knew a thing or two about the seductions of power.

We celebrate Washington today as the greatest of the founding fathers. But the fame he gained during his lifetime owed mainly to his willingness to relinquish the vast powers he had repeatedly been granted, and which were his for the keeping. That’s a rarity in the history of revolutions, in which the distance from liberation to despotism—from euphoria to terror—is usually short. The French Revolution began with a Declaration of the Rights of Man. It very nearly ended in an extinction of those rights.

The uprisings now sweeping the Arab world threaten to retrace that familiar arc. Consider the irony of last month’s massive protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Until Egypt’s corrupt but tolerant monarchy was overthrown in 1952, the square was known as Midan El-Ismailiya after Ismail Pasha, the great 19th-century Egyptian Westernizer. It became Liberation Square only after Gamal Abdel Nasser’s 1952 coup, yet another calamitous revolution that began brightly with promises of democracy.

Now we’re being told that this time it’s different. [Don’t fall for it…]A day after the demonstrators began to gather on Tahrir Square last month, an Egyptian friend of mine—a former independent member of parliament with close ties to the secular opposition—explained that difference: “It’s a revolution without papas,” he told me. No Nasser, no Ben Bella, no Arafat, just ordinary people in their millions demanding their long-denied civil and political rights.

I’d love to think that my friend is right. And there’s no shortage of pop-political philosophy explaining how in our networked, horizontal, spontaneously organizing era of Facebook and Twitter, there’s no longer a need for credible leaders or effective political parties. Just click the install button on People Power 3.0 and the program will run itself.

Yet until technology recasts human nature, human nature will be what it always has been. And human nature abhors a leadership vacuum. When revolutions are successful, it’s not that they have no “papas”; it’s that they have good papas. So it was with Washington, or with Mandela—men of hard-earned and unmatched moral authority, steeped in the right values, who not only could defeat their adversaries but rein in the tempers of their own followers.

What happens when revolutions don’t have such leaders? The French Revolution is Exhibit A.  [Anyone volunteering to travel back in time to Paris??? ] Exhibit B might be Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution of 2005, which took place following the assassination of the charismatic former premier Rafik Hariri. Millions of Lebanese poured into Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square on March 14 to demand the end of Syrian occupation. The Syrians obliged. Elections gave pro-Western groups clear majorities in parliament. The country seemed settled on a better course.

In May of that year I went to Lebanon to see things for myself. “Wherever I go here, the impression is of a people intent on making up for lost time, and determined never again to be dragged down by extremism,” I wrote. “It is these Lebanese, one senses, and not Hezbollah, who are making the country anew, and who are doing so, at long last, in the absence of fear.”

Re-reading those lines today, with Hezbollah in firm control of a puppet government and the various leaders of the March 14 movement murdered, dismembered or politically neutered, is enough to make me cringe.

Corbis

Paris, 1793: Most revolutions trace a familiar arc from euphoria to terror.

But it’s also a useful lesson in the limits of the very kind of people power now being celebrated in Egypt. It’s not enough to be against, or to bring down, a hated regime. It’s not even enough to be for something, at least in the sense in which the Arab world now seeks a freer and more representative political dispensation. What’s required is the statesmanship that can give concrete form to a hazy political dream.

It would be nice to believe that this kind of statesmanship will emerge unbidden from decent quarters, which probably explains the fascination with Egyptian Google exec Wael Ghonim. But the perennial political problem is that good people usually lack political ambition. They cede the field to charlatans, romantics and jackals.

As Americans look at what is happening in the Middle East, it’s natural that their sympathies should lie with the demonstrators. Natural, too, is the belief that movements consisting mainly of oppressed people in search of a better life will lead to decent regimes that care for those people. And maybe that will turn out to be true.

But also true is that America’s revolutionary history was exceptional because we had a Washington while the French had a Robespierre and the Egyptians had a Nasser. We owe today’s Arabs our optimism, and the benefit of the doubt. They owe themselves the real lessons of our example.

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If You Are With Us, We Are Against You

Douglas Murray: If You Are With Us, We Are Against You – WSJ.com.

Help me understand. Is there something here or am I just being snookered?

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You’re either with us or against us, George W. Bush once said. A simple statement of political fact.

Some nations tend to be broadly favorable toward your world view and thus broadly favorable to you. Others can be said to be broadly hostile to your world view and therefore hostile to you. But how people laughed back then.

To many people in Europe and America, saying “You’re either with us or against us” was just impossibly ridiculous. How un-nuanced. How basic.

Yet how much more ridiculous the era is that we are now in. It appears that there is a new motif among Western governments. It remains the case that regimes are still either for or against us. But those who are for us we are now against. And those who are against us we are now for. Just how much weirder is that?

Take events across the Middle East and North Africa. In the summer of 2009 the streets of Iran were filled with young Iranians demanding the right to have a say in their future. The regime had spent 30 years as an implacable foe of Europe and America—sponsoring hatred and terrorism around the world. And what did the Western governments do when this regime looked fragile? Nothing. An internal matter for the Iranian government, don’t you know. Shame to get involved. Don’t want to seem like we’re lecturing anyone.

For 30 years Hosni Mubarak had run Egypt. He oppressed his political opponents and his human-rights record was bad. But by and large for 30 years he managed to keep Egypt a key regional ally of the Western democracies and sustained a difficult peace deal with Israel.

Well more fool Mubarak. What an idiot. Because the minute that the people arrived on the streets of Egypt demanding more of a say in their future than a cooked election every few years, the Western leaders suddenly found their voices.

President Obama was straight off with calls for an “orderly transfer of power,” which is diplomatic-speak for asking Mr. Mubarak if there was anything particular he wanted in his obituary. And as the protests continued the statements got stronger. At one point during the protests, British Prime Minister David Cameron seemed to be making a statement every couple of hours calling on President Mubarak to stand down. British Foreign Secretary William Hague even found time out of his busy schedule of criticizing Israel to make statements on Egypt. Mr. Mubarak may have been a bad friend, but he was more for us than against us. And when push came to shove the Egyptian people pushed and Mr. Mubarak’s allies shoved.

But perhaps that was a one-off. Perhaps the Obama administration and others were caught off-guard with Iran. Perhaps after Egypt the situation had changed and people-power plus diplomatic pressure would be the new order of things. Except that the riots then came to Libya.

If you wanted to single out one figure in world politics notable for barking, sustained hatred and intransigence toward the West you couldn’t have invented a figure better than Moammar Gadhafi. When he wasn’t funding and arming terrorist groups like the IRA or bringing down Pan Am flights over small Scottish towns, he was inciting anti-Western rage in the region. A stated opponent of Western democracies, no one should have been anything but delighted when regime-change protests finally arrived on the Libyan streets. But those protestors met a different reception, not just from the troops but from Western politicians.

They discovered the truth that the Iranian people were reminded of in 2009. Real hardcore dictatorships, as opposed to merely authoritarian regimes, don’t bother with press freedom and human rights nonsense. Government troops fire mortars and live-rounds into the crowds safe in the knowledge that dictatorships can install media blackouts which ensure there are none of those awkward snuff-videos for Western television stations to play on a loop.

This is the way regimes like Iran and Libya behave and no one can be surprised. But what should be surprising is the reaction of Western governments. Because what happened in Whitehall and Washington when Gadhafi’s troops went onto the streets and started killing people? When this real villain and enemy finally looked like he could be overthrown by popular demand? Well David Cameron said the mortar-bombing and live-firing on Libyan protestors was “appalling” and muttered something about the need for reform in Libya. But you had to go to Libya’s own defected deputy ambassador to the United Nations to hear calls for real change.

With Libya, as with Iran, when a real enemy started looking fragile, America and her European allies decided not to push too much. Perhaps President Obama and European leaders really have fallen for a sort of 1960s school of politics: There’s no such thing as an enemy, just a friend you haven’t made yet. Whatever is going through their heads, their publics should be aware of the possible consequences.

The protests that have taken place in recent weeks seemed to come from nowhere. But they will go somewhere. Some patterns are emerging. With Gadhafi trying to hold out and the regime in Iran gearing up for another season of executions, a new status quo could be emerging. It could yet be worse than the old one. It seems possible that the better regimes in the region will have fallen while the worst regimes will survive. Regional leaders old and new will learn something from that.

The leaders of the free world should have only one message. Any people anywhere who desire to overthrow a dictatorship to have genuine representative governance will find us on their side. And we will not merely explain this to our friends. We will make it also clear to our enemies. The statements should be plain. The days of Gadhafi and the mullahs are over. Time’s up, chaps. Game over.

Mr. Murray is director of the Center for Social Cohesion in London.

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Let’s Begin Obama’s ‘Conversation’ on Entitlements

Jenkins: Let’s Begin Obama’s ‘Conversation’ on Entitlements – WSJ.com.

Is this the best the Left can do?

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News reporters may be naïve, and some of the protesters may pretend to be. But this fight was penciled in long ago, when politicians and union leaders made the strategic decision to negotiate benefits without negotiating for the funding to make good on them. The mock shock and horror is all the more laughable given that events in Wisconsin are a perfect microcosm of the battle that every sentient American knows, and has known for a generation, awaits Medicare and Social Security.

In keeping with the theatrics of naïveté, President Obama now calls for “beginning a conversation on entitlements.” One wonders what it was, then, that G.W. Bush began at the 2004 Republican convention, or what thinkers and activist groups that have been pushing visions of entitlement reform for decades have been doing.

Has the president not heard of the private sector’s pioneering work on “defined contributions”? Or Bill Clinton’s landmark Medicare commission in 1999? One might as well wonder what pain is coming to those Obama followers who have yet to suspect their thoughtful liberal might be a visionless apparatchik.

Medicare is the real killer. According to Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute, an average couple retiring last year can look forward to consuming Medicare benefits with a present value of $343,000, having paid Medicare taxes with a present value of $109,000.

And don’t let that figure get your hopes up, because even that $109,000 is not available today. That money was spent long ago. The government’s trust funds are a fraud. Indeed, by some large amount, society missed out over many decades on domestic savings and investment that would have taken place had workers not been relying on unfunded government promises to support them in retirement.

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