They’re at it again! For like the 60th time, Republicans are pushing to dismantle Obamacare.
The latest is the sickly named “Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015” sponsored by none other than that Darth Vader of anything that actually helps people, the Senate Leader himself, Sen. Mitch McConnell.
The only thing standing in the way is President Obama’s veto, which the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) says he would.
Here’s how the OMB explains the Administration’s position:
The Administration strongly opposes Senate passage of the Senate amendment to H.R. 3762. By repealing numerous, key elements of current law, this legislation would take away critical benefits and health care coverage from hard-working middle‑class families. The bill also would remove policies that are expected to help slow the growth in health care costs and that have improved the quality of care patients receive. The Senate amendment to H.R. 3762 detracts from the work the Congress could be doing to foster job creation and economic growth.
The Affordable Care Act is working and is fully integrated into an improved American health care system. Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions is a thing of the past. And under the law, health care prices have grown at the slowest rate in 50 years, benefiting all Americans.
Repealing key elements of the Affordable Care Act would result in millions of individuals remaining uninsured or losing the insurance they have today. An estimated 17.6 million Americans gained coverage as several of the Affordable Care Act’s coverage provisions have taken effect – 15.3 million since the beginning of the first open enrollment in October 2013. The Senate amendment to H.R. 3762 would roll back coverage gains and would cost millions of hard-working middle-class families the security of affordable health coverage they deserve.
Repealing the health care law would have implications far beyond these Americans who have or will gain insurance. More than 150 million Americans with employer-based insurance would be at risk of higher premiums and lower wages, or losing their coverage altogether. It would raise taxes on certain middle‑class families. The Senate amendment to H.R. 3762 also would defund the Prevention and Public Health Fund, limit women’s health care choices, and disproportionately impact low-income individuals.
This legislation is being considered by the Senate just days ahead of the December 15 deadline for Marketplace coverage that starts on January 1, 2016. Rather than refighting old political battles by once again voting to repeal basic protections that provide security for the middle class, Members of Congress should be working together to grow the economy, strengthen middle‑class families, and create new jobs.
If the President were presented with H.R. 3762, as amended by the Senate amendment, he would veto the bill.
The Office of Management & Budget is vowing that President Obama would veto two resolutions proposed by Senate Republicans intended to nullify his Clean Power Plan and undermine the international climate summit that gets underway in December in Paris.
“Senate Leader, and King Coal cohort, Mitch McConnell and his fellow Senate coal cronies will introduce two resolutions via the Congressional Review Act, a rarely used, filibuster-proof legislative scheme that only requires a simple majority to pass,” writes Anthony Rogers-Wright of Environmental Action.
“Even though President Obama has promised to veto any resolution that attempts to block his climate agenda, senators from coal-y rolling states are pushing ahead. Why the rush if they can’t get this legislation signed into law, you ask? Their real agenda is to reduce international confidence in the president’s ability to deliver on U.S. climate commitments2 – it’s a classic case of Paris sabotage. Should these senators succeed, it would send the wrong message to the world and reduce the U.S.’s standing as a global leader.”
Sally King added, “Moments after the Clean Power Plan was formally published last month, opponents of the rule filed suit to strike it down. In a congressional hearing last month the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) critics continued to claim the plan will create economic catastrophe and violates the constitution. Although they can’t stop Obama’s plan, they’re hoping that the clamor will embolden governors and state policymakers to resist complying with the rule.
“But these claims should be taken for what they are: noise. The EPA’s flexible, cost-minimizing approach to reducing carbon pollution from power plants is consistent with the Clean Air Act and the Constitution.”
The OMB explains its objections to the resolutions and why the President would veto:
S.J.Res. 23 – Disapproving EPA Rule on Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Electric Utility Generating Units
(Sen. McConnell, R-KY, and 47 cosponsors)
The Administration strongly opposes S.J.Res. 23, which would undermine the public health protections of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and stop critical U.S. efforts to reduce dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the CAA gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. In 2009, EPA determined that GHG pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long-lasting changes to the climate that can, and are already, having a range of negative effects on human health and the environment. This finding is consistent with conclusions of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and numerous other national and international scientific bodies. Power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic GHG emissions. While the United States limits dangerous emissions of arsenic, mercury, lead, particulate matter, and ozone precursor pollution from power plants, the Carbon Pollution Standards and the Clean Power Plan put into place the first national limits on power plant carbon pollution. The Carbon Pollution Standards will ensure that new, modified, and reconstructed power plants deploy available systems of emission reduction to reduce carbon pollution.
S.J.Res. 23 would nullify carbon pollution standards for future power plants and power plants undertaking significant modifications or reconstruction, thus slowing our country’s transition to cleaner, cutting-edge power generation technologies. Most importantly, the resolution could enable continued build-out of outdated, high-polluting, and long-lived power generation infrastructure and impede efforts to reduce carbon pollution from new and modified power plants – when the need to act, and to act quickly, to mitigate climate change impacts on American communities has never been more clear.
Since it was enacted in 1970, and amended in 1977 and 1990, each time with strong bipartisan support, the CAA has improved the Nation’s air quality and protected public health. Over that same period of time, the economy has tripled in size while emissions of key pollutants have decreased by more than 70 percent. Forty-five years of clean air regulation have shown that a strong economy and strong environmental and public health protection go hand-in-hand.
Because S.J.Res. 23 threatens the health and economic welfare of future generations by blocking important standards to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector that take a flexible, common sense approach to addressing carbon pollution, if the President were presented with S.J.Res. 23, he would veto the bill.
S.J.Res. 24 – Disapproving EPA Rule on Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Electric Utility Generating Units
(Sen. Capito, R-WV, and 48 cosponsors)
The Administration strongly opposes S.J.Res. 24, which would undermine the public health protections of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and stop critical U.S. efforts to reduce dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the CAA gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. In 2009, EPA determined that GHG pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long-lasting changes to the climate that can, and are already, having a range of negative effects on human health and the environment. This finding is consistent with conclusions of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and numerous other national and international scientific bodies. Power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic GHG emissions. While the United States limits dangerous emissions of arsenic, mercury, lead, particulate matter, and ozone precursor pollution from power plants, the Clean Power Plan and the Carbon Pollution Standards put into place the first national limits on power plant carbon pollution. The Clean Power Plan empowers States to cost-effectively reduce emissions from existing sources and provides States and power plants a great deal of flexibility in meeting the requirements. EPA expects that under the Clean Power Plan, by 2030, carbon pollution from power plants will be reduced by 32 percent from 2005 levels.
By nullifying the Clean Power Plan, S.J.Res. 24 seeks to block progress towards cleaner energy, eliminating public health and other benefits of up to $54 billion per year by 2030, including thousands fewer premature deaths from air pollution and tens of thousands of fewer childhood asthma attacks each year. Most importantly, the resolution would impede efforts to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants – the largest source of carbon pollution in the country – when the need to act, and to act quickly, to mitigate climate change impacts on American communities has never been more clear.
Since it was enacted in 1970, and amended in 1977 and 1990, each time with strong bipartisan support, the CAA has improved the Nation’s air quality and protected public health. Over that same period of time, the economy has tripled in size while emissions of key pollutants have decreased by more than 70 percent. Forty-five years of clean air regulation have shown that a strong economy and strong environmental and public health protection go hand-in-hand.
Because S.J.Res. 24 threatens the health and economic welfare of future generations by blocking important standards to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector that take a flexible, common sense approach to addressing carbon pollution, if the President were presented with S.J.Res. 24, he would veto the bill.
It would be a travesty if the Republicans cash in the fear they are sowing over the Paris terror attack for a ticket to the white House, in the way the Bush/Cheney Administration milked Americans’ fear after 9/11, a terror attack that incompetence made so much worse. And yet, despite their incompetence, they rode to reelection in 2004.
Brian Lehrer on NPR remarked that Jeb Bush seems to be using the Paris attacks “to claw his way back into relevance.”
On the Monday after the terror attack, AOL broadcast the headline that 72% of Americans are fearful. Well what would you expect with nonstop reports about terrorism? It’s exactly what ISIL wanted – just as Osama bin Lad3n was thrilled beyond imagination at the reaction after 9/11. In essence, thanks to Bush/Cheney reaction, 19 terrorists brought down a nation, because they let it happen.
Already, several Republican candidates have basically called for closing borders – Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush say they would only admit Christians – effectively putting a religious test in violation of the Constitution. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said Congress would withhold any funding to relocate Syrian refugees. And 27 (all but one) Republican Governors are refusing to allow any resettlement in their states, again, against the Constitution – basically a redux of what they said about the children fleeing Central American violence. It is absurd to hear the Alabama Governor justifying this stance by saying that his first priority is to keep his citizens safe, when Alabama promotes wanton gun violence, a state which ranks 4th in the nation for the highest number of incidents of and where one Alabaman is killed every 11 hours.
A doctor in a hospital in Paris talked about receiving 27 of the gunshot victims that night when the ER normally gets one. One a day? he was asked. “No, one a year. We’re not like America.”
Republicans are seizing on the fact that a passport attributed to a Syrian who came through Greece with the tens of thousands of refugees in October was left at one of the terror sites. But isn’t it interesting that this is the only terrorist found with an ID? How much logic does it take to realize that it likely was purposefully left – and very probably not the passport of the attacker at all – but was left because ISIL wants Europe and the US to cut off any safe haven for the millions that are fleeing their own terror. They want a population to terrorize. They want Muslims to be marginalized in their communities, to be able to tap the disaffected to their “cause.”
Donald Trump says he would shut down mosques. And, oh yes, points out that France has some of the strongest gun control laws. You might wonder if a President Trump, faced with terror attacks in Paris, would launch attacks against Muslims here. As for the “tough guy” pose as being all it takes to stop all the bad things in the world, Putin certainly strikes the strongman pose, and yet ISIS took down a Russian airliner. His solution? Bomb them to oblivion.
Obama answered “the broader issue of my critics… when you listen to what they actually have to say, what they’re proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things that we’re already doing. Maybe they’re not aware that we’re already doing them. Some of them seem to think that if I were just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference — because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough. But I haven’t seen particular strategies that they would suggest that would make a real difference.
“But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who’s paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle. And so I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.”
Does anyone else see the tragic irony that the terrorism is against tolerance, the terrorists can’t stand a society that is open, diverse in ethnicity, religion and thought, but Republicans want to dispatch intolerance with intolerance?
“We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing,” President Obama said at a press conference after the G20 in Turkey. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both….
“When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution — that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion…
“And if we want to be successful at defeating ISIL, that’s a good place to start — by not promoting that kind of ideology, that kind of attitude. In the same way that the Muslim community has an obligation not to in any way excuse anti-Western or anti-Christian sentiment, we have the same obligation as Christians. And we are — it is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test, and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody. Those are the universal values we stand for. And that’s what my administration intends to stand for.”
Every society is vulnerable to a terrorist determined to kill himself – but societal institutions should not be.
On the other hand, there is nothing stopping homegrown terrorism, and not just the jihadi kind. White racists have been responsible for more acts of terror here in the homeland than self-proclaimed jihadis. Look at the attacks on Planned Parenthood centers and black churches just in the last few months.
While the Republicans don’t actually offer any constructive proposals, they are really, really obsessively upset over semantics that President Obama does not brand the entirety of Muslims as terrorists- that’s about 1 billion people around the world, including whole nations that we need as our allies in defeating ISIL such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon. Obama, instead, uses terms like “violent extremists” as the enemy.
But these violent extremists no more embody Islam than Nazis embodied Christianity. These are sociopathic thugs – gangsters – who use terror and violence in order to secure power and control. It is a 21st century Facsist regime more similar to 20th century Nazi Germany. The new recruits might be swayed by propagandist ideology and even the idealism in toppling Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad – but they are being used and when some who came to fight for what they thought was a just cause want to leave, they are summarily killed.
Hindsight is 20/20. It’s so easy to say Obama should have been more aggressive in Syria early on (give weapons to so-called moderates who turned out to be ISIL?) but at that point, the opposition was saying Assad was only weeks away from being deposed. Then, when Assad crossed the “red line” using chemical weapons against his own people, Congress failed to give Obama authorization for military strikes inside Syria (Russia stepped up and got Assad to agree to get rid of chemical weapons, without Obama needing to fire a shot). Even now, Republicans are great at hurling accusations of ‘fecklessness” and “weakness” but the real coward is a Congress that refuses to debate a new Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) agreement. And I’m sure even the Bush/Cheney neocons never imagined that after almost a decade and billions of dollars and 4000 American lives, that the Iraqi soldiers would not just cut and run, but would hand over their weapons and territory to ISIL.
For his part, Obama faced a choice – without a crystal ball, he sided with the less deadly option. ISIL changed, and even now has changed its strategy from just torturing and tormenting and terrorizing people within the Middle East, to exporting terrorism internationally – downing the Russian airliner at Sharm el Sheik, the bombings in Izmir, in Beirut and now Paris, all in short order – and Obama is adapting to the changes – essentially intensifying all the levers that can be brought to bear, including bombing, strengthening border controls, sharing more intelligence, and stepping up efforts to prevent the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq. “And we’ll continue to stand with leaders in Muslim communities, including faith leaders, who are the best voices to discredit ISIL’s warped ideology,” Obama said.
Obama, in a press conference in Turkey after the G20 summit, sounded just the right tone, and also took on the critics who charge that his “strategy” lacked focus, that he underestimated the Islamic State.
“The strategy that we’re pursuing, which focuses on going after targets, limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground — systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure, strengthening Shia — or strengthening Syrian and Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces that are prepared to fight them, cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they can operate until ultimately we’re able to defeat them — that’s the strategy we’re going to have to pursue.
“And we will continue to generate more partners for that strategy. And there are going to be some things that we try that don’t work; there will be some strategies we try that do work. And when we find strategies that work, we will double down on those….
“This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.
“And so we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution. And part of the reason is because there are costs to the other side. I just want to remind people, this is not an abstraction. When we send troops in, those troops get injured, they get killed; they’re away from their families; our country spends hundreds of billions of dollars. And so given the fact that there are enormous sacrifices involved in any military action, it’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later. It’s important for us to get the strategy right. And the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.”
In fact, the single-minded focus on the Paris attacks (while ignoring other terror attacks that took place in Beirut, Izmir, Kenya), seemed to swallow up the news of an attack that killed the Jihadi John, who executed James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as France’s attacks on ISIL oil distribution. Meanwhile, even France’s stepped up bombing of ISIL as retribution for the Paris attacks does not equal the 8000 bombing attacks by US planes.
But Obama added that no matter to what extent ISIL is destroyed, that there are still going to be the risks of individuals flowing into civil societies exacting mayhem on soft targets.
“There has been an acute awareness on the part of my administration from the start that it is possible for an organization like ISIL that has such a twisted ideology, and has shown such extraordinary brutality and complete disregard for innocent lives, that they would have the capabilities to potentially strike in the West. And because thousands of fighters have flowed from the West and are European citizens — a few hundred from the United States, but far more from Europe — that when those foreign fighters returned, it posed a significant danger. And we have consistently worked with our European partners, disrupting plots in some cases. Sadly, this one was not disrupted in time.
“But understand that one of the challenges we have in this situation is, is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people. That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weapon that they possess, but it is the ideology that they carry with them and their willingness to die. And in those circumstances, tracking each individual, making sure that we are disrupting and preventing these attacks is a constant effort at vigilance, and requires extraordinary coordination.
“Now, part of the reason that it is important what we do in Iraq and Syria is that the narrative that ISIL developed of creating this caliphate makes it more attractive to potential recruits. So when I said that we are containing their spread in Iraq and Syria, in fact, they control less territory than they did last year. And the more we shrink that territory, the less they can pretend that they are somehow a functioning state, and the more it becomes apparent that they are simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations. That allows us to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, which then, over time, will lessen the numbers of terrorists who can potentially carry out terrible acts like they did in Paris…
“We play into the ISIL narrative when we act as if they’re a state, and we use routine military tactics that are designed to fight a state that is attacking another state. That’s not what’s going on here.
“These are killers with fantasies of glory who are very savvy when it comes to social media, and are able to infiltrate the minds of not just Iraqis or Syrians, but disaffected individuals around the world. And when they activate those individuals, those individuals can do a lot of damage. And so we have to take the approach of being rigorous on our counterterrorism efforts, and consistently improve and figure out how we can get more information, how we can infiltrate these networks, how we can reduce their operational space, even as we also try to shrink the amount of territory they control to defeat their narrative.
“Ultimately, to reclaim territory from them is going to require, however, an ending of the Syrian civil war, which is why the diplomatic efforts are so important. And it’s going to require an effective Iraqi effort that bridges Shia and Sunni differences, which is why our diplomatic efforts inside of Iraq are so important, as well.”
But the defeat of ISIS cannot be accomplished by the US alone and as Secretary of State John Kerry noted, a coalition did not even exist a year ago, a political partnership (involving Russia and Iran) did not even exist a month ago, and now Kerry is pointing to the possibility of a cease-fire in Syria in a matter of months, and there seems to be growing acceptance of the reality that Assad has to go, and there has to be a political transition. Solving the Assad problem would rob ISIS of a key motivator to its recruitment.
“The Vienna talks mark the first time that all the key countries have come together — as a result, I would add, of American leadership — and reached a common understanding,” President Obama said. “With this weekend’s talks, there’s a path forward – negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime under the auspices of the United Nations; a transition toward a more inclusive, representative government; a new constitution, followed by free elections; and, alongside this political process, a ceasefire in the civil war, even as we continue to fight against ISIL.”
Ever the realist, Obama added, “These are obviously ambitious goals. Hopes for diplomacy in Syria have been dashed before. There are any number of ways that this latest diplomatic push could falter. And there are still disagreements between the parties, including, most critically, over the fate of Bashar Assad, who we do not believe has a role in Syria’s future because of his brutal rule. His war against the Syrian people is the primary root cause of this crisis.
“What is different this time, and what gives us some degree of hope, is that, for the first time, all the major countries on all sides of the Syrian conflict agree on a process that is needed to end this war. And so while we are very clear-eyed about the very, very difficult road still head, the United States, in partnership with our coalition [Obama has mobilized 65 nations], is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.”
When Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Obama earlier this month, it was their first face-to-face meeting in a year.
The meeting promised to re-set the relationship between the United States and Israel.
This includes the pragmatic realization that it is highly unlikely that a two-state solution will be achieved during the remaining time of Obama’s Administration.
“We are reassessing given the fact that the landscape is different, and that we’ve reached that conclusion,” Rob Malley, NSC Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region, said during a press call previewing the meeting. “The President has reached that conclusion that right now — baring a major shift — that the parties are not going to be in a position to negotiate a final status agreement.
“We can’t be satisfied with the status quo, so we have to find ways of making sure that the situation on the ground does not lead to confrontation, but that also we can preserve the option of the two-state solution and try to find ways to move in that direction, despite the current context.”
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, added, “the fact that we have the realistic assessment that we’re not looking at a very near-term conclusion of negotiations toward the two-state solution in no way diminishes our very fervent belief that a two-state solution is the one way to achieve the lasting peace, security and dignity that the Israeli and Palestinian people deserve.
“And frankly, it continues to be the President’s view that the urgency of moving in the direction of a two-state solution very much remains in part because of what you’re seeing in the facts on the ground, and the demography, and the development of technology, all of which complicates both the security picture and the ability to move swiftly at the appropriate time towards the achievement of a two-state solution. Clearly, settlements, continued settlement activity complicates both the trust that is necessary to move in the direction of peace and could very practically complicate the achievement of a viable Palestinian state.”
Indeed, it was Netanyahu’s zeal to build settlements in the West Bank – even launching an initiative while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, without any prior warning – that initially caused the strained relations between the two leaders. That was vastly compounded by Obama’s pursuit of the Iran nuclear deal.
Netanyahu has sorely tested the relationship with Obama, especially in his address to the joint sessionof Congress. This was especially foolhardy when, over its entire existence, Israel would have seemed to be totally on the receiving end of the bargain.
But the situation now has changed vastly as it has become clear that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is not the primary factor in the the explosion of violence throughout the Middle East and into Africa, and the realization that the conflict between Israel and Palestinians is not really about territory.
A couple of weeks ago, there were two events in Great Neck in support of Israel: a rally brought out about 500 people from across the spectrum of the Jewish community, to show solidarity with Israel over the uptick in terror attacks and to demand the Obama Administration hold the Palestinians accountable for incitement. The rally was followed that evening with a speech by Ambassador Ido Aharoni of Israel at Great Neck Synagogue.
“We have a simple message; Israel wants peace. Unfortunately we do not have peace or security,” Andrew Gross, political adviser to deputy consul general of Israel, declared at the rally. “We are facing an unprecedented situation, when a 13 year old Palestinian kid feels is right to kill another 13 year old Israeli boy riding bicycle. Why are Palestinian children killing? Because of a culture of hate, incitement festering in Palestinian Authority for decades.
“Let’s be clear who are the perpetrators and who the victims. The victims are Israelis, Jews and Israeli Arabs who are going about their lives. The perpetrators are Arabs who are attacking and are sometimes killed in the process. But we won’t apologize for defending ourselves….We need American support.”
Gross, who is originally from New Jersey, later told me “The international community needs to call up Palestinian Authority President Abbas to stop the incitement. Kerry has been helpful – Israel appreciates the fact he has taken time to engage.”
The violence, he said, “is a product of years and years of irresponsible leadership, fostering culture of hatred. Never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
“The real question is why Abbas continues to reject offer to Netanyahu to meet with him.
Netanyahu has made clear Israel wants peace- ready to begin negotiations without preconditions.” Despite his pronouncements during his reelection campaign, and the retreat now from negotiations, Netanyahu’s official policy,” he said, “is a two state solution.”
There is more behind suspending movement toward negotiations, besides the fact that Israel has never had a honest “partner” in negotiations, and the latest upsurge in terror attacks.
It is the realization that “land for peace” will not end the Israel-Palestinian conflict. That illusion has been shattered by the Palestinian Authority’s rejection of every territorial accommodation Israel has made, going back to the Camp David Accord in 2000, the complete withdrawal from Gaza, and then the 2008, Olmert’s proposal that would have returned 100% of the territory taken in the 1967 Six Day War, only to be answered by the Palestinian leader:’ I’ll get back to you.’ And never did,” Ambassador Ido Aharoni said at the Great Neck Synagogue.
“For many years we were told that the root cause for all instability in the Middle East is Israel-Palestinian conflict, but look around Middle East, it has nothing to do with Israel-Palestinians and everything to do with two things,” Aharoni said, pointing to the 1500 year old rift between Shiites and Sunnis and the way that colonial powers sliced and diced the Middle East after World War I “completely ignoring ethnic, religious and tribal affiliations. What we are seeing now is a new region realigning itself according t o ethnic, tribal, and religious lines, and this realignment is very painful, violent, brutal.
“Syria is disintegrating.. Because of Syria vulnerability, many regional and international powers trying to put their foot on ground – Iran is heavily, now Russia is getting in. ISIS identified Syria as a fertile ground to instill Sunni pride – and all in all 20 different groups.
“It’s very confusing. In America, you used to think about confrontations between good guys and bad guys. But here’s the challenge: ISIS is killing Al Qaeda, is that good or bad? ISIS is killing Hezbollah, is that good or bad.?”
In this context, Israel has more to contribute to the US-Israel relationship than merely being on the receiving end of American largesse.
These issues were manifest during the meeting this week between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
“This is going to be an opportunity for the Prime Minister and myself to engage in a wide-ranging discussion on some of the most pressing security issues that both our countries face,” President Obama said. “It’s no secret that the security environment in the Middle East has deteriorated in many areas. And as I’ve said repeatedly, the security of Israel is one of my top foreign policy priorities. And that has expressed itself not only in words, but in deeds.
Obama went on, “We have closer military and intelligence cooperation than any two administrations in history. The military assistance that we provide we consider not only an important part of our obligation to the security of the state of Israel, but also an important part of U.S. security infrastructure in the region, as we make sure that one of our closest allies cannot only protect itself but can also work with us in deterring terrorism and other security threats.
“In light of what continues to be a chaotic situation in Syria, this will give us an opportunity to discuss what’s happening there. We’ll have an opportunity to discuss how we can blunt the activities of ISIL, Hezbollah and other organizations in the region that carry out terrorist attacks…
“We’ll also have a chance to talk about how implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement is going. It’s no secret that the prime minister and I have had a strong disagreement on this narrow issue. But we don’t have a disagreement on the need to make sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, and we don’t have a disagreement about the importance of us blunting the destabilizing activities in Iran that may be taking place.”
“And we will also have an opportunity to discuss some of the concerns that both of us have around violence in the Palestinian Territories. I want to be very clear that we condemn in the strongest terms Palestinian violence against innocent Israeli citizens. And I want to repeat once again, it is my strong belief that Israel has not just the right, but the obligation to protect itself.
“I also will discuss with the Prime Minister his thoughts on how we can lower the temperature between Israelis and Palestinians, how we can get back on a path towards peace, and how we can make sure that legitimate Palestinian aspirations are met through a political process, even as we make sure that Israel is able to secure itself.”
Netanyahu then stated, “We are obviously tested today in the instability and insecurity in the Middle East, as you described it. I think everybody can see it — with the savagery of ISIS, with the aggression and terror by Iran’s proxies and by Iran itself. And the combination of turbulence has now displaced millions of people, has butchered hundreds of thousands. And we don’t know what will transpire.
“And I think this is a tremendously important opportunity for us to work together to see how we can defend ourselves against this aggression and this terror; how we can roll back. It’s a daunting task.
“Equally, I want to make it clear that we have not given up our hope for peace. We’ll never give up the hope for peace. And I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.
“I don’t think that anyone should doubt Israel’s determination to defend itself against terror and destruction, and neither should anyone doubt Israel’s willingness to make peace with any of its neighbors that genuinely want to achieve peace with us. And I look forward to discussing with you practical ways in which we can lower the tension, increase stability, and move towards peace.
“And finally, Mr. President, I want to thank you for your commitment to further bolstering Israel’s security in the memorandum of understanding that we’re discussing. Israel has shouldered a tremendous defense burden over the years, and we’ve done it with the generous assistance of the United States of America. And I want to express my appreciation to you and express the appreciation of the people of Israel to you for your efforts in this regard during our years of common service and what you’re engaging in right now — how to bolster Israel’s security, how to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge so that Israel can, as you’ve often said, defend itself, by itself, against any threat.
“So for all these reasons, I want to thank you again for your hospitality, but even more so for sustaining and strengthening the tremendous friendship and alliance between Israel and the United States of America.”
What’s significant is that the US-Israel role is less about propping up Israel, than in maintaining a vital alliance in the fight against violent Islamic extremism. It changes the dynamic from only what Israel can take from the US, to how the US can also benefit from having a strong ally in the region that for the most part, shares our value system.
But Israel still needs to be more judicious about how it struts around.
Rabbi Dale Polakoff introduced Ambassador Aharoni saying, “He has spent his career working on improving the name of Israel – the brand of Israel – throughout the world – fighting against difficult odds . He accomplished a tremendous amount.”
I have to disagree. It seems almost impossible but over the last 30 years, Israel has managed to be painted in the eyes of the world not as the victim of Arab aggression and incessant terrorism, not as the proponent of peace, willing to give up (and give back) land legitimately won and needed to provide a security rim, in exchange for security, but has become the aggressor, the occupier.
Here in America, we have to fight with our own liberals and progressives who inexplicably have taken up the cause of the Palestinians as a pathetic, impoverished people.
It is very disturbing that the National Press Club in Washington DC will be the venue for a day-long conference “Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?” co-sponsored by the American Educational Trust, publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy.
Timed to take place two days before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) holds its annual policy conference, “keynote speakers will analyze the enormous impact Israel’s influence has on Congress, establishment media, academia and other major institutions. They will explore the costs and benefits in terms of foreign aid and covert intelligence, foreign policy, America’s regional and global standing, and unbiased news reporting.”
The group goes on to note, “American taxpayers provide Israel with more than $3.1 billion annually in military aid. Since 1948 Israel has received far more than any other country, despite polls showing that most Americans oppose such aid. Israel and its U.S. supporters are now lobbying for a $1 billion increase–to $4.5 billion yearly–as ‘compensation’ for the recently concluded nuclear deal with Iran, despite Israel and its lobby’s overt attempts to prevent it..
“In 2001 Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who characterized the 9/11 attacks on America as “good” for Israel, stated, ‘I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.’
“The lobby in charge of moving America is vast and powerful. It will raise and spend another estimated $4.1 billion in 2016 charitable contributions to indirectly subsidize Israeli institutions such as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), finance U.S. Israel advocacy, lobby local, state and federal officials, and support Israel-centric “education” programs.
The notice goes on to state, “Some of this ‘education’ supports pro-Israel programs in schools, colleges and universities. It also covers training federal and local law enforcement officials to focus on American Muslim and Arab communities as potential terrorist and ‘violent extremist’ threats.”
This is what Israel needs to contend with, and why it is important for Israel to demonstrate that it isn’t just taking from the United States, but now occupies a key place in this global crisis.
The reason for this is laid on pervasive anti-Semitism and The Media which is an agent of anti-Semitism.
In fact, Netanyahu has been a disaster for Israel’s image in the world, and provided fuel to progressives’ fire.
It’s one thing to have such a man among your advisers, but to have him as the “face” of Israel in the world? A diplomat to be so extraordinarily undiplomatic?
Aharoni talked about Israel’s “brand.” It is significantly in need of improvement.
Israel must depend more than ever on the United States as its singular ally of any substance in the world, continually fending off efforts to delegitimize Israel’s existence.
“This administration has repeatedly stood up against the delegitimization of Israel, including under Secretary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, with respect to the Goldstone report, with respect to the response to the incident with the flotilla that was trying to reach Gaza,” Rhodes said. “And in the aftermath of that tenure, under Secretary Kerry at the State Department, we’ve continued to stand up against efforts to delegitimize Israel, including through BDS. So there’s been a very consistent diplomatic effort by this administration at various international fora to oppose one-sided efforts to single out Israel or to delegitimize Israel in any way.”
FACT SHEET: Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color
Today, the White House Council on Women and Girls in collaboration with the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University will host a daylong forum on Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color, which will focus on empowering and increasing opportunity for women and girls of color and their peers. The forum will bring together a range of stakeholders from the academic, private, government and philanthropic sectors to discuss ways that we can break down barriers to success and create more ladders of opportunity for all Americans, including women and girls of color. Forum participants will highlight a range of issues, including economic development, healthcare, criminal justice, vulnerability to violence, hip-hop, and images of women in the media. Today, the Council on Women and Girls will release a progress report, “Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color,” as a follow up to the 2014 report, and announce independent commitments to close opportunity gaps faced by women and girls, including women and girls of color.
As President Obama noted in his speech to the Congressional Black Caucus in September 2015, women and girls of color have made significant progress in recent years. The growth in the number of businesses owned by black women outpaces that of all women-owned firms. Teen births are down, and high school graduation and college enrollment rates are up. However, opportunity gaps and structural barriers still remain. Today’s forum will address these challenges and ways to build on the progress we have already made as a country. You can watch the forum at www.whitehouse.gov/live.
Today the White House is announcing independent commitments which, include a $100 million, 5-year-funding initiative by Prosperity Together to improve economic prosperity for low-income women. In addition, we are announcing an $18 million funding commitment by the Collaborative to Advance Equity through Research—an affiliation of American colleges, universities, research organizations, publishers and public interest institutions led by Wake Forest University—to support existing and new research efforts about women and girls of color.
The Council on Women and Girls has identified five data-driven issue areas where interventions can promote opportunities for success at school, work, and in the community. Continuing research in these areas and exploration of new efforts can help advance equality for women and girls of color. Here are some initial steps that we are taking in collaboration with public and private stakeholders to address each:
#1: FOSTERNG SCHOOL SUCCESS AND REDUCING UNNECESSARY EXCLUSIONARY SCHOOL DISCIPLINE
Girls of color experience disproportionately high rates of school suspensions. Black girls are suspended at higher rates (12%) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and at higher rates than white boys (6%) and white girls (2%). American Indian/Alaska Native girls are also suspended at rates that exceed those of white students. By adopting supportive school discipline practices, schools foster success for all students and increase the likelihood that students will stay engaged and stay in school. The Administration has taken the following steps to facilitate supportive school discipline policies:
Ø Supporting school discipline practices that promote safe, inclusive and positive learning environments.
In order to create a positive learning environment the Administration has provided clear steps for school districts to follow to better support its students.
Ø Enhancing public awareness about exclusionary school discipline, including how it disproportionately affects girls of color.
Until recently, scholarly research and public data on girls of color and school discipline was limited or difficult to access. The Obama Administration has been committed to making information generated by the Federal Government, including information on school discipline, accessible to the public.
In July 2015, ED launched a public awareness campaign, #RethinkDiscipline, which included story maps—disaggregated by race, gender, and disability status— aimed at making school discipline data comprehensible and easily accessible to the public.
In addition, ED has funded a $1 million data initiative, to be completed in the spring of 2016, which disaggregates K-12 data on school discipline, teacher equity, gifted and talented programs, and other metrics, broken down by gender and ethnicity/race.
#2: MEETING THE NEEDS OF VULNERABLE AND STRIVING YOUTH
Girls and young women of color represent a growing share of juvenile arrests, delinquency petitions, detentions and post-adjudication placements. Although African-American girls represent about 14 percent of the United States population, they constitute 32 percent of girls who are detained and committed. Native American girls are only one percent of the general population, but 3.5 percent of girls who are detained and committed. The most common infractions that girls are arrested for include running away and truancy— behaviors that are also symptoms or outcomes of trauma and abuse. Once in the system, girls may be treated as offenders rather than girls in need of support, perpetuating a vicious cycle that is increasingly known as the “sexual abuse to prison pipeline.” The Administration has taken the following actions to improve outcomes in intervening public systems:
Ø Enhancing programmatic responses by integrating evidence-based trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive perspectives into youth serving systems and organizations.
Addressing the root causes of pathways into those systems with sensitivity allows opportunities for meaningful second chances. To identify the issues and facilitate the development of new frameworks:
In October 2015, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a rule to clarify protections for victims of harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status or disability under the Fair Housing Act. The proposed rule would provide for uniform treatment of quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment harassment claims under the Fair Housing Act.
In October 2015, DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released new guidance “Girls and the Juvenile Justice System.” Recognizing that many girls experience violence and/or bias leading to their involvement with the juvenile justice system, the guidance calls for a developmentally informed approach that acknowledges intersectional disparities and calls for the reduction or elimination of the arrest and detention for status offenses, technical violations of probation, simple assault, family-based offenses, running away, and prostitution-related charges.
Ø Expanding disaggregated data initiatives.
In order to design interventions that address the needs of girls and young women, particularly those who have experienced trauma, we need to better understand the population of those affected, through research and through the release of data disaggregated by race, gender, and other variables.
In October 2015, the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) released Juvenile Court Statistics 2013, a report that describes delinquency cases and petitioned status offense cases processed by courts with juvenile jurisdiction in 2013. Summaries are available from 1985 to present for more than 25 offense categories, and include separate presentations by gender, age, and race.
#3: INCLUSIVE STEM EDUCATION
Significant opportunity gaps exist in STEM education and careers for women, especially for women and girls of color. Although more women graduate from college and participate in graduate programs than men, women’s participation in science and engineering significantly differs by field of study, at both the undergraduate and graduate level. In 2012, for example, underrepresented minority womenreceived only 11.2% of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, 8.2% of master’s degrees in science and engineering, and 4.1% of doctorate degrees in science and engineering. The Administration recognizes implicit biases and stereotypes may play a prominent, if still often unrecognized, role in STEM and other disparities, and has committed to the following actions:
Ø Enhancing pathways that engage underrepresented women in quality STEM programs and education.
STEM jobs are expected to outpace non-STEM jobs over the next ten years. Engaging underrepresented girls and young women in STEM opens additional economic opportunity. Career and technical training opens access to high skilled, high demand careers, which provide a route to the middle-class.
In January 2015, at a White House convening on bringing marginalized girls into STEM and CTE careers, the National Girls Collaborative created a new STEM/CTE portal which centralizes resources on expanding girls’ access to STEM and CTE, including curriculum, research, and promising practices. The portal will include EmpowerHer—a new interactive map that will make it easier to locate STEM enrichment activities in underserved areas. Additionally, Time Warner Cable and local partners have committed $100,000 towards a small grants competition to link community STEM mentors and girls, which will launch in December of 2015.
In September 2015, The Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology (CGEST) at Arizona State University announced theNational Academic STEM Collaborative at a White House roundtable. This collaborative is a network of 10 academic partners and nine organizational partners who are identifying and scaling effective, evidence-based strategies to improve STEM diversity in the nation’s colleges and universities, with a focus on women and girls from underrepresented communities. Building on the finding that women are more likely to enter into STEM careers if exposed to entrepreneurial activity, the Collaborative will co-host a “Women of Color and STEM Entrepreneurship Conference” in the spring of 2016 in partnership with Arizona State University and the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
Ø Encouraging STEM participation by highlighting accomplishments of girls and women from diverse communities and by encouraging academic institutions and programs to recruit and retain diverse talent in STEM fields.
Research indicates that diverse teams and organizationsoutperform those that are less diverse on a number of financial metrics. Diversity makes good economic sense for America. The White House has been able to use its public platform to showcase opportunities for women and girls in STEM in the following ways:
In August of 2015, President Obama hosted the first-ever White House Demo Day, where entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds, including women of color, showcased innovations. The President also issued a call to action to advance inclusive entrepreneurship, and highlighted independent actions by groups like Sabiola, who established a Women of Color Fellowship Fund that will give at least 100 women access to a 12-week coding bootcamp, job-interview prep, and ongoing professional development after completion of the program, and IBM, who expanded Girls Who Code to introduce the next generation of women software developers to cloud computing innovation.
In March 2015, the White House Science Fair had a specific focus on diversity and included students from underrepresented backgrounds who are excelling in STEM. This year’s participants included a record number of girls and young women from diverse communities.
To help address the lack of visible role models in STEM, the White House launched a website that highlights some of theuntold history of women in science and technology. The website uses the voices of prominent women to tell the stories of some of their female scientific heroes who have changed history.
#4: SUSTAINING REDUCED RATES OF TEEN PREGNANCY AND BUILDING ON SUCCESS
Despite the steady decline of U.S. teen births over the past two decades, minority communities continue to have disproportionately high rates. Black and Latina girls remain more than twice as likely as white girls to become pregnant during adolescence, and American Indian/Alaska Native teen birth rates are one and a half times higher than the white teen birth rate. We know that opportunity shrinks for teen parents and their children. Only half of all teen mothers receive a high school diploma by age 22. In the aggregate, the children of teen mothers are less likely to complete school and have higher rates of health problems and unemployment. Research by the Brookings Institution also shows that when teens delay birth, the average family income of their offspring increases. The longer a teen birth is delayed, the larger the average family income of the offspring. The Administration has engaged the following strategies to work to end unplanned teen pregnancy and thus increase both educational and economic opportunity:
Ø Ensuring that evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs reach communities with the greatest need.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) administers the Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) program, an evidence-based teen pregnancy program, which enables grantees to replicate evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs in communities with the greatest need.
In July 2015, OAH awarded 81 new grants, totaling more than $86 million to programs across the country. The grants are focused on reaching young people in communities where high teen pregnancy rates persist. Programs grants were awarded in four categories: (1) community capacity building to support replication of evidence-based TPP programs (especially for populations serving youth in juvenile detention and foster care, homeless youth or young parents); (2) scaling evidence-based TPP programs in communities with the greatest need (including programs that focus on reaching especially vulnerable youth); (3) supporting early innovation to advance adolescent health and prevent teen pregnancy (including technology-based innovations and one grant focused on program innovations) and (4) evaluation of new or innovative approaches to prevent teen pregnancy.
Ø Ensuring that developmentally appropriate information about pregnancy prevention reaches all teens, including in high-need communities.
The Administration recognizes that if information is provided to communities it must be effective for the intended audience.
In September 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Reproductive Health committed $9.75 million to enhance the capacity of publicly-funded health centers’ to provide youth-appropriate sexual and reproductive health services. CDC has funded a $1 million innovation contractto finalize the development of a mobile app, Crush, which supports pregnancy prevention.
#5: ECONOMIC PROSPERITY
Despite their driving growth in the workforce, women of color face persistent challenges to full participation in the economy. Although women in general face a continuing pay gap compared to their male counterparts, the gap is even larger for women of color. Additionally, black women face the highest rates of poverty for those 65 years and older (21 percent), followed by Hispanic women (20 percent), and Asian women (13 percent). Increasing the economic opportunity of women of color will also give more opportunity to their children and continue to increase opportunity for generations to come. The Administration has been working to increase opportunities for economic prosperity in the following ways:
Ø Lifting Families Out of Poverty by Making Permanent Key Provisions of Tax Credits for Working Americans.
Supporting tax credits that encourage work, boost incomes, and reduce poverty, thus helping working families make ends meet and improve opportunity for their children.
The President continues to push to make permanent key provisions to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), which are scheduled to expire after 2017. These tax credits boost income for 16 million families with 30 million children each year, including about 2 million African American families and about 5 million Latino families. The provisions allow more low-income working parents to access the CTC and provide a larger EITC for families with three or more children and married families. They reduce the extent or severity of poverty for more than 16 million people – including about 8 million children. A growing body of research shows that helping low-wage working families through the EITC and CTC not only boosts parents’ employment rates and reduce poverty, but will also have positive immediate and long-term effects on children, including improved health and educational outcomes.
The President’s Budget proposes expanding the EITC for “childless” workers and non-custodial parents, who currently receive only a very small EITC and, as a result, are the only group the Federal tax code taxes into – or deeper into – poverty. The President’s proposal would benefit more than 13 million low-income workers, including 2 million African American workers and 3.3 million Latino workers.
The President’s Budget proposes to triple the maximum Child and Dependent Tax Credit (CDCTC) for families with children under the age of five and makes the full CDCTC available to families with incomes up to $120,000, benefitting families with young children, older children and dependents who are elderly or have disabilities. The childcare tax reforms would benefit 6.2 million families.
Ø Encouraging outside stakeholders to commit to working in their communities to create opportunities for women and girls of color.
Today the Ms. Foundation and Prosperity Together, a consortium of 20 women’s foundations are announcing a $100 million, 5-year-funding commitment to improve economic prosperity for low-income women. Prosperity Together partners will use their respective experience and knowledge to fund programs that are proven effective in their communities and states, including job training programs that are customized to (1) address the cultural and educational needs of low-income women in order to secure a higher-wage job in a stable work environment and (2) enhance access for low-income women to culturally appropriate, affordable, high-quality childcare.
Ø Investing in improvements to compensation, paid and sick leaveand other policies, which support working families:
Approximately 40 percent of private- sector employees work at a company that does not offer sick pay for their own illness or injury. Low- and middle-income workers are much less likely to have access to paid sick leave than other workers. The Administration believes that working to improve baseline rates of compensation and expand access to leave, will expand economic opportunity for women and for families. Because of this we have taken the following approaches to increase economic prosperity:
Since President Obama called on cities and states to raise their minimum wages in 2013, 17 states have raised their minimum wage, resulting in higher wages for an estimated 360,000 Black women, 1.2 million Hispanic women, and 320,000 AAPI and American Indian/Alaska Native women.
In January 2015, DOL extended minimum wage and overtime protections to most of those who provide home care assistance. Nearly two million direct care workers, such as home health aides, personal care aides, and certified nursing assistants who provide home and personal care services – nearly 50 percent of whom are women of color – will have minimum wage and overtime protections to ensure they are paid fairly for their work.
In July 2015, DOL proposed a rule that would extend overtime protections to nearly 5 million workers—the majority of whom are women—within the first year of its implementation.
In January 2015, The President issued a memorandum directing agencies to offer six weeks of advanced paid sick leave to federal workers to take care of a new child or an ill family member, and in September 2015 he signed an Executive Order providing for employees on covered federal contracts to receive up to seven days of paid sick leave each year.
President Obama has sponsored unprecedented levels of openness in government. In keeping with this, DOL issued a final rule in September 2015 supporting pay transparency and prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation.
Ø Increasing access to federal contracting opportunities including for minority women-owned businesses:
Women and minority businesses that contract with the U.S. government are more likely than their non-contracting colleagues to exceed $1 million in revenue and more likely to own larger firms than their non-contracting peers. Policies that link women of color-owned businesses to government contracts support entrepreneurs and enhance their capacity to expand employment within the communities in which they operate.
In September 2015, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced a new rule that authorizes federal agencies to award sole source contracts to women-owned small businesses eligible for the Woman-Owned Small Business Federal Grant Program or the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Businesses.
Ø Increasing the diverse participation in career and technical training, especially in areas of high growth demand:
In September 2015, President Obama announced that DOL’sAmerican Apprenticeship Grant Program awarded $175 million in grants to 46 awardees. The American Apprenticeship grants increase opportunity by investing in innovations and strategies to scale apprenticeships — including by marketing to women and other Americans who have been underrepresented.
DOL will also open grant solicitations to fund programs that address childcare barriers that low skilled and unemployed workers face when accessing training opportunities for well-paying, high growth jobs in industries like healthcare, financial services, and other in-demand sectors.
RESEARCH TO LEAD THE WAY
Knowing what is necessary to create pathways for women and girls of color and their peers to achieve success is only strengthened when the proper research and data is available. We are encouraged that academic institutions are not only creating a space for people of all backgrounds to learn, but also studying and writing about these critical issues. With an initial funding commitment of $18 million, the Collaborative to Advance Equity through Research will play a key role in supporting this effort.
Creating opportunities for young women of color is also necessary to generate curiosity in the next generation of women. In March, The Smithsonian Institution will theme its March 12, 2016 “Museum Day Live!” to “inspire women and girls of color.” Museum Day Live! includes 1,300 museums and attracts 250,000 visitors to museums and cultural centers across the United States. The National Endowment for the Humanities will fund a small grants competition to facilitate museums and other cultural centers to develop programming to create new bridges between communities and cultural institutions as centers of informal learning.
As President Obama has emphasized, America cannot afford to leave anyone behind if we are to maintain our competitive advantage globally. Our success in the years to come will depend in large part on ensuring that all our children, students, and workers have the chance to reach their full potential. The Council on Women and Girls will continue to work to ensure government policies appropriately consider these kinds of challenges and persistent opportunity gaps faced by too many disadvantaged, marginalized, or underrepresented girls—and inspire the private sector to do the same—to ensure that everyone who aspires to get ahead has a chance to succeed.
In a statement on Friday, Nov. 6, President Barack Obama declared that the State Department, under Secretary John Kerry, made the determination that “Keystone would not serve the national interests of the United States… and I agree.”
Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, President Obama said the Keystone XL pipeline would contradict America’s efforts – and its global leadership – to transition to clean, renewable energy in order to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change before communities are rendered “inhospitable” and even “uninhabitable.”
“Today, the United States of America is leading on climate change with our investments in clean energy and energy efficiency. America is leading on climate change with new rules on power plants that will protect our air so that our kids can breathe. America is leading on climate change by working with other big emitters like China to encourage and announce new commitments to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. In part because of that American leadership, more than 150 nations representing nearly 90 percent of global emissions have put forward plans to cut pollution.
“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face — not acting.
“Today, we will continue to lead by example [to prevent] a large part of this earth from not only becoming inhospitable but inhabitable in our lifetimes.
“As long as I’m President of the United States, America is going to hold ourselves to the same high standards to which we hold the rest of the world. And three weeks from now, I look forward to joining my fellow world leaders in Paris, where we’ve got to come together around an ambitious framework to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.
“If we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change before it’s too late, the time to act is now. Not later. Not someday. Right here, right now.:
The President took to task how Keystone was being used as a “political cudgel.”
“For years,” he said, “the Keystone pipeline occupied an over-inflated role in political discourse – a symbol, a campaign cudgel rather than a serious policy matter.
“This pipeline was neither a silver bullet for the economy as promised by some, nor an express lane to disaster as implied by others.” Ultimately, he said, the State Department rejected Keystone XL because, “it did not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy.”
But, he said, if Congress were serious about creating jobs, “this was not the way to do it. What we should be doing is passing bipartisan infrastructure bill that would create more than 30 times the jobs each year than pipeline, and create long-term benefits.”
Indeed, in the absence of the Keystone XL pipeline, the United States added 271,000 jobs in October, the fastest pace so far this year as the unemployment rate declined to its lowest level since April 2008.
“Our businesses have now added 13.5 million jobs over 68 straight months, extending the longest streak on record,” reported Jason Furman, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. “The unemployment rate ticked down to 5.0 percent in October—its lowest level since April 2008—with stable labor force participation. Wages continued to rise; average hourly earnings for all private employees have now risen 2.5 percent over the past year, the fastest pace achieved since 2009…Overall, our economy has created 8.0 million jobs over the past thirty-six months, the fastest pace since 2000.”
But if Congress were serious about jobs creation, President Obama continued, “This Congress should pass serious infrastructure plan and keep those jobs coming. That will make a difference. The pipeline would not make serious impact on those numbers and the American people’s prospects for the future.”
Moreover, he said, Keystone would not have lowered gas prices for the American consumer. On the other hand, “gas prices have already been falling steadily: 77c over a year ago – a $1 over 2 years, $1.27 over 3 years ago. Today in 41 states, you can find at least one gas station selling for less than $2/gallon.”
Shipping the oil from Canada’s tar sands, the dirtiest form, would not contribute to America’s energy security, either, Obama said. “What has increased energy security is decreasing our reliance on dirty fossil fuels imported from other parts of the world.”
He noted that three years ago, he set a goal of reducing America’s dependence on importing foreign oil, and that goal has been met five years early. “We now produce more oil than we buy from other countries.”
“The United States will continue to rely on oil and gas as we transition, but we must transition to a clean energy economy.”
That transition is happening “more quickly than many anticipated.
“Since I took office, we have doubled the distance we can go on a gallon of gas, tripled power from wind, multiplied the power we get from the sun 20 times over. Our biggest and most successful businesses are going all-in on clean energy. Thanks to the investments made, power from wind and sun is cheaper than conventional.
“The old rules said we couldn’t promote economic growth and protect our environment at the same time. The old rules said we couldn’t transition to clean energy without squeezing businesses and consumers. But this is America, and we have come up with new ways and new technologies to break down the old rules, so that today, homegrown American energy is booming, energy prices are falling, and over the past decade, even as our economy has continued to grow, America has cut our total carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.”
The President said, “Today, we’re continuing to lead by example. Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.
“I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish together. I’m optimistic because our own country proves, every day — one step at a time — that not only do we have the power to combat this threat, we can do it while creating new jobs, while growing our economy, while saving money, while helping consumers, and most of all, leaving our kids a cleaner, safer planet at the same time.
“That’s what our own ingenuity and action can do. That’s what we can accomplish. And America is prepared to show the rest of the world the way forward.”
President Obama would veto two laws coming out of the Senate which would weaken federal Clean Water Act protections, according to The Office of Management and Budget. The OMB has issued Statements of Administration Policy regardingS. 1140, the Orwellian named “Federal Water Quality Protection Act” sponsored bySen. Barrasso, R-WY, and 46 co-sponsors) and S.J.Res. 22 – Disapproving EPA/Army Rule on Waters of the United States being proposed by Sen. Ernst, R-IA, and 49 cosponsors, that state the President would veto the laws if they make it to his desk.
S. 1140″Federal Water Quality Protection Act”
The Administration strongly opposes S. 1140, which would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army (Army) to withdraw and re-propose specified regulations needed to clarify the jurisdictional boundaries of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The agencies’ rulemaking, grounded in science and the law, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking from the Congress, industry, and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. The final rule has been through an extensive public engagement process.
Clean water is vital for the success of the Nation’s businesses, agriculture, energy development, and the health of our communities. More than one in three Americans get their drinking water from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs that are at risk of pollution from upstream sources. The protection of wetlands is also vital for hunting and fishing. When Congress passed the CWA in 1972 to restore the Nation’s waters, it recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need to protect the smaller streams and wetlands upstream.
Clarifying the scope of the CWA helps to protect clean water, safeguard public health, and strengthen the economy. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 focused on specific jurisdictional determinations and rejected the analytical approach that the Army Corps of Engineers used for those determinations, but did not invalidate the underlying regulation. This has created ongoing questions and uncertainty about how the regulation is applied consistent with the Court’s decisions. The final rule was developed to address this uncertainty.
If S. 1140 were enacted, any revisions to the CWA regulations would require the agencies to define waters of the United States in a manner inconsistent with the CWA as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in more confusion, uncertainty, and inconsistency.
S.1140 would require the agencies to expend scarce resources to duplicate the transparent rulemaking process just completed, which involved extensive public outreach and participation, including over 400 public meetings, and 1 million public comments. The agencies met with States, municipalities, small businesses, farmers, ranchers, miners, foresters, conservation groups, and many others to solicit input and reflect that input in a final rule. A regulation as prescribed in S. 1140 would raise costs for landowners and businesses seeking a CWA permit and increase delays in the permit process. S. 1140 also would reduce protection of the Nation’s water quality and result in higher drinking water treatment costs, increased contamination of fish and shellfish, loss of recreational opportunities including hunting and fishing, and more frequent algal blooms that choke rivers and lakes and make waters unhealthy as a drinking water source or to swim and fish in. Wetlands serve as a natural buffer to reduce flooding, and by ignoring this important role, S.1140 also would lead to more frequent and more damaging losses from floods. Families, communities, and businesses will have no choice but to pay for increased flood protection that natural wetlands currently provide for free.
If the President were presented with S. 1140, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.
S.J.Res. 22 – Disapproving EPA/Army Rule on Waters of the United States
The Administration strongly opposes S.J.Res. 22, which would nullify a specified Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army (Army) final rule clarifying the jurisdictional boundaries of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The agencies’ rulemaking, grounded in science and the law, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking from the Congress, industry, and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. The final rule has been through an extensive public engagement process.
Clean water is vital for the success of the Nation’s businesses, agriculture, energy development, and the health of our communities. More than one in three Americans get their drinking water from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs that are at risk of pollution from upstream sources. The protection of wetlands is also vital for hunting and fishing. When Congress passed the CWA in 1972 to restore the Nation’s waters, it recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need to protect the smaller streams and wetlands upstream.
Clarifying the scope of the CWA helps to protect clean water, safeguard public health, and strengthen the economy. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 focused on specific jurisdictional determinations and rejected the analytical approach that the Army Corps of Engineers used for those determinations, but did not invalidate the underlying regulation. This has created ongoing questions and uncertainty about how the regulation is applied consistent with the Court’s decisions. The final rule was developed to address this uncertainty and it should remain in place.
If enacted, S.J.Res. 22 would nullify years of work and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water. EPA and Army have sought the views of and listened carefully to the public throughout the extensive public engagement process for this rule.
Simply put, S.J.Res. 22 is not an act of good governance. It would sow confusion and invite conflict at a time when our communities and businesses need clarity and certainty around clean water regulation.
If the President were presented with S.J.Res. 22, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.
The Office of Management and Budget has issued a Statement of Administration Policy regarding HR 1090, the “Retail Investor Protection Act” sponsored by Rep. Wagner (R-MO) and 34 co-sponsors, because as is typical of such bills that have come from the Republican Majority, their title is the very opposite of their actual intent:
The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 1090 because the bill would derail an important Department of Labor rulemaking critical to protecting Americans’ hard-earned savings and preserving their retirement security.
H.R. 1090 prohibits Labor from issuing a rule to protect investors until the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) acts. It also impinges on the SEC’s ability to move forward with its own rulemaking by requiring the SEC to take the misguided step of providing definitive findings before promulgating a rule.
Further, the bill ignores the fact that significant study has already been conducted by both agencies and that Labor has had extensive engagement with the public, industry, and numerous stakeholders in its rulemaking process. This includes more than 140 days of public comment period, four days of public hearings, and approximately 100 meetings with stakeholders after the proposal was published in April. Moreover, Labor and the SEC are already working closely to ensure the smooth operation of the proposed safeguards, and this legislation would hamper effective coordination between the two agencies.
Under existing, outdated rules, savers cannot count on receiving the unbiased advice that they need and expect. This bill would effectively block action to protect working and middle-class families from the harmful conflicts of interest that lead to biased advice. The Council of Economic Advisers estimates that these conflicts cost savers $17 billion every year.
The Administration is committed to ensuring that American workers and retirees are able to receive advice about how to invest their money in safe, secure, and transparent financial products that are free from harmful conflicts of interest. Labor’s ongoing rulemaking is designed to protect the retirement savings of millions of workers and retirees by ensuring that paid advisors and other entities do not place their own financial interests over those of their customers. This legislation puts a roadblock in the way of preventing such harmful conflicts, which hurts businesses, consumers, and retirees and their families.
If the President were presented with H.R. 1090, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.
Florida, which calls itself “The Sunshine State,” and is one of the most popular family vacation destinations, may soon be far less family friendly. State lawmakers are considering giving gun owners with concealed carry permits the right to openly carry their firearms in public places, even allowing them to hold their guns in their hands as they walk around. [“Open-carry law would create anxiety, not safety: Editorial,” Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 15. 2015.]
With Disney World, Universal Studios, miles of pristine sand beaches, and world-class shopping and dining, Florida is the ultimate vacation destination for many families in the United States and around the world. But imagine going on vacation with your kids and loved ones to a place where any stranger standing inches from you in line, or just passing by on the street, could be displaying or handling a deadly weapon.
That’s the message that MomsRising, an organization that advocates for sensible gun regulation, MomsRising is circulating. The group is urging families to sign a petition telling – or rather warning – the Florida Commission on Tourism that families do not want to vacation in a state where people are openly carrying their weapons.
“The open carrying of firearms serves little purpose but to intimidate the public, which is why even major retailers like Starbucks and Target don’t want guns in their stores,” [“7 Companies That Don’t Want Guns In Their Stores,” Andrew Lord, Huffington Post, July 17, 2015] the organization stated in a message to supporters. “Why would anyone want to feel intimidated, especially while on vacation?”
Indeed, open carry is just another way for the gun lobby (which is really the gun manufacturers) to roll back gun safety laws. But studies have demonstrated the “weapons effect,” where the mere presence of firearms encourages aggressive behavior. [“Mere sight of a gun makes police – and public – more aggressive, experts say,” Andrew Yuhas, The Guardian, Aug. 5, 2015.] This was certainly the case for a family Tennessee now mourning the loss of their 19-year old at Tennesee State University over a dice game (three female students just passing by were also shot). [Fatal Tenn. campus shooting started over dice game, USA Today, Oct. 23, 2015]
“Open carry would make the presence of firearms that much more visible in public, raising the likelihood of dangerous outcomes. Who wants that on vacation?,” says MomsRising, an organization that supports sensible gun regulation.
“No family wants to be intimidated and feel at risk of gun violence, especially when we are supposed to be relaxing and having fun. Tell the Florida Commission on Tourism that families do not want to vacation in a state where people are openly carrying their weapons!”
With more than 97 million people visiting the state, bringing $72 billion a year to the economy, the tourism sector is a powerful voice in Florida and can influence state policy on gun safety. The Florida Commission on Tourism and other leaders in the tourism industry will not like to hear that allowing the open carry of firearms may lead people to start looking elsewhere for that perfect family vacation.
MomsRising.org is urging people to sign their petition and will deliver the message and your signature to the Florida Commission on Tourism, as well as to Disney World, Universal Studios, regional tourism boards, and other key members of the Florida tourism community.
“Stopping open carry in Florida will help keep this terrible idea from becoming law in other states that also rely on tourism dollars. Together, we are a strong voice for safer families and communities,” stated MomsRising.org.
Let’s not forget that Florida was the birthplace of Stand Your Ground, giving anyone with a gun a license to kill and later claim they feared for their life, as was the case for a self-appointed neighborhood watch who was acquitted in the murder of black teen Trayvon Martin. After being adopted in Florida, ‘Stand Your Ground,’ written by ALEC’s gun manufacturer members, was exported to 22 other states.
Statewide and in some New York districts, a sizeable number of students opted out of the high-stakes assessment tests – 20% statewide, as high as 32% in Roslyn – which puts into question whether New York State will be eligible to receive billions of Race to the Top federal education dollars and what penalties the State Education Department will impose on districts who defied the mandate. It was the desire to get those dollars that was the basis for twisting public education into pretzels to cater to the Accountability & Privatization movement that is the basis for No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top.
Only 10% of Great Neck Public School students opted out of the ELA and 15% on the Math. Of those that took the test, 30-40% fell into that dreaded “Level 1” or “level 2” category, meaning that they “lacked proficiency” or “mastery” of the subject, and were in jeopardy of not graduating “college ready.” That is actually the same result as in 2013, the first year of the high-stakes tests in which the State Education Department targeted a 30 percent failure rate, and lo and behold, exactly a 30 percent failure rate.
Great Neck that year scored among the highest in the state on the ELA, with 60-70 percent of students achieving “proficiency” on the high-stakes ELA and Math tests, newly configured for the Common Core standards which had yet to be fully implemented in the curriculum. It was the same this year, with Great Neck ranking among the best in the state and among the 56 Nassau County diostricts. What is odd is that a district that also had a 70% “proficiency” rate was rated as performing “highest.” How could that be?
On the Math test, 73 to 80% of students scored as “proficient” or “mastery.”
Great Neck is a district accustomed to 80 to 90% of students achieving proficiency or mastery, but the results on the state’s high-stakes tests, which now require academic intervention for as many as 40% of students, would suggest these students in jeopardy of failing to make the grade for college and career.
Did the students – who graduate and go onto colleges at the enviable rate of over 95% – suddenly get stupid? Did Great Neck teachers who year after year have provided the stellar education that produces such high rates of achievement, suddenly become inept?
Great Neck Public Schools steer $1 million into academic intervention services. Actually, the district had always provided academic intervention to students deemed to need it, but now there are students who are mandated to receive such services based on a test that even the Governor admits is flawed. (Besides the test being flawed in that it asks students what they haven’t been taught, the scoring is not based on “right” and “wrong” answers, but a pre-determined “curve.”)
So, in a system that mandates budget caps (2% or the CPI, whichever is less), and also issues a score of unfunded mandates (pension and health contributions, for example) and does not make any accommodation for increases in student enrollment, or the population requiring special services, that means that limited resources have to go into academic intervention, rather than, say, to enrichment programs.
And because the tests have become truly high stakes for the students who are held back from promotion and for teachers to keep their jobs or get raises, that means more time and money pouring into test preparation rather than music, theater, sports, clubs and anything that is not, well, mandated.
It is one of the thorns of contention that progressives have with the Obama Administration, though Education Secretary Arne Duncan (who is being replaced by New York State’s Commissioner John King) has attempted to walk back the “one-size-fits-all” and the “teach-to-the-test” regimentation that is implicit in standardized testing and actually contradicts the overarching goals of Common Core, to get students to learn how to problem-solve, think for themselves, and be creative. (I’m not sure that “love of learning” enters into the equation, but what is true is that schools function more and more like prisons.)
That is the irony of the backlash against Common Core: Conservatives hate that the curriculum seems to come from on high (when it was developed by the states and with actual teachers) and that it is supposed to teach broader skills that, theoretically at least, would be more suitable to the Workplace of the 21st Century. What that means is that there are jobs that will exist by the time our children enter the workplace that don’t exist today, and jobs that exist today that would have become obsolete and people need the skills to adapt.
But Conservatives love the idea of using test results (so-called Accountability) to beat back teacher unions and justify privatization of schools (charter schools, testing services, home-school curricula) as well as channeling public money to faith-based/religious organizations. (New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would literally like to punch teachers in the face.)
Progressives on the other hand actually appreciate the notion of a more rigorous curriculum but abhor the practical impact on students, teachers and parents alike of having so many high-stakes, high-stress tests. Just the time spent in test-prep and test administration alone means that there is less time to do interesting projects or activities that cultivate “the whole person” (like music, theater, art). They say that standardized testing, in which you are teaching the student to come up with an answer to satisfy the scorer, defeats the whole objective of raising confident thinkers who can come up with novel solutions and innovative inventions. And they hate that the practical impact of the Accountability Movement has been to browbeat teachers and undermine unions.
The irony of the Accountability movement is that the beneficiaries – charter schools operated for for-profit and so-called nonprofit, but nonetheless highly profitable; test-making companies; tutoring services – aren’t accountable at all, at least, not immediately, when it would matter. They don’t have to justify the tax money spent, but are allowed to exploit new, non-union teachers who typically move on after just a couple of years, before they actually have the skills of a professional.
The movement is being driven by the Billionaire Class (like Mark Zuckerberg who donated $100 million to “reform” Newark public schools, only to have the whole thing blow up) which has made School Reform their pet (they used to buy hotels and before that, magazines and newspapers and before that made movies).
At its core, Common Core is intended, in fact, to inculcate key skills of problem-solving, creative thinking, collaborative thinking. But the effect of the obsession with high-stakes standardized testing teaches a different lesson entirely: there is a right answer.
The fact of the matter is, we’ve had 14 years of No Child Left Behind/Accountability – an entire generation of students who have lived every day of their school careers under NCLB/Race to the Top regimen – and yet there are the exact same complaints about how terrible public education is.
To justify the Accountability movement, the so-called “reformers” have cited statistics which put the United States as a middling to awful performer on international tests of language skills, math, and science. The United States ranks below the OECD average in every category on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), and despite the fact No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top has been implemented for the entire school careers of current graduates, has slipped in all of the major categories in recent years.
So it is interesting in this context – ironic even – that China, whose students rank #1 in Math, Reading and Science on the PISA, is changing its curriculum.
“China is a big manufacturer, but we want to innovate in China. This requires a big change in educational system,” Yang Lan, Chairman, Sun Media Group and Sun Culture Foundation, said at the Clinton Global Initiative’s session titled, “From Education to Entrepreneur: Linking SME Success with Human Capital.”
“Chinese kids perform great in international assessments, but we are questioning ourselves in the level of critical thinking, independent, innovative thinking, collaborative thinking, risk taking” that the curriculum promotes.
Indeed, Jack Ma, widely hailed for his genius at creating Alibaba, boasted that he failed his exams three times, and it took 10 tries to get into university.
Hanne Rasmussen, Chief Executive Officer, The LEGO Foundation, indeed, criticized the lack of focus on early-childhood education, and even the new stress on academic rigor instead of play, having deleterious impact on the child’s development, and ultimate success as an adult.
“Investing in children pays off in massive returns over time, achieving income equality and social mobility later in life,” she told the Clinton Global Initiative’s panel examining Escalators of Opportunity. “Children who participate in early childhood programs have improved learning outcomes, increased social competency, are more likely to succeed in school. Play is correlated with resiliency, problem solving, emotional well being and other essential functions, a strong foundation for learning and navigating their lives.”
“Play is so important that the right to play is listed in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Child.
“But many throughout the world do not prioritize early childhood learning – and many who do make it a priority, focus on formal education at an earlier age rather than whole child development. Traditional viewpoints on academic achievement often (discourage) parents from concentrating on the role of play. But there is evidence that academic, didactic, formal education at a young age may slow cognitive development, increase stress and hamper a child’s ability to learn.” In other words, put away those flash cards.
“We have to make sure children everywhere are equipped with the skills of lifelong learners. At LEGO Foundation, we believe learning through play is one of best ways to insure success,” Rasmussen said.
Studies show that every $1 spent on early childhood education returns $8 in benefits. What are these benefits? Better achievement on the part of the student, requiring less funding for remediation (otherwise known as academic intervention services), discipline problems, the likelihood of graduating high school and college and earning substantially higher salaries, and ultimately in terms of achievements that benefit society.
Indeed, the American Federation of Teachers, Amalgamated Bank and National League of Cities’ Early Childhood Institute for Youth, Education and Families, are taking matters into their own hands, with a plan to apply $100 million from the pension fund to create an Early Childhood Expansion Infrastructure Fund – in effect, providing an alternative bonding stream to cities to build facilities. The fund plans to start by providing funding for 250 new classroom facilities that will serve 36,000 children in Baltimore over the next three years.
But in the United States, the dollars have gone to private contractors for test writing, test preparation, test scoring, tutoring to the test, academic intervention after the test, and to shift resources to for-profit charter operators and parochial schools, rather than to early childhood education, where the dollars would do the most good.
Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo, who while minimizing the legitimacy of the standardized tests to evaluate students has continued to insist they be used to a greater degree in evaluating teachers, has just convened a new Common Core Task Force.
“Governor Cuomo believes that the learning standards should be strong, accurate and fair, because having the highest standards is critical to ensuring that students are educated and prepared for their futures in college or the workforce,” the statement describing the task force said. “However, the Common Core program’s flawed rollout by the State Education Department has caused disruption and anxiety that must be fixed, including testing aligned to the standards.”
The Task Force is charged with reviewing and reforming the Common Core state standards; reviewing the state’s curriculum guidance and resources; developing a process to ensure tests fit curricula and standards; examining the impact of the current moratorium on recording Common Core test scores on student records, and recommending whether it should be extended; examining how state and local districts can reduce quantity and duration of student tests, and developing a plan where parents can review the local tests; and reviewing the quality of the tests to ensure competence and professionalism from the private company creating and supplying the tests.
“The Governor has directed the Task Force to conduct its process as transparently as possible and to solicit and consider input from regional advisory councils comprised of parents, teachers and educators across the state. A new website (ny.gov/CommonCoreTaskForce) has been launched to encourage participation, allowing visitors to submit comments and recommendations to the Task Force. The Task Force’s report will be issued publicly by the end of the year so that it can be reviewed by all and changes can be implemented quickly and effectively.”
The Task Force includes representation from a broad group of stakeholders, including educators, teachers, parents, State Education Department officials, teachers’ union officials, and bipartisan legislators from the Assembly and Senate. It is chaired by Richard Parsons, Senior Advisor, Providence Equity Partners Inc. and former Chairman of the Board, Citigroup Inc., who chaired the Governor’s New NY Education Reform Commission. Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers, is also on the task force.
“Like other people nationwide, our students, teachers, administrators, and parents are confused and anxious,” Cuomo said. “The evidence of failure is everywhere. Today many teachers and superintendents across the state will rightfully point out errors in the program. They will point out that they did not receive enough support to fully understand and implement this dramatic transition. It is time to overhaul the common core program and also the way we test our students.
“As a parent I believe our education system tests our students too often and for too long, and we should relieve the unnecessary pressure on our children that detracts from the time spent learning. There is no doubt that tests or assessments have a role in education – I understand that – but I think the number of tests should be reduced, including the number of local tests.
“Last year, to lessen the anxiety of students, last year we passed a five year moratorium on test scores because we didn’t want artificially low scores recorded on our student’s academic records. We passed a law to improve transparency by directing SED to release the tests to the public and end the secrecy around the system and to make sure that teacher evaluations accounted for the different demographics of our schools – we have schools with different poverty levels, different types of students, different types of language proficiencies, et cetera. Now, I believe these were all good changes, but they weren’t enough and we must do more to reform the system because there is still too much disruption, anxiety and confusion.”
Cuomo added, “I believe teaching is an important and a hard job. At the same time we must maintain accountability in our system. Teaching is a hard job. Now, don’t be confused by what you have heard from disagreements with Albany lobbyists. There’s no doubt I have my differences with the lobbyists. I have for a long time but that is a different story and that has nothing to do with how I feel about the state’s teachers. My mother was a school teacher. I have the greatest respect for the occupation and the dedication teachers have for their students and their craft. I believe teachers who are performing well should be incentivized and should be given bonuses. We are enacting the first teacher bonus system in the state. This January I will propose giving teachers tax credits for the money they spend on classroom supplies out of their pockets. It is also critical that teachers who need assistance should be given the support they need. While the teacher evaluation systems are nationally recognized as a step in the right direction, I believe it must be done correctly and fairly. It is critical that teacher evaluations support teachers in improving their practices, not punish them. At the same time we should ensure all students have access to high quality teachers.
“This year’s transition has weighed especially heavy on the teacher in the classroom, so by law we have directed SED to implement a new teacher evaluation system that doesn’t force the teacher to teach to the test but rather tests the student on what they learned in the classroom. The evaluation should be fair to the teacher and the student and should include observations of the teacher’s classroom performance from other trained educators. SED’s evaluation process will also provide the teacher with the right to appeal an evaluation under circumstances where the evaluation is flawed or unfair. No one – no one – wants an evaluation system that is inaccurate or unfair,” Cuomo said.
At the first Great Neck School Board meeting of the 2015-16 academic year, the conversation was about how the district is allocating more money to the various school buildings in order to meet the demand for the robotics clubs. The school district had been allocating $1000 to each school building, and there were wait-lists for students to join the clubs. This year, the board is allocating an additional $1000 per building.
You can no longer take such things for granted.
Meanwhile, among the long list of items that Congress has refused to do anything on, fixing No Child Left Behind is just one. When NCLB was first enacted, the singular item of George W. Bush’s tenure, it mandated that by 2014, 100% of all students would have achieved mastery, including special needs children. As if students are a fixed production item, like a widget, and you only have to tinker with the machinery to finally produce a perfect widget that can be replicated over and over and over again. By that measure, every school district in the nation, including Great Neck, would be considered failing and lose federal funding.
Everyone hates NCLB, yet Congress has not acted.
“New research shows that Americans want more focus on school funding and less on high-stakes testing, that 63 percent of Americans oppose vouchers and that 78 percent say student engagement is a better measurement of learning than test scores,” Randi Weingarten wrote.
“That’s why America’s students, parents and educators need a new law that ends the failed policies of No Child Left Behind, including high-stakes testing and mandatory school closings; preserves equity; and helps ensure a high-quality education for all our children.”