Political Animal

ABU ABBAS….You know, I don’t

ABU ABBAS….You know, I don’t want this site to become InstapunditWatch ? really I don’t ? but how can you ignore stuff like this post about the capture of Palestinian terrorist Abu Abbas?

UPDATE: Note how the BBC plays it:

During the hijack, an elderly American passenger was killed.

No mention that he was Jewish, or in a wheelchair, or tossed overboard — all details that would have been lovingly emphasized in the unlikely event that such an atrocity had been perpetrated by, say, a U.S. Marine.

Here’s what the BBC piece actually says:

The PLF carried out the attack on the Italian liner to demand the release of 50 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel….The gunmen shot dead a disabled American tourist, 69 year-old Leon Klinghoffer, whose body was thrown overboard in his wheelchair.

Would it have killed him to read seven more paragraphs? And is he really suggesting that the BBC is institutionally anti-semitic?

UPDATE: Glenn’s post has been updated to note that “the wheelchair is in the story now. Heh.” I’m not quite sure what the “heh” is for. And reader Geoffrey Green writes to point out that the paragraph I excerpted is now gone and the wheelchair is right up top in the second paragraph. So apparently this story was being updated during the day.

REPUBLICANS AND GROWTH….Irwin Stelzer writes

REPUBLICANS AND GROWTH….Irwin Stelzer writes about economic growth in the Weekly Standard today:

FDR followed the advice of an adviser who promised “We shall tax and tax, and spend and spend, and elect and elect.” The result was a prolonged depression that ended only when America entered WWII. Kennedy and Reagan took the road less traveled, cut taxes, and set in train periods of extended and rapid growth.

Huh? The Great Depression was a result of FDR’s free spending ways? Where does the Standard get these people?

The rest of the article isn’t much better. Stelzer is writing about the lower productivity growth of Europe vs. the United States in recent years ? a genuine and somewhat perplexing problem ? but spends nearly the entire piece trying to make the case that the difference is due to a U.S. tax code that leaves people alone so that they can get rich:

But what the Europeans don’t understand that it is far “fairer” to foster rapid increases in incomes of low earners by encouraging still more rapid increases at the top end of the income scale, than it is teach low earners to concentrate on waiting for the next tax credit or handout.

You wonder how people have the gall to write stuff like this. Surely Stelzer has noticed that while the incomes of the American rich have indeed skyrocketed over the past 20 years, “rapid increases” have been a noticeably absent feature of the incomes of the poor and middle class?

(The chart at right, which is adjusted for inflation, shows household incomes since 1967. If median incomes had increased at the same rate as those of the top 5%, the median household income in America today would be $56,000. In reality, it’s only $42,000. This difference of $14,000 should be dubbed the “Republican Income Gap.”)

Far from “doing nothing,” Republican economic policy for ? well, forever, really, but certainly for the past 20 years, has been explicitly aimed at what Selzer unwisely acknowledges: “encouraging” rapid increases at the top end of the income scale. One of the enduring mysteries of American politics has been the ability of the Republican party to get away with this while still retaining the loyalty ? and votes ? of the middle class that they rather obviously don’t care a whit about. Middle class enthusiasm (or, at least, tolerance) for the dividend tax cut is merely the most recent example of this.

A vigorous and growing middle class is essential to the health of a nation, and ours has been mostly stagnant for the past 30 years. One of these days the middle class is going to learn just how rich the rich really are and just how little of our country’s enormous prosperity ever “trickles down” to them. But when?

BONUS HISTORICAL NOTE: I Googled the “tax and tax” quote, and it turns out that it was uttered by Roosevelt major domo Harry Hopkins….in 1938. What happened was that the previous year FDR had cut back on spending, causing the New Deal recovery to stall and GDP to decrease by 4.5%. The next year, 1939, taxes actually went down, spending did indeed go up, and the result? The economy grew 7.9%. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me!

GOVERNMENT SPENDING….Today is tax day,

GOVERNMENT SPENDING….Today is tax day, so Friedrich Blowhard is complaining about the growth of government expenditures. His numbers, I think, aren’t quite right, but there’s no need to quibble over minutiae since he’s got a more important point to make:

Without putting too fine a point on it, from the time I began to become aware of such things until the present?that is, roughly 1960 through 2000, I do not think that the quality of services provided by the public sector to me or my family improved by two-and-a-half times. In fact, in many respects–public school educations, transportation, crime come to mind–such services seem to have declined over that time period.

The thing is, he’s right: the services provided to him and his family probably haven’t changed much. In fact, most of the per capita increase in government expenditure over the past 40 years has come from Medicare, Social Security, and interest on the national debt, none of which benefit him at all ? for the moment, anyway. And much of the rest of it comes from the fact that we pay government employees more, just the same as we pay private sector employees more these days too thanks to rising GDP and increasing prosperity. School teachers, for example, are no longer expected to do their jobs for $15,000 per year. But since Friedrich doesn’t work for the government, that doesn’t benefit him either.

As I’ve mentioned before, total discretionary government spending as a percentage of GDP has been essentially flat for the past 50 years. Unless you’re willing to make drastic cuts to Medicare or Social Security, you really don’t have much to complain about.

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT….Via Eve Tushnet comes

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT….Via Eve Tushnet comes this article in City Journal by Joshua Kaplowitz, who turned down the chance to work on Al Gore’s presidential campaign in order to teach at a Washington DC elementary school. Kaplowitz obviously has an axe to grind, but it’s a hair-raising story about the realities of teaching in modern urban schools anyway.

UPDATE: A couple of people have written to mention that Kaplowitz’s story was also written up in the Washington Post a few days ago. Actually, Eve also linked to the Post story, but I didn’t notice it at first. Read ’em both!

UPDATE 2: Brendan Karch sends along this letter that Kaplowitz’s fellow teacher, Nick Ehrmann, wrote to City Journal in response to Kaplowitz’s article. In the interests of fairness, here it is:

Dear Editor,

You printed in the Winter 2003 issue Josh Kaplowitz?s ?How I Joined Teach For America?and Got Sued for $20 Million,? which your readers may recall as the cautionary tale of a Yale graduate whose good intentions fell victim to the hostile culture of an inner-city school. I taught two doors down from Josh that year at Emery Elementary School. Although Josh?s eyewitness account of school failure may be well-intentioned, I feel compelled to offer my personal testimony to reveal the ways in which his story is incomplete, misleading, and ultimately buries children in the wreckage of his pride.

My name is Nick Ehrmann. In the fall of 2000, I began teaching in Room 312 at Emery Elementary School in Washington, D.C., just two doors down from Josh Kaplowitz. I too was a Teach For America corps member. I too was white. I too had just graduated from a prestigious university. But I have a different story to tell.

Four energetic Teach For America teachers began their careers at Emery that fall, including Josh Kaplowitz. We all faced incredible challenges throughout our first year?administrative turnover, lack of school discipline, and the resulting transfer of power to disruptive students who exploited this vacuum of administrative accountability. My classroom was frequently a stage for fistfights and tears. The difficulties that Josh describes were painfully real, and we all experienced them in similar degrees.

And we all responded in different ways. During the first week of school, I made positive connections with parents that now, two years later, continue to blossom into trusting relationships. Instead of taking student insults personally, I learned to recognize them as pleas for attention. Instead of responding to misbehavior with anger, I learned that my most difficult students were the ones most in need of patient, unconditional love. Despite being a rookie teacher, I refused to wallow in what was wrong about Emery. Instead I committed myself to the arduous task of finding a style that would minimize negativity and reinforce what was positive about my students and their difficult lives. And although I didn?t learn these lessons right away, by mid-year Room 312 had genuinely begun to work as a team.

I bear witness that teachers can and do succeed, and thousands across the country have unlocked the keys to teaching under extremely challenging circumstances. While I firmly believe that there needs to be change on a systemic level to improve the education system at large, until that happens it is our responsibility as teachers to work within the constraints of this broken system and do everything we can to ensure that our students have the opportunities they deserve. Two Teach For America teachers at Emery alone were finalists for the Washington D.C. First Year Teacher of the Year Award, in part because they combined personal responsibility with reasoned frustration and channeled their anger into efforts to connect with their students in the midst of chaotic conditions that were beyond their control. So why was Room 308, just two doors down, the scene of almost constant chaos?

I can?t pretend to know what happened inside those four walls. But I did witness moments that Josh does not mention in his article. I did witness Josh argue with and interrupt our principal during one of our first faculty meetings of the year. I did witness Josh berate a lone student in the hallway, his anger clearly uncontrolled. I did witness Josh place his hands upon this student?s shoulders and shove him against the wall while yelling in his face. Good intentions should not be an excuse for bad decisions.

So when you read Josh?s account that the allegations were fabrications, think again. When you read the intimation that Josh?s physical contact was limited to breaking up fights, think again. Did Emery?s school culture combine with the strict interpretation of the corporeal punishment guidelines to empower students and parents with a litigious weapon? Yes. Do these issues weaken the effectiveness of educators and deserve critical attention? Did the teaching conditions at Emery make it extremely difficult to educate our children? Yes.

In these ways, Josh succeeds in highlighting some of the most pressing challenges facing inner-city educators today. As I read his harrowing account, I couldn?t help but applaud him for having the courage to speak out about the institutional breakdown that we all experienced during that year at Emery. Administrative paralysis, reckless student behavior, and social promotion are inexcusable and limit the opportunities for our nation?s most at-risk children. But Josh?s article has more to do with casting blame than providing solutions.

My personal solution to such challenging conditions was to ignore the disorder and focus on building trust and peace in my own classroom. Over time, as I earned the respect of my students and families, I partnered with them to form ?I Have A Dream??Project 312. Now the Executive Director, we have secured substantial funding for a long-term program of academic support, artistic development, cultural enrichment, family outreach and the promise of tuition assistance for higher education. By building trusting relationships, I have been able to focus on long-term goals without allowing chaos to destroy my students? dreams.

Instead, by courting the media megaphone, Josh claims to be educating the public about ?how bad schools can be.? Tragically, this negative response crystallizes the stereotypes that continue to plague inner-city students and families. If Josh was attempting to call attention to the failures of the system and be a constructive critic, why is his article entitled ?How I Joined Teach For America?and Got Sued for $20 Million?? Relegated to ?uncontrollable? and ?wild? status, the subjects of Josh?s pen have tragically become anonymous casualties in a cycle of blame, a cycle that risks weakening our continued commitment to public education by replacing it with hopelessness and fear (or worse, education policy that is misguided).

Knowing that teachers can and do succeed in even the most challenging environments, we should recognize Josh?s article for what it is: a distraction that appeals to the politics of failure rather than building towards a future of achievement. I believe that his frustrations have poisoned his outlook and harmed children in the process. Late in the year, as he was teaching a group of second-graders, I walked into his dimly-lit classroom. The shades were drawn, and his cheery September face was grown over by a tired beard. ?How are things going?? I asked, sensing that today he was too exhausted to exhale the usual slew of complaints. He shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. ?Why are your shades all down?? I asked, having just been outside in the spring sunshine. He responded with an answer I?ll never forget: ?These kids don?t deserve to see daylight.? I looked at the fluorescent lights of his room, turned around, and left, imagining the buried children that remained trapped inside.

Nick Ehrmann