Clint Eastwood’s Speech at the Republican National Convention!

Dear Commons Community,

The media was buzzing about Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican National Convention.  He even managed to make Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker “cringe”.

Walker called the speech “that one moment, which I cringed about” on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Friday. The GOP governor said he would have rather seen more of Romney’s personal story than the 82-year-old actor mumbling and talking to an empty chair representing President Barack Obama.

“You hear some of his [Romney’s] opponents how he’s a robot, he’s mechanical. No, he’s just a private person who does amazing things and we saw some of that last night,” Walker said. “I just wish, frankly, I would have rather seen that than Clint Eastwood during the prime time.”

Eastwood was immediately mocked for his bizarre appearance, sparking several internet memes and leading film critic Roger Ebert to tweet the speech was “unworthy of him.”


Republican Party’s National Platform: Public Colleges – Zones of Intellectual Intolerance Favoring the Left!!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday the Republican Party’s National Platform was finalized.  The entire document reads like a right-wing manifesto that would cripple the United States for years to come if ever enacted.  Particular interest for readers of this blog might be the section on public education.  (see the text below).  It is entirely about school choice, assessment, technology, accountability, abstinence programs and anti-unionism.  Perhaps of most concerned are the comments on ideology in public higher education.  To quote:

“Ideological bias is deeply entrenched within the current university system. Whatever the solution in private institutions may be, in State institutions the trustees have a responsibility to the public to ensure that their enormous investment is not abused for political indoctrination. We call on State officials to ensure that our public colleges and universities be places of learning and the exchange of ideas, not zones of intellectual intolerance favoring the Left.”

This is pure intimidation that seeks to silence critical thinking and freedom of speech. Thought police anyone!!!



Text of Republican Party’s National Platform on Education


Education: A Chance for Every Child

Parents are responsible for the education of their children. We do not believe in a one size fits all approach to education and support providing broad education choices to parents and children at the State and local level. Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education, with high standards, in which all students can reach their potential. Today’s education reform movement calls for accountability at every stage of schooling. It affirms higher expectations for all students and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations. It recognizes the wisdom of State and local control of our schools, and it wisely sees consumer rights in education – choice – as the most important driving force for renewing our schools.

Education is much more than schooling. It is the whole range of activities by which families and communities transmit to a younger generation, not just knowledge and skills, but ethical and behavioral norms and traditions. It is the handing over of a personal and cultural identity. That is why education choice has expanded so vigorously. It is also why American education has, for the last several decades, been the focus of constant controversy, as centralizing forces outside the family and community have sought to remake education in order to remake America. They have not succeeded, but they have done immense damage

Attaining Academic Excellence for All

Since 1965 the federal government has spent $2 trillion on elementary and secondary education with no substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates (which currently are 59 percent for African-American students and 63 percent for Hispanics). The U.S. spends an average of more than $10,000 per pupil per year in public schools, for a total of more than $550 billion. That represents more than 4 percent of GDP devoted to K-12 education in 2010. Of that amount, federal spending was more than $47 billion. Clearly, if money were the solution, our schools would be problem-free.

More money alone does not necessarily equal better performance. After years of trial and error, we know what does work, what has actually made a difference in student advancement, and what is powering education reform at the local level all across America: accountability on the part of administrators, parents and teachers; higher academic standards; programs that support the development of character and financial literacy; periodic rigorous assessments on the fundamentals, especially math, science, reading, history, and geography; renewed focus on the Constitution and the writings of the Founding Fathers, and an accurate account of American history that celebrates the birth of this great nation; transparency, so parents and the public can discover which schools best serve their pupils; flexibility and freedom to innovate, so schools can adapt to the special needs of their students and hold teachers and administrators responsible for student performance.

We support the innovations in education reform occurring at the State level based upon proven results. Republican Governors have led in the effort to reform our country’s underperforming education system, and we applaud these advancements. We advocate the policies and methods that have proven effective: building on the basics, especially STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) and phonics; ending social promotions; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals, superintendents, and locally elected school boards. Because technology has become an essential tool of learning, proper implementation of technology is a key factor in providing every child equal access and opportunity.

Consumer Choice in Education

The Republican Party is the party of fresh and innovative ideas in education. We support options for learning, including home schooling and local innovations like single-sex classes, full-day school hours, and year-round schools. School choice – whether through charter schools, open enrollment requests, college lab schools, virtual schools, career and technical education programs, vouchers, or tax credits – is important for all children, especially for families with children trapped in failing schools. Getting those youngsters into decent learning environments and helping them to realize their full potential is the greatest civil rights challenge of our time. We support the promotion of local career and technical educational programs and entrepreneurial programs that have been supported by leaders in industry and will retrain and retool the American workforce, which is the best in the world. A young person’s ability to achieve in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, zip code, or economic status.

In sum, on the one hand enormous amounts of money are being spent for K-12 public education with overall results that do not justify that spending. On the other hand, the common experience of families, teachers, and administrators forms the basis of what does work in education. We believe the gap between those two realities can be successfully bridged, and Congressional Republicans are pointing a new way forward with major reform legislation. We support its concept of block grants and the repeal of numerous federal regulations which interfere with State and local control of public schools.

The bulk of the federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for disabled youngsters should follow the students to whatever school they choose so that eligible pupils, through open enrollment, can bring their share of the funding with them. The Republican-founded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should be expanded as a model for the rest of the country. We deplore the efforts by Congressional Democrats and the current President to kill this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions. We support putting the needs of students before the special interests of unions when approaching elementary and secondary education reform.

Because parents are a child’s first teachers, we support family literacy programs, which improve the reading, language, and life skills of both parents and children from low-income families. To ensure that all students have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ ability to advance in American society. We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with abstinence education which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS when transmitted sexually. It is effective, science-based, and empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes and avoid risks of sexual activity. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for abortion and contraception. We support keeping federal funds from being used in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio- emotional screening programs.

We applaud America’s great teachers, who should be protected against frivolous litigation and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom. We support legislation that will correct the current law provision which defines a “Highly Qualified Teacher” merely by his or her credentials, not results in the classroom. We urge school districts to make use of teaching talent in business, STEM fields, and in the military, especially among our returning veterans. Rigid tenure systems based on the “last in, first out” policy should be replaced with a merit-based approach that can attract fresh talent and dedication to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct.

Improving Our Nation’s Classrooms

Higher education faces its own challenges, many of which stem from the poor preparation of students before they reach college. One consequence has been the multiplying number of remedial courses for freshmen. Even so, our universities, large and small, public or private, form the world’s greatest assemblage of learning. They drive much of the research that keeps America competitive and, by admitting large numbers of foreign students, convey our values and culture to the world.

Ideological bias is deeply entrenched within the current university system. Whatever the solution in private institutions may be, in State institutions the trustees have a responsibility to the public to ensure that their enormous investment is not abused for political indoctrination. We call on State officials to ensure that our public colleges and universities be places of learning and the exchange of ideas, not zones of intellectual intolerance favoring the Left.

Addressing Rising College Costs

College costs, however, are on an unsustainable trajectory, rising year by year far ahead of overall inflation. Nationwide, student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt, roughly $23,300 for each of the 35,000,000 debtors, taking years to pay off. Over 50 percent of recent college grads are unemployed or underemployed, working at jobs for which their expensive educations gave them no training. It is time to get back to basics and to higher education programs directly related to job opportunities.

The first step is to acknowledge the need for change when the status quo is not working. New systems of learning are needed to compete with traditional four-year colleges: expanded community colleges and technical institutions, private training schools, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector. New models for acquiring advanced skills will be ever more important in the rapidly changing economy of the twenty-first century, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math. Public policy should advance the affordability, innovation, and transparency needed to address all these challenges and to make accessible to everyone the emerging alternatives, with their lower cost degrees, to traditional college attendance.

Federal student aid is on an unsustainable path, and efforts should be taken to provide families with greater transparency and the information they need to make prudent choices about a student’s future: completion rates, repayment rates, future earnings, and other factors that may affect their decisions. The federal government should not be in the business of originating student loans; however, it should serve as an insurance guarantor for the private sector as they offer loans to students. Private sector participation in student financing should be welcomed. Any regulation that drives tuition costs higher must be reevaluated to balance its worth against its negative impact on students and their parents.


Fact Checking Paul Ryan!

Dear Commons Community,

The Republican National Convention was in full swing yesterday with a host of G.O.P. luminaries bashing President Obama and his policies.  The night belonged to vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, who referenced the “missing leadership” of the White House during these past four years.  However, some of his assertions continue to push the honesty meter.   Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post,  commented:

“[Paul] Ryan noted that Obama, while campaigning for president, promised that a GM plant in Wisconsin would not shut down. “That plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight,” Ryan said.

Except Obama didn’t promise that. And the plant closed in December 2008 — while George W. Bush was president.

It was just one of several striking and demonstrably misleading elements of Ryan’s much-anticipated acceptance speech. And it comes just days after Romney pollster Neil Newhouse warned, defending the campaign’s demonstrably false ads claiming Obama removed work requirements from welfare, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Ryan, for his part, slammed the president for not supporting a deficit commission report without mentioning that he himself had voted against it, helping to kill it.

He also made a cornerstone of his argument the claim that Obama “funneled” $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for Obamacare. But he didn’t mention that his own budget plan relies on those very same savings.

Ryan also put responsibility for Standard & Poor’s downgrade of U.S. government debt at Obama’s doorstep. But he didn’t mention that S&P itself, in explaining its downgrade, referred to the debt ceiling standoff. That process of raising the debt ceiling was only politicized in the last Congress, driven by House Republicans, led in the charge by Paul Ryan.”

The Republican Convention is providing fine political theater.  Factual distortions and all.

Mitt Romney is up tonight.



Who Built America?

Dear Commons Community,

The Republican convention yesterday featured Republican governors from key swing states who bashed  President Obama and urged voters to chose a new leader to restore confidence and hope.

The consistent message in all four speeches:   Mr. Obama has put forth policies encouraging Americans to rely on the government. The rhetoric reinforced the GOP’s theme this first full night of the convention: “We built it.”

The “we built it” theme is a reference to a remark President Obama made at a rally in Virginia last month where he said, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” adding “you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” The comment appeared to reference roads and bridges, though Republicans have taken it to mean the president was saying people did not build their businesses.

In his column today, Nicholas Kristoph explores the “We built it” theme:

“Obama’s point about our shared undertaking or building was made by Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat running for Senate:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody!” she said. “You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you all were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. …

“You built a factory, and it turned into something terrific or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

In short, taxes don’t just smother. They can also fuel growth — when they’re invested in highways or the Internet, in colleges or early childhood education.

Or for Romney himself. He built his Bain empire partly because he was smart and hard-working, but also because of a great education and because of tax breaks for debt financing. Tax loopholes helped him build his fortune, and other loopholes gave him the low tax rates to retain it.

If the Republican convention wishes to highlight and explain Romney’s success, it should have a moment of silence to honor our infernal tax code.

Who built this country? Entrepreneurs, yes. But so did schoolteachers and railway construction workers. Doctors and truckers. Scientists and soldiers. You didn’t build it, Mitt Romney — we all built it.”





David Brooks: Tongue-in-Cheek Bio of Mitt Romney – Must Read!

Dear Commons Community,

David Brooks has a tongue-in-cheek bio of Mitt Romney in his column today in the New York Times.  It is quite funny and at the same time sad.  Keep in mind that Brooks is not some fanatical supporter of President Obama and leans conservative in most of his views.   Here is  a sample:

“The purpose of the Republican convention is to introduce America to the real Mitt Romney. Fortunately, I have spent hours researching this subject. I can provide you with the definitive biography and a unique look into the Byronic soul of the Republican nominee:

Mitt Romney was born on March 12, 1947, in Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Virginia and several other swing states. He emerged, hair first, believing in America, and especially its national parks. He was given the name Mitt, after the Roman god of mutual funds, and launched into the world with the lofty expectation that he would someday become the Arrow shirt man.

Romney was a precocious and gifted child. He uttered his first words (“I like to fire people”) at age 14 months, made his first gaffe at 15 months and purchased his first nursery school at 24 months. The school, highly leveraged, went under, but Romney made 24 million Jujubes on the deal.

Mitt grew up in a modest family. His father had an auto body shop called the American Motors Corporation, and his mother owned a small piece of land, Brazil. He had several boyhood friends, many of whom owned Nascar franchises, and excelled at school, where his fourth-grade project, “Inspiring Actuaries I Have Known,” was widely admired…

The teenage years were more turbulent. He was sent to a private school, where he was saddened to find there are people in America who summer where they winter. He developed a lifelong concern for the second homeless, and organized bake sales with proceeds going to the moderately rich…

After a successful stint at Bain, Romney was lured away to run the Winter Olympics, the second most Caucasian institution on earth, after the G.O.P. He then decided to run for governor of Massachusetts. His campaign slogan, “Vote Romney: More Impressive Than You’ll Ever Be,” was not a hit, but Romney won the race anyway on an environmental platform, promising to make the state safe for steeplechase.

After his governorship, Romney suffered through a midlife crisis, during which he became a social conservative. This prepared the way for his presidential run. He barely won the 2012 Republican primaries after a grueling nine-month campaign, running unopposed. At the convention, where his Secret Service nickname is Mannequin, Romney will talk about his real-life record: successful business leader, superb family man, effective governor, devoted community leader and prudent decision-maker. If elected, he promises to bring all Americans together and make them feel inferior.”

A must read!!




Michele Bachmann: Spiritual Hurricane!

Dear Commons Community,

CNN and other media outlets are reporting on Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and her invocation of natural  calamities as signs from God of changes afoot in our country.  Specifically at a conservative rally in Florida on Sunday, she said “We are looking at a spiritual hurricane in our land.”  The comments came as the Gulf Coast braces for Tropical Storm Isaac, which is expected to make landfall this week.

“At this moment in time we’re quite literally looking at a hurricane here in Florida,” Bachmann said ahead of the start of the Republican convention, which was delayed because of Isaac. “We’re looking at a political hurricane in this country. We are looking at a spiritual hurricane in our land. And it is time for each one of us to show up and suit up and stand up and realize that in this time and in this day we pour it out for Him.”

The Huffington Post reported that last year Bachmann raised eyebrows when she suggested Hurricane Irene and an earthquake felt along the East Coast came as warnings to politicians from God.

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians,” she said. “We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?'”

A Bachmann spokeswoman sought to do damage control on the remarks at the time, saying they were made in “jest.”

To think that Bachmann is an elected political figure in our national government who could have been the Republican nominee for president.



Republican National Convention: Developing the “Right” Party Platform!

Dear Commons Community,

As the Republicans prepare for the opening of their national convention in Tampa, Hurricane Isaac notwithstanding, it will be interesting to see how far to the right will be the party’s platform.   The nominations are locked up with Mitt Romney, a moderate (most of the time), and Paul Ryan, an extreme conservative.  However, how moderate or extreme the platform will be on economic and social issues remains to be seen.  A number of old guard Republicans (i.e. George Pataki, Dan Quayle, Jeb Bush) are sounding alarms that the platform should not be catering to Tea Party views and therein lies the issue.   A New York Times piece comments:

“In interviews, Republican leaders said they were united and energized by the prospect of defeating President Obama and enacting bedrock Republican principles: shrinking the government and reducing spending and taxes.

At the same time, many said they were concerned about the crosscurrents that have churned the party, particularly since the emergence of the Tea Party movement three years ago. And on Sunday, thousands who supported the presidential campaign of Representative Ron Paul of Texas rallied here to challenge what they view as business as usual among Republicans.

Some leaders expressed worry that the turn to contentious social issues in the days leading up to the Republican National Convention, where the party platform is likely to embrace a tough anti-abortion stance and strict curbs on immigration, could undercut the party’s need to broaden its appeal. Many of them said they feared it was hastening a march to becoming a smaller, older, whiter and more male party.

“The Republican Party needs to re-establish its philosophy of the big tent with principles,” said Dan Quayle, the Republican former vice president. “The philosophy you hear from time to time, which is unfortunate, is one of exclusion rather than inclusion. You have to be expanding the base, expanding the party, because compared to the Democratic Party, the Republican Party is a minority party.”

George E. Pataki, the Republican former governor of New York, said he agreed with the Tea Party’s principle of reducing taxes and the size of the government. But he said he was concerned that antigovernment sentiments advocated by some Tea Party activists could push the it out of the political mainstream.

“What I fear is that that very positive desire to limit the power and the role of the federal government could turn into a philosophy that is antigovernment,” Mr. Pataki said. “Sometimes, those who I fear have that antigovernment view, as opposed to the limited-government view, rise to the center of the nominating process. I think that is not a good thing for the Republican Party.”

While there will be lots of bluster and Obama-bashing during the speeches, it will be interesting to see how far to the right the platform evolves.





More Robots: Only Smaller!

Dear Commons Community,

A week ago I posted on the improvements being in the field of industrial robots (see Race Against the Machine…).   It presented scenarios of companies such as Phillips Electronics that employ hundreds of workers on assembly lines.  Tom Friedman in his column today, presents another look at robots but not the large industrial types but smaller more personal machines that can be programmed by the average person to perform very specific tasks either at work or in the home.   He tells of:

”…visiting the design workshop of Rethink Robotics, near Boston’s airport, where I did something I’ve never done before: I programmed a robot to perform the simple task of moving widgets from one place to another. Yup, I trained the robot’s arms using a very friendly screen interface and memory built into its mechanical limbs.

And therein lie the seeds of a potential revolution. Rethink’s goal is simple: that its cheap, easy-to-use, safe robot will be to industrial robots what the personal computer was to the mainframe computer, or the iPhone was to the traditional phone. That is, it will bring robots to the small business and even home and enable people to write apps for them the way they do with PCs and iPhones — to make your robot conduct an orchestra, clean the house or, most important, do multiple tasks for small manufacturers, who could not afford big traditional robots, thus speeding innovation and enabling more manufacturing in America.”

Rethink’s founder, Rodney Brooks, the Australian-born former director of the M.I.T. Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the co-founder of iRobot, which invented the Roomba vacuum-cleaning robot commented that industrial robots are fixed and not flexible, and they take a long time — and a skilled engineer — to program them to do one repeatable task but:

“Our robot is low-cost, easily programmable, not fixed and not dangerous,” says Brooks. “We were in a small plastics company the other day, and the owner said he is using the robot for two hours to do one task and then rolling it over to do another. With our robots, you teach them about the specific task you want done, and when you are done with that, you program another one. And if your hand gets in the way, the robot just stops.”

Friedman’s conclusion:

“This is the march of progress. It eliminates bad jobs, empowers good jobs, but always demands more skill and creativity and always enables fewer people to do more things. We went through the same megashift when our agricultural economy was replaced by the industrial economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Therefore, what this election should be about is how we spawn thousands of Rethinks that create new industries, new jobs and productivity tools. Alas, it isn’t. So I’m just grateful these folks here in Boston didn’t get the word.”







The U.S. is Being Outpaced in Producing the Employees of the Future!

Dear Commons Community,

Charles Blow in his column today, examines the state of education in the China, India and the United States.  Blow cites data from the Center for American Progress and the Center for the Next Generation in a recently released report entitled The Competition That Really Matters: Comparing U.S., Chinese and Indian Investments in the Next Generation Workforce.   For example:

  • Half of U.S. children get no early childhood education, and we have no national strategy to increase enrollment.
  • More than a quarter of U.S. children have a chronic health condition, such as obesity or asthma, threatening their capacity to learn.
  • More than 22 percent of U.S. children lived in poverty in 2010, up from about 17 percent in 2007.
  • More than half of U.S. postsecondary students drop out without receiving a degree.

Now compare that with the report’s findings on China. It estimates that “by 2030, China will have 200 million college graduates — more than the entire U.S. work force,” and points out that by 2020 China plans to:

  • Enroll 40 million children in preschool, a 50 percent increase from today.
  • Provide 70 percent of children in China with three years of preschool.
  • Graduate 95 percent of Chinese youths through nine years of compulsory education (that’s 165 million students, more than the U.S. labor force).
  • Ensure that no child drops out of school for financial reasons.
  • More than double enrollment in higher education.

Blow’s conclusion is that the U.S. is being short-sighted in its priorities and planning for the future.

As we pursue educational reforms, beating up on teachers — who are underpaid, overworked and always blamed…We’re being outpaced in producing the employees of the future.

We’re cutting back, while our children’s future competitors are plowing ahead.