Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

March 11, 2009


For someone who taught constitutional law, Obama is showing striking contempt for some of the founding document's key provisions such as the division of powers between the legislative and executive branch and that between federal and state government.

His hectoring of public school teachers - some of the hardest working and least well paid professionals in America - is not only disrespectful, it ignores the fact that how a state runs its school system is, constitutionally, not subject to the sort of federal interference that Obama and his predecessors have engaged in, using funds as the whip to drive their preferred policies. Further, if we applied federal standards to heads of school systems, Obama's own education secretary would be in trouble as he didn't do all that well in Chicago.

As for earmarks, some are good - like a new playground or museum - and some are bad - like the way Pentagon spending is divided among the 50 states. But limiting Congress' power to engage in this practice would not eliminate earmarks. Rather it would merely - again dissin' the Constitution - transfer the power to create earmarks from Congress to the White House.

Washington Post - President Obama sharply criticized the nation's public schools yesterday, calling for changes that would reward good teachers and replace bad ones, increase spending, and establish uniform academic achievement standards in American education. . .

Obama's speech, his first as president devoted to education, struck a tone of urgency at a time when public education is slated to receive about $100 billion in new federal money under the recently passed economic stimulus package. The money may give Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, more influence in reshaping a public education system traditionally guided by state governments and local school districts.

"The resources come with a bow tied around them that says 'Reform,' " Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, said in a telephone interview. "Our basic premise is that the status quo and political constituencies can no longer determine how we proceed on public education reform in this country.". . .

The president signaled a willingness to take on influential Democratic constituencies, including teachers unions, which have been skeptical of merit-pay proposals. He said he intends to treat teachers "like the professionals they are while also holding them more accountable."

Good teachers will receive pay raises if students succeed, Obama said, and will "be asked to accept more responsibility for lifting up their schools." But, he said, states and school districts must be "taking steps to move bad teachers out of the classroom."

"If a teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching," he said. "I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences.". . .

To encourage classroom innovation, Obama said, he wants the District and the 26 states that now limit the number of permitted charter schools to lift those caps. Such schools, founded by parents, teachers and civic groups, receive public money but are allowed to experiment broadly with curriculum.

- President Obama will announce new "rules of the road" on earmarks, the White House says. Some lawmakers have urged Obama to veto the $410 billion omnibus spending bill -- saying it goes against the president's campaign pledge to bring an end to wasteful spending.

White House officials said Obama will sign the bill to keep key government agencies funded, but the president will lay out the new guidelines on earmarks as a not-so-subtle threat that he could veto future spending bills that do not comply with his objectives. Video Watch what's in the spending bill . . .

Top Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, have suggested lawmakers do not appreciate being dictated to on an issue that is a congressional prerogative. Asked last week about the administration's plan to put forth guidelines to overhaul earmarks, Hoyer said flatly, "I don't think the White House has the ability to tell us what to do." He paused and quipped to reporters, "I hope you all got that down."


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