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Day: March 19, 2015

The Senate’s 47 percent

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

In September 2002, three Democratic congressmen visited Iraq in an effort to prevent a war they thought was a terrible idea.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., said very little there, explaining afterward that his sole purpose was to tell Iraqi officials that “if they want to prevent a war, they need to prevail upon Saddam Hussein to provide unrestricted, unfettered access to the weapons inspectors.”

On the other hand, former Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., and especially Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., were quite outspoken while on Iraqi soil. McDermott urged Americans to take Saddam’s promises on weapons inspections at “face value” and charged that President Bush was willing to “mislead the American people.”

Needless to say, supporters of Bush and his policies did not deal kindly with McDermott and Bonior. Writing at the time in the pro-war Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes called them “The Baghdad Democrats” and said: “What apparently didn’t concern the congressmen was the damage their trip might do abroad to any U.S.-led effort to deal with Saddam.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Republicans are now reminding everyone of the trio’s journey. To defend the 47 Republican Senators who signed a letter to “the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” they invoke the everybody-does-it argument: that interfering with a president conducting a negotiation is as American as apple pie.

The letter itself, written in strangely condescending language that a good civics teacher would never use, instructs the Iranians about our Constitution. Any deal reached by President Obama without congressional approval would be nothing more than an “executive agreement,” the senators said. It could be voided “with the stroke of a pen” by a future president, and “future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.” It was a blatant effort to blow up the negotiations.

In fact, it is utterly baffling that champions of this letter would even bring up McDermott and his colleagues. For one thing, many of the very same people who denounced the Democratic trio are now praising the letter. Hayes, for example, in an article posted last week headlined “A Contrived Controversy,” said the letter, offered by “patriotic senators,” was “a fact-based, substantive argument, in public, about a matter of critical importance to the national security of the United States.”

Let’s see: It’s patriotic if members of Congress contact a foreign leader to interfere with a president whose policies you don’t like, but outrageous for politicians to do a similar thing to undermine a president whose policies you support.

Which goes to the larger point: The three members of Congress went to Iraq on their own, without any support from their party’s leaders, and were actively taken to task even by opponents of Bush’s policies. At the time, I wrote a column highly critical of the visit that I didn’t enjoy writing because I respect the three men. I also noted that, in light of all the pressures to fall into line behind Bush, “anyone with the gumption to dissent these days deserves some kudos for courage.”

Nonetheless, I argued that just as the Vietnam anti-war movement was damaged by “the open identification of some in its ranks with America’s enemies,” so did the congressional visit set back the cause of those who, at the time, were trying to get Congress to pass a far more restrained war resolution.

By contrast, the 47 Republicans undercutting Obama included the Senate majority leader and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and clearly speak for most of their party. Only seven Senate Republicans, to their credit, refused to sign, including Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Two stipulations: While I support Obama’s effort to reach an agreement with Iran, I also believe in a strong congressional role in setting foreign policy and embrace the freedom to dissent from a president’s choices on war, peace and diplomacy. And, yes, most of us have had moments of inconsistency when our beliefs about a substantive matter distorted our views on process issues.

But tossing off a letter to leaders of a foreign state plainly designed to sandbag a president in the middle of negotiations goes far beyond normal procedural disagreements. It makes Congress and the United States look foolish to the world. It weakens our standing with allies and adversaries alike. And, yes, many Republicans seem to believe anything is permissible as long as it’s designed to foil Obama.

This is far more damaging to us than what those three congressmen did in Baghdad.

(Washington Post Writers Group)     

Inequality’s effects on kids

By MICHAEL GERSON

It is rare for a work of sociology to leave readers choking back emotion. Max Weber and Emile Durkheim were not known for writing tearjerkers. But Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” is sociology as story, as tragedy and as an act of social solidarity. It is the culminating work of an academic career characterized by sound judgment and bigheartedness. And the more influence this book gains, the more just and generous our country will become.

Putnam’s goal is to reveal the consequences of inequality on kids. This unfairness is rooted in various, interrelated trends: family instability, community dysfunction and the collapse of the blue-collar economy. The result is a growing, class-related gap in social capital between rich and poor.

But that really does not capture the human reality. Putnam’s case-study approach reveals something important: Children experience these broad social trends mainly as the absence of committed, trustworthy adults in their lives.

Putnam introduces us to David, who was abandoned by his mother and can’t visit his father in prison because David is on probation himself. “I never really had around-the-table family dinners at all,” he says, “so I never got to miss it.”

And to Sophia, who carries the burden of this memory about her mother: “The day after my ninth birthday, she was arrested down the street from here for prostitution. And she never came to see me. She was so close, [but] she chose prostitution and drugs over me.”

This is generally the way the poor children in “Our Kids” describe the forms of inequality featured in Putnam’s charts and graphs: as neglect, isolation, loneliness and broken trust. When the children of wealthier parents get into trouble — as children are wont to do — they are surrounded by a thick network of parents, tutors, counselors, mentors, youth pastors and coaches who minimize the negative consequences and steer them away from future problems. When poor children get in trouble, the air bags do not deploy. Their parents — often just one parent — are distracted by chronic economic stress. Their schools reinforce disadvantage. Their neighborhoods have become atomized, indifferent, drug-ridden and violent.

These trends hit portions of the African-American community earliest and hardest. But they now characterize a large portion of the working class. The outcome is a bifurcation of American life — with upper-class families often practicing a modified form of traditionalism (with two incomes and greater gender equality than in the past) and perhaps a third of Americans caught in a dysfunctional kaleidoscope of loose and temporary family arrangements. Putnam sees no tension between explanations that emphasize family structure and those that emphasize economic stress. “Poverty produces family instability,” he argues, “and family instability in turn produces poverty.”

Putnam is perhaps most controversial for asserting something that many non-social scientists find obvious: The situation for children was better in the past. His most dramatic illustration is taken from his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio. Putnam describes the lost world of the 1950s, in which blue-collar jobs were plentiful, two-parent families were the norm, community institutions (from scout troops to church groups) were strong, class mixing was common and social mobility was high. (Amazingly, half of the children of high school dropouts in Port Clinton went to college.)

Then he documents the radiating effects of the collapse of the blue-collar economy: The decay of community institutions. The rapid, disorienting shift in family structures. (Port Clinton had a 9 percent rate of unwed births in 1978, which was half the national average; by 1990, it was about 40 percent, which was twice the national rate.) The growing mental and geographic separation between rich and poor.

Some have accused Putnam of nostalgia, which is unfair. He takes great pains to point out the suffering caused by racism and sexism in the past. But Putnam is clearly sentimental in one way: He loves the American dream of social mobility, humanized by a caring community, and is haunted by its loss. In this way, he has broken down the wall of academic objectivity. He wants to change the “cursed course of our society” and restore the ideals and institutions that protect children from neglect, cruelty and injustice.

The policy proposals Putnam surveys are unavoidably unequal to the problems he diagnoses — patchwork substitutes for stable families, functioning communities and a working blue-collar economy. But Putnam’s commitment to American ideals leaves him more hopeful than his data would dictate. And he invites us to renew that faith.    

(Washington Post Writers Group)

Goodall School gets renewal from SKSB

480x270-Salem-Keizer School-District-logo

By HERB SWETT
For the Keizertimes

A revised contract renewal for Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School was approved by the Salem-Keizer School Board on Tuesday.

The new five-year term, which will begin July 1, had received board approval Dec. 9, 2014, but after reviewing state and district policies, school personnel asked for a revision.

The revised contract maintains 85 percent average daily membership funding for the school and adds language on state assessment results to the goals and evaluation guidelines.

Also approved were contracts for Michael Wolfe, chief operating officer, and Ken Parshall, assistant superintendent. Each contract is for a three-year term to start July 1. Wolfe’s was approved unanimously, but Paul Kyllo voted against Parshall’s contract. Neither Kyllo or Parshall would comment on the negative vote.

Many routine personnel actions were approved, including the following for the McNary High School attendance area:

• Changing the status of Melissa Juiskowiak, third-grade teacher at Clear Lake Elementary School, from full-time to part-time effective Sept. 1.

• Employment as temporary full-time teachers Lori Lloyd, third grade, Clear Lake; Stacy Fields, English as a Second Language, Claggett Creek Middle School; Avamarie Mallett, learning resources center, Weddle Elementary School; and Vincent Suetos, LRC, McNary.

• Resignations of Timothy Brassfield, choir-drama teacher, Claggett Creek; Sandy Watts, English and social studies teacher, Claggett Creek; and Jessica Brammer, first-grade English for speakers of other languages teacher, Gubser Elementary School.

• Retirement of Jeffrey Freeman, physical science teacher, McNary.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Cathy Clark of Keizer told the board she and other city officials were looking forward to continued cooperation with the district.

Slight changes in KLL usage fees

File photo
File photo

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

The fees are the same, some are just switched around.

Fee changes for Keizer Little League Park were approved unanimously March 2 by the Keizer City Council.

Most fees are the same for the park, which is heading into a second year of management by Keizer Little League. KLL took over park management from Keizer Youth Sports Association for 2014.

“Each year, the manager of Keizer Little League fields needs to submit for approval of any changes,” city attorney Shannon Johnson said. “This year Keizer Little League noted they wanted to make it two fields changed. One of the fields costing $40 didn’t have dugout, while one that was $30 did have a dugout so they wanted to make them consistent. They will be back later in the year with more budgeting information.”

Field usage rates for most of the 12 fields at KLL Park will remain the same. Fields 9 and 12 will still cost $30 for a 120 minute period while fields 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 10 will each remain $40 for a 150-minute period. Field 6 will remain $50 for a 135-minute period lights and $135 for the same time period with lights.

The changes are with fields 1 and 11. Field 1 was $30 last year but is $40 this year; field 11 has gone the opposite direction.

Mayor Cathy Clark and councilor Kim Freeman wanted to know about the annual budget request for park maintenance.

“Would we normally have them with this report and did we get that in the past with the former park manager?” Freeman asked.

Johnson, who noted the action on field rates was being taken so KLL can start making field reservations for the 2015 season, couldn’t recall if the park maintenance request came with the usage rate changes under KYSA.

“We just don’t have it yet,” Johnson said.

Councilor Roland Herrera noted he and fellow new councilor Amy Ripp had been curious about some of the rates.

“We went out there,” Herrera said. “It looks pretty good out there. They have made good progress.”

Herrera was on the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board last fall when board members and councilors saw KLL Park as part of the annual Parks Tour. Many on the tour expressed disappointment with the condition of the fields at the time.

“That means a lot,” Clark said of Herrera’s update. “We were dismayed with the conditions last fall.”

Herrera agreed.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” he said.

In other business March 2:

• Former Mayor Lore Christopher noted a request will be coming to council soon to change the name of the Keizer Arts Commission (KAC) to Keizer Public Arts Commission (KPAC), since the current name is so close to the Keizer Arts Association (KAA) and is thus causing confusion.

Councilor Marlene Quinn later noted another upcoming request for a committee name change.

The Keizer Festivals and Events Services Team (K-FEST) is looking to change to a simpler moniker of Festival Advisory Board, which also means a much improved acronym of FAB.

Councilors expressed support for the idea.

• Herrera mentioned McNary High School alum Deven Hunter is part of the Oregon State University women’s basketball team that won the Pac-12 regular season title. Hunter, a junior at OSU, is a 2012 MHS grad.

• This week’s council work session was a council training session conducted by Johnson, who certainly had everyone on the edge of their seats in anticipation.

“It will be riveting, I promise,” Johnson quipped.