Barack Obama, master synthesist


Drone wars. The killing of a “radicalized” American-born cleric without due process of law. The deportation of illegal immigrants. Daring to think he could treat with John Boehner. The hilarity of hiring former Wall Street people to run the economic recovery in 2009 when eighty years ago Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a worldwide depression on his hands and wouldn’t even let Andrew Mellon onto the South Lawn. I can enumerate the ways in which Barack Hussein Obama reminds me of every egomaniac who’s run for the presidency. That his much vaunted cool allows him to put Malia and Sasha to bed at night while signing off on who gets vaporized by a drone strikes me as sociopathic or psychopathic is the kind of passing judgment I’ll leave to the Robert Dallecks and Jon Meachams.

But the speech he delivered at the Democratic National Convention last night ranked with his best works: a reminder that as the child of mixed race and a lover of literature he has the talent and the ego to situate himself as the person on whom the audience projects its grandest aspirations. Obama’s self-regard and his constituency’s desire for self-realization are indivisible: as he acknowledged, he wouldn’t be on that stage without their faith in him; he wouldn’t be president without the audience defining him. Aware of his role as a synthesist, he dared the audience to disagree: “That’s why we can take the food and music and holidays and styles of other countries, and blend it into something uniquely our own.” The cords that bound him and them gave the speech’s most stirring bit its pathos:

We’re not a fragile people. We’re not a frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don’t look to be ruled. Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that We the People, can form a more perfect union. That’s who we are. That’s our birthright—the capacity to shape our own destiny

Charles Pierce, the white writer who has come closet to divining Obama’s mystery, shakes his head in wonderment:

If he has done nothing else, and he has done a great deal, Barack Obama has developed an aesthetic of cool that is his alone. It expands and extends from the way he does his job; the video prior to his appearance emphasized how he always was the calm presence in the middle of heated policy debates. It also includes the way he has carried himself in office, and the way he has carried the office itself—lightly, in its ceremonial aspects, but carefully and reverently in those parts of the job that belong most importantly to the rest of us.

He remains a graceful, cosmopolitan democrat, not unlike Thomas Jefferson, not unlike Langston Hughes, not unlike Albert Murray. His patriotism is wide and generous. It has no definite frontiers. And that’s what was born in Louisiana, in the streets and the clubs and the brothels. It came from there and it fought racism to at least a draw. It came from there and it conquered the world.

His legacy I’ll leave to the historians, but as personage he defines his historical moment as much as Bowie did his musical one.

DNC, Day 3: No more war edition


11:59. Good night!

11:45. As tactics, a masterful speech, moving into the center that the GOP thinks it has occupied. As rhetoric, it meshed his gift for the demotic with the phrasemaking, the latter not often among his strongest suits. I suspect “homegrown demagogues” and “We don’t look to be ruled” will be alluded to for many years.

11:38. “You are the best organizers on the planet, and I appreciate the change you made possible.”

11:26. Magnaminous salute to #feeltheBern.

11 p.m. “Our promise doesn’t come from a self-proclaimed savior; we don’t look to be ruled….America has never been what one person can do for us. It’s what we can achieve together.”

10:55. I will never escape — we will never escape — “City of Blinding Lights.”

10:46. The pundits aren’t wrong: Barack Obama’s hair has greyed damn fast.

10:40. Conor Friedersdorf

I just figured out the Tim Kaine pick: he is too bland and indistinct for any conceivable Donald Trump insult nickname to stick.

10:35. Presidents Jefferson and Wilson will not comment on the use of their Christian names.

10:31. Guys, he’s cutting of his g’s, it’s serious.

10:26. The crowd loves Kaine’s awful Trump impersonation. He looks like he tries to cop a a feel after a sip of Icehouse. But I think of Gandalf: “A fool. But an honest fool.”

10:19: “Can I tell ya a funny thing about the Senate?” Tell us one funny thing, please.

10:18. Ohhhhh…I’m sure he regretted that well-intentioned Bernie remark.

10:16. “Tough times don’t last; tough people do” — I’m bored of this muscle flexing.

10:15. I can’t imagine Tim Kaine getting mad at a shoe that won’t fit.

10:11. man do I pick on my straight Jesuit-trained friends for “Men for others.” Campaign slogan?

10:07. SEMPER FI! Trump’s remarks earlier today called for the flag-waving.

10:06. I dunno about that tie and shirt combination on Kaine: red, black, and grey-striped tie against slate grey shirt.

10:01. Senator Tim Kaine looks like a nice, innocuous man, i.e. a traditional vice president.

9:58: Tonight’s Jay Nordlinger Watch: @jaynordlinger

It’s Lisa Bonet’s husband! Ah, Lisa … #memories

9:58: Chris Matthews on Bloomberg: the speech was a defense of “pure capitalism at its finest.”

9:54. Bryan Williams: “This could be a law firm: Kravitz, Scott, and Kaine.”

9:48. Meanwhile on Earth-3, Tucker Carlson chooses to address Nancy Pelosi’s remarks, which are “under fire” for attacking Trump supporters. Not a word about Panetta, Biden, and Bloomberg. This tells me they’re worried.

9:42. Stone cold silence when he said Democrats got in the way of education reform.

9:41. Bloomberg letting his New Yawk accent out: “I don’t understaynd!”

9:39. “I’ve often encouraged business leaders to run for office…but not all.”

9:36. Understanding the strategic imperative for having Michael Bloomberg as the spokesman for independent voters doesn’t mean I have to like his prissy-smug Joe Lieberman act.

9:26. “We lead by our power rand the power of our example” is too jingoistic a line for me to endorse, but Joe Biden is the only one whose rhetorical force can give it poignancy.

9:24. “Literally.”

9:19. “Listen to me without booing or cheering.”

9:10. I still brace when an official calls the president by name. Impossible, for example, to imagine Spiro Agnew calling Richard Nixon “Dick.” Actually, I can.

9:04. Glossy promo film prefacing Vice President Joe Biden’s address. Cool clip of the young Biden, with hair and a firm voice, berating Secretary of State George Schultz for the Reagan administration’s coddling of South Africa’s govenmen.

8:59. Hi! We’re back. Long day. The former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta was shouted down by, reportedly, Bernie Sanders’ California delegation. Of course this offends Very Serious People. I don’t care. It’s creepy as hell to have a former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta endorse a candidate and watch a crowd shout “USA!!!” even if I’m offended by Donald Trump’s remarks.

Cuba: the momentum of the free market

As I’ve driven through Miami this weekend and spoken to friends and relatives, many uneasy and vaguely dejected, I have to remember I had no illusions about the renewal of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. If Nixon could ignore Mao’s extermination of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens during the Cultural Revolution, then Barack Obama could ignore fifty-three years of enmity and the Ladies in White for the sake of Starwood hotels:

Counter-protesters and police broke up an anti-government demonstration in Havana hours before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for his historic visit.

About 300 government backers surrounded about 50 members and backers of the Ladies in White group shouting insults and revolutionary slogans. There was some shoving back and forth.

The women were taken into custody by female police officers and loaded onto buses in an operation that lasted about 10 minutes. In such cases, protesters are typically are detained for a few hours and then released.

The number of protesters, counter-protesters and police appeared to be about the same as in past incidents, which take place in the Cuban capital each Sunday after the Ladies attend Catholic Mass, march silently along 5th Avenue and then join other dissidents to try to march into a residential neighborhood.

These protests and arrests have happened under the full glare of international media, for which I’m grateful; this casual disregard for peaceful public protest has a hallmark of the Castro regime since the early sixties. For the sake of the president’s visit, moreover, the official government whitewashing has begun, to mixed results:

For decades, Cuban officials have treated every interaction with the United States as a test of sovereignty, and their approach to Mr. Obama’s visit is partly an effort to project competence, confidence and a new commitment to calibrated friendship.

The propaganda has already changed. Billboards lashing imperialism a few months ago now denounce violence against women, mosquitoes or laziness. And beautification is suddenly competing with decay…

…“Everyone wants to know how we Cubans feel about Obama coming,” said Yamile Suárez, 36, shrugging near a repaved road in central Havana. “I’m frankly just happy that giant pothole finally got filled in, so if I have him to thank for it, thanks Obama!”

I want to repeat: the inevitability of the thaw means that the free market, to which Republicans like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Diaz-Balart brothers, and Marco Rubio pledge their troth, gives not a damn for the protestations of the powerless. It’s possible that the continued clout of the Cuban American delegation in Congress will keep reminding Barack Obama and his successor of the human rights violations like the Chinese American lobby in the seventies could not. But the march forward creates its own momentum.

“I love that guy”

Last month Hillary Clinton took deserved shit from Bernie Sanders and the liberal press for squeezing Henry Kissinger in a metaphorical bear hug. Now her former boss offers the sort of on the record remark suggesting that the love for the Metternich of Georgetown and his coterie was widespread in the White House and Foggy Bottom:

Obama, unlike liberal interventionists, is an admirer of the foreign-policy realism of President George H. W. Bush and, in particular, of Bush’s national-security adviser, Brent Scowcroft (“I love that guy,” Obama once told me). Bush and Scowcroft removed Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1991, and they deftly managed the disintegration of the Soviet Union; Scowcroft also, on Bush’s behalf, toasted the leaders of China shortly after the slaughter in Tiananmen Square. As Obama was writing his campaign manifesto, The Audacity of Hope, in 2006, Susan Rice, then an informal adviser, felt it necessary to remind him to include at least one line of praise for the foreign policy of President Bill Clinton, to partially balance the praise he showered on Bush and Scowcroft.

Note the curious independent clause, clinging with white knuckles by semicolon to its antecedent, about Scowcroft toasting Chinese leaders while tanks threatened to roll over demonstrators. What’s that about – an attempt at evenhandedness? The former partner in the firm of Kissinger Associates’s métier has been to introduce the world’s most ghoulish regimes to corporate clients for decades. That aside, he and fellow insider paladins John Tower and Edward Muskie said Ronald Reagan might have been dozing in the Oval Office while Oliver North and an NSC junta sold arms to Iranian mullas and channeled profits to the Contras; and he watched Yugoslavia disintegrate into the continent’s most protracted and bloody war since 1945. Establishment respect, op-ed pages around the country at his disposal, the mien of a psychopath sitting down to a candlelit dinner after a spree — I understand why Barack Obama admires him.

I love that guy.

A brief history of Cuban-American relations

Eighty-eight years ago, an American president visited Cuba to remind the viceroy of its fertile island who was boss:

In 1928, Mr. Coolidge and his wife, Grace, boarded a train in Washington and rode for 40 hours to Key West, Fla., where they switched to the battleship Texas for the crossing to Havana, a trip that took two days. They were greeted at the port by Gerardo Machado, Cuba’s president, and his wife. The couple would host the Coolidges at the presidential palace in Havana and a country home nearby, feting them with two lavish banquets and accompanying them to a jai alai match and a sugar plantation.

Machado gave Coolidge a Panama hat, and there was much speculation about how the American president, whose country was in the midst of Prohibition, would navigate the etiquette challenge of being offered a drink of Cuban rum. (He simply turned his back and pretended to be talking to Machado when approached with a tray of daiquiris, one journalist recounted.)

News reports at the time indicated that Coolidge, known as Silent Cal for his taciturn demeanor, visibly enjoyed himself. To the Cubans, The Times reported, “he now is a smiling, and not a cold and silent, president.”

In keeping with the rejection of the daiquiri, Coolidge reminded Machado with doublespeak of who was the sovereign of the Western hemisphere:

Coolidge’s trip was in part an attempt to defuse the anger of Latin American leaders about American policy in their region. In his address, he spoke of “an attitude of peace and good will” in the hemisphere, in which small nations are respected. “Today, Cuba is her own sovereign,” he said, calling the country “a complete demonstration of the progress we are making.”

But Coolidge did not use his visit to tackle the thorniest grievances souring the American relationship with Cuba. He made no mention of the Platt Amendment, which he was unwilling to modify despite Cuba’s entreaties, nor did he change his position on keeping the heavy tariffs the United States imposed on the island’s sugar, as Machado had asked him to.

No one has ever praised Silent Cal for flexibility. Or Machado for mercy. Until Fulgencio Batista wrested power from Carlos Prío Socarrás in 1952 no Cuban president ever displayed such a disregard for human life: arrests, torture, disappearances (Fidel Castro would surpass them both). But this period in Cuba history shows the footprints of American ambassadors, notably Sumner Welles’, ambassador to Cuba and Franklin Roosevelt’s personal friend (and the State Department paladin to whom he turned when Cordell Hull interfered). It was Welles’ machinations with Batista and the military that undercut support for Ramón Grau San Martín’s first term in office. Cuba wags claim Batista’s coup in 1952 made Fidel Castro possible. So did the whims of Calvin Coolidge, Sumner Welles, and every administration going back to McKinley’s.

Of geniuses, mandarins, and institutionalists


Patrick McGilligan – Young Orson

Simon Callow, Clinton Heylin, David Thomson, and the Welles-approved Barbara Leaming have covered this ground, but what distinguishes this SS-20 of a tome is the attention on George Orson’s origins. Raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin by a pianist/actress mother and a dad whose early fortune as a bicycle lamp inventor hastened a descent into alcoholism, the polymath benefited from an environment that paid lip service to the arts; the first seventh of McGilligan’s book is a meticulous account of being a minor artist in the Roosevelt-Taft age, and I’m not usually interested in meticulous accounts of boyhoods. Less compelling is the story of the accumulating triumphs: Horse Eats Hat, Dr. Faustus, the Negro Macbeth, the Mercury Theatre, the contract with RKO Pictures. To my mind it settles the question of Welles’ authorship of Citizen Kane (he and the decrepit, beloved Herman J. Mankiewicz each wrote his own script, the latter under the supervision of bete noire John Houseman; Welles edited, discarded, and added material during filming). The revelations concern his private life: Welles was more infatuated with first wife, Chicago blue blood Virginia Nicolson, than evidence had suggested; his bedhopping was less prodigious than his appetites for steaks and poetry; and around homosexual men from whom he wanted to coax favors he liked to float the possibility that he was one of them (“When I’m with homosexuals, I become a little homosexual, to make them feel at home, you know,” he confided to Henry Jaglom decades later, a couple of years before lending his voice to the monster planet in Transformers: The Movie). A prescient move: Young Orson leaves the Young Genius at the threshold of an aesthetic triumph and at the start of a forty-year saga of wooing: producers, actor-stars, waiters.

Charles Savage — Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency

The Bush administration approved the torture of suspected Al Qaeda members and sympathizers, the Obama administration perfected targeted killing. Thanks to men like Harold Koh, the White House could operate under a carapace of liberal jurisprudence. “Just as [Barack] Obama had bestowed a gloss of bipartisan consensus on those Bush-like policies he continued,” Charlie Savage writers, “Koh had leveraged his history as a liberal human rights champion to vouch for what Obama was doing — including…drone strikes.” The thesis of the New York Times reporter’s hopscotching narrative is the degree to which the president sought robust legal justifications for implementing its policies instead of questioning the assumptions of the national security state; the Office of Legal Counsel was a busy little hive during the Obama years. Caught flatfooted by bipartisan opposition to closing Guantanamo and the Christmas underwear bomber in 2009, the administration conducted its counterterrorism with a forest of memos and signatures. The murder of Al-Awlaki and his son, the raid on the Osama bin Laden compound, Chelsea Manning, the Edward Snowden leaks, the crackdown on whistleblowers – the episodes get thorough review, including interviews with the key personages. Savage, whose Takeover remains the essential story of how a Ford chief of staff and congressman named Richard Cheney saved the imperial presidency from obloquy, is the rare reporter who can write. The unchronological meanwhile-back-at approach ix taxing, though.

David Talbot — The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government

Kim Roosevelt, the master spy behind the overthrow of Iranian president Mossadegh in 1953, joined Gulf Oil at the end of the decade. The newly installed shah, sitting on the Peacock Throne, became a client. His boss Allen and brother John Foster had spent the forties spiriting Nazi pals away from Germany for what they saw as the next and greater war against Soviet communism. This conflation of jingoism and personal financial enrichment drives nearly every important figure in David Talbot’s history of the CIA. Question their motives and the House Un-American Activities committee might call the brave soul to testify under oath. Although in 2013 Stephen Kinzer published his own fantastic-in-ever-sense biography of the Dulles duo, the former Salon editor who wrote The Devil’s Chessboard is even more comprehensive, citing a motherlode of declassified material. He also does more than hint that Allen Dulles, fired by JFK after the Bay of Pigs debacle, knew people who knew people who had Kennedy killed.

Barack Obama: a legacy


The Barack Hussein Obama presidency has been more consequential than it looks, Michael Grunwald argues. Wading through the minutiae of the stimulus bill and Department of Energy regulations, Grunwald says the president’s domestic legacy will outlive him:

What he’s done is changing the way we produce and consume energy, the way doctors and hospitals treat us, the academic standards in our schools and the long-term fiscal trajectory of the nation. Gays can now serve openly in the military, insurers can no longer deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, credit card companies can no longer impose hidden fees and markets no longer believe the biggest banks are too big to fail. Solar energy installations are up nearly 2,000 percent, and carbon emissions have dropped even though the economy is growing. Even Republicans like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who hope to succeed Obama and undo his achievements, have been complaining on the campaign trail that he’s accomplished most of his agenda.

“The change is real,” says Ron Klain, who served as Biden’s White House chief of staff, and later as Obama’s Ebola czar. “It would be nice if more people understood the change.”

Grunwald avoids foreign policy, which isn’t his strength or interest, and notice even this excerpt how he hurries past the consequences of Race to the Top and the mushrooming of the charter school racket and the public career of Arne Duncan, but otherwise it’s a serious appraisal. But:

Healthier school lunches. A ban on “light” cigarettes. Streamlined financial aid forms that take college applicants 20 minutes to complete instead of an hour. Reduced sentencing disparities between crack and powdered cocaine. A popular new competitive grant program called TIGER for innovative transportation projects. Immigration enforcement that prioritizes dangerous felons rather than ordinary families. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act easing gender discrimination lawsuits. New rules requiring fast-food restaurants to post nutritional information. The percentage of student borrowers getting relief through through “income-based repayment” has tripled in just the past two years. George W. Bush’s tax cuts are gone for families earning more than $450,000 a year and permanent for everyone else; Bush’s limits on stem-cell research are gone, too. Medicare will now cover end-of-life planning discussions, a shift that could help ease the pain, as well as the cost, of many American deaths.

I’ve criticized the president a great deal; his foreign policy achieves coherence when he signs orders having a drone vaporize an American accused of sedition and his blameless son. But he has been the most consequential Democratic president of my lifetime. We’re going to get many retrospective pieces in the next twelve months. If anyone could write one, it’s the author of The New New Deal, the only book I’ve read that examines the legislative tumult of 2009 without my fumbling for garbage words like “policy wonk” even when the prose coarsens for the sake of the Chris Matthews claque.

Obama’s modest proposals


Barack wept. He cited President George H.W. Bush, John McCain, the NRA itself. It could’ve been Ronald Reagan speaking in the voice of Charlton Heston and it wouldn’t have moved a corpuscle on Capitol Hill.

Martin Longman, examining today’s proposals, says they’re decent to good:

Much of the rest is focused on increasing the effectiveness of the already existing National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Going to a 24/7 system will help avoid the current problem they have where they get requests for 63,000 background checks a day and have only three days to complete a check before a gun sale can take place without one. This falls into the category of “enforcing the gun laws that are already on the books” that the Republicans are always chanting like a mantra.

There’s a bit of a change in that the government will now be looking to eliminate a loophole that people exploit to buy machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. You won’t be able to buy ordinarily prohibited weapons anymore simply by creating trusts, corporations, or other legal entities to serve as phony middlemen.

If you’re looking to buy or sell guns without any oversight, these executive actions may impact you, but all they’re really looking to accomplish is for as many gun sales as possible to be run through the NICS background check system.

Restrictions on smart gun technology sound promising. So does increasing background check staff, who are overwhelmed with requests that must be fulfilled in three days. But we’re told these are infringements on Article 1 of the Constitution.

An accord!

Well! This is good news.

After four years of fraught U.N. talks often pitting the interests of rich nations against poor, imperiled island states against rising economic powerhouses, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared the pact adopted to the standing applause and whistles of delegates from almost 200 nations.

“With a small hammer you can achieve great things,” Fabius said as he gaveled the agreement, capping two weeks of tense negotiations at the summit on the outskirts of Paris.

Hailed as the first truly global climate deal, committing both rich and poor nations to reining in rising emissions blamed for warming the planet, it sets out a sweeping long-term goal of eliminating net man-made greenhouse gas output this century.

“It is a victory for all of the planet and for future generations,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the U.S. negotiations in Paris.

“We have set a course here. The world has come together around an agreement that will empower us to chart a new path for our planet, a smart and responsible path, a sustainable path.”

It also creates a system to encourage nations to step up voluntary domestic efforts to curb emissions, and provides billions more dollars to help poor nations cope with the transition to a greener economy powered by renewable energy.

Of course there’s gonna be opposition. I expect opposition. But this is a start — a big start. Now future presidents can’t claim other developed countries aren’t part of this. To eschew membership means you don’t believe in any reason to expect a reduction in greenhouse gases.

‘The lost illusions of American exceptionalism’

A couple days before Thanksgiving, remembering the mockery and hysteria with which the president’s sobriety before the forces of terrorist reaction has been greeted by the Beltway press, I thought it time to take stock. Charles Pierce:

Shortly before his death, Thomas Jefferson described the issue of chattel slavery as the equivalent of​ holding a wolf by the ear—you can’t hold him and you can’t let him go. Jefferson, being fundamentally a white supremacist, misread the problem. It wasn’t slavery that was the wolf. That was only the most outward manifestation of the wolf. The wolf was racism, and we’re still just barely hanging on. It has become vivid in the past seven years, since the country had the audacity of electing a black man to be its president. The election of Barack Obama changed the context of the events that occurred during his presidency. All of those events—from the arrest of Henry Louis Gates in his own home, to the rise of #BLM in the wake of the killings of Trayvon Martin and all the rest, to the mass shooting in Charleston—took place in the context of racial opposition to the idea of Barack Obama’s election. It sharpened the racial edge of the political dialogue on virtually every issue. (Ever stopped to count how many synonyms for “uppity” have been used in connection with this president? You wouldn’t think there was a thesaurus that comprehensive.) The grip we have on the wolf is weakening.

There is a wildness in our politics that goes back beyond this administration. But the election of this president—​and his stubborn insistence that he be allowed to act like a president—​has brought a focused volatility to that wildness that is unprecedented in the years since the turmoil of the 1960s. The lost illusions of American exceptionalism, and the loss of the dominant postwar American economy, make the results of that poll sadly unsurprising. But that basic disillusionment has been percolating around American politics for decades. There is something different about it now that is the result of years of exchanging history for desperate propaganda, a yearning for a past that never was, at least not for all Americans

Jefferson used the phrase “reign of witches” to describe another ignoble chapter in American history. Superpower self-pity, the late Christopher Hitchens called it.

Public education and its discontents

The most insistent strain of neoliberalism in Barack Obama’s DNA is his commitment to charlatans in the educational testing system — the Michelle Rhees whose commitment to high scores doubles as a way to transform public schools into fiefdoms managed by private companies (Diane Ravitch has played an estimable role explaining how the grifters work). As high schoolers my students enter universities overconfident, thanks to grade inflation, and ignorant, thanks to the obsession with tests. Not all of them. Those who can afford private schools or who qualify for a “magnet” education are in better shape. But here is an example of social Darwinism at its subtlest. Who doesn’t believe in better schools and teachers? Who doesn’t want merit pay?

As his power wanes, Obama starts to rethink seven years of No Child Left Behind vehemence:

State officials have pointed out that federal requirements that remain in place under the No Child Left Behind Law are a big part of the testing problem. The Florida Department of Education also highlighted that the state already has a testing cap in place, and that changes in state law helped cut back on required testing last year.

“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve already taken some steps in our state,” Department of Education spokeswoman Meghan Collins said. “That’s something that’s ongoing; we’re always looking and listening and making changes as appropriate for our students.”

On Saturday, the Council of Great City Schools also released a two-year long study of testing in urban districts that found students spend up to 25 hours a year taking standardized tests – not including time spent practicing, which was not studied. From pre-k through 12th grade, students will take 112 tests, according to the report, which included data from Miami-Dade.

The report coincided with the release of a lengthy list of testing recommendations by the U.S. Department of Education, which included a call to scale back exams so that it only consumes 2 percent of the school year. Together, it all signaled a sharp change in tone from the Obama administration. The president even took to Facebook in a video message to say the pressure of tests has taken the “joy” out of teaching and learning.

Ravitch is unimpressed. Watch her speech at Wellesley at 28:02. Pullquote: Governors and legislators “don’t attack police for crime rates. You don’t see them closing police stations because of crime waves.”

The Obama report card


My readers know that praise for Barack Hussein Obama comes rarely and is often modulated by several factors, not least of which is my scorn for political reporters to cite “accomplishments” as if they were rice cakes: calorie-free, without nutritive value, substitutes for richer and unhealthier foods. Kevin Drum’s grocery list impressed me. I’m going to ignore Trans Pacific Partnership “fast track” legislation as an “accomplishment” — a concession to global market forces whose progressivism extends to gay rights and fair working conditions for women because it makes them better consumers and debtors.

1. Normalized relations with Cuba.

2. Signed a climate deal with China.

3. Issued new EPA ozone rules.

4. Successfully argued in favor of same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court.

5. Put in place economic sanctions on Russia that have Vladimir Putin reeling.

6. Pressured the FCC to approve net neutrality rules.

7. Issued new EPA coal regulations.

8. Issued an executive order on immigration.

9. Got fast track authority for TPP and seems poised to pass it.

10. Signed a nuclear deal with Iran and appears on track to get it passed.

11. Won yet another Supreme Court case keeping Obamacare intact.

12. Issued new rules that increase the number of “managers” who qualify for overtime pay.

13. Presided over the birth of twin giant panda babies at Washington, D.C.’s, National Zoo.

My interest in open relations with Cuba is pragmatic — I could care less (now). But at this point in history Obama’s done a measure of good, scouring Clintonism from executive orders and legislative accomplishments. Until the next Clinton.