Last Friday I asked how NSA Director Alexander’s claim that “we can audit the actions of our people 100%” was consistent with USG uncertainty about what Snowden stole and with its claims that it was “putting in place actions” to allow it to track its syste
Barack Obama’s cancellation of his Russian visit is the normal sort of diplomat payback for insult and injury — in this case the asylum offered Edward Snowden in the face of administration pleas to send him home for punishment. But with Obama, as with everything with Obama, the about-face invokes irony, hypocrisy, and paradox, because it is just the sort of normal Neanderthal tit-for-tat that was not supposed to happen under an Obama pathbreaking foreign policy. He entered office chastising the Bush administration for its failure to talk with the Iranians and Syrians. The subtext was that Bush lacked both his own charm and insight into human character that together would produce results that Texan right-wingers stuck in Cold War prisms could hardly appreciate. The Snowden putdown proved the proverbial icing on the cake, given that the Obama administration had always combined the worst of both diplomatic worlds with Putin, as it so often does with its empty redlines and deadlines: loud sermonizing without commensurate toughness. Dropping the Eastern Europeans on missile defense, negotiating with the Russians on reducing strategic arms without much concern for our obligations to our non-nuclear allies that quite easily could become nuclear without our huge umbrella, the open-mic assurances of post-election flexibility, or pleading with the Russians to be reasonable on Iran and Syria was juxtaposed with loud lectures to the Putin authoritarians on human rights, tolerance of dissent, and proper behavior at the U.N. Putin — earlier than other leaders — grasped that the U.S. was back to a utopian Jimmy Carter mode. And so, not content in finding advantage, he also seeks fun in publicly humiliating the U.S. He was always an unapologetic Russian nationalist, stung by the loss of prestige after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but reenergized by huge oil revenues. His stock and trade has always been pointing out Western moral hypocrisies — from supporting cruel anti-democratic Islamists to distorting U.N. resolutions on no-fly zones and humanitarian aid in Libya. In that sense, he is the perfect antithesis to Obama. The sanctimonious Al-Arabiya interview, the Cairo Speech, and the missionary declarations on Libya all presupposed that Obama alone was sensitive to diverse cultures and had both the charisma and moxie to win over those who were previously alienated due to less-sophisticated American leaders. The result is not just chaos in the Middle East — an unbound Iran, the Syrian quagmire, the Somalization of Libya, Benghazi, the closing of an unprecedented number of embassies, the Egyptian flip-flop-flips, another doomed Israeli-Palestinian initiative — but a global sense that most countries either politely tune Obama’s soaring rhetoric out, or enjoy finding ways to expose the lack of commensurate concrete consequences. Putin knows that and positions himself as the sort of realist that mocks Obama’s pretensions. And while most abroad accept that he is a thug, they nevertheless seem to enjoy watching Putin, in spider-and-fly fashion, deflate our moral pretenses. In light of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Communist insurgencies in Central America, the Iranian revolution and the taking of hostages in Tehran, and the Chinese invasion of Vietnam, Jimmy Carter committed to upping the defense budget, dropped his lectures on inordinate fears of communism, issued the “Carter Doctrine,” and gave up on coaxing Khomeini. But for a variety of reasons, Obama is no Carter, and I doubt he will make such eleventh-hour adjustments.
According to Paul E. Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School, new data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress on the math and reading performances of K-12 students reveal a disturbing pattern: During the Clinton-Bush era (1999 to 2008), white 9-year-olds gained 11 points in math, African-American student performance rose by 13 points and Hispanic student performance leaped by 21 points. In reading, the gains by white 9-year-olds went up seven points, black performance jumped by 18 points and Hispanic student achievement climbed 14 points. Those remarkable gains came to an end after the Obama administration took charge. Between 2008-12, gains by African-Americans at age 9 were just two points in each subject, while Hispanics gained one point in reading and nothing in math. Whites gained one point in reading and two points in math. Recognizing that it might be unfair to compare a nine-year period to a four-year period, Peterson offers an assessment of the relative rate of progress over both periods: For the first nine years, the average gains were six points annually for African-Americans, five points for Hispanics and three points for whites. Over that stretch, the test-score gap closed by two to three points each year, on average. While minority students did not attain the proficiency No Child Left Behind expected, the record shows steady positive momentum. After Mr. Obama dismantled No Child, that motion came to a virtual halt and the black-white gap widened slightly. Annual gains have been limited to one-and-a-half points for blacks and to three points for Hispanic students. Whites gained two points annually, slightly (though not significantly) better than those registered by African-Americans. In other words, gains under the Obama administration by all students range between minimal and nonexistent, and the black-white gap on test scores threatens to widen after having narrowed steadily over the previous nine years. It is important to keep in mind that the post-crisis era has seen persistent high unemployment, which has had a disproportionately large impact on black Americans and Latinos. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that sluggish growth and high unemployment might contribute to disappointing educational outcomes. But I am sympathetic to Peterson’s larger argument, which is that the Obama administration’s efforts to weaken the testing and accountability provisions of No Child Left Behind might have had deleterious consequences: After winning the presidency, Mr. Obama halted enforcement of most of No Child’s key provisions and offered waivers to states that signed up for more lenient rules devised by the Education Department. So far, waivers have been granted to 40 states. The latest bill promoted by the Senate education committee calls for testing but allows states to let students submit “portfolios” or “projects” in lieu of the standardized tests required by the original law. These disappointing numbers ought to encourage Republican lawmakers to redouble their efforts on behalf of the Student Success Act, and to encourage Republicans at the state and local level to press for more ambitious K-12 reforms. In an ideal world, Republicans running in 2014 would make K-12 reform a centerpiece of their campaigns. But for now, at least, that seems unlikely to happen.