August 31, 2007

White House critical of GAO report on Iraq

Probe concludes there has been little political progress despite troop influx

WASHINGTON - An independent assessment concluding that Iraq has made little political progress in recent months despite an influx of U.S. troops drew fierce objections from the White House on Thursday and provided fresh ammunition for Democrats who want to bring troops home.

The political wrangling came days before the report was to be officially released and while most lawmakers were still out of town for the August recess, reflecting the high stakes involved for both sides in the Iraq war debate. President Bush, who planned to meet Friday at the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is nearing a decision on a way forward in Iraq while Congress planned another round of votes this fall to end the war.

A draft report by the Government Accountability Office concluded Iraq has satisfied three of 18 benchmarks set by Congress and partially met two others, a senior administration official said Thursday. None of those are the high-profile political issues such as passage of a national oil revenue sharing law that the Bush administration has said are critical to Iraq’s future.

The State Department, Pentagon and White House dispute some GAO findings, including the conclusion that Iraq has only partially met tests involving its budget process and legislation dealing with semiautonomous regions in the large, multiethnic country, two officials said.
Administration officials also disputed that Iraq has failed to provide three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations or to ensure that the security plan will not provide a safe haven for outlaws.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations that included lengthy meetings Thursday at the White House. The GAO may alter some of its findings in response to administration arguments, one official said.

White House: Report is too harsh
Administration officials also said the draft report is unrealistically harsh because it assigned pass-or-fail grades to each benchmark.

The GAO found that Iraq had fully met requirements to:

Establish political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad security plan. That plan involves many of the 30,000 U.S. troops Bush sent to Iraq this year.
Establish joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.
Ensure the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.
Bush has suggested he intends to stick to his Iraq strategy, but in his meeting Friday at the Pentagon he’s expected to hear some of the Joint Chiefs express deep concern at the long-term impact on the military of maintaining a heavy troop presence in Iraq in 2008 and beyond. Now, there are more than 160,000 troops in Iraq, the most since the war began in 2003.

The Army and the Marine Corps have shouldered most of the burden, creating strains that service leaders fear could hurt their recruiting as well as their preparedness for other military emergencies. The Joint Chiefs are not, however, expected to urge Bush to withdraw from Iraq entirely as many Democrats want.

Click for related content

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“It is clear that every objective expert keeps providing the American public with the same facts: that the president’s flawed Iraq strategy is failing to deliver what it needs to — a political solution for Iraq,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

GAO officials briefed congressional staff behind closed doors, promising an unvarnished assessment when an unclassified version of the report is publicly released on Sept. 4.

“The real question that people have is: What’s going on in Iraq? Are we making progress? Militarily, is the surge having an impact?” said White House spokesman Tony Snow. “The answer is yes. There’s no question about it.”

But Democrats and even some Republicans say military progress made in recent weeks is not the issue. If Baghdad politicians refuse to reach a lasting political settlement that can influence the sectarian-fueled violence, the increase in troops is useless, they said.

Pentagon makes 'factual corrections'

The Pentagon and State Department provided detailed and lengthy objections to the findings by the congressional auditors.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Thursday that after reviewing a draft of the GAO report, policy officials “made some factual corrections” and “offered some suggestions on a few of the actual grades” assigned by the GAO.

“We have provided the GAO with information which we believe will lead them to conclude that a few of the benchmark grades should be upgraded from ’not met’ to ’met,”’ Morrell said.

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the GAO should at least note progress made when ruling that Iraq has failed to meet a specific benchmark.

Democrats are expected to try to use money needed to support the war as leverage to bring troops home. The Pentagon has requested $147 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan for the 2007 budget year, which begins Oct. 1. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday suggested Bush should not be asking Congress to approve “tens of billions more dollars” when independent voices like GAO find the Iraqis are failing to reach a political accord.

“With the president continuing to stay the course in Iraq, Republicans will have to decide whether they will continue to vote with him or join Democrats and the vast majority of Americans who are demanding a new direction in Iraq and refocusing America’s efforts on fighting the real threats of terrorism around the world,” said Pelosi, D-Calif.

Meeting at Pentagon on FridayThe GAO report is one of several assessments called for in May legislation that funded the war: Retired Gen. James Jones briefs Congress next week on his assessment of the Iraqi security forces; Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, testify the week of Sept. 10. Bush will deliver his own progress report by Sept. 15.

Bush is meeting Friday with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a secure conference room at the Pentagon known as “the Tank.”

Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, director of operational planning for the Joint Chiefs, told reporters this would be the Joint Chiefs’ opportunity to “provide the president with their unvarnished recommendations and their assessments of current operations.”

It did not appear that the session was intended to work out a consensus military view on how long Bush should maintain the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq or how soon to transition to Iraqi control of security.

Bush will be hearing from Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Adm. William Fallon, the senior commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East; and top commanders in Baghdad.

FBI spied on Coretta Scott King, memos show

New documents: U.S. worried she would be subversive after MLK’s death

ATLANTA - Federal agents spied on the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for several years after his assassination in 1968, according to newly released documents that reveal the FBI worried about her following in the footsteps of the slain civil rights icon.

In memos that reveal Coretta Scott King being closely followed by the government, the FBI noted concern that she might attempt “to tie the anti-Vietnam movement to the civil rights movement.”

Four years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, the FBI closed its file on Coretta Scott King, saying, “No information has come to the attention of Atlanta which indicates a propensity for violence or affiliation of subversive elements,” according to a memorandum dated Nov. 30, 1972.
The documents were obtained by Houston television station KHOU in a story published Thursday. Coretta Scott King died in January 2006 at the age of 78.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who served as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference — which King co-founded in 1957 — said the documents illustrate the FBI’s pattern of “despicable and devious” civil-rights-era behavior against the organization and those affiliated with it.

“The FBI kept a microphone everywhere they could where the SCLC was concerned,” said Lowery, who said the agency had a member of the SCLC’s staff on its payroll.

“Since we had nothing to hide, it was no great problem for us. But we don’t put it past the FBI; (then-FBI Director) J. Edgar Hoover hated Martin Luther King and everything that the SCLC stood for.”

'I don't think she knew it'
Andrew Young, a lieutenant of King’s during the civil rights movement, agreed. But he said he was surprised that the government would focus on Coretta Scott King.

“I didn’t know it and I don’t think she knew it,” Young said. “If ever there was a woman that had the makings of a saint, it was Coretta. I don’t know what they were looking for, I don’t know what they were expecting to find. I don’t know why they wasted the government’s money.”

Also included in the documents:

The FBI suggested that Ralph Abernathy, a close aide to Martin Luther King, be made aware of death threats against his life for the benefit of “the disruptive effect of confusing and worrying him.”
An intercepted letter written by Coretta Scott King in 1971 to the National Peace Action Coalition, in which she said the Vietnam War has “ravaged our domestic programs.”
One memo shows that the FBI even read and reviewed King’s 1969 book about her late husband, “My Life with Martin Luther King Jr.” The agent made a point to say that her “selfless, magnanimous, decorous attitude is belied by ... (her) actual shrewd, calculating, businesslike activities.”
There is also evidence that the Nixon administration and then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were kept informed of the FBI’s nearly constant surveillance.

MLK's activities monitored

Martin Luther King Jr.’s activities were known to have been monitored by the federal government as he led the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Intelligence gathering on famous Americans and war critics became so infamous that rules to curtail domestic spying were put in place in the 1970s.

King’s nephew, Isaac Newton Farris Jr., said on Thursday that the surveillance of his aunt comes as no surprise.

“We knew she was surveilled,” said Farris, who is also chief executive officer of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. “The only surprise is the intensity of the surveillance after his death. It appears it was as intense as the surveillance on my uncle.”

Farris said there was no reason to monitor either one of them, since they were law-abiding citizens who were standing up for their constitutional rights.

“This is a woman who basically was trying to raise four kids and honor her deceased husband,” Farris said. “I don’t know how that was a threat to anybody’s national security.”

August 30, 2007

NCLB Title 1 Draft Released--Your Comments Needed

This week, the House Committee on Education and Labor released a “discussion draft” of language for reauthorization of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind. NEA is studying the language to prepare written comments that we will submit to the Committee.

Your Help Is Needed!

We urge you to review the 435-page document as well and share your feedback with us so that we can include your voice in our comments to the Committee. Please send comments to as soon as possible.

You’ll find a copy of the discussion draft on the Committee’s web site. Click here to read the discussion draft of the document.

NEA has asked its state affiliates to review draft language as well.

August 25, 2007

Ask Not What Your Caucus Can Do for You...

Ask What You Can Do for Your Caucus
A Call for Midwest Peace & Justice Authors, Readers & For You to Start Posting

The mission of the NEA Peace & Justice Caucus is to promote economic and social justice and peaceful resolution of conflict. This blog has been established as tool to further organize and inform the Peace and Justice Caucus in the Midwest region. As a member of the NEA Peace & Justice Caucus, you have the opportunity not only to read up on the issues, but also speak out and organize actions that help promote our caucus ideals. Enjoy the site!

Comments & Posting

Please help us make the Midwest Peace & Justice Blog reach its potential. The goal of our blog is to create an on-line community that not only shares information but also takes the opportunity to speak to the issues. Each of our articles has a comment section to create "threads of discussion" on issues. We would like to ask everyone to at least try to leave a comment or two to prompt some discussion on issues that are important to us.

A Call for Writers & Readers
We could also use a member or two of the Midwest Peace & Justice Caucus to volunteer to serve as authors and readers for our blog. We would like editorial authors to help us add more original content to our blog. This is your chance to speak out and be read. Our number of hits after seven months of publication is impressive.

This shouldn't require a huge time commitment if we schedule our authors and all share some of the responsibility.

We also need readers who will be on the look out for great editorials, articles and news releases to share with our members. It will truly benefit our efforts to: keep our members informed, share important literature and ideas, and organize to promote our positive agenda.

And, if nothing else, we'd love you to start posting to the site to start some valuable discussion on the issues that are important to us. We believe that this will help shape our agenda, allow us to begin thinking about resolutions and new business items to share at our regional and state assemblies. And, who know, it could lead to a discussion at the NEA level.

I'll continue to post, trouble shoot and give any of you help that are interested. I hope that you keep reading and a few of you decide to join us in our mission to make the Midwest Peace & Justice Blog the most effective tool possible for our members.

Please drop me a line at our new Midwest Peace & Justice Blog email address if you're interested, could be interested or have any questions. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

Or contact me personally.

We hope that we can count on you for help.

Tom McLaughlin,
Your Blog Guy

United Teachers of Los Angeles Support for Fall Anti-War Activities

...from the Peace & Justice Western Region...
UTLA Support for Fall Anti-War Activities

Moved, that UTLA renew its call for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and

Further moved, that UTLA promote and endorse fall anti-war activities, specifically the September 15th, September 29th, and October 27th national, regional and local mobilizations, the ILWU (San Francisco) sponsored Labor and the War Conference on October 20, and the September 22-29 Tent-Cities at the Westwood and Downtown Federal Buildings; and

Further moved, that UTLA will publicize the Iraq Moratorium to our members, giving them opportunities to break their daily routine and take some action to end the war, beginning on September 21, 2007, and continuing on the third Friday of each subsequent month.

Finally moved, that UTLA will publish this resolution and circulate it to its affiliates and members through its various communication vehicles, and to inform our Congressional Delegation of this resolution, encouraging them to vote against further allocations of funding for the Iraq occupation, except for the safe and immediate removal of our troops there.


UTLA has expressed its opposition to the ongoing occupation in Iraq and military operations in Afghanistan; yet these conflicts continue unabated. Over 3700 US troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and fighters opposed to the occupation have lost their lives, and countless others have been wounded. The costs of the war and occupation, both in its operation and expected costs in healthcare and benefits for returning troops is projected to be well over 1 trillion dollars, while other pressing human needs at home such as healthcare, education, housing, and disaster recovery (such as Katrina) are neglected and under funded.

Major labor leaders have recently condemned the actions of the Iraqi Oil Minister in declaring public trade unions illegal, adding to the attacks on workers in that country, while President Bush and the Congress continue to fund the war despite the fact that over 65% of the American public feels we should bring our troops home from Iraq, and

Several national, regional, and local organizations are calling for a variety of anti-war campaigns, educational programs, and mobilization efforts this fall, designed to put more pressure on the administration to end these conflicts. UTLA should take an active part in making the connection between war funding and the lack of support for truly quality public education.

Submitted by Andy Griggs,
NEA Peace & Justice Caucus Chair

Member, UTLA Board of Directors

When Does It End?

United for Peace & Justice Featured Article

August 16th, 2007

for more UFP&J Articles See Our Sidebar

In May, Congress gave Bush $100 billion more for the war and occupation in Iraq. In September, Congress will vote on a request from the Bush administration for an additional $142 billion for the war. If Congress doesn't stand firm against Bush, he will have enough money to continue the war almost through the end of his presidency. Another year of war will cost the lives of approximately 1,084 more U.S. soldiers (according to current casualty rates) and of who knows how many thousand Iraqis.

UFPJ member groups are spending August making sure that the people who represent us in Congress get the message loud and clear -- no more money for this immoral war and occupation. What Congress does in September will be decisive: Will this war continue or will plans be put into place to bring all the troops home? We are demanding that Congress fund only the safe, orderly and immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops and military contractors from Iraq.
We urge you to take two minutes right now to add your voice to the call for an immediate end to the war.

70 members of Congress have already pledged to stop funding the war by signing on to a letter sent to the president on July 19th by Representatives Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee, and Maxine Waters. The letter reads:

"We are writing to inform you that we will only support appropriating additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq before you leave office."

Click here to read the full text of the letter and to find out if your representative has already signed it.

If your representative has not yet signed it, send an email today, urging him or her to sign the letter and to fight for an Iraq spending bill that will stop funding the war and immediately bring all our troops home. Congress is still on recess through August. If you can, take the opportunity to visit your representative's office while he or she is in your district. Click here to find out where your representative's local offices are.

If your representative has already signed the letter, please send him or her this thank-you letter, and urge him or her to stand strong in September and reject any compromise that will keep even a limited number of U.S. troops in Iraq for any purpose.

After you've emailed your representative, watch this remarkable video of Dick Cheney talking about why occupying Iraq would be a bad idea!

Save the date! Saturday, October 27th -- National Mobilization to End the Iraq War! 10 Massive Demonstrations for Peace!

Kenneth Foster Execution a 'New Low for Texas' and a 'Shocking Perversion of the Law,' Says Amnesty International

Foster Convicted For a Murder He Did Not Commit or Predict; Human Rights Organization Calls on Texas Board of Pardons, Gov. Perry to Grant Clemency--AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA

August 24, 2007

(Washington, D.C.) -- Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) today condemned the scheduled August 30 execution of Kenneth Foster, who was convicted of a murder he did not commit and has consistently denied knowing would occur. The human rights organization has mobilized its international membership to urge the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry to grant clemency.

Foster was sentenced to death in 1997 for the murder of Michael LaHood under Texas' controversial "law of parties." This law abolishes the distinction between principal actor and accomplice in a crime and allows both to be held equally culpable.

"This is a new low for Texas," said Larry Cox, executive director of AIUSA. "Texas has the most far-reaching 'law of parties' in this country, further marking it as the death penalty capital of the United States. In essence, Kenneth Foster has been sentenced to death for leaving his crystal ball at home. There is no concrete evidence demonstrating that he could know a murder would be committed. Allowing his life to be taken is a shocking perversion of the law."

In the early hours of August 15th, 1996, Mauriceo Brown, DeWayne Dillard, Julius Steen and Kenneth Foster stopped outside the house of Michael LaHood. Brown got out of the car, robbed LaHood, and then shot him. To convict Kenneth Foster of capital murder under the law of parties, the prosecution had to prove that there was a conspiracy between him and Brown to rob LaHood, and that Foster should have anticipated that murder might have occurred during the robbery. At the trial Brown testified that there had been no discussion of robbing LaHood before he got out of the car.

Dillard testified at a state appeal that after the shot was heard, Foster had appeared surprised and panicked. Steen signed an affidavit in 2003 stating that, "There was no agreement that I am aware of for Brown to commit a robbery at the LaHood residence. I do not believe that Foster and Brown ever agreed to commit a robbery. I don't think that Foster thought that Brown was going to commit a robbery."

Brown was executed on July 19, 2006. Neither Steen nor Dillard, the two other accomplices, was prosecuted for LaHood's murder. Yet, as the evidence stands today, their and Foster's culpability in the crime appears to be the same.

ACLU Calls On Congress to Hold Administration in Contempt

ACLU Calls Latest Missed Spy Deadline Outrageous

Washington, DC –Today, after the White House missed its second deadline to respond to congressional subpoenas for information on the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, the American Civil Liberties Union called on Congress to hold the Bush administration accountable. The new compliance date was set by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) after both the House and Senate passed the administration’s sweeping changes to the very law it circumvented with the domestic spying program – the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The ACLU is asking Senator Leahy and the Committee to vote to hold the White House in contempt upon Congress’ return in September.

"The Bush administration's persistent stonewalling represents a unique kind of arrogance," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "Since this program's disclosure, the Senate has asked for key documentation only to be repeatedly denied. After bulldozing broad reforms to FISA through both chambers two weeks ago, the administration believes it can push this Congress around. Congress has to stand up to this administration by holding it in contempt and by revisiting its rash reforms to FISA."

This month, Congress passed expansive changes to FISA at the urgent insistence of the White House, effectively gutting the law. The legislation that passed would allow for the intelligence agencies to intercept – without a court order – the calls and emails of Americans who are communicating with people abroad, and puts authority for doing so in the hands of the attorney general. No protections exist in the bill for the U.S. end of the call or email, again, leaving it to the executive branch to collect, sort, and use this information as it sees fit.

"No one has done more to earn the label of contempt than this White House," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. "The administration got what it was after by gutting FISA and now seems anxious to deny Congress its constitutional role of oversight when it comes to the broad surveillance program. Now is not the time to do the bidding of a White House that has bullied and thumbed its nose at Congress. There must be consequences. Americans’ rights were violated and they deserve to know how and why."

In the first effort of its kind, the ACLU filed a request on August 8 with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) requesting that it disclose recent legal opinions discussing the scope of the government's authority to engage in secret wiretapping of Americans. In their aggressive push to justify passing this ill-advised legislation, the administration and members of Congress made repeated and veiled references to orders issued by the FISC earlier this year. On August 17th, the court said the request was "unprecedented" and required the government to respond to the ACLU's request by August 31.

The ACLU is also continuing its challenge in the courts to the president's illegal wiretapping plan. In July, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's decision declaring the NSA program unconstitutional and ruled that the ACLU's clients - scholars, journalists, and national nonprofit organizations - were not entitled to sue because they could not state with certainty that they had been secretly wiretapped by the NSA. The ACLU is currently weighing its options, including an appeal to the Supreme Court.

"When the sunset expires, Congress will once again be faced with deciding just how far the government can intrude into the communications of people within the United States," added Romero. "The ACLU will continue hold both the administration and Congress accountable and will fight for the release of crucial documents that the public needs in order to have an informed debate about our most fundamental rights."

The ACLU is also litigating a Freedom of Information Act case demanding documents and data referring to the government’s illegal program. That case is pending before the federal district court in Washington DC.

Click here to read more about the ACLU’s concerns with the NSA subpoenas.

Click here to read more information on the ACLU’s concerns with the NSA spying.

Bangladesh: Abuses Grow in Crackdown on Protests

Students Angry After Eight Months of Emergency Rule

(New York, August 25, 2007) – The Bangladesh government must respect international human rights standards as it enforces a curfew and seeks to police demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch reiterated that anyone detained under the emergency regulations must be charged with a cognizable criminal offense or released, and that anyone mistreated in detention should be able to seek and obtain an effective remedy before competent authorities.

The demonstrations currently taking place in Bangladesh come after eight months of repressive emergency rule, which has restricted the rights to protest and to seek a legal remedy, and fails to respect basic due process rights.

"What sparked these protests is the ongoing repression of emergency rule, and the government's heavy-handed response is like oil on a fire," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "While the protesters should remain peaceful and must exercise restraint to prevent loss to life and property, the government should immediately address some of their legitimate concerns instead of arbitrarily arresting people, beating detainees and fueling anger."

The recent unrest was sparked by an incident on August 20, when soldiers beat up a student as he was allegedly obscuring their view at a soccer match. Furious students protested against the attack, and demanded the immediate removal of an army camp located on the Dhaka University campus. The protests soon spread and became violent, resulting in one death. The government imposed a curfew on August 22 and suspended cell phone services during curfew hours.

Since then, the armed forces have carried out several raids on the Dhaka campus and elsewhere, detaining academics and students, including four university teachers, presumably on the grounds of alleged involvement in the rioting.

Several web news portals and blogs have reported that army personnel have detained and beaten journalists and students. Sanjeeb Hossain, describing the arrest of his father, Dr. M. Anwar Hossain, a professor at Dhaka University, said that soldiers took him away around midnight and refused to tell the family where he was being taken or when he would be returned.
"The authorities are trying to silence political protest through arbitrary arrests and restricting freedom of expression," said Richardson. "The government can take steps to make sure a protest is peaceful, but it must above all respect its human rights obligations when doing so."

Since the imposition of emergency rule, Bangladeshi armed forces have been responsible for abuses such as arbitrary detention, torture and deaths in custody. The emergency laws limit access to effective remedies, including the right to bail and the right to challenge the lawfulness of a detention.

The authorities have detained more than 250,000 people since the caretaker government took over in January 2007. Several political leaders are in custody including Awami League leader and former prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed. Another former prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, is under virtual house arrest.

The caretaker government was established in Bangladesh on January 11, 2007, and was largely welcomed by Bangladeshis and international actors seeking relief from widespread corruption, political tension and severe human rights abuses that had emerged in recent years. The promise to hold free and fair elections was applauded. However, the caretaker government has presided over serious human rights violations since taking office.

Journalist associations in Bangladesh have alleged that law enforcement officers have harassed journalists during curfew hours. Several newspapers and television networks reported that security forces beat their journalists while they were gathering information on the demonstrations, and some journalists were detained and beaten in custody. The Daily Star newspaper, for example, said that on August 23 two policemen beat its reporter Kamrul Hasan Khan with sticks on the university campus. Police also beat reporters from the daily Samakal, from a private TV channel Baisakhi and from the online news portal, some of them after they were detained in police stations. Many of these journalists were attacked despite carrying press identification, which is supposed to serve as a curfew pass.

Some kinds of violations, such as torture and extrajudicial killings in the form of alleged "crossfire killings," were serious problems before the caretaker government came to power, and have continued under its administration. Other violations, which stem from emergency rules that undermine basic due process rights, or the large number of arbitrary arrests and detention without proper judicial oversight, are a direct result of the caretaker government's policies. While certain restrictions on some rights during properly declared states of national emergency are permitted under international law, it is far from clear that the measures under the government’s emergency law are limited to "the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation."

"This government claims to believe in democratic principles and the rule of law. Yet, its actions demonstrate an attempt to silence critics and limit democracy," said Richardson.

Related Material

Bangladesh: Protecting Rights as Vital as Ending Corruption Press Release, August 1, 2007

Bangladesh: Release Journalist and Rights Activist Press Release, May 11, 2007

Bangladesh: Elite Force Tortures, Kills Detainees Press Release, December 14, 2006

Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Torture and Extrajudicial Killings by Bangladesh’s Elite Security Force Report, December 14, 2006

Bangladesh Country Page

Take the Peace Pledge--Fall Peace Offensive

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Featured PDA Article:
Progressive Democrats Ask for Pledges of Peace
See Sidebar for More Articles from the PDA

August 11, 2007

In these slow days of summer, PDA is gearing up for a fall peace offensive. And we need every PDA activist or ally to spread the word that now is the time to contact House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of Congress to end the Iraq occupation. Seventy members of Congress have already signed an open letter to President Bush stating they “will only support appropriating additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq.”

The Pledge for Peace campaign has to begin now because in September, Congress will be debating FY 2008 funding for military operations in Iraq. That is what prompted the 70 members of Congress to put Bush on public notice with their letter. We must grow that number from 70 to 100 to150! The popularity of Democrats in Congress is dwindling as they allow the Iraq occupation to continue. Let’s rally around those Congress members who are standing firm in using their power of the purse to carry out the voters will of disengagement from Iraq. Are you in or out? Take the “Peace Pledge” now:

Count me in!

1. Sign the Petition

2. Email Speaker Pelosi and my member of Congress and request they pledge to “only support appropriating additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq.” If your representative already signed the letter, please email Speaker Pelosi.

3. Contact my member of Congress while he/she is home in my district for the summer recess. (Find your representative’s offices here.)
I’ll do more:

4. Join PDA's End the War, Redirect Funding Issue Organizing team. This campaign is due in part to the work of this issue organizing team, and PDA VA chapters. Contact Diane Shamis for more information.

5. Host a screening of Norman Solomon's "War Made Easy " DVD.

6. Download and distribute “Pledge for Peace” petition flyers--one-sided flyer or two-sided flyer.

7. Become a sustaining member of PDA and ensure our work to end the occupation of Iraq keeps moving forward.

Ultimately, PDA stands committed to the comprehensive Iraq withdrawal plan outlined in H.R. 508 by Lynn Woolsey with Barbara Lee & Maxine Waters, supported by 50 Congress members. The final plan will likely not be called 508 but should include withdrawal of all U.S. troops and military contractors, an international stabilization force, major economic and humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people, full healthcare for U.S. veterans, no permanent U.S. bases or control over Iraqi oil.

PDA Priorities
PDA Organizing Team

August 24, 2007

Kids forced into domestic servitude in Haiti

'Restavek' system thrives as impoverished families have little choice

By Carmen Russell and Dane Liu
Special to
Updated: 5:47 a.m. CT Aug 24, 2007

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Evans Antoine wakes at 7 a.m. and dusts himself off from his night on the floor. While other children in his middle-class neighborhood overlooking the Haitian capital head to school, the 15-year-old puts on toeless sneakers and gets to work washing dishes, scrubbing floors and running errands at the market. He also works in the yard and sometimes wields a scythe in the family's fields.

There is little reward for his toil, except for food and a roof over his head. And often, the quality of his work isn't good enough; his caretakers sometimes hit him with a switch or slap him on the back of the scalp. Once they tied his hands and put a bag over his head before beating him with a stick.

This has been his life for the past three years.

"They tell me that I'm useless," Antoine said, speaking softly at a meeting secretly arranged by a teacher who taught him briefly and who fears for his future. "They yell at me and tell me about all the things they do for me and how easy I have it."

During the interview, Antoine never smiled. He also kept looking away while answering questions, clearly uncomfortable with the subject: his unforgiving life.

Antoine is a restavek, a Haitian term derived from the French for "stay with." But, he would rather be described by the more genial-sounding Creole phrase meaning "one who lives with people." He is among 300,000 children, 10 percent of Haitians under 18, who serve as domestics for other families, a tradition in Haiti dating back to the country's independence more than 200 years ago.

Haiti revolted against French colonial rule and became the first "black republic" in 1804. With newly emancipated slaves in power, it also became the first nation to outlaw slavery. Dependent on coffee and sugar, however, Haiti kept the plantation system after the revolution, requiring "mandatory labor" of many citizens. The masters were no longer white, but working conditions improved only marginally.

Children were particularly susceptible. The sons and daughters of slaves remained house servants following the revolution, indentured to newly rich army officers who took over the plantations.

Key to the economy
Today child workers remain an important part of Haiti's economy, a system that barely sustains a nation of 8.7 million that is wracked by poverty and lawlessness.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. A little over half of primary school-age children are enrolled in school, according to UNICEF, and less than 2 percent finish secondary school.

Children become restaveks in a variety of ways. Some, like Antoine, are orphaned and taken in by family friends. Others are runaways pulled off the street. Most are given up by parents from depressed rural areas who can't afford to care for them and hope that another family will do better and send them to school.

Antoine's case is an example of what so often goes wrong. His adoptive family promised to pay his tuition, but when it came time to do so, his adoptive father reacted harshly. "He said I was lying and he beat me," he said.

In fact, the majority of families are only slightly better off than restaveks' parents, despite living in the capital.

"It is not in Haitian culture to send children away," said Guerda Constante, a child-rights activist in the small coastal city of Jacmel. "Parents do this because they do not have the means to provide for their needs. It seems strange, but the parents are acting with love."

Promises by host families to feed, educate and take care of the children are just too alluring to poor parents, Constante said. In some cases, the new family meets those promises, but in most cases, she says, "the difference between the promise and reality is seen on the first day they arrive."

Rural poverty
It takes a bumpy four hours in a 4x4 to make the 60-mile trek from Port-au-Prince to the rural village of Fond des Blancs, where electricity and running water are scarce. The center of activity — a foreign foundation-funded hospital, a church and an outdoor meeting hall — sit in the middle of the valley.

Over the treeless mountains to the south lies the Caribbean Sea. Single-room, thatched-roof huts dot the landscape, many housing families with 10 children or more.

Fond des Blancs has little communication with Port-au-Prince and the capital's political system has nearly no influence on the area. Lack of police has made it a favorite destination for Colombian planes to drop drugs for local Haitian runners to send onto the United States.

While some families farm or make charcoal, most have no regular means of support. In the most depressed areas, fortunate children are those that are fed once a day.

Children in places like these, activists say, are most at risk of winding up in the restavek system. A group of Fond des Blancs residents formed the Committee to Promote the Rights of Children of Fond des Blancs (COSEDERF) last year in an effort to keep children in the community.

The committee circulated a petition which asks Haitian leaders to "fulfill Haiti's obligations to provide free and compulsory education," believing fewer parents would send their children away if they had access to schooling.

"More than 50 percent of the children in Fond des Blancs don't have the chance to go to school," said Briel Leveille, a community leader and member of COSEDERF. "It is said that education is the foundation of development. It is through education that Haitians will one day come out of this misery."

One U.S. community gets involved
Hearing about the lack of education, one American school has become involved with the Haitian community.

At the Seth Boyden Elementary school in Maplewood, N.J., the PTA is trying to set up a sister-school relationship with those in Fond des Blancs. Students have been collecting school supplies and attended a Haitian Flag Day celebration.

"I hope we can do a lot more than this," said Tamara Thompson, a former U.N. observer in Haiti who now resides in Maplewood and has a 9-year-old son who attends Seth Boyden. "Education is a key to ending the restavek system and it is their right."

For now, however, many parents in Fond des Blancs see the restavek system as the only hope for their children.

"I'm afraid to send them, but I really don't have any choice," said Rodette Clermanceau, a mother of 10 in Fond des Blancs. She is sending two of her children to Port-au-Prince to work for other families. Clermanceau has been raising her children alone since the father was sent to prison.

"If I had the financial means, I would not give them away," she said.
How to help

August 21, 2007

Comparison: Presidential Candidates on Major Education Issues

According to the American Heritage Foundation, federal education spending has grown dramatically over the past six years under President Bush and the Republican Congress, yet more federal dollars have not improved American K-12 and higher education in that time frame. America continues to lag behind such countries as Japan and Korea in its educational accomplishments despite efforts to improve school systems. The Department of Education claims that education is primarily a state and local responsibility in the United States, although the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law provides the most visible federal control trend.

On the other hand, Teacher vs. Union states that perhaps the reason that our education system lags behind the education systems of other nations is because teachers must have the support and help of parents in order to effectively educate their students. "Unless teacher-parent relationships improve," this site warns, "it is likely that Americans will continue to see our education system lag behind those of other nations." In reality, the American education system is in turmoil and blame for its problems will continue to float from person to person and from group to group until the system improves.

Education is an emotional issue as it touches every American home through taxes, tax credits, and policies developed at local, state, and national levels. Whether states or the federal government should maintain control over school policies and financing is one overriding issue for this upcoming presidential election. Other issues are listed below, followed by a candidate-by-candidate perspective on these topics. In addition, information about the candidates' past voting records and actions on education are included with links to sources so you can read more about how these candidates stand on American education.

The Issues

On The Issues defines many educational issues at both K-12 and college levels. Some issues listed below are gathered from that site, but we've expanded on them to provide more information. You may want to read about the other issues at that site to understand what the candidates haven't discussed in this article. The links in the list below will take you to sites that explain each issue further. Despite our attempts to find the most unbiased links for this information, please take each source into account when you gain access to information.

1. Charter schools: Charter schools are schools which are publicly-funded and publicly-controlled, but privately run; therefore, they may not need to adhere as many district rules as regular public schools. This choice is an alternative to public, private, and home schools, and provides what is known as a "nontraditional environment". They are usually sponsored by local or state educational organizations who monitor their quality and effectiveness. Laws that govern charter schools vary from state to state.

2. DOE: The Department of Education faces opposition from conservatives, who also favored the abolishment of this department in 1980. It's important to reiterate that states and local sources bear the brunt of annual education costs, whereas the federal government (including the DOE) accounts for 9% of education spending. The arguments provided by many DOE abolitionists include the fact that the DOE's $71.5 billion budget for about 5,000 employees exceeds the $38 billion last year (2% of the federal budget) spent on education. Additionally, some candidates view the DOE as a bureaucratic burden.

3. Funding: No matter if the school is public or private, K-12 or college — educational funding is a major issue in this election. Jay Greene, author of "Education Myths," points out that "If money were the solution, the problem would already be solved...We've doubled per pupil spending, adjusting for inflation, over the last 30 years, and yet schools aren't better." Despite this opinion, funding at the state and federal levels provides much needed help for poorer communities, whereas federal educational funding has suffered [PDF] recently at the hands of the Iraqi War and Homeland Security budgets. The important thing is to follow in this issue is the language, as support for smaller classes and for more buildings to house those classes usually means opposition to funding private schools.

4. No Child Left Behind: NCLB is, perhaps, the most controversial issue in this upcoming election. However, trends seem to indicate that this law will face transformation both financially and in policy. Although this law calls for high standards and accountability for the learning of all children, several measures within this program have failed. Additionally, many schools continue to fail to meet the standards set by this program. See "Vouchers."

5. School Choice: School Choice generally refers to a school district that allows parents to decide which school within the district to use for their child(ren). As the On The Issue site states, the political issue is focused on whether to allow parental choice to include private schools, parochial schools, and home schooling at taxpayer expense. While taxpayer funding of parochial schools potentially violates the Constitutional separation of church and state, taxpayer funding of private schools remains controversial because it subsidizes parents who currently pay for private schools and who usually are more wealthy than the average public school family. However, about 90% of all students remain enrolled in public schools. Opponents against school choice have argued that the free-market theory does not work in the educational realm, and that allowing school choice will hurt more students than it helps. This issue is tied directly to Vouchers (see below).

6. Social Promotion: Social promotion means that students are allowed to advance a grade to keep up with their peer group, even if they did not pass standardized tests. Usually 90% of K-12 students are promoted, 10% per year are retained. That child's teacher and his principal usually make this decision. This topic is highly debated as research indicates, and common sense confirms, that passing students on to the next grade when they are unprepared neither increases student achievement nor properly prepares students for college and future employment. At the same time, research also shows that holding students back to repeat a grade without changing instructional strategies is ineffective.

7. Teacher Testing: Current law maintains that states certify teachers and decide requirements; there are currently no national standards or testing. Most US states now require public school teachers to pass a standardized test such as the National Teacher Examination. Many critics against standardized tests (including those for students) believe that these tests are biased and that they discourage talented teachers from applying for teaching jobs. The issue of high-stakes testing has yet to surface substantially in the national political debate, although most advocates for higher teacher pay seem to oppose teacher testing in voting records.

8. Vouchers: An education or school voucher, is a certificate that allows parents to send their child(ren) to a school of their choice rather than to the public school where they were assigned. Tax revenues pay for these vouchers, which usually are valued lower than the cost of one year of public education and that are valued at about one-half the cost of a private education. The National Education Association (NEA), an organization comprised of 3.2 million members who work at every level of public education, opposes private school tuition vouchers, especially when funds for vouchers compete with funds for overall improvements in America's public schools. When you hear talk about "failed schools" that don't meet standardization or any negative references to teacher’s unions, this usually implies support for vouchers. Alternately, talk about "increasing teacher pay" usually implies opposition to vouchers.

The Candidates

The candidates are listed below in alphabetical order by surname and their party affiliation is noted by (D) for Democrat or (R) for Republican after their names. While we strived to discover how each candidate felt about each issue listed above, all candidates were silent on the teacher testing issue and many candidates avoided some issues altogether. However, some voting and action records are noted to show a discrepancy between past support and current thought, or a continuation of their belief systems, or to illustrate how they might respond to the issues if asked.

Senator Joe Biden (D-DE)

Leaving no child behind requires ending the war in Iraq and turning from a war economy to one that makes education a top priority, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden said in a speech to the National Education Association’s annual Representative Assembly.

NEA Members may also view an archived version of Biden's full speech (requires log-in).

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)

Education policy decisions based on evidence, not the “test, test, test” of No Child Left Behind is the way to reform schools, Sen. Hillary Clinton said Monday to loud applause from the 86th NEA Representative Assembly.

NEA Members may also view an archived version of Clinton's full speech (requires log-in).

You won't find education listed as an issue on Clinton's presidential campaign site, although she mentions education under the "Supporting Parents and Caring for Children" tab within her listed issues. You will, however, find more information about her stance on education at her Senate site than all the other candidates' sites put together. Clinton doesn't support vouchers to the point where she's become less than moderate in her perspective on that issue. She also doesn't support private tutors in exchange for smaller classrooms, nor does she support privatization.

Although her Arkansas record shows that she supports school choice, she believes that parents wouldn't feel the need for private schools if public school systems were improved. The previous article on her voucher rhetoric, however, shows that her daughter was sent to private school in D.C. as she and husband, President Bill Clinton, advocated public education for the nation. Hillary supports charter schools, "as long as they are held to the same standards as public schools" and that they "do not drain the financial resources from public schools."

Clinton sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), and she's a strong advocate for the Head Start program (which she helped to create). She directly opposes the NCLB law, although she voted for that Act in 2001:

When the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) was enacted, I viewed it as a historic promise between the federal government and educators – schools would be held to higher standards than ever before and the government would make a record investment in those schools to ensure that they would be able to meet the new expectations confronting them. Today, that promise has been broken. President Bush’s budget for 2006 provides $12 billion less than was promised by the No Child Left Behind Act, including $947.5 million less for New York.

As you can learn from her Senate site, her plans for educational reform include pay incentives for individuals to work in low-income communities, massive school renovations, student mentoring, teacher recruitment, funding for special education, and better access to higher education. The NEA has rated Hillary Clinton at 82%, indicating pro-public education votes (2003).

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT)

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd told delegates to the National Education Association Representative Assembly Monday that the No Child Left Behind act needs to be changed to reflect multiple measures of student achievement. Said Dodd, “Learning is not about filling in bubbles, it's about connecting the dots.”

NEA Members may also view an archived version of Dodd's full speech (requires log-in).

Former John Edwards (D-NC)

Raising student achievement and ensuring high standards and accountability requires empowering educators, not relying on constant testing, former Sen. John Edwards said in a speech Monday to more than 9,000 delegates to the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly.

NEA Members may also view an archived version of
Edward's full speech (requires log-in).

A visit to John Edwards presidential committee site shows that this former North Carolina Senator lists education and a separate 'college affordability' topic under the broad heading of "Investing In Our Future And Our Communities." This addition of a college topic makes Edwards one of the few candidates (mostly Democrat) who have directly addressed higher education. He also provides an novel approach to opportunities for high school dropouts with "one-on-one attention and a chance to earn a diploma at night or at a local community college."

Edwards has also expressed support for Head Start and better teacher pay, and opposes federally funded vouchers to help parents pay for private school costs. Edwards voted for the NCLB Act in 2001, and he's criticized President Bush for lack of funding for this program. Yet, Edwards did not vote on a failed Democratic amendment to a 2003 appropriations bill that would have increased funding to NCLB from $11.4 billion to $16 billion.

Edwards, both now and in his previous 2004 bid for presidency, remains critical about the "two school" system that he perceives exists in America, one for the rich and one for the poor. This perspective has led Edwards to vote against tutors in favor of smaller classrooms and student testing, and to endorse further federal spending for teachers. He also promotes a "college for everyone" program that allows students to pay for college with community service work.

Edwards is basically silent on the topics about charter schools and social promotion, although — as mentioned previously — he speaks out more about college education than any other candidate other than Hillary Rodham Clinton. One approach to college funding includes the elimination of bank funding, which would decrease federal subsidies to these financial institutions:

Banks that make student loans receive large federal subsidies and a guarantee against default. However, millions of students have borrowed directly from the U.S. Department of Education, receiving loans that have very similar terms but are far less expensive for taxpayers. Edwards will let all students borrow directly from Education. By eliminating bank subsidies on student loans, he will free up almost $6 billion a year to make college more affordable.

According to On The Issues, the NEA rated Edwards at 83%, indicating pro-public education votes (2003).

Rudy Giuliani (R)

Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor, provides the following information on his presidential committee Web site:

As Mayor, Rudy Giuliani worked to reform the nation’s largest public school system, with over 1 million school children. He increased school funding and hired new teachers, while insisting on reforms that ended social promotion, abolished principal tenure, and created a Charter School Fund. Rudy is also a strong supporter of school choice, believing that it is one of the great civil rights issues of our time.

The goal of school choice is not so much about civil rights as it is to create competition between schools for education dollars, which may give public schools an incentive to perform better than without competition. Giuliani provided validation for this competitive perspective when he advocated privatizing failing schools with support for a New York City voucher program and with his perspective that charter schools create competition (all in 2000).

During his mayoral tenure, Giuliani refused to bargain with the teachers’ union about pay increases, and let city teachers go without contracts for over a year. While he railed against "untenable bureaucracy" in New York schools, he held vast political influence on the Board of Education — although his bid to take over the schools was unsuccessful. On the other hand, Giuliani spent hundreds of millions of dollars increasing funding to New York City’s art programs and reading programs, as well as to outfitting classrooms with computers. Despite this effort to help students, 59% of New York voters in 1999 disapproved of Giuliani’s education policies, and 70% were not satisfied with the quality of New York public schools under his leadership.

This failure to communicate and an ineffective agenda has been emphasized by his successor, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently has been described as the "darling of education reformers for what he's done in New York City schools." On The Issues does not provide an NEA rating for Giuliani.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR)

Teaching is “a vital and important profession” deserving of professional-level salary and benefits and elevated respect as we seek to “educate our replacements, the next generation” in this country, said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in a speech to the National Education Association’s annual Representative Assembly.

NEA Members may also view an archived version of Huckabee's full speech (requires log-in).

Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)

Quality public education, including professional development for teachers and access for every student to a great public school requires ending the war in Iraq and making education funding a priority, said Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich to the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly.

NEA Members may also view an archived version of Kucinich's full speech (requires log-in).

John McCain (R)

You won't find education listed on the "Issues" tab at John McCain's official campaign site (his MySpace site also links to this page). Education is listed at McCain's Arizona Senate site, but it's linked to a page that carries press releases that haven't been updated since 2002. What these sites lack is a link to McCain's co-sponsorship of a bill that would eliminate barriers to higher education for undocumented students. Under that bill, which was introduced in 2001 and supported by 47 other Senate co-sponsors in 2006, students who finish high school and at least two years of college could obtain permanent legal residency and they could qualify for in-state tuition rates.

The House never took up this bill, which may have been fortuitous for McCain. In early August, McCain flip-flopped on his immigration stance, and he now supports a bill that would impose strict rules to end illegal immigration and that would restrict access to citizenship. At that same time, the Arizona Republic reported that nearly 5,000 people had been denied in-state college tuition, financial aid, and adult education classes this year under a new state law that bans undocumented immigrants from receiving those state-funded services.

Unlike his Web sites, McCain's voting and action records on education are less mysterious if not more complex. John McCain's record shows that he supported voucher programs in Washington D.C. (1997), a trial voucher program in 2001 that was an amendment to the NCLB Act, and that he proposed an amendment to authorize $1.8 billion a year for three years to establish a pilot school voucher program, paid for by the elimination of subsidies for ethanol, oil, gas, and sugar (1999). He is a huge advocate for charter schools, shown by his support for tax breaks instead of public funding for this alternative (1999). He also voted for private tutors instead of smaller classes and less testing for students, yet he feels that NCLB requires a review to "measure its full efficacy." Finally, McCain was given a 45% rating by the NEA, indicating a mixed record on public education.

Barack Obama (D-IL)

No Child Left Behind has become “one of the emptiest slogans in the history of American politics,” Illinois Sen. Barack Obama said Monday to a crowd of more than 9,000 at the National Education Association’s annual Representative Assembly.

NEA Members may also view an archived version of Obama's full speech (requires log-in).

Senator Obama (IL), like Hillary Rodham Clinton, sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) and he's a strong supporter of Head Start. And, like Clinton, Obama's views on education are located on his Senate site rather than on his presidential committee site. He also sends his children to private school while he advocates public education.
One difference between Obama and Clinton is that Obama wasn't in office when NCLB was enacted, so he would not open himself up to flip-flopping accusations if he opposed the program. Obama, however, has yet to address any NCLB issue - at least until recently. "No matter what the slogans say, millions of children are being left behind," he shouted through rain to hundreds of supporters at a stump in New Hampshire. “Don’t tell me that a test score is all that matters.” These two sentences reveal Obama's sentiments against NCLB. What does he plan to do about reform? That answer remains unclear.

During his short Senatorial term to date, Obama has proposed bills to expand summer reading programs and, in January 2007, Senator Obama reintroduced the Summer Term Education Programs for Upward Progress Act (STEP UP) to address the achievement gaps among schoolchildren in the early grades. The bill was included in a comprehensive proposal to improve U.S. competitiveness that passed the Senate in April 2007. Obama also leans toward a balance between issues that affect both K-12 and higher education. Sen. Barack Obama's first piece of legislation in Washington in 2005 aimed to make college more affordable for students and closes a "loophole" for banks and lenders making education loans. This stance is similar to the one espoused by John Edwards.

Other proposals made by Obama are found on his Senate site. Although most bills reflect an interest in K-12 education, Obama has also addressed higher education through his HOPE Act (Higher Education Opportunity Through Pell Grant Expansion Act), which would increase the maximum Pell Grant from the current limit of $4,050 to a new maximum of $5,100. Pell Grants, need-based awards, are not indexed to the rising price of tuition or inflation. As a result, the current $4,050 Pell Grant maximum is $700 less in real terms than the maximum grant 30 years ago.

On The Issues doesn't hand Obama an NEA rating, mainly because Obama entered office in 2004, and the ratings were prescribed in 2003. But, with Obama's advocacy for free public college for any student with B-average and availability of affordable life-long, top-notch education for all Americans, he might earn a high score. On the other hand, he also supports private investments in schools such as charter schools and leans toward higher teacher pay in exchange for more teacher accountability. This last item, perhaps, is the closest any candidate has come to broaching the subject of teacher testing.

Ron Paul (R)

Although Paul has gained little recognition from mainstream media, he has gained overwhelming support at the grassroots level — mainly through the Internet. While his Presidential Campaign Committee site pushes lower taxes, border security, privacy and personal liberty and pro-life policies, education escapes the list. Nonetheless, he has made public statements about and voted for educational issues that reveal his beliefs about education policy - beliefs that have changed little since his bid for the Presidential office in 1998 as a nominee for the Libertarian Party while he remained a registered Republican.

Most of Paul’s popularity is derived from his argument against federal involvement in any venue. This stance does not preclude education, as he supports the abolishment of the Federal Department of Education (DOE). He also opposed the formation of the NCLB and continues to oppose that Act in favor of parental and local involvement with school policy. While Paul has supported vouchers for private and parochial schools (1997), he opposes the use of vouchers for public schools (as indicated by his lack of support for the D.C. voucher program in 1998). His stance on vouchers is complex, as he prefers tax credits to vouchers (1993):

Instead of expanding the Federal control over education in the name of parental control, Congress should embrace a true agenda of parental control by passing generous education tax credits. Education tax credits empower parents to spend their own money on their children's education. Since the parents control the education dollar, the parents control their children's education. In order to provide parents with control of education, I have introduced the Family Education Freedom Act (H.R. 612) that provides all parents with a tax credit of up to $3,000. The credit is available to parents who choose to send their children to public, private, or home school. Education tax credits are particularly valuable to lower income parents.

Despite his idealism, Paul has yet to explain how the federal government would respond to an approximate $25 billion loss in revenue if all private school students (about 10% out of 53 million students) were given this tax break. Add this to Paul's proposal for a $1,000 per year tax credit for all teachers included in that tax credit bill, and you can add another $3 billion dollars to that tab (based on a 15:1 student: teacher ratio — see Elizabeth Hartline Green's article for further explanation). This plan also reveals that Paul is a strong school choice advocate.

The NEA offers Paul a 67% rating on public education issues, indicating a mixed record.

Bill Richardson (D-NM)

Speaking to the Representative Assembly of the National Education Association, Gov. Bill Richardson said the No Child Left Behind law has been “implemented unfairly and underfunded,” penalizing educators, students and public schools.

NEA Members may also view an archived version of Richardson's full speech (requires log-in).

Democratic New Mexican Senator Bill Richardson wants to scrap the NCLB Act for inefficiency, yet he wants to establish a federal voluntary Pre-K program (such as the one he started in his state) as "an effective investment, preventing kids from getting involved in drugs, crime and getting pregnant later in their lives." This willingness to use federal government in public education indicates a definitive route for using federal assistance that isn't voiced by other Democrats.

Richardson also wants increase schoolteachers' salaries (2004) with a minimum wage of $40,000 per year (2007), and he promotes charter schools as a reasonable alternative for school choice. Like most Democratic candidates, Richardson is against private school vouchers, a position that changed since 1996 when he supported vouchers to send children to any participating school: public, private or religious. Richardson also maintains a unique method to pay for higher education:

While other candidates talk about expanding access to higher education, I have already done it in New Mexico by investing nearly $100 million in need-based scholarships and using lottery profits to pay for tuition.

Richardson can brag about his New Mexico education reforms. In April 2005, he created the New Mexico State Higher Education Department with a cabinet secretary, and in 2006 he was the keynote speaker at 2006 National Latino Education Summit. However, early in his term as governor Richardson asked for the resignation of all state university regents, and reappointed donors and allies in the places of those who had stepped down. This action led to accusations of cronyism, political scandals and shadowy financial dealings.

Richardson has made education a priority as governor. While some measure his actions as successful, in reality it will take time to show true results for his innovations. On The Issues does not offer an NEA rating for Richardson.

Mitt Romney (R)

Click on the "Issue Watch" tab at former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's official site to discover that Romney relegates education to the bottom of this list — after terrorism issues, competition with Asia, and technology. He states:

At some point, I think America — and, importantly, the minority communities — are going to say, 'it's time to split with our friends, the unions and the Democratic Party, and put our kids first here.' Unequal educational opportunity is the civil rights issue of our time.

Like Giuliani, Romney equates education with civil rights, an issue that isn't listed on his priorities. Romney also wants to give principles the "the ability to manage their schools," and he states that "we have to set our education goals higher" to compete globally. But, a mysterious comparison to 21st-century France seems inappropriate as he states, "We're in a position where unless we take action, we'll end up being the France of the 21st century: a lot of talk, but not a lot of strength behind it in terms of economic capability."

In all cases, Romney seems to avoid the education issue by taking partisan potshots and by aligning civil rights with the Republican platform on his Web site. Like Ron Paul and Fred Thompson (see below), Romney wants to pull the federal government out of educational decision-making processes; yet, this stance is at odds with the rigid model represented by NCLB — a project that he fully supports (2007). This confusion is clearly reiterated in a video where Romney states that he is "reluctant" to pull federal government into the "parent-teacher partnership." This video also substantiates Romney's support for charter schools as a school choice.

Perhaps more could be learned from the Massachusetts Teachers Association Web site (MTA), where any reader can learn that the Massachusetts public school system suffered from cutbacks over the past two years:

The Republican [Romney] administration, during its four years in office, made numerous attempts to undercut the collective bargaining rights of educators and to advance questionable education policies. The Legislature agreed that these so-called "reforms" would do nothing to improve the quality of education for the almost one million public education students in the Commonwealth. The Legislature voted to extend due process rights to school nurses, to guarantee school support staff health insurance during the summer, to give creditable service to vocational ed teachers for training before entering teaching and to keep health insurance premiums for state employees at their fiscal 2006 levels. The importance of these votes is also reflected in the roll-call scores.

The above allegation seems to speak for Romney's willingness to cut educational finances and to enforce political reforms, actions that seem in direct opposition to the statements that he makes on his official site. Romney also supports English language immersion and abstinence education (although he recently blasted Barack Obama for supporting age-appropriate sex education). Romney altered his position from closing the DOE (2002) to supporting the NCLB (2007), supported replacing underperforming schools with charter schools (2002), and advocated means-tested vouchers for both public and private schools (2002). On The Issues does not provide an NEA rating for Romney.

Fred Thompson (R)

Like McCain, you won't find education listed on Fred Thompson's official "I'm With Fred" site. In fact, the only 'principle' you'll find listed here is Federalism. But, within his explanation on

Federalism, Thompson states:

Perhaps the clearest example of federal over-involvement in state and local responsibilities is public education. It’s the classic case of how the federal government buys authority over state and local matters with tax-payer money and ends up squandering both the authority and the money while imposing additional burdens on states...A little more federalist confidence in the wisdom of state and local governments might go a long way toward improving America’s public schools. The most encouraging reforms in education are occurring at the local level, with options like charter schools. And often the best thing Washington can do is let the states, school districts, teachers and parents set their own policies and run their own schools.

This stance may explain Thompson's voting history, where — as a Republican representative for the Senate from Tennessee — he voted against funding for smaller classes and student testing in favor of funding for private tutors (2001). Thompson voted for Educational Savings Accounts (1998, 2000), and for allowing more flexibility in federal school rules (1999). He also supported $75M for abstinence education in 1996, and he also voted for D.C. school vouchers in 1977.


Although Hillary Rodham Clinton leads the Democrats and Mitt Romney leads the Republicans in offering the most words about education, this verbal volume doesn't mean that these two candidates have the last word on the issues. However, it does mean that they have given some thought to the topic, even though those thoughts are sometimes used for political rhetoric. Alternately, sometimes actions speak louder than words. In this case, and according to past voting and support records, Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) and John McCain (R) lead their respective parties for the sheer number of actions conducted by both individuals.

With that said, many voters reveal that they'd like to see all candidates do a better job of addressing education issues. Mainly, they complain that the candidates don't offer viable solutions for educational problems. But, the campaign is early. Some candidates have come into the race recently, like Fred Thompson. Others may drop out, and still others may join the race at a later date. Plenty of time remains for voters to question the candidates and to fully understand how each one stands on education in America today.

Michelangelo is attributed with saying, "Ancora imparo," or "I am still learning." This saying continues to apply to parents, students, voters and candidates alike as this country begins to forge a new plan for educational policies and funding.

Please take the time to learn more about the candidates and their viewpoints on education as this campaign progresses because any candidate may change a stance or philosophy as this race for the presidency plods along.