Standing Up For The Rights Of Others

"...part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others..."   - President Barack Obama

In an extraordinary speech at the United Nations last Thursday, President Obama asserted his leadership and the leadership of the U.S. in the promotion of democracy and human rights around the world. Think that’s a "no news" story? You’d be wrong. The Bush administration’s effort to frame the Iraq invasion as an effort to bring democracy to the region has had the effect of linking traditional U.S. democracy promotion to military intervention in the minds of many people, in the U.S and abroad. And, although Mr. Obama campaigned in support of democracy promotion, his administration has approached the issue cautiously. In fact, the administration has been criticized for backing away from a tough democracy and human rights line in its bilateral relations, especially in the Middle East and China. Moreover, although he promised to increase the budget for the National Endowment for Democracy, in his first budget, the President actually proposed a funding reduction, but in the subsequent compromise legislation, signed off on a small increase.

In this context, apparently anticipating a skeptical reaction to the speech, the White House released a "fact sheet" outlining activities and initiatives to illustrate its commitment to promoting democratic ideals.

The Jobs Imperative

With today’s Senate passage of the new public sector jobs bill, the federal government’s role in stimulating the economy is once again in the limelight. The use of public dollars to leverage jobs in the private sector is even more controversial. Historically (and today) U.S. business wants government to "get out of the way," and let market forces determine outcomes (at least until they themselves need to be bailed out). The priority is "maximizing shareholder value." The fewer workers you need to do that, or the lower their cost, the better.

Still, some worry that the axiom of maximizing shareholder value lately has been taken to a destructive extreme. One of those is Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel and still a consultant to the U.S. chip-making giant. In a recent interview in Business Week, Grove noted that U.S. business is "...largely oblivious to emerging evidence that while free markets beat planned economies, there may be room for a modification that is even better."

Teachers Matter, But So Do Words

The following quote comes from the Obama Administration’s education "blueprint," which is its plan for reauthorizing ESEA, placing a heavy emphasis, among many other things, on overhauling teacher human capital policies:

Of all the work that occurs at every level of our education system, the interaction between teacher and student is the primary determinant of student success.
Specific wordings vary, but if you follow education even casually, you hear some version of this argument with incredible frequency. In fact, most Americans are hearing it – I’d be surprised if many days pass when some approximation of it isn’t made in a newspaper, magazine, or high-traffic blog. It is the shorthand justification – the talking point, if you will – for the current efforts to base teachers’ hiring, firing, evaluation, and compensation on students’ test scores and other "performance” measures.