UNITED STATES NEWS

Editorial Roundup: United States

Jan 9, 2024, 12:31 PM

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Jan. 6

The Washington Post on home schooling in the US

If the coronavirus pandemic turned “working from home” into common parlance, “learning from home” might be next: The Post reported last year on the skyrocketing number of home-schooled children, of whom reporters estimate there are now between 1.9 million and 2.7 million. Data on these students is spotty, so that’s only a guess — which itself raises big concerns.

Home schooling was once a niche practice, attractive mostly to religious households dissatisfied with the secular public school system. Now, it has increased by what The Post believes might be as much as 51 percent over the past six academic years — across geography and demography alike. Some parents are disturbed by politics in education; others are concerned about safety from shootings; others still see it as the best choice for their kids who don’t feel comfortable in the classroom. Home schooling includes not just parents teaching their own children in their own homes. Cooperative arrangements called microschools, for example, are cropping up; parents coordinate activities through Facebook. Many home-schooled kids today play competitive sports against each other, go to prom and don caps and gowns for graduation.

Several states are encouraging this trend, with at least six extending vouchers to home-schoolers, offering parents thousands of dollars per year to educate children outside the public school system. But the influx of funding hasn’t been accompanied by a matching increase in oversight — and states that aren’t funneling dollars into home schooling are scarcely paying attention to the practice at all. By The Post’s count, 11 states, including Texas, Connecticut and Illinois, don’t even require notification when families choose to educate their children at home. And even if a state keeps track of who is learning from the kitchen table, it is not necessarily monitoring those students’ well-being: Fewer than half of states require any sort of assessment of home-schooled kids. Most oversight that does occur is minimal. Only five states, according to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, have “thorough” regimens.

None of this means that home schooling isn’t a good choice for plenty of children. It only means that when it’s a bad choice, fairly often no one finds out — much less intervenes. The science on home schooling has always been iffy. Home-school advocates have tended to cite research by, well, home-school advocates, and even disinterested academics have had a hard time accounting for self-selection: The home-schooled students who take standardized tests tend to be the ones more likely to perform well on them, for one thing. For another, home-schooled kids generally tend to come from wealthier backgrounds. More recently, studies have found mixed results, though there is one through line: a relative strength in the humanities alongside weakness in math and science.

But it’s not the average home-schooler policymakers should be worried about — it’s the child who is left far, far behind. Sometimes, that’s a question of academics. Part of the allure of home schooling, for many parents, is the ability to depart from the typical path drawn by public education. Some home-school curriculum developers, for example, offer for purchase “unschooling” modules that allow children to direct their learning according to their interests and at their pace. But where there’s no oversight, there’s no guarantee that children will learn skills considered foundational in public education and essential to adult life. Many women from religious families who were home-schooled say their schooling focused on just that: the home. This, they were instructed, was a woman’s place, and accordingly, they were mostly taught how to bear and raise children.

Other tales are more alarming. The Post chronicles the life and death of one boy, 11-year-old Roman Lopez. His stepmother was “home schooling” eight children in her household, but at best they played video games all day — and at worst, as in Roman’s case, they were locked up, tortured and starved. Other abusive parents, it turns out, have seized on home education as a way to avoid catching the notice of social service agencies. Pediatricians have even shared concerns along these lines with politicians.

These grisly stories are probably rare exceptions, and abuse can go undetected by public schools, too. Yet, tightening of policy would benefit even those children whose parents are trying to responsibly educate them. New York has a robust model in which individuals providing instruction must be “competent” but needn’t have any teaching qualifications, and students must be assessed annually either by standardized test or portfolio evaluation. Pennsylvania has a similar but slightly more flexible system. The point isn’t to eliminate home schooling or to pick on families that want to educate their own way. As in public schools, all students should be assessed on the basics. State standards should ensure that all the kids are all right.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/01/06/homeschool-tests-abuse-laws/

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Jan. 5

The Wall Street Journal on the U.S. jobs market

It’s an election year, so every economic report is going to be filtered through the lens of political benefit. President Biden thus celebrated Friday’s Labor Department report that employers added a solid 216,000 jobs in December, but below the top line there are signs of a softening labor market. The question is whether government spending can sustain the job growth amid a weakening economy and business investment.

The unemployment rate last month held steady at 3.7%, but the labor force participation rate (62.5) and employment to population ratio (60.1) both fell by an unusually large 0.3 percentage points.

This was owing to a disconnect between the strong payroll survey and the very weak household survey. The latter reported a decline in employment of 683,000 from November and is 317,000 lower than in August. Most of this decline reflects a shrinking labor force. The two surveys sometimes contradict each other in any single month, but they usually come back into sync over time.

The gains in the payroll survey were also revised down by 71,000 for October and November, which means the net gain was 145,000. Government, healthcare and social assistance also made up more than half of December’s new jobs. While job growth in most industries has slowed this year, government added an average of 56,000 jobs per month—more than double the average 23,000 monthly gain in 2022.

Average hourly earnings last month increased 0.4% for all private workers and 0.3% for production-level workers. It’s good news that wages are finally outpacing inflation, but the bad news is that more Americans are working only part-time. Full-time employment declined 1.5 million last month, while 762,000 more workers were employed part-time.

What this all suggests for the economy is that growth is slowing but a recession isn’t in sight. The Atlanta Federal Reserve is predicting that the economy grew 2.5% in the fourth quarter powered mostly by consumer spending, but business investment continues to be cautious. Government social-welfare spending can boost employment for a time, but these jobs don’t make people wealthier by improving productivity or living standards.

Federal government spending was $164 billion higher during the first two months of this fiscal year compared to the prior one, which means the deficit this year could top last year’s $2 trillion. Washington is spending more, but private employers are adding fewer jobs. That isn’t a recipe for long-term prosperity.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/jobs-report-economy-president-biden-government-spending-5b91fc7b?mod=editorials_article_pos10

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Jan. 4

The Los Angeles Times on early college admissions

The 2023 death of affirmative action in college admissions at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court had at least one positive effect: It finally focused attention on the inherently biased system for getting a higher education. Not biased toward people of color, but toward people of privilege, most of whom are white.

Those biases include legacy admissions, in which applicants with a close relative who attended the school are given preferential treatment, which also is extended to those whose parents have donated to the school or who have connections to high-ranking college officials. Athletic admissions is another area where privileged white applicants have the upper hand — not in the popular sports of football, basketball and soccer, which are widely available to students at most public high schools, but in golf, fencing, equestrian, gymnastics, crew and the like. This created a convenient side door for the 2019 Varsity Blues scandal, in which athletic coaches were bribed to say that certain students were desirable athletes, when they had no such background.

In the last couple of years, a handful of schools have dropped legacy admissions and even cut a few sports teams. That’s good, but the use of another college admissions practice that favors wealthy students has been growing: early decision. About 200 colleges, which tend to be private and highly selective, offer students a chance to file early applications and get a decision from the school by mid-December. Nine of those are in California. In exchange, students commit when they apply to attending that school if accepted.

This process offers a better chance of being admitted. In schools with low admission rates, the difference can be significant. For example, at the University of Pennsylvania, the regular acceptance rate is 5%. It’s more than triple that for those applying through early decision, according to the admissions consulting company College Transitions.

Even more colleges offer something called early action, which involves giving applicants an early answer without requiring a commitment to attend. But these tend to be used mostly by less-selective colleges that are not as likely to be a student’s top choice. They also offer a smaller boost in acceptance rates.

But colleges are the big beneficiaries of this scheme. It allows them to have a certain number of first-year spots filled. That means less guesswork about how many students to accept to reach a target enrollment (colleges offer admission to more students than needed to fill a class because some accepted students will pick another school). Many students applying early decision are going to attend even if the financial package is less than ideal, which helps the colleges financially. In addition, it means colleges can reduce their acceptance rates for regular-decision applicants, which is a prestige point for some college rankings.

No wonder the use of early decision has increased. A 2022 report by the nonprofit Education Reform Now shows that the numbers of applicants accepted through early decision rose sharply from 2015 to 2020. In the case of Pitzer College in Claremont, 44% of students admitted in 2015 came through early decision; by 2020, the number had risen to 79%. Obviously, there weren’t many seats left over for students who applied through regular admissions.

Why should we care? Everybody wins, right?

Not quite. Low-income and middle-class students who rely on generous financial aid to attend college are less able to take advantage of early decision, because they have less wiggle room on financial aid. If a college’s offer falls short of their expectations, they can appeal. But unless the college hasn’t met their financial need — a decision that might be made by the financial aid office, not by the student — backing out can be difficult. In regular decision, students can compare financial aid offers from a variety of schools, and negotiate based on offers they’ve received elsewhere.

Lower- and middle-income students are far less likely to apply via early decision. The 2022 report found that students who had attended private high schools — usually with parents able to pay high tuition bills — were more than 3.5 times more likely to apply under early decision than those in public schools.

Despite that economic disparity, early decision is expanding even beyond its original concept. A growing number of colleges are offering Early Decision 2, in which students apply during the regular application period, but nonetheless commit to accepting an offer from that college if accepted. ED2, as it’s called, offers applicants a much smaller boost in acceptance rates — and has the same problem with the inability to compare financial aid offers.

In other words, colleges are moving in the wrong direction on early decision. They should reconsider how many students are admitted via these early commitments, offer financial aid that fully meets the need for those accepted and question the practice altogether when an applicant pool is disproportionately well-off.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2024-01-04/la-ed-early-decision-admissions-for-college-unfairly-favor-wealthy-students

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Jan. 3

The Guardian on the rising risk of war in the Middle East

From the moment that the full extent of the 7 October atrocities by Hamas in southern Israel became evident, the specter of an ensuing regional conflict loomed in the background. Since then, attention has been fixed on Israel’s pummeling of Gaza, where the death toll passed 22,000 this week, according to Palestinian health authorities. Yet in recent weeks the risk of a greater conflagration has grown.

The assassination of the senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut marks a new and dangerous moment, as Israel (which did not publicly claim responsibility) will have known. Arouri was the group’s key conduit to Lebanon-based Hezbollah and to Iran. His death is a blow not only to Hamas but the broader network. It follows last week’s killing – which Tehran blames on Israel – of an Iranian military official who oversaw the shipping of arms to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah and Israel have been trading missiles, airstrikes and shelling with increased intensity over the past three months, but both have calibrated their actions. Yet in the wake of 7 October, there is a growing belief in Israeli society and politics that the threat from Hezbollah must be dealt with. Negotiations for the group to withdraw above the Litani river in Lebanon looked like a conceivable long shot; less so now. Israeli ministers and officials had warned that the diplomatic timeline was running out, and troops withdrawn from Gaza have been moved to the north.

Hezbollah will not want be caught out, but will also be wary of precipitating intensified fighting. While Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, had warned that any assassination on Lebanese soil would meet “a decisive response”, reaction to Arouri’s killing may not be immediate. The group needs to maintain its credibility as a major regional force, and its Iranian backers do not want to see Hamas destroyed. But Lebanese society does not want to get drawn into another war. For now, Hezbollah may continue watching Israel burn through military resources in Gaza and fuel widespread moral outrage – saving its armory and leaving the burden of the fighting to Hamas, with additional distraction from Yemen-based Houthi forces.

Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea – with Iranian involvement, claims US intelligence – had already spurred grave concerns about escalation. Joe Biden said he wanted to avoid direct clashes with the Houthis for that reason. But on Sunday, the US military said that its helicopters had killed fighters who fired on them when they came to the aid of a container ship, and the US and UK are reportedly considering attacking bases in Yemen. Then on Wednesday came the bombing of a ceremony in Iran to mark the fourth anniversary of the US’s assassination of Qassem Suleimani, the Revolutionary Guards commander, reportedly killing almost 100 people. Islamic State and other groups have launched attacks in the country before. Whoever is responsible, it underscores the risks of misjudgments and manipulation in a highly flammable situation with multiple parties pursuing their own agendas.

Strikingly, US officials say that Israel did not inform it of Arouri’s killing in advance. Washington’s urging and scolding have limited impact when all know that it will not halt military aid, whatever the cost. But every effort must be made to pursue a deal that could reassure Israelis in the north, and to restrain an Israeli effort to clear Hezbollah forcibly from southern Lebanon which could lead to disaster for the region.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/jan/03/the-guardian-view-on-escalation-in-the-middle-east-the-danger-of-a-regional-war-is-growing

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Jan. 6

The New York Times on Donald Trump and the 2024 election

At the outset of this election year, with Donald Trump leading the race to be the Republican presidential nominee, Americans should pause to consider what a second Trump term would mean for our country and the world and to weigh the serious responsibility this election places on their shoulders.

By now, most American voters should have no illusions about who Mr. Trump is. During his many years as a real estate developer and a television personality, then as president and as a dominant figure in the Republican Party, Mr. Trump demonstrated a character and temperament that render him utterly unfit for high office.

As president, he wielded power carelessly and often cruelly and put his ego and his personal needs above the interests of his country. Now, as he campaigns again, his worst impulses remain as strong as ever — encouraging violence and lawlessness, exploiting fear and hate for political gain, undermining the rule of law and the Constitution, applauding dictators — and are escalating as he tries to regain power. He plots retribution, intent on eluding the institutional, legal and bureaucratic restraints that put limits on him in his first term.

Our purpose at the start of the new year, therefore, is to sound a warning.

Mr. Trump does not offer voters anything resembling a normal option of Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, big government or small. He confronts America with a far more fateful choice: between the continuance of the United States as a nation dedicated to “the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” and a man who has proudly shown open disdain for the law and the protections and ideals of the Constitution.

If in 2016 various factions of the electorate were prepared to look beyond Mr. Trump’s bombast in the hope that he might deliver whatever it was they wanted without too much damage to the nation, today there is no mystery about what he will do should he win, about the sorts of people he will surround himself with and the personal and political goals he will pursue. There is no mystery, either, about the consequences for the world if America re-elects a leader who openly displays his contempt for its allies.

Mr. Trump’s four years in the White House did lasting damage to the presidency and to the nation. He deepened existing divisions among Americans, leaving the country dangerously polarized; he so demeaned public discourse that many Americans have become inured to lies, insults and personal attacks at the highest levels of leadership. His contempt for the rule of law raised concerns about the long-term stability of American democracy, and his absence of a moral compass threatened to corrode the ideals of national service.

The Republic weathered Mr. Trump’s presidency for a variety of reasons: his lack of prepared agenda, the disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic and the efforts of appointees who tried to temper his most dangerous or unreasonable demands. Most important, it survived because of the people and institutions in his administration and in the Republican Party who proved strong enough to stand up to his efforts to undermine the peaceful transfer of power.

It is instructive in the aftermath of that administration to listen to the judgments of some of these officials on the president they served. John Kelly, a chief of staff to Mr. Trump, called him the “most flawed person I’ve ever met,” someone who could not understand why Americans admired those who sacrificed their lives in combat. Bill Barr, who served as attorney general, and Mark Esper, a former defense secretary, both said Mr. Trump repeatedly put his own interests over those of the country. Even the most loyal and conservative of them all, Vice President Mike Pence, who made the stand that helped provoke Mr. Trump and his followers to insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, saw through the man: “On that day, President Trump also demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution,” he said.

There will not be people like these in the White House should Mr. Trump be re-elected. The former president has no interest in being restrained, and he has surrounded himself with people who want to institutionalize the MAGA doctrine. According to reporting by the Times reporters Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage and Jonathan Swan, Mr. Trump and his ideological allies have been planning for a second Trump term for many months already. Under the name Project 2025, one coalition of right-wing organizations has produced a thick handbook and recruited thousands of potential appointees in preparation for an all-out assault on the structures of American government and the democratic institutions that acted as checks on Mr. Trump’s power.

The project ties in with plans from Mr. Trump and his supporters to reclassify tens of thousands of federal workers so they can be fired if they do not buy fully into the Trump agenda. He also plans to strip the Justice Department of its independence in order to use it to wreak vengeance on those who, in his view, failed to concoct a victory for him in the 2020 election or otherwise didn’t support his unconstitutional demands. There is more, including threats by Mr. Trump to find ways to use federal troops against those who might protest his policies and practices. These ambitions demonstrate that the years out of office and the mounting legal challenges he faces have only sharpened his worst instincts.

Mr. Trump was impeached twice as president and since leaving office has been charged in four criminal cases — two related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, one over hush money paid to a porn star and another for hoarding classified documents after he left office and impeding the government’s efforts to retrieve them. No other sitting or former president has ever been indicted on criminal charges. Not only has Mr. Trump shown no remorse for these actions, he has given no sign that he understands these indictments to be anything but a political crusade meant to undermine him. He continues to claim that the Jan. 6 insurrection has been misrepresented. “There was love and unity,” he said in an interview last August. And he has suggested that, if re-elected, he could use his presidential powers to pardon himself.

Mr. Trump’s forays into foreign affairs remain dangerously misguided and incoherent. During his presidency, he displayed consistent admiration for autocratic leaders — including Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un — and contempt for our democratic allies. While in the White House, he repeatedly threatened to leave NATO, an alliance critical to the stability of Europe that he sees only as a drain on American resources; now his campaign website says, without elaborating, that he plans to “finish” the process of “fundamentally re-evaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission.”

He has announced his intention to abandon Ukraine, leaving it and its neighbors vulnerable to further Russian aggression. Encouraged by an American president, leaders who rule with an iron fist in Hungary, Israel, India and elsewhere would face far less moral or democratic pressure.

Mr. Trump has made clear his conviction that only “losers” accept legal, institutional or even constitutional constraints. He has promised vengeance against his political opponents, whom he has called “ vermin ” and threatened with execution. This is particularly disturbing at a time of heightened concern about political violence, with threats increasing against elected officials of both parties.

He has repeatedly demonstrated a deep disdain for the First Amendment and the basic principles of democracy, chief among them the right to freely express peaceful dissent from those in power without fear of retaliation, and he has made no secret of his readiness to expand the powers of the presidency, including the deployment of the military and the Justice Department, to have his way.

Democracy in the United States is stronger with a formidable conservative political movement to keep diversity of thought alive on important questions, such as the nation’s approaches to immigration, education, national security and fiscal responsibility. There should be room for real disagreement on any of these topics and many more — and there is a long tradition of it across the American experiment. But that is not what the former president is seeking.

Re-electing Mr. Trump would present serious dangers to our Republic and to the world. This is a time not to sit out but instead to re-engage. We appeal to Americans to set aside their political differences, grievances and party affiliations and to contemplate — as families, as parishes, as councils and clubs and as individuals — the real magnitude of the choice they will make in November.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/06/opinion/trump-2024-campaign-warning.html

United States News

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Editorial Roundup: United States