TIME Education

Colbert v. Stewart: The Celebrity Death Match Over School Reform

From left to right, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Comedy Central

Comedy Central's fake newscasters have an outsized influence on public opinion and seemingly different takes on hotly-debated topics like teacher tenure laws and the Common Core standards

When Stephen Colbert invited newcaster-turned-education-reformer Campbell Brown on his show last night, he unwittingly unleashed a firestorm of controversy and, some say, distanced him from his liberal brother-in-fake-news, and fellow Viacom employee, Jon Stewart.

Several hundred of Colbert’s leftwing fans protested outside of his Manhattan studio before the taping, and thousands more took to the blogosphere, decrying Brown as an elitist union-buster and accusing Colbert of being “a sell out like the rest of them.”

“Maybe Colbert ought to watch the Jon Stewart show to learn about education issues!” wrote one commenter. “How idiotic of Colbert – IDIOTIC.”

In an era where liberals find themselves at each other’s throats over nearly every issue related to school reform—from charter schools to teacher tenure laws to the roll-out of the Common Core reading and math standards adopted by most states—advocates on both sides of the debate have been paying close attention to people like Colbert and Stewart, who have an outsized influence on liberal public opinion.

The otherwise dry policy debate has also drawn an unusual amount of star power. In May, the comedian Louis CK panned Common Core while the actress Eva Longoria and singer John Legend have come out in its defense.

Some have suggested that Colbert, who has been an outspoken proponent of other controversial school reform initiatives, like the charter school movement, seemed to be signaling his sympathies by inviting Brown as his guest. Brown has been at the center of a recent storm of litigation designed to overturn states’ teacher tenure laws, job protections that are held dear by teachers unions. Brown argues that such laws make it nearly impossible to fire incompetent teachers—a crucial step to making schools better.

While growing armies of liberal reformers, including the Obama administration, have backed Brown, her position remains wildly unpopular among traditional liberals who see such lawsuits as an attack on both teachers and their unions.

On these issues, Comedy Central’s other epicenter of fake-news, “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” has generally stuck closer to the liberal party line. Stewart, who hails from union-friendly New Jersey and whose mother was a public school teacher, has hosted Diane Ravitch, one of the teachers unions’ most outspoken defenders and a staunch critic of charter schools, three times, most recently in October.

He has also earned points among lefties for hosting controversial school reform figures, like former chancellor of Washington DC public schools Michelle Rhee, and then grilling them with tough questions. Last year, Stewart did not veil his distaste for Rhee’s strict program of teacher evaluation. “Are we hanging [teachers] out to dry, coming in every three years, saying here’s the new reform, you are going to teach to that… increase your scores or you are fired?” he asked her on air.

At first glance, the disparities between Colbert and Stewart’s guests seem to be a microcosm of the larger schism among Democrats on school reform.

On one side, progressive reformers like Brown and Rhee have been willing to attack teachers’ unions, back the charter school movement, support the rollout of Common Core, and call for a total overhaul of the status quo. Democratic leaders, like Corey Booker and Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, have celebrated these moves as “brave” and “bold” steps necessary for real reform.

On the other side, Ravitch, teachers unions, and a growing chorus of liberal parents have resisted what they see as an overly ambitious, slash-and-burn reform movement that threatens to throw out the baby with the bath water. Ravitch has tirelessly backed the teachers unions, condemned charter schools, panned Common Core and argued that panicked statistics about the poor state of public education in America are an attempt at fear-mongering. “The test scores today are the highest they’ve ever been in history, the graduation rates are the highest ever in history, the drop out rates the lowest in history,” she told Stewart last fall.

More recently, Ravitch has lashed out against Brown, calling her anti-teacher tenure lawsuits harmful and out of touch.

So on which side does this leave Colbert and Stewart—two, albeit fake news anchormen who wield a considerable amount of influence over public opinion? The short answer is that it’s unclear.

After Colbert’s interview with Brown last night, both Brown’s supporters and commenters on Ravitch’s website claimed victory. Brown tweeted that she had had a delightful time, while Ravitch’s blog bubbled with gleeful notes describing how Colbert had dragged Brown through a series of tough questions.

“Now I’m no fan of unions, but why do you have your guns out for [teachers]? Is it the same reason I [do]—so they can quit their lavish lifestyles with their 1993 Honda Civics driving around town?” Colbert asked Brown right out of the gate, channeling the hardcore conservative caricature that he assumes during his show.

But while that question, and several others, might seem combative, Brown fans agreed that the interview itself was generous—if only because Colbert gave Brown plenty of time to explain her position: “The driving focus when we decide what our policy should be, what our laws should be…[is,] ‘Is this good for a child?’” Brown said, and the crowd erupted in applause.

“They’re going to clap because you’re playing the ‘Good for Child’ card,” Colbert said, grinning, before following up an ultra-softball question: “But isn’t this about equal education?”

While Colbert did corner Brown into admitting that she will not reveal the names of those who have donated to her non-profit, Partnership for Educational Justice—a major “win” claimed by Ravitch’s side—he did suggest that her appearance on the show would be a helpful fundraising tool. “You’ll get the Colbert bump,” he said.

When it comes to other controversial school reform issues, like Common Core, Colbert has been equally hard to pin down. In one segment, Colbert ruthlessly mocked some hard questions from a math exam designed to test school kids’ understanding of Common Core principles. In another segment, he made fun of those who oppose Common Core because it does not require kids to learn cursive.

Both Comedy Central stars will no doubt have more segments on school reform this fall, as Brown’s tenure lawsuits gain steam and Common Core rolls out in most schools. When they do, liberal advocates on both sides of the line will be reading closely between the lines.

TIME

Libertarian Student Activists Rally at National Convention

White House contender Rand Paul revved up the youthful crowd, asking "Anybody here from the 'Leave Me Alone' coalition? How about the 'Leave Me The Hell Alone' coalition?”

A crowd of college kids screamed and cheered, belting out chants and pumping their fists. The energy in the room was palpable. Some craned their necks to get a better view and others nudged their friends in excitement. The kids weren’t waiting for a rock concert to start or a celebrity to walk across the stage. They were waiting for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) to kick off the annual Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) National Convention in Washington, D.C.

Almost 300 student activists for YAL traveled from around the country to convene for a five-day convention filled with talks about liberty and appearances by prominent libertarian leaders. The convention kicked off Wednesday evening with an address by Sen. Rand Paul followed by a House of Representatives panel, featuring six members of the House Liberty Caucus.

“Anybody here from the leave me alone coalition? How about the leave me the hell alone coalition?” Paul asked the room to a response of cheers. “Some people are writing and saying there’s a libertarian moment in our country right now.”

Speakers went on to talk about key libertarian party principles of personal and economic liberty, then touch on hot button issues for millennials, including the NSA, social security and the legalization of marijuana. The panel’s six congressional leaders detailed their personal journeys in politics and offered advice to the budding libertarian leaders. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky) urged the student activists to “find more of you” and Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) told students to “be willing to lose.”

The discussion was more than just an advice session for aspiring college students. It was also a clear call for young people to help broadcast the Libertarian message and to recruit more of their peers to join the party.

“I keep reminding my Republican colleagues that if you want to continue to have a bunch of old people with old ideas in the Republican Party, we will no longer have a vibrant party,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Wisc.) said at the panel on Wednesday. “If we can invite young people that will actually bring new ideas and will bring energy to the party then we will be the dominant party in the United States.”

TIME

Obama: ‘We Tortured Some Folks’

US President Barack Obama makes a statement while at the White House in Washington
President Barack Obama makes a statement while at the White House in Washington on Aug. 1, 2014. Larry Downing—Reuters

On Friday, the President offered his frankest admission of post-9/11 interrogation tactics, condemned Hamas for breaking the cease-fire and criticized House Republicans

On Friday, President Barack Obama previewed the upcoming release of a Senate report into the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation after the attacks of September 11, 2001, saying “we tortured some folks.”

Speaking to reporters from the White House, he said, “Even before I came into office, I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong,” Obama said. “We crossed a line and that needs to be understood and accepted. We have to as a country take responsibility for that.”

At the briefing, Obama also condemned Hamas for breaching a cease-fire with Israel minutes after it went into effect Friday morning, saying the breach makes it more difficult to end the weeks-long conflict in Gaza. he said Hamas must immediately release captured Israeli solider Hadar Goldin, who was taken on the Israel-Gaza border in a Friday morning attack that killed two other Israeli soldiers. “If they are serious about resolving this situation, that soldier needs to be released unconditionally as soon as possible,” Obama said. He added that with the trust broken, “I think it’s going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together again.”

“The Israelis are entirely right that these tunnel networks need to be dismantled,” Obama said, adding that Israelis should be pursuing ways to do so with fewer civilian casualties.

The president also defended CIA Director John Brennan, who has been caught up in controversy amid revelations that CIA staffers improperly accessed the files of the Senate investigators. “I have full confidence in John Brennan,” Obama said.

Obama also heaped praise on Secretary of State John Kerry for his efforts in negotiating the cease-fire, saying he had been the subject of “unfair criticism” in recent weeks. He also said Israel must do more to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza. “It’s hard to reconcile Israel’s need to defend itself with our concern for civilians in Gaza,” he said.

Obama also defended his handling of the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine, saying the United States has done everything to support the Ukrainian government. “Short of going to war, there are going to be some constraints in terms of what we can do,” he said. Obama said that Russian President Vladimir Putin should want to resolve the situation diplomatically, “but sometimes people don’t always act rationally.”

Before taking questions from reporters, Obama highlighted Friday’s jobs report showing the sixth-consecutive month of 200,000+ job growth and blasted congressional inaction on ambassadorial appointments and dealing with the crisis of unaccompanied minors crossing the southwest border.

“House Republicans as we speak are trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they know is going nowhere,” Obama said.

Obama said he would act to shift money around to pay for the care of the unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody because Congress left him no other option.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker of the House John Boehner said Obama has been AWOL on the border crisis. ““When it comes to the humanitarian crisis on our southern border, President Obama has been completely AWOL – in fact, he has made matter worse by flip-flopping on the 2008 law that fueled the crisis. Senate Democrats have left town without acting on his request for a border supplemental. Right now, House Republicans are the only ones still working to address this crisis.”

–with reporting by Justin Worland

TIME russia

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Mocks Obama in Tweet

Tweet depicts Obama with puppy, Putin with cheetah

President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have no problem trading criticism amid escalating Cold War-like tensions.

But while their exchanges have been sober, Putin’s deputy appears to have taken to Twitter with a more light-hearted jab.

A tweet from the account of Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister of Russia, ridiculed Obama by juxtaposing an image of the Russian president with a cheetah and another of his American counterpart holding a puppy.

“We have different values and allies,” the tweet read.

 

TIME

Eric Holder: Obama’s Use of Executive Power Has Been Limited

US-JUSTICE-RIGHTS-HOLDER
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act at Howard University in Washington on July 15, 2014 Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images

Ahead of an expected lawsuit from the House of Representatives, Attorney General Eric Holder defended President Obama’s use of executive power and said it was a fraction of what other Presidents have done. Speaking to TIME on Tuesday, Holder said Obama had used executive orders far less than Teddy Roosevelt, and said that the Justice department had approved all his orders before hand for legality.

“I was looking the other day just at a list of presidents and Teddy Roosevelt issued about 1,000 executive orders,” he said. “So in terms of magnitude this president has not used this authority nearly as much as his critics would say.”

Holder also addressed his ongoing review of administration immigration policies, including consideration of expanding protection from deportation to include not just unaccompanied minors but adult undocumented immigrants as well. Holder also said he believes that westerners traveling to Syria and Iraq, where they can come into contact with skilled bomb-makers from al Qaeda offshoots, represent a grave threat to U.S. national security.

The interview has been condensed and edited for space.

Has there been actual direct contact between western Jihadis and terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq?

The short answer to that question is yes. We are seeing I would say an alarming rise in the number of American and European Union nationals who have been going to Syria to help extremist groups. I think it’s just a matter of time before we put Iraq in that same category. We have opened dozens of investigations into Americans who have been traveling there. At this point we have eight open cases in various stages of people who have traveled to Syria.

I would characterize it as a grave threat to our security. Every morning I start my day going over the threat assessment for the previous 24 hours over at the FBI, and increasingly the topic of individuals traveling from the United States to Syria and Iraq—Iraq is starting to crank up—that has become a real issue. We estimate there are about 7,000 foreign fighters in Syria, from the EU, North Africa, and some from the United States. They go there, they can become radicalized, and they can return home with the intent to commit violence. And they have the know-how to do it on potentially a mass scale.

Is that your greatest worry on the national security front?

Core al Qaeda has really been weakened, there’s no question about that. But these offshoots, even those organizations that have split from al Qaeda, are of great concern and the brew that is potentially in the mix there between these groups, getting together, sharing expertise, whether its Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the expertise they possess with regard to the creation of bombs, marrying them up with other groups. It’s the combination of these offshoots plus these foreign fighters. Those are the things that really give me concern.

How much of your time do you have to spend worrying about, thinking about and addressing the pressure from the Hill to constrain the executive branch?

We’ll have to see. There’s a very tangible thing we’re going to potentially have to deal with, which is the lawsuit that I think the House is going to file at some point. And the Justice department will obviously be involved in that. But in terms of the use of executive action, the president has appropriately used executive authority as other presidents have. He’s used executive action, around 180 times, something like that. I was looking the other day just at a list of presidents and Teddy Roosevelt issued about 1,000 executive orders. So in terms of magnitude this president has not used this authority nearly as much as his critics would say. But when executive action is proposed it is something that is reviewed here by the appropriate components within the Justice department and a legal determination made that the President can act in that way.

Have you reviewed the issue of expanding the president’s powers to grant reprieve from deportation proceedings for a broader number of people, not just children?

I’d say we’re reviewing that. The president has asked me and Secretary Jeh Johnson from Homeland Security to look into a wide range of things. So I’d say that we are reviewing the specific one that you had mentioned, but we are more broadly looking at the whole immigration portfolio.

Do you take a position on the philosophical debate over the purpose of incarceration, whether it is for rehabilitation or for retribution?

The purpose of sentencing, there’s a variety of factors: deterrence, punishment, rehabilitation. That’s all a part of what a good sentence is all about. But when done well it tends to focus on looking at the individual. I was a judge for five years here in Washington, DC, and it’s a combination of art and science.

 

TIME Congress

House GOP Leadership Rallies For New Border Bill

House Republicans Hold Closed Party Conference
U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) arrives at a House Republican Conference meeting August 1, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong—Getty Images

House Republicans look to go one step back, two steps forward

Updated at 3:12 p.m.

One day after the House Republican leadership pulled its bill to address the ongoing border crisis, it appeared to garner enough confidence to put an altered version on the floor.

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) called the move “a classic case of measure twice, cut once.”

“Quite frankly I personally believe that the model that we gave yesterday—as messy as it appeared to all of you guys—was probably a very good model,” said Womack, a member of the Whip team who says he appreciates the new leadership’s “bottom-up” approach. “We took a step back, we evaluated and engaged our colleagues and came up with a piece of legislation.”

The House Republican leadership introduced the new bill to the House GOP conference in a Friday morning meeting in a room beneath the Capitol. The $694 million bill doubles the amount of National Guard funding for border state governors to $70 million, according to a senior House Republican aide. Since only Texas has authorized National Guard deployment, that pot of money could all go to the Lone Star state. The extra $35 million would be offset by Department of Defense cuts.

There are also a few policy changes. One amendment tightens up language regarding the adjudication process for unaccompanied minors. Many of the over 57,000 children who have come over the southern border illegally since October are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and the House bill would treat these children similarly to Mexican children, who are screened and deported faster than those from Central America.

In a nod to conservatives, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told TIME that she will get a separate vote on her resolution that would block President Barack Obama from expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a move immigration activists expect Obama to take later this year. DACA, enacted through a June 2012 executive order, grants two years of deportation relief to qualifying illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as a minor. Blackburn added that the “logistics” of the vote are still being worked out.

Notably, hardline conservatives Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) support the border bill, according to their respective spokespeople. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told TIME that in the conference meeting, Bachmann said, “I may have said ‘Hell No’ yesterday but I’m saying ‘Hell Yes’ today.”

“That’s very impressive, you know,” added Rohrabacher.

The bill for all practical purposes doesn’t matter, as it won’t pass the Senate, which failed to pass its own $2.7 billion border bill Thursday night. But for House Republicans, addressing the border crisis with their own bill is important enough that they skirted a 1970 law mandating that the chamber go into recess in early August. Most Senators have already left the capital, while their House colleagues are expected to do the same shortly.

TIME 2016 Election

Iowa’s Democratic Caucuses Will Be More Accessible to Voters in 2016

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley meets Iowa voters
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks Saturday, June 21, 2014, during the Iowa state Democratic Convention at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images

The rules are changing for the first-in-the-nation caucuses

The Iowa Democratic Caucuses will be more accessible to voters in 2016, the state party chairman announced Friday, but obstacles to including military voters remain.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan presented a five-step proposal to increase accessibility to the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, including hiring a caucus accessibility director and instituting “satellite caucuses” to make voting more convenient for shift workers. At a meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, Brennan also announced a proposal to create a state-wide military tele-caucus to allow those serving out of state or overseas to participate in the caucus.

But the Iowa party rejected calls to institute absentee ballot or proxies for the caucuses to enable military voter participation.

“Iowans did not want us to take any steps that would change what our caucuses are at their core – neighborhood gatherings of concerned and interested Iowans who want a say in the future of our country,” Brennan said. In 2008, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton complained that her third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses was partly the result of people who worked nights being unable to attend the evening caucuses.

A number of committee-members raised concerns with the proposal, questioning why the accessibility proposal couldn’t be expanded to other voters and the logistics of enabling as many as 1,500 Iowa Democrats living overseas to hold a discussion on a conference call.

“I’d certainly like to be a fly on the wall as they go ‘what!'” said Elaine Kamarck, a committee-member from Massachusetts who has written a book on presidential nominating processes, of the Iowa Party’s proposed meetings with the Department of Defense.

The Iowa Republican Party is similarly considering efforts to open its caucus up to military voters, and is likely to follow a course similar to the Democratic Party’s plan.

At Friday’s meeting, the Rules Committee approved an amendment to the national party rules to require states to include a description of its voter accessibility efforts in its convention delegate selection plan.

The Iowa Democratic Party proposals:

1. Time-Off to Caucus Legislation – The Iowa Democratic Party will work with the legislature and governor to pass legislation that will require employers to let non-essential workers take time off to attend their precinct caucus. This step gives working men and women greater flexibility to participate.

2. Caucus Accessibility Director – The Iowa Democratic Party will hire a Caucus Accessibility Director who will work directly with counties across the state to ensure that each caucus site is as accessible as possible, and to help implement the proposals outlined here.

3. Supervised Activities for Children – Many county parties already provide some form of activity for children during the caucuses, allowing parents with children to participate. The Iowa Democratic Party will work with our county parties to expand these opportunities at caucus sites so that Iowans with limited access to childcare can participate.

4. Satellite Caucuses – For those Iowa Democrats that cannot participate due to limitations of mobility, distance, or time, the Iowa Democratic Party will look to implement a satellite caucus system. This option would be available to a group of Democrats who demonstrate a need to add an additional caucus site. Those interested would have to meet certain yet-to-be-determined criteria, and petition the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee, which would have final approval.

5. Military Tele-Caucus – The Iowa Democratic Party will create a statewide precinct for Iowans serving in the military and conduct a tele-caucus with those who participate. This tele-caucus would be no different than a normal caucus. Participants would still break into preference groups and allow for realignment.

TIME

Pictures of the Week: Jul. 25 – Aug. 1

From an Ebola outbreak in Africa and Eid al-Fitr celebrations around the world, to the destruction of underground tunnels in Gaza and people dancing in the streets of North Korea, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME 2014 Election

Cantor Says He’ll Resign Before Term Ends

Eric Cantor
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., left, arrives for a House Republican strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

The former House Majority Leader asked that a special election be held to expedite his replacement

Rather than finish out his full final term in Congress, House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor will resign from Congress effective August 18, the Republican congressman said Thursday.

Cantor, whose term in office would have extended through a lame duck session until January of next year, asked Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to schedule a special election to be held on Election Day, November 4, to pick his replacement. With Cantor stepping down early, the winner of that special election will take Cantor’s old seat immediately rather than having to wait until the next Congress convenes to begin the new term.

“I want to make sure that the constituents in the Seventh District will have a voice in what will be a very consequential lame-duck session,” Cantor said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “That way he will also have seniority, and that will help the interests of my constituents (because) he can be there in that consequential lame-duck session,” Cantor said.

A once-rising star in the GOP and likely next in line for Speaker of the House, Cantor’s political fortunes were reversed after his stunning defeat in a June GOP primary.

In the contest to take over Cantor’s seat, economics professor Dave Brat—who defeated Cantor for the GOP nomination in June—will square off against Democrat Jack Trammell. Both men are professors at the same school, Randolph-Macon College.

[Richmond Times-Dispatch]

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