Mr. Blow looks at what’s going on across the country and asks “Where’s the Outrage?” He says if the Democrats don’t pay more attention, Big Money and new state laws may just help the Republicans run away with the election. Mr. Nocera, in “Addressing Poverty in Schools,” says growing up poor may be the biggest source of stress for many public school children. An education initiative is tackling that problem head-on. Ms. Collins is in Minot, ND, “The Land of the Mega Voters.” She says North Dakota is mighty and unbowed. And its race for the Senate is nearly a dead heat and something to ponder this week other than Obama vs. Romney. Here’s Mr. Blow:
Are too many Democratic voters sleepwalking away from our democracy this election cycle, not nearly outraged enough about Big Money’s undue influence and Republican state legislatures changing the voting rules?
It seems so.
A Gallup poll released this week found that: “Democrats are significantly less likely now (39 percent) than they were in the summers of 2004 and 2008 to say they are ‘more enthusiastic about voting than usual’ in the coming presidential election.” Republicans are more enthusiastic than they were before the last election.
Some of that may be the effect of having a Democratic president in office; it’s sometimes easier to marshal anger against an incumbent than excitement for him. Whatever the reason, this lack of enthusiasm at this critical juncture in the election is disturbing for Democrats.
First, there’s the specter of the oligarchy lingering over this election, which disproportionately benefits Republicans. According to a report by Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, “So far this year, 26 billionaires have donated more than $61 million to super PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And that’s only what has been publicly disclosed.” That didn’t include “about $100 million that Sheldon Adelson has said that he is willing to spend to defeat President Obama; or the $400 million that the Koch brothers have pledged to spend during the 2012 election season.”
During a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Sanders put it this way: “What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to say to these same billionaires and the corporations they control: ‘You own and control the economy; you own Wall Street; you own the coal companies; you own the oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government.’ ”
Then, of course, there’s the widespread voter suppression mostly enacted by Republican-led legislatures.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, at least 180 restrictive voting bills were introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states, and “16 states have passed restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election” because they “account for 214 electoral votes, or nearly 79 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.”
A provision most likely to disenfranchise voters is a requirement that people show photo identification to vote. Millions of Americans don’t have these forms of ID, and many can’t easily obtain them, even when states say they’ll offer them free, because getting the documentation to obtain the “free” ID takes time and money.
This is a solution in search of a problem. The in-person voter ID requirements only prevent someone from impersonating another voter at the polls, an occurrence that the Brennan Center points out is “more rare than being struck by lightning.”
The voting rights advocates I’ve talked to don’t resist all ID requirements (though they don’t say they are all necessary, either). They simply say that multiple forms of identification like student ID and Social Security cards should also be accepted, and that alternate ways for people without IDs to vote should be included. Many of these laws don’t allow for such flexibility.
Make no mistake about it, these requirements are not about the integrity of the vote but rather the disenfranchisement of voters. This is about tilting the table so that more of the marbles roll to the Republican corner.
Look at it this way: We have been moving toward wider voter participation for a century. States began to issue driver’s licenses more than a century ago and began to include photos on those licenses decades ago. Yet, as the Brennan Center points out, “prior to the 2006 election, no state required its voters to show government-issued photo ID at the polls (or elsewhere) in order to vote.”
Furthermore, most voter laws have emerged in the last two years. What is the difference between previous decades and today? The election of Barack Obama. It is no coincidence that some of the people least likely to have proper IDs to vote are the ones that generally vote Democratic and were strong supporters of Obama last election: young people, the poor and minorities.
Republicans are leveraging the deep pockets of anti-Obama billionaires and sinister voter suppression tactics that harken back to Jim Crow to wrest power from the hands of docile Democrats.
There is little likely to be done about the Big Money before the election, and, although some of the voter suppression laws are being challenged in court, the outcome of those cases is uncertain.
These elements are not within voters’ control, but two things are: energy and alertness.
If Democrats don’t wake up soon, this election might not just be won or lost, it could be bought or stolen.
Next up is Mr. Nocera:
About two years ago, Dr. Pamela Cantor gave a speech at a Congressional retreat put together by the Aspen Institute. Her talk was entitled “Innovative Designs for Persistently Low-Performing Schools.”
Cantor is a psychiatrist who specializes in childhood trauma. After 9/11, her organization, the Children’s Mental Health Alliance, was asked by New York City’s Department of Education to assess the impact of the attack on the city’s public school children. What she found were plenty of traumatized children — but less because of the terrorist attack than because of the simple fact that so many of them were growing up in poverty.
“If children are under stress, the ways they respond are remarkably similar,” she says. “They get sad, distracted, aggressive, and tune out.” That is what she saw in the high-poverty schools she visited. Chaos reigned. The most disruptive children dominated the schools. Teachers didn’t have control of their classrooms — in part because nothing in their training had taught them how to deal with traumatized children. Too many students had no model of what school was supposed to mean. “These were schools that were not ready to be schools,” she said.
The traditional therapist’s response, of course, is to recommend therapy for traumatized children. But that’s an impossible solution in a big-city school of 1,000 or more students. Still, Dr. Cantor wondered, would it be possible to design schools that could, in her words, “address the issues poverty poses as they present in the classroom?” She came to the belief that the answer was yes, and, in 2002, she founded a new organization, Turnaround for Children. It’s what she’s been doing ever since.
Part of the reason this work strikes me as so important is the obvious: there are an immense number of children growing up in poverty — one out of three in New York City alone. The good charter schools can take only a tiny fraction of those children; the rest are in public school, far too many of which are dysfunctional.
The second reason, though, is that Turnaround is trying to bridge an important divide. Part of the debate over school reform is about poverty itself, with the reformers taking the view that a great teacher can overcome the barriers poverty poses, while the other side says that the problems of public schools can’t be solved until poverty itself is alleviated. Cantor is suggesting an alternative way of thinking — that students in public schools can do well if the issues they face are dealt with head-on, instead of sidestepped.
I have space to give only the barest outline of how it works. A three-person Turnaround team embeds in a group of schools for three to five years. One works with the principal to create a positive, disciplined culture, where students come to believe they can succeed in school. One works with teachers, showing them tools, for instance, that will allow them to handle disruptions while keeping the other students on track. The third is a social worker who helps train the school social workers to help with the psychological and emotional needs of children in poverty, while identifying the most troubled students, the ones who can drive the entire school. Instead of suspending them, or expelling them, though, Turnaround contracts with mental health organizations to provide them with services. That sends an important signal to the other students.
I should stress that even after a decade, Turnaround is still an experiment, and relatively small. In 2008, it underwent an independent evaluation by the American Institutes for Research, which showed that its schools had far fewer disruptions and were generally calmer, safer, indeed, happier places. But that same evaluation suggested that Turnaround needed to put more emphasis on improving the academic environment in the classroom. That is what Dr. Cantor and her team are implementing now.
Which brings me back to that speech she gave a few years ago. In it, she laid out her ideas about the importance of facing poverty squarely in schools. They struck a chord. Since then, she has spent a great deal of time in Washington, where officials both in Congress and the White House have been receptive to these ideas. In May, a group of White House officials visited a Turnaround school in Washington, where they were impressed by what they saw. Ultimately, if Dr. Cantor’s ideas gain enough momentum in Washington, they could become part of what the federal government — and school districts across the country — expect from schools.
By refusing to accept the status quo, school reformers kicked off an important movement, long overdue. Although I happen to think there is an overemphasis on test scores, the demand for teacher accountability has also been an important step.
Creating schools that are designed from the start to deal with the predicable challenges of poverty — it is the most important thing we can do next.
Last but not least, Ms. Collins:
“No! No! No!” cried Heidi Heitkamp. She’s the Democratic senatorial candidate in North Dakota. I had just asked her whether residents of her state think it’s unfair that, in the Senate, each North Dakota voter has the clout of approximately 50 Californians.
That was the top thing I had always wondered about the politics of North Dakota, whose two U.S. senators serve a population of around 680,000. (Campaign-wise, it resembles the Iowa caucuses. Voters expect to have met the candidates personally. Sometimes they seem to expect the candidates to invite them home for dinner.)
I was wandering around the state this week, mulling its Senate race. Really, we can’t possibly focus on Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for another three months without an occasional reprieve.
So, North Dakota. Heitkamp, a former attorney general, is running against Representative Rick Berg, the state’s sole member of the House. In the beginning, the national Democrats wrote this one off as a long shot at best, but Heitkamp seems to have, at minimum, pulled even. On the campaign trail, she’s a happy warrior with the endless energy you’d need if you were running for office in a state where there’s a two-hour drive between even the smaller clumps of voters. She also has a dramatic story that centers on the year 2000, when she ran for governor and was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, but she stayed in the race, campaigning even while she had chemotherapy and her trademark red hair fell out. She lost but seems to have made an indelible imprint on the public.
(The other happy Senate surprise for the Democrats is Arizona, where the party somehow came up with a Hispanic physician who is a disabled Vietnam veteran and former surgeon general for the Bush administration, as well as the hero of several dramatic rescues, during one of which he shot a deranged suspected murderer. I believe I speak for all the political hopefuls in America when I say that the bar for a potential upset win is being set unacceptably high.)
As soon as the North Dakota Senate race began, Republican super PACs began beating Heitkamp with the health care mallet. “Heidi endorsed Obamacare,” says one much-aired ad that features a very brief tape of Heitkamp saying, with no apparent enthusiasm, “It actually is a budget saver.” In response, she almost always brings the discussion back to her own story. Her next ad began with Heitkamp discussing her bout with cancer and adding, “When you live through that, political attack ads seem silly.”
“I have a pretty well-known pre-existing condition,” she says dryly.
My second big North Dakota question was why, if the voters were really obsessed about the economy and jobs, jobs, jobs, the state wasn’t tilting toward Obama. True, North Dakota hasn’t gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson. But things are great! The unemployment rate is around 3 percent and close to zero in the areas around the booming oil industry. The farmers weren’t hit by the drought, and their crops are going to be worth a fortune at harvest time.
Much of this good news occurred on the president’s watch. Does he get credit? The answer, once again, is no, no, no.
“If Heidi is elected, I won’t lose sleep. She’ll do a great job,” said E. Ward Koeser, the mayor of the oil-boom town of Williston, a Republican who has endorsed Berg. “If Barack Obama gets elected, I’ll lose sleep.”
“Leadership means you take people who are polarized and get them together. I don’t think he was that good at building relations,” said Heitkamp, trying to explain her state’s antipathy toward Obama. “When people are mad at me, I always try to stand next to them for 20 minutes. They can’t stay mad.”
We will not try to envision the president using that tactic on John Boehner. But Heitkamp says she’ll be voting for Obama in November — because Mitt Romney supports the House Republican budget.
“People ask me why, and I point to that budget,” she says.
In 2010, North Dakota voters were furious about the national debt and the horrors they’d heard about Obamacare, and they tossed out virtually every Democratic incumbent they could get their hands on. Now Heitkamp is betting that the House budget, with its Medicare restructuring and dramatic program cuts will seem even more radical to the emotionally conservative North Dakotans than the stimulus or health care law. “There’s $180 billion in farm cuts in there,” she said, launching into a litany of government aid it would strip away from North Dakota.
Berg says the House budget is thrifty and represents the “North Dakota way of doing things.” We shall see. It’s up to the North Dakota voters. A very small number of North Dakota voters.
Eat your heart out, California.