Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Three reasons why Trump Candidacy May Not be a Total Negative

Laurence Peters

In the immortal words of what has become a Monty Python theme tune--”always look on the bright side” dare I propose three reasons why we might take a more positive look at the Trump candidacy? Yes the billionaire buffoon has lowered the tone of American politics immeasurably by his juvenile name calling, brought racial hate  of the kind we have not seen since the 1960s back into the mainstream of American politics, embarrassed us on the world stage with his shameful ignorance etc etc. So what good has come out of the billionaire bloviator’s candidacy? I count at least three reasons why the Trump run at the nation’s highest office might not be a total zero.

First--it has exposed the fact that the Republican party really had no core principles that it was willing to defend. Trump ripped apart any of their so carefully harbored beliefs in free trade, entitlement programs, immigration policy, foreign policy and fiscal conservatism. He also tore the mask of the rhetoric about the GOP being an open inclusive party, the party of Lincoln and all that nonsense. Post Trump the GOP must decide if it is going to follow the blustering liar into the political wilderness of right wing extremist politics or if it is going to reject him. If it decides to reject him it will then be forced to examine its core principles and offer a coherent and rational alternative to the democrats. This will not be a bad thing. The elite GOP leadership has been allowed for too long to have it both ways---to allow corporate interests to hold sway over major policy decisions while feeding their base with red meat "social issues" like abortion and a variety of constitutional amendments that would only come to pass if there were a political earthquake. The shake out has begun and the result--possibly the establishment of a third party following the November election returns may make our politics more interesting and more democratic.

Second it is clear that the task of repairing our politics is more urgent than ever. Trump rose to prominence by calling both parties corrupt and beholden to monied interests. This call for a less corrupt system struck a deep nerve and allowed Trump to knock over his primary opponents as if they were paper dolls (rolled from US currency we might hasten to add). Trump reminded us that if monied voices that continue to call the shots for both parties then we will see the further decay of the vital institutions like political parties, informed political candidates who possess integrity that give meaning to our democracy. While Trump pointed to the problem in typical fashion he could not point to any solution other than electing him, the patriotic billionaire who clearly had the nation's best interests at heart. What he should have said and the democrats should have jumped on is that Trump's diagnosis means that we any new democratic administration should repeal the zany Citizens United decision. Money is not speech and it never was. The power to dominate the media through buying politicians and media is antithetical to democracy. The rise of Trump helps us learn the importance of that lesson and the reasons to address the source of the problem and not indulge ourselves with the nonsensical notion that we now need to be ruled by the top 1 percent because only they are the ones that cannot be bought!

Thirdly,  Trump has given us all a teachable moment by providing us with a startlingly vivid insight into how American style fascism might quickly become a reality in this country. As Sinclair Lewis showed us (and Slate magazine has pointed out) in his prescient semi satirical novel, It Can't Happen Here published in 1935. Sinclair's book teaches us that the descent into fascist madness begins by populist patriotic appeals that quickly descends into nationalism and finding scape goats for our economic and security woes. Trump rose in the polls by demonizing Muslim and the Mexican immigrants--and even went so far as casting them all as either terrorists or rapists.  Then we were treated to the threats of violence with regard to people who disagree with them--first at the Trump rallies and then outside of them and lately with threats of appealing to gun owners to take unspecified actions against elected officeholders. We should have learned from the Nazis in the 1930s that this is how democracies are destroyed by resorting to violence over the ballot box. We learned during this dark Trump dominated period in our politics who process the enablers --the elites who refused to condemn these anti democratic sentiments and the craven political hacks who try to defend their champion using phrases like he's only “telling it like it is." and other apologies for inexcusable behavior.

It is no accident that Trump in a moment of self revelation proclaimed his love for "poorly educated people. Trump's rise reminds us in the last analysis why education matters. No matter that Trump seems not to have read a history book let alone one on foreign affairs we all need to reflect on Jefferson's caution that if a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why We Must Avoid the Trump Disaster at all Costs

At the start of the summer things were going fairly normally and we were headed for two reasonably boring candidates--Clinton and if not Bush then Cruz. Trump was dismissed as a bloviating billionaire with a penchant for late night tweets, rude barbs and other nasty ways of grabbing the attention of the media. Having succeeded in getting people’s attention like the student at the back of the class prepared to mock the teacher, curse and generally make a ruckus the media then prepared to provide full coverage for his speeches given inside “huge” stadiums and aircraft hangers to mostly white males who when they were not cheering for his familiar "build a wall” line, were looking for hecklers to eject or otherwise beat up when the cameras were not around. The billions of dollars in free media attention the ratings focused media owners were prepared to donate to Trump gratis served to turn a small forest fire into a national environmental emergency. True the kindling was all around--stagnant wages, a perception that Trump helped foster that immigration both from Mexico and from Middle East was out of control and it did not help that the other GOP candidates lacked both policy ideas, passion or convincing solutions. They also had no credibility as it turned out with the mass of the electorate, just like the experts who were wheeled out in the UK’s Brexit debate to persuade the voters to stay in the Remain camp, people preferred to follow their gut that simple solutions would do the trick.--a wall, or in the case of Brexit rejecting the EU treaty. Then some more disturbing things happened. The GOP leadership in the form of Paul Ryan and to a lesser extent Mitch McConnell decided they were not only going to stand in his way to the nomination. Just like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio they folded in the wake of the Trump steamroller so despite his racist views, his counter productive terrorism strategy, his 19th century views on abortion and his efforts to undermine the NATO alliance, he managed to make the GOP into his own image. The GOP is now no longer the party of Lincoln, it is the party of Trump, a crazy megalomaniacal billionaire. Despite the fact that Trump regularly lies, has been bankrupt four times, has not read or shows any interest in reading anything that could be loosely called a briefing book, let alone a normal book, has no experience of governing, this man is now only a few percentage points (if latest opinion polls are to be believed) from winning the presidency of the United States. It is all too shocking to behold. This is a man who has no sense of shame for his lies, who has clear case of narcissism, who has no empathy for others, who created a sham university whose sole purpose was to milk old and vulnerable people of their life savings. He is a publicity seeking amoral monster the media has helped to create.

What can we do? First we all must demand:
1. Trump release his tax returns. These will show most probably the ways that Trump not only skirts the law, does not give to charity, sends jobs abroad etc
2. The media not allow Trump to avoid answering the question and insist on asking follow up questions
3. Insist that your own Senator, Congressman denounce Trump’s racism and counterproductive views on terrorism.
4. Actively register people in your community and make the argument that this is an election no one can afford to sit out.
5. If you know anyone slightly inclined to vote for Trump--that has said one or two positive things about him--please confront them with the one question that counts--would you want his small fingers on the button--they are itchy enough to send insulting crazy tweets at 3:00 am that a 5th grader would never send.

This is the election of our lifetimes. To those who try to find fault with Hillary--she has after all spent 40 plus years in the public spotlight we can only say this --there is no comparison between the kind of tried and tested temperament of Hillary as Senator from New York and as Secretary of State and Trump. Trump has never been elected to anything. He has devoted his entire life to his one object of affection--himself. The email issues have been resolved. We are talking about the future of the country here if not the world. A Trump presidency is unthinkable.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Time for Hillary's Team to Craft a New Message

Some of the reasons why Bernie still lingers around winning the odd primary here and there, and dominating a  news cycle or two, is the difficulty Clinton has had so far articulating a winning message. One way to characterized the problem is whether after so many speeches, campaign rallies and interviews the difficulty anyone experiences in trying to sum up precisely what  Hillary’s candidacy is all about? Take her first major speech that launched her candidacy the one she gave on Roosevelt Island in New York back in June last year.  A speech that was far from off the cuff--one she had time to prepare and refine for a two years after she had resigned from Secretary of State back in February 2013. The speech’s central conceit  that there is a unifying bond that connects FDR with the other successful presidents, notably her husband and of course Barack Obama and that is “America’s basic bargain. If you do your part you ought to be able to get ahead. And when everybody does their part, America gets ahead too.” But also woven into the speech is her unique background as a problem solver and a compassionate believer in an inclusive society. But  what is noticeable is the  scant reference to the last eight years and the fact that eight years after the depression was supposedly fixed in which Wall Street bankers profited to the tune of $281 billion dollars, a majority of working Americans are still suffering. She nods her head to this in a fairly routine way,

“You worked extra shifts, took second jobs, postponed home repairs… you figured out how to make it work. And now people are beginning to think about their future again – going to college, starting a business, buying a house, finally being able to put away something for retirement.”

 It is not that Hillary cannot excite her audience or refrains from giving them red meat or is afraid of stoking a class war it is that the language she uses to describe their plight is so lifeless and abstract that it reeks of condescension.

She does not seem to be able to grasp that the Obama administration has to also account for why most middle class people feel squeezed and why in many US cities more African American youth stand more chance of going to prison than to college? Is it purely due to a poor economy that has not recovered from the great recession? Or that the economy is not working for all Americans the way it once did. In either case what has the Obama administration done to alleviate these trends?  One of the reasons that Bernie Sanders has resonated so well among young people is that he at least has found the language to describe the last eight years, used in his own campaign launch speech back in May last year.

“There is something profoundly wrong when, in recent years, we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires at the same time as millions of Americans work longer hours for lower wages and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth. There is something profoundly wrong when one family owns more wealth than the bottom 130 million Americans. This grotesque level of inequality is immoral. It is bad economics. It is unsustainable.”

Bernie makes what happened to the American economy in the last eight years-- underlines the economic crises moral dimensions by focusing on the way the billionaire class has flourished during this period. He does not blame Obama but he does not want to run for his third term either as Clinton seems to want to do. Bernie wants fundamental reform of the system, starting with the repeal of Citizens United and campaign financing. What is Clinton's narrative?
If you parse her words carefully her Roosevelt Island speech --goes something like this--trust me I know I know you are all frustrated with a gridlocked dysfunctional Congress but I rather than Obama have the political skills to fix the mess. How else to interpret the following passage,

“Our political system is so paralyzed by gridlock and dysfunction that most Americans have lost confidence that anything can actually get done. And they’ve lost trust in the ability of both government and Big Business to change course. Now, we can blame historic forces beyond our control for some of this, but the choices we’ve made as a nation, leaders and citizens alike, have also played a big role. Our next President must work with Congress and every other willing partner across our entire country. And I will do just that — to turn the tide so these currents start working for us more than against us. At our best, that’s what Americans do. We’re problem solvers, not deniers. We don’t hide from change, we harness it.”

So President Obama is not a problem solver?  Wasn't it rather the case that the GOP Congress in the second term refused to cooperate with the President? The question she does not answer is why given the obstructionism of the GOP should a Clinton administration be treated  any differently?  That is the central flaw in the message. Hillary wants us to see her as a transcendent political force that can somehow magically make the system work again and get the Republicans to behave more reasonably when it comes to their determination to continue to shower their rich backers with tax cuts.

How should she approach the challenge?  For a winning message in 2016 she must stop believing that simply having Bill join her as economic tsar will convince the 65% of the electorate that believe that the system is fundamentally unfair to support her in the swing states. The days of the Clinton magic if they ever existed are over for a variety of reasons--but mostly due to the cozying up of billionaires and hedge fund managers to the Clinton's various operations.  To win she will have to come clean and make public funding of elections as the Atlantic magazine argues "the first issue in her presidency, just as Johnson made passing the Civil Rights Act the first issue of his administration."  It will involve a difficult pivot --but one that she is fully capable of making--from successful power broker to acknowledging the system’s flaws that involve capture of the Congress by special interests most notably by Wall Street. She has no alternative but to  stop taking money from Wall Street and PACS and argue that she henceforth will like Bernie only be accepting donations from individuals. Only then can she find the political breathing space to craft a campaign that genuinely addresses the future and contrast that with the GOP's effort ever since Reagan was elected to turn the country into a plutocracy. She must help the electorate connect the dots between the GOP refusal to acknowledge climate change as a real threat to the planet’s survival by connecting the campaign contributions of Koch and Company to the Republican coffers. She must skewer their tax plans that are based on yet again another discredited idea that trickle down tax relief for the wealthy helps to create jobs. She needs to argue that the GOP are driven by a narrow right wing base that do not believe in government and would prefer to see government fail than work for ordinary people. She has to talk directly to the American people about her candidacy as a moral crusade for the future of the  country. Her candidacy must be less about her as a dynamic competent person (we all know that she is) and more about responding to the current generation who will be graduating from college deeply in debt and with fewer prospects of getting on the economic ladder to start families and to enter the middle class. To make this morally based politics resonate with the electorate she must accept the new political realities that are shaping 2016 as the year when Americans have had enough of status quo politics that no longer works to improve their lives.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Trump Supporters Share One Disturbing Quality

What unites Trump supporters? The media like to suggest that they are all angry at elites, upset by their declining living standards and are less educated. According to a recent University of Massachusetts,  poll as reported in Politico of 1,800 registered voters across the country and the political spectrum. found that "education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. Only two of the variables I looked at were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter."

According to Mathew McWilliams the author of the survey,  "Political pollsters have missed this key component of Trump’s support because they simply don’t include questions about authoritarianism in their polls. In addition to the typical battery of demographic, horse race, thermometer-scale and policy questions, my poll asked a set of four simple survey questions that political scientists have employed since 1992 to measure inclination toward authoritarianism. These questions pertain to child-rearing: whether it is more important for the voter to have a child who is respectful or independent; obedient or self-reliant; well-behaved or considerate; and well-mannered or curious. Respondents who pick the first option in each of these questions are strongly authoritarian."

We have seen this movie play out before. In Nazi Germany a despondent group of rabid nationalists, wanted to make "Germany great again"--and were looking for scapegoats, simplistic solutions and a totalitarian leader to show them the way.  His bully boy tactics at his rallies where he glories in the crowd's desire to expel any dissenting voices, his contempt for what he sees as weakness--McCain cannot be a war hero because he was captured, people with special needs deserve to be mocked and women who appear too aggressive and his anti Muslim rants need to be put in their place all resemble proto fascist moves. Lately his quick shout out to the KKK and David Duke and his song and dance with torture, suggest how far this ego maniac would go if left to his own devices.

If we learned anything from Nazi Germany it is that such people need to be consistently rejected not to be politely tolerated. Their abhorrent views need to be exposed and confronted at every turn. The Chris Christies' of the world that try to cozy up to power should get their reputations and their careers permanently damaged and the media should be ashamed if they start showing Trump speeches without serious critical commentary that rises above the "oh what large crowds he is attracting variety." They just need to examine the above picture to gain a sense of how Trump is currently taking a look at Mussolini's photo ops to fashion his current "serious" image. They might also benefit themselves and their audiences by reading a little history.  A course that Trump University unfortunately never provided.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sneak Preview of Chris Rock's Academy Awards Monologue

President Trump how do you all like that one?
So much for President Obama’s hope and change
He is the sort of change that I don’t think Obama was thinking about- a New York billionaire with enough gold fittings in his 757 to feed the population of Haiti for a month.

Good work Obama to have erased all memory of your campaign. Its as if you did not happen
we just went from the Bush to Trump without missing a beat. That healthcare stuff and saving the economy from fat cat predators like Trump--that did not really happen. You being the first black president --well that was kind of statistically interesting but not really that important in the long term march of progress.  We all  took the Kool Aid--now we are really so excited now to have new and improved healthcare, which means that we go back to our familiar Emergency Room doctor and our friends on Wall Street get to pay less taxes. But be grateful that you are not one of the  11 million illegals that will get deported back to Mexico.  We can all feel so much better to be protected from those rapists and thieves now they will be safely put behind that Mexico will pay for. That wall will also be a new tourist destination. A better legacy  than health care or even Trump Tower. And you can trust that Trump will surround himself with the best deal makers that money can buy.  While he is getting Mexico to pay for the wall they are planning how they can get the Saudis  to pay for the health care and Iran to pay for our nuclear weapons and China for our highways and bridges that are in a state of collapse. I mean he is only going to get the best talent.

I cannot wait to make America great again. I can see Chris Christie might get a job in your administration. How about Transportation secretary to make sure roads get closed at the right time for your limo parades down Trump Avenue--I mean Pennsylvania Avenue is such a boring name, we need some exciting upgrades to accompany that Trump Hotel you built down there in DC.  Maybe you can throw in the Lincoln bedroom as an upgrade to some visiting Saudi prince who knows who might come visiting.

I cannot also wait to see who you might pick as your next Supreme Court justice--who might it be--one of your sons? Your sister a federal judge would certainly qualify but we really don’t need so many females on the Supreme Court after all we have more now than at any time in our history and they can say irritating Megan Kelly type things that can upset you sometimes. We cannot have that.

But it will all be great, huge magnificent. Just like Trump University--that great institution of higher learning you built. Just like those Trump University students we will all study your one great book the "Art of the Deal" or was it the art of the scam. We dont need the Department of Education because its a drain on the Treasury. A better idea would be for people to pour their life savings into some scheme that will make them great millionaires or even billionaires just like you  as a result of  turning up to some drafty Holiday Inn Express somewhere and listening to some clown read from your award winning book.

Yes I can see students all over the country learning many patriotic lessons from your life story --
from the bribery investigation in New Jersey during the nineteen-seventies, to allegations that a Mafia-related company helped to build Trump Tower, to your hiring of illegals on your building projects. It will all make us so proud to have you as our next President. Something that will go down in history.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Shakespeare and Immigration

I was listening to Sir Ian McKellen who was promoting his new Sherlock Holmes movie on a recent podcast and he ended the interview by quoting from a little known speech from a seldom performed play, Sir Thomas More, that Shakespeare is known to  collaborated on. Known as the "strangers speech" it concerns the 1517 riots against the presence of immigrants in England which were recurring in the 1590s and attracted the censor's pen and the play was never performed despite( according to Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World)  alterations being made and  new scenes inserted. The strangers speech survived and we know it was written by the bard himself because his handwritten version of it is now in the British Library, classified as "Hand D."

It is a speech to the rabble to quell their anarchic and violent tempers made unruly due to their reaction to an influx of  new refugees from Europe. Although  similar in tone to the speeches about law and order the bard had crafted in numerous plays most notably Troilus and Cressida, it is less abstract, more modern and emotionally harder hitting than anything similar he had previously attempted.  I provide the text below but  McKellen's reading allows a modern ear to tune into its heartfelt power.

One cannot help when the world is undergoing its immigrant crisis to understand the message--we are all humans. We all deserve dignity. In a similar vein, Immanuel Kant calls the cosmopolitan  right of strangers "not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another.” It is Shakespeare at his most political and humane--recognizing that the right is a reciprocal one and constitutes our humanity. As the speech builds towards its crescendo we cannot help recognizing the universality of Shakespeare's "stranger's case" and the  "mountainish inhumanity" that allows us to ignore it.

For to the king God hath his office lent
Of dread, of justice, power and command,
Hath bid him rule, and willed you to obey;
And, to add ampler majesty to this,
He hath not only lent the king his figure,
His throne and sword, but given him his own name,
Calls him a god on earth. What do you, then,
Rising ’gainst him that God himself installs,
But rise against God? What do you to your souls
In doing this? O, desperate as you are,
Wash your foul minds with tears, and those same hands,
That you like rebels lift against the peace,
Lift up for peace, and your unreverent knees,
Make them your feet to kneel to be forgiven!
Tell me but this. What rebel captain,
As mutinies are incident, by his name
Can still the rout? Who will obey a traitor?
Or how can well that proclamation sound,
When there is no addition but a rebel
To qualify a rebel? You’ll put down strangers,
Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,
And lead the majesty of law in line,
To slip him like a hound. Say now the king
(As he is clement, if th’ offender mourn)
Should so much come to short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbor? Go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,—
Why, you must needs be strangers. Would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? This is the strangers’ case;
And this your mountanish inhumanity.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Smartest Kids in the World and how They Got That Way, by Amanda Ripley, A Review

Amanda Ripley a former Time reporter used to try to  avoid education stories because they were in a word “soft”--by this she means that they were largely human interest stories that traded on various cliches--well intentioned adults and kids turned into photo opportunities--smiling and silently following authority figures. Evidence that there was anything particularly replicable or important was usually lacking and the result was invariably feel good mush. Ripley’s book, The Smartest Kids in the World is a praiseworthy step in the opposite direction. Ripley  provides a lucid and largely non mushy account of how and why three school systems (Finland, Poland and South Korea) differ by allowing us to see these systems through the eyes of three articulate Americans as they spend a semester in these countries as a foreign exchange students. For anyone who has been put off by the typical faceless data heavy accounts as to how US schools are typically failing when measured against international metrics this book is for you.  In this book we gather a more nuanced view as to how our schools shape up internationally (or at least in comparison with those that typically excel on international comparison tests South Korea, Poland and Finland) by seeing them through the eyes of three American exchange students. The book is a great example of deep reported journalism for a broad audience of readers who would not normally pick up a book about educational policy for light reading but are drawn in by books’ basic conceit, how three US students who spend a semester studying abroad cope with the complexities such markedly different school systems.

Along the way Ripley helps us to learn a lot about the world of educational comparisons in a way that avoids the usual academic jargon. For example, you are introduced to the Pisa test that undergirds all the international testing which is not as you might have first imagined a
a challenge to build a jenga tower but stands for the Program for International Student  Assessment and developed by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and not about students solving difficult equations that would fox adults and children alike but rather tests the ability to think creatively.  By taking readers through her own process of preparing and then taking the test itself Ripley leaves us more impressed with the clever way the test really examines whether the student is able to apply critical thinking problem solving and literacy skills to questions that seem on the surface quite simple such as whether an interpretation of some statistics makes sense and to justify their opinion based on the facts they are provided.

Ripley also illuminates the difficult issue of ‘rigor’ a word that is often thrown around in education circles but as you read about the way all the systems discussed in the book treat education comes to mean more than just whether students work hard at school (as it tends to do in the US) but the extent to which all the components of the educational system from teacher training to parental and public expectations converge and support students wrestling with complex ideas.

“it wasn’t that public respect for teachers led to learning, as some American educators claimed after visiting Finland; it was that public respect for learning led to great thing led to another. Highly educated teachers also chose material that was more rigorous, and they had the fluency to teach it. Because they were serious people doing hard jobs and everyone knew it they got a lot of autonomy to do their work. That autonomy was another symptom of rigor. Teachers and principals had enough leeway to do their jobs like true professionals. They were accountable for results, but autonomous in their methods.”

Ripley is eloquent about why rigor matters and why educational policy in the US often interferes with its attainment because it invariably wants to eat away at teachers’ autonomy and prescribe outcomes that should be in the hands of professionals not bureaucrats. The ‘education superpowers’ (as she refers to the countries she studies) had a ‘clarity of purpose’ as to what counted that translated down to the students and their families. The systems enjoyed the synergy that comes from families and schools reinforcing students motivation to learn and do well at school. All students in these countries knew how and why education mattered to their lives but as Ripley sadly opines in many US schools “the priorities were muddled beyond recognition.” One of the chief muddling factors was the oversized space that sports had in American students lives. While only a minority of American students actually played competitive sports they played an outsize role in budgets and time devoted to them. Other countries cared about sports but they were typically organized by parents, community centers or clubs outside of school time. The time and the amount spent on sports in the US all sent the message that was different to the one in the other countries studied that “what mattered, what really led to greatness--had little to do with what happened in the classroom. That lack of drive made the teachers’ jobs harder, undercutting the entire equation.”

The book is worth reading just for the sections on rigor and why and how it makes a difference for disadvantaged students just as much for advantaged ones but there are so many other things to enjoy about the book and more importantly to reflect on. The Korean bargain to place far too much emphasis on testing so that school and cramming colleges turned education into a joyless enterprise should serve as a warning signal to all test minded enthusiasts. However, the opposite was also true--”moon bounce schools” (as Ripley refers to many US schools where improving self esteem rather than achievement were the end goals) produced kids who had no experience of what it meant to fail, and only later would “discover that they had been tricked” and had essentially wasted their time and would have to struggle if they were to obtain even a minimum wage job. Although politicians like Bush and Obama have through their various signature initiatives to inject rigor from the outside into faltering schools through new kinds of testing regimes, Ripley views them as promising more than they could deliver “lifting the floor but not the ceiling.” For a more complete approach one that raised the standards for all students people had to believe in and demand rigor as a result of recognizing why it mattered it economically. The author is persuasive on this point down as she recounts that all three of the countries studied passed reforms that propelled them to the top of the Pisa League Tables as a result of serious threats to their countries’ living standards. Part of the reason the US has resisted adding more rigor to the school experience has been the general preference of some sectors of the society to continue to deny the connection between schooling and economic success. Ripley uses the example of Oklahoma’s resistance to any form of rigorous standards or assessments as something of a test case. The repeated efforts by some Oklahoma lawmakers to defeat a simple graduation test as well as more recently the Common Core make for some bitter if  humorous reading as the old canard of federal control over local standards was wheeled out by a series of demagogic politicians. However, despite examples like Oklahoma Ripley seems encouraged that Americans are beginning to get it and to “feel the urgency, the unsettling proximity of change and competition. The truth is that US is a difficult country to compare internationally as it contains a wide amount of diversity--as she illustrates by one map that looks at states as if they were PISA countries--some states like Texas compare to Poland and many Northeastern states in particular compare well to some top PISA performers. A charter school chain like BASIS (operating in Washington DC and Arizona) can produce students who outscore the average student in Finland, Korea and Poland or even Shanghai the region that ranked first in the world on PISA in 2009. Ripley maintains the issue is one of leadership. Rather than allow politicians to  play with education to indulge in their own pet ideas that might include teacher bashing or federal control, leaders from all sectors including from business and universities need to help build the consensus that what matters is rigor that starts with high standards, accountability for outcomes and market driven compensation for talented teachers. Read this book and then insist that your friends, family and most important your political representatives also read it!