A Victory for Transparency in Government

October 21, 2016


(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

For decades, the Congressional Research Service has worked very hard to keep its reports to Congress hidden from public view. But now, thanks to the efforts of a group of activists and two members of Congress, the cat is not only out of the bag, but it is eating up all the spilled beans:

A guerrilla group of open-records activists struck a major blow for sunshine in government Wednesday when it posted more than 8,200 reports from the Congressional Research Service, Capitol Hill’s nonpartisan think tank whose research is usually closely guarded.

Demand Progress posted the reports at EveryCRSReport.com, giving the public an unprecedented look at the kinds of information accessible to lawmakers on nearly every subject that comes before Congress.

The reports have been available to lawmakers and thousands of staffers on Capitol Hill with access to the internal computer network, but the CRS balked at requests to broaden access, saying its mission was to report to Congress, not to the public.

“For more than 20 years, the public has clamored for Congress to systematically release CRS reports to the public,” said Daniel Schuman, a former CRS attorney who is now policy director at Demand Progress and who spearheaded the effort. “Congress must do better, and this new website points the way forward.”

He said his group has posted every publicly available report and redacted only the names, phone numbers and email addresses of the analysts who wrote them. The group also added a statement about copyrights of information in the documents, addressing one of the concerns the CRS had offered.

Congress has jealously guarded its reports, with lawmakers even voting down efforts to have CRS itself make the documents readily available.

But that has never been a unanimous stance, and some lawmakers have fought for more access.

Stymied by their colleagues, two members of Congress — one Democrat and one Republican, whom the group did not name — are providing access to the reports to Demand Progress.

They include 723 reports on constitutional issues, 211 reports on immigration policy, 592 on health policy, 18 on Indian affairs and more than 1,500 reports on Congress‘ spending powers and the programs it chooses to fund. Each of those reports is publicly available to all Capitol Hill staffers on the network.

You can find the reports at the aptly named EveryCRSreport.com. Reports of likely interest to JayBlog readers include:

  • The Law of Church and State: Public Aid to Sectarian Schools” (2011): “This report gives a brief overview of the evolution of the Court’s interpretation of the Establishment Clause in this area and analyzes the categories of aid that have been addressed by the Court. The report explains which categories have been held to be constitutionally permissible or impermissible, both at the elementary and secondary school level and at the postsecondary level.”
  • Campus-Based Student Financial Aid Programs Under the Higher Education Act” (2016): “Three Higher Education Act (HEA) student financial aid programs—the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program, the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program, and the Federal Perkins Loan program—collectively are referred to as the campus-based programs. […] This report describes the FSEOG, FWS, and Federal Perkins Loan programs. It also presents historical information on appropriations provided for the programs and the federal student aid that has been made available to students through the programs.”
  • Charter School Programs Authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA Title V-B): A Primer” (2014): “While the charter school programs have not been reauthorized since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB; P.L. 107-110) in 2002, they continue to receive funding through the annual appropriations process. In addition, since FY2010, substantive changes have been made to the programs through annual appropriations acts, including allowing or requiring the Secretary to make grants to nonprofit charter management organizations (CMOs) and other nonprofit entities for the replication and expansion of successful charter school models.”

If you find anything interesting, be sure to let us know in the comment section below.

The Maestros Sit Awkwardly on their Dunce Caps Hoping that You Won’t Notice

October 21, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

It’s  become increasingly difficult not to suspect that the Federal Reserve and other central banks have traded in their maestro status for a dunce cap that they are desperate to hide from the rest of the class.  The former head of the Reserve Bank of India was kind enough to admit that central bankers basically don’t know what they are doing. Today this piece from Jeffery Snider- Economists are Blind to What they Don’t Know– makes an important point:

What all these have in common is more than just interest rates or TED spreads, even global depression; it is the entire idea of technocracy itself. Since before Plato, people have dreamed of a utopia where enlightened, dispassionate philosophers would govern and guide messy, often awful human existence toward and into “optimum” outcomes. It took until “economics” in the latter half of the 20th century for such hubris to take literal hold; there is an entire branch of the “science” dedicated through statistics just so to determining both “optimal outcomes” as well as the duty to “nudge” people toward them using the power of government if need be.

Economics is where technocracy was tried in widescale fashion first, and where it was thought at one time perhaps perfected. The Greenspan Fed, before the dot-com bust it needs to be pointed out, was believed by far too many the Socratic Ideal brought at long last to our world. So enthralling was the arrogance that it has been rationalized down by reality to what looks more like a cult than anything. Don’t believe market warnings, continue to believe The Fed Chair even though she finally confessed that economists can’t afford to keep assuming how little they know is enough. I am absolutely positive the next great psychological case will be written of the consistently imaginative dissonance leftover from When Policies Fail. It has already been started.

Remy for The Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

October 16, 2016


(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

If you’ve never heard of Remy Munasifi (a.k.a. GoRemy), I feel sorry for you for two reasons: first, because you have until now been deprived of his comedic genius, and second, because you will get no work done for the rest of the day as you cycle through hilarious music video after even more hilarious music video.

Remy deserves to win the 2016 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award because, like previous winner “Weird Al” Yankovic, he has improved the human condition “by making us laugh at the the absurdity of many who think highly of themselves,” whether corrupt or vacuous politicians, incompetent or abusive government bureaucrats, clueless celebrities, inane media outlets, smug activists or Petty Little Dictators of all stripes.

If ever there were a year when we needed more of that, it’s 2016.

Remy is a thirty-something, Arab-American comedian who, like Weird Al, satirizes society and culture through parody music videos. His first video to go viral was his 2009 gangsta-rap parody of the lily-white “Whole Foods” culture of the D.C.-suburb, Arlington, Virginia–a video that racked up more than 300,000 views in one day and has now been seen more than 2.3 million times. His series of videos about Arab culture are even more popular–his video “Saudis in Audis” has more than 9.5 million views. However, much of Remy’s work is more explicitly political, although not partisan, particularly the videos he has produced for the libertarian ReasonTV.

For example, Remy’s “Cough Drops-The Mandate” mocks both Republicans and Democrats for the different ways in which they use government to intrude on our lives, and suggests to the viewer that perhaps we can solve many of our problems without getting the government involved.

But politicians and bureaucrats aren’t the only targets of his satire. Remy brutally mocks people who think they are saving the world on Twitter in “I Need a Hashtag!”:

Remy strikes a similar chord in “How to React to Tragedy.” In recent years, but particularly in 2016, we’ve seen a disturbing trend in the wake of tragedies as people rush to exploit them for their own political ends. Remy doesn’t spare either side:

Remy’s videos are striking not only for their clever wordplay and witty pop-culture allusions, but also for offering a taste of the highest form of social criticism. As the great political theorist Michael Walzer described in his seminal work Interpretation and Social Criticism, there are different types of social critics. The type favored in academia idealizes “radical detachment,” the social critic as “dispassionate stranger,” whose freedom from any attachment to the people whom he criticizes allows him the necessary emotional distance to speak painful but necessary truths. This form of criticism can be beneficial, but it can also lead the critic to despise the people whom he is criticizing, and they know it. That reduces the effectiveness of the critic, sometimes reducing the criticism to mere virtue signaling.

Another model is what Walzer calls the “connected critic,” who stands somewhat apart from the community and can therefore see it in ways that the masses often do not, but who is nevertheless “one of us.” As Walzer writes:

Perhaps he has traveled and studied abroad, but his appeal is to local or localized principles; if he has picked up new ideas on his travels, he tries to connect them to the local culture, building on his own intimate knowledge; he is not intellectually detached. Nor is he emotionally detached; he doesn’t wish the natives well, he seeks the success of their common enterprise.

As with blacks and Jews in America, Remy’s status as a native-born American-Arab in the post-9/11 world makes him an insider-outsider, giving him a perspective that is ripe for both comedy and social criticism. He combines them well. His comedy is biting, but not mean-spirited. His videos contain sharp indictments of the American government and society more generally, but you can sense in them a deep love for the ideals of America. He is not a Chomskyite social critic condemning America as irredeemably corrupt and founded upon the wrong values, but rather a connected critic, in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., calling on America to live up to its highest ideals.

Take, for example, “Why They Fought,” in which Remy contrasts the spirit of liberty for which American soldiers have fought and died against today’s domestic surveillance, airport security theater, pervasive and complex taxes, and mountains of micromanaging regulations (which are recurring themes, as the previous links attest).


As an Arab-American, he’s also an insider-outsider in relation to Arab society and culture. His satirical takes on Arab culture–from a hip-hop paean to hummus to an ode to grape leaves set to the tune of a Nirvana classic–are humorous and even loving. However, he satirizes institutions like arranged marriage, laws against women driving, niqabs, morality police, etc.–topics that many comedians fear to touch lest they be labeled a racist or Islamophobe. Coming from someone else, these critiques may have been seen as mean-spirited and fallen on deaf ears, but Remy has a following among people with Arab heritage. He even toured with other Arab-American comedians in the “Axis of Evil” tour as his alter ego, Habib Adbul Habib, who is “Baghdad’s worst comedian.”


Whether satirizing Arab or American culture, this Arab-American’s comedy holds up a mirror that exposes our worst selves but also calls on us to be our best selves. He is the comedian and social critic that America needs and deserves right now. Remy may not need to win The Al, but he certainly deserves it.

 *          *          *          *          *

BONUS MATERIAL. Here are a couple of Remy’s education-themed music videos that JayBlog readers will enjoy:

“Straight Outta Homeroom” on the absurdity of “zero tolerance” policies (think Pop Tart guns):

“Students United (Tuition Protest Song)” on clueless college students who can’t understand why the tuition at their fully loaded, theme-park campus is so expensive:


Nominated for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award: Yair Rosenberg

October 16, 2016

The 2016 presidential election is a reminder of just how horrible the world can be.  Like Ben Shapiro, who was a star reporter at Breitbart before their pro-Trump-putsch, I used to think that tales of right-wing anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and other backwoods fascists were largely ghost stories the Democratic party told Jews to keep them from venturing out of the party’s tent.  I imagined that maybe 10% of the population adhered to these fringe beliefs on the right and perhaps another 10% believed in the left-wing version of Jew-hating conspiracy craziness.

Like Shapiro I now have to admit that I was wrong.  This election has brought the crazies out of the woodwork and it is clear they are not a tiny fringe.  America is not as moderate and sensible as I always believed.  We can see evidence of this not only from the huge spike in “alt-right” activity in social media, but also from the large number of voters supporting hateful nonsense in the primaries and in general election polls.

America has a real fascism problem. So, what are we supposed to do about this?  One essential weapon in the anti-fascist arsenal is humor.  Charlie Chaplin mocked Hitler in The Great Dictator. Stanley Kubrick ridiculed Soviet despots as weepy drunks in Dr. Strangelove.  Latin American dictators in the mold of Che Guevera and Fidel Castro were portrayed as silly madmen in Woody Allen’s Bananas and in Alan Arkin’s The In-Laws.

Part of the attraction of these dangerous despots to their crazed followers is the appearance of strength and stature.  And part of the attraction of fascist movements to the stupid and weak is the illusion that they may be part of something great and powerful.  Mocking fascists undermines this appeal by revealing how ridiculous they actually are.

This is why my nominee for the 2016 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award is Yair Rosenberg.  Rosenberg is a journalist who writes mostly for Tablet Magazine, but his work has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Magazine and elsewhere.  But the forum in which Rosenberg excels in mocking anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and other backwoods fascists is Twitter.  You might say that he is the Picasso of trolling the “alt-right” and Twitter is his canvass.

One of Rosenberg’s most common methods for mocking the alt-right is to take internet memes they have adopted to spread their views and modify those memes so that they advocate for the opposite.  For example, the alt-right has adopted “Pepe the Frog” as one of their symbols.  Rosenberg turns the meme on its head by putting a Mossad t-shirt on Pepe that declares “It’s Never an Accident.”

Similarly, the alt-right has adopted images of Taylor Swift (much to her horror) as their symbol of blond-haired, blue-eyed purity and have her saying horrible neo-Nazi statements.  Rosenberg modifies the meme, making Taylor a Zionist Jew:
Another strategy Rosenberg has for mocking anti-Semites on Twitter is to treat their conspiracy theories seriously and suggest what the consequences might be if they were true.  For example:

Robert Pondiscio Calls the Social Justice Bluff

October 13, 2016

That look on someone's face When you call their bluff

Several months ago Robert Pondiscio started a little storm within the education reform movement by raising alarms regarding the movement’s heavy leftward tilt over the last several years.  I joined the fray emphasizing that the social justice takeover of ed reform organizations was politically foolish since state-based Republicans are the ones who do almost all of the work in actually adopting meaningful ed reform.  I tried to address the political foolishness of alienating your key backers while making futile attempts to woo one’s opponents by providing some basic lessons from political science.  And Matt Ladner warned ed reformers against marching into a political dead-end alley.  Many others added their two cents, including Max Eden, Rick Hess, and Derrell Bradford.

But Robert Pondiscio — the man who sparked this debate — has topped all of us with the post to end all posts on the social justice wars in ed reform.  It is part of an excellent forum that Education Next has organized on the topic.  Pondiscio accurately describes the angry reaction of white ed reform leaders to his original piece and their call to remedy the fact that “The leaders of reform organizations are mostly white, and mostly from backgrounds of relative privilege, creating a stark contrast with the communities, and leaders, of color that demand rapid improvements in their schools.”

In his new piece Pondiscio calls their bluff.  If creating greater diversity among ed reform leaders is a priority for these white social justice leaders, why don’t they step aside and let more people of color take their jobs?  They say actions speak louder than words, unless, as it appears, these leaders care more about words than actions.  The failure of these national organizations to cause much action in changing state policies seems to reinforce the point.

Here’s the heart of Pondiscio’s piece:

The founder and leader of Education Post is Peter Cunningham, who was an assistant secretary for communication at the U.S. Department of Education under Arne Duncan, with whom he also served when Duncan ran Chicago Public Schools a decade ago. Cunningham has worked in PR, politics, and for small weekly newspapers but never, to my knowledge, as a teacher. He’s also a middle-aged white man. He is, in the argot of social justice thought, deeply privileged….  But if Education Post is serious about “elevating the voices” of the communities it serves, at some point it should be run—should it not?—by someone representative of those communities.

What about now? What about right now? What about Marilyn Anderson Rhames?

I ask this not to be mischievous, but to call the question and settle one of ed reform’s most sensitive debates. When I published my now-infamous piece earlier this year, it prompted, in addition to Rhames’ piece and others, an “open letter” signed by 170 “white education leaders” (including, not incidentally, much of the staff of Education Post) who took serious exception to my critique and lamented reform’s failure to put people of color in leadership positions.

“The education reform coalition has a problem,” the letter started. “Unlike other historical movements dedicated to the urgent betterment of social conditions, the most prominent leadership and voices of the school improvement coalition have not been representative of the communities that the effort hopes to serve. The leaders of reform organizations are mostly white, and mostly from backgrounds of relative privilege, creating a stark contrast with the communities, and leaders, of color that demand rapid improvements in their schools.”

All true, but this elides an awkward truth. Closing the achievement gap will take decades. Closing the leadership gap can be done this afternoon. All it takes is for the “white, privileged leaders” who signed the letter to recruit a person of color and step aside. The right person, like Rhames, might already be on staff, already contributing to the movement as a foot soldier or subordinate but not occupying a position of leadership or authority.

My paramount concern, almost completely unaddressed in the outsized reaction to my piece, remains that a militant leftward tilt in education reform endangers the longstanding bipartisan political support that has long fueled the movement. Neither do I believe that the only children poorly served by their schools are from families of color. But it makes little sense to bemoan “the extraordinary flaws and shortsightedness in our own leadership for letting the field become so lopsidedly white.” This is, as Teach For America likes to tell its corps members, within your locus of control. Those who signed the “open letter” may believe they are standing on principle. But if their theory of change rests on diversifying leadership, they are mostly standing in the way.

I invite those leaders to step aside for the greater good. No more open letters. No more manifestos. No more virtue signaling on Twitter. Either you are serious about the need to diversify the leadership of the reform movement, or you are not. It simply will not do to congratulate yourselves for being “brave leaders” and cluck earnestly at conferences about the need for education reform to “look like the communities it serves” year after year, while blocking exactly those people from the positions you insist they deserve.

To be clear, I continue to question whether the ed reform movement at large is properly viewed as a race-focused “social justice” movement or a broad school improvement initiative benefitting all children, thereby serving social justice ends. But let’s not quibble. If diversity of leadership is integral to your theory of change, why not practice within your organizations? And why not do it now?

Our infant nation survived George Washington relinquishing power and returning to his fields at Mount Vernon. Ed reform will survive without its current cadre of self-flagellating white leaders.

What – what exactly – is stopping you?

Nominations Solicited for the 2016 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

October 6, 2016

It is time once again for us to solicit nominations for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.  The criteria of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award can be summarized by quoting our original blog post in which we sang the praises of Al Copeland and all that he did for humanity:

Al Copeland may not have done the most to benefit humanity, but he certainly did more than many people who receive such awards.  Chicago gave Bill Ayers their Citizen of the Year award in 1997.  And the Nobel Peace Prize has too often gone to a motley crew including unrepentant terrorist, Yassir Arafat, and fictional autobiography writer, Rigoberta Menchu.   Local humanitarian awards tend to go to hack politicians or community activists.  From all these award recipients you might think that a humanitarian was someone who stopped throwing bombs… or who you hoped would picket, tax, regulate, or imprison someone else.

Al Copeland never threatened to bomb, picket, tax, regulate, or imprison anyone.  By that standard alone he would be much more of a humanitarian.  But Al Copeland did even more — he gave us spicy chicken.

Last year’s winner of “The Al” was the internet humorist, Ken M.  Ken M did more to improve the human condition than just make us laugh by making idiotic comments on social media (although that would have been enough).  His humor reveals the ridiculousness of people trying to change the world by arguing with people on the internet.  Given how much time ed reformers waste on social media, especially the soon-to-be-sold Twitter, Ken M’s humor is a useful reminder that many of the people reading your posts are probably not much swifter or influential than the Ken M persona.  Ken M beat a set of strong nominees, including Malcolm McLean, Gary Gygax, and John Lasseter.

The previous year’s winner was Peter DeComo, the inventor of the Hemolung Respiratory Assist System.  To save a life DeComo had to trick border control officials to bring a model of his artificial lung machine into the US from Canada because the device had not yet been fully approved by the FDA.  DeComo won over a worthy field, including Marcus Persson, the inventor of Minecraft, Ira Goldman, the developer of the “Knee Defender,”  Thomas J. Barratt, the father of modern advertising, and Thibaut Scholasch and Sébastien Payen, wine-makers who improved irrigation methods.

The 2013 winner of “The Al” was Weird Al Yankovic.  Weird Al beat an impressive set of nominees, including Penn and Teller, Kickstarter, and Bill Knudsen.

The 2012 winner of “The Al” was George P. Mitchell, a pioneer in the use of fracking to obtain more, cheap and clean natural gas. Mitchell won over a group of other worthy nominees:  Banksy, Ransom E. Olds, Stan Honey, and Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes.

In 2011 “The Al” went to Earle Haas, the inventor of the modern tampon.  Thanks to Anna for nominating him and recognizing that advances in equal opportunity for women had as much or more to do with entrepreneurs than government mandates.  Haas beat his fellow nominees:  Charles Montesquieu, the political philosopher, David Einhorn, the short-seller, and Steve Wynn, the casino mogul.

The 2010  winner of  “The Al” was Wim Nottroth, the man who resisted Rotterdam police efforts to destroy a mural that read “Thou Shall Not Kill” following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist.  He beat out  The Most Interesting Man in the World, the fictional spokesman for Dos Equis and model of masculine virtue, Stan Honey, the inventor of the yellow first down line in TV football broadcasts, Herbert Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical and subverter of a German chemicals cartel, and Marion Donovan and Victor Mills, the developers of the disposable diaper.

And the 2009 winner of “The Al” was  Debrilla M. Ratchford, who significantly improved the human condition by inventing the rollerbag.  She won over Steve Henson, who gave us ranch dressing,  Fasi Zaka, who ridiculed the Taliban,  Ralph Teetor, who invented cruise control, and Mary Quant, who popularized the miniskirt.

Nominations can be submitted by emailing a draft of a blog post advocating for your nominee.  If I like it, I will post it with your name attached.  Remember that the basic criteria is that we are looking for someone who significantly improved the human condition even if they made a profit in doing so.  Helping yourself does not nullify helping others.  And, like Al Copeland, nominees need not be perfect or widely recognized people.