The leader of the coup in Honduras is having second thoughts, even as violence and repression continues to wrack the troubled Central American nation - and the Obama Administration struggles to find a middle path, and a new outlook for the hemisphere.
The AP reports that de facto president Roberto Micheletti, who led the military coup that packed off his elected predecessor in his pajamas at gun-point, is now open to ceding office back to the man he ousted, Manuel Zelaya. According to the report: "Zelaya left the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal, where he had settled his government-in-exile, to meet in the Nicaraguan capital with U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens, according to Kathleen Boyle, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua. She had no information on the content of the discussions. It was unclear whether Zelaya planned to return to Ocotal, where hundreds of his supporters are camped out in shelters."
This is a good sign for settling the crisis, and restoring democracy to Honduras, where big business interests and land-owners backed the illegal, violent coup. And it's also a decent sign that the Obama Administration may be starting to eat its own cooking - putting more meat behind its condemnation of the month-old coup. Its initial plan for mediation led by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias - along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's criticism of Zelaya's Nicaraguan gambit (which appeared to work in putting pressure on the rump regime) - seemed tepid, designed to balance traditionally reactionary U.S. policy toward leftist politicians in the hemisphere with a new willingness to talk about changing the old rules.
The Administration's bi-partisan instincts are being tested as well by the latest from Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican foreign policy veteran who wrote to Secretary Clinton this week asking for a clarification of the Administration's policy in Honduras - and threatening to "delay a Senate vote on the nomination of Arturo Valenzuela to be assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, the senior diplomat in charge of Latin America at the State Department."
But another Senator, former Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry, strongly endorsed the Obama mediation route - aimed at restoring President Zelaya to power through ongoing negotiations. Meanwhile, another protester was shot in Honduras today. And the path of President Obama's first major test in this hemisphere continued to wind.
Okay, that's a demijest. In truth, my one wish is something of a cliche - the right match for my kid, a place that challenges her academically, yes, but also challenges her longest-held ideas and settled rules (some of which, are mine and her mother's).
So far, it's been mostly a facilities tour, of course. It's what colleges sell. The physical plant, the quad, the collegiate vibe. And the facilities are amazing - virtual high-tech playgrounds of learning with upscale lounges, dorms and dining halls, all for a cool quarter mill per diploma. Did I mention the landscaping has improved since my days on campus in Reagan's first term? Wi-fi everywhere - you can practically feel the high-speed wireless pulsing through your skin. And then there's the preponderance of cafes and coffee shops, tucked into super-modern student centers. Bookstores bigger than the local Barnes & Noble - in fact, run by Barnes & Noble.
We're famously in the midst of a "college bubble" in this country, with more students seeking degrees than ever before. The demographic boom in college-aged kids, and our own societal expectations of a four-year-degree as the base-level credential to success, have flooded applicant pools. The competition is brutal, a withering attack on the academic self-esteem of even high-achieving 17-year-olds. Schools that had been a step above open enrollment are now highly competitive - while competitive schools are now close to impossible. Not surprisingly, this grueling process favors the wealthy; from pricey admissions coaches and individual test prep, to the notification that an applicants can pay the full ride in cash - and consider a major charitable gift besides.
Then there's the cost. The average tuition at a private four-year college is $25,143, with many topping $35,000. Toss in another $10-15,000 on average for room and board, plus books, travel and other fees - and the pricetag easily tops $50,000, or the take-home pay from a very good job. Yet, this isn't just inflation at work - it's ambition, land values and easy credit. There's been a massive building boom at colleges and universities, as well as a general fattening of payrolls. It's all about better campuses, better student "experiences" - and the competition with the quad down the block.
“A lot of it is definitely trying to keep up with the Joneses,” Daniel Bennett, a labor economist and the author of a report critical of collegiate spending, told The Times this spring. “Universities and colleges are catering more to students, trying to make college a lifestyle, not just people getting an education. There’s more social programs, more athletics, more trainers, more sustainable environmental programs.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education wondered this spring whether the college bubble would be the next to burst: "With tuitions, fees, and room and board at dozens of colleges now reaching $50,000 a year, the ability to sustain private higher education for all but the very well-heeled is questionable. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, over the past 25 years, average college tuition and fees have risen by 440 percent — more than four times the rate of inflation and almost twice the rate of medical care."
The Chronicle right asked: would consumers begin to resist finding ways to pay a grand a week for their children's college "experience"? If it does, it's likely to hurt those institutions who leveraged their assets - and smaller endowments - to keep up with the Ivy Joneses. As Forbes put it last year as the credit crunch smashed into the U.S. economy: "The crunch will be particularly bitter for the institutions that drained coffers to build 'country club colleges' complete with luxury dormitories, spas and top of the line sports complexes to lure choice students, hoping that a sharper crowd would lead to more accretive diplomas, entering a profitable cycle of more successful alumni and increased donations."
We didn't see any spas in our two college tours, but we did see cheerful upperclassmen serving as tour guides. Their amateur tour notes were in stark - and welcome - contrast to the slick presentations by admissions officers, who ran through all the wonderful programs available - before hitting the kids between the emotional eyes with median SAT scores, average GPAs, and minuscule acceptance rates. I much preferred the tours, with their stories of the best dorms and dining halls.
There are many more visits ahead, some serious pencil sharpening, and some tough choices. This process wasn't nearly as soul-scraping a generation ago, but it's basically unavoidable these days. We'll need some fortitude and some luck, and I'm hoping the oft-repeated guidance counselors' cliche happens to be right: there's a right school for every kid.
Sadly, I suspect Matt Taibbi may well be right about health care reform:
Who among us did not know this would happen? It’s been clear from the start that the Democrats would make a great show of doing something real, then they would fold prematurely, ram through some piece-of-shit bill with some incremental/worthless change in it, and then in the end blame everything on Max Baucus and Bill Nelson, saying, “By golly, we tried our best!”
Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with Max Baucus, Bill Nelson, or anyone else. If the Obama administration wanted to pass a real health care bill, they would do what George Bush and Tom DeLay did in the first six-odd years of this decade whenever they wanted to pass some nightmare piece of legislation (ie the Prescription Drug Bill or CAFTA): they would take the recalcitrant legislators blocking their path into a back room at the Capitol, and beat them with rubber hoses until they changed their minds.
This would be a horrific failure on the part of the Administration, the President, and the Democratic Party. Yet it looks like a fait accompli.
Amazin' Avenue's Sam Page had the hideous details:
In his press conference addressing the Tony Bernazard firing, Omar Minaya made a very explicit insinuation that Adam Rubin of the Daily News, who first broke the story of Bernazard's tantrums against Mets' minor leaguers, had an ulterior motive. Minaya stated that Rubin had lobbied for a job in the Mets organization. As user dcrockett17 pointed out, Rubin seemed to be the source of all the anti-Bernazard material, but regardless, this call-out looks like a seriously bad move by Minaya. Whether or not Rubin had another motive, Minaya is creating unnecessary controversy and definitely risking his job.
Rubin allegedly called Minaya "despicable" during the press conference and said he only inquired with Fred Wilpon about how to break into the industry. He went on to say, "I don’t know how I’m going to cover the team now… To make this type of accusation is obscene."
It's just the latest sad chapter in a season that finds the once-contending Mets mired six games under .500 and out of the running for the post-season in the year when they opened their shiny new $800 million replacement for Shea Stadium. As Chervokas just messaged me, this latest episode is "Dolanesque embarrassing." Phew. That's pretty tough. But well-deserved, alas. To gauge the pulse of despair on the Mets side of the baseball tracks, I turned to Twitter for company. Rough crowd:
I feel Omar is going to lose his job over this...what do you guys think?
Mets' Minaya losing control
So It’s Rubin’s Fault Bernazard Was Out Of Control?: Forgive me if I'm mistaken, but WTF?!
Adam Rubin just sold me a beer and two hot dogs, AND he wiped my seat dry! Thanks, Adam! Great hire, Mets!
The Mets really may be the worst team money can buy. I'm looking at their payroll right now: 2 mil for Alex Cora? 4.9 for Schneider?
Most surprising aspect of yet another #Mets mess: learning that they have a HR department.
Daily News now sponsoring the Mets PR Blunder of the game.
Quote a day for the Mets. As Ron Darling just said on TV: "It's an awful day in Metland."
Darren can't believe the Mets management did what they did today.....threw a reporter under the bus
Where have you gone....Willie Randolph?
Note to self: Don't ask anyone at Citi Field for career advice. Never ever ever ever ever.
Ah, don't worry. I hear George "The Stork" Theodore's rehab in Port St. Lucie is really coming along.
Such a counter-programmer is my friend Andrea Batista Schlesinger, the 32-year-old New Yorker and progressive activist whose first book The Death of Why holds up a big, fat stop sign to those who would celebrate under the banner "all that is modern is good."
[Note: Andrea is the longtime executive director of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, a progressive think tank on whose board of directors I've served since 2002. She's on leave from that position while working as a policy adviser to the reelection campaign of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.]
The Death of Why goes against the grain. It stands opposed to any triumphalist viewpoints regarding digital communications. You can easily read it as the diametric opposite of Jeff Jarvis's somewhat hagiographic What Would Google Do?, for example. Andrea doesn't believe the Internet in general - and Google specifically - has necessarily made us any smarter or more democratic as a society. While she praises the innovation of always-available information and the worldwide networked conversation made possible by the network of networks, she also strikes out at the idea of searching as knowledge, of linking as journalism or education.
And she uses one particular commentator's voice as a stalking horse for her arguments against the Internet-as-knowledge: mine. In the fourth chapter - In Google We Trust - Andrea posits that the "Internet responds to curiosity as much as it creates it" but argues that "searching for answers" isn't the same thing as answering questions. Then she quotes me: "Certainly we're in far better shape, in terms of tools and ability, for deep inquiry than we used to be."
Not so fast, argues Andrea. "When I survey the search engine landscape, I see conditions that are less than inspiring of 'deep inquiry' especially for our youngest. I see the formation of habits of mind characterized by a dangerous lack of discernment." And young people, she says, bounce around as guileless link and search-box addicts, mistaking the search-cut-paste process for deep inquiry.
This is undoubtedly true in many instances. I've seen it. But I'm not sure it's a bigger problem than the use of Cliff Notes or the Xerox machine by earlier generations. In the end, I'm not sure young Americans really are less inquisitive. That may be because of the field I've worked in for the last decade - progressive causes and philanthropy - tends to attract young, enthusiastic professionals who won't take no for an answer and seem to question everything. Then too, the social entrepreneurs I profiled in my book CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World were similarly driven to challenge every status quo they found - and to use digital technology to do so. Finally, my own three children are constantly questioning things that I tend to think of as settled subject matter, with no hesitation to challenge and probe and looks things up. They don't necessarily follow the leader.
Nonetheless, The Death of Why is an important book - and I think it's particularly timely, given the challenges that major American institutions (like big newspapers and Federal agencies) are facing in an increasingly crowd-sourced era. It's a great book for journalists concerned that the so-called "link economy" leaves serious inquiry out in the cold - and for e-government types who seek to go beyond merely making information available in vast databases but to actually encourage citizen involvement in our republic.
And this goes for newspapers, whose approaching demise the author mourns loudly. Currying no favor with the digerati, Andrea argues (and I agree) that the decline of news organizations is bad for democracy and that it's unlikely that blogs and online specialty sites will rise to replace the full gamut of professional journalism. "When you start the day with the newspaper," she writes, " you start with the recognition that you are a person in the world, with a need and responsibility to engage."
Throughout the book, Andrea decries the echo chamber of modern information and communications - the trend toward finding what you want (the viewpoint you already support) rather than coming across something you didn't know. That "self-segregation" does indeed permeate much of what we take as political dialogue for instance. Andrea decries the national political process in the modern age, panning the 2008 Presidential debates between Senators Obama and McCain as flimsy and personality-driven, and slyly pointing out that Hillary Clinton's campaign was rejuvenated when she came out of the bubble and started taking tough, unscripted questions. "The irony is that the candidates need not fear questioning," she says.
Perhaps the best quality of The Death of Why lies in its inherent skepticism toward what we've come to accept as the right way to approach learning, particularly public education. Andrea's a bit young for curmudgeon status, but her gruff and skeptical take on so-called "financial literacy" is welcome. So much of this kind of education is really marketing, priming the sales pump for future consumers. And if that passes for inquiry, we're in serious trouble. Writes Andrea: "Our democracy will suffer if the youngest among us grow up thinking that today's society and the economy that sustains it are working just as they should."
Parker shook his head in irritation. He hated this kind of thing, hurting people to make them talk. It was messy and time-consuming and there ought to be a better way. But there wasn't.
He found twine in a kitchen drawer, and tied her to the chair, and gagged her. She fought it, but not successfully. He left her right hand free and put paper and pencil on the table.
"Write the address when you're ready," he said. Then he reached for the kitchen matches.
Yeah, I'm letting down the side, I know. And it's not like I haven't had a wonderful vacation, tucked just behind the dunes of a roaring Atlantic beach, heaving myself into that roiling surf at least daily and making the rounds of mini golf, the movies, the bakery, the seafood takeout place, and the ice cream shop.
But my vacation anecdotes never seem - well - ennobling. Particularly fun. Elegant. Quaint. Or even observant on my part.
I'm no Lance Mannion. Now there's a guy who could pitch a beach chair in downtown Yonkers and make the experience sound like a grand getaway from the mundane - a rare and picturesque chance to experience humans in their habitat. Oh, he'd find a few wonderful characters all right. I'd see grime, a vicious fight for a parking spot, and the line at the DMV. Cape Cod may be crowded, expensive, over-developed and populated in summer by the over-privileged, but in Mannion's hands the villages out there are transformed into gems that rival those of Mayle's Provence - only better, and with Sawx fans. In truth, I look forward to Lance's annual Cape vacation almost as much as he does. Makes me feel better about the human condition, I guess. And I don't have to fight the traffic.
Nor can I rival Blue Girl's pineapple sundae stories or Fred Wilson's Stockholm travelogue or Ms. Peel's stirring UK sojourn - though I quite agree with her observation that "visiting Oxford is a completely different experience when you have something to do at a college, rather than just looking at it."
So here's my vacation "slice of life" story. Pardon me if it doesn't make you fill up the gas tank, throw the boogie board in the trunk, and head down the Garden State Parkway.
We checked into the tiny rent-a-wreck (selling points: nice screened porch, pets allowed, and only one house from the beach) late in the day and spread out our stuff. Across the street, a similar beach manse welcomed its weekly visitors: a crowd of younger fellas, each driving a jacked up SUV or pickup. They also unpacked: mainly cases of canned beer, stacked beverage mart style on the front lawn. Then they opened the doors to one two-story truck and cranked up the "modern country" music as loud as the various woofers and circuit boards would allow.
Now, this wasn't Brad Paisley's killer Telecaster chicken-pickin' - we're talking John Rich and Toby Keith at 125 decibels.* For a week. In my traffic-enhanced, car-packing empowered imagination. Steam was visible around my receding hairline. My wife counseled a wait-and-see attitude.
"Dad, let's check out the beach!"
Well, okay. So we strolled out the front door and headed toward the sand. Right past five of the young lads blasting Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue. Well-muscled fellows. Ridiculously so. We're talking supplemental chemistry here, folks. I stared over. Weighing a request to "turn it down a hair, fellas." Ultimately deciding on another strategy. Which is to keep on walking. Pay attention to the kids. Look at the ocean. Enjoy a cool libation. Get some soft shell crabs. Feel the salty sea breeze on my face. And unclench the teeth.
Smart choice - the week was pretty quiet across the street after all. Long about 10 pm, a car full of girlfriends pulled up. The macho factor dipped. The decibel level dropped. My wife was right. A lesson for nation states everywhere. And for scowling beachcombers.
* Note: I am not a musical snob. I swear it. I enjoy country music - saw Willie Nelson two weeks ago. It's the posing I can't stand. And the crappy production. And the racist Confederate flags.
There's a temptation to panic among my progressive blogging brethren - and to throw in the towel with histrionic gusto, like a Mets fan acknowledging one more bitter defeat. But thankfully, Nate Silver is there to put a little liquid courage in the goblets of those of us who believe the U.S. should adopt a public healthcare system worthy of the name "civilized nation" - and that the time to do so is now, early in the first term of a still-popular young President with a Democratic Congress.
The temptation whenever you happen to see Harry Reid on television talking about extending the clock on the most important legislation of the Obama Administration is to react the same way we generally do when witnessing Jerry Manuel writing Ollie Perez's name on the lineup card. That is to say, despair and defeatism bubble in the cauldron. But Silver thinks the darkness hasn't quite arrived on the edge of town:
By some point in August, the media will at least have tired of the present storyline and may in fact be looking for excuses to declare a shift in momentum and report that some relatively ordinary moment is in fact the "game changer" that the Democrats needed. This is not to say that the real, underlying momentum on health care has especially good -- and the Democrats' selling of the measure certianly hasn't been. But it hasn't been especially poor either . As I've said before, the health care process has played out just about how an intelligent observer might have expected it to beforehand.
Well, I still see the team team on the field, but miracles have been known to happen - so Nate's post was a welcome one tonight. Now I can get back to surfing the Donald Westlake canon down here at the shore: "solid protein reading matter," as James Wolcott rightly says.