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With massive protests Romanians show strength

In a development reminiscent of the U.S. House of Representatives’ effort in January to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, the Romanian parliament passed a bill in effect decriminalizing its members’ corrupt practices.

Specifically, it stated that only theft or bribery amounting to a sum more than $48,500 would be prosecuted. Smaller pieces of larceny would, in effect, go unpunished.

Romania, population 22 million, is considered to be a Balkan crossroads of corruption. Its parliament’s members were no doubt counting on the country’s general tolerance of the practice to allow the measure to slip through without public reaction.

That turned out to be wrong. Romanians turned out in the streets of Bucharest, the capital, in the hundreds of thousands for six nights straight to demand that the decriminalizing statute be scrapped. Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu made such a pledge, but that did not dispel the demonstrators who continued to demand urgent parliamentary action to change the law. When that did not occur immediately, they demanded the resignation of the government, only elected in December.

It may be that public intolerance of government corruption is spreading across Europe, as well as possibly America. The French public has responded to press reports that Republican Party presidential candidate Francois Fillon, previously deemed the favorite to win the elections later in the spring, had put his wife on the parliamentary payroll for years, without her doing any work. At the moment, French polls show far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in first place, ahead of Fillon, among the candidates for the presidency.

Americans too, in spite of the consistently stagnant wages that have characterized the U.S. economy for decades, have, in general, shown a high tolerance for lawmakers’ own augmenting of their fortunes while in office. At least half of the members of Congress are millionaires, and the Cabinet nominated by new President Donald Trump is chock-full of very rich people. It is arguable that they will be more honest in office because they are already rich, but that may be hard for Trump’s “forgotten people,” working two or three jobs just to get by, to believe.​

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 8

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The real education of Betsy DeVos

It’s not that Betsy DeVos is a billionaire, or that she, her husband and kids didn’t attend public schools. It’s not even that her family has given donations to the very people who made her education secretary on Tuesday that makes her an unqualified and unsettling choice for the position.

No, it’s her antipathy for public schools, what she once called a “dead end.”

Yes, it’s the 21st century, and public schools have to change if they are to keep up with the free market, which has made deep incursions into their territory. But unless the charters she’s pushing throw open their doors to the tough-to-teach, the disabled, the English-challenged children, they will be left behind, as they are too often.

DeVos will now implement President Trump’s plan to steer $20 billion in existing federal public-education funds into vouchers that pay for private schools.

This appointment brought another first: DeVos will be an education secretary with zero public-education experience.

But she does have a long record of anti-public education activism. She is considered a major force in dismantling the nation’s public school system, which she says has failed our students, a simplistic overstatement. She believes — with all her heart and money — that vouchers to private and religious and charter schools are the way to fix the nation’s education crisis. She and her organizations, like the American Federation for Children, have spent $33 million to support school privatization efforts.

DeVos is no friend of the public school system, whose educators say charter schools and vouchers for private schools cannibalize the public school system — a system that still educates 90 percent of the nation’s children. Charters and private schools are also criticized for selectively skimming the cream of the crop among students, while public schools take all.

It’s a shame that DeVos, like other Trump cabinet nominees, will be charged with dismantling vital and effective departments from within. It’s a cruel joke that stands to benefit the few and, perhaps, the privileged, while leaving the vast majority of students, including those who parents are ardent Trump supporters, out in the academic cold.

Miami Herald, Feb. 8

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