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October 29, 2013

Obama's stuck between a rock and a hard place

By Cary Brunswick
The Daily Star

---- — Poor President Obama. If he hasn’t had a rough enough time of it dealing with House Republicans lately, now the facts are surfacing that we have been spying on dozens of world leaders, many our allies.

Naturally, the heads of state, especially Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, are outraged. And Obama doesn’t know whether to admit he knew about it years ago and let it continue, or fess up that he was in the dark and that therefore the National Security Agency has a life, and power, of its own. 

Either way, the damage has been done. “We need trust among allies and partners,” said Merkel, whose cell phone was allegedly tapped by the NSA. “Such trust now has to be built anew.”

At a rally in Washington on Saturday, it was good to see Americans finally showing some and anger and disgust about government spying on its own citizens. The revelations leaked in June by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the agency was spying on millions of Americans through their emails and cell-phone calls. 

Demonstrators held up signs reading “Thank you, Edward Snowden!” as they marched and rallied near the Capitol to demand that Congress investigate the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, according to the Associated Press.

Many Americans have shown little reaction to the spying, apparently believing that they would rather feel safe than free. The trouble is that once the government starts spying, can you really be safe?

•••

Back in Albany, Education Commissioner John King has been dealing with his own problems over the new Common Core curriculum and testing requirements. Already in hot water, he canceled a series of regional forums on the matter after he was shouted down at the first hearing in Poughkeepsie.

Facing even more heat, including from state Sen. James Seward, last week King reneged and scheduled another series of hearings, and in an attempt to quiet those crowds announced that some standardized tests would be eliminated. 

In a letter to the state’s school superintendents, King wrote that education officials “recognize that a variety of pressures at the state and local level may have resulted in more testing than is needed and in rote test preparation that crowds out quality instruction.”

King said the Board of Regents was considering eliminating an eighth-grade math test and others where possible in other grades. However, he noted that some tests are required by the federal government. Grants will be provided to help school districts reduce local standardized tests, his letter states.

The group Allies for Public Education, which called for King’s resignation last week, was not impressed.

“Eliminating a few standardized tests is like touching up the paint on a car and expecting it will run when in fact it has a faulty engine,” the group’s spokesman, Eric Mihelbergel, told the Associated Press. “Until the high-stakes nature of testing is removed and the collection of private personal student data is halted, our children will continue to be harmed.”

Likewise, a spokeswoman for the group Oneonta Area for Public Education urged concerned parents, taxpayers and teachers to “keep speaking out, writing to your legislators, voice your displeasure with a phone call to your regent, call for King’s resignation. Do what you have to! We will be heard!’’

•••

A group of upstate New York Indians will be meeting with National Football League officials this week in an attempt to end the racism implicit in the name of the football team in our nation’s capital.

The Oneida Indian Nation opposes the Redskins nickname as a slur, insisting the name is degrading and has devastating effects, especially on younger Indians, according to Ray Halbritter, an Oneida leader.

The tribe began advocating for a name change recently as the Washington Redskins dealt with the latest onset of criticism over their nickname. Even President Obama joined the debate, saying he would “think about changing” the name if he owned the team.

Though Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has said he will never change the team’s name, it is past time for a change. The Cooperstown school district this year eliminated the “Redskins” nickname for its school. A community effort came up with its new name, the “Hawkeyes.”

In the 1990s, Hartwick College was pressured to replace its Indian-based “Warriors” nickname, and came up “Hawks” to replace it.

If we can take such action in this area, then Washington should do it, too.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.