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Christmas tree growers battle against popularity of plastic

By Lydia Mulvany and Megan Durisin
Christmas tree growers battle against popularity of plastic
Workers harvest Christmas trees at Brown's Tree Farm in Muncy, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Nov. 29, 2017. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Luke Sharrett.

Millennials have earned a reputation for loving consumer products that are local and artisanal. So why are they buying so many plastic Christmas trees?

That's the question irking Tim O'Connor, the executive director of the Christmas Tree Promotion Board in Littleton, Colorado. To help capture more buyers, growers are positioning themselves as analogs to the local and organic food movement. Real trees have all the things younger adults are drawn to, he said, touting authenticity, benefits to the environment and support for regional economies.

They've got their work cut out for them. While almost 95 million U.S. households will display a Christmas tree this season, only 19 percent of those are expected to be real, according to a survey conducted by Nielsen for the American Christmas Tree Association released Thursday. While some houses display both types of trees, most will be putting up artificial trees, usually made from plastic and coming from factories sometimes located across the globe.

The tide could already be starting to change, according to George Richardson, the co-owner of Richardson Farms in Spring Grove, Illinois, who's a fifth-generation farmer. He plants 10,000 seedlings a year on his operation, where buyers can choose and cut their own tree.

"Real Christmas trees were immensely popular in 40s 50s 60s 70s 80s, and then the fake trees got in," Richardson said. "For a while, people thought, this is so convenient, let's do that. Now we're finding out that maybe they're not the healthiest, pristine thing we thought they were, and they'll end up in a landfill."

The best customers of real trees are families with children. Older adults from the Baby Boomer generation are becoming empty-nesters, while millennials -- a cohort of young people now aged about 18 to 35 -- are on the cusp of starting families. That's left a gap for real trees, which have lost buyers as artificial trees gained.

But the real-tree industry says there's potential to win big over the next decade as young families bloom. Only 20 percent of millennials currently have young children, O'Connor of the farmer-funded Christmas Tree Promotion Board said. That leaves the lion's share of the biggest generation -- and their future Christmas traditions -- still up for grabs.

O'Connor is also hoping to capture younger consumers' interest in sustainable products to boost sales. Real Christmas trees are farm-grown like a crop, not cut from a forest, he said. They grow on grounds not suitable for higher value crops, turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, and their roots hold soil in place. When they're cut, a new one is planted, and after being used, they can be recycled into mulch. Oregon is the top growing state.

Still, artificial trees appeal to consumers looking for re-usability and convenience, said Jami Warner, the Sacramento-based executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association, which promotes both the farm-grown and manufactured varieties. It can be set up in minutes and there's no mess or watering involved.

Another hurdle for real trees: rising prices.

A real Christmas tree will probably cost about 10 percent more this year compared with last, said Doug Hundley, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association, which represents growers. Tree supplies are tight, and demand is expected to be robust due to the healthy economy and signs that consumers are set to splurge this holiday.

Supplies are still in recovery mode after plantings took a hit during the recession in 2008. It takes as long as 10 years for a tree to grow to market height, so plantings made during the slump are coming to market now.

There could be regional shortages and short supplies even in big box stores closer to Dec. 25, according to Hundley.

"People have extra money to spend on Christmas, so there's lots of pressure on the demand side," he said.

Intrigue grows over what sparked the attack on Rand Paul

By Justin Jouvenal
Intrigue grows over what sparked the attack on Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul, right, emerges from the Senate dining room on Nov. 14. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Rand Paul was on the verge of becoming a powerful senator and the nation's leading libertarian. His neighbor was a successful doctor and Kennedy-style Democrat who favored nationalized medicine.

They might have sparred over health care or taxes, but an acquaintance of both said they stood in their yards roughly a decade ago shouting at each other over the grass clippings Paul's mower had shot on Rene Boucher's property.

" 'I ask him, I tell him and he won't pay attention,' " the acquaintance, Bill Goodwin, recalls Boucher saying after the argument. " 'One of these days.' "

That day may have come recently, when Boucher's attorney said in an interview his client attacked Paul over long-simmering disagreements between the two about the care of grass, trees and other landscaping on their adjacent properties in an exclusive gated community.

The account marks the first time either side has offered a reason for one of the nation's most talked-about political mysteries: What sparked the worst attack on a sitting senator in decades?

The assault left Paul, 54, with six cracked ribs, a case of pneumonia and briefly sidelined during a crucial debate over a tax overhaul in Washington. Boucher, 59, has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge in the case and could yet face more serious consequences.

Federal prosecutors said they are investigating the case. Boucher could be charged under several federal statutes, including one rarely used provision that bars assaults on members of Congress and other high-ranking government officials.

Intrigue has deepened in the weeks since the Nov. 3 assault as Paul and Boucher have remained largely quiet about what prompted it. Neither would comment for this article.

Into the vacuum, competing theories for the assault have been floated, like so many Washington trial balloons. They range from the mundane, such as bad blood over spoiled views of a lake, to the outlandish - an Antifa plot.

Some conservative media outlets have suggested the attack might have been motivated by Boucher's liberal politics. Paul appeared to endorse that idea by retweeting the stories. Boucher, a registered Democrat, was critical of President Donald Trump on his now-deleted Facebook page.

Paul, who gave his first TV interview about the attack last week with Fox News, said he had not talked to Boucher in 10 years, but didn't say what caused the assault. He said it was beside the point.

"After my ribs were broken then he said things to me to try to indicate why he was unhappy but I think the, I guess to me the bottom line is it isn't so important - if someone mugs you is it really justified for any reason?" Paul said.

Kelley Paul, his wife, also penned an op-ed for CNN, casting doubt on the idea that landscaping or anything else Paul did had prompted the attack. She said any dispute existed only in Boucher's "troubled mind."

"It is incredibly hurtful that some news outlets have victimized Rand a second time as he struggles to recover," Kelley Paul wrote.

But so far, interviews with friends and area residents who would talk, and a review of court files and police records that have been made public reveal only the type of small-time neighborly conflict that has vexed many a suburban relationship.

"There is absolutely no political motivation behind this," said Boucher's attorney Matthew J. Baker. "It all stems from maintenance, or lack of it, at these two neighboring properties."

Boucher, who employed professional landscapers, didn't see eye-to-eye with Paul, who delighted in doing his own yard work and had an independent streak about the care of his property in keeping with his libertarian beliefs.

"Rene is meticulous about a lot of items in life. He's neat. It's the doctor in him. Everything had to be just right. The yard was one of them," Goodwin said. "It's been a running feud."

---

For more than a month, the heavy wrought-iron gates of the Rivergreen community have concealed the bizarre saga. With a buzz, they slowly swung open on a recent Sunday.

Despite calls to dozens of residents, just one was interested in taking a reporter by the scene of the assault. Jim Skaggs, the co-developer of Rivergreen and a local Republican politico, said the attack has divided residents and left them scratching their heads.

"I'm dumbfounded," Skaggs said, echoing the sentiments of others in the neighborhood. "You have two wealthy, very accomplished doctors. It's difficult to understand this level of action arising from a property dispute."

As Skaggs talked, he wheeled his SUV past the large custom homes of doctors, lawyers and bankers. The properties are nestled on rolling green lots around a sparkling, 16-acre man-made lake.

Skaggs came to a stop between Boucher and Paul's homes. Boucher, a retired and divorced anestheologist and Paul, an ophthalmologist, have been neighbors for 17 years and once worked at the same hospital.

Boucher's gabled home sits on a corner lot across a sloping expanse of grass and trees from Paul's red brick colonial. It was in that territory that Kentucky State Police said the assault occurred.

Baker said the old tensions over landscaping were triggered on Nov. 3 by a fresh incident he declined to detail.

In his interview with Fox News, Paul said he was blindsided by the attack.

"I was working in my yard with my earmuffs on, you know, to protect my hearing from the mower and I had gotten off the mower, facing downhill and the attacker came running full blown," Paul said. "I never saw him, I never had conversation - in fact, the weird thing is, I haven't talked to him in 10 years."

Kentucky State Police said they were called to the scene shortly after 3:20 p.m., according to a police report. Authorities said Boucher admitted going on to Paul's property and tackling him.

After an investigator interviewed both men and left the scene to consult with a prosecutor, Boucher was charged with fourth-degree assault after 8 p.m. that night, Baker said.

Police said Paul initially refused medical care, thinking the injuries were minor, but eventually was treated as the extent of the damage done by the tackle became more apparent.

"He is profoundly regretful," Baker said of Boucher. "He wishes this had never happened."

Friends and neighbors said both men were similarly driven and devoted to medicine, but with one crucial difference.

Skaggs said Boucher was exacting about the standards for his yard - landscaping bags filled with waste were a common site on his property. Neighbors said Paul had a reputation for a more relaxed style that some felt didn't always jibe with a community that features gas lamps, Greek statuary and a 13-page packet of rules.

The senator had a pumpkin patch, compost and unraked leaves beneath some of his trees. Goodwin said it annoyed Boucher that Paul did not consistently cut his grass to the same height, and leaves from Paul's trees blew on his property.

Baker, Boucher's attorney, said Paul and his client had stopped speaking for a number of years because of these landscaping issues. He described the silence as a cold war of sorts.

Friends of Paul in the neighborhood said the story rings hollow and such petty issues would never justify an assault on the senator.

Several said they were unaware of any such problems and said Paul carefully maintained his property. If Boucher had problems with Paul, several current and former representatives of the homeowner's association said, he had not brought them to the board in recent years.

"They're just good neighbors," Gayla Warner said of the Pauls. "We never knew of any conflict."

---

But Boucher has had disputes over his property before.

Rivergreen residents said Boucher's family had previously had a disagreement with another neighbor over the fate of a tree near the border of their properties. The Bouchers wanted to keep the tree, but the neighbor wanted it removed to clear the way for a house project.

And in 2012, Boucher sued the prospective buyers of his home after they pulled out of a contract, according to court records.

Boucher sued the couple for breach of contract and slander, saying they had spread false stories that Boucher was "untruthful and is engaging in unscrupulous acts" to sell his home. Boucher was worried the comments would affect his reputation as a doctor.

The couple denied the allegations and the suit was eventually settled. None of the parties involved responded to requests for comment.

The rancor capped a decade or so of difficulty for Boucher.

In 2005, Boucher suffered a severe accident while bicycling that left him unable to work, according to court records. During his recovery, Boucher developed a rice-filled "Therma-a-Vest" that could be heated to help ease neck and back pain. It was sold on QVC and in stores.

Three years later, his wife of 22 years filed for divorce, saying the couple's marriage was "irretrievably broken," according to court records. The pair had two adult children and divorce records indicate Boucher was left alone in the family's large home, which he was attempting to sell then as well. Boucher's family members did not respond to requests for comment.

Despite the issues, there was little to presage the violent attack on Paul.

Boucher has no criminal record and call records from the Warren County Sheriff's Office and Kentucky State Police do not indicate authorities were previously called to deal with disputes between the senator and his neighbor.

Kentucky State Police are now wrapping up their investigation into the incident. State prosecutors will then determine whether the assault rises to the level of a felony charge in Kentucky.

Skaggs said the assault would likely never have occurred if Boucher had his way. Boucher had been trying to sell his home to move closer to his children, Skaggs said. They are out of state.

Danny Renshaw, another neighbor, said the case should give anyone with neighbors pause.

"We never know what our neighbors are thinking - none of us," Renshaw said. "You see stuff that happens in New York or L.A. or Florida and think, that would never happen in our neighborhood. But you just never know what someone will do or what is going on in their mind."

Military funding a study of falcons to build drone killer

By Justin Bachman
Military funding a study of falcons to build drone killer
A peregrine falcon. MUST CREDIT: Frank Doyle/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Throughout history, humans have employed falcons as lethal hunters of other animals. Now those raptors are being sent after drones.

It turns out that many of the skills feathered predators use to find a tasty lunch can be applied to the developing field of drone defense. A U.S. Air Force-funded study by zoology researchers at Oxford University suggests that the means by which a peregrine falcon tracks its quarry could be effective in defending against drones that threaten troops, police or airports.

The researchers fitted the falcons with miniature video cameras and GPS receivers to track their angle and method of attack on other birds, or on bait being towed through the air by a drone. In a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S., the falcons' approach to intercepting its target aligned closely with the rules of proportional navigation, a guidance system used by visually-directed missiles.

The principle is such that a missile-or a falcon on the hunt-will reach a target as long as its line-of-sight remains unobstructed while it closes in. The earliest AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles, dating to the 1950s, used this technique with a rotating mirror to "see" the target.

A key difference, however, is that falcons adjust their angle of attack to compensate for their slower speeds-which is where drones come in. The work, the researchers suggested, could be applied to the development of small, visually-guided drones that can disable other drones.

"We think that the finer details of how peregrines operate could certainly find application in small drones designed to remove other drones from protected airspace," Professor Graham Taylor, the principal investigator, wrote in an email. The research involved data from 55 attack flights in Wales with falconers and a certified drone operator.

For soldiers on the battlefield and even law enforcement at home, the threat of drone attack has grown as every day passes-as has a desire for a working defense. In July, the Pentagon authorized 133 U.S. military installations to shoot down private or commercial drones that threaten their airspace. That move followed a decision earlier this year to ban aerial drones near these facilities.

Cheap, small drones have become a handy weapon for militants, with the Defense Department working to field new technology and techniques to protect troops and equipment. To date, the Pentagon has explored a variety of methods to deter hostile drones. These range from the most basic-machine gun fire-to more sophisticated approaches including lasers, frequency jamming to render them inoperable and more advanced techniques to actually gain control of the drone.

The application to drone defense "emerged naturally through the course of the study" given research by several police forces to eliminate drones using trained raptors, the authors said. Police in the Netherlands, for example, have studied whether eagles can be an effective means to capture and disable small drones.

"The problem with this approach is that raptors are only motivated to chase targets if they are hungry or defending a territory, and spinning rotor blades pose as much of a threat to a birds' talons as they do to our own fingers," Taylor wrote in an email. "Keeping a defense team of hungry raptors on call isn't practical, and flying them at large multi-rotors isn't ethical." (The Air Force didn't immediately return a request for comment)

Taylor called the study's findings "an elegant convergence" of raptor behavior and missile guidance law, "which reflects how natural selection and engineering design are constrained similarly by maths and physics. It's also quite beautiful how well the model fits the data, and thrilling for me as a mathematically-minded biologist to see how the flight trajectories of real birds engaged in real attacks emerge from the equations that ultimately govern them."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Trump partisans attack America from within

By dana milbank
Trump partisans attack America from within

WASHINGTON -- Thursday was Pearl Harbor Day, the anniversary of one of the deadliest attacks on American soil and perhaps the most unifying day in American history.

This year some of us marked Pearl Harbor Day by attacking America from within.

For five hours on Thursday, President Trump’s partisans delivered a reckless and sustained attack on the FBI and the special counsel. They amplified Trump’s claim that the FBI’s “reputation is in Tatters -- worst in History” and that Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe, which has already secured guilty pleas from two Trump campaign officials and the indictments of two more, is part of a system that is “rigged,” “phony,” “dishonest” and using a “double standard.”

Shamefully, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee launched an all-out assault on the special counsel and the FBI -- choosing to protect Trump at the cost of Americans’ faith in the justice system and the rule of law.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the chairman, echoed Trump’s “tatters” claim and told FBI Director Christopher A. Wray that Mueller’s probe and the Clinton email probe have been tainted by “bias.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said he has a “hunch” that “pro-Clinton, anti-Trump bias” at the FBI was behind a secret “warrant to spy on Americans associated with the Trump campaign.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., called former FBI director James B. Comey an “egomaniac rogue” and speculated that the FBI paid for the “dossier” on Trump’s activities in Russia.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., speculated that anti-Trump bias led the FBI to conclude that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, and he threatened Wray: “I think you’re walking into a contempt of Congress.”

This is calumny. Mueller is a longtime Republican who was appointed FBI director by George W. Bush. He was named special counsel by Rod J. Rosenstein, also a Republican, who was appointed by Trump himself to be deputy attorney general. Comey, a Republican who served in Bush’s Justice Department, made political contributions to John McCain, Mitt Romney and other Republicans. Wray, a Republican who also gave to GOP candidates, was appointed by Trump.

The slander is based on the fact that several of Mueller’s underlings made political contributions that went mostly to Democrats, including Clinton; that one member of Mueller’s team opposed Trump’s first travel ban (which was struck down and withdrawn), and anti-Trump texts between one of Mueller’s people (since taken off the case, with the incident under review by the Justice Department inspector general) and his girlfriend.

But if we’re going to declare “biased” those who gave money to Democrats, then Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn and the president himself are biased against Trump. Also, if Mueller had inquired about political leanings before making hires, he would have violated Justice Department rules.

And more broadly: pro-Clinton bias? It was precisely Comey’s public announcement of a reopened Clinton probe just days before the election that helped give the presidency to Trump.

What’s more outrageous is the purpose of the attacks on the FBI and Mueller: To help Trump with his legal problems, these officials are willing to undermine Americans’ faith in the justice system. This is part of a pattern. As House Republicans were attacking the FBI and Mueller, Sen.?Al Franken, D-Minn., was announcing his resignation on the Senate floor. He had been drummed out by fellow Democrats for sexual misbehavior, but Trump and the Republicans are rallying behind GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, faced with credible allegations of sexual misbehavior with teenagers -- for the short-term benefit of keeping one Senate seat Republican.

Trump routinely attacks institutions, including the courts, the media, the electoral process, the intelligence community, the IRS, the United Nations, foreign allies, the Justice Department and the pope. That’s the strategy of the autocrat: Don’t believe the courts or the justice system or the electoral process or the legislature or the media or my accusers. Believe me.

When lawmakers back up Trump, however, they give a cue to Republican voters that such out-of-bounds attacks on our system are legitimate. That’s how they normalized Trump. That’s how we’re getting Moore. That’s why Republicans are being convinced the FBI and federal prosecutors are corrupt.

The FBI is one government agency Republicans historically held in high regard (70?percent had a favorable view in a 2015 Pew Research Center poll), but a poll by the University of Texas in June -- after Trump’s attacks began -- found favorable views of the FBI among Texas Republicans at 43?percent.

Likewise, multiple polls found that Republicans are far more likely to believe sexual-harassment claims against Democrats than against Republicans; Democrats see the claims as credible regardless of the perpetrator’s party.

This tribalism is meant to help Trump, and Moore. It undermines America.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

The martyrdom of Al Franken

By kathleen parker
The martyrdom of Al Franken

WASHINGTON -- With quavering voice and a tinge of stubborn denial, Sen. Al Franken announced that he would resign from office.

The Minnesota Democrat’s remarks on Thursday marked the culmination of exactly three weeks during which eight women -- half of them anonymous -- alleged sexual misconduct by the former “Saturday Night Live” star. By the seventh allegation, 33 of his Democratic colleagues, including 13 female senators, plus Republican Sen. Susan Collins, had urged him to step down. Franken doubtless felt he had no choice.

While men and women may have found his alleged behavior unbecoming a U.S. senator, it is transparently obvious that Democrats needed Franken to leave as a political matter. Even as other officials similarly charged will face investigation by an ethics committee rather than necessarily forfeit their jobs, Franken clearly was a sacrificial symbol for the party that stands, when convenient, for women.

After the seventh strike, but not the fifth or sixth, it became clear that Franken’s job was to fall on his sword so that Democrats could seize the high ground surrendered by Republicans when they turned their support to Alabama’s Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions.

Franken’s alleged actions, including one that was captured on film, were certainly objectionable. But they were nowhere near as repugnant as the charges leveled at Moore and other men of prominence. These include Donald Trump, who, as Franken noted with irony, had bragged on a recording about his having forcibly kissed and grabbed women.

Franken, himself, is alleged to have kissed women without their permission and let his hand wander during photo ops. Anyone who follows the news has seen the photo of him during a USO tour in which he apes at the camera while preparing to grab one of his accuser’s breasts while she’s sleeping. Whether he actually did grab her isn’t clear, but the image was enough to remind people that Franken’s silly prankster days aren’t so far in his past. One can be a senator or a clown, but you can’t be both -- for long.

Moore, far from being a comedian, is known for his affection for the Ten Commandments. Clearly, there should have been an amendment to the commandment that thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife: or his little girl, either. The former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is alleged to have fondled or otherwise behaved in sexual ways with teenaged girls when he was an adult in his 30s.

If these charges are true -- and Moore denies them -- then Franken’s sins, by comparison, were on a par with yanking ponytails. Which is a metaphor and not an excuse.

But clearly, the accusations against Franken and Moore are in no way similar. Patting a grown woman’s tush during a photo op may be crude, rude and inexcusable, but this act alone probably hasn’t caused anyone lasting harm. (BEG ITAL)What a jerk! (END ITAL) she might have said and walked away. A teenager being seduced by an older man of some repute, however, is a victim, who, indeed, may suffer emotional or psychological harm.

In all other ways, Franken did everything right in the wake of the accusations. Though he denies some of the claims, he has apologized for others. The sleeping woman publicly accepted his apology. Franken also had sworn to cooperate with ethics investigators and to work toward changing the culture that has kept women abused and silent.

But none of this was enough in the current climate. Moreover, Democrats couldn’t very well let Franken stay when Rep. John Conyers, the civil rights icon, was shown the door.

If Franken was set ablaze on the pyre of political expediency, Republicans busied themselves constructing monuments to denial and political self-mockery. No tortures of conscience for those who found Moore morally reprehensible but support him, anyway.

Meanwhile, at least one Republican member of Congress accused of misconduct has been granted due process through an ethics investigation: Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, who spent taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment suit. Another Republican, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, who admitted to discussing surrogacy with two former staffers, resigned Friday.

In the game of righteous indignation, it would seem that Democrats are leading. Many of them may rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican, but Republicans would seemingly rather vote for an accused child molester than let a Democrat enter the Senate chamber.

Come Tuesday, we’ll see where Alabama voters stand. Chances are better than good he’ll win. But Bible Belters know -- and Roy Moore would tell you -- that the Lord works in mysterious ways.

When an alleged child molester becomes a U.S. senator, beware the boll weevil.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Why teacher preparation programs are crucial for our children

By esther j. cepeda
Why teacher preparation programs are crucial for our children

CHICAGO -- One of the most important yet frequently overlooked and misunderstood components of public school education is the system of teacher-preparation programs.

The national network of higher-education institutions that select, train and oversee the mentorship of the country’s new teachers holds in its hands the immense power to shape public education through the quality of its emerging teacher corps.

And not nearly enough sunlight shines on how these programs select teaching candidates, choose what skills to convey, and assess their graduates’ effectiveness.

A new proposed bill called the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act actually seeks to make things even cloudier. The legislation was recently introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., chairman of the Higher Education and Workforce Development subcommittee.

The PROSPER Act purports to eliminate “burdensome federal regulations that put Washington in the middle of issues that are the responsibility of institutions or states, limit student choice, and stifle innovative practices by institutions,” according to the bill summary. “The bill also repeals or streamlines reporting requirements that fail to provide useful information to students, families, and policymakers, and exacerbate rising college costs.”

In effect, the bill would end the current requirement that educator-preparation programs submit vital performance data to the federal government. Plus, the U.S. Department of Education would no longer be required to collect and report this data.

But the answer is to improve the existing accountability system for teacher preparation programs, not eliminate it, according to Kate Walsh, president of the nonpartisan watchdog organization, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

“Are the current attempts at oversight of teacher-preparation programs actually improving teacher preparation? No. The accountability efforts in place are absolutely not what they should be, but why is the answer to get rid of them instead of fixing them?” asked Walsh.

She told me that throwing out the baby with the bathwater in the case of the current level of oversight is indicative of the current administration’s view of all regulations across industries.

But Walsh isn’t sweating it, because the NCTQ does the job of reporting out to the public how teacher-preparation programs are doing by partnering with the states themselves.

The “2017 State Teacher Policy Yearbook,” which is scheduled to be released Dec. 14, acknowledges that it’s the close relationship that the NCTQ has with individual states, which provide the organization data, that makes progress on this front possible.

This is especially notable considering that the news this year isn’t what anyone would like shouted from rooftops. From 2009 to 2015, the NCTQ had found progress in implementation of policies to improve teacher quality -- things like tightening admission requirements to get more qualified candidates into teaching, adequately preparing teachers in high-need subjects like special education and ensuring teachers are highly qualified in their selected content areas.

But progress has slowed.

As a whole, for nearly 80 percent of states, the policy recommendations that the NCTQ has been pushing have either stalled or decreased, including increasing oversight of teacher preparation programs, moving more qualified people of color into the teaching pipeline and instituting more meaningful teacher evaluation. This was about the same as in 2015 and worse than in 2013, when 60 percent of states made gains.

Frankly, it’s easy to be unmoved by such statistics -- it’s true that this topic is largely the education industry’s version of inside ball.

But parents, pay close enough attention and you might start to see why it really matters.

Next time a note comes home from school or you get the opportunity to visit your kids’ classroom, watch for things like misspellings or even inaccurate or politically biased information posted on bulletin boards.

Maybe you’ll ask your child for details about what goes on during the day and suspect that not much goes on at school -- or that your kid’s classroom is out of control.

You might even read a local news story reporting that your school is getting dinged on state school report cards for poor performance or for not servicing students with special needs adequately.

Only then will you realize how vitally important the sleepy topic of state teacher-preparation program quality really is to your family and local community.

Esther Cepeda’s email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Cat me if you can

By gene weingarten
Cat me if you can

WASHINGTON -- (BEG ITAL)Editor’s note: This is the sixth cat-related column Gene has written in 2017. As a service to our readers, he will be docked $7,000 in pay for each subsequent one.(END ITAL)

“Herding cats” may be the most common term to describe an exasperating, nearly impossible job. I found a better one: “Herding cat.”

Late in October, my daughter and son-in-law and their newborn left for Guangzhou, China, where they will be living for the next couple of years. Because of a sequence of unforeseeable, interlocking events, bad things occurred. Not to them, to me:

Because their flight was delayed, and because they had sold their car, they had to spend their last day and night in a hotel near the airport, and because the hotel accepted no pets, they had to leave their two cats in their house, and because I had both a key to their house and an automobile, it became my job to corral the cats at 3 a.m., wrangle them into two cat carriers, and drive them to the airport for a 6 a.m. flight.

It’ll be a piece of cake, my son-in-law assured me. The larger animal, Lyla, is a real pussycat, he said, and though the smaller one, LittleGrey, is somewhat more recalcitrant -- she had been a neighborhood stray, with all the caginess one develops when in constant survival mode -- once you have grabbed hold of her, she meekly submits: “She goes limp,” he said.

So assured, I awoke at 2:30 and went into their basement, to which both cats had been quarantined for easy access. I picked up the sweet and obedient Lyla and put her, unprotesting, into her carrier. Then LittleGrey bit my hand and darted away. Technically, I had not yet “grabbed hold of her,” so I was undeterred. She was now hiding under a bed, which I proceeded to lift from one end, like a wheelbarrow. She skedaddled and darted straight up the stairs to the main part of the house. Muhahaha.

I had closed the door. LittleGrey -- an adult cat no larger than a well-fed rat -- was trapped at the top of the stairwell, which was only three feet wide. Slowly I turned and step by step, inch by inch, I ascended the stairs, my arms splayed at my sides to block any route of escape. I felt like Freddy Krueger. In my defense, if I didn’t get LittleGrey into that carrier one way or another, she’d probably never see her mom and dad again.

When I was within two feet of her, she leapt right at my head, four sets of claws in my face. For an instant we were entwined, like the crewmember and the crustaceanoid face-hugger from “Alien.” I stumbled backward down the stairs, somehow staying on my feet. And now I had her off my face and in my grasp.

She did not “go limp.” Whatever the exact opposite of “going limp” is, that is what LittleGrey did. Her legs were windmilling in a blur, like the Road Runner’s before it got traction and roared away, beep-beeping, across the desert. Somehow, the cat broke my grip and was gone, bolting into the bathroom, no bigger than a two-holer outhouse. I followed and closed the door behind me. The cat was in the bathtub. Slowly, I turned. Step by step, inch by inch, I approached her. At this point, I had commandeered a bedsheet to use as a net. As I bent to grab her, net spread wide, LittleGrey assessed the situation and bounded over my head, onto my back, and then off it, and was ... gone. Nowhere in the bathroom.

Eventually, I saw her escape route. Using me as a springboard, she had leapt into a cat-size hole in a heating duct. She had disappeared into the unreachable-by-humans bowels of the house.

Perhaps you know what I did next, or perhaps you are too much of a humane person to imagine it. In that case, avert your eyes. I had about 10 minutes to get the cat. So I turned up the heat to 90 degrees. The furnace blasted on. I set the fan to high.

For eight minutes I sweltered, until LittleGrey staggered out of that hole, waay more docile and toasty to the touch. Both cats made it to the airport in time. Today they are happily with their family in Guangzhou. The next time I see my son-in-law, I plan to have a talk with him. It might be heated. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll “go limp.”

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group

How long will Congress remain a bystander regarding war?

By george f. will
How long will Congress remain a bystander regarding war?

WASHINGTON -- The first use of nuclear weapons occurred Aug. 6, 1945. The second occurred three days later. That there has not been a third is testimony to the skill and sobriety of 12 presidents and many other people, here and abroad. Today, however, North Korea’s nuclear bellicosity coincides with the incontinent tweeting, rhetorical taunts and other evidence of the frivolity and instability of the 13th president of the nuclear era. His almost daily descents from the previous day’s unprecedentedly bad behavior are prompting urgent thinking about the constitutional allocation of war responsibilities, and especially about authority to use U.S. nuclear weapons.

Last month, for the first time in 41 years, a congressional hearing examined the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 that gives presidents sole authority. There was serious discussion of whether a particular presidential order for their use might not be “legal” -- necessary, proportionate. But even if, in a crisis, time permits consulting lawyers, compliant ones will be found: President Obama’s argued that the thousands of air strikes that killed thousands and demolished Libya’s regime did not constitute “hostilities.”

The exigencies of crisis management in an age of ICBMs require speed of consultations, if any, and of decisions. And the credibility of deterrence requires that adversaries know that presidents can act in minutes. Furthermore, the authority to employ nuclear weapons is, as was said at the congressional hearing, “intertwined” with the authority “to take the country to war.” So, as a practical matter, President Trump can unleash on North Korea “fire and fury” without seeking the consent of, or even consulting, Congress. This, even if North Korea has neither attacked nor seems about to attack America. A long train of precedents tends to legitimate -- although not justify -- practices, and this nation has engaged in many wars since it last declared war on June 5, 1942 (when, to satisfy wartime legalities, it did so against Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania). Over many decades, Congress has become -- has largely made itself -- a bystander regarding war.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., says, “If we have to go to war to stop this, we will.” By “this” does he means North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, which it has had for 11 years? Or ICBMs, which it is rapidly developing? If so, Graham must think war is coming, because there is no reason to think that North Korea’s regime will relinquish weapons it deems essential to its single priority: survival. As Vladimir Putin says, North Korea would rather “eat grass.” U.S. actions have taught this regime the utility, indeed the indispensability, of such weapons. Would America have invaded Saddam Hussein’s Iraq if he had possessed them? Would America have participated in destroying Libya’s regime in 2011 if, soon after Saddam’s overthrow, Moammar Gadhafi had not agreed to abandon his nuclear weapons program?

North Korea, says Trump, is a “situation we will handle” -- “we will take care of it.” Does “we” denote deliberative and collaborative action by the legislative and executive branches? Or is “we” the royal plural from the man whose general approach to governance is, “I alone can fix it”? Trump’s foreign policy thinking (”In the old days, when you won a war, you won a war. You kept the country”; we should “bomb the shit out of [ISIS]”) is short on nuance but of Metternichian subtlety compared to his thoughts on nuclear matters: “I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

A U.S. war of choice against North Korea would not be a pre-emptive war launched to forestall an imminent attack. Rather, it would be a preventive war supposedly justified by the fact that, given sophisticated weapons and delivery systems, imminence might be impossible to detect. The long war on the primitivism of terrorists has encouraged such thinking. A leaked 2011 memo from the Obama administration’s Justice Department argued that using force to prevent an “imminent” threat “does (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) require ... clear evidence that a specific attack ... will take place in the immediate future.” So, regarding al-Qaida, the memo said that because the government might not know of all plots and thus “cannot be confident that none is about to occur,” any leader of al-Qaida or “associated forces” can be lawfully targeted at any time, without specific knowledge of planned attacks.

It would be interesting to hear the president distinguish a preventive war against North Korea from a war of aggression. The first two counts in the indictments at the 1946 Nuremberg trials concerned waging “aggressive war.”

George Will’s email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Journalist’s real sin was breaking the rules of the trade

By ruben navarrette jr.
Journalist’s real sin was breaking the rules of the trade

SAN DIEGO -- The New York Times has done good reporting this year on some big stories about sexual harassment. But suddenly the newspaper has gone from covering the topic to being smack in the middle of it.

The Times recently suspended White House reporter Glenn Thrush while it investigates allegations of sexual misconduct by him toward several female colleagues. The allegations concern Thrush’s conduct both during his tenure at the Times, and in years past, when he worked at Politico. A report by Vox.com’s Laura McGann, who worked with Thrush at Politico, said that his inappropriate behavior ranged “from unwanted groping and kissing to wet kisses out of nowhere to hazy sexual encounters that played out under the influence of alcohol.”

The 50-year-old journalist had been on something of a hot streak. After hiring him away from Politico last year, the Times gave Thrush the prestigious White House beat. He also got a gig as an MSNBC contributor, and a reported seven-figure contract to co-write a book on the Donald Trump presidency with fellow Times reporter Maggie Haberman. His theatrical haranguing of White House officials even earned him what has become his generation’s version of a Pulitzer: being lampooned on “Saturday Night Live.” Media reporters called him a “star.”

Now Thrush’s future is unclear. Times management is reportedly struggling about whether or not to add Thrush’s name to the list of media figures who have been fired for allegedly making unwanted sexual advances toward women. The hall of shame includes Matt Lauer, formerly of NBC News; Charlie Rose, formerly of CBS News; Mark Halperin, formally of NBC News; and others.

The media takes care of its own. And, as a member of the Washington/New York media, Thrush has friends who are trying to contain the fire.

There is “the danger of comparing Glenn Thrush to Harvey Weinstein,” worries Joe Scarborough, the co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

CNN host Michael Smerconish questioned whether “the pendulum might be swinging too far.” He said that Thrush’s suspension gave him “pause” because it seems that all the reporter is accused of is “bad judgment.” In one example -- cited in the Vox.com story -- a 21-year-old intern said that, after a party, Thrush tried to hold her hand and kissed her twice before she started crying.

But Smerconish downplayed the misbehavior. Some of the other allegations about Thrush, detailed in the article, are much worse and include making unwanted sexual advances toward women with a lot less power than he had.

In a statement, Thrush apologized and blamed his behavior on “drinking heavily.”

Smerconish acknowledged that Thrush was “boorish and hammered,” but the host seemed skeptical that someone should lose his job over what some would consider sophomoric antics.

I don’t see why this is even a tough call. Of course Thrush needs to be fired -- not just because of the allegations, and not just because the whole story is awkward for a newspaper that has tried to lead the way in exposing sexual impropriety in Washington and Hollywood.

No. Thrush should lose his job because the Times needs to take seriously the rules of professional conduct to which it holds other journalists. What is at issue is not whether Thrush is a good person, but whether he is -- and was ever -- a good journalist.

You see, I’m an old-school journo. I’m the same age as Thrush, and I’ve spent more than half my life writing for newspapers. And at each place I worked, whether it was as a reporter or columnist, my bosses were -- in their gruff and gravelly voices -- not shy about spelling out what was expected of me, what the rules of the profession were, and what would happen to me if I broke any.

One of those rules, which Politico had in place as well when Thrush worked there, was not to share a story with a source before it is published. That’s common sense. You can’t let the people you interview edit and massage your story before it runs. When you do that, you’ve stopped being a journalist; you’ve become a stenographer. You no longer report; you take dictation.

Last year, thanks to a Wikileaks dump, we learned that Thrush -- while working as a reporter at Politico -- shared a story pre-publication with John Podesta, then campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton. In an email, Thrush begged Podesta not to tell anyone about their arrangement. He even sheepishly called himself a “hack.”

Well put, Glenn.

So the question isn’t whether Thrush should lose his job in journalism. It’s why he ever had one in the first place.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group

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