Tuesday, August 10, 2010

5 Year Olds

Before lawmakers broke for their August recess, a couple of key pieces of legislation were defeated because of Republican procedural concerns. A bill to offer more health care resources for 9/11 rescue workers was defeated in the House, for example, because Republicans said they wanted to offer poison-pill amendments and Democrats wouldn't let them. Likewise, a bill to offer tax breaks to small businesses was defeated by Senate Republicans for the same reason.

What's with this GOP preoccupation with procedure? Why should important legislation die over amendments that won't pass anyway? Before senators headed home last week, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) tried to explain his party's thinking.

"Saying to a senator, 'You can't bring up your amendment,' is like saying to your 5-year-old son, 'OK, Johnny, whatever you do, don't touch the stove.' Johnny's going to spend the whole week trying to figure out a way to touch the stove."

Hmm. If I didn't know better, I might think Lamar Alexander believes Republican lawmakers act like 5 year olds.

A few months ago, the American Enterprise Institute's Norm Ornstein noted that GOP leaders "are becoming the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious."

Apparently, Ornstein isn't the only one who's noticed.

  • from the comments:

    This reminds me of a similar sentiment from a senior fellow at the Cato Institute: http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/07/15/pm-bringing-both-sides-for-conservation

    The article says in part:

    "[B]ehavioral psychologists have convinced utilities that if customers can compare their kilowatt hours to their neighbors, they'll want to "keep up with the Joneses..." Turns out that's not always true.

    Patrick Michaels: I'm absolutely unsurprised by this result.

    That's Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. He shrugged at the study's results that show "nudging" ended up reducing energy consumption by a little, 1 to 2 percent. But here's the real headline: Some Republican households responded by using more power.

    Michaels: If you tell a class of grade schoolers, "no talking right now," I guarantee you somebody's going to talk. This is not quite as command-and-control as that, but it is a little bit paternalistic on the part of the energy companies.

    Posted by: superking on August 9, 2010 at 1:18 PM
mistermix: A Modest Proposal for Fox News’ First Reality Show

After this quote from Hayley Barbour:

“Once it gets to this stage, it’s not poisonous,” Barbour said. “But if a small animal got coated enough with it, it could smother it. But if you got enough toothpaste on you, you couldn’t breathe.”

I want to see a new reality show, “The Barbour Family Eats Gulf Seafood”. After a couple of seasons of Hayley and his brood chowing down on crab, shrimp and oysters caught in various parts of the Gulf, if there aren’t any tumors sprouting from his flabby jowls, then I’ll believe that “the risk to wildlife from oiling is not as bad as some have been saying.”

Changing the Constitution easier to promise than perform Yale Law professor Heather Gerken talks with Rachel Maddow about the history and difficulty of amending the U.S. Constitution and the emptiness of politicians' promises to do so.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Monday, August 9, 2010


A couple of weeks ago, Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) talked up secession. "I hope that the American people will go to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012 so that states are not forced to consider separation from this government," Wamp told National Journal. Wamp went on to praise Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who has referenced "dissolving" the Union, for also raising concerns about the U.S. government's "oppressive hand."

This Civil War talk has been echoed by other Republicans, including Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), and disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

All of this, of course, is insane. It's hardly news that contemporary Republicans have become more radical, but this secession talk helps drive the point home nicely.

Dana Milbank takes this one step further in his column today, noting that some of the secession talk among Republicans has been repackaged, though it's every bit as extreme.

Most conservatives know it sounds loopy to talk about dissolving the union. After all, it didn't go so well the last time around. That's why it's more acceptable to talk about secession's cousin, nullification. Calling themselves "Tenthers" (for the 10th Amendment, which gives states powers not assigned to the feds) they're claiming that states can merely ignore any federal law they don't like. [...]

But nullification, like secession, has been tried before, with poor result. In 1832, Andrew Jackson threatened to use force against South Carolina for nullifying federal law, saying the state was on the brink of treason and argued that "to say that any state may at pleasure secede from the Union is to say that the United States is not a nation." A compromise held off violence for another quarter century. [...]

If a state thinks the law is unconstitutional, it can challenge the law in court, as Virginia is doing. If people don't like the law, they can elect a new Congress and president to repeal it. Or, they can attempt to amend the Constitution, as several Republican lawmakers would do with the proposed repeal of the 14th Amendment, the one with all that nonsense about equal protection under the law. But secession and nullification have all the legitimacy of a temper tantrum.

But that tantrum is nevertheless becoming increasingly common, as evidenced by Tom Emmer, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota, who believes states should reject all federal laws unless explicitly endorsed by supermajorities in state legislatures.

There is no better example of hysterical Republican extremism. Such madness would have been laughed at by the GOP mainstream not too long ago, but is now a familiar component of the Republican message of the 21st century.

mistermix: Words of a RINO

As E.D. notes, Ted Olson will probably be called a RINO after this appearance on Fox News Sunday. Here’s what it takes: believing in the Bill of Rights, the 14th amendment, and an independent judiciary. It’s worth watching just to see him demolish Chris Wallace’s “but you’re a conservative!” questions, including one about how he could possibly agree with Hollywood Liberal Rob Reiner.


In light of last week's federal court ruling on California's Proposition 8, marriage equality received a fair amount of attention on the Sunday morning shows, including interviews with both Ted Olson and David Boies, the legal team that won the case.

On CBS's "Face the Nation," Boies, perhaps best known as the attorney representing Democrats in 2000's Bush v. Gore, faced off against Family Research Council chief Tony Perkins. As expected, Perkins spewed a lot of nonsense, prompting Boies to make plain the limits of far-right rhetoric. (via John Cole)

"Well, it's easy to sit around and debate and throw around opinions appear-- appeal to people's fear and prejudice, cite studies that either don't exist or don't say what you say they do. In a court of law you've got to come in and you've got to support those opinions. You've got to stand up under oath and cross-examination. And what we saw at trial is that it's very easy for the people who want to deprive gay and lesbian citizens the right to vote, to make all sorts of statements and campaign literature or in debates where they can't be crossexamined.

"But when they come into court and they have to support those opinions and they have to defend those opinions under oath and cross-examination, those opinions just melt away. And that's what happened here. There simply wasn't any evidence. There weren't any of those studies. There weren't any empirical studies. That's just made up. That's junk science.

"And it's easy to say that on television. But witness stand is a lonely place to lie. And when you come into court, you can't do that. And that's what we proved. We put fear and prejudice on trial, and fear and prejudice lost."

As the kids say, boo-yah. Perkins can repeat his talking points, and maybe even persuade the uninformed and/or those inclined to agree with him, but when it comes to withstanding scrutiny, Perkins and his ilk have built a house of cards that crumbles with surprising ease.

On a related note, on "Fox News Sunday," Olson, perhaps best known as the attorney representing Republicans in 2000's Bush v. Gore, sparred a bit with host Chris Wallace, who threw just about every GOP talking point he could think of at Bush's former solicitor general. The central point of Wallace's questioning seemed fairly straightforward: if voters want to limit the scope of Americans' rights, they should be able to do so at the ballot box. Olson turned the question around:

"Well, would you like your right to free speech? Would you like Fox's right to free press put up to a vote and say well, if five states approved it, let's wait till the other 45 states do? These are fundament constitutional rights. The Bill of Rights guarantees Fox News and you, Chris Wallace, the right to speak. It's in the Constitution. And the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the denial of our citizens of the equal rights to equal access to justice under the law, is a violation of our fundamental rights. Yes, it's encouraging that many states are moving towards equality on the basis of sexual orientation, and I'm very, very pleased about that.... We can't wait for the voters to decide that that immeasurable harm, that is unconstitutional, must be eliminated."

Seems pretty obvious, doesn't it?

Greg Sargent:

* Inside the emerging GOP strategy on the Bush tax cuts: Senate Republicans will mount a new push this fall for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, just when the war heats up over whether to extend the tax cuts for the rich.

The idea is that even though this has no chance of passing, such an amendment polls well in states with contested Senate races. Pushing it would apparently allow Republicans to call Dems' bluff when they point to GOP opposition to letting the tax cuts expire as proof Republicans don't care about the deficit.

* But this won't help matters: David Gregory can't get John Boehner and Mike Pence to explain to him how the tax cuts for the rich will be paid for.

* Why Harry Reid still could lose: Nevada journalist Jon Ralston plumbs the depths of voter hatred for Harry Reid.

* Anti-mosque hysteria gets notice: The right's campaign against mosques across the country is becoming a national story.

Also in that link: The untold story is that in each community where this is happening, counterprotests are springing up, and "their numbers have usually been larger."

* Scapegoats for a bad economy: The anti-mosque fervor and the talk about changing the 14th amendment are both part of a larger rise in xenophobia similar to previous spikes in "illiberal populist nationalism" during periods of economic stagnation.

* Can't we tweak the 14th amendment a bit? Rep. Boehner adds his voice to those tentatively suggesting we should think about maybe tweaking the amendment.

* Losing David Broder? The Dean says that the GOP's flirtation with changing the 14th amendment might be cause for concern:

"That is a radical change, freighted with emotional baggage, and if this is an example of what it would mean to have more Republicans on Capitol Hill, watch out."

* No more whining about GOP obstructionism: Chris Dodd tells fellow Dems that this only makes them look weak and ineffective, and that the real Dem failure was to expect GOP cooperation.

Okay, Senator, fair enough, but how do you square that with your bizarre opposition to reforming the filibuster?

* Things that aren't gonna happen: White House energy chief Carol Browner says Dems just may try to pass cap and trade during Congress' lame-duck session. Yeah, right.

* Not sustainable: As I noted here the other day, it's hard to see how Obama's position on gay marriage is sustainable.

* And don't miss Mitch McConnell's justification for GOP obstructionism: Once Obama and Dems made it clear they wanted to turn the United States into France, we had no choice but to stop them by any means necessary, for the good of America.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

No change here

Booman: Mr. Steele's Talking Point
Michael Steele wants to put Nancy Pelosi in the back of the bus. No kidding. He announced that he will be driving around in a "Fire Pelosi Bus" between Labor Day and election day. And then he said that Pelosi would be sitting in the back of the bus.

I continue to wonder if Michael Steele has ever encountered a mirror. Has he ever heard of Rosa Parks? I wonder with these kind of comments, how much of it is inadvertent numbskullery? And how much is just malicious whistling?

John Cole: A Blunt Admission

This quote from Peter King in a Politico piece on the Republicans ignoring the Prop 8 ruling is shockingly blunt:

King, the Long Island congressman, said that in terms of social issues, the raging controversy over the Arizona border laws is providing more than enough ammunition for Republicans in key districts.

“The Arizona immigration law is there, there’s no reason to be raising an issue of gay rights” as a wedge, he said.

No need to do the election year gay bashing, because the GOP is getting their hate on for brown people. Charming.

You don’t catch them openly admitting to stuff like this very often.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not someone I'd generally characterize as "truth-oriented." But he will, on rare occasions, make unexpected and important concessions.

In March, for example, McConnell was surprisingly candid about his decision from the outset to try to kill health care reform, regardless of merit or Democratic compromises, by demanding unanimous Republican opposition: "It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out." It's a dynamic that made compromise, quite literally, impossible.

Soon after, McConnell explained the importance he and the House GOP leadership put on "unify[ing] our members in opposition" to everything Democrats propose, because unanimous Republican disagreement would necessarily make Democratic ideas less popular. "Public opinion can change, but it is affected by what elected officials do," McConnell conceded. "Our reaction to what [Democrats] were doing had a lot to do with how the public felt about it. Republican unity in the House and Senate has been the major contributing factor to shifting American public opinion."

And at a political picnic in Kentucky yesterday, McConnell expounded on his strategy.

In the course of defending his leadership of the Senate GOP, which he proudly admitted has been memorable for its unprecedented obstruction, McConnell said he had had no choice but to turn seemingly every legislative maneuver, no matter how minor, into a weeks-long procedural slog.

"We decided when they decided they were going to turn us into France, we were going to say no," McConnell said. "Had we sort of gone over and made everything bipartisan -- you know they're going to run against us as the Party Of No. Well, it depends on what you're saying no to, ladies and gentleman."

Now, as a substantive matter, the notion that the Democratic agenda would turn the United States into France is obviously idiotic -- the kind of infantile nonsense one might expect from a talk-radio shock-jock, not from a U.S. Senate leader.

But the concession about strategy is nevertheless interesting -- on the one hand, McConnell and his caucus have spent a year and a half suggesting that Republicans have taken obstructionism to scandalous and unprecedented depths because Democrats haven't compromised enough. On the other, McConnell continues to quietly acknowledge that no matter what Dems offer in terms of concessions, McConnell doesn't want and doesn't care about cooperation between the parties.

Indeed, just this week, McConnell told reporters that the kind of political "balance" he'll demand in the next Congress is the kind in which every piece of legislation is "center-right," with no exceptions, even if there's a Democratic majority.

There's still a sense among "serious" observers in the political media establishment that Congress will be more productive next year, after Republican gains leads to more compromise and bipartisan cooperation. One only needs to listen to Mitch McConnell to know how very wrong this assumption
Booman: When Will GOP Hit the Shoals of Reality?
CNN's idea of incisive reporting is to count how many times a week Obama mentions his predecessor's name in public. Last week's count? Two.

The Republicans have so far refrained from offering any kind of positive agenda because they see no upside. As they see it, offering actual policies only provides a target for both Democrats and their own rabid base to attack. The Republican leaders keep promising to unveil something (the latest promise is for late September) but so far, they haven't done anything beyond letting Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) act ridiculous.

The Republicans can't actually provide an agenda that bears arithmetic scrutiny because they refuse to raise taxes on the wealthy and that means they'd have to abandon all talk of fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets or campaign on decimating people's retirement security. They are a dishonest party, but they think they have all the momentum. Hopefully, that momentum is going to stall on the shoals of reality before November. The American people deserve an honest debate. But they won't get one unless they see through the smoke and demand honest answers from the Republicans.

Laurie: A Disgrace to Her Gender

Shorter Maureen Dowd: My status as a childless, never-married woman in the Ladies Sodality DC Media Village makes me the perfect expert to criticize Michelle Obama’s marital and child-raising talents. But I’m using the classic “feminine” passive-aggressive trick of lovingly retailing every nasty rightwing slur ironically, because I am just that hip, so it proves that I am not only up-to-the-minute on all the kewl gossip but also more sophisticated than both those trash-talking luzers and you deluded Obots.

And I would have ignored this as just another “Maureen Dowd, straight from junior-high Mean Girl to dried-up old spinster without ever passing through adulthood” column, but the shallow twit drags Mary McGrory’s good name into it, something she’d never have dared do when McGrory was still around.

Mary McGrory would kick Dowd’s arse, and not just metaphorically, for phoning in this kind of third-rate repackaging of cheap right-wing tropes.
DougJ: Assymetrical idiocy

There are those who say that I spend too much time criticizing Megan McArdle and baiting others into defending her. To them, I say:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Michelle Obama vacationing in Spain; they have the money, so why not? But I agree with Doug Mataconis that, while there’s nothing actually wrong with it, it’s really quite unbelievably politically stupid. When we’re in the middle of the worst recession in living memory, it’s not a good idea to take a luxury vacation that most of your countrymen could never possibly afford in the best of times, at considerable taxpayer expense for the security, in a foreign country.

I know that it’s wrong when foul-mouthed, vituperative bloggers substitute hot profanity for cool reason, but I’d like to ask everyone, including the other front-pagers here: if you were the business and economics editor of Atlantic, would you devote blog posts to analyzing Michelle Obama’s vacation habits?

NYT Editorial: In Search of a New Playbook

In less than 90 days, millions of irritable voters will go to the polls to choose a new House and much of the Senate. If Democrats hope to retain control of both chambers in a year of deep dissatisfaction with incumbents, they need a sharper and more inspirational playbook than the one they are using.

Political forecasters have warned for months that the widespread anti-Democratic sentiment in the nation could well coalesce into a Republican wave that approaches that party’s gains in 1994. President Obama’s independents have deserted him, the business and Tea Party wings of the Republican Party are alight with fervor and cash, and even season-ticket Democrats are searching for their old enthusiasm.

In part, that is because the significant accomplishments of the last two years — health care reform, the stimulus package, the resuscitation of the auto industry, financial reform — were savagely attacked by the right and aggressively misrepresented as the hoof beats of totalitarianism. Most of those efforts were actually highly diluted to draw centrist support, but they did not really get much of it, and the compromises meant that the bills were defended only halfheartedly by Democrats who should have stood up more firmly to the rage.

Put most broadly, the Democrats have been failing to delineate the differences between themselves and Republicans, to remind voters what Republicans would do if returned to power and how little their policies have changed from those during the two terms of President George W. Bush.

Recently, this has started to change. President Obama has become uncharacteristically combative, delivering a series of ardent speeches that other Democrats would do well to imitate. In remarks at a Democratic fund-raiser in Atlanta last Monday, he pointed out that Bush-era Republicans had cut taxes for millionaires, cut rules for special interests, and cut loose working people to fend for themselves.

Since then, he said: “It’s not like they’ve engaged in some heavy reflection. They have not come up with a single solitary new idea to address the challenges of the American people. They don’t have a single idea that’s different from George Bush’s ideas — not one. Instead, they’re betting on amnesia.”

Democrats could start to banish that haze of memory by reminding voters what is actually in those giant packages of legislation: Protections for patients against insurance companies. Rules keeping adult children on health policies, and requiring coverage for pre-existing conditions. A new consumer financial protection bureau to fight lending abuses. The preservation or creation of nearly three million jobs, averting Depression-level unemployment. The local benefits of stimulus projects.

Republicans fought against each of those measures, and seem to be spoiling to hold hostage middle-class tax cuts in order to preserve tax cuts for the rich. Democrats have been far too timid in taking on those issues, to the point that they now will have to do more than simply remind voters of Republican opposition.

For most voters, the only real issue is high unemployment, and it is here that Democrats seem to have set aside bold thinking and fallen into the Republican trap of placing deficit fears ahead of job revival. Rather than spend time during the campaign stoking anxiety over Social Security, Democrats should aggressively counter the myth that the deficit is causing unemployment, and advocate using government in ways that might re- inspire voters.

A few suggestions: Using the revenue from reinstating taxes on the rich to put people back to work, rebuilding and repairing the country. Providing robust support for state and local governments, many of which have cut past the bone. Repairing the unemployment system so that it is a real safety net and not a political tool.

As the economy recovers, there will be money available for sane and careful deficit reduction, territory the Democrats know far better than their opponents. A House or Senate controlled by Republicans, leading to longer stalemates and years of political posturing, is not the way to get there. Instead of shrinking from their accomplishments, Democrats should use their remaining time to build on them.

Regular readers know that I've been fascinated with the plight of Rep. Bob Inglis, a conservative Republican lawmaker from South Carolina. Inglis' congressional career will wrap up -- involuntarily -- later this year, and he prepares to leave, he's sounding a whole lot more reasonable.

To briefly review, Inglis was recently humiliated in a GOP primary, losing by a ridiculous 42-point margin in a district he represented for more than a decade. What precipitated such a defeat? Inglis expressed a willingness to work with Democrats on energy policy; he urged his constituents not to take Glenn Beck too seriously; and he said his main focus as a lawmaker was to find "solutions" to problems. Last year, Inglis said the Republican Party has a chance "to understand we are all in need of some grace." The result: GOP voters turned on him.

In the wake of his defeat, Inglis has been willing to show the kind of candor we don't often hear from congressional Republicans. That's included trashing conservative "demagoguery" during the health care debate; conceded that some of the right's hatred of President Obama in the South is driven by racism; blasting GOP "Birthers," and concluding that the Republican strategy of stirring up the party base is "a bad decision for the country."

As part of his efforts, Inglis also talked to Mother Jones' David Corn about, among other things, just how crazy some Republican activists are, and followed up with CNN's Rick Sanchez this week. The host struggled not to laugh while reading some of the remarks the congressman was confronted with during his unsuccessful re-election bid:

"'I sat down, and they said on the back of your Social Security card, there's a number. That number indicates the bank that bought you when you were born based on a projection of your life's earnings' -- I'm gonna try and not laugh here -- 'and you are collateral. We are all collateral for the banks. I have this look like, 'What the heck are you talking about?' I'm trying to hide that look and look clueless. I figured clueless was better than argumentative. So they said, 'You don't know this?! You are a member of Congress, and you don't know this?!'"

Inglis responded: "Well you know, I think that my colleague put it well to me last week. She said that her father used to tell her, 'Leaders can either lead -- or mislead.' And you know, if you're gonna lead, you need to lead with facts. And you need to help people the realities that we face."

In the interview with Corn, Inglis also explained that he believes it's just "a dangerous strategy to build conservatism on information and policies that are not credible." He also said he wanted to win, but wasn't willing to lie, just to satisfy ideological extremism, paranoia, and bigotry.

Looking ahead, Corn asked Inglis about the GOP's future, specifically former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R): "Inglis pauses for a moment: 'I think that there are people who seem to think that ignorance is strength.' And he says of her: 'If I choose to remain ignorant and uninformed and encourage people to follow me while I celebrate my lack of information,' that's not responsible."

In the 21st century, there's no more room in the Republican Party for Bob Inglis. It's a truth that speaks volumes.

  • from the comments:

    I live in Inglis' district. Unfortunately, the idiotic, racist attitude displayed by many of the so-called "Tea Party" are on constant display here amongst a significant portion of our population. Of course, it is nothing new. The "Tea Party" has simply given a large number of people a new way to channel their hatred in what appears to be a much more mainstream way. And Republicans are going to take advantage of the racial animus in the best way they know how.

    Of course, Lee Atwater was from SC, so the nuts have not fallen far from the original tree.

    Posted by: Sandlapper on August 7, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    This crap has gotten so bad that I'm almost an outcast in my own family. Not that anything has been said or doe to bring this about - but because I voted for the N____r.

    My family is ALL college grads, and Glen Beck is their IDOL.

    Sadly, though, there is a sea of people like Inglis that will stay with the Republicans and VOTE for them as always.

    I'm betting on far worse before anything better.

    Posted by: Mark-NC on August 7, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

    I live in the district as well. I have often disagreed with Inglis, but I know that he is a thoughtful man. The good news is Trey Gowdy who beat Inglis riding the tea party wave, is also a thoughtful man - he just played the politics.

    Posted by: scarolina on August 7, 2010 at 11:53 AM
Herbert (NYT): Putting Our Brains on Hold

The world leadership qualities of the United States, once so prevalent, are fading faster than the polar ice caps.

We once set the standard for industrial might, for the advanced state of our physical infrastructure, and for the quality of our citizens’ lives. All are experiencing significant decline.

The latest dismal news on the leadership front comes from the College Board, which tells us that the U.S., once the world’s leader in the percentage of young people with college degrees, has fallen to 12th among 36 developed nations.

At a time when a college education is needed more than ever to establish and maintain a middle-class standard of living, America’s young people are moving in exactly the wrong direction. A well-educated population also is crucially important if the U.S. is to succeed in an increasingly competitive global environment.

But instead of exercising the appropriate mental muscles, we’re allowing ourselves to become a nation of nitwits, obsessed with the comings and goings of Lindsay Lohan and increasingly oblivious to crucially important societal issues that are all but screaming for attention. What should we be doing about the legions of jobless Americans, the deteriorating public schools, the debilitating wars, the scandalous economic inequality, the corporate hold on governmental affairs, the commercialization of the arts, the deficits?

Why is there not serious and widespread public engagement with these issues — and many others that could easily come to mind? That kind of engagement would lead to creative new ideas and would serve to enrich the lives of individual Americans and the nation as a whole. But it would require a heavy social and intellectual lift.

According to a new report from the College Board, the U.S. is 12th among developed nations in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. The report said, “As America’s aging and highly educated work force moves into retirement, the nation will rely on young Americans to increase our standing in the world.”

The problem is that today’s young Americans are not coming close to acquiring the education and training needed to carry out that mission. They’re not even in the ballpark. In that key group, 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree, the U.S. ranks behind Canada, South Korea, Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, Israel, France, Belgium and Australia. That is beyond pathetic.

“While the nation struggles to strengthen the economy,” the report said, “the educational capacity of our country continues to decline.”

Everybody is to blame — parents, students, the educational establishment, government leaders, the news media and on and on. A society that closes its eyes to the most important issues of the day, that often holds intellectual achievement in contempt, that is more interested in hip-hop and Lady Gaga than educating its young is all but guaranteed to spiral into a decline.

Speaking this week about the shortage of degrees in the 25- to 34-year-old demographic, Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board and a former governor of West Virginia, said, “When I was in school, we were No. 1 in the world in college graduations. When I was governor, we were third, and I was surprised by that drop. Now we’re 12th at a time when a good education is critically important to getting a decent job.”

Among other things, he called on educators to develop curricula that are more “interesting and inspiring.” And he said it is essential for students to work harder.

These are gloomy times in the United States. A child drops out of high school every 26 seconds. As incredible as it seems from the perspective of 2010, the report from the College Board tells us that “it is expected that the educational level of the younger generation of Americans will not approach their parents’ level of education.”

What is the matter with us? Have we been drinking? Whatever happened to that vaunted American dream? In Hawaii, the public schools were closed on 17 Fridays during the past school year for budget reasons.

When this is the educational environment, you can say goodbye to the kind of cultural, scientific and economic achievements that combine to make a great nation. We no longer know how to put our people to work. We read less and less and write like barbarians. We’ve increasingly turned our backs on the very idea of hard-won excellence while flinging open the doors to decadence and decline. No wonder Lady Gaga and Snooki from “Jersey Shore” are cultural heroes.

In their important book, “The Race Between Education and Technology,” the Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz pointed out that educational attainment in the U.S. “was exceptionally rapid and continuous for the first three-quarters of the 20th century.”

Then, foolishly, we applied the brakes. All that’s at stake is our future.