May 18, 2009
By Steven Groves and Brett D. Schaefer
"We cannot be satisfied until every child in America -- I mean
every child -- has the same chance for a good education that we
want for our own children." Candidate Barack Obama made this
stirring promise in Flint, Michigan, last June.
But as inspiring as these words are, the first 100 days of the
Obama presidency prove those words don't match the president's
actions. Despite this decree that every child
should have the chance for a good education, Obama has been nearly
silent in the debate concerning the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship
Program that gives more than 1,700 low-income children in the
District of Columbia a chance to attend a private school of their
choice. Obama's silence has proven especially disappointing for the
families that rely on this lifeline out of the unsafe and
ineffective D.C. public school system.
Since 2004, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has been
providing scholarships so children in low-income families can
attend a private school of their choice. Without these
scholarships, many of these children would be attending
low-performing public schools in the District -- where they'd be
more worried about their daily safety than what college they aim to
attend upon graduation.
The scholarship program is working, though. The Department of
Education recently published a report that found participating
students had made greater progress on reading tests than their
peers who remained in public school.
Despite this success, President Obama recently signed a large
federal spending bill that included a small provision that
threatens to end the scholarship program. Powerful education Association encouraged Congress to
include language in the bill that cuts off future funding for the
Why would Congress and the Obama administration aim to end this
successful program? Money is not the issue. This year, the federal
government is spending tax dollars at a record pace, including $97
billion for education programs alone. The truth is that many
members of Congress seem to oppose policies that give parents the
power to choose the best school for their children.
But, when it comes to their own lives, many of these lawmakers
practice school choice. According to a recent Heritage Foundation
survey, 44 percent of senators and 36 percent of House members have
at one time sent a child to private school. General public
enrollment in private school is around 11 percent.
Meanwhile, as if we needed even more proof of the serious
problems in American education, a recent Department of Education
report shows the achievement gap between Hispanics and White
students persists despite the federal government's efforts under
President Bush's landmark "No Child Left Behind" Law. According to
the report, Hispanic students still la
Talk about trying to read between the lines. The Obama
administration committed more than a few howlers in State
Department spokesman Ian Kelly's press release Tuesday on the
United States' election to a seat on the corrupt UN Human Rights
For the sake of clarity and transparency, we hereby offer our
services to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by drawing
out seven otherwise unspoken footnotes hidden in Kelly's official
215 words and eight sentences.
The "invisible footnotes" might go like this:
Election of the United States to the Human Rights Council
U.S. Department of State
May 12, 2009
Today the United Nations General Assembly elected the
United States to a three-year term on the UN Human Rights
[Invisible Footnote 1: The U.S. was "elected" to the
Human Rights Council in the same sense that Saddam Hussein
regularly got "elected" president of Iraq. The United Nations
reserved three vacancies on the council for the region to which
America is assigned, and exactly three candidates (the U.S.,
Belgium and Norway) presented themselves to fill the three seats.
New Zealand kindly stepped aside when the U.S. indicated a desire
to have one of the open seats.
[This set a bad precedent. America and other countries in the
West argued convincingly that each regional group should field more
candidates than there are slots, to give the UN General Assembly
some real choices when electing countries to the council. By
ensuring a seat for the U.S., the group named Western European and
Others ceded the moral high ground on calling for competitive
elections. See Bridget Johnson, "U.S. wins seat on controversial Human Rights
Council," The Hill, May 12.]
The promotion and protection of human rights is a
fundamental value for our own society and, as such, an integral
element of the Obama administration's foreign policy.
[Invisible Footnote 2: As for China, however, Secretary
of State Clinton already has noted that human rights "can't
interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate
change crisis and the security crisis." See "Working Toward Change in Perceptions of U.S.
Engagement Around the World," a transcript on State's Web site
of Mrs. Clinton's Feb. 20 roundtable with traveling press in Seoul,
South Korea. The Obama administration also has made overtures to
Cuba, Iran, Syria, Venezuela and other governments with deplorable
human rights records. It has done so with seemingly little regard
for how political dissidents and other victims of repressive
regimes perceive the outreach.
[With regard to the Middle East, President Obama has not
championed human rights per se. Rather, he has signaled that his
administration will look at the region as a whole and communicate a
message to the Arab and Muslim world that the U.S. is ready to
initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual
interest. See "Obama's interview with Al Arabiya," a
transcript of the president's Jan. 27 session with correspondent
Hisham Melhem of the Arab TV network.]
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S.
Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Susan Rice are
pleased with the outcome of the election and eager to take up the
important work of the council.
[Invisible Footnote 3: This "important work" apparently
includes the five special sessions the human rights panel has held
since replacing the discredited UN Human Rights Commission in 2006,
and the 22 resolutions it has adopted, all for the sole purpose of
denouncing Israel. Those 22 denunciations amount to over 80 percent
of the council's nation-specific resolutions. Indeed, Israel's
human rights violations apparently are so chronic that the subject
is the only permanent item on the council's agenda.
[The council's important work, however, doesn't include
confronting human rights abuses in Algeria, China, Cuba, Egypt,
Iran, Syria or Zimbabwe. The panel has declined to look into cases
in those countries. Apart from Israel, the council has held just
three special sessions on specific human rights complaints -- one
each for Sudan, Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Even then, the panel spared those governments the harsh language it
used to characterize the actions of Israel. See "Special sessions of the Human Rights Council,"
on the panel's Web site.]
When the United Nations was formed, it sent a powerful
and historic message by placing human rights at the very core of
[Invisible Footnote 4: Actually, the UN Charter
provides only a limited mandate to promote and protect human
rights. It's a mandate without any enforcement mechanism,
especially compared to the mandate to protect international peace
and security. See UN Charter, Chapter 1.]
To fulfill that mission, we strongly believe that all
member states must work to ensure that the United Nations offers a
credible, balanced and effective forum for advancing human
[Invisible Footnote 5: The UN Human Rights Council
consistently has proven it is not and cannot be "a credible,
balanced and effective forum for advancing human rights." Serial
human rights violators such as Cuba, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia
are current -- and seemingly perennial -- members of the council.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference exerts effective control
over much of the council's proceedings. See Brett D. Schaefer, "The Obama Administration Will Not Make the UN Human
Rights Council Effective," May 11.]
The United States sought a seat on the UN Human Rights
Council at this time to underscore our commitment to human rights
and to join the efforts of all those nations seeking to make the
council a body that fulfills its promise.
[Invisible Footnote 6: The State Department's
announcement that the U.S. would seek a council seat likely was an
attempt to garner favor with European allies and assuage human
rights activists outraged over the Bush administration's decision
not to pursue a seat. Also, the move possibly was a tactic to
deflect criticism from the Obama administration's announcement that
the U.S. would boycott the so-called Durban II conference on world
[The administration announced the Durban II decision at the same
time it said it would reverse the Bush policy of disengaging from
the human rights panel and acting instead as an observer. See "U.S. Posture Toward the Durban Review Conference
and Participation in the UN Human Rights Council," a transcript
of acting State spokesman Robert Wood's Feb. 27 remarks.]
We deeply appreciate the support of all UN member states
that endorsed our bid. We pledge to work closely with the
international community to ensure that together we address the
pressing human rights concerns of our time.
[Invisible Footnote 7: America indeed may work with
allies to "address the pressing human rights concerns of our time,"
but that work will not be successfully advanced by the UN panel.
See Brett D. Schaefer, "UN Human Rights Council Whitewash Argues Against
U.S. Participation," April 2.
[The dominant nations purposefully and systematically set out to
reduce the number of country-specific mandates. Cuba and Belarus
are just two examples. At the same time, the dominant nations
shamelessly water down a mechanism for "universal periodic review."
This was supposed to be the crown jewel of -- what else? -- the
2006 reform creating the Human Rights Council.]
Brett D. Schaefer and Steve
Groves are fellows at the Margaret Thatcher Center for
Freedom at The Heritage Foundation.
Another gut-wrenching figure comes from a recent study by the
America's Promise Alliance that concluded that in many of our
country's major cities (including Los Angeles and New York), the
Hispanic drop-out rate stands at almost 50 percent.
Unfortunately it's been business as usual so far in Washington,
DC, despite the president's soaring rhetoric that he'd confront the
achievement gap and shake up the education system's status quo.
If President Obama is serious about improving educational
opportunities for all children, he could prove it by confronting
the special-interest groups and fighting to save the D.C.
Opportunity Scholarship program. All families -- not just members
of Congress and the wealthy -- deserve the opportunity to choose
the best school for their children.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services
Associate at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Human Events
Talk about trying to read between the lines. The Obama administration committed more than a few howlers in State Department spokesman Ian Kelly's press release Tuesday on the United States' election to a seat on the corrupt UN Human Rights Council.
Bernard and Barbara Lomas Senior Research Fellow
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