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Americans United for Separation of Church and State has joined
allies in the public education community to demand that Washington,
D.C.'s federally funded private school voucher "experiment" not be
Americans United says the program, which pays for tuition at
religious and other private schools, was originally conceived as a
five-year pilot program. The plan, pushed through by the Bush
administration, has failed to boost student achievement, and AU insists
it should be discontinued.
"When an experiment proves unsuccessful, the best thing to do is
shut it down," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of
Americans United. "Rather than try to breathe new life into the failed
D.C. voucher plan, Congress should focus on ways to improve the city's
Americans United reiterated these themes in a letter
submitted to Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins
(R-Maine), chairman and ranking member respectively of the Senate
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
The committee has scheduled a May 13 hearing on the D.C. voucher plan.
Although the program is slated to end, some members of Congress want
to reauthorize it. Americans United and allied groups say the best
course is to discontinue the program.
"In addition to raising constitutional and civil rights concerns,
the D.C. voucher program has simply proven ineffective and thus should
not be extended," observes the AU letter. "Indeed, extending the
program would defy the lessons learned from the pilot - that vouchers
do not improve the education of D.C. students."
Most of the private schools taking part in the voucher plan are
religious. Americans United argues that taxpayers should not be
required to fund sectarian institutions.
Americans United also worked with the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) on a separate letter that was submitted to the committee.
The coalition letter pointed out that studies of the D.C. voucher
plan have shown that the program failed to improve the academic
performance of students considered most in need of help. In addition,
voucher schools were much less likely to provide services like English
as a second language, learning support, special-needs programs and
The NCPE missive went on to note that there are serious accountability problems with the program.
"NCPE believes the objective evidence does not support the
reauthorization or continued funding of the only federally funded
school voucher program," asserted the joint letter. "Therefore, we urge
you to oppose reauthorization of the D.C. voucher program."
Thirty-seven education, public policy and religious organizations
signed the NCPE letter. Among them are the American Federation of
Teachers, the Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for
Religious Liberty, the National Alliance of Black School Educators, the
NAACP, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the
National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the
National Parent Teacher Association, the Secular Coalition for America
and the Union for Reform Judaism.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
"I am not asking you to sit here through late nights to vote on these bills that we're dragging out," said state Sen. Megan Hunt as a GOP colleague complained about a missed family event. "I'm asking you to love your family more than you hate mine."
Nebraska state Sen. Megan Hunt on Thursday made her latest appeal to her Republican colleagues to block the passage of a ban on gender-affirming healthcare, while expressing anger over lawmakers' complaints about how long the bill has taken to make its way through the Legislature.
Hunt, who represents the 8th District and announced earlier this month that she was leaving the Democratic Party to become nonpartisan, addressed her fellow lawmakers after a debate that stretched into the night on Tuesday regarding a proposal to attach an abortion ban to the so-called "Let Them Grow Act" (L.B. 574), the ban on transgender healthcare for youths.
The officially nonpartisan unicameral body—in which Republicans hold 32 seats and Democrats hold 16—ultimately voted in favor of attaching the bill, and Speaker John Arch confirmed to NBC News affiliate WOWT that lawmakers could vote on final passage as soon as Friday.
If passed, the legislation would be one of just a few bills to make it through the Legislature this session, compared to dozens that are generally passed by this point in the year. Hunt has joined state Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh (D-6) in a monthslong filibuster to block L.B. 574.
On Thursday, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (R-39) complained on the Legislature floor that she had missed her grandchild's preschool graduation due to the prolonged debate over the bill.
Hunt, whose son is transgender, expressed empathy for Linehan over her missed family event, but pointed out that remaining in the Legislature to stop the passage of L.B. 574 is a matter of "taking care of my family."
\u201cNE State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (R) complains filibusters of anti-trans bills made her miss her grandson's preschool graduation.\n\nSen. Megan Hunt (I): \u201cYou won't come off this bill that hurts my [trans] son. You hate him more than you love your own family. That's why you're here."\u201d— Heartland Signal (@Heartland Signal) 1684441711
"If you want to see your grandson graduate from preschool you should do that," she continued. "Instead you are here to drag out this session because you won't come off this bill that hurts my son. You hate him more than you love your own family. And that's why you're here... We don't need you here. We need to you vote 'no' or 'present, not voting' on 574 because there's nothing else in this body that's affecting your family."
Critic and journalist Emily St. James called Hunt's comments "an amazing distillation of this whole phenomenon" of the surge in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, which has now been proposed in all but four states and Washington, D.C. this legislative session. At least 19 states have passed bans and restrictions on gender-affirming healthcare for minors.
"The need to have an out group to endlessly punish is driving people to miss moments in their own lives they'll never get back," said St. James.
The conservatives in the Nebraska Legislature appear to have the votes they need to pass the bill, according to WOWT. The measure would go into effect immediately after Republican Gov. Jim Pillen signs it due to an emergency clause.
"We are an example to the world," wrote one American economist. "An example of what not to do."
Nations around the world are looking on with a mixture of alarm and bafflement as the United States hurtles toward an economy-wrecking default, with the Republican Party refusing to raise the country's globally unique debt limit without massive, harmful spending cuts.
The possibility of a U.S. default—a failure to pay the government's obligations—has already rattled global markets and prompted grave warnings from major institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, which said last week that a default would have "severe repercussions" for a world economy already facing the prospect of a central bank-induced recession.
The Washington Postreported Friday that the finance ministers of G7 nations have privately asked U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for "updates on the status of negotiations between the White House and House Republicans" as officials from the rich countries gather in Hiroshima for their annual summit.
Finance ministers have also voiced their concerns publicly. German finance chief Christian Lindner said last week that he hopes "an adult decision will be made with regard to the development of American government finances and the associated effects on the global economy."
Kazuo Ueda, governor of the Bank of Japan, cautioned that a U.S. default could become a "big problem" that the Federal Reserve "may not be able to counteract."
"The United States is one among the few polities that have adopted and retained debt limits."
The U.S. debt limit, which currently sits at $31.4 trillion, is a "global outlier," the Atlantic Council's Mrugank Bhusari wrote in March, noting that "the United States is one among the few polities that have adopted and retained debt limits."
"Debt limits like the United States'... are not the norm—and they rarely cause major deadlocks in the few countries that have adopted this tool," Bhusari observed. "Like the United States, Denmark also sets its debt limit as a nominal value. But that’s where the similarity ends. The Danish Parliament intentionally sets the ceiling sufficiently high such that it will not be crossed, rendering it no more than a formality."
"Like the United States and Denmark, Kenya also has a nominal debt limit. However, it is under the process of replacing the nominal limit with a limit as a percentage of GDP at 55%," Bhusari continued. "Australia briefly experimented with a debt limit similar to that of the United States, experienced the political infighting that Washington is familiar with, and abolished it soon after."
Citing one Latin America expert, the Post noted Friday that "a debt ceiling like the one that exists in the U.S. stirred debate" in Brazil, where the Lula government is aiming to loosen existing restraints on government spending.
The idea of imposing a strict debt limit "was shot down vehemently, thanks to the U.S. example," the Post reported.
"We are an example to the world," Stephanie Kelton, an American economist, wrote on Twitter. "An example of what not to do."
\u201cWe are an example to the world. An example of what not to do. https://t.co/K4ISWXTgkI\u201d— Stephanie Kelton (@Stephanie Kelton) 1684507808
The international community's reaction to the perilous U.S. debt ceiling standoff comes as President Joe Biden is facing growing pressure from lawmakers at home to end the crisis unilaterally if necessary by invoking the 14th Amendment, which states that "the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned."
Progressives and legal scholars have long argued that the debt limit, first imposed by Congress in 1917, is unconstitutional and should be abolished—an argument that the National Association of Government Employees makes in a lawsuit filed in federal court 10 days ago.
But as The American Prospect's David Dayen wrote Friday, the plaintiffs "didn’t file a motion for immediate relief," so "the case has sat dormant."
Family members and people who knew Lotfi Hassan Misto described him as "a kind, hard-working man whose 'whole life was spent poor,'" The Washington Post reported.
The Pentagon said earlier this month, without providing evidence, that a U.S. drone strike in northwest Syria killed a "senior al-Qaeda leader."
But U.S. military officials are now beginning to walk back the claim as the victim's family insists the father of 10 had no connections to terrorist organizations and was herding his sheep when he was slain by a Hellfire missile on the morning of May 3.
Lotfi Hassan Misto, a 56-year-old former bricklayer, has been identified by his family as the victim of the drone strike, The Washington Postreported Thursday, citing interviews with the man's brother, son, and several people who knew him.
"They described a kind, hard-working man whose 'whole life was spent poor,'" the Post noted.
The operation that killed Misto, the Post reported, "was overseen by U.S. Central Command, which claimed hours after the strike, without citing evidence or naming a suspect, that the Predator drone strike had targeted a 'senior al-Qaeda leader.' But now there is doubt inside the Pentagon about who was killed."
One unnamed U.S. military official told the newspaper that the Pentagon is "no longer confident" that the strike killed an al-Qaeda leader. Another official said that "though we believe the strike did not kill the original target, we believe the person to be al-Qaeda."
The entire U.S. drone program, including the process by which officials choose their assassination targets, is shrouded in secrecy, and activists argue the program should be shuttered in its entirety.
Often described by the Pentagon as "precision" attacks, U.S. drone strikes have killed thousands of civilians in recent years—deaths that U.S. officials typically refuse to even acknowledge, let alone apologize for.
The Biden administration did apologize after killing 10 members of an Afghan family—including seven children—in a 2021 drone strike in Kabul, but the U.S. has yet to uphold its pledge to compensate the survivors. A U.S. Central Command report on the strike indicated that military officials knew the attack likely killed civilians but initially lied about it in public.
The aftermath of the May 3 drone strike in northwest Syria appears to be following a similar trajectory.
On the day of the deadly strike, the watchdog Airwars published an initial assessment noting that a "60-year-old male civilian was killed by a declared U.S. drone strike on the outskirts of Qurqaniya," immediately disputing the Pentagon narrative.
Airwars pointed to a tweet from a Syrian journalist who said that contrary to CENTCOM's statement, the man killed was a civilian with "no connection with any organization, neither now nor previously."
Video footage given to the Post shows "a dozen people standing nearby" as aid workers arrived at the scene of the drone strike earlier this month, the newspaper reported.
"Most stare in shock," the Post observed. "Some cry."
Nearly a week after the strike, a CENTCOM spokesperson said the U.S. military was "aware of the allegations of a civilian casualty" and determining whether "further investigation is necessary and how it should proceed."
Misto's brother told the Associated Press at the time that the U.S. military's claims that Misto had terrorist connections were "absolute lies," decrying his killing as "an injustice and an aggression."
"If they claim that he's a terrorist, or that they got someone from al-Qaeda, they're all liars," Misto's brother told the Post.
Analysts told the Post that the family's insistence that Misto had no terrorist ties appears highly credible.
"Very quickly after this strike, the White Helmets came out and identified the individual with his name and his profession," said Charles Lister, the director of Syria and Countering Terrorism and Extremism at the Middle East Institute.
"Locals came forward to say, this guy's always been a farmer. He's never had any political activities; he's never had any affiliation with armed groups," Lister added. "The pace and breadth of such pushback was actually quite unusual."
Citing Jerome Drevon, a senior analyst on jihad and modern conflict with the International Crisis Group, the Post noted that "typically, when al-Qaeda leaders are killed, sympathizers announce their deaths online as a celebration of martyrdom."
"If the victim was a lower-level member of the organization, groups may not announce their death, he said, but people close to them will, often saying how they were connected to the group," the newspaper reported. "In this case, Drevon said 'there was nothing.'"