One of the big best-sellers last summer was the 500-page paperback The 9/11 Commission Report, which culled the results of a year of feisty, televised public hearings, at which officials like Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice had struggled to defend the Bush administration’s failure to prevent the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The hearings revealed decades of incompetence and infighting between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The 10 members of the commission-five Democrats, five Republicans-showed what real bipartisanship is all about and did a superb job of diagnosing the problems and suggesting solutions, such as creating the post of national intelligence director. When the commission disbanded last August, Americans could feel that something worthy had been accomplished.
But there was one problem: George W. Bush and members of Congress have been slow to adopt many of the commission’s most urgent recommendations, and the country remains in grave danger of future attacks. So this week, the members of the commission announced they would be calling more hearings, having re-formed themselves into a private group: the 9/11 Public Discourse Project. The new group, which doesn’t have subpoena power, is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and other philanthropic organizations. The hearings will look at the Bush administration’s counterterrorism efforts and will culminate in a new report which will likely point to the vast gaps that still exist in the country’s ability to defend itself.
This is very good news. The commission members, chaired by former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, are the true patriots of American life at the moment, and their dedication toward getting results is a much-needed antidote to the Bush administration’s hypocrisy and dissembling in the so-called “war on terror.” As the group said in a statement, “The perils of inaction are far too high-and the strategic value of the Commission’s findings too important-for the work of the 9-11 Commission not to continue.”
The group has asked the Bush administration for access to recent information about how the C.I.A., F.B.I. and State Department are responding to terrorist threats. It’s safe to say that the White House and leaders of Congress are not thrilled. After all, Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld vigorously opposed the previous hearings and fought with the commission over evidence and witnesses. Without any power to force witnesses to testify or subpoena documents, will the new hearings be effective? Fortunately, the 10 members of the commission are no slouches, and it would be foolish for the White House to stonewall them. In addition to Mr. Kean, they include well-known power brokers like John Lehman, a former Secretary of the Navy; former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey; Lee Hamilton, former chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Jamie Gorelick, a Democratic former deputy attorney general; and former Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste.
High on the group’s agenda will be to ask why Mr. Bush hasn’t taken more action to track down the stores of nuclear materials which are scattered through the former Soviet Union, and which could result in unimaginable catastrophe if obtained by terrorists. The group also wants to know why unified radio frequencies haven’t been established for police and fire departments throughout the country. In addition, the hearings will look into the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
By refusing to silently slip away while George Bush bungles the job of protecting the nation, the members of the 9/11 Public Discourse Project are reminding the country that a committed group of private citizens still has the power to shine light on the truth.
Bloomberg and Klein Get an A
When Michael Bloomberg set out to do for public education what Rudy Giuliani did for crime, many thought he was setting himself up for failure. The city’s public schools were mired in mediocrity, a situation which seemed to upset neither the teachers’ union nor the bureaucracy. The Board of Education was accountable to no one, and school chancellors came and went in dizzying succession. Everybody-except the students and their families-had an interest in maintaining the bleak status quo.
But, just as Mr. Giuliani showed that New York was not an ungovernable hellhole of crime and disorder, Mayor Bloomberg is demonstrating that personal accountability and high standards can make a difference in public education.
The latest evidence of Mr. Bloomberg’s success comes from the city’s fifth-graders, whose test scores increased dramatically this year. This comes on the heels of similar good news from the city’s fourth-graders, whose scores are also up. It is noteworthy, too, that children from minority households are showing the greatest improvement.
New test results show a dramatic increase in the number of fifth-graders who scored high enough to earn an automatic promotion to sixth grade. Last year, about 78 percent of fifth-graders earned promotion through testing. This year, about 91 percent did.
The scores vindicated Mr. Bloomberg’s stated goal of ending the practice of social promotion-that is, the well-meaning but highly dubious practice of moving children to the next grade regardless of classroom performance. Under his watch, fifth-graders have had to show that they can handle sixth-grade material before they are rewarded with promotion.
Mr. Bloomberg had every reason to be jubilant. “Our reforms are working,” he said. Who can deny it?
Critics were appalled when the Mayor said he would end social promotion-then again, critics were appalled when Mr. Giuliani insisted that there is no such thing as a victimless crime. Both disregarded the criticisms and have been proven right.
Overall, city public-school students in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh grades recorded the best reading and math scores in more than a decade. Those students, their families and their teachers deserve congratulations, along with Mr. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.
The Luxury of Gratitude
What does it mean to be rich? The writer, TV personality and economist Ben Stein put his finger on it in a recent essay for The New York Times, in which he wrote that the only way to truly feel rich is to cultivate a feeling of gratitude for whatever you have.
Mr. Stein tells the story of his father, Herb Stein, who as a Jewish undergraduate at Williams College wasn’t allowed to join a fraternity, but who took a job washing dishes in the basement of the Sigma Psi frat house. When he asked his father if he felt angry about this, his father replied, “Not at all. I didn’t have the luxury of feeling aggrieved. I was just grateful to have a job so I could go to one of the best schools in the country.” Herb Stein went on to become a well-known economist and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.
That inner gratitude, Ben Stein concluded, was the “secret ingredient” in his father’s success and happiness. He writes that he tries to apply that lesson to any frustrating situation he finds himself in. For example, if you’re stuck in an endless line at an airport while on a business trip, don’t focus on the long wait; focus on the fact that you have a job, and that having a job is a very good thing. As Mr. Stein writes, “Be grateful about everything and you’ll feel a lot richer than the billionaires I know who are always moaning about everything that happens and who lament, like King Canute, that they cannot control the waves of the market or the business cycle.”