How to survive in a world without facts

gasmask2

The utter disregard for truth that we’re seeing with Trump isn’t something that’s completely new… I just went through the archive here and found a number of instances over the past decade or so, where we’ve lamented the fact that truth was becoming a thing of the past. Back in 2008, I apparently even posted something here titled, “Does the truth matter in presidential politics?” Sure, Trump kind of took things to a whole level when he decided to become a national spokesperson for the so-called “birther” movement, suggesting that our President wasn’t even an American, but, really, it’s been with us for quite a while now. From the “swift boating” of John Kerry to the repeated lies concerning Benghazi, we’ve been sliding down this slippery slope for a long, long time.

I mean, lying has been with us from the beginning, but, at least to me, it seems as though we’ve come to a point now where we’re dealing with something now altogether, a completely different animal. In the past, at least as far as I remember, the truth generally won out. Now, though, lies, or at least a significant strain within the broader non-truth ecosystem, have morphed into something much more malignant. Much like antibiotic-resistant “super bugs,” they’ve evolved to the point where we can not longer defeat them. We try to wipe them out with facts, but they’re impervious to it. And the inconsistency of it all is just maddening. One day, we hear audio of Hillary Clinton talking bout being pinned down by sniper fire over video of a scene that doesn’t seem to jive with her story, and we collectively agree to she’s not to be trusted. [See the “lying Hillary” meme.] On another day, though, Trump will say something like “Millions of illegal votes were cast for Clinton,” and it just somehow worms its way into our collective unconscious, to a part of the brain that’s apparently unreachable by logic. Facts, at least for a significant percentage of Americans, simply don’t seem to matter when it comes to a certain kind of lie.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a great example. This is footage, broadcast yesterday, of CNN’s Alisyn Camerota talking with a group of Trump supporters about the perceived problem of voter impersonation.

“Obama told [illegals] they could vote,” one of them tells Camerota. “You can find it on Facebook.” And, when it’s explained to the woman that the footage she’d seen was deceptively edited, and that President Obama never instructed illegal aliens to vote, it doesn’t even seem to register. Instead, the subject turns to California, where, according to those being interviewed, illegal aliens are allowed to vote. Cameron, to her credit, steps in to inform the men and women seated in front of her that this simply isn’t true, but, once again, it doesn’t seem to phase them. They just keep right on going… And, sadly, given the interactions I’ve had with Trump supporters, I don’t think these people are unusual in how tightly they cling to false information, as long, of course, as it reinforces their worldview.

As for that worldview, I hate to generalize, but I suspect, for a large majority of those who support Trump, it can be summed up pretty easily – 1. They see themselves as good, hardworking Americans who are deserving of more than they currently have. 2. They feel that, at least in part, the reason they don’t feel more prosperous and secure is because the liberal elite in Hollywood and Washington, who value diversity more than they do traditional American values, have handed the country over to people who don’t look like them and their neighbors. 3. They’re tired of being told that they should feel ashamed for having the politically incorrect feelings that they’re having… And if you’re lies should happen to line up with that worldview, I think you’ll probably find a receptive audience. And, certainly, a story about Obama, who we all know is probably a Kenyan that was brought up hating America, encouraging “illegals” to cross the border and vote for Clinton, so that she can transfer even more wealth to poor, inner city people of color, has it all. So, really, is it all that surprising that Trump’s most recent lie about voter fraud is as impervious to truth as it is?

And it certainly doesn’t help that more people are getting their “news” from Breitbart and social media than from traditional journalists who ostensibly still value the truth.

Yesterday, on her NPR show, Diane Rehm had Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post, Glenn Thrush of Politico, and James Fallows of The Atlantic with her to discuss the future of journalism in a post-fact world. The conversation, which centered largely around Trump, who has the ability to spread lies at will to a receptive audience of 16.4 million by way of Twitter, was, as you might imagine, terribly depressing. Rehm’s guests, I think it’s fair to say, were flummoxed by Trump. Responding to his lies with truth, I believe they all agreed, just wasn’t working. And, while they had a few ideas as to how we might want to proceed in light of our current situation, my sense was that, when it came right down to it, they had no fucking idea.

At some point during their discussion, Rehm conferenced in Trump stalwart Scottie Nell Hughes, who immediately began spouting bullshit, and then defended her position by claiming the she too was a “classically studied journalist,” a claim that made her fellow geusts gasp. Hughes, after pushing back against the notion that the truth is somehow the property of the liberal elite, dropped the following piece on knowledge on her fellow guests…

“There’s no such thing anymore, unfortunately, as facts,” she said.

And, for what it’s worth, this is life and death. Here’s a perfect illustration. The following comes from an article in Slate today titled, “The House (Anti-)Science Committee Strikes Again.”

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is, ironically but shocking to no one who understands the majority party, quite anti-science. For years now, the committee and its chairman, Lamar Smith, R-Texas, have been merciless in their attacks on both climate scientists and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Smith—who receives a large amount of funding from fossil fuel interests—has been subpoenaing NOAA staff and data repeatedly in what is a transparent attempt both to create a chilling effect and to directly prevent them from doing their very important research into human-generated global warming.

The committee’s Twitter account often reflects this ideology. And Thursday afternoon, to the dismay of many, they tweeted a climate-denying “news” story from Breitbart.

And here’s their post.

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-3-28-33-pm

Which brings me to to the point of today’s post. How, I’m wondering, do we as a culture, make our way back to sanity? And, here, with that in mind, is a short list of things that I’m thinking might help push us back in the direction of truth. And please feel free to add your own. I’d like for this to be a conversation.

1. I’m going to start paying for journalism. I’ve put it off long enough, and, this Christmas, I intend to purchase online subscriptions to the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Detroit Free Press, as well as a magazine or two… Real journalism has never been more critical, and I figure that I should start contributing in some way. And, as a subscriber, I intend to use my voice, complaining when, for instance, these entities refer to white supremacists as the “alt-right”, or insist on giving equal time to anti-science global climate change deniers. [And, yes, I know that these three papers aren’t without fault… I too remember Judith Miller… But I think they’re the best bet we have going forward.]

2. I think we need to go after those who advertise on sites that refuse to conform to journalistic standards, like Breitbart News. I was heartened to see that Kellogg had pulled their advertising from the faux-news site yesterday, and I intend to reward them for that with a cereal purchase and a letter of thanks this weekend. I will also, however, be writing to those companies who still advertise on Breitbart, asking that they follow the lead of Kellogg… And here, to give you an idea of just how seriously the folks at Breitbart are taking Kellogg’s advertising boycott, is a statement by Breitbart editor-in-chief Alexander Marlow.

“Breitbart News is the largest platform for pro-family content anywhere on the Internet. We are fearless advocates for traditional American values, perhaps most important among them is freedom of speech, or our motto ‘more voices, not less.’ For Kellogg’s, an American brand, to blacklist Breitbart News in order to placate left-wing totalitarians is a disgraceful act of cowardice. They insult our incredibly diverse staff and spit in the face of our 45,000,000 highly engaged, highly perceptive, highly loyal readers, many of whom are Kellogg’s customers. Boycotting Breitbart News for presenting mainstream American ideas is an act of discrimination and intense prejudice. If you serve Kellogg’s products to your family, you are serving up bigotry at your breakfast table.”

And this, my friends, is where the wars of capitalist America will be fought. These people don’t care about online petitions. They don’t care about protests in the streets. They care about their profits. And we need to continue directing our energy there.

3. No matter how tiring it becomes, I’m going to try my best to keep engaged with people who don’t share my appreciation for objective truth. [Here, if you’re interested, is an example from earlier today.]

4. I’m going to demand more from our existing news sources… Reading up on Scottie Nell Hughes after hearing her on the radio this morning, I discovered that she’s a paid CNN contributor. While I understand that they want people on staff who can provide a window into the mind of Donald Trump, I feel as though there’s a line that should not be crossed, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to demand that our news networks hire only people who are able to acknowledge the existence of true, objective facts.

5. I’m going to do more on the local press front… All I can say at this point is that I have ideas. I do think, however, that we can’t lose sight of the fact that a lot of this starts at home, at the local level. We need to teach media literacy to kids, and we need to encourage and support local initiatives that prioritize good, solid investigative journalism over click-bait headlines.

6. I will encourage social media companies to be more responsible. Facebook, as I understand it, has started cracking down on fake news, but others need to step up as well. While I don’t think it should necessarily be the job of Twitter to factcheck every tweet that goes out on their platform, they need to accept some responsibility for what we’ve seen happening in America, and respond accordingly. As for what that might look like, I’m not sure. Some are suggesting that they remove Trump’s account until such time that he stops using it to amplify his deliberate and destructive lies. I’m sure, however, there are other things that could be done short of this, like prioritizing responses from trusted fact checkers, etc. Whatever we do, we have to shift the culture back in the direction of sanity, and we need out social media companies onboard to make that happen.

7. I will finally get around to reading Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, paying special attention to how people in the past have successfully responded to the lies of totalitarians. Who knows, I may even bring back the old Ypsi-Arbor Progressive Book Club, so that I don’t have to read it alone.

8. I will try not to become discouraged. I will stay busy. I will not wallow in despair. I will force myself to remain optimistic, and keep believing that, in time, science and truth will win out.

There’s more, but I can no longer keep my eyes open… Please keep the list going. I’m just going to rest my eyes for a while.

Posted in Corporate Crime, History, Ideas, Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 64 Comments

The post-Trump assault on voting rights has already begun in Michigan… Here’s what you can do to fight back

votingrightsdefense

A few days ago, after Trump made the unsubstantiated claim that “millions” of people had voted illegally for his opponent during the recent presidential election, we discussed the possibility that this heightened rhetoric of his concerning voter fraud, which was particularly odd given the fact that he’d won the election, might have been a preemptive justification for significantly expanded Republican voter suppression efforts intended to influence the outcomes of future elections by keeping even more Americans of color from voting. Well, it looks like it’s already beginning to happen here in Michigan.

This morning, in a meeting of the House Elections Committee, Republican Lisa Posthumous Lyons, of Michigan’s 86th District, proposed a series of bills [HB 6066, 6067, and 6068] intended to make voting in Michigan more difficult for people of lesser financial means by putting significant new hurdles in place.

HB 6066, if passed, would require that people obtain photo identification before being allowed to vote in Michigan. [The current system allows for people to sign an affidavit attesting to the fact that they are who they claim to be.] The other two bills, as I understand it, would make state ID and birth records available for free in Michigan. This, I’m told, is being done not because Republicans want to make IDs more accessible, but because, if they didn’t make IDs and birth certificates available for free, HB 6066 would likely be found unconstitutional, as, under current law, you cannot require that people be forced to spend money in order to vote, as doing so would be considered a poll tax… I suppose, however, it’s acceptable under the constitution to require that people expend the effort to track down documentation and spend hours on end waiting in line for an ID.

[Sorry for the interruption, but I’ve got a question… What happens when someone living here in Michigan wasn’t born here, and needs to acquire a birth certificate from out-of-state in order to attain a state issued ID? Will the state be reimbursing people if fees are involved? And, if not, wouldn’t that constitute a poll tax?]

And, I know we’ve discussed it before, but it’s probably worth noting again that, despite what Trump may have tweeted earlier this week about “millions” of people assuming false identities to vote, America does not have a problem when it comes to voter impersonation. Voter fraud, at least on the individual level, as anyone who works in this field will tell you, is extremely rare. In evidence of this fact, a comprehensive investigation in 2014 found that, out of 1 billion votes cast in the United States, there were only 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation. And, this past election cycle, the only documented instance, at least to my knowledge, was a single woman in Iowa who was caught attempting to vote for Trump twice. So, this legislation being put forward by Lyons, at best, is a solution in need of a problem. At worst, however, it’s a very deliberate attempt to discourage a relatively significant portion of our population from voting. [It’s estimated that over 10% of eligible American voters do not have any official form of identification.]

By way of context, here’s a clip from The Nation about what Republicans have already done to gut the Voting Rights Act and “institutionalize voter suppression at every level of government.”

…We can already glimpse how a Trump administration will undermine voting rights, based on the people he nominated to top positions, those he has advising him, and his own statements.

His pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, wrongly prosecuted black civil-rights activists for voter fraud in Alabama in the 1980s, called the Voting Rights Act “a piece of intrusive legislation,” and praised the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013…

If you want a better idea of the lengths a Trump administration might go to suppress voting rights, take a look at what Republicans are doing in North Carolina right now. A month after the Supreme Court ruled that states with a long history of discrimination no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government, North Carolina Republicans passed a “monster” voter-suppression law that required strict photo ID, cut early voting, and eliminated same-day registration and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Like in so many-GOP controlled states, Republicans in North Carolina justified the voting restrictions by spreading false claims about voter fraud. (Such fraud was in fact exceedingly rare: There were only two cases of voter impersonation in North Carolina from 2002 to 2012 out of 35 million votes cast.)

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that North Carolina’s law targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.” But even after the court restored a week of early voting, GOP-controlled county election boards limited early voting hours and polling locations. The executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party called on Republicans to make “party line changes to early voting” that included opposing polling sites on college campuses and prohibiting early voting on Sundays, when black churches held “Souls to the Polls” voter-mobilization drives. The North Carolina GOP bragged before Election Day that “African American Early Voting is down 8.5% from this time in 2012. Caucasian voters early voting is up 22.5% from this time in 2012.”…

Before we move on, it should also be noted that, as a result of those 2013 changes to the Voting Rights Act noted above, there were 868 fewer polling places this year than in 2012, and a majority of those closures were in states like Louisiana and Mississippi, that have a history of voter suppression.

So, now Michigan is headed down the same slippery slope, attempting to put even greater hurdles before the voting public, in hopes of keeping them from the polls. It’s apparently not enough that they’ve gerrymandered the hell out of our voting districts in order to ensure that they will remain in power even as they continue to lose the popular vote in Michigan, but they’re now attempting to ensure that those who aren’t likely Republican stay away from the polls.

But there’s something that you can do to stop it from happening. First thing Thursday morning, before the members of the House Elections Committee meet, you can call them in their offices and demand that they table House Bill 6066 until such time that they can prove we have a voter impersonation problem in Michigan. Here are the members of the committee.

Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R) Committee Chair, 86th District
Eric Leutheuser (R) Majority Vice-Chair, 58th District
Bradford Jacobsen (R) 46th District
Aric Nesbitt (R) 66th District
Klint Kesto (R) 39th District
Gretchen Driskell (D) Minority Vice-Chair, 52nd District
Jeff Irwin (D) 53rd District
Jon Hoadley (D) 60th District

If you follow those links, you’ll find their phone numbers. Just call and say, “I expect you to keep HB 6066 from leaving committee.” And then share this post with your friends around the state of Michigan, especially those who live in the districts of the Republicans noted above, and ask them to do the same.

And, if we can’t keep HB 6066 in committee, and the Republicans try to rush it through to a vote in the Michigan House, be prepared to call your State Rep and demand that they not vote for this legislation. You can find the contact information for your State Rep here. [I’m told that this could leave committee and go to a vote on the floor of the House as early as tomorrow, so be ready to call your Rep as soon as you hear anything. Or, better yet, call you Rep proactively and say, “If HB 606 leaves committee and comes to a vote, I expect you to vote against it.]

I know it may not sound like a big deal to require that people have photo IDs in order to vote. You might be thinking, “I stood in line at the Secretary of State office, why can’t everyone else?” The truth is, however, that not everyone has the means to track down the required paperwork, or the time to invest in navigating the state bureaucracy. More importantly, though, we should be looking ways to open up access right now, and not limit it. Not only is there no credible evidence that voter fraud, like that which HB 6066 is seeking to stop, even exists, but a huge percentage of our citizens aren’t participating as it is. [Michigan, with a population of 9.91 million, has 7,481,074 registered voters, 4.9 million of whom voted in the last presidential election.] If we want to pass any election related laws right now, they should be directed toward increasing access, not limiting it.

And, one last thing… If we don’t stop this now, they’ll keep at it. You can be sure there will be even fewer polling places in communities of color, and even greater hurdles intended to keep certain people from voting. As we’ve discussed before, the Republicans cannot win otherwise. They just don’t have the numbers. So they need to find ways, through gerrymandering and voter suppression, to stay in power. And it’s our job not only to stop them, but to turn the tide in the other direction, fighting for non-partisan redistricting, early voting, and anything else that we can think of to increase democratic participation.

So start calling, OK? The assault isn’t coming. It’s already here. And we need to start fighting.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Michigan, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Trump calls into question the legitimacy of the election, claiming that millions of illegal votes were cast

Yesterday, Donald Trump, our President-elect, took to Twitter and said the following. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide,” he said, “I won the popular vote, if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” This, as everyone knows, is absolute bullshit. Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote has now surpassed 2 million, and, despite his claims about the prevalence of voter fraud, it’s accepted by people who study such things for a living that real instances of people voting illegally are extremely rare. In fact, the only documented instance that I know of this past election cycle was a woman in Iowa who was caught attempting to vote for Trump twice. In spite of this, however, Trump continues, even in victory, to push the voter fraud narrative. The question is why.

trumpopularvote

Maybe he’s so thin skinned that he can’t accept that he lost the popular vote. Maybe it’s just ego, an absolute unwillingness to accept defeat, even when it doesn’t matter. Maybe he can’t accept the fact that was put in office by just 18.8% of Americans, and needs to create the illusion that he actually has a mandate, even if it means calling into to question the integrity of the system that awarded him the presidency. Or, maybe the folks at BoingBoing.net are onto something when they say that this most recent tantrum of Trump’s was just a diversion intended to get us talking about something other than the exhaustive New York Times piece which had come out hours before enumerating our President-elect’s numerous conflicts of interest. Regardless of his motivation, though, this most recent tweet of his has people incredibly concerned, as it not only threatens to undermine public confidence in our democratic institutions, but may be used to justify even greater voter suppression attempts in the future.

Of the articles I’ve seen written about this most recent tweet of Trump’s, I liked the one in The Nation the best, as it went into detail as to the efforts that have already made by Republicans to gut the Voting Rights Act and “institutionalize voter suppression at every level of government.” Here’s just a little taste.

Donald Trump’s tweets yesterday about “the millions of people who voted illegally in 2016” and “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California” cannot be dismissed as just another Twitter meltdown from the president-elect. (It goes without saying that Trump’s claims are categorically false.)

His conspiracy theories about rigged elections during the presidential race were meant to delegitimize the possibility of Hillary Clinton’s election. But now that he’s won the election we have to take his words far more seriously. He will appoint the next attorney general, at least one Supreme Court justice and thousands of positions in the federal government. His lies about the prevalence of voter fraud are a prelude to the massive voter suppression Trump and his allies in the GOP are about to unleash.

Unlike his Democratic and Republican predecessors, Trump has little respect for the institutions that preserve American democracy, whether it’s freedom of the press or the right to vote. As I wrote in The Nation recently:

“Trump undermined the basic tenets of democracy in ways unseen by any previous presidential nominee. He said he might refuse to accept the outcome of the election if things didn’t go his way; his supporters explicitly called for ‘racial profiling’ at the polls; and his campaign openly boasted that ‘we have three major voter-suppression operations under way’ to reduce turnout among African Americans, young women, and liberals.”

We can already glimpse how a Trump administration will undermine voting rights, based on the people he nominated to top positions, those he has advising him, and his own statements.

His pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, wrongly prosecuted black civil-rights activists for voter fraud in Alabama in the 1980s, called the Voting Rights Act “a piece of intrusive legislation,” and praised the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013…

If you want a better idea of the lengths a Trump administration might go to suppress voting rights, take a look at what Republicans are doing in North Carolina right now. A month after the Supreme Court ruled that states with a long history of discrimination no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government, North Carolina Republicans passed a “monster” voter-suppression law that required strict photo ID, cut early voting, and eliminated same-day registration and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Like in so many-GOP controlled states, Republicans in North Carolina justified the voting restrictions by spreading false claims about voter fraud. (Such fraud was in fact exceedingly rare: There were only two cases of voter impersonation in North Carolina from 2002 to 2012 out of 35 million votes cast.)

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that North Carolina’s law targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.” But even after the court restored a week of early voting, GOP-controlled county election boards limited early voting hours and polling locations. The executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party called on Republicans to make “party line changes to early voting” that included opposing polling sites on college campuses and prohibiting early voting on Sundays, when black churches held “Souls to the Polls” voter-mobilization drives. The North Carolina GOP bragged before Election Day that “African American Early Voting is down 8.5% from this time in 2012. Caucasian voters early voting is up 22.5% from this time in 2012.”…

Before we move on, it should also be noted that, as a result of those 2013 changes to the Voting Rights Act, there were 868 fewer polling places this year than in 2012, and a majority of those closures were in states like Louisiana and Mississippi, that have a history of voter suppression.

One last thing before we move on… The New York Times ran a lengthy profile piece on Trump’s senior strategist Steve Bannon today, which include the following story.

…Ms. Jones, the film colleague, said that in their years working together, Mr. Bannon occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.

“I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?’” referring to Mr. Bannon’s executive assistant. “He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.’”

Make of that what you will.

The simple fact of the matter is, American demographics are shifting, and, if conservatives want to remain in power, they either have to appeal to people of color, or find ways to keep people of color from voting. And, from what we’ve seen, it seems pretty clear that they’ve chosen to do the latter. The question is, just how aggressively they’ll push forward now that they have control over the House, the Senate, and the White House. Regardless of how hard they push, though, we need to be prepared to fight back. As Bernie Sanders said today, it’s our job, both at the state and federal level, to “resist all efforts at voter suppression… (doing) everything we can to make it easier for people to participate in the political process, not harder.”

One last thing, as long as we’re on the subject…. And this is really scary… Let’s assume that the Electors don’t stand up and vote against Trump in January, and that the Democrats are unsuccessful in their attempts to impeach him. Let’s say he serves an entire term, and runs next year against Elizabeth Warren and loses. What happens then? Does he walk away from office peacefully, or does he insist on staying, claiming that, once again, the election has been “rigged”? And, if that happens, what do we do? Who steps in and ensures a peaceful transition of power?

Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 72 Comments

Our little snowflake on the “Not Bannon” postcard avalanche

I don’t know what good it’ll do, as I suspect it’ll be immediately thrown into the hellmouth that Trump Tower sits on top of, but Arlo and I mailed a postcard to Donald Trump today as part of the Postcard Avalanche to Denounce Bannon. Here, in hopes that it may convince you to join us, is our contribution. I told Arlo that he could draw anything that he wanted, and he drew a monster. I then followed up by writing something like “Bannon’s worse” beneath it. I was tempted to say more, but, considering the attention span of our President-elect, I think we played it the right way. Anyway, I’ve got my fingers crossed that this postcard of ours is going to accomplish what all of the thoughtful editorials written over the past two weeks could not, and convince our President-elect to do the right thing and jettison Bannon, the man credited with giving the so-called “alt-right” it’s mainstream voice, from his cabinet.

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Like I said, I’m doubtful it’ll change anything, but I figured I could invest the 34 cents for a stamp, and a few minutes with my son, on the off chance that somethingg positive might come of it. Personally, I think my time would be better spent trying to blackmail individual members of the Electoral College, but I suppose it’s possible that something positive might grow out of this postcard campaign… Who knows, Trump might wind up buried beneath a mountain of mail, like the judge in Miracle on 34th Street.

While you might be a little late for the official avalanche, as the organizers wanted all of the “Not Bannon” postcards in the mail by today, here’s Trump’s address, in case you’d like to send him a note about Steve Bannon, the white nationalist who he’s tapped to be his chief White House strategist, or anything else that strikes you.

Donald Trump
c/o The Trump Organization
725 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10022

And, yes, I did get two postcards. The second one is headed off to Obama. It’s also got a monster on it, but it’s a thank you letter… And, yes, Trump Tower really does sit on a hellmouth.

Posted in Mark's Life, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

We should have stopped Betsy DeVos when we had the chance

devostrump2

On behalf of the people of Michigan, I apologize… Not only were we one of three states credited with making Donald Trump, the least qualified presidential candidate in American history, our President-elect, but, as it turns out, we might also be responsible for ending public education as we know it. You see, we, the people of Michigan, had a chance to stop Amway billionaire Betsy DeVos from dismantling our public schools, but we didn’t do it. And, now, unless something unexpected happens, it looks as though she’s going to be replicating the failed policies that she championed in Michigan across the entire nation as our next Secretary of Education.

While DeVos has absolutely no qualifications for the job, she does have money, and she’s proven again and again that she’ll use it to get what she wants. As she said in a 1997 op-ed for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee.” She then when on to add, “I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.” And, with this as her objective, DeVos, with her $5.1 billion net worth behind her, has wreaked havoc in Michigan, funding successful legislative efforts to efforts to, among other things, “restore religious freedom” by keeping gay couples from adopting and stop Michigan cities from passing living wage ordinances. But her real passion is in the realm of education reform, where she’s worked tirelessly to ensure that Michigan is the most anti-public education state in the union, funding campaigns to remove all caps on charter schools, while, at the same time, guaranteeing virtually no oversight.

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said of DeVos yesterday: “Her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers – which take away funding and local control from our public schools – to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense. These schemes do nothing to help our most vulnerable students while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps.

“She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education,” Eskelsen García went on to say. “By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities.”

And, for what it’s worth, Eskelsen García isn’t employing hyperbole here. Those of us who live in Michigan have seen it play out firsthand. We’ve seen the ubiquitous billboards for fly-by-night virtual charters offering to educate our kids over the internet. [They give kids laptops and access to an online platform, and just collect the money from the state that would have otherwise directed to a public school.] And we’ve seen our school districts closing once vital neighborhood schools right and left due to the unchecked proliferation of charter schools and a “schools of choice” system that pits neighboring districts against one another, fighting over those “good” students who don’t require things like special education, which can be costly.

They’ve been assuring us for the past 20 years that this unfettered competition will yield better opportunities for our students, but the results just don’t bear that out. [More on that in a minute.] I’d argue, however, that better schools were never the end goal. I think, from day one, the real objective has always been to kill the teachers unions, while, at the same time, funneling public money into the hands of private corporations, which, in turn, contribute to conservative causes and legislators. And, it’s working. While I don’t have current data, between 2012 and 2015, Michigan’s two teachers unions, the MEA and the AFT, lost almost 28,000 members. And, in large part that’s due to the overwhelming growth of the charter school industry, which, according to the Detroit Free Press, “Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into.” [] More importantly, though, these programs pushed by DeVos and others, just aren’t working for kids.

A recent investigation by the Detroit Free Press, which looked at two decades of charter school records and data from across Michigan, found: “Wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records. No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them. And a record number of charter schools run by for-profit companies that rake in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spend it, saying they’re private and not subject to disclosure laws. Michigan leads the nation in schools run by for-profits.” And much of the blame lies with DeVos, who not only led, but funded, the charge.

Here, from Chalkbeat, is a great example of DeVos in action: “When Michigan lawmakers this year were considering a measure that would have added oversight for charter schools in Detroit, members of the DeVos family poured $1.45 million into legislators’ campaign coffers — an average of $25,000 a day for seven weeks. Oversight was not included in the final legislation.”

And, that, my friends, is the kind of maneuvering on behalf of the for-profit charter industry that you can expect to see happening across the United States, assuming DeVos is confirmed as Trump’s Secretary of Education… I’m not sure what she paid for cabinet post, but you can be damn sure she’s going to see a return on that investment.

[If I had to guess, I’d say that, in return for the cabinet position, DeVos offered to supply Amway lightbulbs and laundry detergent to all of Trump’s properties at a deep discount. I hope someone asks when she goes before the Senate for her confirmation hearing.]

For what it’s worth, DeVos wasn’t always a fan of Trump’s. “(He) does not represent the Republican Party,” she said of Trump prior to the election, calling him an “interloper.” I guess her opinion of him changed, however, when he won, opening up an opportunity for her to bring her crusade to the entire nation.

So, if you ever looked at Michigan and thought, “How in the hell can people live in a state where their leaders are actually arguing in court that literacy isn’t a fundamental right under the Constitution?”, it’s headed your way. Consider yourselves warned.

And, for what it’s worth, the ultimate objective for some in the DeVos camp may be even darker than just ending public education in America as we know it. It’s being reported today that the Acton Institute, a right wing organization funded by DeVos, is pro-child labor. [On their site, they’ve referred to child labor as, “a gift our kids can handle.”] Just a few weeks ago, the organization posted an essay to their blog which included the following. “Let us not just teach our children to play hard and study well, shuffling them through a long line of hobbies and electives and educational activities,” the piece said. “A long day’s work and a load of sweat have plenty to teach as well.”

Indeed.

I should point out that there’s no evidence that I’m aware of that would indicate DeVos wants to dismantle child labor laws, or put children to work inside the light bulb factories that power her family’s lucrative pyramid scheme. I do think, however, it’s important at times like these to remember that this is where the path we’re on leads. We don’t talk about it a lot, but, not too long ago, we actually had American children working in mines and textile plants, and there’s no reason to think that it couldn’t happen again. It’s also important to remember that it’s not just whacky right wing think tank employees who are musing about the prospect of bringing children back into the workforce. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has called our current child protection laws “truly stupid,” and, not too long ago, in Maine, Republicans passed something called The Act to Enhance Access to the Workplace for Minors, which sought to roll back some of those very child labor laws Gingrich objected to. So, yes, feel free to laugh off the suggestion that DeVos has been tied to an organization calling for the eradication of child labor laws, but do so at your own peril. As we’ve seen in the past, this is exactly what unfettered capitalism leads to… It won’t be enough to just end the minimum wage. They’ll eventually want our kids.

Leaving child labor aside, DeVos, by almost any objective criteria, is a terrible choice for Secretary of Education. Not only has every initiative that she’s backed in Michigan hurt kids, but she’s never worked in education, which, one would think, would be a prerequisite for Secretary of Education. Not only has she never taught, or run a school, she’s never even had a child in public school. [Her children attended Grand Rapids Christian.]

But enough of what I think. Here are a few thoughts from other people who are smarter than me about the DeVos appointment.

New York Times:

…As one of the architects of Detroit’s charter school system, she is partly responsible for what even charter advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country. At least some of the other candidates for education secretary, like Michelle Rhee, the former District of Columbia schools chancellor, led reforms that were accompanied by improved student results.

Consider this: Detroit is one of many cities in the country that participates in an objective and rigorous test of student academic skills, called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The other cities participating in the urban version of this test, including Baltimore, Cleveland and Memphis, are widely considered to be among the lowest-performing school districts in the country.

Detroit is not only the lowest in this group of lowest-performing districts on the math and reading scores, it is the lowest by far. One well-regarded study found that Detroit’s charter schools performed at about the same dismal level as its traditional public schools. The situation is so bad that national philanthropists interested in school reform refuse to work in Detroit. As someone who has studied the city’s schools and used to work there, I am saddened by all this.

The situation is not entirely Ms. DeVos’s fault, of course, but she is widely seen as the main driver of the entire state’s school overhaul. She devised Detroit’s system to run like the Wild West. It’s hardly a surprise that the system, which has almost no oversight, has failed. Schools there can do poorly and still continue to enroll students. Also, after more than a decade of Ms. DeVos’s getting her way on a host of statewide education policies, Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of five states with declining reading scores…

ACLU Michigan:

We strongly urge Congress to scrutinize the record of Betsy DeVos, who has been a staunch proponent of school vouchers, a misguided idea that diverts taxpayer dollars into private and parochial schools and perverts the bedrock American value of separation of church and state. She and her husband served as the primary fundraisers and engine for a Michigan ballot initiative –Kids First! Yes! Coalition that voters soundly rejected in 2000.

She has ardently supported the unlimited, unregulated growth of charter schools in Michigan, elevating for-profit schools with no consideration of the severe harm done to traditional public schools. She’s done this despite overwhelming evidence that proves that charters do no better at educating children than traditional public schools and serve only to exacerbate funding problems for cash-strapped public districts. We believe that all children have a right to a quality public education, and we fear that Betsy DeVos’ relentless advocacy of charter schools and vouchers betrays these principles.

Brandon Dillon, Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party:

Donald Trump could not have made a more dangerous and ill-advised pick for his Secretary of Education than billionaire charter school advocate and anti-public education activist Betsy DeVos… Here is someone, in Betsy DeVos, who has made it her life’s work to channel her family’s massive wealth toward destroying Michigan’s public education system, and now she’s about to oversee the policy and direction of education for the entire United States. She has consistently encouraged and enabled attacks on public school teachers and our children’s right to a quality public education, to line the pockets of corporate charter school investors and make her family’s extremely conservative views part of a mainstream curriculum…

Vox:

Unlike others Trump was reportedly considering for the post, including education reform advocate Michelle Rhee and former state superintendents from Indiana and Florida, DeVos has never been formally involved with public education. She hasn’t been a teacher or principal, or run a school district or state education agency. She’s never even taken a public position on Common Core, the education standards that Trump railed against on the campaign trail.

But DeVos has a long history of activism on one issue: school choice — a term that refers to both school vouchers, which allow parents to use taxpayer money to send their children to private school, and charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run…

And DeVos is a voucher advocate first and foremost, advocating both for vouchers for children and for tax credits to businesses that give money to private school scholarship funds. She and her husband founded All Children Matter, a political action committee that supports school vouchers and private school scholarships, and she chairs the American Federation for Children, which advocates for the same issues.

Voucher programs, though, have been established at the state level — most education funding in the US is state and local, and despite efforts from congressional Republicans, Congress has never instituted a national school voucher program. Trump has vowed to try, and his nomination of DeVos suggests that he’s serious.

Trump’s plan for his first 100 days includes the creation of a $20 billion school choice program. The money — which is more than the Education Department currently spends on supporting K-12 education for poor students, and which Trump says would be found by “reprioritizing existing federal dollars,” meaning budget cuts elsewhere — would go to states with laws that agree to let the money follow students to schools of their choice.

In practice, this would mean a giant influx of federal money into private schools, which would be tied to students. So if a student chose to attend a public school, the public school would get the money; if she went to a private school, the private school would benefit…

Detroit News:

…In 2000, Betsy and Dick DeVos funded an unsuccessful statewide ballot initiative to amend the state Constitution to allow tax dollars to be used for private school tuition through education vouchers. They have since advocated for school vouchers in other states.

In 2012, Dick DeVos led the charge in getting the Legislature to make Michigan a right-to-work state, eliminating work rules that made financial support of unions a condition of employment for teachers in public schools.

The DeVoses founded their own charter high school, the West Michigan Aviation Academy, located on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids.

Gov. Rick Snyder weighed in Wednesday in a statement, saying Betsy DeVos “will mean great things for Michigan.”

“Betsy’s appointment will mean great things for Michigan and for children around the nation as she takes her no-nonsense commitment to empowering parents to the highest levels in Washington,” Snyder said…

So, I hope you’re ready, America. Betsy DeVos and her “no-nonsense commitment to empowering parents” is coming your way. And, soon, you too will know what it’s like to see your public education infrastructure crumble around you, as charter schools, unencumbered by oversight, pop up on every corner, dragging down your childhood literacy rates and weakening your communities, all while your tax dollars move out of state, and into the pockets of corporate shareholders… And, for what it’s worth, I wasn’t kidding about literacy rates dropping precipitously. In 2003, Michigan was 28th among the states when it came to fourth-grade reading achievement. By 205, we’d dropped to 41st. [Remember, according to the folks in Lansing literacy isn’t a fundamental right.]

And, for what it’s worth, I do feel guilty about not having done more to stop DeVos when we had a chance, or Governor Engler, for that matter, back when all of this started in Michigan. We had our opportunities. We allowed things to happen, though. And, over time, they added up, bring us to where we are today, staring hopelessly into the abyss. But I guess that’s how things like this always come about. You fight for a while, but you eventually let your guard down. And, when you do, people with power, time and money are ready to take advantage. And you don’t realize the enormity of what’s happening until it’s too late. So, now, I’m afraid, because we allowed Michigan to fall, the rest of the country, under the direction of Betsy DeVos, is likely going to follow suit… More charters. Less oversight. More separation between those who have the economic means to put their kids in private schools and those who don’t. And I can’t help but think it’ll be devastating to the very fabric of our society… What does society look like, I wonder, when a teacher’s salary is no longer enough to support a family? Do our best and brightest continue to go into the profession? And what becomes of our neighborhoods without local schools to tie people of different faiths, races and classes together? And what becomes of kids who move from K to 12 without ever engaging with people from outside their same socio-economic group? What kid aspires to be a doctor if none of his friends have parents who are doctors? And who fights to protect the rights of Muslims if they’ve never gotten to know one, perhaps through the PTA? And how are we ever going to solve issues like global climate change if we don’t prepare the next generation for the fight? And how do we stop this process that we’re caught up in, when we’re all just struggling to stay afloat? Who has the time and energy, after fighting to find a good educational situations for our own kids, to worry about everyone else?

It’s almost too overwhelming to even think about, but we need to get beyond that paralysis. We need to not only resist on behalf of our future generations, but we need to reclaim what’s already been lost. It’s not enough to stop Trump and DeVos, we need to invest even more in public education, ensuring that our kids grow up with the intelligence not to repeat our mistakes, and the skills necessary to repair the damage that we’ve done. We’ve already given them a world of shit… the least we can do is educate them so that they have a fighting chance.

Posted in Church and State, Civil Liberties, Corporate Crime, Detroit, Education, Michigan, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 65 Comments

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