Betsy DeVos turns her back on trans students

Yesterday, there was a lot of talk online about how Betsy DeVos, our controversial new Secretary of Education, had taken a principled stand on behalf of transgender students, pushing back against Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump, both of whom had apparently urged her to support the rollback of protections extended by the Obama administration, allowing students at schools accepting government funds to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding with their gender identity. DeVos, according to the New York Times, had taken her concerns directly to Trump, who essentially offered her a choice… either get on board, or step down as Secretary of Education.

DeVos chose to keep her job.

She did, however, release a letter Wednesday evening stating the following.

“We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools… I consider protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.”

And, based on what I saw on social media, a lot of us were encouraged by this. Unfortunately, this afternoon, when DeVos took the stage a CPAC, any illusion those of us on the left might have had that DeVos was going to be a champion for civil rights inside the administration was completely shattered. Here’s the video. In it, you can hear DeVos choosing to discuss the entire episode not in terms of the rights of trans students, but in terms of Obama’s “administration overreach.”

This issue was a very huge example of Obama administration overreach, one-size-fits-all approach to issues best solved at personal and local level,” DeVos told the enthusiastic CPAC audience.

Some people whom I respect believe that DeVos did as much as she could be expected to do. Stepping down over this, they seem to think, wouldn’t help anyone, as this guidance by the Obama administration would have been rescinded anyway. I’m inclined, however, to say that she could have done more. While I suppose it’s a step in the right direction that she came out and said, she’d been “quietly supportive of gay rights” for some time, it’s not enough. This isn’t a states rights issue. It’s a civil rights issue.

DeVos knows full well that, by reversing this rule, many of our most vulnerable children will suffer. And yet she went along with it. Regardless of how conflicted she may felt about doing so, she made a choice to go along with the administration. She made a choice. She turned her back on trans children so that she could continue to enact her anti-public education agenda. And it’s difficult for me to see much in that worthy of praise. So, yes, it’s nice that she said she was sympathetic, but we should judge her by her actions, not her words. She turned her back yesterday on these children she swore to protect, and we should hold her accountable for that.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The evolving acceptability of presidential golf

I know there are serious things that need to discussed right now, like Steve Bannon’s appearance at CPAC this afternoon, but, having hauled trash for the past two hours, I just can’t seem to muster the energy that would require. So, instead, here’s an interesting little timeline about the evolving acceptability of presidential golf that I just put together after having read about a dozen articles on the subject. I hope you enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it.

From 2011 to 2014: Trump, according to the Washington Post, tweeted 38 times about Obama’s golfing and vacations between 2011 and 2014, saying things like “nice work ethic.” Here’s an example from October 2013.

December 2016: On the campaign trail in Michigan, Trump said of Obama, “He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods. We don’t have time for this. We don’t have time for this. We have to work.

February 2016: While complaining about Obama’s golfing, Trump tells a crowd in New Hampshire that, if he were in office, he wouldn’t waste time on the links. “I’d want to stay in the White House and work my ass off,” he told the cheering crowd.

August 2016: Speaking in front of a rally in Virginia, Trump, referencing Obama’s golfing, says, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf.

November 2016: Already starting to back off on the rhetoric, Trump conceded that it might be OK for a President to occasionally play golf, but only with foreign dignitaries. “But always play with leaders of countries and people that can help us,” he said.

February 11, 2017: White House reporter for The Associated Press Jill Colvin tweets an image from the room where the press has been sequestered at a Florida golf club. The photo shows that the windows facing the course have been covered in black plastic so that the reporters can’t see whether or not Trump is golfing outside.

March 19, 2017: When asked whether or not Trump had been golfing during the six visits he’d made to Florida golf courses since taking office four weeks ago, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said only that Trump had played “a couple of holes” that day and the day and the day before.

March 20, 2017: Professional golfer Rory McIlroy, in an interview with the golf blog No Laying Up, said that he’d shot 18 holes with Trump the day before, contradicting the story put out by the White House.

March 21, 2017: When asked about McIlroy’s comment, Sarah Huckabee Sanders amends her statement from the day before. “He intended to play a few holes,” the White House spokeswoman said, but “decided to play longer.”

It’s a minor thing. Personally, I don’t care at all Trump golfs. In fact, anything that keeps him out of the White House, and away from the desk where he keeps signing executive orders, is fine by me. With that said, though, I think this is the kind of thing that might actually resonate with some of those folks who voted for Trump. It’s not complex, like immigration policy. It’s very black and white. He promised that, as our President, he would work his “ass off” for us, and not golf, like Obama. Instead, he’s played golf six times in his very first month as President. And he did so behind blacked out windows. I’m sure a majority of his supporters won’t give a damn. They’ll justify it to themselves somehow. But I suspect that some, who are perhaps already beginning to realize that they’ve been lied to, might.

In contrast, Obama, who Trump constantly berated for golfing, didn’t play his first round of presidential golf until April 26, 2009, a full three months after taking office.

To put Trump’s golfing into perspective, here’s something that MSNBC producer Kyle Griffin shared earlier today from data aggregated by the Washington Post… During his first month in office, Trump spent 25 hours golfing, 21 hours on foreign relations, 13 hours tweeting, and 6 hours in intelligence briefings.

To use Trump’s own words, “Can you believe that, with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President (Trump) spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter.”

And, for what it’s worth, to hear Trump tell it, the situation in America right now is worse than it was when Obama took over, so, it would stand to reason, it’s even worse to take time away from the White House to golf right now than it was eight years ago. I mean, wasn’t Trump just raving the other day about how he’d “inherited a mess“?

And it’s not just the fact that he’s spending his time golfing when he should be working his “ass off.” It’s that his repeated vacations to Florida are costing us, the American taxpayers, a fortune. The following is from the no-so-liberal Forbes.

Donald Trump’s regular jaunts to his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida appear to be costing taxpayers a small fortune. The president’s three trips have probably cost the federal Treasury about $10 million, the Washington Post estimates, based on an October 2016 Government Accountability Office analysis of White House travel.

By comparison, Barack Obama’s travel expenses averaged just $12.1 million during each year of his presidency. In total, Obama’s eight year travel bill came to $97 million and unbelievably, Donald Trump is on pace to outspend him in less than one year. The Washington Post says “the elaborate lifestyle of America’s first family is straining the Secret Service and security officials, stirring financial and logistical concerns in several local communities, and costing far beyond what has been typical for previous presidents.”

Before he became America’s commander in chief, Trump frequently criticized Obama’s travel expenses on Fox News and via his Twitter account…

I know we’ve entered the world of “alternative facts,” and that reality doesn’t hold as much weight as it once did, but it’s important to remember, I think, just how much the Republicans complained about all of this prior to Trump becoming our President… Here’s another tweet from the historical archives.

To Trump’s credit, he stayed on message right up until the inauguration. As you might recall, he told 60 Minutes, in his first interview after winning the presidency, “I don’t think we’ll be very big on vacations, no.” Of course all of that changed that first weekend in office, when he decided to take off for Florida.

In the whole scheme of things, like I said, it’s not that important. There are other lies… other manipulations… that are far worse. But I’d argue that this is still something that’s worth talking about. It’s tangible. It’s something that can’t be denied. Trump was elected in part because he cast our previous President as a man who would rather be out golfing than doing the work of the people, and wasting our hard-earned dollars in the process. And, now that he’s in office, he’s doing the same thing ten times over. Of course, he is a successful, white business man… And I guess it’s different when it’s a 70 year old white guy swinging the club.

Posted in Politics, Rants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

I don’t have to see Stephen Miller’s fingers to know that he’s a racist

I’ve seen it being mentioned all over social media today that Trump advisor Stephen Miller was caught throwing a white power hand sign during a recent television interview, and I suppose there could be something to it, as Miller has proven himself time and again to be an absolutely despicable human being, but it seems to me kind of like when, several years ago, people on the right were sharing photos of Barack and Michelle Obama fist bumping one another and saying that it was a “terrorist fist jab.” And, really, isn’t there enough real stuff to dislike about Miller already? I mean, we already know that he’s a racist, right? It’s not like he’s hiding the fact. It’s not like we caught someone like Justin Trudeau furtively throwing a white power hand sign while apologizing to the indigenous people of Canada. Now, that would be news. Miller isn’t hiding it, though. We know what he stands for. We know about the Hispanic students that he intimidated in high school, and the role he played in pushing forward Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim travel ban. I’m all for people singling Miller out and holding him accountable for what he’s been doing in the White House, but let’s focus on the real stuff, OK? Miller, Bannon, and others, regardless of how their fingers might be arranged, are pushing legislation that will hurt people of color in this country. And that, in and of itself, should be enough to get us angry. We’re way beyond hand signs here. They’re ramping up deportations, filling the government with people like Jeff Sessions, and, as we just discussed yesterday, preparing to cut funding for schools and districts serving high poverty populations. You don’t have to squint your eyes to see it. You don’t have to analyze video frame by frame. It’s all right there, playing out in front of us.

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Republicans introduce bill to replace 1965 legislation that guarantees free and equitable public education for all with a national voucher program intended to kill public education as we know it

On January 23rd of this year, two weeks before billionaire turned anti-public education crusader Betsy DeVos was sworn in as Secretary of Education, Congressman Steve King of Iowa introduced HR 610, a bill which, if passed into law, would replace Lyndon Johnson’s landmark 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) with something that King and other Republicans are referring to as the School Choice Act. Before we get into what the School Choice Act would do, here, from the Minneapolis Start Tribune, is some background concerning what would be lost with the elimination of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which has, for the past half century, guaranteed the right to free and equitable public education across the United States. Following are just a few of the things that President Johnson’s historic legislation, first passed as part of his “war on poverty,” provided for.

…Title I, part A supports schools and districts serving a high poverty population. These dollars pay for support to help children meet challenging academic standards, in reading and math intervention classes or after-school homework help, for example.

Title II provides grants to states to support the training, recruitment and retention of highly qualified teachers and principals.

Title III focuses on helping schools ensure that English learners and immigrant students attain English proficiency and meet the same challenging state standards as all students.

Title IV funds block grants for enrichment learning like STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — programs and technology integration.

Title V supports school reform efforts.

Titles VI and VII pay for programs supporting Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education.

Title VIII provides funding for educating homeless children…

And, as the Minneapolis Start Tribune op-ed points out, “HR 610 would repeal all of these regulations and programs by eliminating the ESEA to create block grants used to ‘distribute a portion of funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or to home-school their child.'”

And, yes, you read that right. HR 610 would eliminate these title initiatives, redirecting federal funds instead to individual states in the form of block grants to be distributed via school voucher programs to families that choose not to send their children to their local public schools. So, whereas in the past, those who chose to send their children to private schools still contributed toward the operation of their local public schools through their tax dollars, that would no longer be the case under the School Choice Act. If King’s legislation should pass, those who, for instance, choose to send their children to private religious schools, would essentially get that money returned to them that would have otherwise gone toward supporting public education.

Speaking of religious schools, did you happen to see this footage shot back in October of Trump visiting a religious school in Nevada where children “pledge allegiance” not to the United States of America, but to “the Bible”? Should this bill pass, schools like this would be federally funded with our tax dollars, as would schools, like we discussed a few weeks ago, that teach the earth is only 6,000 years old, and that dinosaurs coexisted with human beings.

Trump, for what it’s worth, mentioned this school last Tuesday, when he and Betsy DeVos met with parents and teachers to discuss their education agenda. [The group was comprised mostly of charter school parents, homeschoolers and representatives from private schools.] “During the meeting,” according to an article published by the Network for Public Education, “Trump praised what he referred to as a ‘Nevada charter school’ that he had visited.” He neglected to mention, however, that the school in question, among other things, doesn’t accept students with disabilities. [Speaking of which, the Department of Education under Trump also removed the web page where, under previous administrations, people could learn about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – legislation which ensures students with disabilities are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).]

Oh, and HR 610 doesn’t just kill the public education protections we’ve enjoyed for the past half century, like those for disabled students, and funnel money away from public schools, but it also, if you can believe it, repeals a specified rule that established nutrition standards for U.S. school lunch and breakfast programs. That’s right, it wasn’t enough to just launch a voucher program that would lead to the dismantling of public education as we know it… they also took the opportunity to kill the law that said schools had to provide fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat free milk in school meals for disadvantaged students.

This is what we’re up against, folks.

If you’ve never picked up the phone before and called your member of Congress, now, I think, may be a pretty good time to start… especially if your member of Congress happens to sit on the Education & Workforce Committee, where HR 610 currently resides… We couldn’t stop DeVos, but maybe we can stop this bill in Committee, before it can get to the House floor for a vote.

For those of you who, like me, live in Michigan, we have three Representatives on the Committee – Tim Walberg (District 7), Mike Bishop (District 8) and Paul Mitchell (District 10) – and I imagine all of them would love to hear from you about HR 610. So let’s make some calls, OK? [If you follow those links, you’ll find their phone numbers. And, if your Representative isn’t one of these three, you can find his or her number here.]

Make no mistake, their objective is to privatize K-12 education in America, killing the teachers unions, ending public education as we know it, and removing all safeguards that have been put in place to protect our most vulnerable children.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Plans to lift Russian sanctions continued to be refined even after the Trump administration was warned of Flynn’s illegal communications with the Kremlin

I’ve been in Kentucky these past few days, cooking and cleaning for my mother, who just had hip replacement surgery, so I’m a bit behind on the news. For the most part, it doesn’t look as though I missed much. Trump apparently alluded to a terrorist attack in Sweden that had never actually happened, and we learned that he and his family have already cost the American taxpayers more in one month than the Obamas had in a year, but, otherwise, things seem to have been relatively quiet… unless, of course, you factor in the Russian stuff.

The most interesting thing that I learned, reading over the news from the past three or four days, is that, just a week before the decision was made to fire Michael Flynn, a proposal was drafted for the lifting of sanctions imposed against Russia during the Obama administration for military actions undertaken by Putin in the Ukraine. Yes, apparently, even after Trump was made aware that his National Security Advisor had lied to the FBI about the extent of his communications with the Kremlin, people in Trump’s inner circle, like Michael D. Cohen (his personal lawyer) and Felix H. Sater (a business associate who has helped him assess deals in Russia), continued to draft plans to roll back sanctions.

Here, in case you weren’t paying attention back during the campaign, is something that I posted about these Russian sanctions a few months ago.

…As we witnessed during the campaign, Trump’s platform increasingly mirrored Putin’s over time. As you may recall, Trump suggested to the New York Times, for instance, that we may have to reduce our military presence in the world. He even went so far as to say that, if he were elected President, he may not automatically honor the security guarantees we have with other NATO nations. “He even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back,” wrote the article’s authors. “For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations ‘have fulfilled their obligations to us’.” [Putin hates NATO, and the fact that it’s expanding. He has said, the U.S. and Nato want to “sit on the throne in Europe alone”. He has also threatened to move Russian troops closer to Finland if they join NATO.]

Then, just before the Republican National Convention, the Republican party, as you may also recall, released their new platform for 2016. The New York Times called it “the most extreme Republican platform in memory.” Among other things, according to the Times, this new platform outlined positions “making no exceptions for rape or women’s health in cases of abortion; requiring the Bible to be taught in public high schools; selling coal as a ‘clean’ energy source; demanding a return of federal lands to the states; insisting that legislators use religion as a guide in lawmaking; appointing ‘family values’ judges; barring female soldiers from combat; and rejecting the need for stronger gun controls — despite the mass shootings afflicting the nation every week.” This apparently came to pass largely because Donald Trump, who would go on stage just a few days later to accept the party’s nomination for President, didn’t push back. With one notable exception, Trump and his team accepted everything that was suggested without debate. And that one exception, as you can probably guess, involved Russia.

According to Talking Points Memo, “The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump’s backing but because he simply didn’t care. With one big exception: Trump’s team mobilized the nominee’s traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine.” Interesting, to say the least.

And that happened, as I said, just prior to the Republican National Convention, at a time when Paul Manafort was still Trumps campaign director, a position he would hold until August, when it came out in the press that Manafort may have illegally received $12.7 million in off-the-books funds from Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party in the Ukraine

So, even after Trump was told on January 26 that recordings existed of Michael Flynn, his appointed head of the National Security Council, engaged in illegal conversations with a Russian diplomat about the lifting of sanctions, Trump’s inner circle continued to push forward with their plans to aid the Kremlin. Trump’s administration was essentially told by the Department of Justice, “Your National Security Advisor lied to the FBI about these communications with the Kremlin in violation with the Logan Act,” and not only did Trump not fire Flynn, but his team continued to make plans. [Eventually, as we now know, members of the intelligence community went to the press with what they knew, thereby forcing Trump to take action against Flynn, and, it would appear, others have now picked up the baton, sharing details about these plans to lift sanctions.]

As for these sanctions against Russia, as you may recall, among other things, they’re presently keeping Putin and his friends at Exxon from pursuing an Arctic drilling initiative that could be worth as much as $500 billion… So, as you can see, there’s a big incentive for Putin to have them lifted. And some have even suggested that Trump might have a financial stake as well.

I’m not sure how it will go down, or when, but every day I become a little more confident that this administration will eventually drive itself from the White House. They just can’t seem to help themselves. It’s almost as if they’re being compelled to move forward in service of the Kremlin, without any consideration of what the ramifications might be. If anyone else were in the Oval Office right now, you’d think that they would try to distance themselves from the Russians. You’d think that they would say, “We need to investigate the role that Russian hacking had on the election.” You’d think they would say, “We need to take decisive action in response to these recent provocations on the part of Moscow.” But, instead, Trump continues to defend the Russians, and pursue the policy objectives of the Kremlin, arguing that what’s good for Russia is good for the United States. No one in their right mind would have kept Flynn onboard after being told that tapes existed of him lying to the FBI, and learning that, in the opinion of our intelligence community, he could be susceptible to a Russian blackmail campaign. No one. But yet Trump did. And, not only that, but, as we now know, his team continued to draft plans to lift Russian sanctions.

One day, my friends, if we survive this, there will be incredible books written about what we’re seeing unfold around us right now… books that will make All The President’s Men look like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

In related news, while 75% of those taking a Fox News poll today believe that “there should be a deeper investigation into Trump administration contacts with Russian officials”, Congressman Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says he has no intention of pursuing an investigation, which he said would be a political “witch hunt.”

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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