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 Star 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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Michigan, the state where Betsy DeVos has fought the past several decades to deregulate the charter industry and weaken public education, finishes dead last of all 50 states when it comes to student proficiency improvement

Citing the good work she’d done in Michigan, the Detroit News endorsed Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education this past January. The Amway heiress, they told us, based on what she’d accomplished here in Michigan, was a “sound choice” – someone who would “strive to improve education for all kids.” The “hysteria” over DeVos, they said, was “overblown.” The teachers unions, they told us, had been unfairly pushing a narrative that “overlooks the work DeVos has actually done.”

Well, let’s talk about what Betsy DeVos “has actually done.”

Here’s a headline from today’s Detroit News.

Yes, Michigan, the state where, for the last several decades, Betsy DeVos has worked tirelessly to move taxpayer money away from public schools and into the coffers of unaccountable charter school operators, is now the worst state in the nation when it come to the proficiency improvement of students since 2003.

I’d suggest that we all send this article to DeVos and ask her to explain how this came to pass in the state where she lobbied successfully to remove caps on for-profit charter schools, and fought tirelessly to keep our legislature from imposing any kind of oversight over the industry, but, as we learned during her nomination hearings, she doesn’t even understand how states measure achievement, so I don’t know what good it would do.

University of Michigan professor Brian A. Jacob, who conducted this new study of National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) data for the Brookings Institution, said the following when asked why, according to him, Michigan had ranked “dead last in terms of proficiency growth since 2003.”

“I believe that there are a number of factors responsible for Michigan’s weak performance,” Jacob said. “A lack of adequate state and local funding for schools, the highly decentralized nature of governance that makes it difficult for the state Department of Education to develop coordinated reforms, the lack of regulation and accountability in the charter sector, and the economic and political instability that have plagued Detroit and other urban areas in the state.”

I know it’s probably unfair to lay all this at the feet of DeVos, as our Republican legislature and others worked with her to make this happen, but, as others have noted, she really does deserve a great deal of the blame. Here, with more on what DeVos has done to Michigan, is a clip from Politico.

…Despite two decades of charter-school growth, the state’s overall academic progress has failed to keep pace with other states: Michigan ranks near the bottom for fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on a nationally representative test, nicknamed the “Nation’s Report Card.” Notably, the state’s charter schools scored worse on that test than their traditional public-school counterparts, according to an analysis of federal data.

Critics say Michigan’s laissez-faire attitude about charter-school regulation has led to marginal and, in some cases, terrible schools in the state’s poorest communities as part of a system dominated by for-profit operators. Charter-school growth has also weakened the finances and enrollment of traditional public-school districts like Detroit’s, at a time when many communities are still recovering from the economic downturn that hit Michigan’s auto industry particularly hard.

The results in Michigan are so disappointing that even some supporters of school choice are critical of the state’s policies.

“The bottom line should be, ‘Are kids achieving better or worse because of this expansion of choice?’” said Michigan State Board of Education President John Austin, a DeVos critic who also describes himself as a strong charter-school supporter. “It’s destroying learning outcomes… and the DeVoses were a principal agent of that”…

As I’ve said several times in the past on this site, we should have stopped DeVos when we had a chance. And, now, because we didn’t, the whole country is likely to suffer the same fate. As our terrible Governor said a few weeks ago when he endorsed her for the job of Secretary of Education, she’s now going to “make a big difference in the lives of school children… across the nation.” And we’re to blame.

Posted in Education, Michigan, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A message from the Alt State Department: yesterday’s press conference was not random chaos, but careful strategy.

[This is absolutely, 100% true. Yesterday’s performance wasn’t intended to demonstrate competence, but to rally the base for the battle ahead. This administration will not be easy to remove from power… Follow the Alt State Department.]

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