Stephan Miller goes full authoritarian, declares that Trump’s national security directives “will not be questioned”

How is it that I didn’t really know about Stephen Miller until today? I feel so cheated. It’s like that day, back in high school, when I heard the Ramones for the first time and thought, “The last sixteen years of my life has been a fucking waste.” Seriously, I can’t believe I’ve been wasting my time obsessing about minor league propagandists like Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway, when a ghoulishly dead-eyed fascist like Miller was right there behind them the whole time, just waiting to be discovered. Well, thankfully, he got his shot on the big stage yesterday, and now I’m several hundred feet down the rabbit hole, reading about the non-white kids he unfriended upon discovering conservatism, his time spent learning at the feet of Michele Bachman and Jeff Sessions, and the recent anti-Muslim legislation he’s credited with having penned. He’s absolutely diabolical, and I can’t get enough of him. [I’ve seriously been watching videos for two hours now.] If you haven’t seen it yet, you have to watch this compilation of his Sunday morning appearances that was aired on MSNBC this morning. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s one of the more appallingly anti-democratic displays I’ve seen in the nearly half century I’ve living in this country, and that’s coming from someone who watched live as Alexander Haig attempted to claim that he was in control of the government after Reagan was shot. [Miller essentially says that the judicial branch should back the fuck off, shut the fuck up, and let Trump do what he fucking wants.]

If you watch the above video past all of the Miller clips, you’ll see former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough go off on Trump’s 31 year old policy advisor, whose presence in the West Wing, he says, demonstrates that “there are some anti-democratic tendencies in this White House.” A bewildered Scarborough went on to say, “All they had to do this morning was quietly issue a new executive order… Why did they put him out (there)? Why did they push him? Why did they have him say undemocratic things? …Are they seeing how far they can push?” He then said that every Republican in Washington, DC, if they really care about the constitution and this democracy of ours, should speak out… Thus far, I don’t think any have. So I guess the administration will continue to test their limits.

For what it’s worth, Trump liked what he saw from Miller, saying it was a “great performance.” So, not only do we have Miller spouting things that are clearly anti-democratic and authoritarian, but we know that he’s doing so with Trump’s approval.

This, for what it’s worth, is how fascist regimes are born. They aren’t just created out of thin air. The people have to acquiesce. The people have to allow checks and balances to be suspended. The people have to allow the executive to seize more power. And that’s what’s happening here. Miller is setting the stage, saying that, in order to remain safe, we need to give Trump more power than the judiciary. This is truly chilling stuff. The question is, how will we respond. Will we fight for the judicial branch, or will we allow this to continue? Will we open the door to the vampire and allow him into our home?

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Just three weeks in and we’ve already got our first Trump administration casualty… Michael Flynn resigns over illegal communications with Russia

I’m not sure how much I won, but I entered a pool a while back and chose Michael Flynn as being the first member of the administration to leave… So things are finally starting to look up, at least for me.

And, yeah, it’s being reported by the Washington Post that Trump’s embattled National Security Advisor, Michale Flynn, has resigned over revelations concerning his illegal communications with Russia.

So now how about some hearings so we can find out what Trump knew, when he knew he knew it, and whether or not there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the general election.

This, my friends, could very well be the beginning of the end… the first domino to fall in the chain that connects Trump to the Russian hacking campaign that helped him take the White House.

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Under DeVos, what’s to stop our tax dollars from being spent teaching children that dinosaurs coexisted with people?

Remember a few years ago when this seemingly fake forth grade quiz about human beings coexisting with dinosaurs was making the rounds? Well, it just landed on my desk again, and this time, because I desperately needed a break from watching Trump handshaking videos, I decided to do a little investigating. Well, it turns out that it wasn’t fake at all. Apparently this was really a test administered by the Blue Ridge Christian Academy in Landrum, South Carolina back in 2013. There were even news stories about it, in which the school administrator, Diana Baker, verified its authenticity, saying that she didn’t see anything wrong with it. Thankfully, the school folded soon afterward (possibly due to the fact that the son of the school’s founders apparently threatened to murder his fellow Blue Ridge Christian Academy students), but the entity that accredited the school, the Association of Christian Schools International, still exists. In fact, they were actively engaged in getting pyramid scheme billionaire turned anti-public education activist Betsy DeVos named our new Secretary of Education.

While I’m sure their effort to get DeVos into the Department of Education was largely motivated by the fact that DeVos and her husband have said that they’ve dedicated their lives to defunding secular public schools in order to “advance God’s kingdom” here on earth, I suspect that some of their enthusiasm might be a little more self-serving. DeVos has, after all, indicated that, as Secretary of Education, she would institute programs that would increasingly shift public education dollars to religious schools, which, unlike public schools, would be able to operate with little to no oversight.

So, in the not too distant future, it’s conceivable that our tax dollars could be spent on the dissemination of quizzes just like this.

It’s not quite so funny now as it was four years ago, is it?

For what it’s worth, the authenticity of the above was not only verified by the school administrator, but our old friend Ken Ham, the charlatan behind Kentucky’s Creation Museum, who said that the quiz was based on an “educational” DVD that he’d helped to create.

Speaking of Ham, do you remember that time a few years ago, when I shared a passage with you from a book that he authored which was being given away at a Kentucky Kroger? The passage in question was written by Ham in response to an imaginary kid who asked him if, like on the Flintstones, humans once used dinosaurs for transportation. Here’s Ham’s response… “It seems to me we should at least allow the possibility that some could have been tamed to help with transportation, maybe even farming, hauling heavy loads (the strong ones!), and other things. After all, some dragon legends from China tell us that dragons (dinosaurs?) were used to pull the emperor’s chariots.”

Ham, by the way, says Trump’s victory is proof that “God, Not the Media, is in Control”… So it’s best not to complain about any of this. It’s all part of God’s plan. And it’s unfolding right now in America… In fact, Ham was at Bob Jones University today, “teaching” thousands of high school students. Because, really, who needs another generation of doctors and scientists when we can have people who believe that the earth was just recently created, and that, not too long ago, people saddled up velociraptors to get from place to place?

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It looks like the intelligence community isn’t going to let us forget about Trump’s ties to Russia

As I suspect all of you know, it’s the opinion of our intelligence community that the Russian government played a role in helping Donal Trump win the presidency. That isn’t fake news. That isn’t a conspiracy theory. That’s the opinion of not one, but 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. And, toward the end of his tenure in office, President Obama, confronted by this evidence, took action against the Russians, ordering, among other things, that 35 Russian diplomats be expelled from the country and two Russian compounds in the United States be closed. Surprisingly, though, the Russians did not retaliate. And now we have a pretty good idea why…

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that Trump administration National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had been in direct contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, discussing the sanctions, just hours after they were announced. We know this, according to the Washington Post, because our security agencies are in the practice of intercepting the communications of Russian diplomats in the country, and, from what we’re told, they have recordings of Flynn’s calls and text messages. This is troubling for a number of reasons. First, it would appear that Flynn, the man who now heads our National Security Council, had no idea that our national security people listened in on calls made to the Russian embassy. [If he had known, he wouldn’t have denied up until this point that he’d been in communication with the Russians about these sanctions prior to Trump having been sworn in.] Second, it would appear as though Flynn, likely working on behalf of Trump, undermined the sitting President of the United States, Barack Obama, by giving the Russians the impression that the sanctions would be lifted as soon as Obama left the White House. And, third… and most importantly… it would appear as though these conversations between Kislyak and Flynn didn’t just start after Trump won the general election. No, according to the Washington Post, sources inside our intelligence agencies have confirmed that we have records of conversations taking place between the two men during the campaign, when we know that the Russians were actively working against Secretary Clinton. The only question now seems to be to what extent Trump and his team were orchestrating things. [Flynn has stopped denying that he spoke with the Russians concerning sanctions, and now just says that he doesn’t remember.]

The following comes from the Washington Post.

..The emerging details contradict public statements by incoming senior administration officials including Mike Pence, then the vice president-elect. They acknowledged only a handful of text messages and calls exchanged between Flynn and Kislyak late last year and denied that either ever raised the subject of sanctions.

“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence said in an interview with CBS News last month, noting that he had spoken with Flynn about the matter. Pence also made a more sweeping assertion, saying there had been no contact between members of Trump’s team and Russia during the campaign. To suggest otherwise, he said, “is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy”…

So, where do we go now that credence has been given to these “bizarre rumors”? How do we respond now that we know for certain not only that Flynn was in direct contact with the Russians prior to the election, but that he actively worked against the security interests of the U.S. government?

Well, Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York has an idea. As the second ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Nadler just filed what is called a “resolution of inquiry”, a seldom used parliamentary tactic, which, if successful, would force the Trump administration to share records with Congress. According to Nadler, it would also “force (a) GOP Vote on Trump’s conflicts, ethics violations, and Russia ties.”

At this point, though, I’m not even sure we need for Nadler to be successful. It seems to me that the intelligence community has decided to turn on the spigot and leak everything they know to the media before the administration can do further damage to the United States. [The Washington Post article noted above had nine sources within the intelligence community. They clearly want this out.] The following, by way of background, comes from an article in The Observer titled “Intelligence Community pushes back against a White House it considers leaky, untruthful and penetrated by the Kremlin.”

…(F)ears that the White House is too friendly to Moscow are causing close allies to curtail some of their espionage relationships with Washington—a development with grave implications for international security, particularly in the all-important realm of counterterrorism.

Now those concerns are causing problems much closer to home—in fact, inside the Beltway itself. Our Intelligence Community is so worried by the unprecedented problems of the Trump administration—not only do senior officials possess troubling ties to the Kremlin, there are nagging questions about basic competence regarding Team Trump—that it is beginning to withhold intelligence from a White House which our spies do not trust…

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that career intelligence officers are coming out against Flynn, who was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency for managerial incompetence, called for Clinton to be “locked up” during the election, and tweeted that the former Secretary of State was likely involved in a child sex ring.

And, as all of this is happening, CNN is reporting that they’ve confirmed several aspects of the 35-page intelligence dossier written by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele about Trump’s ties to Russia. When asked earlier today to comment, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to engage, saying only, “We continue to be disgusted by CNN’s fake news reporting.”

I suspect this is going to be an eventful week.

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5th grade charter school teacher Mika Yamamoto, fired from Michigan’s Renaissance Public School Academy, where she was the only teacher of color, claims she was told by her principal, “The community is not ready for your voice.”

Since this past November, when I interviewed the mother of Josie Ramon, the 12 year old Royal Oak Middle School student who taped classmates chanting “Build the wall” at her and other Hispanic students, I occasionally get notes from people, asking that I help get the word out about similar things taking place within Michigan’s schools. And that’s how today’s interview came about. Someone wrote to me and asked that I talk with Mika Yamamoto, a charter school teacher who had recently been fired for, as it was explained to me, “talking about inclusion and oppression.” Here’s our discussion.

MARK: Do I understand correctly that you were recently fired from the Michigan charter school where you taught 5th grade?

MIKA: Yes, I was fired about two months ago, on December 7, from Renaissance Public School Academy, in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

MARK: And, prior to being fired, you were suspended, correct?

MIKA: Yes, I was displaced a week prior to the termination.

MARK: By “displaced,” do you mean that you were told not to come work?

MIKA: Yes. They told me to “relax at home.”

MARK: The woman that first introduced me to you, if I remember correctly, told me that you were the only teacher of color at your school. Is that the case? And, if so, do you think that race entered into the decision to suspend you?

MIKA: Yes. I was the only teacher of color there. Maybe, ever. And yes, I was racially discriminated against.

MARK: So, it’s your belief then that you were fired because of your race?

MIKA: Yes. I was fired for exercising my first amendment right to speak as a member of oppressed group to empower the oppressed.

MARK: I’m assuming that’s not the reason they gave you… When you asked why you’d been suspended, what did they tell you?

MIKA: They didn’t give me a reason. They didn’t even tell me they were suspending me. In fact, my principal lied to me to get me out of the building. She said she would be putting a substitute in my room for two days so that we could talk about how to teach tolerance.

MARK: So, when she asked you to not to report for work, you thought that this was a good thing, that your principal wanted to work with you about how to implement a curriculum.

MIKA: Yes!

MARK: When you say “teach tolerance,” what do you mean?

MIKA: Teaching Tolerance is a system for talking about diversity, and building strong K-12 communities, that was developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I received training in how to implement the system when I was beginning my teaching career. I remember it to be meaningful, but brutal. To teach tolerance, you have to examine intolerance and what the consequences of that are. And that’s not easy. What is easy, though, is getting children to care. They get it. They know what oppression feels like…. If you think about it, children are an oppressed class.

MARK: So it’s kind of framework to talk about diversity, thereby fostering a capacity for empathy in students?

MIKA: Yes. I’ve come to think of it as “space-making.” But, also, teaching tolerance means that we ourselves have to always be practicing with them, and not just rely on lazy thinking. For me, every moment of teaching has to be done within the teaching tolerance framework.

MARK: What do you mean by “lazy thinking”?

MIKA: Well, platitudes are an example. Too much of elementary school curriculums is about platitudes. Adults love to hear children parrot cliches. This, however, does not foster empathy or learning of any kind.

MARK: Why were you having this conversation about teaching tolerance with your principal?

MIKA: The day after the election, I gave a speech to the entire middle-school. The event had been scheduled prior to the election. The middle-school teachers, knowing that I wrote, had asked me to give a talk about how to write horror, and it just happened to have been slated for the day after Trump won… I was asked to speak in the capacity of a writer, not as a teacher.

MARK: Knowing other teachers who had to get up and talk in front of classes that day, and having heard them talk about how difficult it was, I can imagine a lot was going through your head… wanting to address what had happened in some meaningful way, while, at the same time, perhaps not wanting to get overtly political…

MIKA: Yes. I remember thinking, “What is there to say on a day like this?”

MARK: So what did you tell the middle schoolers?

MIKA: I talked about writing from experience, as a woman and a domestic violence survivor. I discussed Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which is about a mother that has to choose between either a life of slavery for her children, or death. Women’s lives have always been horrific, I said, so it makes sense that we write horror. And I said that, on that particular day, I felt less safe than ever, because our country had just elected a president who had openly spoken out against women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and other people he felt were different than him. I told the students that I saw this as a call to arms to share our stories honestly in order to make safe space.

MARK: So you shared something very personal with them, and encouraged them to be brave, tell their own stories, etc…

MIKA: Yes… In the speech I said, “I will share with you my darkness so you feel safe to share your darkness with me, such that we can vanquish the darkness together.”

MARK: Then what happened?

MIKA: The very next day, on Thursday, a girl, let’s call her B, confided in me that she had been experiencing severe racism at school, but had told nobody because she was afraid people would think she was making a big deal out of it. A boy in her class was showing her pictures of slaves and laughing. He told her he “liked it when they got beat,” and thought it was funny. B’s best friend, the boy’s girlfriend, had also joined in. Together, she said, they taunted her. They wouldn’t stop, even after she repeatedly asked them to. According to B, the white male music teacher witnessed it at one point and did nothing but tell the boy to put the pictures away.

MARK: And what did you do with this information?

MIKA: I told our principal the following day, which was the Friday after election. She didn’t hesitate to say that what happened to the girl was wrong, and she promised to address it. In the next breath, however, she implied that I should never have given the talk.

MARK: Did she say explicitly why?

MIKA: She said “a huge Trump-supporting” white male student had gone home and complained about it… I remember that he’d tried walk out when I said that women make less than men across the board. He was apparently made uncomfortable by this fact. Okay. That’s fine. I’m uncomfortable about this fact too. But let’s look at the subtext, here. A female of color was made to feel safe enough to advocate for her rights because of my talk, while one white male was made uncomfortable by the facts of my talk. I was being silenced, it seemed, because it was not okay to make a female of color feel safe if it also meant that a white male would be made to feel uncomfortable. What does that say about priorities?

MARK: And I assume you noted this disparity to your principal. How did she respond?

MIKA: This is when the issue of my safety was raised for the first time. My principal said, “I’m not going to tell you what you can and cannot talk about, but I’m just trying to keep you safe.” The implication was that I wasn’t safe.

MARK: OK, so how long after the speech in front of the middle school did the suspension happen?

MIKA: Three weeks.

MARK: What, specifically, brought about the suspension?

MIKA: My speech did what I intended it to. It empowered students to advocate for themselves and others. After that day, I had many students approach me about concerns they have in their lives. When I relayed these stories to our principal, she sighed, “You’ve opened up a whole can of worms, Mika.” On the Monday after Thanksgiving, a student sought me out to tell me that she felt unsafe at home. As a teacher, I am obligated to report this to Children’s Protective Services. The principal, however, did not want me to. We met for two and a half hours the next day, discussing this situation. When she couldn’t get me to agree to not report it, she transitioned into a discussion of my safety again. I was given a false option. I was told that I could be silent, be endangered, or leave. She said, “The community is not ready for your voice.” She clarified that she intended the racist implication of this statement by explaining, “People always asked me why I didn’t have a more diverse staff. When I hired you, I didn’t hire you because of that, I hired you for other reasons. But it happened! I made it happen! And I was so happy. But now I think I set you up, because the community wasn’t ready for you.”

MARK: Wait. She actually said this to you?

MIKA: Yes. She said that maybe in a place like Chicago or New York my voice could do powerful things, but the community we were in was not ready for me. I was being discriminated against. A white male teacher would not be told the community wasn’t ready for his voice. Also, my minority status was being used against me to intimidate me against whistle-blowing. I e-mailed the principal that night voicing my concerns regarding my treatment.

MARK: You mentioned earlier that your principal lied to you to get you out of the school. What happened?

MIKA: Yes. The next morning, she called me into a meeting with her and the curriculum coordinator… The curriculum coordinator is the only other administrator in the school… She said, “You have to stop using your voice.” And he agreed with her.

MARK: What did you say?

MIKA: I told them that they were violating my first amendment rights. I was also very clear that I was being racially discriminated against.

MARK: And how did they respond?

MIKA: They repeated over and over that the community was not ready for my voice. They even said that there were members of the staff who were not ready to discuss diversity. The conversation came to an impasse, since I didn’t relent on holding them accountable for being inclusive. They are obligated to do so by federal law and the charter of the school. Finally, they said I should go home and take care of myself for the rest of the day, and that they would put a substitute in my room for two days so that the three of us could meet to discuss diversity and tolerance. When I got home, human resources told me I was not to return to campus for the next two days.

MARK: Did you receive any kind of warning prior to the suspension? Did they tell you that, if you didn’t comply, you’d be terminated?

MIKA: No. They gave me no directives. At the end of the meeting, the principal hugged me. The curriculum coordinator then walked me down to my classroom chatting about his annual Beer and Chocolate Party at his house that I was planning to attend. I didn’t know that they were planning to terminate me.

MARK: Did you reach out to representatives from the school, and not just HR people, since all of this happened?

MIKA: I emailed the principal of the school immediately. She confirmed that I should stay home. The next morning I reached out to the principal, the curriculum coordinator, and HR to continue the dialogue about teaching tolerance. Nobody responded. I got no response for my request to be reinstated either.

MARK: I’m just curious… Is Renaissance Public School Academy a part of a larger charter school entity?

MIKA: Yes, they’re chartered through Central Michigan University and managed by Charter School Partners.

MARK: I see one article about CS Partners expanding in Michigan, in spite less than stellar performance, but I’m not finding much about their corporate structure or history. Do you know if CS Partners is a for-profit firm?

MIKA: I didn’t know the answer to this and also couldn’t find it anywhere. Apparently, it’s not as straight-forward a question as one would think.

MARK: This is kind of off the subject, but, as I didn’t know much about Central Michigan University’s role in sponsoring charter schools, I just did a little looking around and discovered that they operate something called the John Engler Center for Charter Schools, which is the entity that authorized CS Schools. Not only that, but the President of CS Schools, Mary Kay Shields, was, just prior to joining CS Schools, the Chief Deputy Director of the John Engler Center for Charter Schools. In fact, she was mentioned in a recent Detroit Free Press investigation into “insider dealing” in Michigan’s charter school industry. It seems Shields is one of several charter authorizers who left for more lucrative jobs at management companies like CS Schools, which run the schools they authorized. I don’t have a question for you. I just find it interesting.

MIKA: Two weeks after the election, I was at the CS annual conference. I noted that Mary Kay Shields did not make a statement of inclusion, nor did anyone else.

MARK: When did you start teaching at Renaissance?

MIKA: I started there this fall. I’d only been there three months.

MARK: What was your teaching experience prior to this?

MIKA: I’ve always taught in public schools, starting at an inner-city school in Los Angeles. This is where I received my training in the Teaching Tolerance program. Inner-city school teachers have to know how to speak about racism. Public schools lack agility, which can be frustrating, but I’ve never witnessed anything like this – where apparently no rules apply. This is utter chaos. None of my colleagues could speak-up on my behalf because there is such a great threat that they too would lose their jobs for doing so. In fact, only one teacher has reached out to me at all. I am eternally grateful to this teacher for the courage and kindness she has shown in doing so, since none of my other friends at work did.

Charter school teachers have no contract and no union. In an at-will state, this means that they can be fired for almost any reason. Charter school teachers usually get paid poorly compared to public school teachers, so teachers often don’t have the financial security to be jobless for even a short time. As an example, I’ve never been paid so little as a teacher. I have years of experience and a master’s degree. Nonetheless, I was making less at Renaissance than I was my first year teaching, almost 20 years ago without experience or a master’s degree. These conditions directly cause a lack of academic freedom to teach. There are dire consequences for this. If teachers are afraid to advocate for student safety, or are fired for discussing oppression, what happens to our society? This experience, gives me even more reason to be concerned with the appointment of Betsy Devos.

MARK: I heard that some of your students protested to get you back?

MIKA: The students decided to become Agents of Change, instead of victims. They put up posters in my room that say things like, “Help stick up For Ms. Yamamoto Because we love her!” Three girls made 35 posters and gave them to the principal, asking her to put them up all over the school. Another student said she was going to ask to go to all the classrooms and tell them what has happened to me. They did what they could, knowing they were taking certain risks.

I feel bad for the children in all of this. Their teacher was taken out of the classroom, in the middle of the day, without giving them any explanation. And they didn’t hear anything for two whole days. When the principal finally talked to them, she said that I needed to stay home so that I could feel safe. Aside from not being true, what message does that send to the children? Are they supposed to feel safe in a school that their teacher felt too unsafe to be in? I was worried sick about them. But this group of kids has always been strong, smart, and kind. They have learned the lessons of tolerance well. They understood what Elie Wiesel meant when he said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

They felt that there had been a great injustice. They took a side. They didn’t stay silent. They didn’t use being children as an excuse for inaction. They used their voices with power.

MARK: Would I be right to assume that, inside the charter school you worked for, things were relatively regimented? Was there, in other words, an expectation that you’d just read from the workbooks, sticking to the script, and not bring too much of yourself to the job?

MIKA: Oh no! Absolutely not! The reason I decided to work there despite the poor pay was because I was wooed with the promise that this principal was progressive, and I would have great academic freedom. My position in the school only declined precipitously after I spoke out against oppression.

MARK: So, what’s next for you?

MIKA: I will fight the good fight in court with my amazing lawyer, Julie Gafkay. But I miss my students terribly, every day, and I’m heartbroken because nothing will put me back in their classroom again. I can only hope they keep their promises and continue to write. If they do, we will always be able to find a way back to each other, and together we can vanquish this unspeakable night befalling us.

[note: The photo of Mika Yamamoto at this top of this post was taken by Miriam Berkley.]

Posted in Education, Michigan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 140 Comments

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