BREAKING NEWS: LAUSD Board President Steps Aside But Remains on Board

Ref Rodriguez, amidst criminal charges of money laundering, relinquished the presidency of the Los Angeles Unified School District aboard but is remaining on the board. This enables the pro-charter majority to retain control. Long-time charter supporter Monica Garcia will serve as board president until a new election is held.

“Less than three months into his role as president of the Los Angeles Board of Education, Ref Rodriguez announced Tuesday that he would step down from that post to spare the school district the distraction of a criminal case filed against him last week.

“Rodriguez, 46, said he would retain his seat on the board.

“The development is a stunning turnaround both for Rodriguez and supporters of charter schools, who spent record sums in independent campaigns to elect a board majority that is widely viewed as pro-charter.

“In 2015, Rodriguez broke ground as the first member of the board to have deep ties to the charter school community as the co-founder of a charter organization.”

It would be a huge disappointment to Eli Broad, Richard Riordan, Reed Hastings, and Alice Walton to lose control of the board in which they invested so many millions.

Because Rodriguez intends to remain on the board, the charter-friendly majority should remain intact, but his legal problems have become a cloud over what he and the new majority have called their “kids-first” agenda.

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Quick Takes: Trump’s Gift to Rocket Man

* I’m sure that Trump thinks it’s really clever to call Kim Jong-Un “rocket man.” That’s because he’s an idiot.

You know how to rattle an enemy, give him a name that makes him synonymous with the ultimate weapon he has tied his sense of self-worth to

— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) September 19, 2017

* Did chief of staff Kelly know what Trump was going to say in his speech to the UN today? You tell me.

John Kelly, left, reacts as he listens to President Trump’s U.N. speech. (Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP) https://t.co/mPR68T7rJ4 http://pic.twitter.com/MGNQ2jVWVc

— Colin Campbell (@colincampbell) September 19, 2017

* Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas recently said that God has given Trump the authority to assassinate Kim Jong-Un. It certainly looks like he also thinks that God gave Trump the authority to destroy a nation of 25 million people.

.@POTUS just delivered to the @UN the most courageous speech of any Pres. in history. Thank God for a President who will call evil —”evil.”

— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) September 19, 2017

* Here is another one to put in the file labeled “white evangelicals say the damnedest things.”

“We are losing the acknowledgment of God, and I’m standing here talking, to Christians and Pastors, and I’m telling you we’re losing the acknowledgment of God,” [Alabama Senate candidate Roy} Moore said, before reciting several verses from the Old Testament book of Hosea that deal with lack of knowledge of God.

“You wonder why we’re having shootings, and killings here in 2017? Because we’ve asked for it,” Moore said. “We’ve taken God out of everything. We’ve taken prayer out of school, we’ve taken prayer out of council meetings.”

* Kevin Drum says that we don’t need a CBO score on the latest bill to repeal Obamacare.

The plan for passage is similar to Repeal 2.0: do it fast before the CBO can tell us how many people would lose health insurance if it passes. But we don’t really need the official CBO score for that since we already know that Graham-Cassidy would eliminate the individual mandate and slash spending on Medicaid. Those two things account for the vast bulk of CBO’s score, which means that its score of Graham-Cassidy will be very similar: about 23 million people would be tossed off their insurance plans over the next decade.

* We’ve all recognized that the Trump administration has developed an expertise in lying. They also seem to be pretty good at jettisoning any data that contradicts their agenda.

Trump administration officials, under pressure from the White House to provide a rationale for reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year, rejected a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.

The draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times, contradicts a central argument made by advocates of deep cuts in refugee totals as President Trump faces an Oct. 1 deadline to decide on an allowable number. …

The internal study, which was completed in late July but never publicly released, found that refugees “contributed an estimated $269.1 billion in revenues to all levels of government” between 2005 and 2014 through the payment of federal, state and local taxes. “Overall, this report estimated that the net fiscal impact of refugees was positive over the 10-year period, at $63 billion.”

But White House officials said those conclusions were illegitimate and politically motivated, and were disproved by the final report issued by the agency, which asserts that the per-capita cost of a refugee is higher than that of an American.

Of course that move came from Stephen Miller, who “personally intervened in the discussions on the refugee cap to ensure that only the costs — not any fiscal benefit — of the program were considered.”

* Kristen Hare reports on a fascinating new program.

Many local newsrooms have been cut to the bone so often that there’s hardly any bone left. But starting early next year, some may get the chance to rebuild, at least by one.

On Monday, a new project was announced at the Google News Lab Summit that aims to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms in the next five years. Report For America takes ideas from several existing organizations, including the Peace Corps, Americorps, Teach for America and public media.

Unlike foreign or domestic service programs or public media, however, RFA gets no government funding. But they are calling RFA a national service project. That might make some journalists uncomfortable – the idea of service and patriotism, said co-founder Charles Sennott, founder and CEO of the GroundTruth Project. But at its most fundamental, local journalism is about protecting democracy, he said.

* Finally, I thought that something Barack Obama said during an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg back in 2015 was particularly timely today.

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The Danger to Obamacare Is Real

In this case, the Democrats are correct. The reason that House Speaker Paul Ryan and the White House are loudly signaling that they have no interest in pursuing the bipartisan negotiations between Senate HELP Committee leaders Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray is because they’re engaged in a whip operation in support of the Graham-Cassidy Obamacare repeal bill:

Democrats portrayed the rejection of the bipartisan push as intended to create pressure on Senate Republicans to hold their nose and support the Graham-Cassidy bill, and as the only way out of the party’s political quagmire. If that bill fails, Republicans may have to return to bipartisan talks, particularly if Trump again threatens to halt subsidy payments.

A few things have happened in recent weeks that have revived the Republicans’ interest in giving repeal another go. One is that Trump started talking aggressively about turning to the Democrats to make deals since the Republicans clearly cannot deliver on their own. Another is brutal polling data. Gallup has approval of Congress at somewhere between 16 percent and 18 percent in August and September among Republican voters. It was at 50 percent among Republicans in February. For context, Democratic voters give Congress a 14 percent approval number. Probably more importantly, a quick glance at the generic congressional preference polling shows that the GOP’s position has deteriorated badly since the failure in early August to repeal Obamacare. Before August, the Dems’ advantage ranged roughly between two and six percent, with only a couple of more disturbing outliers. Since the failed vote on Obamacare, however, the range is more like six to nine percent. The RealClearPolitics rolling average is actually at 9.2 percent at the moment, which is high enough to predict a wave election that could cost the Republicans control of the House of Representatives. A third recent development is that the Senate parliamentarian clarified that the Republicans must repeal Obamacare by September 30th or give up trying. That’s because their special budget reconciliation instructions will expire at the end of the fiscal year.

In combination, the Republicans gained a new sense of urgency. At the very, very least, they weren’t willing to ignore the displeasure of their base and let the deadline come and go without giving it one more try. They feel like they have no cover from the president and they know and can see that he’s lost faith in them. As they began to digest the magnitude of their failure and the likely consequences, the urge to pass something, no matter how horrible and foolhardy started to grow irresistible.

And that’s really all this is. The Graham-Cassidy bill is a toxic piece of crap. It ought to have significantly less support than the stupid skinny repeal did, and for several reasons. The most important reason is that the Senate Republicans could vote for the skinny repeal bill and have some reasonable hope that the House wouldn’t actually pass it, too. For the individual Republican lawmaker, the ideal situation is a bill they can vote for that will never become law and cause tens of millions of people to lose health coverage. Ultimately, every Republican who could get away with voting for skinny repeal did so, but many would have been absolutely horrified if it had ever been signed by the president. That dynamic hasn’t changed. What’s changed is the level of desperation to deliver something in light of the polling data and the president’s turn against them.

Since the Graham-Cassidy bill is in many ways more radical and obviously worse than the skinny repeal bill, there are more reasons not to want to see it become law. So, maybe the increased pressure and the worse bill somewhat cancel each other out. The more it looks like the House might actually follow suit and pass the Senate bill, as is, the less likely it is that individual Republican senators will vote for it.

The governors of Nevada, Alaska, and Ohio are all asking their Republican senators to vote ‘no,’ and that could provide cover for someone like Rob Portman or Lisa Murkowski to oppose the bill. Right now, it looks like opponents’ hopes lie with Rand Paul and John McCain, but that’s deceptive. The list of Republican senators who know the Graham-Cassidy bill is irresponsible and will come back to bite them is much longer than the list of Republicans who are willing to express doubt about its merits. Without question, Lamar Alexander understands what’s at stake.

Here’s what you can be certain about. Every Republican senator who thinks they can vote for repeal without a repeal actually occurring will almost certainly do so. No one wants to be the next John McCain, including potentially John McCain. But if it looks like the House will rubber stamp the Senate bill, there’s a long list of Republicans who might feel like they have to bite the bullet and be the bad guy.

In my estimation, the chances of repeal are currently higher than they were in August, although I think the risk in August was actually very low. The difference is that the Republicans have had a chance to see what failure looks like, and they’re not sure they can live with the results. Also, McCain is Graham’s best friend, and this is Graham’s bill.

The danger is that the Republicans are in a similar situation to the members of Delta House after they were expelled by Dean Wormer.

Otter: Bluto’s right. Psychotic, but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.

If nothing else, passing Graham-Cassidy would be really stupid and, considering the consequences, a very futile effort to avoid the consequences of all the Republicans’ unhinged railing against the Affordable Care Act. But that doesn’t mean they won’t do it.

I don’t think they’ll all be so crazy as to go ahead with it, but I cannot rule it out.

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Trump’s Dog Whistle to White Supremacists in His UN Speech

There are many things that are cause for concern in Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly today. But it is important to keep in mind that it was primarily written by white nationalist Stephen Miller, who included major dog whistles to white supremacists.

The primary vehicle Miller used to do that is through the words “sovereign” or “sovereignty,” which Trump used at least 25 times. For example:

The success of the United Nations depends upon the independent strength of its members. To overcome the perils of the present, and to achieve the promise of the future, we must begin with the wisdom of the past. Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty, to promote security, prosperity, and peace, for themselves and for the world. We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government, but we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties, to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.

There is nothing inherently nefarious about the word sovereign, but it’s use in this country has been particularly tied to white supremacy for decades. Here are some examples:

Popular Sovereignty

Americans founded their Revolution and government on popular sovereignty, but the term was also used in the 1850s to describe a highly controversial approach to slavery in the territories as propounded by senator Stephen A. Douglas. It meant that local residents of a territory would be the ones to decide if slavery would be permitted, and it led to bloody warfare in Bleeding Kansas as violent abolitionists and proponents of slavery flooded Kansas territory in order to decide the elections.

Mississippi Sovereignty Commission

The Commission was created by the Mississippi Legislature in 1956 in reaction to the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, in which the United States Supreme Court held unanimously that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional. The “sovereignty” the state was trying to protect was against federal enforcement of civil rights laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

In 1998, the secret records of the commission were finally made public.

After a 21-year court fight, the state of Mississippi today unsealed more than 124,000 pages of secret files from a state agency that used spy tactics, intimidation, false imprisonment, jury tampering and other illegal methods to thwart the activities of civil rights workers during the 1950’s, 60’s and early 70’s.

Sovereign Citizens Movement

The strange subculture of the sovereign citizens movement, whose adherents hold truly bizarre, complex antigovernment beliefs, has been growing at a fast pace since the late 2000s. Sovereigns believe that they get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore, and they don’t think they should have to pay taxes…

In the early 1980s, the sovereign citizens movement mostly attracted white supremacists and anti-Semites, mainly because sovereign theories originated in groups that saw Jews as working behind the scenes to manipulate financial institutions and control the government. Most early sovereigns, and some of those who are still on the scene, believed that being white was a prerequisite to becoming a sovereign citizen. They argued that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed citizenship to African Americans and everyone else born on U.S. soil, also made black Americans permanently subject to federal and state governments, unlike themselves.

Over and over again we’ve seen that Stephen Miller is completely immersed in the language and culture of white supremacists. This is yet one more example. His boss, the president, seems completely comfortable with that. So we can add one more item to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s list of “You might be a white supremacists if…” The description fits if you use the words “sovereign” or “sovereignty” 25 times in a speech to the United Nations.

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This is What Real Philanthropy Looks Like

We know what fake philanthropy looks like. It looks like the Broad Foundation, training inexperienced superintendents to shut down public schools and turn them over to private entrepreneurs. It looks like the Gates Foundation, foisting one bad idea after another on schools, like Common Core and test-based evaluation of teachers.

This is what real philanthropy looks like.

After years of handing out massive grants to talented individuals (the so-called “genius awards”), the McArthur Foundation decided to have a competition for a single grant of $100 million. The proposal had to be ambitious but within reach. It had to be a project that solved a very important problem. It had to be supported by a team of competent people and organizations.

I was one of many judges. I was very impressed by the applications I reviewed.

The link contains the names of the four finalists. Their ambitions are large and impressive. They aim to help large numbers of people and improve the quality of their lives. They don’t impose their agenda on anyone. They want to solve basic problems in the world.

Bill Gates, Eli Broad, John Arnold, Walton family, Helmsley Foundation, Fisher Family, Reed Hastings: take note. Do good. Leave your ego behind Don’t impose your ideas on others without their consent. Don’t engineer other people’s lives. Solve problems of human existence.

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Paul Manafort and the Russia Investigation

Lawfare is very thorough but also very cautious, which is what I think we want from them. You won’t find them saying things like “Paul Manafort is going to jail,” but you will get some very solid analysis of the latest news reporting (e.g., CNN and New York Times) and the legal meaning of those stories.

Two meaningful developments have now materialized. First, the government convinced a FISA court judge that there was reason to believe that Manafort was engaging “in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of a foreign power” or was “pursuant to the direction of an intelligence service or network of a foreign power, knowingly engaging in some other clandestine intelligence activities for or on behalf of such foreign power.” In fact, the government convinced the FISA court of this twice, once in 2014 before Manafort was hired by Donald Trump, and once again in 2016 after he was fired by Donald Trump.  Additionally, the Special Counsel has convinced a federal judge that there was likely evidence of a crime both at Manafort’s Virginia residence and at a storage facility owned by Manafort, which is why they were able to obtain warrants to search both.

The second significant development is that Manafort is going to be indicted for some kind of crime or crimes unless he becomes more useful as a witness. Lawfare refuses to speculate about what those crimes might be, but I’m not so reticent. The New York Times‘ article says “Mr. Manafort is under investigation for possible violations of tax laws, money-laundering prohibitions and requirements to disclose foreign lobbying.” He’s also obviously under investigation for possibly working as an agent of a foreign power’s intelligence service and for engaging in clandestine activities on their behalf. In other words, he’s suspected of cooperating with the Russians in their interference in the presidential election. I think it’s fair to say that Manafort can be indicted right now for the crimes listed by the Times but may still be clear on the more serious charges. I doubt, however, that Manafort is overly worried about getting nailed for failing to fill out lobbying disclosure forms or even for failing to pay his taxes. It’s the money laundering charge that’s causing him real grief. And I suspect the Feds were seeking evidence of money laundering when they raided his home and the storage facility he rented.

The biggest revelation in the latest reporting is that Manafort was in communication with the president during a time in which he was under electronic surveillance. That opens up the possibility of a smoking gun intercept that could take Trump down. The president isn’t exactly known for his situational awareness and discretion, so I wouldn’t discount the possibility that he implicated himself in a crime while chatting with Manafort on the phone. Assuming that didn’t happen, though, the game plan now appears to be to charge Manafort with money laundering and a few lesser offenses and see if he wants to try to bargain his way out.

In early August, it was reported that Bob Mueller had approach Manafort’s son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, “in an effort to increase pressure” on Manafort. It’s unclear what, if anything, became of that effort. Yohai has partnered with Manafort is some business deals, but I haven’t seen any explanation of what information he might have that would cause his father-in-law problems. In late August, CNN reported that Mueller asked Manfort’s “public-relations representative Jason Maloni and attorney Melissa Laurenza for all documents related to their work for Trump’s former campaign chairman.” And Maloni was just in front of the grand jury on Friday providing testimony. According to the Washington Post, Mr. Maloni wasn’t even hired as Manafort’s spokesman until after the latter had resigned from the Trump campaign. Any evidence Maloni could provide would therefore be either secondhand or related to charges of an attempted coverup.

Lawfare also addresses the issues of leaks, determining that the leaks related to the FISA warrants are more serious. They suspect congressional sources rather than ones in the Special Counsel’s office, but I am not so sure. There are conceivable reasons why the investigators would want it to be known that they already possess any conversations potential witnesses may have had with Manafort. If they were banking on Manafort keeping his clam shut, they no longer can rest on that hope.

The president’s supporters may think that this whole investigation is a witch hunt. One thing I’d like to emphasize for them in all of this is that we know now that Manafort was suspected of engaging in clandestine intelligence gathering (or other) activities on behalf of the Russians two years before Trump hired him. Relatedly, Carter Page was recruited by Russian spies and subject to a counterintelligence investigation in 2013, before Trump listed him as one of his key foreign policy advisors. Even if Trump hadn’t been saying startlingly friendly things about Vladimir Putin on the campaign trail, our intelligence agencies would have wondered why suspected Russian agents were being hired by the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination. When Trump made Michael Flynn his national security adviser, that was obviously a bridge too far.

It should also concern Trump’s supporters that the president brazenly lied about whether he had any business interests in Russia that would explain his unorthodox views on US-Russia relations. We now know that he was negotiating a Trump Tower project in Moscow throughout the fall of 2015 in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses. In fact, just today his lawyer Michael Cohen was scheduled to testify about those negotiations in front Senate Intelligence Committee staff before his appearance was abruptly postponed without explanation.

If you don’t know about Trump’s relationship with Felix Sater, now might be the time to bone up on that, but there’s nothing fake about it.

This is from mid-August:

Sources told The Spectator‘s Paul Wood that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s deep dive into Trump’s business practices may be yielding results….

…And according to Wood’s sources, Sater may have already flipped and given prosecutors the evidence they need to make a case against Trump.

For several weeks there have been rumours that Sater is ready to rat again, agreeing to help Mueller. ‘He has told family and friends he knows he and POTUS are going to prison,’ someone talking to Mueller’s investigators informed me.

Sater hinted in an interview earlier this month that he may be cooperating with both Mueller’s investigation and congressional probes of Trump.

“In about the next 30 to 35 days, I will be the most colourful character you have ever talked about,” Sater told New York Magazine. “Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it now, before it happens. And believe me, it ain’t anything as small as whether or not they’re gonna call me to the Senate committee.”

That was before news broke that Michael Cohen and Felix Sater had been working together on a Moscow real estate project during a time in which Trump was denying any Russian business ties. We got that news a few weeks later, but we still haven’t found out why Sater thinks he and Trump are going to jail. Cohen issued a public statement today denying that there was any collusion, but if you know anything about Felix Sater, that is pretty hard to believe.

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Ben Austin Creates a New Organization After Failure of Parent Revolution

You remember Ben Austin? He is the guy in Los Angeles who started an organization called Parent Revolution whose purpose was to organize parents to seize control of their public school and turn it over to a charter operator. This process was made possible by a law passed in 2010 called the Parent Trigger, which says that a majority of parents can sign a petition to grab control of their school and fire the principal, the staff, or give the school to a private charter operator.

A bunch of billionaires, including Eli Broad, gave him millions of dollars to pay organizers to train parents to sign petitions. For a few brief shining moments, the Parent Trigger was the New Coke of education. Rightwing billionaire Philip Anschutz funded a movie to sell the Parent Trigger, but it flopped in the blink of an eye.

Seven years and many millions of dollars later, Parent Revolution can claim the capture of one public school for the charter industry. One. And they got a dedicated Hispanic principal fired. That’s it.

So it’s time for Ben Austin to start a new organization with another pile of money, including billionaire Eli Broad. It is called Kids Coalition. Apparently Austin’s new strategy is to sue and sue until every child has a great education.

That will work about as well as the Parent Trigger, but hey, it’s a living, for as long as the money keeps coming in. Eli has so much. What’s another few million?

The most interesting part of the story is the photograph of Austin. I tried to decipher the books behind him. There is Michelle Rhee’s “Radical.” Steve Brill’s paean of praise to DFER (“Class Warfare”), something by David Brooks. The thinking of a reformer. A real radical. A guy who knows how to start organizations with catchy names. A guy who has his hand on the pulse or purse of very wealthy donors.

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My favorite quote from the story:

“He also noted that when he drops off his daughters and walks them into their classrooms, the classroom looks, smells, and operates the same way his LA Unified classroom did 40 years ago.”

Maybe he could succeed in changing the smell of the classrooms of L.A. Distribute a spray can to every teacher. That will definitely produce a new smell.

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