Russian Roulette

A performative event whose lone purpose is publicity—what historian Daniel Boorstin labelled a pseudo-event—was methodically rolled out at the White House on February 21. In what was branded as a “listening session,” distraught students and teachers poured out their hearts after the Parkland school shooting, and an uncharacteristically somber and attentive Donald Trump promised action. It was catnip for the media, and the story duly led all the evening news programs.

But the facade of Adult Seriousness began crumbling within hours, and by the next day it was in ruins, revealed as yet another Lucy-and-the-football con job on the media and the American people. The evolution played out just as it had with DACA: Trump is serious about solving the problem, then lobbies against his own alleged position, and then blames his political opponents for the failure of to take action.

No, it didn’t take even one news cycle for Trump to offer up a seriously deranged non-solution: arming school teachers. If trained police officers frequently cannot hit the side of a barn in a firefight, does anyone imagine a 50-year-old teacher, who might not like firearms anyway, doing any better with a Glock against a suicidal assailant armed with an AR-15? And what about the fact that an armed sheriff’s deputy at the scene of Parkland shooting failed to enter the building, presumably frozen with fear? Are teachers assumed to be more courageous than cops?

Meanwhile, Trump’s own son was “liking” a tweet claiming the activist school children were “crisis actors,” a meme of great popularity in conservative media ever since the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. NRA President Wayne LaPierre added his bit, frothing at the mouth that people concerned about their kids’ survival represented a “socialist wave” overtaking America.

It is obvious that the White House listening session was about buying time for Trump and getting an emotional photo op to dominate the day’s news, and had nothing to do with listening. It was a mawkish and manipulative pseudo-event, just like Paul Ryan idling around at a soup kitchen for the homeless as he plots to throw millions off health care and gut the social safety net.

Why is it that a former supporter of gun control like Trump can be so down-the-line on the other side of the gun issue? He is hollow man with no fixed beliefs, of course, but he also believes that confusing maneuvers can save his skin. Shortly after his CPAC love-fest with the NRA, Trump once again flipflopped and professed that he was supporting measures opposed by the gun lobby, a move that alarmed Republican Senator Ben Sasse, a favorite of journalists who easily fall for his sanctimonious gravitas.

We’ve all seen this movie before. Trump says he’ll sign anything Congress places before him and Republicans push the panic button—but then, behind the scenes, White House gremlins like Stephen Miller will shore up the GOP position, run out the clock, and leave the issue at status quo or even slightly worse. Miller is no anomaly: Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell invariably follow precisely the same game plan.

It is long past time for opponents of Trumpism to stop shaking their heads in disappointment, and instead go on the offensive. Trump wins because he appeals to emotionalism—chiefly rage, fear, and resentment—and he offers his followers a unified theory of life with ready-made villains and heroes, apocalypses and redemptions, in lieu of the difficult business of rational thought.

Such movements are not defeated by a sigh of resignation and the hope that this cancer will pass. Given the shift in public opinion, Democrats have more leverage on the gun issue than they think—if only they would use brass knuckles instead of powder-puffs.

Day after day, Democrats must take to the House and Senate floors and say that the GOP, and especially Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan, would prefer to see school children massacred than face the wrath of the NRA. To repeat, they would prefer to see kids murdered rather than poke the gun lobby and lose their money and support.

Brutal? Yes. But is it true? Demonstrably, if decades of their past behavior prove anything. Etiquette enforcers, particularly in the media, would presumably moan that Democrats were violating decorum, ripping asunder the fragile threads of civil society, and on and on. Let them moan: the charge is true, and in any case, the modern GOP has so thoroughly demolished whatever standards of decorum had previously existed that accusations of incivility on the left would merely be yet another iteration of media both-siderism. Because a brutal statement of the truth that breaks through the fog of posturing is what it will take—nothing less will be effective in the current climate.

Political success will also require thinking strategically. Trump is calculating that he cannot abandon the gun nuts and the NRA because, as the Mueller investigation grinds on, the gun nuts and the NRA are the ones who trust him and will not abandon him.

But that is not the only nexus between the NRA and Trump. The NRA was the biggest benefactor of the Trump campaign, pumping $30 million into his campaign, more than twice as much from the gun lobby than Romney did in 2012. But, as McClatchy suggests, the real total may have been as much as $70 million, funneled through a dark-money affiliate of the NRA that does not have to disclose the source of its funds.

Where did that money come from? McClatchy has found tantalizing clues leading to Alexander Torshin, a Russian oligarch and deputy governor of Russia’s central bank. He has close ties to the NRA and American conservative operatives on the one hand, and President Vladimir Putin on the other.

Most Americans only have a cursory knowledge of the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, particularly when the media sometimes presents the story in a piecemeal, context-free fashion. But opponents of Trump need to make the connection between Russiagate and the shootings a talking point. Linking school shootings and Russian interference through the vehicle of the NRA would not only give millions more Americans a reason to be concerned about what they may feel is an overly complex and confusing “foreign” issue, it would also increase the popular disgust with gun lobby. Because how are Wayne LaPierre and his ilk going to pose as true American patriots and constitutionalists if they’ve been unmasked as eager tools of Vladimir Putin?

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Arthur Goldstein: I am Willing and Ready to Be NYC Chancellor


Arthur Goldstein, a high school teacher in Queens for many years, is ready to take the Chancellor’s job.  He has an agenda.

“That’s right, I am volunteering to be Chancellor of NYC Schools, and I won’t accept the 385K. I will do it for half that. That’s appropriate because my first action will be to halve the salaries of everyone and anyone who worked under Bloomberg. If they don’t take the hint, they’re fired.

“We will also turn around the rating system. We will design tests for all educational administrators. We are through with all this effective and ineffective stuff, and Danielson, on her own recommendation, will be out of the classroom for good.

“Administrators will be tested to determine whether they are Not Insane. That will be our highest and only rating. If they miss the rating, they will join me in the 50% pay cut. If they don’t like it, they can always leave, and we will all be better off.

“Next, we will settle the UFT Contract. UFT members get a 20% pay raise across the board. Non-UFT members will no longer be covered by the contract, but we will give all of them $15 an hour, because minimum wage is too low, even for those too selfish or shortsighted to join a union.

“Class size in high schools will fall to 25, as per C4E. At other levels, we will follow the C4E mandates. Any administrators with oversized classes will be personally fined $1,000 a week for each student in each oversized class. If DOE grants them exceptions, their fines will be halved. We are reasonable.”

Why not?

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Quick Takes: Trump Seems Determined to Wreck the Economy

* Given that it’s a day ending in “y,” of course Trump did something idiotic.

President Trump on Thursday said he has decided to impose punishing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum in a major escalation of his trade offensive, disappointing Republican congressional leaders and inviting retaliation by U.S. trading partners…

Investors appeared shaken by the news. The Dow Jones industrial average fell around 500 points, a loss of 2 percent, in early-afternoon trading.

The president’s move, relying upon a little-used provision of U.S. trade law, is expected to trigger immediate legal challenges by U.S. trading partners at the World Trade Organization and invite retaliation against American exports.

…In 2002, the last time the United States imposed steel tariffs, steel users blamed the measures for the loss of up to 200,000 jobs.

* This president’s answer to the opioid epidemic: the death penalty.

President Donald Trump on Thursday suggested using the death penalty on drug dealers to address the opioid epidemic, equating providing lethal drugs with murder.

“We have pushers and drug dealers, they are killing hundreds and hundreds of people,” Trump said at a White House summit on opioid abuse. “If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people can kill two thousands, three thousand people and nothing happens to them.”

Of course that only applies to the drug dealers. When it comes to the pharmaceutical companies, pffttt.

* The “March For Our Lives” organizers have run into a snag.

A planned rally against mass shootings can’t be held on the Mall later this month because it conflicts with what’s described in a National Park Service permit application as a “talent show.”

A permit application filed last week by survivors of the Parkland, Fla., school massacre indicated the “March For Our Lives” rally will be on March 24, with up to 500,000 attendees expected. Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the Park Service, said organizers proposed holding the event on the Mall but were looking to move the rally to another location after the request conflicted with a film crew’s permit.

Litterst said the film permit was “from a student group at a local educational institution,” but he wouldn’t name the institution because “applications from educational institutions are withheld from release for privacy reasons,” he wrote in an email.

* Kaiser has a new tracking poll out today on the favorability ratings for Obamacare. Of course Kevin Drum has a handy chart showing that it just keeps getting more popular..

* Ella Nilson writes that Democrats are suddenly competitive in Texas.

For the first time in decades, Democrats are making a big play for Texas in 2018…

“We’re definitely seeing unbridled enthusiasm among Democrats,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston…

In 2016, “They couldn’t even find a gadfly to run,” Jones said. Now, “Not only are you seeing a large number of Democrats file [paperwork to run], but you’re seeing some really top-tier candidates. Democrats came out of the woodwork.”

Democrats got a taste of good news in 2016 with Clinton’s better-than-expected margins in these congressional districts. Fast-forward a year and a half; now Democrats have already pulled off a long-shot win in deep-red Alabama in 2017.

They could repeat that in Texas if they can do two things at once: spur Hispanic and Latino voters to turn out in droves, and peel off white, moderate suburbanites who don’t like Donald Trump (particularly women).

* I have a task for someone. This needs to be on bumper stickers all over the country…tomorrow.

The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a vote.

— Ed Krassenstein 💎 (@EdKrassen) March 1, 2018

* Finally, as a budding gardner pinning for spring up here in the tundra, I love this!

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Georgia Punishes Delta for Distancing Themselves from the NRA

Georgia has responded to the slaughter of 17 people in a Florida high school with a certain lack of empathy.

Republicans in the Georgia state Senate followed through on their threats after Delta airlines, one of the state’s top private employers, stopped giving National Rifle Association members a special discount. The state Senate Republicans voted down a tax break on jet fuel for flights at Atlanta’s airport, where Delta is based, and Gov. Nathan Deal will sign it, although he’s not happy…

Governor Deal wouldn’t veto the bill because it includes tax cuts for ordinary Georgians but he says he’ll try to figure out a way to restore Delta’s discount jet fuel. That’s his political calculation and he isn’t facing reelection so he can do whatever he wants to do.

The rest of the country is recoiling in horror, and that certainly includes corporate executives who might be considering Atlanta as a good place to locate their headquarters. The airport is probably the city’s best selling point. I know Amazon has to be less inclined to put their second headquarters in Atlanta now.

I shouldn’t be shocked after the Republicans’ response to two dozen first graders being gunned down at Sandy Hook was to launch a wildly successful national offensive to loosen gun restrictions. But I still retain the ability to be surprised by this kind of inhuman behavior. You can feel however you want about solutions to mass shootings, but if your first instinct is to punish anyone who questions the National Rifle Association, that’s sociopathic.

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Jan Resseger: What Linda Darling-Hammond Wrote about the Kerner Commission Report Today


Jan Resseger summarizes Linda Darling-Hammond’s reflections on the Kerner Commission Report. 

“Darling-Hammond traces a mass of factors showing that as a society we identified the wrong problem, satisfied ourselves with blaming somebody, and ignored our responsibility collectively to confront primary social injustices that are the real cause of achievement gaps. What we accomplished instead was discrediting public education and undermining support for teachers.

“Darling-Hammond believes our problem is that we have stopped trying to do anything about racial and economic segregation: “In a study of the effects of court-ordered desegregation on students born between 1945 and 1970, economist Rucker Johnson found that graduation rates climbed by 2 percentage points for every year a Black student attended an integrated school… The difference was tied to the fact that schools under court supervision benefit from higher per-pupil spending and smaller student-teacher ratios… During the 1960s and ’70s, many communities took on efforts like these. As a result, there was a noticeable reduction in educational inequality in the decade after the original Kerner report…. (S)ubstantial gains were made in equalizing both educational inputs and outcomes. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 targeted resources to communities with the most need, recognizing that where a child grows up should not determine where he or she ends up… However, the gains from the Great Society programs were pushed back during the Reagan administration, when most targeted federal programs supporting investments in college access and K-12 schools in urban and poor rural areas were reduced or eliminated, and federal aid to schools was cut from 12% to 6% of a shrinking total…By 1991, stark differences had reemerged between segregated urban schools and their suburban counterparts, which generally spent twice as much on education.”

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The Democrats Have a Messaging Problem

Elizabeth Drew reminds us of the difference between the parties when it comes to messaging. The Republicans, being homogeneous and hierarchical, excel at it, while the Democrats, being egalitarian and diverse, don’t. But there’s another reason they differ on messaging.

It has to do with habits of mind. Democrats are good students. When they make arguments in favor of such-and-such a policy, they usually allow evidence to lead them to a conclusion. This habit of mind is why the Democrats are better at governing than Republicans. They base policies on political objectives, but their objectives are largely based on the facts.

Conversely, Republicans are bad students. When they make arguments in favor of such-and-such a policy, they tend to cram whatever has the appearance of evidence into whatever conclusion they have already come to. This habit of mind is why they are terrible at governing. They base policies almost entirely on political objectives. At best, they dismiss evidence to the contrary. At worst, they attack authorities trying to get them to snap out of it.

From these habits of mind come two kinds of behavior. The Republicans are not only top-down in their messaging but categorically convinced of their rightness, because they do not care if empirical reality contravenes their convictions. The result is sounding authoritative and strong. The Democrats, however, do care, because their constituencies are diverse. They can’t just say the sky is green and expect everyone to fall in line. Assertions must be justified. The result is sounding meek and mild.

There is one area of focus that scrambles the pattern. Elizabeth Drew points it out:

I also find it baffling that Democrats haven’t noisily taken on Trump for refusing to implement a law passed overwhelmingly by Congress that allows him to impose new sanctions on Russia. It was a law Trump opposed, but had to sign because a veto would have been overridden. The Republicans have traditionally been adept at seeing threats to the national security in the administrations of Democratic presidents, but it would seem that in the case of the current Republican administration, Democrats have been strangely quiet on this subject.

For as long as the president refuses to implement sanctions against Russia, the Democrats will have a unique opportunity to behave as badly as the Republicans. They can level a charge against the president—something, for instance, like “Trump is in bed with the Russians”—and let it hang in the air while each iteration of the Russia investigation slowly but surely fills in the gap. In other words, this is a time to be a bad student, to make a claim in search of evidence. Even if the Democrats are wrong on the details, they will be right on the big, moral picture.

Conversely, the Republicans can’t claim Trump is innocent, because each new finding from the Russia investigation would almost instantly contradict such a claim. Because their habits of mind are so rigid, because they cannot behave like good students, they must return to the norm: dismiss evidence to the contrary, or at worse, attack authorities trying to get them to snap out of it.

Meanwhile, Trump has his own way. The more he cries “WITCH HUNT!” the more he gives credence to the Democratic claims that the president is in bed with the Russians. It remains to be seen if there is a strong legal case against Trump, but the Democrats know everything they need to know to prosecute a strong political case.

If only they were better at messaging.

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BREAKING NEWS: Carvalho Turns Down NYC Chancellorship, Will Stay in Miami


Everyone thought it was a done deal, but it wasn’t.

Alberto Carvalho, Miami Superintendent, changed his mind and rejected Bill deBlasio’s offer to become chancellor of the New York City public schools, the biggest school system in the U.S., with 1.1 million students.

We will learn more later about why he changed his mind. Or we may never know. The search continues.

It would be good if the process were open and transparent, with parents and educators involved.

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Democrats Need to Stop Normalizing Trump

Aaron Blake has a pretty good rundown of the bizarre meeting between Trump and a bipartisan group of legislators yesterday. As others have done, he focused on things the president said that were outlandish.

But there hasn’t been much commentary on how Democrats handled themselves in the meeting. One thing that has drawn some attention is the fact that Senators Feinstein and Klobuchar broke out in laughter when Trump suggested that a ban on weapons like the AR-15 be added to the Toomey-Manchin bill. Here’s a quick GIF of that:

Feinstein’s reaction when Trump says she should add assault weapons ban to Manchin-Toomey

— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) February 28, 2018

I don’t fault those Democrats for laughing at Trump’s naiveté. But I will suggest that simply laughing wasn’t enough. Why didn’t someone put this question to the president and/or the authors of the bill: “Do you support a ban on weapons like the AR-15?” Klobuchar simply went on to talk seriously about other proposals she supports, as if we could laugh off what Trump just said and move on.

At another point in the discussion, the president suggested that we drop due process and confiscate the guns of those who are mentally ill, which takes place from about 9:17 to 10:55 in this video.

Reading Klobuchar’s body language, it appears as though on a couple of occasions, she looked around the room to see if anyone else was going to respond. As someone who was the Hennepin County District Attorney prior to being elected to the Senate, she is well acquainted with the importance of due process and the way in should work in these situations. And yet she remained silent.

Overall, the Democrats in the room yesterday were deferential to the president—which is probably the way things have been in the past when the office itself was deemed worthy of respect. But when the President of the United States, who has shown over and over again that he has no respect for our justice system, talks once again about tossing aside due process, it is time for someone to speak up.

This meeting took place in the context of this administration breaking all of the norms that have sustained our democratic process due to their malevolence and incompetence. Staying silent out of deferential respect to the office is exactly how Democrats normalize what’s going on.

Over the last few months we’ve witnessed many in the mainstream media wrestle with their journalistic approach because it tends to normalize this unprecedented presidency. They don’t all have it right yet, but at least they’re asking the right questions. It is way past time for congressional Democrats to do the same.

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John Thompson: Oklahoma City Schools Under Siege by Reformers

John Thompson, teacher and historian, writes here about the invasion of the privatizers in Oklahoma City.


Every January, the start of National School Choice Week marks the beginning of The Oklahoman editorials in support of charter and private school expansion. Given the $16.5 million grant by Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education to the Walton-funded Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, and the state’s charter school conversion law, which allows the state to override school systems that turn down charter applications, this annual event marks the beginning of an increasingly dangerous school privatization season.
This year’s editorials in favor of school choice expansion indicate an even more worrisome assault on public schools is likely. A former Oklahoma City Public School System (OKCPS) board member wants to break the 46,000 student system into an overwhelmingly black district, a predominantly Hispanic district, and a more affluent no-majority district. The most extreme 2018 proposal was recently made by City Councilman David Greenwell. He wants to convert the OKCPS into a city-sponsored charter district!
The Oklahoman subsequently editorialized that the resignation of the OKCPS superintendent, Aurora Lora, illustrates the “sort of churn” that makes it “nearly impossible” to “move the needle” on school improvement for the 85% low-income district. It didn’t mention that Lora is a graduate of the Broad Residency in Urban Education. Neither does it mention the reasons why educators opposed the micromanaging she was taught by Broad, and how Broad sees the cultivation of churn as a feature, not a flaw, of its corporate governance.
The editorial called for “truly significant change from the status quo” where “all ideas should at least be considered.” It then buried the lede, Brent Bushey, head of the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center said his group backs ‘quality options’ for students and that he hopes Greenwell’s comments lead to more talk about more quality options.”
In the disrespected field of education, it isn’t unusual for privatizers, to say that “everything should be on the table.” But, how many Americans would want a Commander in Chief who says he won’t “rule anything in or out” in terms of nuclear confrontations?
Okay, given Donald Trump’s mindset, that’s a touchy metaphor, so let’s use a medical analogy: Would we want a medical system that is free to conduct whatever experiments it wants, or that would institutionalize risky procedures in order to treat certain conditions without a careful study of their unintended consequences? 
The corporate reform Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, and a steady stream of supporters of the so-called “portfolio model” of reform, continue to promote charter expansion. But I’ve yet to hear of a portfolio proponent who would put the inherent dangers of their plan on the table for public discussion. Whether they believe it or not, charter advocates still claim that their schools can serve the “same” kids as neighborhood schools, and that a robust accountability system can somehow prevent the mass exiting of students who make it harder to raise test scores.
I don’t expect true believers in charter portfolios to get into the weeds of school improvement and explain why they could succeed in Oklahoma City with the models that failed in Tennessee, Nevada, and elsewhere, even though our charters would have at least 50% per student less funding than those of other states. Neither do I anticipate an explanation of why Indianapolis’s well-funded “reforms,” that are being marketed for OKC, have produced student performance gains that are the same as the OKCPS “status quo.” But, shouldn’t they acknowledge the downsides of the so-called successes that our business leaders have been hearing promoted in private discussions? Denver is finally admitting that its achievement gap is one of the worst in the nation, and New Orleans and Memphis can’t deny that they are third and first, nationally, in “disconnected youth” or kids out of school, without jobs.
I hope, however, that OKC leaders will ask whether a policy, which is likely to result in thousands of school-aged kids walking the streets during the day, should be “off the table.” I would also hope they would ask why Tulsa’s Deborah Gist, and her team of Broadies, have failed so miserably. Tulsa’s poverty rate is below that of Oklahoma City, and their schools have benefited from huge investments by the Gates Foundation and other national and local edu-philanthropists, but only two urban districts have produced lower test score growth from 3rd to 8th grade. Perhaps we need a conversation about why the test-driven, choice-driven, technocratic model pushed by the Billionaires Boys Club has been such a failure. 
The cornerstone of accountability-driven, competition-driven corporate reform was once called “earned autonomy.” Now, the basically same concept is pushed with a kinder and gentler spin. The idea is to reward schools that exhibit high test scores with the freedom to offer holistic learning. Regardless of what you call it, the plan is to impose top-down, teach-to-the-test, even scripted instruction, on lower performing schools. The approach is designed to stack the competition between choice and neighborhood schools in favor of charters.
I want to stress, however, that I support a public conversation. After I wrote a rebuttal to the former OKCPS board member seeking to break up the system, he and I have had a couple of hours of discussions. He doesn’t want more segregation but he’s tired of the micromanaging. We both want more site based management. After all, most educators and stakeholders who I know are tired of the social engineering imposed by Broadies.
But the conversation must follow the principle of, “First, Do No Harm.” We must not treat our children like lab rats. All win-win policies should be on the table, but we shouldn’t contemplate discredited theories such as earned autonomy, which actually means earned dignity, that may benefit some while severely damaging other students. For instance, do we really want to repeat the all-charter NOLA experiment if it means that 18% of young people will be out of school and out of the workforce? Should advocates be empowered to deny autonomy to schools they are competing with? Should today’s well-funded market-driven activists be empowered to permanently privatize our future children’s public education system? 

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