Julian Vasquez Heilig: The Eight Questions Betsy DeVos Will Never Answer About Vouchers

Julian Vasquez Heilig dissects the claims about vouchers by posing eight questions about vouchers that Betsy DeVos cannot or will not ever answer.

First is, where did the idea come from? Well, there is that famous essay by libertarian economist Milton Friedman in 1955, but there is also the advocacy of Southern politicians following the Brown decision. Friedman had the idealistic belief that parents should spend their education voucher in any school. Southern politicians persistently and loudly called for “school choice” as a way to preserve racially segregated schools.

Julian also asks about the international repute of the free market and mentions Chile, which has seen the inevitable segregation that follows vouchers. He might have also mentioned Sweden, which took the same path, and found not only increased segregation but plummeting scores on international tests.

Voucher advocates have noticed that research does not support their claims about higher test scores or better education so they have resorted to advocating for choice for the sake of choice.

Today we have the unprecedented phenomenon of a U.S. Secretary of Education who advocates for a policy that will produce ever higher levels of segregation. This is wrong.

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Russ Walsh: No, Betsy, Choice Is Not Always a Good Thing

Russ Walsh posted this column earlier this year. I am reposting it now because it is an insightful critique of DeVos’s ideology that choice is always good.

Walsh points out that there are many choices we used to have that we don’t have any more. We are not free to smoke where we want. He remembers the thick smoke in the teachers’ lounge. I remember the smokers on the commercial airplanes. He remembers the days when we drove without seat belts. We no longer have those choices. One could make a long list of the things you cannot do because of their effect on the common good, which overrides your personal choice.

School choice undermines the common good by taking resources from the schools that we are all obliged to support, even if we don’t have children.

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Russ Walsh: No, Betsy, Choice Is Not Always a Good Thing

Russ Walsh posted this column earlier this year. I am reposting it now because it is an insightful critique of DeVos’s ideology that choice is always good.

Walsh points out that there are many choices we used to have that we don’t have any more. We are not free to smoke where we want. He remembers the thick smoke in the teachers’ lounge. I remember the smokers on the commercial airplanes. He remembers the days when we drove without seat belts. We no longer have those choices. One could make a long list of the things you cannot do because of their effect on the common good, which overrides your personal choice.

School choice undermines the common good by taking resources from the schools that we are all obliged to support, even if we don’t have children.

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Los Angeles: Celerity Charter Schools Under Federal Investigation

The Los Angeles Times has written extensively about the Celerity charter schools and their record of financial mismanagement, self-dealing, and possible conflicts of interest.

In this expose, the Times revealed that the founder of the charter chain was paid $471,000 a year, 35% more than the superintendent of the Los Angeles public school system. The article also documented use of the schools’ credit card for expensive meals, hotels, resorts, restaurants, chauffeured limousines, and other personal expenses.

Now, the Times reports, the chain of seven schools is under federal investigation and in danger of losing accreditation.

Los Angeles charter schools that are part of a network currently under federal investigation have been put on notice that their accreditation is in jeopardy.

Seven schools run by the nonprofit Celerity Educational Group are spread across the Los Angeles Unified School District. Six carry the seal of approval of the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, commonly known by its acronym WASC, an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

On Wednesday, the association sent Celerity Chief Executive Grace Canada a letter saying that after a preliminary investigation, it had found the network to be in violation of several of the agency’s policies. It demanded that Celerity provide evidence to show “why the accreditation status of all CEG schools should not be withheld,” according to the letter signed by WASC President Fred Van Leuven.

Founded by a former L.A. Unified employee, Celerity Educational Group has been operating charter schools in Los Angeles for over a decade. In recent years, it has gone national, expanding into Ohio and Florida — where it struggled to gain a foothold and eventually withdrew — and Louisiana, where it still operates four charter schools today.

But after years of relatively little scrutiny, the charter school network is now the subject of two investigations, one by the inspector general of L.A. Unified, who has been looking into allegations of misuse of public funds, and another by federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Education.

In January, agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and other agencies raided Celerity’s offices as well as the headquarters of a related nonprofit, Celerity Global Development, and the home of the organization’s founder, Vielka McFarlane.

Interestingly, the response from the charter was that what they did was not unusual in the charter sector. Everyone does it.

“In its review of the group’s financial records, The Times documented years of questionable spending by Celerity’s leaders and potential conflicts of interest.

“No one at Celerity, including McFarlane, has been charged with a crime stemming from the schools’ operations. Celerity’s leaders have repeatedly defended the network’s management and financial decisions as perfectly legal and typical of charter schools, which are privately managed but publicly funded.”

Despite the investigations, despite the revelations, the state education department wants to give this chain more students and schools:

Despite the questions surrounding Celerity’s operations, the network is poised to open two new charter schools next year. And on Friday, the California Department of Education issued a recommendation that the state Board of Education renew two of Celerity’s existing schools, which L.A. Unified had refused to grant another five-year term. The recommendation came with conditions that Celerity agree to turn over more information about its inner workings to state officials.

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A New Low in False Balance at the Washington Post?

It’s almost too goofy for words.

I’m not quite sure who Josh Rogin of the Washington Post was trying to fool when he suggested that Donald Trump really knows what he’s doing with regard to foreign policy. In fact, if one reads his words closely, one might conclude that he may have fooled himself:

The 100-day mark in the Trump presidency has pundits and senior officials alike searching for an overall doctrine that steers Trump’s foreign policy. But Trump’s campaign slogan “America first” was never much more than an allergy to intervention and a promise to get better deals from foreign nations. On the big issues, Trump now seems to be hewing back to a traditional Republican stance on foreign policy. But the White House claims Trump has been consistent all along.

Senior White House officials tell me that this consistency is evident not in an ideological sense but rather in how the administration is implementing Trump’s campaign promises. The idea is to take what Trump has said on issues and work with senior officials and foreign partners systematically to translate those statements into real policies.


Rogin would have us believe that supposedly more intellectually stable members of the Trump administration know how to make chicken salad out of, well, you know:

Senior cabinet officials including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson take a set of Trump foreign policy campaign ideas on the road to discuss them with allies and partners. They help massage what were often broad and poorly understood campaign statements into policies or projects that both sides can agree to and work on together, gaining buy-in and finding overlap between the rhetoric and the reality.

Then, Vice President Pence follows up with similar action, traveling to those same places and often meeting with the same leaders. He reinforces what the cabinet officials have worked out with foreign governments and elevates the plans to the White House level. Finally, Trump comes in.

A senior White House official described the pattern to me as “building a structure.” Trump is “utilizing a lot of the key players in his cabinet and his vice president to lay the groundwork so that when he comes in, he’s ultimately the closer,” the official said.

As Jacob Heilbrunn observes, Rogin’s analysis, like Trump himself, is at odds with reality:

[On April 26], Trump held a meeting at the White House on North Korea, which only disclosed that his administration has no strategy for dealing with it. He also came close to signing a wacky executive order drafted by Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro that would have started the process to withdraw from NAFTA. Then, at the last moment, after talking to the president and prime minister of Mexico and Canada, Trump flinched. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may not fill some two hundred posts at the State Department until 2018. How does this square with Rogin’s soothing depiction of Trump’s foreign policy?

The main problem with Rogin’s piece is that he uncritically regurgitates the talking points disseminated to him by Trump administration officials, starting with Vice President Mike Pence. It’s fine for a reporter to serve as a kind of transmission belt for inside political dope that is revealing and reliable. But this isn’t it. What Rogin is doing isn’t reporting; it’s pandering.

As always, I can’t help wondering if the pandering is borne of a desire to shut up those who have been brainwashed into believing that the Post is somehow out to get Trump, that the venerable newspaper is part of the “liberal media empire.” Kissing up to Trump is the only way reporters, editors and publishers know how to prove a negative: rather than simply ignoring the ignorant folks who think the Post waves the flag for Democrats and progressives, these folks think that if they just run enough puff pieces about Trump, the folks who show up to his rallies will gradually become less contemptuous of the press.

To quote the renowned American philosopher Mariah Carey, it’s just a sweet, sweet fantasy, baby. No amount of positive Trump press will soothe the anger of those who think every reporter in this country is a closet progressive activist. History will disprove Rogin. Common sense already has.

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Why Trump Should Just Give Up and Quit

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has a stilted way of talking sometimes, but it’s not too hard to understand the point he’s trying to make here:

“Look, you’ve had experience for 100 days,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), as if he were speaking directly to Trump. “Your party is a divided party — you found that out. Some things you thought you were going to be able to do you haven’t been able to do, not because of Democratic opposition but Republican division.

He added: “That ought to tell you that on important, must-do issues, you’re well-advised on a bipartisan basis to get those done.”

At this point, I think almost everyone who tries to reason with President Trump is doing it mainly for appearances and not because they sincerely think he might listen. Steny Hoyer doesn’t really want to work with the president. After the insulting campaign he ran, it’s doubtful that many Democrats ever wanted to help Trump rack up legislative achievements, and any hope of that was lost when he started gathering Neo-Nazi advisers around him.

Still, we can at least craft an alternative recent history in which Trump pivoted after the election in recognition of the fact that he would not be able to govern independently of the two parties if he were completely dependent on either one of them. And if he didn’t get that basic point, he could have at least anticipated certain mathematical problems like the need to get eight Democratic senators to agree to go along with most of his legislative agenda so that he could avoid filibusters.

Hoyer points out a third problem, which is that Trump can’t depend on the Republicans because they’re too divided among themselves. None of this matters all that much anymore. The president can’t get a do-over.

At this point, he’s trying to make a show of keeping campaign promises, but there’s not a whole lot he can accomplish. He isn’t getting his big beautiful wall, and he certainly isn’t going to get Mexico to pay for it. He threatens to scrap NAFTA but backs down quickly. He’s gone from setting the record for disrespecting China to saying that they’re the most respectable government you’ve ever seen. Forget about his promise to label them a currency manipulator. He’s got no plan for passing his tax reform. Obamacare isn’t going anywhere and he isn’t going to stop paying for the subsidies. He’ll never get an infrastructure bill passed. He’s already been drawn into foreign entanglements in Syria, Afghanistan, and the Korean Peninsula. He said he’d cut deals, but can’t cut any deals. He isn’t draining the swamp; he’s filling it. The Courts are slapping down his immigration agenda.

Nothing is easy and nothing is happening fast. Almost nothing is going to happen at all that isn’t entirely within his discretion as the leader of the executive branch, and he’s even failing bigly to take advantage of his ability to get almost anyone he wants confirmed.

Here are some things that are going to confound him in short order. He got an extension to avoid a government shutdown but has made little progress on resolving the disputes that made the extension necessary. He’ll need to figure out how to get the debt ceiling raised by the end of the summer, at the latest, and he has no plan for how to make that happen.

A slew of other routine issues, but still pressing ones, are coming up on the congressional docket before the end of the year. Congress will have to decide whether to reauthorize a Veterans Affairs health-care program established in the wake of scandals across the agency. A Food and Drug Administration program that charges fees to drug companies seeking approval of new products expires by August. The Federal Aviation Administration needs to be reauthorized by September — as does the nation’s flood-insurance program.

There also is work to be done on the annual defense-policy bill — influenced this year by the ongoing showdowns with North Korea, Russia and Syria — a must-pass piece of legislation that is often used as a way to pass other unrelated items. And the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, but lawmakers in both parties warned in recent days that the House and Senate have not started working on a new budget plan.

Asked whether there is a plan to pass a budget for the next fiscal year, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, “I’m sure there is, I just haven’t detected it.”

Those Veterans Affairs scandals are ginned up and phony, but the Republicans believe their own bullshit and have poisoned their base against the best health provider in the country. If Trump wants to keep his promises to vets, he’s going to have a problem and, let’s face it, he’s going to fail. The White House is going to show no leadership on the FDA, FAA or a realistic plan for next year’s fiscal budget. They’ll probably be annoyed that Congress is setting aside their agenda and wasting time on the nuts and bolts of basic governance.

Congress doesn’t have the time or the bandwidth or the competent leadership or a coherent governing majority to accomplish the must-do things on their list, let alone to keep wasting energy on doomed legislative efforts that have zero buy-in from the Senate.

Probably the only thing Trump has going for him at this point is his own cluelessness about just how desperately insane he appears and how screwed he is. And all of this would be true even if the Russia problem didn’t exist. But, of course, it does exist and it will plague him once the testimony starts rolling in. At the latest, things will take an ugly turn by May 8th:

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates is set to testify May 8 before a Senate judiciary investigation into Russia’s interference in last year’s elections, her second congressional hearing at which she’s scheduled to testify within the span of a week.

Yates’ appearance before the Sen. Lindsey Graham-led Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism would mark her second time when the former Obama appointee has been called to the Hill to testify on Russia’s meddling. Yates has been invited to testify at a public hearing of the House intelligence committee to be scheduled after May 2. A date has not been confirmed yet.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence under former President Barack Obama, was also scheduled to appear before the Senate judiciary subcommittee in the same hearing as Yates.

Yates and Clapper can explain the whole Michael Flynn fiasco in painful and humiliating detail, and while they’ll probably be tight-lipped about the broader counterintelligence investigation, what they can confirm will be devastating to the administration.

That will just be an hors d’oeuvre for later testimony and possibly grand juries.

I can’t envision a single way Trump can win on anything, pretty much ever, under any foreseeable circumstances. And maybe what we’ll get is an impotent and stymied president explaining how everyone else is to blame. Our system is rotten. Both parties are colluding against him. The media is corrupt and fake.

Other presidents might find a way out in the unity that comes from a national security crisis. But he’s not capable of populating his own Pentagon and State Department, let alone talking about foreign policy in a way that might unite people behind his leadership. Bush was bad enough, but people felt like he had adults surrounding him and that we didn’t have a whole lot of choice but to give him a chance. Trump is at war with his own intelligence community and the State Department, and he couldn’t possibly have less credibility with the plurality of people who voted against him. That could become dangerous if the crisis is real and national unity is needed, but that’s all the more reason that he’s doomed.

There are still theoretical ways out of this mess, but they’re not realistic. He’s created a situation in which he’s wholly dependent on a party that is dysfunctional and that cannot and will not deliver for him. He can’t attack them or sideline them to approach the Democrats, and the Democrats wouldn’t have him if he tried.

He should quit. Honestly, he should see the writing on the wall and just quit. Parliamentary governments fail to form after elections all the time. It’s not all that unusual. This government isn’t going to work, and making us wait it out for three and a half years is as stupid as it is irresponsible.

There are no prospects for the Trump administration. It cannot and will not get better.

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MSNBC Mainly Seems Nothing But Conservatives

It must be something in the water at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

That’s the only logical explanation for MSNBC executives reportedly planning to give obnoxious right-wing pundit and Donald Trump apologist Hugh Hewitt a greater media platform:

MSNBC is in talks with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt about creating a show for him on weekend evenings, four well-placed sources at the network tell Daily Intelligencer. Initially MSNBC was keen on having Hewitt host a program on weekend mornings, but that idea is off the table because Hewitt wants to be on in the evening, according to two sources. At one point, network management also floated moving Joy-Ann Reid’s popular weekend program AM Joy to the afternoon to serve as a lead-in for Hewitt and help jumpstart his ratings, but that plan has seemingly been dropped.

Hewitt is already part of the NBC News family as a paid commentator, but the fact that he’s on the verge of getting his own program is alarming to some staffers at MSNBC. Among their concerns is that Hewitt, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative and Trump supporter, doesn’t represent the values of the liberal network. While Hewitt flirted with never-Trumpism during the campaign — most notably when then-candidate Trump attacked Mexican-American judge Gonzalo Curiel, and after the infamous Access Hollywood tape was leaked to the Washington Post — he always came back to Trump, and ultimately cast a ballot for him in the November election.

Much like the amoral decision by the New York Times to hire climate-change denier and right-wing egomaniac Bret Stephens, this decision seems borne of a belief by MSNBC executives that the channel is perceived by the general public to be indistinguishable from, say, The Young Turks or Democracy Now!, and that this ideological “imbalance” needs to be “corrected.” (This mentality is presumably one of the driving forces behind the creation of former GOP operative Nicolle Wallace’s new show on the channel). Do these folks realize that people who hate MSNBC today will hate the channel tomorrow–and forever? Like Prince’s parents in the song “When Doves Cry,” right-wingers are too bold and never satisfied; MSNBC could fire every left-leaning host and replace them with right-wingers, and the network still wouldn’t be able to lure right-wing viewers away from Fox News or One America News Network.

In fact, MSNBC’s bizarre chase for right-wing viewers has already been a proven failure:

[MSNBC] also hired former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren and gave her the 6 p.m. slot on MSNBC’s weekday schedule. Since Van Susteren’s show debuted in January, the ratings have been, by any objective measure, abysmal. In a rare occurrence for that spot, her numbers have actually been lower than those of her lead-in program, Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press Daily. Van Susteren’s hire was not well-received internally at MSNBC, with Chris Matthews being especially frustrated by the decision, according to two network sources.

The joy of watching Keith Olbermann’s fiery GQ commentaries is tempered by the fact that he would never be allowed to pound away at the President in this bold fashion were he still at MSNBC, that the channel’s executives would have leaned on him to turn it down and tone it down in the name of not offending Trump’s thin-skinned supporters. What will MSNBC executives say if Hewitt’s proposed program fails miserably? Will they finally understand that there’s actually not that big of a market for far-right agitprop on cable TV?

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