Rep. Joseph Kennedy: ‘We Choose Both’

For the first time in quite a while, the person who responded to the State of the Union speech is getting pretty good reviews. It appears that Rep. Joseph Kennedy III has finally broken the curse. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to listen to what he had to say.

Compared to the president, those who give the response don’t have the time to speak in much detail. Kennedy dealt with that last night by laying out a vision rather than a laundry list of policies—something that Democrats have been missing in the last couple of years. Here is the heart of the vision Kennedy offered:

Many have spent the past year anxious, angry, afraid. We all feel the fault lines of a fractured country. We hear the voices of Americans who feel forgotten and forsaken…

And that nagging, sinking feeling, no matter your political beliefs: this is not right. This is not who we are…

This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us – they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection.

For them, dignity isn’t something you’re born with but something you measure…

Their record is a rebuke of our highest American ideal: the belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal and we all count. In the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government.

That is the American promise.

But today that promise is being broken. By an Administration that callously appraises our worthiness and decides who makes the cut and who can be bargained away.

They are turning American life into a zero-sum game.

Where, in order for one to win, another must lose…

We are bombarded with one false choice after another:

Coal miners or single moms. Rural communities or inner cities. The coast or the heartland.

As if the mechanic in Pittsburgh and the teacher in Tulsa and the daycare worker in Birmingham are somehow bitter rivals, rather than mutual casualties of a system forcefully rigged for those at the top.

As if the parent who lies awake terrified that their transgender son will be beaten and bullied at school is any more or less legitimate than the parent whose heart is shattered by a daughter in the grips of opioid addiction.

So here is the answer Democrats offer tonight: we choose both. We fight for both. Because the strongest, richest, greatest nation in the world shouldn’t leave any one behind.

I can’t help but think of the endless discussions among Democrats following the 2016 election about the party’s over-reliance on identity politics and the need to reach out to white working class voters. That, too, is a zero sum game. It accepts the divisiveness that Republicans have injected into our politics without question. Democrats don’t have to buy into that framework. As Kennedy demonstrated so eloquently, we can choose both.

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Atlanta: Charter School Boss Pleads Guilty to Theft of Funds


Once a bright light of the charter industry, Chris Clemons pleaded guilty to major thefts from the school he founded and led and is now bound for prison.

“An Atlanta charter school founder has pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing more than half a million dollars from local public school systems.

“The former principal at Latin Academy, Chris Clemons, pleaded guilty to over 50 counts of theft and five counts of forgery after a hearing and sentencing that lasted about two  hours.

“Clemons was accused of defrauding three Atlanta area schools, and forcing at least one, the Latin Academy, to close because of a lack of funds. He faced up to 865 years in prison and $5.5 million in fines.

”The state alleged that the 39-year-old Clemon spent more than $50,000 to Atlanta strip clubs and made countless cash withdrawals.

“Parents said they were devastated when they learned what Clemons was doing.

“In the end, he has been ordered to pay $810,000 in restitution and was sentenced to 20 years, 10 to serve and 10 on probation.”

The moral of the story is that public money must be accompanied by public oversight.

Mercedes Schneider wrote about Clemons’ sterling resume. He was trained by Boston’s reformer “Building Excellent Schools” then earned an MBA at MIT, where he was featured for his vision and dedication to children.

Even for MIT grads, crime doesn’t pay.


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Trump’s Latest Strategy for Dealing With the Mueller Investigation

Yesterday I documented some of the ways that Donald Trump and his enablers have threatened our democratic institutions in order to discredit and/or stop the Mueller investigation. According to Howard Fineman, the president is contemplating a whole new avenue.

Sources say that Trump has adopted a two-track strategy to deal with the Mueller investigation.

One is an un-Trumpian passivity and trust. He keeps telling some in his circle that Mueller — any day now — will tell him he is off the hook for any charge of collusion with the Russians or obstruction of justice.

But Trump — who trusts no one, or at least no one for long — has now decided that he must have an alternative strategy that does not involve having Justice Department officials fire Mueller.

“I think he’s been convinced that firing Mueller would not only create a firestorm, it would play right into Mueller’s hands,” said another friend, “because it would give Mueller the moral high ground.”

Instead, as is now becoming plain, the Trump strategy is to discredit the investigation and the FBI without officially removing the leadership. Trump is even talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting Mueller and his team.

Pretending that exoneration is just around the corner and doing everything possible to discredit the investigation are nothing new. But the president might be delusional enough to think that prosecuting Mueller and his team would create less of a firestorm than firing him.

I’m trying to imagine what the charges against Mueller would be. We already know the three reasons Trump came up with to fire him back in June.

First, he thought Mueller had a conflict of interest because of an argument over fees at one of Trump’s golf clubs, which resulted in Mueller resigning his membership. Second, because Mueller worked for a law firm that once represented Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law. And third, because Mueller was being interviewed to return as the FBI director the day before he was named special counsel in May 2017. He spearheaded the organization between 2001 and 2013.

Trump’s White House Counsel Don McGahn was right that those wouldn’t even stand up as an excuse to fire Mueller. They certainly wouldn’t pass muster in a court of law. But of course, none of that matters to Trump. USA Today reported that in the three decades prior to becoming president, Trump was involved in 4,095 lawsuits. He was the defendant in over 2,100 of those. So this is a man who relies on threats to prosecute and/or bring civil cases against those he sees as a threat. I’m sure that in his delusional world, that is an effective strategy. But I doubt very much that he has ever been tested by the likes of Robert Mueller and his team. They might be tempted to respond to a threat by saying, “Please proceed, Mr. President.”

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California: Charter Industry Defeats Effort to Impose Accountability and Transparency


The powerful California Charter School Association collected enough votes to defeat AB 1478, an effort to establish accountability and transparency for charters, introduced by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat from Los Angeles.

Here is the proposed legislation. It called for transparency and accountability and prohibited conflicts of interest. What a radical proposal! Imagine charter schools holding open meetings, making their records public, and prohibited from financial self-dealing with related companies owned by relatives or yourself! Just like real public schools. But no, the charter industry demands the freedom to use public money as they wish, behind closed doors. And they reward Assembly members to let them do it. After all, freedom from oversight is the civil rights issue of our time!

Charter schools in California take public money but evade any public responsibility. If you want to know how bad things are, read this.

The California Charter School Association reached into its deep pockets to block any oversight for the charter sector, which prefers to take public money without accountability or transparency. CCSA insists that charter schools should be allowed to do what they want, without open meetings or open records. The law would have prohibited conflicts of interest, and the CCSA wouldn’t stand for that.

The CCSA said they defeated the proposal by a “historic margin,” which was untrue. The vote was close. The numbers of yes, no, and abstain were nearly equal. Abstain counts as a no.

Here is the vote:

27 members of the Assembly voted for charter accountability; 26 members voted against charter accountability; 24 members abstained. And they have the chutzpah to call that a “historic margin”?

Those who voted for charter accountability: Ayes: Bonta, Calderon, Carrillo, Chau, Chiu, Chu, Frazier, Cristina Garcia, Gloria, Gonzalez Fletcher, Jones-Sawyer, Kalra, McCarty, Medina, Mullin, Nazarian, O’Donnell, Quirk, Quirk-Silva, Reyes, Rodriguez, Santiago, Mark Stone, Thurmond, Ting, Wood, Rendon

Those who opposed charter accountability: Noes: Acosta, Travis Allen, Baker, Bigelow, Brough, Chávez, Chen, Choi, Cunningham, Dahle, Flora, Fong, Gallagher, Harper, Kiley, Lackey, Levine, Maienschein, Mathis, Mayes, Melendez, Obernolte, Patterson, Steinorth, Voepel, Waldron

Abstentions: No Votes Recorded: Aguiar-Curry, Arambula, Berman, Bloom, Burke, Caballero, Cervantes, Cooley, Cooper, Daly, Eggman, Friedman, Eduardo Garcia, Gipson, Gray, Grayson, Holden, Irwin, Limón, Low, Muratsuchi, Rubio, Salas, Weber

If you live in California, and your legislator voted no or abstained, call your legislator and ask why he or she refused to hold charter schools accountable for use of public funds. Ask how much money the CCSA gave them. Start a campaign to buy back their vote for public schools.

One thing this vote makes crystal clear: Charter Schools in California are not public schools. Charter schools fight accountability, even the most minimal kind. They fight transparency. They don’t hold open meetings. They want the right to engage in financial conflicts of interest.

They don’t root out out fraud. They hide it and protect it.

Charter schools are private schools that make up their own rules. They are not public schools. Public schools have open meetings and open records. Public schools are not allowed to engage in self-dealing and conflicts of interest.

Public schools answer to the public, not campaign contributors.

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Trump’s Make-Believe State of the Union Speech

Fortified by a couple of glasses of wine, I watched last night’s State of the Union, and by the end thought it was not terrible. Compared to past State of the Unions, I’d give it a B-.

It had all the trappings of an SOTU, with some language about everybody working together etc., but it was about 80 percent directed at Republicans and Trump voters, who according to polls made up about 60 percent of the audience. So if you were one of those Trump voters, you were undoubtedly confirmed in the wisdom of your choice and made to think “why all the complaining? He said he wanted to work with the other side!”

Which he did, but about every 10th sentence was a wedge—conflating criminals with immigrants, praising “clean coal,” congratulating those who “stand at the Pledge of Allegiance,” etc. Indeed, with the exception of the immigration section, you can imagine this speech coming out of the mouth of president Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, or Chris Christie—that is, it was a standard issue contemporary GOP speech.

For a president just entering the second year of his administration, it was amazingly bereft of new ideas. The only forward-looking policy points I noticed were his immigration plan, which he explained with more clarity than he has before, and his infrastructure plan, which contained very little detail—and both of those are really agenda items from last year. He did have one line about paid family leave; it was a throwaway, but I expect it’s one that will haunt the GOP for the next 8 years. I was struck by how mild the applause from the Republicans was to his call for ending “chain migration,” otherwise known as “family reunification.” That suggests to me that when it comes to negotiations over immigration, GOP lawmakers won’t have his back on that one.

Most noteworthy—especially given the near-record length of the speech—was what was left out. He didn’t mention anything about the Russian investigation, which was no surprise to me. Nor did he say a word about Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. A bad night in that respect for Paul Ryan. Nor did he even nod at the recent government shutdown, the possibility of another one in a couple of weeks, and the general dysfunction in Congress. The silence with all of these elephants in the room issues was wise for him politically. But it gave the speech a feeling of make-believe.

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