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 pic.twitter.com/7dlKxwa1KO

— 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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What Would the GOP Do If 30 Clinton Staffers Lost Their Security Clearance?

I’m trying to imagine what the right-wing media would do with a headline like this one from Bloomberg News if it referred to the presidency of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama or *gasp* Hillary Clinton.

When I think about how they’ve treated things like the Fast & Furious “scandal,” let alone Benghazi! or Hillary’s private email server, I do not even go back to the McCarthy Era to envision the cacophony of righteous indignation that would rain down on a Democratic president who was this lackadaisical about protecting our national security secrets.

They would call for impeachment and they would never stop.

The thing is, they’d actually be justified. They’d also be late. We already have solid evidence that Trump’s first national security adviser, his campaign chairman, and his deputy campaign chairman were all susceptible to blackmail to the Russians and interested in doing their bidding. All three have been indicted. Two have pleaded guilty, and the other has about as much chance of being found innocent as I have of leading the NBA in blocked shots.

The distinguishing flaw of McCarthyism was that it took what was an actual national security concern and it used it in a political way to score points by accusing mostly innocent people based on flimsy or nonexistent evidence. That certainly wasn’t the only flaw, but it’s what made McCarthy’s behavior so egregious and shameful that it was indefensible. It was certainly possible to take more precautions to defend our national security against Soviet infiltration without grandstanding and ruining guiltless people’s careers and lives.

But we know things about the people around Trump that are not theoretical or unproven. We know that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates had massive criminal liabilities in the United States that the Russians could have exposed at any time. We know that Manafort owed about $16 million to a Putin-connected Russian oligarch who had been banned from entering our country because of his alleged connections to the Russian mafia. We know he was desperately trying to get the money to pay him back and offering him briefings on the campaign. We know that Michael Flynn accepted payments from the Russians that were illegal and that he lied about it, thereby putting him at the Russians’ mercy. We know that Trump invited high-ranking into the Oval Office, bragged about firing the FBI director because he was investigating their relationship, and then gave away highly sensitive classified information about Syria that had been provided by the Israelis.

This is the context in which thirty members of the administration had access to classified information without having passed a basic background check to assure that they weren’t vulnerable to blackmail.

The Democrats have a lot of possible ways to attack this administration, but this is the most substantive of them all. It shouldn’t even be political, although everything is ultimately political in some way. Certainly, the Republicans hypocrisy on this issue is political. And it’s the very definition of putting our national security at risk.

In my opinion, the Democrats should latch on to this like a rabid pit bull and not worry about foaming at the mouth. Lord knows, that’s what the Republicans would do. And, for once, they’d be right.

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The Kerner Commission Report, 50 Years Later: An Agenda for theFuture

 

On Tuesday, I went to D.C. for a meeting to discuss the state of civil rights in the half-century since the release of the Kerner Commission Report. The nation was rocked by civil disorders and riots in the early 1960: cities like Detroit and Newark experienced devastating clashes between angry black people and police, and many of our cities were in flames. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission to analyze the causes of the riots and report back. The commission acted expeditiously and released a devastating indictment of American society, memorably warning that unless we acted to reverse and remedy the root causes, America would be two societies, separate and unequal.

The root causes of the violence, the commission concluded, were racism, poverty, segregation, and police brutality. President Johnson was not pleased with the report and did not endorse its conclusions, but the report was on target.

The sole survivor of the Commission, Senator Fred Harris, and his ally, Alan Curtis, now president of the Milton Eisenhower Foundation (founded by the public-spirited brother of President Dwight D. Eisenhower), organized a fifty-year retrospective devoted to the Kerner Commission Report. I was invited to write a chapter about what has changed in education over the past 50 years. Others wrote about jobs, the economy, mass incarceration and policing, housing, and the other issues raised by the report. You can read the essays in a book just out called “Healing Our Divided Society.” It is an agenda for a better future.

Senator Harris, by the way, ran for president in 1972 and 1976. His campaign slogan was “The issue is privilege.” He didn’t win, obviously, but the issue is still privilege.

The theme of the meeting Tuesday was, we are all in this together. Whatever our race or religion, we must work together for a better society where everyone—everyone—has a decent standard of living, good housing, good medical care, good education, and just treatment.

Harris and Curtis wrote an article in the New York Times summarizing the findings of the 50-year retrospective. It may be behind a pay wall. I hope not. The graphics tell the story. Progress, then backsliding.

The story in education is well documented: a sharp decline in segregation, then the courts release school districts from court orders to desegregate, followed by a reversion to segregated schools. The problem is national, not limited to the south. When court orders end, segregation resumes. States never under court order have intense segregation. Right now, the most segregated schools in the nation are in California, followed by Texas, New York, Maryland, Nevada, and Connecticut. When you consider that only 13% of the population is black, the concentration of black students in majority black schools is shocking.

Over the past fifty years, inequality has deepened:

“The disheartening percentage of Americans living in extreme poverty — that is, living on less than half the poverty threshold — has increased since the 1970s. The overall poverty rate remains about the same today as it was 50 years ago; the total number of poor people has increased from over 25 million to well over 40 million, more than the population of California.

“Meanwhile, the rich have profited at the expense of most working Americans. Today, the top 1 percent receive 52 percent of all new income. Rich people are healthier and live longer. They get a better education, which produces greater gains in income. And their greater economic power translates into greater political power.”

Mass incarceration of poor black and brown people has become a new normal:

”At the time of the Kerner Commission, there were about 200,000 people behind bars. Today, there are about 1.4 million. “Zero tolerance” policing aimed at African-Americans and Latinos has failed, while our sentencing policies (for example, on crack versus powder cocaine) continue to racially discriminate. Mass incarceration has become a kind of housing policy for the poor.”

What have we learned in fifty years? We know what works, and our government doesn’t do it.

“Policies based on ideology instead of evidence. Privatization and funding cuts instead of expanding effective programs.

“We’re living with the human costs of these failed approaches. The Kerner ethos — “Everyone does better when everyone does better” — has been, for many decades, supplanted by its opposite: “You’re on your own.”

“Today more people oppose the immorality of poverty and rising inequality, including middle-class Americans who realize their interests are much closer to Kerner priorities than to those of the very rich.

“We have the experience and knowledge to scale up what works. Now we need the “new will” that the Kerner Commission concluded was equally important.”

The article then contrasts what doesn’t work with what does work.

In education, what doesn’t work: Racial segregation, vouchers, charters, and school choice.

What does work: Racial integration, investments in public school equity, quality teachers, early childhood education, community schools and other proven models

This report updates an epochal one. The Trump administration won’t read it or act on it. If we want a better future, a better society, a real commitment to equality of opportunity and the realization of the American dream for all, this new report is a great starting point.

 

 

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The Trump Administration Is Consumed by Malevolence and Incompetence

Ever since Trump was inaugurated, one of the words used most often to describe this administration is “chaos.” That makes it hard to talk about the fact that things have actually gone downhill from there. It can seem as if they started at the bottom, how much lower can they go? Apparently a lot.

When we talk about a presidential administration, we use the metonym of calling it the “White House” (using the building to refer to the group that works there). That’s why I think Jay Rosen nailed the situation with this tweet:

There is no White House. Not as that term has been conventionally defined. There’s Trump… and people who work in the building. The metonymy broke. https://t.co/Q3Y05B9yW8

— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) March 1, 2018

He might have gone farther and suggested that what we have is Trump…and the people who are either at war with the president or each other in the building. Here are just a few of those battles that we know about:

  • Trump is at war with AG Sessions, the Justice Department and intelligence agencies
  • Chief of Staff Kelly is at war with Jared and Ivanka, as well as Don, Jr.
  • Economic adviser Gary Cohn is at war with trade policy adviser Peter Navarro

In just the last couple of days, we’ve learned that more than 30 Trump aides (including Jared Kushner) have lost their security clearance, at least four countries have discussed how they can manipulate Kushner by taking advantage of him, and the Kushner family business got over $500 million in loans from two companies after Jared held meetings with them. What this basically comes down to is that if you were to take everything Trump and the media accused “crooked Hillary” of doing and multiplied it by a factor of 10, you might start to approach what we’re seeing from just one person in this administration—the president’s son-in-law. And we haven’t even gotten to the question of whether or not they engaged in a conspiracy with Russia to influence the election.

Add to that the fact that staff turnover in this administration is over 30 percent, three times higher than the same period in the Obama presidency, as well as the myriad of scandals that have plagued members of the cabinet.

As I perused the news this morning, I couldn’t help but think that this country is being tested in a way that we’ve never seen before. Chaos is just one symptom of the fact that this administration is consumed by a combination of malevolence and incompetence. Our founding fathers missed the mark when they failed to add those to “high crimes and misdemeanors” as justifications for impeachment of the whole lot of them.

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Indianapolis: Why Are White Parents Afraid to Send their Children to School with Black Children?

Matthew Gonzalez and his wife decided to move from the suburbs to the city of Indianapolis to enjoy the arts and culture and other amenities found in cities. But what to do about school? Indianapolis has many magnets and a choice system that has exacerbated segregation. They are trying now to manipulate the choice system to promote integration.

But in the meanwhile, the Gonzalez family had to decide whether to send their child to a mostly black neighborhood school. They did, he had a great year, and then they jumped for one of the coveted magnet schools.

Read here to see how they wrestled with the dilemma.

Another reminder that segregation is a social construction, that it can be thwarted, and that prejudice comes in many forms.

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