Trump Tweets Condolences for the Wrong Mass Shooting

The president plumbs new subterranean depths on social media.

President Trump Tweets About The Wrong Mass Shooting

President Donald Trump tweeted about the wrong mass shooting late Tuesday after a gunman launched a gun rampage in California and killed at least four people before trying to enter an elementary school. On Tuesday evening, Trump tweeted: “May God be with the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI and Law Enforcement has arrived.” Sutherland… Continue reading

Republican tax plan now threatens your health care and your Medicare to give corporations a big cut

The number of people who’ll be totally screwed by the Republican tax plan is skyrocketing. Republicans are now planning to use the tax bill for a partial Obamacare repeal that would leave four million people without health coverage next year and 13 million in the next decade. And now the tax bill could endanger Medicare:

Republican lawmakers have largely dismissed concerns about how their $ 1.5 trillion tax cut will add to the federal deficit. Now, some Democrats are warning the tax rewrite will ultimately be financed by gutting entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

The possibility of cuts to safety net programs appeared more likely on Tuesday, as the Congressional Budget Office warned that the tax bill could set off an arcane budget rule that would make deep cuts to Medicare over the next decade.

As an added insult, the corporate tax cuts in the bill would be permanent … while tax cuts for middle-class families would be temporary. Sen. Al Franken summed up the situation:

x

RED ALERT: Senate GOP just added provision to their tax plan that would gut ACA & kick 13M ppl off insurance. Yes, it’s same tax plan that would add $ 1 trillion+ to deficit while giving majority of benefits to corporations & the rich. We need you to make your voices heard again.

— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) November 14, 2017

Do what the man says! Call your senators and representatives now at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to vote no on this healthcare-taking, Medicare-threatening giveaway to corporations and the wealthy at the expense of working families.

Daily Kos

How School Voucher Extremists Made Useful Idiots of the Charter Movement

The charter school movement has provided shelter for religious and ideological activists, including some who seek to eliminate public education.

At the Heritage Academy, a publicly funded charter school network in Arizona, according to a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, high school students are required to learn that the Anglo-Saxon population of the United States is descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel. They are asked to memorize a list of 28 “Principles” of “sound government,” among which are that “to protect man’s rights, God has revealed certain Principles of divine law” (the ninth Principle) and that “the husband and wife each have their specific rights appropriate to their role in life” (the 26th Principle). To complete the course, students are further required to teach these principles to at least five individuals outside of school and family.

Over in Detroit, the Marvin L. Winans Academy of Performing Arts charter school—also taxpayer-funded—is a subsidiary of the Perfecting Church, a religious organization headed by Marvin L. Winans himself. Until recently, the board of WAPA consisted almost entirely of clergy, “prophets,” or prominent members of the Perfecting Church, and it appears that the views of the board are expressed directly in the practices of the school; students are required to recite a “WAPA Creed” that invokes “a super-intelligent God.”

In Texas, Allen Beck, the founder of Advantage Academy, a four-campus charter school funded by taxpayers, has said he established the schools in order to bring “the Bible, prayer, and patriotism back into the public school system, legally.”

And the American Heritage Academy, a two-campus charter school also located in Arizona, describes itself as a “unique educational experience with old-fashioned principles that have worked for hundreds of years.” The school boasts a list of “Principles of Liberty” that include “The role of religion is foundational,” “To protect rights God revealed certain divine laws,” and “Free market and minimal government best support prosperity.”

You might think that these egregious examples of church-school fusion are anomalies in the emerging charter school universe. But they are not. The charter school movement has provided shelter for religious and ideological activists who have specific theological and political goals for public education. Many of them are opposed to the very idea of public schools in the first place.

To be clear, the charter movement in the United States is large, fragmented, and complex, and includes many individuals and groups that sincerely wish to promote and improve public education. Many charter advocates respect the separation of church and school. But a wing of the charter movement that is ideologically or religiously opposed to “government schools” was present at the charter movement’s creation, and has grown to comprise a sizable segment of the charter universe. With the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as education secretary, it is presently empowered as never before.

In the decades before her appointment, DeVos was one of the primary architects of a First Amendment anomaly—the public funding of religious academies. In the months since she took the helm at the Department of Education, that still seems her first priority. Her meetings with educators have been populated with leaders and teachers from private, religious, and charter schools, as well as homeschooling advocates. Trump’s first budget allots $ 1.4 billion to bolster the school choice movement—enough funding to enable DeVos to ramp up her campaign for taxpayer-supported sectarian schools.

WHILE CHARTER SCHOOLS are supposed to be nonsectarian, many are run by operators with a distinctly religious or partisan political agenda. In order to understand the impact of this particular segment of the charter movement, one must begin with the history of the pro-voucher movement.

Vouchers first came to prominence as a way to funnel state money to racially segregated religious academies. In the aftermath of the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, white Americans in the South organized massive resistance against federal orders to desegregate schools. While some districts shut down public schools altogether, others promoted “segregation academies” for white students, often with religious programming, to be subsidized with tuition grants and voucher schemes. Today, vouchers remain popular with supporters of religious schools, many of whom see public education as inherently secular and corrupt.

Vouchers are also favored among disciples of the free-market advocate Milton Friedman, who see them as a step on the road to getting government out of the education business altogether. Speaking to an audience at a convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2006, Friedman said, “The ideal would be to have parents control and pay for their school’s education, just as they pay for their food, their clothing, and their housing.” Acknowledging that indigent parents might be unable to afford their children’s education in the same way that they might suffer food or housing insecurity, Friedman added, “Those should be handled as charity problems, not educational problems.”

Up in western Michigan, the combination of religious conservatism and economic libertarianism in the voucher movement found a natural home.

Up in western Michigan, the combination of religious conservatism and economic libertarianism in the voucher movement found a natural home. A century and a half ago, members of the Christian Reformed Church, a strict sect of Dutch Calvinists, settled the area around Holland, Michigan, where the conservative nature of the religion is still felt. Until several years ago, it was forbidden to serve alcohol at restaurants on Sundays. The area has also produced more than its share of ultra-conservative billionaires, among them Richard DeVos Sr., the co-founder of Amway; Jay Van Andel, his business partner; and Edgar Prince, an auto-parts magnate. In 1979, Prince’s daughter Betsy married Richard’s son, Dick Jr., making her Holland’s version of a crown princess.

Since the 1970s, Richard DeVos and his wife and children, including Dick and Betsy, have been major funders of the leading national groups on the religious right. Amway co-founder Van Andel, meanwhile, endowed and served as a trustee of Hillsdale College, which the religious right likes to cast as “the conservative Harvard.” In 1983, Betsy’s father, Edgar Prince, substantially contributed to the creation of the Family Research Council. The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation is a key backer to groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal juggernaut of the religious right; and right-wing ministries and policy groups such as Focus on the Family.

The initiatives that Betsy DeVos and her husband have funded are not of the “social gospel” variety. Through their foundation, they donate money to the Foundation for Traditional Values, a nonprofit with a mission “to restore and affirm the Judeo-Christian values upon which America was established.” Shortly after its inception, the FTV distributed a book, America’s Providential History, which asserted, “A civil government built on Biblical principles provides the road on which the wheel of economic progress can turn with great efficiency.” A chapter titled “Principles of Christian Economics” posed the question “Why Are Some Nations in Poverty?” It goes on to explain that “[t]he primary reason that nations are in poverty is lack of spiritual growth. … Today, India has widespread problems, yet these are not due to a lack of food, but are a result of people’s spiritual beliefs. The majority of Indians are Hindus.”

In the mid-1990s, the FTV founded the Student Statesmanship Institute, which describes itself as “Michigan’s premier Biblical Worldview & Leadership Training for High School Students.” Betsy DeVos was listed on the SSI advisory board as recently as 2015, and has been featured as an active SSI program participant nearly as far back as the program had a functional website. SSI functions as a pipeline for Christian teens, many of whom are homeschooled or attend religious schools, seeking to engage in far-right politics. According to the SSI website, SSI “Legislative Experiences” instruct students in topics such as “Laying a Biblical Foundation, Ambassadors for Christ, Christian Citizenship, Worldviews in Action, Science and the Bible, and Debate and Communication.

James Muffett, who heads FTV and is also the founder and head of SSI, appears from time to time on the Christian homeschooling circuit, where public schools—or “government schools” as they are frequently called—are routinely maligned. He spoke at one homeschooling convention where attendees were invited to watch the anti–public education film IndoctriNation. The film casts public schools as “a masterful design that sought to replace God’s recipe for training up the next generation with a humanistic, man-centered program that fragmented the family and undermined the influence of the Church and its Great Commission.”

If you want to better understand why the pious elite of Holland, Michigan, think of public education the way they do, a good place to start might be the 2003 report from the Synod, or general assembly, of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The church warns that “government schools” have “become aggressively and increasingly secular in the last forty years,” and claims they are engaged in “a deliberate program of de-Christianization” that is at odds with Christian morality. “Not only does there exist a climate of hostility toward the Christian faith,” the report continues, “the legitimate and laudable educational goal of multi-culturalism is often used as a cover to introduce pagan and New Age spiritualities such as the deification of mother earth (Gaia) to promote social causes such as environmentalism.” The report goes on to decry efforts, by “powerful lobbying groups” to resist “alternatives to public education such as charter schools and vouchers.

BY THE LATE 1990S, Betsy and Dick DeVos had thrown their weight behind the voucher movement. They helped build and lead national organizations that funded pro-voucher organizations in states across the country. These initiatives took the form of both nonprofit work and campaign-finance work that helped elect pro-voucher politicians. As these efforts expanded, the DeVoses and their allies partnered with such existing conservative and “free market” think tanks as the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Acton Institute in Michigan, both heavily funded by the DeVoses.

The DeVoses’ efforts suffered a serious setback in 2000 when a voucher referendum on the Michigan ballot failed. Voters in Michigan rejected the initiative by a two-to-one margin, despite millions of dollars in funding by the DeVos and Prince families. As part of that voucher effort, the DeVoses and their allies had backed charter organizations; even after the ballot failure, the conflation of vouchers and charters would become a common feature of their tactics. In a speech to the Heritage Foundation in 2002, Dick DeVos outlined new strategies for the movement, emphasizing the need to spend available funding on a system of rewards and “consequences” for state legislators.

One of the DeVoses’ initiatives, a network of PACs under the name All Children Matter, came under fire for violations of campaign-finance law, which included funneling contributions from its Virginia PAC to its affiliate in Ohio. When the group was issued a fine of over $ 5 million—as yet unpaid—it was effectively shuttered. These PACs were quickly replaced with new ones under different names, however, including American Federation for Children, which disseminated millions of dollars in several states in the 2010 midterm elections.

As the campaign-financing arm of the movement grew, so did the nonprofit arm. By 2009, Betsy DeVos had become chair of the major sister organizations of national pro-voucher nonprofits, Alliance for School Choice and Advocates for School Choice. As recently as July 2016, DeVos chaired the board of directors of the American Federation for Children, a group her family organized and funded, which works alongside the American Legislative Exchange Council to craft and support model “school choice” legislation.

Pro-voucher forces were nothing if not expert in devising inventive solutions to their failures. When the Florida Supreme Court ended a voucher program in 2006, advocates turned to an extensive and growing corporate tax credit scheme as a backdoor approach to voucher approval. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that national groups that protested the scheme lacked standing to sue. Still, the question of effectiveness persisted. A 2007 study of Milwaukee schools by professors from three universities showed poor to mixed results for vouchers there. A study of Indiana’s voucher program (hugely expanded by former Governor Mike Pence) found no change among student reading scores, and achievement losses in mathematics. A 2016 study funded by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, and conducted by David Figlio and Krzysztof Karbownik for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, asserted students who use vouchers tend to fare worse academically than closely matched peers who attend public schools.

A Century Foundation report earlier this year concluded that vouchers intensify racial and religious segregation at schools.

Vouchers also failed to live up to advocates’ claims of effectiveness in dealing with racial and economic segregation issues. A Century Foundation report earlier this year concluded that vouchers intensify racial and religious segregation at schools. Another report, from the Economic Policy Institute, asserted that the loss of community-based schools compounds the problem by undermining programs in early education, summer school, and student health and nutrition. “All of these yield much higher returns than the minor, if any, gains that have been estimated for voucher students,” wrote Martin Carnoy, a professor of education and economics at Stanford University, who authored the report.

BUT PUBLIC CONFUSION about vouchers and charters continued to create opportunities. A lightly regulated charter school industry could achieve many of the same goals as voucher programs. They could drain funding from traditional public schools, deregulate the education sector, and promote ideological or religious curricula—all without provoking the kind of resistance that vouchers received. Democrats, centrists, and secular education reformers who opposed voucher schemes were often favorably disposed to charters, which they saw as one of many tools available to public school systems.

DeVos and her allies decided to go all in for the charter movement. Many of the policy groups she and her allies funded followed suit. They became evangelists for “school choice,” a label that conveniently blurs the distinction between charter schools and voucher programs.

Some disguise would be necessary, of course. Dick DeVos advised a Heritage Foundation audience in 2002 that “we need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities.”

Some of DeVos’s allies in the voucher movement—including longtime political allies and mega-funders from western Michigan—rapidly joined the upper ranks of the new charter industry. J.C. Huizenga’s National Heritage Academies now has 48 schools in Michigan and 86 nationwide, making it the third-largest public charter operator in the country, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Clark Durant opened his own chain of charters under the name of Cornerstone Education Group. Hillsdale College created a subsidiary, Barney Charter School Initiative, to move into the charter business. And Foster Friess (the chief financial backer for former Senator Rick Santorum’s presidential campaigns) joined the effort in promoting “charter schools, school choice, and innovative private sector solutions” in education.

While many charter operators appreciate that sensible regulation and oversight are essential to a healthy charter sector, DeVos and her allies consistently undermined efforts to check the activities of charters. Through the Great Lakes Education Project, DeVos lobbied the Republicans in the Michigan Legislature not just to expand charters but also to gut any meaningful regulation of the sector.

Michigan soon became a paradise for for-profit charter operators, most of them concentrated in urban areas. Half of Detroit’s children now attend charters—second in the nation only to New Orleans—and 80 percent of these are for-profit. The charter lobby not only secured the rights to massive expansion, but also scored some lucrative tax breaks. Charter operators who own the property that they lease to their own schools demanded—and received—a tax exemption on that property, an arrangement that has become increasingly common around the country.

The bonanza for the charter operators, however, has proved to be a bust for both the children of Michigan and the state’s taxpayers. A 2017 NAACP taskforce report on the efficacy and impact of charters quoted a teacher in Detroit: “It’s sad when you walk in a classroom here and you don’t even know it’s a biology classroom. We don’t have the materials, we don’t have the resources.” Speaking to The New York Times, Scott Romney, a board member of the civic and social justice organization New Detroit, said that the “point was to raise all schools,” but instead “we’ve had a total and complete collapse of education in this city.” A yearlong investigation into two decades of Detroit charters by the Detroit Free Press uncovered grotesque levels of financial mismanagement. At some schools, operators were putting family and friends on the payrolls. A record number of for-profit charters refused to declare how they spend taxpayer money.

“Michigan’s laws are either nonexistent or so lenient that there are often no consequences for abuses or poor academics,” the article concluded. “Taxpayers and parents are left clueless about how charter schools spend the public’s money, and lawmakers have resisted measures to close schools down for poor academic performance year after year.”

For DeVos and her allies in the voucher-cum-charter movement, the disastrous deregulation of Michigan education provided something more important than a way of lining pockets. It was, as DeVos once said, part of a project to “advance God’s kingdom.”

When Clark Durant founded Cornerstone in 1991, he intended to create private, religious schools with a clear dedicated mission of “lifting up a Christ-centered culture.” As recently as last summer, Durant described his education initiative as “trying to do the great prophet’s work, if you will … to help these children have fulfilling lives,” which he defined as “following the things Jesus would teach.” But four of Cornerstone’s five schools are now publicly funded charters. When Allie Gross of Chalkbeat Detroit toured one of the newly “de-converted” schools, she found religious posters on the wall and other markers of sectarianism.

“Pinpointing where the religious school ended and the charter school began was difficult,” Gross wrote. “The school is also in the process of re-thinking how they can make sure influential texts, such as the Bible, are still, legally, underscoring lessons.”

Meanwhile, over at Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative, one doesn’t have to peel back many layers to arrive at the religious and ideological agenda.

Meanwhile, over at Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative, one doesn’t have to peel back many layers to arrive at the religious and ideological agenda. At the top of their web page is a link to Imprimis, a publication promoting a conservative political and religious agenda, with articles on “The Left’s War on Free Speech,” “A More American Conservatism,” and a piece titled “How to Think about Vladimir Putin,” defending the Russian dictator and assuring readers that he “is not the president of a feminist NGO,” “a transgender-rights activist,” or “an ombudsman appointed by the United Nations to make and deliver slide shows about green energy.” The Barney Charter Initiative’s former mission statement, which has since been taken down, declared that its goal was to “redeem” American public education and “recover our public schools from the tide of a hundred years of progressivism.”

Reporter Marianne Goodland of The Colorado Independent alleged that the school curriculum of Golden View Classical Academy, a charter school in Golden, Colorado, that is part of the Barney network, was offering students a religion-based curriculum. Such schools, she wrote, “have found a legal workaround, and many Democratic and Republican lawmakers are looking the other way.”

What goes for Michigan, it is now becoming clear, increasingly goes for charter schools across the nation. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Charter Schools USA, a Florida-based network of 73 charter schools presently operating in seven states, is the fourth-largest charter operator in the country, right after Huizenga’s National Heritage Academies. Charter Schools USA founder Jonathan Hage is a former staffer at the Heritage Foundation, and has a pattern of political giving to Republican politicians. He was rewarded by Florida Governor Rick Scott with a seat on Scott’s education transition team; from his perch, Hage reportedly influenced changes to state law intended to make it easier for charter chains to open new schools. Charter Schools USA is presently expanding into North Carolina, aided by such pro-charter politicians as the state’s two Republican senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, both of whom have been recipients of DeVos’s political donations.

The sixth-largest network, Responsive Education Solutions, has included creationism and nationalist history materials in its schools’ curricula. According to the journalist Zack Kopplin, writing for Slate, biology workbooks used by Responsive Education Solutions “overtly and underhandedly discredit evidence-based science and allow creationism into public school classrooms.” RES co-founder and CEO Chuck Cook issued a statement in defense of the practice, asserting, “There is much research to be done in this area of origins. Until more concrete answers are found, questions on how life originated will continue.”

Vouchers are favored among disciples of the free-market advocate Milton Friedman, who see them as a step on the road to getting government out of the education business altogether.

Imagine Schools, seventh on the list, was co-founded by Dennis and Eileen Bakke, prominent funders of Christian evangelism worldwide. The Imagine charter network has drawn scrutiny for lease arrangements that absorb large amounts of taxpayer funding. One Imagine School charter in Land O’ Lakes, Florida, signed a lease from its landlord agreeing to a base rent of $ 757,989 per year; the landlord, Schoolhouse Finance, is a company that is also owned by Imagine Schools. Through their faith-based nonprofit Mustard Seed Foundation, the Bakkes give millions of dollars annually to a variety of overseas missionary operations. They are also generous donors to ministry projects, including a “Theology of Work” program promoting “biblically based theology” with an emphasis on the “Creation Mandate of Genesis 1.2 to subdue or rule the earth with God.”

The ninth-largest network in the country, Harmony Public Schools, is affiliated with the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, leader of the transnational Islamic social and religious movement called the Gulenist movement. Harmony schools have been accused of giving preference to Turkish teachers and vendors who are attached to the Gülen movement, and have been accused of abusing the visa program. The FBI has opened an investigation into whether Gülen followers are diverting money from their charters into the Gülen movement; several former teachers alleged they were forced to hand over part of their taxpayer-funded salaries to fund the Gülen movment in Turkey. A senior State Department official said Gülen-affiliated educational institutions and charities in the United States seem “a lot like the ways in which organized crime sets itself up … to hide money for money laundering.” In addition to Harmony, Gülen-affiliated groups operate other charter networks in the United States, giving Gülen-affiliated schools strong representation within the charter sector.

In sum, some of the largest charter operators in the country are in the hands of groups with clear religious or ideological agendas.

The proliferation of religious charters has spurred complaints to civil liberties organizations that defend the separation of church and state. Andrew Seidel, a constitutional attorney and the director of strategic response for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says the organization has seen an uptick in complaints—about 40 in the past five years—involving charter schools. They have included accounts of teachers leading students in prayer or running religious student clubs; charters imposing a religious creed on students; and charters forming unconstitutional partnerships with churches.

Frequently, cases stall because plaintiffs are afraid of being ostracized in their communities. Many are unwilling to expose their children to retaliation from school teachers, administrators, and classmates. In the case of Heritage Academy in Arizona, the federal judge barred the plaintiffs from proceeding as “John Doe” and has required them to use their initials; the plaintiffs contend that even their initials will give away their identities.

“Most of the time, you don’t know what goes on in the school unless you have kids there,” says Richard Katskee, chief legal counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case. “If you’ve chosen to send your kids there, you usually don’t complain.”

Americans United also reports an uptick in cases brought to its doors. “Prior to 2007, we saw basically no complaints about charter schools,” says Ian Smith, staff attorney for Americans United. “After 2007, the number of complaints related to charter schools steadily increased to the point where we regularly review charter school–related submissions and write letters to charter schools about constitutional violations.”

So far, one complaint has resulted in the closure of a school. In 2009, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a federal lawsuit against the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), alleging that TIZA, the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, and TIZA’s landlords were linked by a complex set of overlapping relationships, and that the school was endorsing Islam in connection with school activities. The school was shut down by the Minnesota Department of Education in 2011.

Attempts to insert religion directly into the curriculum, in any case, are really only the most egregious examples of advancing the religious and ideological agendas of these charter operators. Other more-subtle methods are often used to convey such messages. One favored tactic is for charter schools to describe themselves as “classical academies,” aiming to teach “virtue,” our “national heritage,” and “the principles of the Founders.” It requires further investigation to reveal that the heritage in question is politicized and sectarian.

A former teacher with a Florida charter school, who declines to be named citing job concerns, says a right-wing religious viewpoint seeps into the school in multiple ways. The school is part of the Barney Charter Network. “They conduct orientations for parents, telling them how public education is ruining kids and we need to get back to how things used to be,” says the teacher. “A ‘nondenominational’ chaplain comes around and says stuff like ‘America is a Judeo-Christian nation’ founded on ‘Biblical principles.’” And, she adds, “everything is ‘American exceptionalism,’ Ayn Randian. If you’re screwed, it’s your fault.”

GIVEN THE DECENTRALIZED nature of the American school system, the question inevitably arises whether Betsy DeVos will be able to enact a substantial “ed reform” agenda while serving as Trump’s education secretary. Some of her critics take comfort in the thought that DeVos’s programs are small drops in the education ocean, and are unlikely to survive passage through the political and bureaucratic channels of America’s hyper-complex education system. But this would be to underestimate both the legitimizing effect of her ceremonial actions and the disruptive effect of the kinds of initiatives she is proposing.

DeVos has hardly disguised her contempt for the principal constituencies for public schools. She appears to have minimized contact with traditional public school parents, teachers, and students. But she has more than enough time to spend with individuals and groups in the charter industry and for those associated with religious groups. And that has framed the federal government’s conversation around education in specific ways.

In February 2017, at one of her first high-profile gatherings as education secretary, DeVos invited a number of participants to join her and President Trump at the White House. “I’m really excited to be here today with parents and educators, representing traditional public schools, charter public schools, home schools, private schools—a range of choices,” DeVos said. Of the nine invitees at the table, seven were homeschoolers, representatives from religious schools, and education reform advocates. Only two were representatives of public schools, both working in special education.

More recently, in August 2017, DeVos attended and led an “education roundtable” of education leaders in Tallahassee, Florida. The leaders in question included six members of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, which convened the meeting, and several clergy from other Baptist ministries. A dozen representatives of Florida universities, prominent school choice advocates, leaders of religious schools, five public school superintendents, elected Republican officials, and an office manager were also included. Not a single public school teacher or student was present.

Afterward, Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna, who attended the meeting, expressed his disappointment with DeVos. “It’s obvious that the secretary and our federal government have very little respect for our traditional public school system,” he said. “And it’s insulting that she’s going to visit the capital of the state of Florida to visit a charter school, a private school, and a voucher school”—but no traditional public schools.

The Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, on the other hand, stands to benefit directly from the DeVos agenda. The church-run school, the Bethel Christian Academy, already a voucher beneficiary, utilizes curricula from the Christian publisher Abeka, which is popular in the Christian homeschooling community. Abeka curricula is rooted in themes that fuse fundamentalist Christian identity with right-wing economic ideology. Science textbooks promote creationism, and others denigrate non-Christian faiths.

As education secretary, DeVos presently controls the over–$ 340 million Charter Schools Program Grants for Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools.

As education secretary, DeVos presently controls the over–$ 340 million Charter Schools Program Grants for Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools. The amounts of money don’t seem that large in the context of America’s education system. Furthermore, the program, which is in the new Every Student Succeeds Act, is highly competitive, requiring that grantees meet certain quality standards to obtain one of the grants. But the Department of Education has the authority to add new priorities that applications have to address. So the secretary does have the power to shape grant competition in specific ways.

A greater concern, perhaps, is DeVos’s 2018 fiscal-year budget, which calls for an additional $ 1.4 billion for expanding “school choice,” including a $ 250 million voucher increase and an additional $ 167 million in a Charter Schools Grant program. The amounts of money in the budget, to be sure, are still a wish list, and remain subject to congressional approval. But given DeVos’s generous campaign contributions to the right-wing politicians who tend to advocate for “small government” in every other area, and the lip-service to charters and “choice” by right-wing Republicans, it seems probable that her education budget will receive a favorable hearing, and perhaps a greater likelihood of approval.

“I think the question comes down to the curriculum being taught,” says Anne Hyslop, an education consultant and former adviser at the U.S. Department of Education under the Obama administration, considering the issue of ideological bias. “What is the instructional program? I think that is often a question best dealt with by state charter authorizers who are responsible for holding those charters accountable.” But the charter authorizer system is a chaotic patchwork, and varies state by state. Washington, D.C., has a single authorizer, appointed by the mayor. The state of Ohio has hundreds of authorizers. “Those questions are being dealt with on a state and local level, not nationally,” Hyslop says.

Even if charter schools succeed in satisfying the criteria of church-state separation, a broader problem remains unaddressed: It isn’t hard to imagine a future in which a small number of extremely wealthy individuals control large parts of America’s system of public education. Is it wise for any society to entrust the education of its children to such an unrepresentative group with such distinct interests and beliefs?

To be sure, charter operators have a right to their religious and political beliefs and opinions, and the presence of such viewpoints does not necessarily mean that their schools will be infused with those beliefs. There are many charter advocates who have no ideological agenda beyond delivering a quality education to America’s children, and who are dedicated to equity and transparency. Many argue passionately and persuasively about the importance of creating a diverse education ecosystem.

From the perspective of DeVos and her allies, however, these earnest charter supporters must surely look like useful idiots. Which brings us to the deceptive nature of DeVos’s doctrine of “choice.” Public education came into existence to serve the common good. It is open to all and held to meaningful standards; that is why taxpayers support it. Choice can have a useful role to play. But reducing public education to a consumer experience for parents, and allowing them to “choose” to funnel taxpayer money into schools that discriminate, teach pseudoscience and fake history, and promote contempt for those who are different, isn’t a way to advance our system of education. It is really just a way to destroy public schools.

 


AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed

Cheers and Jeers: Wednesday

From the GREAT STATE OF MAINE…

Gone Once… Going Twice… And…

In approximately [Looks at sundial] 14 hours, a gigantic squeaky gavel will drop with a thud of noble gravitas, signaling a cessation of hostilities in the 2017 Netroots Nation online auction. Karen Kolber reminds us why she and the Netroots crew do this every year:

Part of what I love most about Netroots Nation is the participation and support we get from our community. In addition to the hundreds who volunteer at our conference, many others donate services, collectibles and other unique items for our annual community auction.

Due in great part to contributions from friends like you, Netroots Nation is able to provide high quality programming both at our annual Convention and across the country throughout the year.  And don’t forget, it’s never too early to register for Netroots Nation ’18 in New Orleans by clicking here.

Some of the goods currently on the auction block:

• Congressman John Lewis’s award-winning trilogy of “March” graphic novels

• A heapin’ helping of Netroots Nation culinary consultant Teddy Dulchinos’ bacon toffee…and other edibles

• A front-row table at the NN18 pub quiz…with beer!

• Year subscriptions to The Nation and The American Prospect

And, of course, some world-famous catnip-infused Pootie Pads!

• A Full Frontal with Samantha Bee gift basket

• Star Wars collectibles

• Tickets to a Washington Nationals baseball game

• Netroots Nation ’18  backstage passes and photo-ops so you can hobnob with the VIPs

• The White House Historical Association’s official 2017 ornament commemorating FDR

• A Deaniac nostalgia pack with the highly-coveted, super-rare wood “You Have the Power!” bat

And lots more. Bidding ends tonight at 10 ET. Go take a look and plant your flag on that which Valhalla has deemed rightfully yours. (And then you might want to call a service tech—sounds like you’ve got a nasty tear in your netherworld portal.)

Cheers and Jeers starts below the fold… [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]

Daily Kos

Donald Trump’s Appalling Asian Vacation Is Finally Over: Could It Have Been Worse?

Trump burnishes the image of Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte and heads home, having made the world worse fast.

As President Donald Trump completes his excellent Asian adventure and heads back home, he's probably feeling a little bit of of a letdown. He's facing the usual political maelstrom, but this time it's not about him. Rather, it's about former judge Roy Moore, whom Trump enthusiastically endorsed the day after Moore won the Republican Senate primary in Alabama.

As virtually everyone knows by now, Moore has been credibly accused of stalking and assaulting underage girls when he was a prosecutor back in the 1970s. It's unclear what exactly Trump thinks about all this, since he's been on the road, but one can imagine him feeling jealous that his King of the World tour has been overshadowed by this scandal. On the other hand, he may have convinced himself that he's a genius for not having endorsed Moore in the first place, as if he knew he was a sexual predator with a Lolita complex all along.

Trump should be grateful that Moore has taken all the attention from his foreign trip. While the president may think it was a big success since all the leaders he met with rolled out the red carpet, the sad truth is that everyone in the world now knows that he's an easy mark. All that pageantry is a small price to pay to impress the fool who believes he's the world's greatest negotiator when he's actually a clueless sap. If the Republicans back home weren't so enmeshed in civil war, they could have figured out the same thing and enacted their dream agenda by now. Fortunately, they're almost as clueless as he is.

The whole trip was surreal from beginning to end, but the last leg in the Philippines, with sociopathic President Rodrigo Duterte, was downright hallucinogenic. You'll see what I mean if you watch this video of Duterte singing a love song at a gala on Sunday night, claiming he was doing so on the orders of the United States commander in chief:

 

 

I have no idea what that was about either. But that weirdness is probably why they call Duterte the “Trump of the East,” a title that he apparently wears proudly.

On Monday, before their official meeting, Trump returned the compliment by saying he has a “great relationship” with Duterte and laughing when the Philippine president called the press a bunch of “spies.” (Duterte has famously declared that journalists are “not exempted from assassination,” something Trump no doubt thinks makes a lot of sense.)

According to Duterte's spokesman, “The relationship appears to be very warm and very friendly. They’ve been very candid in their dealings, and it’s very apparent that both of them have a person who they consider as not their best friend. They have similar feelings toward former U.S. President Barack Obama.” Duterte is still nursing a grudge at Obama for criticizing his extrajudicial killing spree last year, while Trump has been insulting all former U.S. presidents throughout this trip. He has told all of his gracious hosts that he holds his predecessors responsible for every problem in the world and doesn't blame these wonderful friends who shower him with flattery for anything they've done in the past. He admires them all as “strong” leaders who do the right thing by their country, unlike the lily-livered losers who were president of the United States before he came along.

Trump's hosts smile serenely and assure him that he too is very, very strong and very, very great.

Duterte said last week he would tell Trump to “lay off” if the latter tried to talk to him about human rights, and there was some disagreement about whether that came up in their talk. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement claiming the issue was briefly discussed in relation to the drug war. Duterte's spokesman disputed that, saying, “There was no mention of human rights. There was no mention of extrajudicial killings. There was only a rather lengthy discussion about the Philippine war on drugs with President Duterte doing most of the explaining.” Trump has made it clear that he doesn't like to bring up unpleasant things to his strongman buddies — he's very embarrassed having to ask his pal Vladimir about that election meddling thing — so I tend to believe Duterte's team on this one.

Recall what Trump said in his April phone call to the Philippine president, when he complimented Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem . . . many countries have the problem, we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.” When Duterte said that drugs were “the scourge” of his nation, Trump replied, “I understand that and fully understand that, and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that.”

The drug war Duterte is waging against his own people may have claimed up to 12,000 lives, while thousands more languish in horrible conditions in prisons. Duterte himself is unstable and violent, admitting that he has personally committed murder. He has said, “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. There are 3 million drug addicts. I'd be happy to slaughter them . . . You destroy my country, I kill you. It's a legitimate thing. If you destroy our young children, I will kill you. That is a very correct statement.” That's the man President Donald Trump admires so much that he sat and listened to him “explain” his methods.

According to this Washington Post op-ed by Filipino journalist Manuel Quezon III, Trump did Duterte a big favor by honoring him and “burnishing his strongman image.” Duterte has apparently been losing favor with the Filipino public and his “illiberal political agenda is running out of steam.” The Catholic Church is rebelling, the economy is faltering and his government is in crisis. Trump's visit and his treatment of Duterte as an equal on the world stage, against the advice of regional experts, propped him up at just the right time.

Trump clearly believes his Asia trip was a huge success. And it was — for autocrats and dictators throughout the region. They took their measure of our president, and he showed them what he was made of — hot air. It's not that he isn't feared. Anyone can see that he is dangerous, because he is in charge of the world's most powerful military and economy, and he is childlike and unpredictable. All these leaders are certainly planning to protect themselves from the United States and to turn Donald Trump's ineptitude to their strategic advantage. The world is a more unstable place than it was 12 days ago.

 

 

Related Stories

AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed

Theres’s just one more month to sign up for Obamacare and resist Trump

Campaign Action

There’s now just one month left to enroll in Obamacare in most states. While enrollments so far have been going gangbusters—breaking records—the next month is critical. The people who need health insurance the most are going to be those who sign up first, so now it’s about getting the rest on board and making sure that people who are already enrolled sign up again, and shop around.

Popular vote loser Donald Trump has done everything in his power to prevent people from enrolling from repeatedly insisting Obamacare is dead to ending advertising and outreach to get people signed up to cutting the enrollment period short by several weeks. That’s created a huge amount of confusion, making signing up and figuring out options harder than ever. But there’s help, and plenty of it. You can start here, with a cheat sheet from the experts at Kaiser Health News.

There are some great deals to be had on the markets this year, for both new and returning enrollees, and KHN can walk you through everything you need to understand for your income level and family size. If you need more help, you can search for local assistance through Get America Covered.

And if you already have insurance, and you’re in a position to help get the word out you can help by joining the Open Enrollment Street Team volunteers helping Get America Covered. The more people who sign up, the harder it will be for Trump and the Republicans to take coverage away from millions.

It’s easy to join an Open Enrollment Team! Click here to sign up now.

Can’t volunteer at this time? Click here to share info about open enrollment on Facebook.

Daily Kos

5 of the Most Important JFK Files the CIA Is Still Hiding

The records of top undercover officers implicated in the assassination story are still secret or heavily censored.

The government’s release of long-secret JFK assassination records is generating headlines and hype worldwide. But the truth is the majority of the JFK files that were supposed to be released last month remain secret—and may forever if the CIA has its way.

On October 24, President Trump tweeted that “JFK files are released long ahead of schedule,” which was not true.

In fact, as Rex Bradford, president of the Mary Ferrell Foundation, pointed out in WhoWhatWhy, only about 10 percent of the JFK files were public by the statutory deadline of October 26. The foundation maintains an online collection of more than 1 million JFK records.

The hype continued November 3, when the National Archives posted more than 553 CIA documents never made public before, which CNN described as a “horde.” On November 9, the CIA and NSA released another batch of files, which the Washington Post called a “huge trove.”

But as Bradford told AlterNet this weekend, the impressive-sounding numbers lacked context. Even after the latest file dump on November 9, at least two-thirds of the never-seen JFK files that were supposed to be released—some 2,538 records—remain secret, according to the foundation's analysis.

At least one-third of the JFK files that were previously released with redactions—a total of about 12,000 files—have still not been made public in unexpurgated form, he said.

Unlike mainstream news organizations, the Mary Ferrell Foundation monitors the National Archives database for the latest information on what has and has not been released. Bradford called the releases so far “a big roiling mess.”

What Are They Hiding?

The still-secret files document the careers of five top CIA officers implicated in the events that culminated in the murder of the popular liberal president in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1863.

The publicly available portions of these files do not contain “smoking gun” proof of conspiracy. But they do refute the official story that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and unaided. While incomplete, the new JFK files show that Oswald did not act alone in the years, months and weeks leading up to Kennedy's murder. The files confirm he acted while being monitored and surveilled by top undercover CIA officers.

Four of these five officers knew of Oswald’s personal history, foreign travels and contacts with a presumed KGB officer in Mexico City six weeks before Kennedy was shot and killed. They include:

1. James Angleton: The legendary chief of counterintelligence testified to Senate investigators behind closed doors in September 1975. The 155-page transcript of his comments is still secret in its entirety.

2. Birch O’Neal: Virtually unknown in the vast literature of JFK’s assassination, O’Neal played a key role in the CIA’s monitoring of Oswald. As an aide to Angleton, O’Neal ran a secretive office known as the Special Investigations Group, which opened the agency’s first file on Oswald in October 1959 (a story I tell in my new biography of Angleton, The Ghost).

Of the 224 pages in the O’Neal file released on November 3, 177 pages contain redactions, and three are wholly secret.

3. David Phillips: A decorated undercover officer, Phillips served as chief of Cuba operations in Mexico City in 1963. He supervised the surveillance of the Cuban Consulate in the Mexican capital, which Oswald visited six weeks before JFK was assassinated.

His personnel files containing 602 pages of material were released November 3, but 60 percent of those pages are fully or partially redacted. Only 227 pages are open to the public.

4. Ann Goodpasture: The senior woman in the Mexico City station in 1963, Goodpasture worked closely with Phillips and coordinated the station’s audio and photo surveillance operations during Oswald’s visit to Mexico City in September 1963.

Of 288 pages of material in the Goodpasture file, 95 pages (33 percent) contain some redactions, and 18 pages (6 percent) remain completely secret.

5. George Joannides: A psychological warfare operations officer who worked in Miami and New Orleans, Joannides handled the anti-Castro Cuban Student Directorate, which was funded by the CIA under the code name AMSPELL. Members of the group had a series of confrontations with Oswald in New Orleans in the summer of 1963.

The CIA has released 87 pages of AMSPELL documents, 72 of which are partly redacted. The only material made public was newspaper articles and brochures about the Cuban Student Directorate. None of the documents are dated before 1964.

The CIA told Trump that the JFK files could not be released because disclosure might endanger living CIA agents, an irrelevant objection in the case of these files. Angleton died in 1987, O'Neal died in 1995, Phillips died in 1988, Goodpasture died in 2011, and Joannides died in 1991.

What Have We Learned?

Judge John Tunheim, who oversaw the declassification of 4 million pages of JFK files in the 1990s, called the CIA withholding “disappointing.”

“They knew this deadline long ago,” Tunheim told Politico’s Bryan Bender. “It should have been done by Oct. 26, 2017.”

Dan Hardway, a West Virginia attorney and former investigator for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, notes that the CIA is not in compliance with the JFK Records Act, which requires federal agencies to provide a written explanation for withholding any files past October 26.

On the website of the Assassination Archives and Research Center in Washington, D.C., Hardway writes:

“There has been no explanation, let alone a presidential certification, that the massive redactions in these 'released in full' documents meet any of the mandatory exemptions that allow withholding. No identifiable harm is specified. No rationale is given as to why the secrets protected outweigh the public interest in disclosure. These files are not in compliance with the law no matter what the mainstream media says.”

Like Tunheim and Hardway, I doubt the CIA hiding “smoking gun” proof of a JFK conspiracy in these files. But after studying the JFK assassination for 25 years and James Angleton’s career for three, I believe there is smoking gun proof in the still-secret files about one of the CIA’s most sensitive secrets: that Lee Harvey Oswald was a CIA asset, witting or unwitting, who was used by Angleton and possibly others, for undisclosed intelligence purposes in the years, months and weeks before President Kennedy was gunned down.

Was the CIA’s monitoring and use of Oswald part of a conspiracy to kill the liberal president? There’s no definitive proof of that, but given the extraordinary secrecy still surrounding these records 54 years after the fact, it would be willfully naïve to rule out the possibility. Until all of the JFK files are released, the conspiracy question will be unresolved because of CIA secrecy.


AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed

Tax cuts for the rich AND $25 billion in Medicare cuts: What more could Paul Ryan ask for?

The not-so-stealth motive of House Republicans in ballooning the deficit with their tax cut bill (beyond tax cuts for the donor class) is to create a fiscal crisis they can use to try to force cuts to social insurance programs. It’s not like they’re keeping their motives secret. In fact, they’ve created a bill that starts in on destroying Medicare immediately. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis, the tax cuts bill could cut $ 25 billion out of Medicare immediately, forcing those cuts in 2018.

The tax bill will add an estimated $ 1.5 trillion to the deficit over a decade. Congressional “pay-as-you-go” rules, called pay-go, require that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) automatically cut mandatory spending if legislation increases the deficit beyond a certain point. “Without enacting subsequent legislation to either offset that deficit increase, waive the recordation of the bill’s impact on the scorecard, or otherwise mitigate or eliminate the requirements of the [pay-go] law, OMB would be required to issue a sequestration order within 15 days of the end of the session of Congress to reduce spending in fiscal year 2018 by the resultant total of $ 136 billion,” CBO wrote on Tuesday.   Medicare can only be cut by a maximum of 4 percent through the pay-go rules, however, which amounts to $ 25 billion in cuts.

Don’t think that this isn’t on purpose. Destroying Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security has motivated Republicans for generations—it’s been Paul Ryan’s dream his whole life. Now they think that goal is in their grasp.

The Republican tax giveaway to the super wealthy attacks students, universities, non-profits, blue states, homeowners, the sick and the disabled. And Medicare enrollees. Please, call your member of the House of Representatives at (202) 224-3121 and tell them to vote “no” on the Republican tax bill.

Daily Kos

Trump Lies 9 Times a Day on Average Lately

The numbers keep going up.

As of 3am Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday, Donald Trump has told 1,628 lies since taking office. We know this because the Washington Post has been diligently watching the numbers, keeping tabs on Trump’s huge fibs and falsehoods. Over the 298 days since his inauguration, Trump has told an average of 5.5 lies every single day of the week, Monday to Sunday. While he barely works weekdays and golfs every weekend, he apparently never takes a vacation from lying.

Over the last 35 days, Trump has been even more dishonest than usual, upping his daily average to 9 lies every 24 hours. Thanks to the extra effort he’s put into misleading the country on a diversity of topics in recent weeks, he’s likely to reach “peak liar” status by January 20. “That puts the president on track to reach 1,999 claims by the end of his first year in office, though he obviously would easily exceed 2,000 if he maintained the pace of the past month,” the Post notes.

Trump tends to lie about the same things over and over again. Near the top of his greatest hits are taxes. Trump falsely stated 40 times that GOP tax reform will yield the biggest tax cut in history, and 50 times erroneously suggested the U.S. is the highest taxed nation in the world. Fifty-five times Trump has boasted about achievements he played no part in, especially when it comes to saving or creating jobs. But Trump has lied about Obamacare more than any other topic, stating some 60 times “some variation of the statement that the Affordable Care Act is dying and ‘essentially dead,’” according to the Post. That is just not true. “Indeed, healthy enrollment for the coming year has surprised health-care experts,” according to the outlet.

Trump’s lies are dangerous for reasons many have acknowledged. Obviously, the spread of misinformation and disinformation and the obliteration of truth may hold deep consequences for society and our already flawed democracy. All politicians lie, but Trump lies habitually, and with alarming frequency. The only surprise about Trump’s lying at this point is what he chooses to lie about—how easily disprovable his lies are and how unconvincing he is after so much practice. Of course, that matters little to Trump’s base and the GOP overall, for whom whataboutism and “if true”-ism are perfectly good stand-ins for what we’re constantly told are traditional values and morals.

 

Related Stories

AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed

Team Trump celebrates environmental rollbacks with industry-paid climate denying pals

The Heartland Institute is a climate-denying “think tank” in which industry-paid wordwhores scribble out industry-dictated assertions that fossil fuels are great, climate change isn’t real, pollution is good for you, cancer is a vitamin, or whatever else their patrons have written down on the memo lines of their latest checks. It’s that bad. It’s one of the nation’s leading industry propaganda teams—when you hear some dimwitted know-nothing on Fox News blurt out lines about how malevolent scientists have it in for Ma and Pa Oil Well, it’s the Heartland Institute that sends out the releases coaching them on how to do it.

Heartland has been having a tougher go of things these days; the nation’s biggest funder of anti-environmental propaganda, Rex Tillerson’s ExxonMobil, has had to curtail that propaganda on the heels of the discovery that Exxon scientists themselves were certain of fossil-fuel based climate change even as the company was funding fraudulent “studies” to the contrary. But things have not been all bad: The stupidest fucking people in America have now all been given jobs in the federal government, thanks to President Doesn’tGiveACrap.

So last week Team Garbage Fire dispatched an entire team of freshly ensconced (and extremely dumb) government officials to wallow around in Heartland’s deepest denial-bog.

The America First Energy Conference drew several federal officials. The Interior Department’s counselor for energy policy, Vincent DeVito, gave a keynote over dinner; Richard Westerdale II, a senior energy adviser at the State Department, was a panelist; and Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, addressed attendees in a pre-taped video.

The meeting’s mostly celebratory panels focused on climate myths, fossil fuels, and the dramatic shift in environmental policy under Trump: his announcement to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the proposed repeal of pollution rules for power plants, and EPA’s overhaul of its science advisory boards.

In past iterations of this game it’s seemed that everyone on Heartland’s staff was betting they’d be long dead before the most catastrophic effects of climate change were felt—but with recent climate measurements more often than not suggesting global changes are already happening faster than past theories supposed, that is an increasingly risky bet. At this point, it appears that they are instead betting that they will be able to catch a quick plane ride to a friendly kleptocracy before the true victims of climate change—for example, anyone who owns property in Florida—are able to fully assemble the guillotines.

Daily Kos