A Serious Question About COVID

Very serious question here.

Given that:

(a) We are all probably going to get Covid anyway (see this link)

(b) The vaccines are so effective that they make a case of Covid (especially omicron) much like just having a cold;

(c) Those who are old enough to get this free vaccine, but have decided not to, are very obstinate in not facing facts, and are unlikely to be persuaded otherwise;

(d) Very young kids (none of whom can be vaccinated yet) who get Covid (particularly Omicron) have exceedingly low rates of hospitalizations and deaths (see this link)

THEN,

Why don’t we who ARE vaccinated just remove all of our masks **NOW** and go about our business as usual?

In fact, why don’t we have Covid parties so we can get it all over with?

Colds aren’t fun, but they seldom kill.

And then the unvaccinated adult fools can simply *go to hell* when they catch it, get seriously sick, and die.

Your thoughts?

What are the Big US Banks and the 1% Really Doing?

Michael Hudson explains, among other things, why we have high inflation: it is a way for the 1%, the ruling class, to get wealthier at the expense of the rest of us.

I don’t pretend to understand economics — after all, I’m just a lowly retired math teacher. But Hudson’s arguments are really chilling and extremely wide-ranging, but not easy to digest.

Here is one excerpt from a long interview. The full link: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2022/01/michael-hudson-what-is-causing-so-much-inflation.html

===========================

[Interviewer: W]hy do you think central banks are are shifting to gold?

MICHAEL HUDSON: They’re protecting themselves against US political aggression. The big story last year was – if a country keeps its reserves and US dollars, that means they’re holding US Treasury securities. The US Treasury can simply say, “We’re not going to pay you.”

And even when a country like Venezuela tried to protect itself by holding its money in gold, where is it going to hold it? It held it at the Bank of England. And the Bank of England said, “Well, we’ve just been told by the White House that that they’ve elected a new president of Venezuela, Mr. Guaidó. And we don’t recognize the president that the Venezuelans elect[ed], because Venezuela is not part of the US orbit.”

So they grabbed all of Venezuela’s gold and gave it to the basically fascist opposition, to the ultra right-winger. The Americans say, “We’re going to recognize an opposition leader; we’re going to pick him out of thin air and take all the money away from Venezuela.”

Countries all over, from Russia to China to the Third World, think the United States is going to just grab [their] money, any time at all. The dollar is a hot potato, because the US, basically, it looks like, is prepping for war over the Ukraine; it’s prepping for war with Russia; it’s prepping for war with China.

It has declared war on almost the entire world that does not agree to follow the policies that the State Department and the military dictate to it.

So other countries are just scared, absolutely scared of what the United States is doing. Of course, they’re getting rid of dollars.

The United States said, “Well, you know, if we don’t like what Russia does, we’re going to cut off the banking contact with the SWIFT, the interbank money transfer system.” So if you do hold your money in dollars, you can’t get it.

I guess the classic example is with Iran. When the Shah was overthrown. Iran’s bank was Chase Manhattan Bank, which I was working for, as a balance-of-payments analyst.

And Iran had foreign debt that it paid promptly every three months, and so it [the new regime] sent a note to the bank, “Please pay our bondholders.” And Chase got a note from the State Department saying, “Don’t do what Iran wants; don’t pay.”

So Chase just sat on the money. It didn’t pay the bondholders. The US government and the IMF declared Iran in default of paying, even though it had all the money to pay the bondholders.

And all of a sudden, they said now Iran owes the entire balance that’s due, on the theory that if you miss one payment, then you default, and we’re going to make Iran do what the Fed didn’t make Chase Manhattan, and Citibank, and Goldman Sachs do. They couldn’t pay and transfer, but they weren’t pushed under bankruptcy.

So by holding your money in the US bank, the US bank does whatever the government tells it to, and it can drive any country bankrupt at any point.

If other countries pass a tariff against US goods that the US doesn’t like, it can just essentially not pay them on whatever they hold in the United States, whether they hold reserves in American banks, or whether they hold reserves in the Treasury or the Fed, the United States can just grab their money.

And so the United States has broken every rule in the financial book, and it’s a renegade; it’s a pirate.

And other countries are freeing themselves from piracy by saying, “The dollar is a hot potato. There is no way that we can believe them. You can’t make a contract with the American government.”

Ever since the Native Americans tried to make land contracts in the 19th century with them, the United States doesn’t pay any attention to the contracts signed. And President Putin says it’s “not agreement capable.”

So how can you make a financial arrangement with a country whose banks and State Department and financial department are not agreement capable? They’re bailing out.

And what’s the alternative? Well, the only alternative is to hold each other’s currencies, and to do something that, for the last 2,000 years, the world has liked gold and silver, and so they’re putting their money into gold because it’s an asset that doesn’t have a liability behind it.

It’s an asset that, if you’re holding it, not England, not the New York Fed – the German government has told the New York Fed, “Send us back to the gold that we have on deposit there for safekeeping. It’s not safekeeping anymore.

Planeload after planeload of gold is being flown back to Germany from the U.S., because even Germany – satellite as it is – is afraid that the United States may not like something Germany does, like if Germany imports gas from Russia, will America just grab all its gold and say, “You can’t have it anymore; we’re fining you.”

The United States has become lawless. And so of course you can’t trust it; it’s like a wild cat bank in the the 19th century.

Published in: on January 11, 2022 at 11:21 am  Comments (3)  

When violent right-wingers get away with it …

They keep on going.

I am very afraid that my grandchildren will live in a fascist America.

Read this special report by some Reuters reporters about Trumpsters (that is, fascists) who are getting away with death threats and intimidation of public officials.

Special Report: Reuters unmasks Trump supporters who terrified U.S. election workers

By Linda So and Jason Szep

22 minute read

REUTERS/Tom Brenner

REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Nov 9 (Reuters) – In Arizona, a stay-at-home dad and part-time Lyft driver told the state’s chief election officer she would hang for treason. In Utah, a youth treatment center staffer warned Colorado’s election chief that he knew where she lived and watched her as she slept.

In Vermont, a man who says he works in construction told workers at the state election office and at Dominion Voting Systems that they were about to die.

“This might be a good time to put a f‑‑‑‑‑‑ pistol in your f‑‑‑‑‑‑ mouth and pull the trigger,” the man shouted at Vermont officials in a thick New England accent last December. “Your days are f‑‑‑‑‑‑ numbered.”

The three had much in common. All described themselves as patriots fighting a conspiracy that robbed Donald Trump of the 2020 election. They are regular consumers of far-right websites that embrace Trump’s stolen-election falsehoods. And none have been charged with a crime by the law enforcement agencies alerted to their threats.

They were among nine people who told Reuters in interviews that they made threats or left other hostile messages to election workers. In all, they are responsible for nearly two dozen harassing communications to six election officials in four states. Seven made threats explicit enough to put a reasonable person in fear of bodily harm or death, the U.S. federal standard for criminal prosecution, according to four legal experts who reviewed their messages at Reuters’ request.

These cases provide a unique perspective into how people with everyday jobs and lives have become radicalized to the point of terrorizing public officials. They are part of a broader campaign of fear waged against frontline workers of American democracy chronicled by Reuters this year. The news organization has documented nearly 800 intimidating messages to election officials in 12 states, including more than 100 that could warrant prosecution, according to legal experts.

The examination of the threats also highlights the paralysis of law enforcement in responding to this extraordinary assault on the nation’s electoral machinery. After Reuters reported the widespread intimidation in June, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a task force to investigate threats against election staff and said it would aggressively pursue such cases. But law enforcement agencies have made almost no arrests and won no convictions.

In many cases, they didn’t investigate. Some messages were too hard to trace, officials said. Other instances were complicated by America’s patchwork of state laws governing criminal threats, which provide varying levels of protection for free speech and make local officials in some states reluctant to prosecute such cases. Adding to the confusion, legal scholars say, the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t formulated a clear definition of a criminal threat.Report ad

For this report, Reuters set out to identify the people behind these attacks on election workers and understand their motivations. Reporters submitted public-records requests and interviewed dozens of election officials in 12 states, obtaining phone numbers and email addresses for two dozen of the threateners.

Reuters was able to interview nine of them. All admitted they were behind the threats or other hostile messages. Eight did so on the record, identifying themselves by name.

In the seven cases that legal scholars said could be prosecuted, law enforcement agencies were alerted by election officials to six of them. The people who made those threats told Reuters they never heard from police.

All nine harassers interviewed by Reuters said they believed they did nothing wrong. Just two expressed regret when told their messages had frightened officials or caused security scares. The seven others were unrepentant, with some saying the election workers deserved the menacing messages.

Ross Miller, a Georgia real-estate investor, warned an official in the Atlanta area that he’d be tarred and feathered, hung or face firing squads unless he addressed voter fraud. In an interview, Miller said he would continue to make such calls “until they do something.” He added: “We can’t have another election until they fix what happened in the last one.”

The harassers expressed beliefs similar to those voiced by rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, trying to block Democrat Joe Biden’s certification as president. Nearly all of the threateners saw the country deteriorating into a war between good and evil – “patriots” against “communists.” They echoed extremist ideas popularized by QAnon, a collective of baseless conspiracy theories that often cast Trump as a savior figure and Democrats as villains. Some said they were preparing for civil war. Six were in their 50s or older; all but two were men.

They are part of a national phenomenon. America’s federal elections are administered by state and local officials. But the threateners are targeting workers far from home: Seven of the nine harassed officials in other states. Some targeted election officials in states where Trump lost by substantial margins, such as Colorado – or even Vermont, where Biden won by 35 percentage points.

“These people firmly believe in the ‘Big Lie’ that the former president legitimately won the election,” said Chris Krebs, who ran the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security. Krebs was fired by Trump last year for declaring that the 2020 election had been conducted fairly. By terrorizing election officials, he said, they’re effectively acting as Trump’s “foot soldiers.”

A Trump spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Representative John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, introduced legislation in June to make it a federal crime to intimidate, threaten or harass an election worker. The bill, which has not come up for a vote, followed a Reuters investigation into such threats published the same month.

“I think we’re on a dangerous path,” Sarbanes said last week when told the threats were continuing with little law enforcement intervention. “We want there to be some effective and sustained push back on this kind of harassment.”

YOU’RE ‘ABOUT TO GET F—— POPPED’

Only one of the nine harassers Reuters interviewed wouldn’t reveal his identity: the man threatening Vermont officials. Before reporters started examining him, law enforcement officials had decided against investigating, as many other agencies have done in similar cases nationwide.

Late last year, between Nov. 22 and Dec. 1, he left three messages with the secretary of state’s office from a number that state police deemed “essentially untraceable,” according to an internal police email obtained through a public-records request. The man identified himself as a Vermont resident in one voicemail.

Police didn’t pursue a case on the grounds that he didn’t threaten a specific person or indicate an imminent plan to act, according to emails and prosecution records. State police never spoke with the caller, according to interviews with state officials, a law enforcement source and a review of internal police emails.

Reuters did.

Reporters connected with him in September on the phone number police called untraceable. In five conversations over four days spanning more than three hours, he acknowledged threatening Vermont officials and described his thinking.

He soon grew agitated, peppering two Reuters reporters with 137 texts and voicemails over the past month, threatening the journalists and describing his election conspiracy theories.

The man telephoned the secretary of state’s office again on Oct. 17 from the same phone number used in the other threats. This time he was more explicit. Addressing state staffers and referring to the two journalists by name, he said he guaranteed that all would soon get “popped.”

“You guys are a bunch of f‑‑‑‑‑‑ clowns, and all you dirty c‑‑‑suckers are about to get f‑‑‑‑‑‑ popped,” he said. “I f‑‑‑‑‑‑ guarantee it.”

The officials referred the voicemail to state police, who again declined to investigate. Agency spokesperson Adam Silverman said in a statement that the message didn’t constitute an “unambiguous reference to gun violence,” adding that the word “popped” – common American slang for “shot” – “is unclear and nonspecific, and could be a reference to someone being arrested.”

Legal experts didn’t see it that way. Fred Schauer, a University of Virginia law professor, said the message likely constituted a criminal threat under federal law by threatening gun violence at specific individuals. “There’s certainly an intent to put people in fear,” Schauer said.

After Reuters asked Vermont officials about the October threat, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began an inquiry into the matter, according to two local law enforcement officials.

The FBI declined to confirm or deny any investigation into that threat and others reported in this story. In a statement, the bureau said it takes such acts seriously, working with other law enforcement agencies “to identify and stop any potential threats to public safety” and “investigate any and all federal violations to the fullest.”

‘I’M A PATRIOT’

Many of the harassers have been radicalized by a growing universe of far-right websites and other sources of disinformation about the 2020 election. Like Trump, they bashed mainstream news outlets and cast them as complicit in an elaborate scheme to steal the election.

Jamie Fialkin of Peoria, Arizona, talked of a grand conspiracy of those controlling the media, the banking system and social media companies. “When you have those three things, you can get away with anything – you can tell people, ‘black is white, white is black,’ and people go, ‘OK,’” Fialkin said.

On the surface, nothing about Fialkin’s biography suggests extremism. A former stand-up comedian from Brooklyn, New York, Fialkin said he has a degree in actuarial science, the study of insurance data. In 2017, he self-published a book marketed as a “survival guide” for first-time older parents. The 54-year-old said he spends most days taking care of his two young daughters and driving part-time for Lyft.

At a 2006 comedy show, he poked fun at his “professional bowler” physique, balding head, and inability to play golf. The self-described Orthodox Jew also took aim at Palestinians and described his political views as “a little more to the right.”

Fialkin said in an interview that he’s no longer in a joking mood.

He believes America is headed for civil war. He endorsed Trump’s false claims that millions of fraudulent votes swung the election to Biden. He said he’s convinced that former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and progressive philanthropist George Soros bought fake ballots from China, another debunked theory promoted by Trump’s allies.

Fialkin blamed one person in particular for Trump’s Arizona loss: Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the state’s top election official. On June 3, Fialkin called Hobbs’ office and left a message saying she’d hang “from a f‑‑‑‑‑‑ tree.”

“They’re going to hang you for treason, you f‑‑‑‑‑‑ bitch,” Fialkin said.

Minutes later, Fialkin left another voicemail in which he recommended a “good slogan” for Democrat Hobbs’ campaign for governor: “Don’t vote for me, for one reason. Back in December, I got hung for treason.”

Fialkin said he never intended to harm Hobbs, but was unapologetic.

“I’m not denying anything,” he said, “because I’m a patriot.”

Fialkin said he changed his Republican voter registration to independent because the party didn’t fight hard enough for Trump.

“I’m like most Americans,” he said. “We’re just waiting to see when the civil war starts.”

Fialkin’s messages were part of a barrage targeting Hobbs. Two others came from Jeff Yeager, a 56-year-old self-employed electrician from Los Angeles, California. Yeager, too, called for her execution.

“When Katie the c‑‑‑ is executed for treason, what are you f‑‑‑‑‑‑ traitors going to be doing for work?” Yeager said in a June 17 voicemail left for Hobbs and her staff. Months later, on Sept. 8, he left another voicemail warning she’d be executed.

Yeager acknowledged leaving the messages and said he didn’t care if Hobbs felt threatened. “If she thinks that I’m a threat to her, I’m not,” he said. “But the public is going to hang this woman.”

Yeager said he sees the mainstream media as full of disinformation; he called Reuters “one of the most evil organizations on the planet.” He said he gets his news from “alternative websites that are not censored,” including social network Gab and Bitchute, a video-sharing site known for hosting far-right figures and conspiracy theorists.

“Everything we’re being told is a lie,” he said.

In an interview, Hobbs said the threats by Fialkin, Yeager and others have been “emotionally draining” for her and her staff. The messages from Fialkin and Yeager were sent to the FBI, her spokesperson said. Some threats triggered a security detail, Hobbs said.

Jared Carter, a Cornell University law professor specializing in constitutional free-speech issues, said the threats by both men could be prosecuted under federal law. “In light of the multiple voicemails from the same person, and the overall tone of the messages, a court could find them to be true threats,” Carter said.

Election administrators such as Hobbs are part of a broader array of public officials targeted by Trump supporters. The day before Yeager spoke with Reuters in September, he said, two FBI agents visited him at his Los Angeles home to discuss threats he made to two national politicians: Republican Senator Mitt Romney and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both of whom denounced Trump for inciting the January 6 insurrection. He said the FBI agents produced transcripts of his calls to Pelosi and Romney. Yeager said the transcripts quoted him as saying “we will kill you.”

The agents instructed him how to lawfully express his political views, Yeager said, and left without arresting him. “I’m not making any more calls to anybody,” he said. “I may have crossed the line in one sentence, but I’m no danger to anybody.”

Spokespeople for Romney and Pelosi declined to comment on Yeager’s threats.

INSPIRED BY TRUMP

Others who threatened election officials told Reuters they were directly inspired by Trump or his prominent allies, who have denounced specific election offices nationwide for allowing voter fraud, turning them into targets.

Eric Pickett, a 42-year-old night staffer at a youth treatment center in Utah, said his anger boiled over after watching an Aug. 10 “cyber symposium” held by pillow magnate Mike Lindell, a Trump ally who has pushed false election conspiracy theories.

Pickett said he paid close attention as one of the symposium’s speakers, Tina Peters, a Republican clerk in Colorado’s Mesa County, criticized Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat. Griswold has been leading an investigation into Peters over a voting-system security breach in Mesa, one of the state’s most conservative counties. At the symposium, Peters, an election-fraud conspiracy theorist, claimed Griswold “raided” her office to produce false evidence and “bully” her.

None of that was true, according to state officials. Nonetheless, Pickett snapped. He got on Facebook and sent Griswold a message.

“You raided an office. You broke the law. STOP USING YOUR TACTICS. STOP NOW. Watch your back. I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP, I SEE YOU SLEEPING. BE AFRAID, BE VERRY AFFRAID. I hope you die.”

A Griswold spokesperson said the August message was promptly referred to state and federal law enforcement. The threat was reported by Reuters in September.

Pickett said in an interview that he “got wrapped up in the moment.” He was surprised Griswold found the message threatening and expressed regret for causing alarm.

“I didn’t know they would take it as a threat,” he said. “I was thinking they would just take it as somebody just trolling them.”

Colorado State Patrol, in response to a records request, said they had no investigative reports on the threat. A spokesperson, Sergeant Troy Kessler, said the State Patrol reviewed all messages it received from Griswold’s office and that no one had been arrested.

Three legal experts said the message met the threshold of a threat that could be prosecuted under federal law. “The whole purpose of the threats doctrine is to protect people from not only a prospect of physical violence, but the damage of living with a threat hanging over you,” said Timothy Zick, a William & Mary Law School professor.

Lindell and Peters did not respond to requests for comment.

TARRED AND FEATHERED

Trump’s stolen-election claims about Georgia, traditionally a Republican stronghold, have sparked some of the most serious election threats.

In a Dec. 10 hearing organized by Georgia Republican lawmakers, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani played a short snippet of surveillance footage from Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, which was used as a tabulation site. He claimed it showed Fulton County election workers pulling out suitcases full of fraudulent ballots in Biden’s favor. State investigators and county officials have said the “suitcases” were standard ballot containers and the video shows normal vote-counting.

Ross Miller, the real-estate investor in Forsyth County, Georgia, saw the video. He left a Dec. 31 voicemail for Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron, saying he “better run” and that he’ll be tarred and feathered and executed unless “ya’ll do something” about voter fraud. Barron forwarded the threat to police, according to a county email.

However, Fulton County Police Chief Wade Yates said his agency did not contact Miller after concluding the message did not constitute a threat under Georgia law.

In an interview, Miller acknowledged making the call.

“I left the message because I’m a patriot, and I’m sick and tired of what’s going on in this country,” he said. “That’s what happens when you commit treason: You get hung.”

Miller, who said he was in his sixties, said he’s been kicked off Twitter seven times for his views. He follows “Tore Says,” a podcast popular with QAnon adherents whose host, Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman, has called for a “revolutionary movement.”

“You’ve got to stand up,” said Miller. “You’re either a patriot for the freedom of this country or you’re a communist against it.”

‘YOU’RE ALL F—— DEAD’

Some Vermont officials questioned why the man intimidating state officials wasn’t investigated or prosecuted, highlighting a broader national debate over how to respond to post-election threats. In a pattern seen across America, Vermont law enforcement officials decided this man’s repeated menacing messages amounted to legally protected free speech.

The threatener focused on one of the central conspiracy theories promoted by Trump and his allies: That officials had rigged vote-counting technology from Dominion Voting Systems to flip millions of votes to Biden.

“Just let everybody know that their days are f—— numbered,” he said in a Dec. 1 voicemail. “There are a lot of people who are going to be executed.”

Around that time, officials at Dominion’s headquarters in Colorado received three unsettling voicemails. “You’re all f‑‑‑‑‑‑ dead,” said one message. “We’re going to f‑‑‑‑‑‑ kill you all.” The caller’s telephone number and voice matched those on the Vermont threats.

The threats to Dominion were referred to the Denver Police Department and the FBI. Denver police failed to identify the caller, a department spokesperson said.

The Vermont secretary of state’s office is located in a historic 19th-century brick Queen Anne-style house in the capital of Montpelier. The staff helps register voters and administer elections in a state with one of America’s lowest rates of violent crime. The voicemails terrified some staffers.

“I had to try to calm people down,” Secretary of State Jim Condos said in an interview. “We were all on edge.”

After the Dec. 1 threats, Vermont Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters expressed astonishment that police wouldn’t pursue the caller, according to emails between secretary-of-state officials and police obtained through a records’ request.

“I am trying to make sense of this,” Winters wrote in an email to Daniel Trudeau, the criminal division commander of the Vermont State Police. “If someone makes a veiled threat to come to the Secretary of State’s office and execute only the guilty ones on the election team, without naming names, they’ve not broken the law?” Winters added that he wanted to know “who we’re dealing with.”

Trudeau replied that he had consulted with other officers and didn’t see a crime, because the caller did not specify that he would come to the secretary of state’s office and did not say that he personally would execute anyone.

Vermont’s state police intelligence unit tried but failed to identify the caller. Police examined the number, which bore a Vermont area code, but said it was untraceable, according to an email between state police officials. The unit’s commander, Shawn Loan, wrote to Trudeau saying that the threats could be part of a “larger campaign” and the calls “may have been scripted.” He added that the caller used voice-over-internet technology. Two former FBI agents said such calls can be harder to trace than those made from landlines or cellular phones.

Loan was not immediately available for comment, a spokesperson said.

Vermont State Police didn’t pursue the threatener. Rory Thibault, the state’s attorney in Washington County, which includes Montpelier, supported Trudeau’s decision in a four-page Dec. 15 memo to state police. The messages were “protected speech,” Thibault wrote, because they were not “directed at a single person or official.” They were “conditional” on a “perception of malfeasance in the election process,” and the caller didn’t indicate he would personally inflict harm, he said.

Zick, the William & Mary professor, said a threat doesn’t necessarily have to single out a specific individual to be prosecuted under federal law. If someone calls in a bomb threat to Congress rather than to a specific senator’s office, for instance, “that’s still a threat.”

In an interview, Thibault said Vermont laws pose unique challenges for pursuing such cases because they offer greater protections for individual rights than federal laws. He added that the threats and the rise of extremist rhetoric are leading to a push for tougher anti-harassment laws.

Vermont State Representative Maxine Grad said she plans to introduce a bill in the January session aimed at broadening protections for people who have received criminal threats, such as election workers.

On Dec. 16, a day after the state’s attorney ruled out an investigation, the unidentified caller taunted Vermont election officials in a new voicemail. “All the traitors will be punished” in the “next few weeks,” he said. “Kill yourself now.”

This time, the caller used a different number that appeared to be a pre-paid “burner” phone.

Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete was concerned. “Very disturbing,” he wrote to state police, security and secretary of state officials after reviewing the Dec. 16 threat. “Fits profile of someone who may act.”

Again, state police declined to investigate because the caller didn’t threaten a specific individual, according to police emails.

The phone numbers used by the caller left few clues about his identity. One reverse phone lookup service linked his number to Bennington, a town of about 15,000 people in southwest Vermont. Denver police couldn’t identify the caller, but found “decent information” linking the number to Bennington, according to a Denver Police Department report on the threats to Dominion.

Surrounded by the Green Mountains, the Bennington area is known for its picturesque farm houses, a towering Revolutionary War battle monument and blazing autumn foliage. Less known is that the rural, mostly white town and other parts of southern Vermont have seen a rise in Trump-inspired militia activity in recent years, residents and state officials say.

In April, the town agreed to pay a $137,500 settlement to Kiah Morris, the state legislature’s only black female elected official, who resigned in September 2018, following complaints that Bennington police failed to properly investigate racially motivated harassment against her. Morris declined to comment for this story.

The calls from the still-unidentified man threatening election officials and reporters were referred to the FBI, according to police emails.

Reuters first reached the man on Sept. 17. In a brief interview, he referenced the Dominion conspiracy theory. Asked for his name, he swore and hung up.

A week later, the journalists contacted him again on the same number. He admitted leaving the voicemails to express his “absolute dissatisfaction” in the election. In three subsequent phone interviews on Oct. 6 and 7 that spanned a total of two and a half hours, he opened up about his views.

The man said he believed thousands of fake ballots were cast in Arizona, repeating debunked claims. He said members of the media would face tribunals and be executed like the Nazi leaders who were hung after the Nuremberg trials in the 1940s and that perpetrators of election fraud would be sent to military prison.

He said he lived “in the woods,” and worked in construction. He didn’t own a gun, but said he had “a baseball bat and a machete.” He shared videos from the far-right website Bitchute and said he watched “all kinds of stuff that definitely needs to be investigated.”

Then he turned on the Reuters journalists.

In an Oct. 11 voicemail, he threatened to sue the reporters for obtaining his telephone number from state records. Over the next 25 days, he texted them 91 times, sharing misinformation on the origins of the coronavirus and other conspiracy theories. On Oct. 17, he left the new voicemails at the Vermont secretary of state’s office, including the one threatening that the reporters and election staffers would get “popped.”

The next morning, the caller followed up with more texts to the journalists. “I am going to destroy you and that is a threat.” In multiple texts, he said he would “ruin” the life of one of the reporters. On Oct. 30, he left two more voicemails for them. “You are all going to f‑‑‑‑‑‑ hang. I’m going to make sure of it,” said one. “Bad s‑‑‑ is gonna to happen to you,” said the other. “Your days are f‑‑‑‑‑‑ numbered.”

He also sent the reporters four messages with the same picture: a grainy black-and-white photograph of a public execution that has been shared widely in far-right social media, with a caption claiming it showed “members of the media” hanging in “Nuremberg, Germany.” (In fact, the photo was taken in Kiev, Ukraine, depicting Nazi officers being hung for war crimes.)

The man’s threats and the rise in extremism in Vermont and nationwide since the election are a concern for Peete and his small staff in the Montpelier Police Department.

“It’s something that keeps me and all of us here up at night,” the police chief said.Reporting by Linda So and Jason Szep

Reposted from Valerie Jablow:

Fixing OSSE (And DC Democracy): Testimony From A DCPS Parent

 ~ VALERIE JABLOW

[Ed. Note: On October 26, a subset of DC council members (Phil Mendelson, Janeese Lewis George, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brooke Pinto, and Charles Allen) heard hours of testimony on two bills that would change the governance structure of DC’s office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE).

One of the bills in the hearing would make OSSE an independent agency, while the other bill (co-sponsored by Lewis George and Robert White) would ensure its oversight by the elected state board of education (SBOE) and permit DCPS staff to run for elected office. In support of a change in governance, council members cited OSSE’s clear conflict of interest (wherein both it and DCPS now report to the mayor); the fact that many of our Black students are not achieving well; and OSSE’s withheld or undiscovered information about attendance, suspensions, and graduation rates in all DC publicly funded schools.

Public witnesses in support of the legislation noted that OSSE’s current governance shuts out the people most affected by its policies: parents, school staff, and students. In the meantime, true accountability for schools remains impossible when “bad news out of OSSE means loss of votes for the mayor” (per inimitable DCPS parent and ed researcher Betsy Wolf). Those opposing the legislation (mostly charter and ed reform interests) argued that it puts progress at risk, while adding a “burden” to schools and altering the “streamlined decision making” (our deputy mayor for education’s term) that currently exists.

Pointed exchanges occurred with questioning by Ward 4 council member Janeese Lewis George of the hearing’s sole government witness, deputy mayor for education Paul Kihn. In two sessions well worth the view (about 4:57:58 to 5:13:20 and 5:39:35 to 5:51:20 in the video), Lewis George asked Kihn about enrollment, use of federal covid relief funds, loss of Head Start funds, and retention of teachers. After about 5 minutes, a frustrated Kihn said the questions felt like a pop quiz and noted that he was used to responding in writing (!). Lewis George replied that she submitted the questions ahead of time, so not only had Kihn time to prepare answers, but also that this process ensured the answers got on the record verbally.

But beyond the (now) well-known and brutal history of our state education agency’s accountability gaps, the council testimony of Ward 4 lawyer and DCPS parent Robin Appleberry elegantly connected that history to the last 19 months of our pandemic—and to the idea and ideals of DC democracy itself.

Read on–and be sure to weigh in on the legislation before the record closes on November 9.]

By Robin Appleberry

Thank you, council, for holding this important hearing. My name is Robin Appleberry, and I am a parent in Ward 4. I have lived in DC for over 20 years, and my children have attended our neighborhood public schools for over 7 years. Based on my family’s experiences and the core principles of democracy, inclusion, and accountability that I know all of you embrace, I urge you to support the DC State Education Agency Independence Amendment Act, sponsored by Councilmember Lewis George, as well as sensible amendments to realize its goals.

Mr. Chairman, when you disbanded this council’s committee on education almost a year ago, you stated that every member of this council is now responsible for education. I agree. You and others on this council speak often about your commitment to equity in education. I applaud that commitment. And many of you have spoken powerfully about why statehood is critical to democracy and justice for DC. For example, last March Chairman Mendelson testified to Congress on behalf of this entire body that independent, locally elected representation is “the only way to ensure a . . . system that is sensitive to community values” and “the only way to give residents a full, guaranteed and irrevocable voice.” I agree. And those same commitments and principles should compel you to support the moderate and sensible reform proposed by the Lewis George legislation.

At the heart of your many statements to the people of this city and to Congress is the notion of checks and balances, the idea that power is unjust and unsustainable without transparency, accountability, and–perhaps most important–the participation of those directly affected.

But that is exactly what we have with unchecked mayoral control over schools.

Families living the reality of public education in DC have no reliable information and no real voice in the policies that shape our children’s health, safety, growth and well being. And let’s be clear–the majority of these children and families are Black, Latine, recent immigrant or otherwise in communities subject to vast historic and continuing inequity. So when we call for equity but oppose accountability to those most affected, we are performing, not leading.

Reopening during the pandemic is a perfect example: at every decision point in the last 19 months, the mayor has obscured, mischaracterized, withheld, or even refused to collect essential health data; infantilized, disempowered, and discounted the lived experiences of children, families, and educators; and misled the public and this council about the critical factors such as building safety, digital resource distribution, behavioral support services, staffing, and more. The message to me from the mayor, the chancellor, the deputy mayor for education and OSSE throughout the pandemic has been crystal clear: We know better than you what is best for your child. And not only should you trust us to decide that for your family, you should not ask us to explain ourselves, to show that our commitments are met, or even to share the data on which we rely to make decisions.

Experience has made plain that without the accountability and oversight that only a truly independent body can provide, the mayor and those who report to her answer only to this council, which cannot possibly serve as a close and comprehensive check on that consolidated power.

Even when this council identifies a serious gap and musters the collective will to act, its ability to remedy the situation is profoundly limited, by procedure and by bandwidth. We can look at the recent emergency legislation enacted by this council just weeks ago, which did not even manage to ensure that any student living with a medically vulnerable family member can learn virtually until the child can be vaccinated against covid-19. Would anyone here feel comfortable sending a member of their household to spend all day, every day in a building that may or may not have adequate ventilation with hundreds of unvaccinated kids who may or may not be wearing masks properly, and then to come home every night to live with a family member undergoing cancer treatment? If this is not what we would accept for our families, why do we accept it for anyone, and why is emergency city council intervention our only means of addressing these issues?

This is just an example. Whatever your views on reopening–and reasonable minds absolutely can land in different places–I hope we all agree that decisions affecting children and families should be made not for children and families but with us, and with transparency and accountability. Elected representatives with real oversight authority are the only way to provide that. Just as we don’t want congressional representatives from Utah or Florida deciding how we in DC can live, love, and keep each other safe, neither should our schools be run in secrecy by a handful of people who don’t meaningfully answer to the people whose lives they affect.

I want to emphasize that simply making OSSE into an independent agency is not enough–we need elected officials with the resources and authority to engage in meaningful oversight and to hold leaders accountable. We don’t just need someone to document when a DC agency is, for example, failing to fix HVAC systems, reporting buildings as safe when they are not, failing to conduct enough covid tests, or seeking ways to obscure the results of those tests. We need real checks and balances–a body to ensure that policies and practices actually change. An independent OSSE without the oversight and accountability of resourced, elected SBOE officials is not going to get us there.

It’s undeniable that education is at the very core of what this city is and what it can be. Education is not a perk of a robust economy, a luxury for the privileged, or a consumer good for the savvy. It is a human right to which every single child in this city is entitled, and it is the only way–the only way—for us to become a city that thrives. No amount of painted street slogans, hip restaurants, or new condos will save us if we give up on inclusive democracy and excellent, equitable education for all. By any measure, that is not what we have now.

In this moment, when you look at how the children of our entire city are faring under unchecked mayoral control, it is evident that the system is not “sensitive to community values” and we have failed to “give residents a full, guaranteed and irrevocable voice.” How can we ask Congress to respect democracy, when we ourselves do not?

I urge you to take a reasonable and balanced approach to restoring community voice in our schools by adopting the DC State Education Agency Independence Amendment Act, along with targeted amendments to that bill to enhance equity, inclusion, transparency and accountability for all our children and families. Thank you.

Alfie Kohn: “Who’s Cheating Whom?”

The prolific and incisive education writer Alfie Kohn casts a discerning eye on the current and past epidemic of cheating in K-12 schools and higher education. He notes that the evidence shows that …

“[…] when teachers don’t seem to have a real connection with their students, or when they don’t seem to care much about them, students are more inclined to cheat.[5] 
That’s a very straightforward finding, and not a particularly surprising one, but if taken seriously it has the effect of shifting our attention and reshaping the discussion.

“So, too, does a second finding:  Cheating is more common when students experience the academic tasks they’ve been given as boring, irrelevant, or overwhelming.  In two studies of ninth and tenth graders, for example, “Perceived likelihood of cheating was uniformly relatively high . . . when a teacher’s pedagogy was portrayed as poor.”[6]  

“To put this point positively, cheating is relatively rare in classrooms where the learning is genuinely engaging and meaningful to students and where a commitment to exploring significant ideas hasn’t been eclipsed by a single-minded emphasis on “rigor.”  The same is true in “democratic classes where [students’] opinions are respected and welcomed.”[7]  

“List the classroom practices that nourish a disposition to find out about the world, the teaching strategies that are geared not to covering a prefabricated curriculum but to discovering the significance of ideas, and you will have enumerated the conditions under which cheating is much less likely to occur.   (Interestingly, one of the mostly forgotten findings from that old Teachers College study was that “progressive school experiences are less conducive to deception than conventional school experiences” – a result that persisted even after the researchers controlled for age, IQ, and family background.   In fact, the more time students spent in either a progressive school or a traditional school, the greater the difference between the two in terms of cheating.)[8]”

In addition, concentrating on class rankings or awards in academics provides even more pressure to cheat.

There is a lot more. Read the entire article. And click to subscribe to his page.

A new attack on the very idea of Public Education

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has always been very right-wing, pro-billionaire, anti-labor, and so on. It appears to be helping build an attack on the very idea of a common, public education.

Peter Greene of Curmudgucation analyzes a recent article by an ideologue of Koch-type, Ayn Rand-style ideas.

CURMUDGUCATION

What The WSJ Anti-Public Ed Op-Ed Gets Wrong
Posted: 25 Oct 2021 09:08 AM PDT

Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal (Fix News’ upscale sibling) published an op-ed from Philip Hamburger, a Columbia law professor and head of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a Koch-funded pro bono firm that takes cases primarily to defend against the “administrative state.”

It’s a hit job on public education with some pretty bold arguments, some of which are pretty insulting. But he sure says a lot of the quiet part out loud, and that makes this worth a look. Let me walk you through this. (Warning–it’s a little rambly, and you can skip to the last section if you want to get the basic layout)

Hamburger signals where he’s headed with the very first paragraph:

The public school system weighs on parents. It burdens them not simply with poor teaching and discipline, but with political bias, hostility toward religion, and now even sexual and racial indoctrination. Schools often seek openly to shape the very identity of children. What can parents do about it?

Hamburger offers no particular evidence for any of this catalog of arguable points. Various surveys repeatedly show that the majority of parents approve of their child’s public school. The rest is a litany of conservative complaints with no particular evidence, but Hamburger needs the premise to power the rest of his argument.

So here comes Hamburger’s bold assertion:

Education is mostly speech, and parents have a constitutional right to choose the speech with which their children will be educated. They therefore cannot constitutionally be compelled, or even pressured, to make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination

Conservative talking points about public education routinely assert and assume that public education is a service provided to parents, rather than to the students or society at large. It’s case I’ve never seen them successfully make. At the same time, society’s stake in educated members is clear and the entire rationale behind having non-parent taxpayers help pay the cost of public education. In any other instance where the taxpayers subsidize a private individual’s purchase of goods or service (e.g. food stamps, housing), some conservatives say the social safety net is a Bad Thing, so it’s uncharacteristic for them to champion public education as, basically, a welfare program for parents when they want to dramatically reduce all other such programs to bathtub-drowning size (spoiler alert: they’d like to do that with public education, too). 

But Hamburger has taken another step here, arguing that speech to children somehow belongs to their parents. It’s a bold notion–do parents somehow have a First Amendment right to control every sound that enters their children’s ears? Where are the children’s rights in this? Or does Hamburger’s argument (as some angry Twitter respondents claim) reduce children to chattel?
Hamburger follows his assertion with some arguments that don’t help. He argues that public education has always attempted to “homogenize and mold the identity of children,” which is a huge claim and, like much of his argument, assumes that schools somehow have the power to overwrite or erase everything that parents have inculcated at home. But then, for the whole argument currently raging, it’s necessary to paint public schools as huge threat in order to justify taking dramatic major action against them. 

The great Protestant scam

Hamburger also notes that public education has “been valued for corralling most of the poor and middle class into institutions where their religious and ethnic differences could be ironed out” which would be a more powerful point if most of the poor hadn’t generally avoided public education entirely. But he’s going to go further by claiming that “well into the 20th century, much of the political support for public schooling was driven by fear of Catholicism and an ambition to Protestantize Catholic children.” There’s no doubt that some of this was going on, but the primary goal of public education? 

The court case he leans on first is Pierce v Society of Sister, a 1925 Oregon case that established a parental right to substitute private religious school for public schooling. Hamburger argues that the underlying idea of the case is that Freedom of Speech = educational liberty, which gets him back to his central idea:  education is speech and therefor public education impinges on parents’ First Amendment rights.

Further, Hamburger imagines an America in which some sort of pressure is exerted on people (mostly Catholics) to accept public education mind control, thereby violating–well, here’s the shortest form of the argument he offers.
When government makes education compulsory and offers it free of charge, it crowds out parental freedom in educational speech. The poorer the parents, the more profound the pressure—and that is by design. Nativists intended to pressure poor and middle-class parents into substituting government educational speech for their own, and their unconstitutional project largely succeeded.

Most parents can’t afford to turn down public schooling. They therefore can’t adopt speech expressive of their own views in educating their children, whether by paying for a private school or dropping out of work to home school. So they are constrained to adopt government educational speech in place of their own, in violation of the First Amendment.
Hamburger doesn’t offer any kind of smoking gun to underline or expose the “nativists” dire intent. Nor does he explain why the public school system in some locales had to be forced to accept some students (I assume that he does not intend to argue that Southern schools blocked Black students out of deep respect for their parents’ First Amendment rights). 

Public education squashes parents, apparently.

Hamburger returns to a funhouse mirror of public education. Rather than an attempt to improve society as a whole and extend equal opportunity to all children, his view is that public education exists strictly to indoctrinate, to overrule parents, and is so lacking in any desirable virtue that government must conspire to force families to submit.

His language posits a bizarre world. Parents somehow “can’t adopt speech expressive of their own views” and must adopt government “educational speech in place of their own.” All of this as if once parents send their children to school, they must never again express their own values or ideas in their own home. He hits this “in place of their own” idea a lot, as if the beginning of public education is the end of any sort of childrearing at home. 

He next does a neat ju-jitsu trick where he observes that if fears of coercion and indoctrination are enough to keep religious elements out of public school, they should be enough to keep Other Secular Stuff out of school.
Next, he works his way around to the objection I raised earlier–society’s “compelling interest in public education.” He would like to dismantle this claim. I’m unconvinced. 

The U.S. was founded in an era when almost all schooling was private and religious, and that already suggests that any government interest in public education is neither necessary nor compelling.

This elicited my first “Oh, come on.” When the US was founded, some students went to private school. Some did not. Most enslaved children were specifically forbidden to. When the US founded, the body of knowledge one needed to grasp to make one’s way through the world was considerably smaller, and there were fewer citizens in the whole US than there are right now in New York City. So, no.

Also, he argues again that public schools caught on basically as a plot by anti-Catholic nativists. This is a bold argument, made all the bolder because many, many paragraphs in, he has not offered even a cherry-picked out-of-context quote to back this up. But he is going to try to reinterpret a quote with a wild stretch:

In their vision, public schools were essential for inculcating American principles so that children could become independent-minded citizens and thinking voters. The education reformer and politician Horace Mann said that without public schools, American politics would bend toward “those whom ignorance and imbecility have prepared to become slaves.” That sounds wholesome in the abstract. In practice, it meant that Catholics were mentally enslaved to their priests, and public education was necessary to get to the next generation, imbuing them with Protestant-style ideas so that when they reached adulthood, they would vote more like Protestant.

Has any giant conspiracy ever failed so spectacularly? Horace Mann and his ilk were out to wipe out Catholicism and make everyone think Protestanty ideas and get everyone to vote the right way, and yet, none of that actually happened. And again, Hamburger talks about education as if it has no value or purpose beyond indoctrinating children. 

Is this one more plan to replace white folks with Democrat voters?

This goal of shaping future voters gave urgency to the government’s interest in public education. As today, the hope was to liberate children from their parents’ supposedly benighted views and thereby create a different sort of polity. Now as then, this sort of project reeks of prejudice and indoctrination. There is no lawful government interest in displacing the educational speech of parents who don’t hold government-approved views, let alone in altering their children’s identity or creating a government-approved electorate

So, again, Hamburger reduces public education to a vast conspiracy to shout down parents and not, say, a means of creating educated citizens who are empowered to understand themselves and the world well enough to forge a productive and rewarding place in it. 

Hamburger wraps up by again harkening back to those great days of the 18th century:

The shared civic culture of 18th-century America was highly civilized, and it developed entirely in private schools. The schools, like the parents who supported them, were diverse in curriculum and their religious outlook, including every shade of Protestantism, plus Judaism, Catholicism, deism and religious indifference. In their freedom, the 18th-century schools established a common culture. In contrast, public-school coercion has always stimulated division.


I have some serious doubts about the diversity he lists, but I will note that it does not include a diversity of wealth and race. Or, for that matter, gender. Divisions is always less of a problem when Some People know their place and avoid interrupting their betters with complaints. But he needs this to be true because he’s headed back around to the assertion that public schools are “coercive” and “the focal point for all that is tearing the nation apart.” His solution, favored by Libertarians these days, is to get public schools to stop tearing people apart by letting people tear themselves apart and silo with other folks of the same ideological stripe, because that has always worked out well.

So what is actually new here? Or is this the same old anti-public ed stuff? What is he actually saying? Let me boil this down.

Hamburger’s argument breaks down into a few simple parts.


One is that the country (aka “government”) has no legitimate stake in public education. Just let everyone get their own education for their own kids; it worked great back in the 1700s. This is a silly argument. 

Also, the government has no legitimate stake in public education  because it’s all just a nativist plot to grind down Catholics and other dissenters. This part of the argument is important because it sets up the notion that only parents should have a say in education, which is an old favorite assertion of the anti-public ed crowd. If you don’t know why we all benefit from being surrounded by well-educated people, I don’t know how to explain it to you.

Education is speech. This part of the argument is important because it allows him to rope in the First Amendment so that he can declare public education unconstitutional. But it feels like a stretch–does he mean formal education? Is it still speech if it’s not in a classroom? Is reading a book speech if you learn from it? Does this mean teachers have more First Amendment rights than previously rules, or fewer?  If it’s on a computer? Is anything a person learns from speech? 

But “education is speech” is not the really bold part of his argument. That really bold part is where he goes on to say “therefor, parents should have total control over it.” I have so many questions. Should parents have total control over all speech directed at or in the vicinity of their children, including books, and so would I be violating a parent’s First Amendment rights if I gave their child an book for Christmas? And where are the child’s rights in this? Would this mean that a parent is allowed to lock their child in the basement in order to protect that parent’s First Amendment right to control what the child is exposed to? 

Hamburger’s argument has implications that he doesn’t get into in his rush to get to “do away with them and give everyone vouchers.” The biggest perhaps is that he has made an argument that non-parent taxpayers should not have to subsidize an education system. I’m betting he’s not unaware of that. 

The Book We Need Now

by nflanagan
Had I known when I was younger what these students were sharing, I would have been liberated from a social and emotional paralysis–a paralysis that arose from never knowing enough of my own history to identify the lies I was being old: lies about what slavery was and what it did to people; lies about what came after our supposed emancipation; lies about why our country looks the way it does today. (Clint Smith)

In this shocking era, when states are passing ill-advised, deceptive laws to prohibit K-12 students from knowing about the sickening, wounding realities of their own history, we truly need a book like Clint Smith’s How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America.

The students Smith is referencing, above, are performing as part of a rich Juneteenth celebration on Galveston Island, TX. They were part of a six-week summer program sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund, designed to teach children the real story about where they live and what happened there.

Don’t all children need to know about the place they come from? Its triumphs and failures? In the book, Smith—then a doctoral student at Harvard—visits a number of historical sites around the country that chronicle the record of slavery and its impact on every aspect of American life.

He begins at Monticello, sharing his conversations with two white women in his tour group who had no idea who Sally Hemings was– the enslaved woman who gave birth to four surviving children by Thomas Jefferson. These older women, interested in ‘seeing history,’ are astonished to hear about the 600 human beings owned by the great statesman.

Each of the chapters is distinct, featuring plantations, graveyards and annual memorials.

The chapter on Angola Prison, in Louisiana, is grim, beginning with its original purpose, in the Reconstruction era: to round up, then house, a low-cost workforce for plantation owners who can no longer rely on the enslaved.

The chapter on New York City makes clear that nobody north of the Mason-Dixon line can claim that slavery only existed in the South.

The chapter on Goree’ Island takes us to coastal West Africa, where captured Africans were sent off to their new lives (or deaths) as enslaved workers, and includes this quote from the curator of the House of Slaves, a museum on the Island: After the discovery of America, because of the development of sugarcane plantations, cotton, coffee, rice cultivation, they forced the [Native Americans] to work for them. And it was because the Natives died in great number that they turned to Africa, to replace the Natives with Africans.

And there it is—this is and always has been about gross economic development. How to make money off exploitive and unpaid labor of others, and the ugly rationalizations used to defend such ugly practices. And how far back this goes—long before the Middle Passage.

In a time when employers are begging for workers after a deadly pandemic (that some employers denied or downplayed), this is a particularly resonant message. This is, indeed, the book we need now.

Smith tells us, in an Afterword, that he went to many more places than the seven he describes in great detail in this volume. That suggests that there are always places nearby—places where students have been, places they are familiar with—that can serve as testimony and memory of our local history.

As educators, it is up to us to teach that history.

This is what all the anti-‘CRT’ protestors fear: the truth.

Smith illustrates that learning the truth is never divisive. It may be painful, and may produce rage—but knowing how this country was built, whose backs and hands produced the wealth and power only some of us enjoy is the cornerstone of building a more equitable society. The truth can unite us, over time. But we have to listen to each other.

Clint Smith is a published poet, and he writes like a poet and storyteller–there is lots of detail and description. Once you get past an expectation of fact-based academic writing, you begin to appreciate his nuanced depictions of people and places, the colorful, palm-strewn islands and damp, gray prison cells.

Smith adds only enough data and dry content to enrich, not drown, the narration. The book is easy to read. I read it one chapter at a time (which I recommend), pausing between to absorb and think, because each segment shares a unique perspective. Smith reiterates, in a dozen ways, that slavery didn’t start in Africa, and African-American history didn’t begin with the capture and selling of human beings. It was a global wickedness, economically driven, but it still impacts America–the idea and the reality of America–deeply.

We can’t get past it until we know the history.

Read this book.

Martin Luther King a Communist?

Recently someone asked in Quora why history has hidden the fact that Martin Luther King Jr was a communist.

He wasn’t.

But:

From 1900 through 1965, almost the only ‘White’ people willing to speak out, mobilize, and demonstrate against the viciously racist Jim Crow segregation of those days were American socialists, anarchists, a few of the farthest-left labor leaders, and communists. Some of those people were members of organized parties either for a long time or a short while, some never joined any group.

Obviously the core of the Civil Rights movement was Black folks, in particular some of the bravest Black clergymen. It is striking to watch old newsreels and see how *few* White allies they had.

These days, most people forget how profoundly and overtly racist this nation was, in those days. People forget how violent the racist forces were, and how many ‘White’ folks used to utter the vilest slurs against all Black or Brown people. And Jews. And Asians. And so on.

I had some elderly relatives like that, now all deceased, as well as some classmates of the same racist bent who are probably still alive today. If I recall correctly, they were all opposed to the Civil Rights Movement and they all hated Dr King and the NAACP. I recall arguing with them about the topic at the time, but who knows what I actually said?

If you read the documented history of the OPPOSITION TO the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) back then (i.e., speeches, editorials, letters to the editors, and comments to reporters) you find powerful racists like J Edgar Hoover of the FBI, the KKK, the White Citizen’s Councils, Liberty Lobby, the John Birch Society, and many White clergymen, along with State, local and Federal mayors, governors, sheriffs, police, senators and congressmen. They often attacked MLK and the CRM as being communist.

Despite a number of Supreme Court decisions and Congressional legislation that banned official segregation, those racists were pretty successful in their propaganda attacks on Martin Luther King, the NAACP, and the activists defying Jim Crow in both the South and the North. Right before King was assassinated by a vicious racist in 1968, he had a 75% disapproval rating in a Harris poll.

While King worked closely with a lot of Black, White and Brown activists, a good fraction of them sympathetic to the CP and/or the Soviet Union at one time or another in their lives, to my knowledge MLK never joined either the CPUSA nor the SPUSA nor any of the other competing, left wing groups that existed back then.

On this matter (but obviously not on everything), those White, Black, and Brown American communists, anarchists and socialists were definitely on the correct side of history!

MLKing was grateful for their help back then, and we today should be grateful that those socialists, anarchists, and communists — and the Civil Rights Movement itself — helped change this country for the better.

EDIT: I realized that I had left out the anarchists, such as the Wobblies (IWW).

EDIT: I should acknowledge that I also joined some left-wing organizations starting when I was 17, but not any of the ones listed above. I’m glad I did. I think we were on the right side of history in opposing the American war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, as well as American interventions in Central America and South African apartheid, and the hegemony of the American ruling class over workers everywhere, even though we were definitely wrong on a number of things.

Insights from Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader: While Americans Sleep, Our Corporate Overlords Make Progress Impossible

Posted on  by Jerri-Lynn Scofield

By Ralph Nader, a consumer advocate and the author of “The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future” (2012). His new book is, “Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All” (2020, co-authored with Mark Green).Originally published at Common Dreams

“Polarization” is the word most associated with the positions of the Republicans and Democrats in Congress. The mass media and the commentators never tire of this focus, in part because such clashes create the flashes conducive to daily coverage.

Politicians from both parties exploit voters who don’t do their homework on voting records and let the lawmakers use the people’s sovereign power (remember the Constitution’s “We the People”) against them on behalf of the big corporate bosses.

The quiet harmony between the two parties created by the omnipresent power of Big Business and other powerful single-issue lobbyists is often the status quo. That’s why there are so few changes in this country’s politics.

In many cases, the similarities of both major parties are tied to the fundamental concentration of power by the few over the many. In short, the two parties regularly agree on anti-democratic abuses of power. Granted, there are always a few exceptions among the rank & file. Here are some areas of Republican and Democrat concurrence:

1. The Duopoly shares the same stage on a militaristic, imperial foreign policy and massive unaudited military budgets. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Pentagon budget was voted out of a House committee by the Democrats and the GOP with $24 billion MORE than what President Biden asked for from Congress. Neither party does much of anything to curtail the huge waste, fraud, and abuse of corporate military contractors, or the Pentagon’s violation of federal law since 1992 requiring annual auditable data on DOD spending be provided to Congress, the president, and the public.

2. Both Parties allow unconstitutional wars violating federal laws and international treaties that we signed onto long ago, including restrictions on the use of force under the United Nations Charter.

3. Both Parties ignore the burgeoning corporate welfare subsidies, handouts, giveaways, and bailouts turning oceans of inefficient, mismanaged, and coddled profit-glutted companies into tenured corporate welfare Kings.

4. Both Parties decline to crack down on the nationwide corporate crime spree. They don’t even like to use the phrase “corporate crime” or “corporate crime wave.” They prefer to delicately allude to “white-collar crime.”

Trillions of dollars are at stake every year, yet neither party holds corporate crime hearings nor proposes an update of the obsolete, weak federal corporate criminal laws.

In some instances, there is no criminal penalty at all for willful and knowing violations of safety regulatory laws (e.g., the auto safety and aviation safety laws). Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is trying to find just one Republican Senator to co-sponsor the “Hide No Harm Act” that would make it a crime for a corporate officer to knowingly conceal information about a corporate action or product that poses the danger of death or serious physical injury to consumers or workers.

5. Both Parties allow Wall Street’s inexhaustibly greedy CEOs to prey on innocents, including small investors. They also do nothing to curb hundreds of billions of dollars in computerized billing fraud, especially in the health care industry. (See, License to Steal by Malcolm K. Sparrow and a GAO Report about thirty years ago).

6. The third leading cause of death in the U.S. is fatalities from preventable problems in hospitals and clinics. According to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine study in 2015, a conservative estimate is that 250,000 people yearly are dying from preventable conditions. Neither Congress nor the Executive Branch has an effort remotely up to the scale required to reduce this staggering level of mortality and morbidity. Nor is the American Medical Association (AMA) engaging with this avoidable epidemic.

7. Both Parties sped bailout of over $50 billion to the airline industry during Covid-19, after the companies had spent about $45 billion on unproductive stock buybacks over the last few years to raise the metrics used to boost executive pay.

8. Both Parties starve corporate law enforcement budgets in the Justice Department, the regulatory agencies, and such departments as Labor, Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, and Health and Human Services. The Duopoly’s view is that there be no additional federal cops on the corporate crime beat.

9. Both Parties prostrate themselves before the bank-funded Federal Reserve. There are no congressional audits, no congressional oversight of the Fed’s secret, murky operations, and massive printing of money to juice up Wall Street, while keeping interest rates near zero for trillions of dollars held by over one hundred million small to midsize savers in America.

10. Both Parties are wedded to constant and huge bailouts of the risky declining, uncompetitive (with solar and wind energy) nuclear power industry. This is corporate socialism at its worst. Without your taxpayer and ratepayer dollars, nuclear plants would be closing down faster than is now the case. Bipartisan proposals for more nukes come with large subsidies and guarantees by Uncle Sam.

11. Both Parties hate Third Parties and engage in the political bigotry of obstructing their ballot access (See: Richard Winger’s Ballot Access News), with hurdles, harassing lawsuits, and exclusions from public debates. The goal of both parties is to stop a competitive democracy.

12. Both Parties overwhelmingly rubber-stamp whatever the Israeli government wants in the latest U.S. military weaponry, the suppression of Palestinians and illegal occupation of the remaining Palestinian lands, and the periodic slaughter of Gazans with U.S. weapons. The Duopoly also supports the use of the U.S. veto in the UN Security Council to insulate Israel from UN sanctions.

13. Continuing Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich’s debilitating internal deforms of congressional infrastructures, the Democrats have gone along with the GOP’s shrinking of committee and staff budgets, abolition of the crucial Office of Technology Assessment’s (OTA) budget, and concentration of excessive power in the hands of the Speaker and Senate leader. This little noticed immolation reduces further the legislature’s ability to oversee the huge sprawling Executive Branch. The erosion of congressional power is furthered by the three-day work week Congress has reserved for itself.

14. Even on what might seem to be healthy partisan differences, the Democrats and the GOP agree not to replace or ease out Trump’s Director of the Internal Revenue Service, a former corporate loophole tax lawyer, or the head of the U.S. Postal Service, a former profiteer off the Post Office who will shortly curtail service even more than he did in 2020 (See: First Class: The U.S. Postal Service, Democracy, and the Corporate Threat, by Christopher W Shaw).

Right now, both Parties are readying to give over $50 billion of your tax money to the very profitable under-taxed computer chip industry companies like Intel and Nvidia, so they can make more profit-building plants in the U.S. These companies are loaded with cash. They should invest their own money and stop the stock buyback craze. Isn’t that what capitalism is all about?

Both Parties vote as if the American middle-class taxpayer is a sleeping sucker. Politicians from both parties exploit voters who don’t do their homework on voting records and let the lawmakers use the people’s sovereign power (remember the Constitution’s “We the People”) against them on behalf of the big corporate bosses.

Sleep on America, you have nothing to lose but your dreams.

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This entry was posted in Banana republicGuest PostIncome disparityLegalPoliticsRegulations and regulatorsRidiculously obvious scamsThe destruction of the middle class on  by Jerri-Lynn Scofield.

‘No Excuses’ Charter Schools

The sacred and the profane: A former D.C. charter school board member calls for change

By Valerie Strauss, Washington Post Reporter

September 23, 2021 at 10:29 a.m. EDT

Steve Bumbaugh is a former member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, having served on the seven-member volunteer panel from 2015 until early this year. During that time, Bumbaugh visited numerous charter schools and attended many board meetings where questions of whether schools should be authorized, sanctioned or closed were discussed.

Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently from the school systems in the areas where they are located. In the nation’s capital, charters enroll nearly as many of the city’s schoolchildren as the system does. Supporters of charters say that they provide families with a necessary alternative to schools in traditional districts. Critics say they do not, on average, provide better student outcomes than traditional districts and steer public money away from districts that educate most schoolchildren.

Bumbaugh is a big supporter of charter schools. In this unusual post, he writes about his experience on the charter board and makes recommendations for change that he said will be bring better representation from the community.

Bumbaugh has worked in the education field for several decades in various roles. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science at Yale University and an MBA at Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

By Steve Bumbaugh

Let’s travel back to September 2017. I was in Southeast Washington, D.C., scheduled to tour a school in an hour. I remember visiting 25 years ago when it was part of the D.C. public school system. That school was closed in 2009 — one of dozens closed in the last 15 years — and now several charter schools occupy the campus.

At the time of this visit, I was a member of board of the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB), having started my tenure in 2015 and serving until early this year. In that capacity, I visited dozens of D.C.-based charter schools. Sometimes, I left those visits saddened, even defeated.

This was one of those times.

Over several decades of work at the intersection of education and poverty, I have learned that much of a school’s character can be divined through its start-of-the-day ritual. So on that day in 2017, I arrived early and sat in my car, far enough away that no one seemed to notice me, but near enough so that I could observe the comings and goings. Several young Black women arrived at school with their children who look to be 5 or 6 years old. They were greeted by staff members, and I observed them having what appeared to be tense conversations with the women. Some of these women left with their children in tow. Others handed their children over to staff members and departed.

When I entered the school for my scheduled visit, I was greeted by one of the founders, a 30-something man with energy and charm. He was joined by the school’s board chair, a distinguished senior partner from one of D.C.’s blue-chip law firms. They took me on a tour of several classrooms. I noticed that the leadership of the school was entirely White as were many of the teachers. All of the students were African American, most from families that struggle financially.

For the most part, the school looked like most other “no excuses” charter schools in the nation’s capital, dotting low-income African American neighborhoods, and in other places across the country.

These schools start with the belief that there is no good reason for the huge academic gaps between privileged and poor minority students — and that strict discipline, obedience, uniform teaching methods and other policies could erase the gaps. A feature of many of these schools, and one evident on this site visit, are lines painted on the hallway floors. Students are expected to walk on these lines as they move from classroom to classroom. Any deviation is likely to result in punishment. The only other places I had seen this before was at correctional facilities.

I entered a preschool classroom where students were gathered in a semi-circle on a rug. Like curious 4-year-olds everywhere, the students turned their heads to scrutinize us. Many smiled widely and some even waved. The teacher snapped at the children, demanding their attention. I was startled by her aggression. They were, after all, 4-year old children engaging in age-appropriate behavior.

That evening I called a staff person from this school who I’ve known for several years. I asked her to translate the scenes I witnessed outside the school. The conversation went something like this:

–“Those scholars probably had uniform violations. The staff persons were probably telling the moms to go home to have the kids change.”

–“I didn’t notice that they were wearing anything different from the other children.”

–“Well, they may have had the wrong color shoes. Or maybe they had the correct color shirt, but it didn’t have the school’s insignia on it.”

–“They have to go back home for that?”

–“Unless they want to spend the day in a behavior support room.”

Incredulous, I pressed my friend for details. I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal?

This sort of interaction between students and staff was not uncommon in no-excuses charter schools I visited over the years.

Occasionally I did visit schools that combine academic rigor and kindness with student bodies that are mostly Black and low-income. But those schools were the exception. I’ve seen schools where children are taught to track the teachers with their eyes, move their mouths in a specific way, and engage in other humiliating rituals that have little educational value.

I visited a school that suspended 40 percent of its 5-year-old children who had been diagnosed with disabilities. At some schools, when children are sick, their parents were forced to produce a doctor’s note because school leaders believed the parents were lying. But some of these parents were uninsured and there weren’t — and still aren’t — many doctors in their neighborhoods. Obtaining a doctor’s note required them to take their children onto packed public buses so they could go to public health clinics or emergency rooms.

Schools that still do this are telling these parents that they are not trusted. And while children in these schools are taught computational math and textual analysis, they also learn that they are congenitally profane.

Charter schools arose a generation ago in Washington, D.C. when the city was poor and in the grips of a decade-long homicide epidemic. I was part of a group of 20-somethings frustrated with the lack of progress in the city’s long-troubled public school system. We had been creating programs for the D.C. Public Schools system that dramatically outpaced the district’s regular academic outcomes, and we wanted to turn these programs into actual schools.

We talked about forging solutions with parents and students, working to retain every single student, exhorting patience about building the infrastructure from which improved academic outcomes would spring.

But little of this vision was attractive to an emerging cadre of funders and policymakers who placed huge bets on charter schools. They submitted to a vision, not based on a shred of evidence, that Black and Brown children would thrive if they were taught “character” and “grit.” The way to do this, apparently, was to create an assembly-line model of instruction with rigid rules. Children who could not abide by these rules were “counseled out” to return to traditional public schools. Now about one-third of D.C. charter schools are in the no-excuses category, enrolling at least half of the charter student population. (Some of these schools say they are changing, but I haven’t seen real evidence of that.)

Some ‘no-excuses’ charter schools say they are changing. Are they? Can they?

Remember, this was a time when Black communities were ravaged by an epidemic of crack cocaine and criminal justice laws that sent Blacks to jail for far longer sentences than Whites arrested for using essentially the same drug. Hillary Clinton, then first lady, warned against “the kinds of kids that are called super predators, no conscience, no empathy” — which many of us took to mean low-income Black children. In this context, powerful people not familiar with low-income communities were easily seduced by plans to tightly control children who might otherwise grow into dangerous adults.

The D.C. Public Charter School Board was created in 1996, at a time when homicide rates in the District were so high the city was dubbed the “murder capital.” It is no wonder the D.C. Public Charter School Board jumped on the “no-excuses” bandwagon.

What have we gained from this system? As of 2018-19 — the latest data available on the website of the charter school board — only 8.5 percent of Black high school students (about 80 percent of the student population) in charter schools were deemed proficient in math and 21 percent in English Language Arts, according to scores on the standardized PARCC exam.

There are some charter schools that are doing amazing work, but the system itself is ineffective. The vast majority of our students are not remotely ready for the rigors of college coursework.

After untold millions of dollars of investment and the creation of scores of schools — there were 128 operating this year — it is time for us to admit that this experiment is not working as it should.

So what must be done?

The District must rethink its charter schools, and more specifically, charter schools must be integrated. “Chocolate City” has been replaced by a city where upper-income White residents and a more diverse spectrum of Black residents exist in equal numbers.

One of the few scalable policies that dramatically improved academic outcomes for Black students was the integration of American public schools in the 1970s and ’80s. The Performance Management Framework that ranks the quality of each charter school should ensure that schools reflect the demographics of the city as it is today, particularly given that charter schools are not constrained by neighborhood boundaries that enforce segregation in traditional public schools.

New York City provides a replicable, legal model to enact a charter school system that prevents the proliferation of a worrying trend in D.C’s charter schools: elite charters that essentially shut out vulnerable, low-income Black children. (Though the city also has some of the most egregious no-excuses charters.)

What we have now, with some notable exceptions, is a system where highly resourced families crowd into a handful of desirable schools that have impossibly long waiting lists, and students from poor families attend no-excuses schools or charters that struggle to remain open. A school that serves a student body where 6-8 percent of the students meet the definition of “at risk” should not be considered top tier when 51 percent of the students (a statistic confirmed by a charter board staff member) in the entire system are at risk.

Similarly, schools should not be penalized or subtly encouraged to move out low-performing students when they serve student bodies that are overwhelmingly at risk.

“Separate and equal” should not stand in one of the most liberal cities in the United States.

Moreover power needs to be distributed more evenly. At first glance, the concentration of institutional power is not evident at the Public Charter School Board.

Most of the board members, including the current executive director, are Black or Latino. A closer look — and I am including myself in this observation — reveals that we are not remotely similar to most of the families with children attending D.C. public charter schools. Fully 80 percent of these families are African Americans who qualify for free and reduced lunch, which is not the same as at risk, but which is generally seen as a proxy for school poverty.

The people who are on the charter school board are highly educated professionals. Since I began serving on the panel — which has seven rotating volunteers, all appointed by the D.C. mayor — there have been 10 sitting members, half of whom attended Yale, Stanford or Harvard universities, or some combination of the three. We are well-versed in the contours of institutional power and know how to operate inside of its rarely articulated but clearly delineated boundaries. We’ve been rewarded for decoding these rules and abiding by them, which is precisely why we are selected for these coveted roles. We provide cover through optical diversity.

But if we really want to embrace equity, it’s time to rethink the make-up of the Public Charter School Board. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will have a unique opportunity to reshape this board over the coming year as five of its seven members will be termed out.

We need a board with members who reflect the communities served by D.C. charter sector. As cities move away from elected school boards to mayoral appointments, it’s critical that the voices that used to represent low-income communities continue to be present.

In the District, 80 percent of families attending charters are eligible for free and reduced lunch, but the charter school board has not in its 25-year history appointed a single board member who lives in poverty. Why not adjust the PCSB’s contours to reflect the communities in which these schools are located instead of incessantly asking poor Black people to acclimate?

Continuing to govern charter schools without input from low-income parents robs them of agency. This one-way flow of power is precisely the mistake this movement has made at the student level. Involving parents in the co-architecture of the sector would signal an evolutionary step forward.

Lastly, “no excuses” schools must be banned outright. The central failure of the education reform movement is the mimicking of carceral institutions, established and often celebrated by highly resourced outsiders. The idea that low-income Black and Latino students need to be tightly controlled in order to do well is a relic of Jim Crow.

My parents were Protestant ministers whose doctrine was best reflected in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. In their theology, elites look askance at the most vulnerable even though it is the most vulnerable — the poor, the outcasts — who can redeem a flawed world. It is the poor who are sacred. Their unearned suffering is both incessant and redemptive. This inversion of what is truly sacred and what is genuinely profane is a persistent theme in religion because the human spirit is so inclined to side with power; the path of least resistance. The education reform world is no different in this regard.

When I was teaching at Eastern High School in the early 1990s, we forbade our students from wearing T-shirts popular with their generation that sported curse words and gun imagery. Teenagers being teenagers, they pushed back against this restriction accusing us of violating their rights.

Over lunch one day, we put the dress code on trial. In my closing argument I asked the defendant if he would wear an offending T-shirt to his grandmother’s house or to church. “No” he responded. Somewhat theatrically I leaped: “Of course you wouldn’t! Your grandma’s house and church are sacred spaces.” I pulled the snare tightly across the throat of his argument, asking him in a whisper: “Why isn’t my classroom a sacred space?”

Then as now, the sacred places don’t exist in their neighborhoods. Where are the bookstores and the movie theaters and the art studios? They are in the wealthier neighborhoods where the people are sacred.

This hoarding of the sacred expresses itself in remarkable fits of paradox. In the education reform world, those of us who can retreat to our own sacred places sometimes expect to be praised for the simple reason that we take notice of the profane at all.

So even though the education reform world is replete with leaders whose own children are too sacred to attend the schools they found or fund or otherwise support, we are expected to ignore the contradiction when we tout these schools to the general public.

This is because there is an understanding at an almost cellular level that some children deserve sacred spaces and others should gratefully accept what the sacred give them.

In an era when Black Lives Matter signs are ubiquitous and a national conversation is underway about how to untangle our historical caste system, the PCSB has a role to play.

We can create a system that sees every child as sacred, regardless of ethnic stripe or socio-economic status.

And because effective social movements are not led by outsiders, we must create a system where families who attend these schools fully participate in the institutions of power. This is the beautiful, messy contract required by democracy.

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