Most of us have already had a case of COVID

From the Johns Hopkins daily health newsletter:

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US SEROPREVALENCE 

A study published April 26 in the US CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) estimates that 58% of the US population, including 75% of children, have been infected with SARS-CoV-2. Many of those infections occurred during the winter’s Omicron surge. The study reports on data from national commercial laboratories across all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. Between September 2021 and February 2022, labs conducted convenience samples on blood specimens that were submitted for clinical testing in their labs, excluding samples that were testing for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies upon initial receipt. The median sample size for the group of labs was 73,869 each month, with a drop in the number of tests to 45,810 in February 2022, likely caused by disruptions from the surge in domestic infections fueled by the Omicron variant. The research team weighted samples by demographic data to produce estimates of seroprevalence. 

The team saw a slight, but steady, increase in seroprevalence between September and December 2021, increasing between 0.9-1.9% every 4 weeks. At the end of this collection period, the seroprevalence across the US sample was estimated to be 33.5%. Between December 2021 and February 2022, at the height of the Omicron surge, the team observed a spike in national seroprevalence, rising from 33.5% to 57.7%. Notably, during this period, children aged 0-11 saw an increase from 44.2% to 75.2% and those aged 12-17 saw a similar increase from 45.6% to 74.2%. Adult populations saw spikes in seroprevalence from 36.5% to 63.7% for individuals aged 18-49, 28.8% to 49.8% for those 50-64, and 19.1% to 33.2% among those aged 65 and older. The researchers noted several limitations in their study design, including restrictions of applicability tied to convenience sampling; limited race and ethnicity data; the potential for sampling bias due to the setting of sample collection; and the possibility that infection following vaccination resulted in reduced antibody titers.  

SARS-CoV-2 testing is only able to catch a fraction of cases occurring in the country, so serosurveys present an opportunity to better understand the scale of infections. Still, the study may not represent a full picture of COVID-19 in the country, nor does it indicate whether or not individuals with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies have persistent immunity to new infections. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted the study’s results and vaccine uptake show an increased level of community protection from SARS-CoV-2. She added that vaccination remains key in creating a more resilient population, urging those who remain unvaccinated, including those previously infected, to get vaccinated. 

What Economists Get Wrong

What Economics Gets Wrong (Almost Everything)

BY IAN WELSH 

ON APRIL 25, 2022 

Economics as a discipline is nearly worthless. What it teaches mostly isn’t true.

  • Decreasing price does not always increase demand and increasing price sometimes increases demand (aka. the law of supply and demand isn’t a law.)
  • People do not optimize utility (by any definition that is not circular).
  • People are not rational.
  • The market is not rational.
  • The market does not discount the future well at all.
  • Competitive markets are created by government, and destroyed by private actors.
  • Markets do not and never have properly priced externalities and never will do so while humans remain human. The only way to price externalities properly is thru government or custom (government in drag.)
  • Profit or loss in any enterprise in a modern economy is a social choice, entirely based on government and social decisions and mostly unrelated to fundamentals like energy in and energy out.
  • Railroads are far more efficient, energy wise than roads, but govt. subsidizes roads.
  • The vast majority of profit is based on market position and sustained profit is almost always based on having an unfair advantage that makes the market less competitive and therefore not have the virtues of competitive markets.
  • Genuine competitive markets don’t exist, and no businessman wants them to because they drive profits to almost zero.
  • The best economies the world ever saw went out of their way to keep wages and prices high, not to reduce them.
  • Any concentration of market power that is not regulated or broken up will engage in practices intended to buy/undermine government and destroy wages.
  • Higher CEO pay is correlated with lower company performance.
  • You cannot have a good economy for long without keeping the rich poor, weak and under your thumb. It is impossible.
  • Monetary efficiency between countries is bad. It should be hard to move large amounts money in and out of another currency or country.
  • Financial market efficiency is generally bad, and effectiveness and shock pads should be optimized for rather than financial efficiency.
  • Countries should, if it is possible, make or grow everything important inside their own borders and not trade for it.
  • People perform better when happy, healthy and at least moderately autonomous. The literature on this is so abundant it is silly. Bosses are authoritarian assholes because they like being authoritarian assholes who micro-manage employees. It’s what Bezos gets out of being Bezos.
  • Private money creation concentrated in a few hands is destructive to the economy, democracy and freedom (authority: Thomas Jefferson). It is also anti-competitive market, since you can’t compete with people who create money out of thin air.
  • Moderate levels of inflation are good, not bad, if they include assets, because they take away the control of people who won the past so they don’t control the present and the future.
  • Taxes should be low on ordinary people and high on anyone rich, including wealth and estate taxes. No one should be rich because their parents were.
  • People who lend money should lose that money if the person who they loaned it to can’t afford to repay it. The function of lending is “I know how to pick people who will use the money well.” If you can’t do that you deserve to lose the money, and govt shouldn’t collect it for you
  • bankruptcy should be easy, fast and leave people whole. Economically crippled people are not in the interest of society as a whole.
  • A UBI’s main function is allowing people to do what they want to do, and forcing bosses to make jobs good, not shitty.
  • Pensions should simply be handled by government or a general UBI.
  • Comparative advantage is a terrible strategy for improving your economy.
  • Free trade is garbage for most countries.
  • Raising the minimum wage is not correlated with increased unemployment
  • The unemployment rate measures supply driven wage push inflation pressure, not how many peole can’t get a job.
  • Initial capital for capitalism was primarily acquired by theft, first of European commons, then of non-European land, people and resources.

Essentially everything Economics teaches is wrong. If and when their prescriptions for action are followed, disaster ensues. With almost no exceptions every country which ever developed did so by not doing what economists say to do.

Economics also has a morally corrosive affect on those who study it.  People mostly don’t free ride or otherwise act according to the maxims of economics: but people who have studied economics do.

Because economics is wrong and harmful about almost everything, and because economists do not say “please don’t follow our advice”, Economics should probably be banned and all Economics faculties shut down.

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Truckers Unite!

There was a time when driving a long-haul truck was a pretty good job. They had organized a strong union, and had decent wages, conditions, health care benefits, and more. It was said that in order for a person to get a job in that field, someone else had to retire.

(Yeah, I am quite aware that much of the Teamsters union leadership has been often extremely corrupt and in cahoots with organized crime. That sort of nefarious activity never benefits the rank-and-file workers!)

After deregulation began around 1980, many trucking companies sprung up that were anti-union, and required their drivers to work longer hours and more miles for less pay and fewer benefits. Right now, the annual turnover rate in the trucking industry is over 90% per year! Think about what that means!

Very simply, this is because driving a long-haul truck is now such a crappy job that workers very frequently quit. That’s why one sees billboards advertising for anybody with a Commercial Drivers’ License (CDL), because the companies are desperate for warm bodies behind those wheels. One result of all these brand-new, inexperienced drivers, is that since 2009, there has been a serious increase in the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks and buses> Not only the absolute number of crashes, but also if you divide the number of such crashes by the total number of miles driven.

See these two graphs that I prepared using data from the US DOT. While this data does not go past 2018, my understanding is that the pronounced upward trend continued into the current pandemic era as well. Part of the reason is that drivers are exhausted — IIRC they generally don’t get paid for all of the time that they have to wait around for somebody either to load or unload their truck, nor for time stuck in traffic: just by the mile.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the many truckers that have to poop and pee into little containers in their sleeping compartments, because there is nowhere else to do that? Not fun.

It looks like nearly a 50% increase in the total number of fatal crashes from 2009 to 2018

If all long-haul truck drivers organized themselves properly into a strong, honest union, and were able to prevail against the billionaires and banks that own the big trucking firms, they could do a lot of good for themselves and the public as a whole by reducing their actual work hours to something manageable, thus avoiding exhaustion and many of the accidents and near-misses that happen when a driver is drowsy. In addition, with better pay and benefits and more reasonable hours, then we would have many fewer people uninsured or bankrupt, more stable family lives, more home ownership, and all the rest.

It would be a hell of a struggle though, because the bankers and billionaires (including Jeff Bezos, who owns the Amazon juggernaut) that own those trucking lines do not want to reduce their profit margins.

Remember: if all long-haul bus and truck drivers were to go on strike, then the whole country would grind to a halt.

It would be a far better struggle than the idiotic MAGA caravan that is currently going around the DC beltway, whose main complaints seem to be that they don’t like any of the COVID vaccines and that they think that the last election was stolen.

Judging by the signs on their vehicles, that pitiful handful of deluded men that I saw on the Beltway a few days ago appear to think that 20-to-1 odds **against** you is a good bet — because those who are unvaccinated are 20 or more times likely to get seriously sick and die from COVID than those who are fully vaxxed and boosted. (link)

I guess that’s the job of fascists: to prevent working people from uniting against the actual ruling class of billionaires and bankers, and instead to get workers to fight each other along racial, ethnic, or linguistic lines.

“Let me be like Jesus!”

Would you *really* like to be like and to live like Jesus did?

Steven Ruis explains


Dear God, Make Me Like Jesus

by 
Steve Ruis

Believe it or not, I saw this plea/prayer in print recently.

Make me like Jesus.

I am reminded of the skit created by the comedy duo of Burns and Schreiber, “The Faith Healer,” in which a faith healer was approached by a man with a mangled hand and then who prayed “Dear God, make that one hand like the other; dear God, make that one hand like the other!” and then the man had two mangled hands. I guess it was one of those “be careful what you ask for” things.

Okay, I will make you like Jesus.

First you will live to the age of thirty, not doing anything of note. You do not go to college, or play sports, or even get a decent job. You do not marry, nor do you have children.

Then you embark on a preaching mission, for which I will let you have a posse, that will last a year or three, I am not sure. You will travel around during that time (VW bus?) sharing your wisdom.

Then you will be executed by the government for sedition. This being a modern enlightened age, the trial, conviction, and execution will take many months, even years, but basically that is the upshot.

You will be buried and then resurrected, but because of modern funerary practices (a rich believer made sure you were buried with all of the accouterments), you will be locked into a metal casket buried in a concrete surround in a grave yard from which you will not escape and then you will die a second time, this time from suffocation.

Ta da!

Is that what you wanted?

Published in: on March 20, 2022 at 9:37 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

‘Beatings Must Continue Until Morale Improves’

The ‘Value-Added Measurement’ movement in American education, implemented in part by the now-disgraced Michelle Rhee here in DC, has been a complete and utter failure, even as measured by its own yardsticks, as you will see below

Yet, the same corporate ‘reformers’ who were its major cheerleaders do not conclude from this that the idea was a bad one. Instead, they claim that it wasn’t tried with enough rigor and fidelity.

From “Schools Matter“:

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How to Learn Nothing from the Failure of VAM-Based Teacher Evaluation

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform is a most exclusive academic club lavishly funded and outfitted at Brown U. for the advancement of corporate education in America. 

The Institute is headed by Susanna Loeb, who has a whole slew of degrees from prestigious universities, none of which has anything to do with the science and art of schooling, teaching, or learning.  

Researchers at the Institute are circulating a working paper that, at first glance, would suggest that school reformers might have learned something about the failure of teacher evaluation based on value-added models applied to student test scores. The abstract:

Starting in 2009, the U.S. public education system undertook a massive effort to institute new high-stakes teacher evaluation systems. We examine the effects of these reforms on student achievement and attainment at a national scale by exploiting the staggered timing of implementation across states. We find precisely estimated null effects, on average, that rule out impacts as small as 1.5 percent of a standard deviation for achievement and 1 percentage point for high school graduation and college enrollment. We also find little evidence of heterogeneous effects across an index measuring system design rigor, specific design features, and district characteristics. [my emphasis – GFB]

So could this mean that the national failure of VAM applied to teacher evaluation might translate to decreasing the brutalization of teachers and the waste of student learning time that resulted from the implementation of VAM beginning in 2009?

No such luck.   

The conclusion of the paper, in fact, clearly shows that the Annenbergers have concluded that the failure to raise test scores by corporate accountability means (VAM) resulted from laggard states and districts that did not adhere strictly to the VAM’s mad methods.  In short, the corporate-led failure of VAM in education happened as a result of schools not being corporate enough:

Firms in the private sector often fail to implement best management practices and performance evaluation systems because of imperfectly competitive markets and the costs of implementing such policies and practices (Bloom and Van Reenen 2007). These same factors are likely to have influenced the design and implementation of teacher evaluation reforms. Unlike firms in a perfectly competitive market with incentives to implement management and evaluation systems that increase productivity, school districts and states face less competitive pressure to innovate. Similarly, adopting evaluation systems like the one implemented in Washington D.C. requires a significant investment of time, money, and political capital. Many states may have believed that the costs of these investments outweighed the benefits. Consequently, the evaluation systems adopted by many states were not meaningfully different from the status quo and subsequently failed to improve student outcomes.

So the Gates-Duncan RTTT corporate plan for teacher evaluation failed not because it was a corporate model but because it was not corporate enough!  In short, there were way too many small carrots and not enough big sticks.

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

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[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)  

Another Unsuccessful ‘Reformer’ to head NYC Public Schools

Someone named David Banks will most likely be the next head of New York City’s public school system. Gary Rubinstein, a math teacher and prolific blogger at Stuyvesant HS there, had never heard of the fellow, even though Banks had founded and led a network of nearly a dozen NYC public schools called the Eagle Academy for Young Men. So Rubinstein looked at the public record, and found that on just about all measures that Reformsters use, those schools are mostly failures. However, none of the local news outlets (NY Times, NY Post, etc) appears to have examined that record.

The record is not good. Read Rubinstein’s post for details.

I followed the links he gave, and found the following graphics for a number of the schools in that network. Feel free to explore some on your own by going here and then typing the word “eagle” and choosing any one of the schools.

Note the dark blue dots in the right hand graph in each case that I copied and pasted; they all, without exception, showed that the schools in that ensemble of schools, showed that they had both low average performance by the students AND had a low impact (meaning, they didn’t raise the academic performance of their students) by comparison with all of the other public schools in New York City.

Why do ‘reformers’ get a pass from the media, even though they never succeed at pulling off what they so boldly promise?

Across the Bound’ry Lines / Across the Color Lines

I wish more white working-class Americans agreed with these thoughts. But, sadly, many seem to be following right-wing, racist propaganda and find that immigrants are their enemy, rather than the handful of billionaires who own more wealth, combined, than the bottom 50% of the world’s population.

The lyrics are in the tradition of Woody Guthrie: borrow a tune that’s quite singable and well known, and change the lyrics either a little or a lot to push anti-racist, pro-working class point of view. Gary, the author of this version, worked as a coal miner in West Virginia.

The tune is ‘Silver Threads and Golden Needles’, which also inspired these revised lyrics.

.

We don’t want your patriotism, with a flag on ev’ry tomb

We don’t want the war you promise, to lead us to our doom.

But you think we should be happy, with your medals and your fame,

To shoot our fellow workers, in the imperialistic game..

.

Bosses’ lies and racist poison cannot bend this heart of mine

Solidarity forever, across the bound’ry lines!

You can’t buy our love with money

‘Cause we never were that kind,

So we raise our fists in unity across the bound’ry lines.

.

We don’t want your racist bullshit, from your genocidal brains,

We don’t want our class divided, while you bosses hold the reins.

But you think we should be happy, in our color-coded chains

Confused and more exploited, while your profit margins gain.

.

Bosses’ lies and racist poison cannot bend this heart of mine!

Solidarity forever, across the color lines!

You can’t buy our love with money

”Cause we never were that kind,

So we raise our fists in unity across the color lines! (2x)

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.

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