Wednesday, November 30, 2016

American democracy: Taking a ride on the tiger?

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
1

John Cassidy (New Yorker) defines Trump’s challenge to American democracy. Here are snippets.

During the Presidential campaign, Trump casually incited violence; promised to “lock up” his Democratic opponent; refused to release his tax returns; gave a dystopian Convention speech in which he promised to restore “order”; proposed banning Muslims from entering the country and reinstituting the use of torture on terrorism suspects; and vilified his opponents and critics. And what of today? Trump is surrounding himself with sycophants, ranting on Twitter about how he really won the popular vote (he did not), and boasting that the federal conflict-of-interest laws don’t apply to him.

Bad as it is, this doesn’t mean that Trump is Hitler, Mussolini, or even Putin. He’s Trump, but that, in itself, presents a real danger. Everything about him suggests that when he enters the White House he will continue gleefully transgressing democratic norms, berating his opponents, throwing out blatant falsehoods, and seeking to exploit his position for personal gain. That’s what he does. If anything, the isolation and pressures of the Oval Office might further warp his ego and exaggerate his dictatorial tendencies. Surrounded by yes-men, he could well be tempted to try to expand his powers, especially when things go wrong, as they inevitably do at some point in any Presidency.

The big unknown isn’t what Trump will do: his pattern of behavior is clear. It is whether the American political system will be able to deal with the unprecedented challenge his election presents, and rein him in. Especially with a single party controlling the executive and the legislative branches, there is no immediately reassuring answer to this question.

“Trump sailed to the presidency on … lies and exaggerations, and there’s no reason to think he’ll discover a new commitment to the truth as president,” Stephen Walt, the Harvard foreign-policy realist, writes in a new article in Foreign Policy. “The American people cannot properly judge his performance without accurate and independent information, and that’s where a free and adversarial press is indispensable.” Will the press be up to the challenge? The early signs are mixed.

… most urgently, there is a question of what to do about Trump’s business empire, and the glaring set of conflicts of interest that it represents. A couple of weeks ago, I argued that kleptocracy, rather than autocracy, is the most immediate threat. Since then, a number of ethics specialists and law professors from both parties have called on Trump to sell all of his businesses and place the proceeds in a blind trust. If he doesn’t do this, some of them say, he will be in violation of the emoluments clause in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 9), which bars Presidents from taking payments of any kind from foreign states.

But who will hold Trump to account if he fails to reduce his business entanglements? Richard Painter, a former counsel in the Bush Administration, has argued that the Electoral College, which will vote on December 19th, should refuse to choose Trump if he doesn’t agree to obey the Constitution. Right now, that seems unlikely to happen. Most likely, the task of persuading, or forcing, Trump to distance himself from his business interests will fall upon the next Congress, which will convene in early January. But, of course, both legislative chambers will be under the control of the Republicans. And so far the Grand Old Party, under the guidance of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, has shown no enthusiasm for standing up to Trump, instead intimating that, with its assistance, he will make a fine President.

Which brings us back to the darkest of histories. Referring to Franz von Papen, the conservative German politician who, in January, 1933, persuaded President Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor, Hans-Joachim Voth, an economic historian at the University of Zurich, wrote recently, “the Republican leadership sounds awfully like former Vice Chancellor von Papen and friends. They famously thought of Hitler as the ‘drummer’—a populist whose appeal was useful to them but could be controlled easily.”

By their nature, populist authoritarians aren’t easily managed. “Autocracy is coming,” Voth went on to warn. “Something somewhere between Putin and Berlusconi, if we are lucky; something worse if we are unlucky.” That view, it should be acknowledged, represents a pessimistic reading of the situation. But proving Voth wrong will fall on American democracy, the institutions that claim to embody it, and the people who say they value it.

Trump's cabinet picks: Foxes to guard hen houses

Reported by the Washington Post: Trump names Rep. Tom Price as next HHS secretary. Price is a foe of entitlements - you know, things like Affordable Care (Obamacare), Medicare, and Medicaid.

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a fierce critic of the Affordable Care Act and a proponent of overhauling the nation’s entitlement programs, to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

In a news release early Tuesday, Trump announced his selection of Price, a third-generation doctor who chairs the House Budget Committee and became a champion of Trump’s candidacy. In naming him to join his Cabinet, the president-elect called Price “exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible health care to every American.”

One of the 18 members of the House GOP Doctors Caucus, Price supports major changes to Medicaid and Medicare, health insurance pillars of the Great Society programs of the 1960s. Under his vision, both programs would cease to be entitlements that require them to provide coverage to every person who qualifies. Instead, like many House Republicans, he wants to convert Medicaid into block grants to states — which would give them more latitude from federal requirements about eligibility rules and the medical services that must be covered for low-income Americans. This plan would also require “able-bodied” applicants to meet work requirements to receive health-care benefits — an idea that the Obama administration has consistently rebuffed.

A former chairman of the conservative Republican study committee, Price has been affiliated with the House tea party caucus and has lambasted what he termed a “vile liberal agenda that is threatening everything we hold dear as Americans.” His congressional website describes him as “devoted to limited government and lower spending.”

Some outside groups and watchdogs have warned that such proposals probably would lead to deep cuts for those who use the program. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that at least 14 million people would lose coverage if Congress revokes the Medicaid expansion that has occurred under the ACA.

For Medicare, Price favors another idea long pushed by conservatives, switching it from a “defined benefit” to a “defined contribution.” With that, the government would give older or disabled Americans financial help for them to buy private insurance policies.

And for the rest of us? We’re f#cked.

WAIT! There’s more.

Trump also named Seema Verma, a health-care consultant who was the architect of Medicaid changes in Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana, to run a crucial section of HHS: the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Trump is expected to name hedge fund manager (and campaign treasurer) Steve Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary and Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary. From the Post’s report: “His transportation secretary is likely to be one of the more essential players. Mr. Trump, a real estate magnate, has said that infrastructure redevelopment will be a priority of his first 100 days in office. And Ms. Chao has experience — politically and personally — in navigating the competing centers of power in the capital. She is married to Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump values relevant business experience in pick to head Drug Enforcement Administration

Andy Borowitz (New Yorker satirist) explains why drug kingpin El Chapo is the perfect choice.

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—Just days after picking Betsy DeVos to run the Department of Education, President-elect Donald Trump has tapped another wealthy outsider by naming Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán to head the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In an official statement, Trump said that El Chapo’s “tremendous success in the private sector” showed that he has what it takes to “shake things up” at the D.E.A.

… appearing on CNN, the Trump surrogate Kellyanne Conway said that the selection of El Chapo should surprise no one. “Mr. Trump always said that he would surround himself with the best people,” she said.

When asked why Trump had readily offered a job to El Chapo while still mulling the fate of another former adversary, Mitt Romney, Conway said, “El Chapo might not have voted for Mr. Trump, but that’s because he’s Mexican and in jail, and Mitt Romney is neither.”

KKK: Kakistocracy + Kleptocracy = Korruption

“Conflicts of interest” does not begin to fully describe the threat posed by a President-elect who has no shame. Steve Benen tries to expose Trump’s global business entanglements, Trump’s conflicts of interest create a test for political system. I say “tries” because we don’t know about the full extent of Trump’s financial exposure to foreign interests in the absence of his tax returns and a listing of his investors.What does he owe, to whom, and how much? What influence will be peddled in the new White House?

Doyle McManus addresses the problem in this Daily Star editorial: Trump admits he has a kleptocracy problem, but so far, he hasn’t got a solution.

One option, ethics lawyers say, is for Trump to create a “firewall” between himself and the business. He couldn’t discuss the business with his children or anyone else, and he would have to recuse himself from policy questions that specifically affect the business; his children would have to get government approval for foreign business deals. All of this would be in writing with a White House lawyer empowered to enforce it.

That might be workable — but only if Trump means what he says. He hasn’t measured up to that standard so far.

In the past two weeks, he urged British politicians to lobby against offshore wind farms that could be visible from Trump golf courses in Scotland; boosted his business partner in Turkey in a phone call with the Turkish president; and brought his daughter Ivanka, who handles Trump business in Asia, into a meeting with Japan’s prime minister.

And when all that was reported, Trump erupted on Twitter. “Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world,” he wrote. “Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!”

But it wasn’t only the media. Rep. Justin Amash, a tea party Republican from Michigan, responded with another tweet: “You rightly criticized Hillary for Clinton Foundation. If you have contracts with foreign (governments), it’s certainly a big deal, too. [hashtag]DrainTheSwamp.”

The truth is, opportunities for conflicts of interest will arise whether Trump seeks them out or not. Entrepreneurs will try their luck. Foreign governments will seek to gain favor with the White House by cutting deals with the president’s children, just as they can in a third world kleptocracy. What have they got to lose?

Nothing. They have everything to gain.

The NY Times takes a stab at answering those questions about Trump’s business empire in Potential Conflicts Around the Globe for Trump, the Businessman President

The globe is dotted with such potential conflicts. Mr. Trump’s companies have business operations in at least 20 countries, with a particular focus on the developing world, including outposts in nations like India, Indonesia and Uruguay, according to a New York Times analysis of his presidential campaign financial disclosures. What’s more, the true extent of Mr. Trump’s global financial entanglements is unclear, since he has refused to release his tax returns and has not made public a list of his lenders.

The Times leads with this anecdote that illustrates the entanglements likely to recur in the administration of President Profit.

MANILA — On Thanksgiving Day, a Philippine developer named Jose E. B. Antonio hosted a company anniversary bash at one of Manila’s poshest hotels. He had much to be thankful for.

In October, he had quietly been named a special envoy to the United States by the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte. Mr. Antonio was nearly finished building a $150 million tower in Manila’s financial district — a 57-story symbol of affluence and capitalism, which bluntly promotes itself with the slogan “Live Above the Rest.” And now his partner on the project, Donald J. Trump, had just been elected president of the United States.

After the election, Mr. Antonio flew to New York for a private meeting at Trump Tower with the president-elect’s children, who have been involved in the Manila project from the beginning, as have Mr. Antonio’s children. The Trumps and Antonios have other ventures in the works, including Trump-branded resorts in the Philippines, Mr. Antonio’s son Robbie Antonio said.

“We will continue to give you products that you can enjoy and be proud of,” the elder Mr. Antonio, one of the richest men in the Philippines, told the 500 friends, employees and customers gathered for his star-studded celebration in Manila.

Be proud, America.

Let’s add a fourth K: Katastrophy. We have a President-elect who has no shame and is prepared to do whatever he wants - for whom and to whom.

Benen again:

And so, congressional Republicans, the nation turns to you and wonders what kind of oversight, if any, Americans can expect. How comfortable are House and Senate GOP leaders with a president-elect who appears to be eager to use his office to enrich himself and his family? How far will elected officials lower the bar for propriety in order to accommodate the suspected con man who’ll soon occupy the Oval Office?

The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne Jr. added today, “If Trump wasn’t ready to put his business life behind him, he should not have run for president. And if Republicans — after all of their ethical sermons about [Hillary] Clinton — do not now demand that the incoming president unequivocally cut all of his and his family’s ties to his companies, they will be fully implicated in any Trump scandal that results from a shameful and partisan double standard.”

The congressional Republicans have 52 days till Trump takes office and counting to step up and rein in the shameless one. (You can follow the countdown here.)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Rigged! Voter fraud! Trump's factless feckless explanation for losing the popular vote

The NY Times and other sources report that Trump Claims, With No Evidence, That ‘Millions of People’ Voted Illegally. That’s his way of (a) justifying his loss in the popular vote, and (b) delegitimizing the recount effort mounted by Jill Stein and joined by the Clinton campaign. This is one more reason why Charles Blow is spot on. (See related post below.) We should get along with a cyber bully who trumps up baseless charges against anybody and everybody? Our presidents don’t do that; only dictators do that. Get along? “Never!”

What mattered most in the election: It's the ___, stupid

Bob Lord (Blog for Arizona) has interesting things to say about what really mattered in the now presumed electoral outcome - and what didn’t.

Lord starts by debunking various explanations for why the rust belt went for Trump over Clinton. He then turns to what did matter and quotes the Washington Post Daily 202. (Emphases in the original.)

The bottom line? It was all about trade, and the Clinton camp was told about it in advance.

Back in May, the longtime chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party sent a private memo to leaders in Hillary Clinton’s campaign warning that she was in grave danger of losing not just Ohio but also Pennsylvania and Michigan unless she quickly re-tooled her message on trade. His advice went unheeded.

“I don’t have to make the case that blue collar voters are, to put it mildly, less than enthusiastic about HRC’s positions on trade and the economy,” David Betras wrote in his 1,300 word missive, citing her struggles in recent primaries.

“More than two decades after its enactment, NAFTA remains a red flag for area voters who rightly or wrongly blame trade for the devastating job losses that took place at Packard Electric, GM, GE, numerous steel companies, as well as the firms that supplied those major employers,” Betras, a practicing attorney, tried to explain to the Clinton high command. “Thousands of workers in Ohio … continue to qualify for Trade Readjustment Act assistance because their jobs are being shipped overseas.”

The local chairman feels very strongly now that Clinton could have won Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan if she had just kept her eye on economic issues and not gotten distracted by the culture wars.

“Look, I’m as progressive as anybody, okay? But people in the heartland thought the Democratic Party cared more about where someone else went to the restroom than whether they had a good-paying job,” he complained. “‘Stronger together’ doesn’t get anyone a job.”

“Given the fact that this is a contemporary issue, the HRC campaign should disabuse itself of any notion that it can convince voters that trade is good,” Betras wrote at the time. “Clearly, HRC lacks credibility on the issue—at least in the minds of blue collar voters. Bill Clinton gave us NAFTA and HRC changing her positions on the TPP will make it easy for Trump to paint her as a flip-flopper on this critically important issue.”

In the end, for these voters, it really was about the economy. That should have been the unifying message.

Donald Trump: 'I hope we can all get along', Charles Blow: 'Never.'

Charles M. Blow (NY Times) answers Trump: No, Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along. (h/t Michele Manos and others.)

Here’s some of what Blow had to say about Trump and his attempt to make nice with the newspaper he so vilified. (Emphases are mine.)

Donald Trump schlepped across town on Tuesday to meet with the publisher of The New York Times and some editors, columnists and reporters at the paper.

As The Times reported, Trump actually seemed to soften some of his positions:

He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t seek to prosecute Hillary Clinton. But he should never have said that he was going to do that in the first place.

He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t encourage the military to use torture. But he should never have said that he would do that in the first place.

He said that he would have an “open mind” on climate change. But that should always have been his position.

You don’t get a pat on the back for ratcheting down from rabid after exploiting that very radicalism to your advantage. Unrepentant opportunism belies a staggering lack of character and caring that can’t simply be vanquished from memory. You did real harm to this country and many of its citizens, and I will never — never — forget that.

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never.

I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.

I also believe that much of your campaign was an act of psychological projection, as we are now learning that many of the things you slammed Clinton for are things of which you may actually be guilty.

You slammed Clinton for destroying emails, then Newsweek reported last month that your companies “destroyed emails in defiance of court orders.” You slammed Clinton and the Clinton Foundation for paid speeches and conflicts of interest, then it turned out that, as BuzzFeed reported, the Trump Foundation received a $150,000 donation in exchange for your giving a 2015 speech made by video to a conference in Ukraine. You slammed Clinton about conflicts of interest while she was secretary of state, and now your possible conflicts of interest are popping up like mushrooms in a marsh.

So let me say this on Thanksgiving: I’m thankful to have this platform because as long as there are ink and pixels, you will be the focus of my withering gaze.

I’m thankful that I have the endurance and can assume a posture that will never allow what you represent to ever be seen as everyday and ordinary.

No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.

I will add these words: Bannon, Priebus, Sessions, Flynn, Haley, DeVos, and more to come - Pryor or Sykes? Giuliani?. That’s what he’s done - so far. What is now threatened: Medicare, Social Security, Climate change agreement, Iran nuclear agreement. What is promised to come: more tax breaks, inadequate infrastructure funding, bigger deficits, NATO under threat by Trump’s Russian connection, and don’t forget his myriad business dealings likely to influence decisions at all levels of government. Corruption is the only Republican thing that trickles down.

Remember that Trump is the biggest bully on the beach - you know, the guy who kicks sand in your face.

Morbid Monday: Toons for the week

Morbid Monday
Not good to me
Morbid morning
It was all I feared it would be

With apologies to The Mamas and The Papas and their song “Monday, Monday.”

Here is the fix for morbidity in the form of the link to AZBlueMeanie’s cartoons for the week.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Quote of the Day: Please don't Petraeus again

I’ll pass along the Quote of the Day: Guy Who Passed Classified Information to His Mistress Would Be “Spectacular” Choice for Secretary of State (from Kevin Drum at Mother Jones).

Charles Krauthammer is excited that Mitt Romney and Rudy Giulani might not be the only men in the running for Secretary of State:

But I do think we should keep our eye on a third possibility….and that would be David Petraeus, who to the world represents America at its strongest and most decisive. He is the guy who saved the Iraq War, and is a man who has written and thought deeply about the new kind of warfare that we are involved in. And that, I think, would be a spectacular choice.

Krauthammer, of course, was part of the chorus claiming that Hillary Clinton had betrayed the republic as Secretary of State because she occasionally discussed the administration’s drone program over unclassified email. The emails were all carefully worded; there weren’t very many of them; everything in them had almost certainly been widely reported already; there’s no evidence that anyone ever hacked them; and James Comey said clearly that it wasn’t even a close call to determine that Clinton had done nothing illegal. Nonetheless, she had endangered the country and was obviously unfit to hold office.

But David Petraeus—that’s a different story. Petraeus was head of the CIA; he got smitten by an attractive woman; he knowingly and deliberately passed along classified information to her; he tried to hide the email trail; and he was eventually convicted of mishandling classified information as part of a plea deal. For all I know, he may literally be unable to get a security clearance any longer.

But he would be a “spectacular” choice for Hillary Clinton’s old job. Good God.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, Krauthammer was also one of the conservatives who embraced the conspiracy theory that Obama used the affair to blackmail Petraeus into giving favorable testimony on Benghazi. So who knows what really goes through that head of his.

Daily Snickers & Giggles

Via Politico.com the AP reports that Falwell says Trump offered him education secretary job.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. says President elect-Donald Trump offered him the job of education secretary, but that he turned it down for personal reasons.

Falwell tells The Associated Press that Trump offered him the job last week during a meeting in New York. He says Trump wanted a four- to six-year commitment, but that he couldn’t leave Liberty for more than two years.

Snicker! Trump offered the Secretary of Education to WHO? The guy who does not believe in evolution?

Trump announced Wednesday he had selected charter school advocate Betsy DeVos for the job. Falwell says he thinks DeVos is an “excellent choice.”

Giggle! DeVos was not the first choice. Too bad, Betsy.

DeVos lost in the first round. But she may be worse than Falwell because of her rabid agenda for school choice.

Van Jones on 'constructive disagreement'

Here are a couple of observations from Van Jones via the Washington Post/The Fix: Van Jones isn’t trying to convince anyone: ‘I’m aiming for a more constructive disagreement’.

On the two political parties

… My concern is that we have two political parties that have pretty significant blind spots. The liberals seem to be blind to the very distasteful strain of elitism that seems to have found a home in our party, and the conservatives have a blind spot for a very nasty strain of bigotry that has found a home in their party. That is not to say that every Democrat is an elitist or that every Republican is a bigot; it is to say that both parties have some real work to do to have parties that respect all Americans.

On discourse and disagreement

… I think I’m one of the few national Democrats who has a very long track record of working with the right. … I worked very hard to develop and maintain friendships with all the conservatives and Trumps supporters who came on our air and probably talked more to them during the campaign and after than I did to most national Democrats. I grew up in the rural South, in a red state, all public schools and church on Sunday, so I really understand the frustration a lot of conservatives have with the way that the coastal elite sees them. So I know that there’s a lot of room for more constructive disagreement. I’m not aiming for agreement. In a dictatorship, everybody has to agree. In a democracy, nobody has to agree. I’m not aiming for agreement; I’m aiming for a more constructive disagreement, and I have high hopes for that.

Scriber could not agree more.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Babette's Feast: The gastronomic version of civil discourse

Babette’s Feast is one of the all-time great movies about bringing people together. Vox.com picks it as the flick to watch on this Thanksgiving weekend, Babette’s Feast is a joyous story about a good meal healing social divisions. Here’s a short preview. (You can watch the trailer linked at the vox.com story.)

Babette’s Feast, based on a story by Isak Dinesen, is about a sect of austere, severe religious people living on a remote Denmark coast in the 19th century. They are led by the elderly daughters of the sect’s founder, they view pleasures with suspicion, as a distraction from God, and they eat only bland food.

But their lives are upended when Babette (Stéphane Audran) shows up at the sisters’ home, bearing a letter from an old friend and seeking refuge from violence in her native Paris. The whole story is foggy to them, and they’re suspicious of her. But she offers to work for free, and stays with them for 14 years, gaining their trust.

One day, she wins the lottery (I recognize this sounds outlandish, but stick with me), and instead of using the money to go back home at last, she uses it to prepare a lavish feast in honor of the sect’s founder.

Watching the uptight elders slowly relax away from their arguments and disapprovals into the beauty and conviviality of a meal made with love is pure pleasure. The feast Babette prepares is practically an act of worship — made by someone the group still considers beyond their bonds of acceptability, but who has patiently worked to show them love — and it works. Bridges are built. Bonds are forged. And a really good meal is shared.

Kakistocrats to populate Trump administration

“Kakistocrats” is my extension of kakistocracy which you can learn about below the break - “a form of government in which the worst persons are in power.”

Here is my bill of particulars.

Secretary of State contention seems to be between Giuliani and Romney, and the alt-righters do not like Romney one little bit. Giuliani’s claim for foreign policy experience rests on his travels. From The Guardian’s report: “It is the purpose for much of that travel that it has been under the closest scrutiny in the past few days. He earned a living as a public speaker and consultant for a large number of foreign governments, corporations and organisations. Most controversially, he was paid tens of thousands of pounds to speak out forcefully in favour of an Iranian rebel group, the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK), which was listed as a terrorist organisation by the state department from 1997 to 2012 and is widely considered to operate like a cult because of its control over the lives of its members.”

Trump’s views on vaccinations. Is he the “anti-vaxxer in chief”? Here is a Trump quote from scienceblogs.com. "When I was growing up, autism wasn’t really a factor,” Trump said. “And now all of a sudden, it’s an epidemic. Everybody has their theory. My theory, and I study it because I have young children, my theory is the shots. We’ve giving these massive injections at one time, and I really think it does something to the children.” I’m waiting for an anti-vaxxer to get the top position at NIH or CDC.

Favorites for Supreme Court picks. ThinkProgress reports. “Trump reportedly has two finalists for the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Get used to watching voting rights lose and the religious right win in the Supreme Court.” For example, snopes.com reports “Potential Trump SCOTUS Pick Argued States Should Be Able to Criminalize Gay Sex. In 2003, WIlliam Pryor filed a legal brief arguing that states should be able to enforce laws against homosexual activity, even if it is consensual and private.”

Choice of school choice advocate to head Ed Department. Then there is the choice of arch-choice advocate and Republican big-money gal, Betsy DeVos, as Secretary of Education.

The Daily Kos has more on Trump’s kakistocrats: Bannon, Sessions, Flynn, and, of course, Trump’s kids.

Bowling together: Commonalities vs. individualities among common folks

Below is one Q&A from an NPR interview with Mark Lilla, the Columbia University professor who has challenged identity politics as a basis for Democrats moving forward. (h/t Michele Manos)

NPR: So toward the end of the campaign, we interviewed some voters in Raleigh, N.C., which is a generally Democratic city, and I’m thinking of a young couple. They had two kids. They described themselves as Christian. They oppose gay marriage. And they were saying that even though they didn’t like Donald Trump, they were thinking of voting for him. And one of the reasons was they felt that they were - their very views were making them socially unacceptable. They were feeling a little alienated from the world.

LILLA: Oh, I’ve just been flooded with emails of people just giving testimonies of their lives, saying exactly this. I got an email from a guy who works for some sort of defense contractor, some lower-level job, served in the military. And he said,

look, I served in the military with black and Latino soldiers. My supervisor is a young black woman who’s smart as a whip, and I admire her, and we get along great. I belong to a bowling team with black and Latino coworkers. And when we get together and we talk about politics - I’m almost quoting him - he said, we don’t talk about Black Lives Matters. We talk about what matters to our families. We talk about jobs, and we talk about the fate of the country. That is America, and you can reach those people.

Here is another exchange.

NPR: Who were some of the groups that liberals have appealed to in ways you find to be counterproductive?

LILLA: To take one example, I mean, the whole issue of bathrooms and gender - in this particular election, when the stakes were so high, the fact that Democrats and liberals, more generally, lost a lot of political capital on this issue that frightened people. People were misinformed about certain things, but it was really a question of where young people would be going to the bathroom and where they would be in lockers. Is that really the issue we want to be pushing leading up to a momentous election like this one? It’s that shortsightedness that comes from identity politics.

NPR: I’m just imagining some of your fellow liberals being rather angry at you saying such a thing.

LILLA: Well, those are the liberals who don’t want to win. Those are the liberals who are in love with noble defeats, and I’m sick and tired of noble defeats. I prefer a dirty victory to a noble defeat. The president who did the most for black Americans in 20th century history was Lyndon Johnson, and he got his hands dirty by dealing with Southern senators, Southern congressmen, horse trading with them, cajoling them, learning what not to talk about. And he got civil rights passed and Great Society programs. That should be the model. Get over yourself.

For Lilla, it’s not a matter of being against civil rights. It is a matter of educating the public about them, in this case, transgender rights. But public education is a long slog. Consider how long it took to gain whatever rights gay people have. Consider how long it took to secure the vote for women. In the meantime, there are elections to win and we need to appeal to the commonalities expressed so well by the guy in the bowling league. We do not have to abandon our commitment to civil rights to do that.

Update: For another view, a kind of rambling confused one IMHO, check out Paul Krugman’s column.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Our Kids Have Given Enough!

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.
God, I’m tired of the whole district versus commercial (private and charter) school debate. But, I feel strongly that district schools should be our Nation’s first choice to educate the majority of our children. I will therefore, continue to fight for not only their survival, but also success.
Usually, that means I’m at odds with school choice proponents. Today though, I read a blog post by Robin J. Lake and found myself agreeing with much of what she wrote. Ms. Lake is the Director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. In her piece titled “Will the New Administration Love School Choice to Death?” she writes “Our study of Detroit’s current choice environment, now at 50 percent charter schools, offers an important caution: choice alone is no panacea. In fact, ”School choice“, she writes, ”presented as a panacea is dangerous, both rhetorically and as policy." She points out that in Detroit, charter schools slightly outperform district schools [I found dissenting stories about this], but their students are still some of the lowest-performing in the nation. Detroit school management is dysfunctional to say the least. There are a dozen different government agencies sponsoring schools without any coordination. This results in a parental nightmare with no one managing transportation, no one taking responsibility for closing low-performing schools, and no one making sure special needs students are well served.

Providing the complete package is one of the things district schools generally do well. They transport your child to and from school and they feed him or her breakfast, lunch and maybe even during the summer if need be. They provide both special need and advanced placement education, usually some sort of tutor support where required, and have a full range of programs such as sports, band, art, and much, much, more. And, most importantly, they take all comers, regardless of their socio-economic status, special needs, ethnicity, etc.
The real truth I have come to believe, is that no matter what school option (including district schools) one looks at, it takes sufficient funding, quality administrators and teachers, engaged parents and high expectations to produce real, positive results. It also takes an environment where if the child starts at a disadvantage in school and life, he or she can get help (especially if there is none at home) to rise above it. I once heard a presentation making the point how just one caring adult can make a huge difference in a child’s life. It struck me as incredibly sad to think that some children don’t even have that. That’s right…some children don’t even have one adult that cares about them.
When adults do care, good things usually happen. But, the more focused attention to a problem, the more likely the solution will be successful. Ms. Lake writes, “Choice is a powerful force, but it must be accompanied by thoughtful government oversight and supports for quality. There must be mechanisms to ensure that schools of choice serve the most challenging students. And there must be coordinated efforts across localities to empowejjr parents with information, transportation, and other support systems. Without these efforts, families most often end up with a lot of choice and very little in the way of better options.” If there’s one clear lesson she has gleaned from the last 25 years of charter school implementation, she writes, it’s that “choice and competition are necessary but by no means sufficient to dramatically improve outcomes for students.”
I couldn’t agree more with Ms. Lake that, “To avoid choice becoming permanently polarized…scholars and advocates need to fight new programs that don’t promote quality and accountability.” They must advocate for policies that promote collaboration among school providers, ALL school providers, both district and commercial. They also must address equitable access for students with disabilities and other special needs and, maximize the effectiveness and accountability of any private voucher/scholarship and education savings account proposals.
And to her statement that “The new Department of Education should invest in strategies to prevent harm to students in districts facing major enrollment losses”, I say AMEN! Instead of fighting each other over who has the best answer, just imagine what we could do if we recognized there is good in all options and worked together for the best overall solution. Unfortunately, the pie is only so big and with the GOP fixation on tax cuts, it is getting smaller all the time. As long as the various school choice options are pitted against each other for resources, it is hard to see how we can work together for a better outcome. Something though, has to give and it damn well shouldn’t be our district school kids and their teachers. They’ve given enough.

President Donald J. Profit - Will Trump get away with his conflicts of interest ?

Trump’s conflicts of interest may be front-and-center for his presidency for the years to come. All signs point to this brazenness: Donald Trump thinks he can get away with anything. And he may be right. reported by Paul Waldman (Washington Post/Plum Line).

It’s becoming clearer with each passing day of this presidential transition that like so much of what he said during the campaign, Donald Trump’s promise to separate himself from his business during his presidency was simply a lie. The convenient fiction that Trump offered up is that his children would run the corporation on his behalf as a “blind trust,” which is like referring to a plate of steamed kale as a “hamburger.”

Now, as Trump works to monetize the presidency for his own financial gain like some post-Soviet kleptocrat, we have to look back to the campaign to understand why he’s doing this.

There’s a simple explanation: Donald Trump thinks he can get away with anything.

And it is obvious. In a matter of days, he’s invited his daughter Ivanka, who will be leading the Trump Organization, to sit in on a meeting with the Prime Minister of Japan. He held a meeting with Indian businessmen developing a Trump-branded apartment complex. He had his Washington hotel encourage foreign diplomats to stay there while they’re in the nation’s capital. He pressed British party leader Nigel Farage to fight against a proposed wind farm Trump believes mars the view from a golf course he owns in Scotland.

In response to criticism of these actions, Trump tweeted:

Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!

This made it clear that he sees no problem with having ongoing business interests in foreign countries as president, and if it becomes an issue he will simply blame the media.

So who will stop Trump’s use of high office for personal enrichment?

… Republicans in Congress sure aren’t going to be investigating his conflicts of interest. Democrats have no institutional power to do so. The performance of the most of the news media (with some important exceptions) when it comes to holding Trump accountable has been less than encouraging.

So who’s going to stop him?

Senator Elizabeth Warren, in a letter consigned by Congressman Elijah Cummings, “urged federal regulators to investigate if Trump was already using his public position for private gain.” Vox.com reports Elizabeth Warren calls for an investigation into Donald Trump’s global conflicts of interest.

They ask:

To what extent have Mr. Trump’s conflicts of interest affected his presidential transition? What is the impact and potential impact of his refusal to set up a qualified blind trust to prevent conflicts of interest?

Has Mr. Trump conducted Trump Organization business during the transition? Is there transparency with regard to his activity with his business interests? Have his conflicts potentially affected the policy positions of his new Administration?

Have his family members maintained appropriate distance between the business of the Trump Organization and the presidential transition?

Has the Trump transition used taxpayer dollars efficiently and effectively? Have funds from the transition or associated with the transition (such as reimbursements from the Secret Service) gone to companies owned by Mr. Trump? If so, how much was the total amount paid to Mr. Trump’s business entities? Have the payments been fair and reasonable?

This is but a first step - building public pressure applied to Congress. Check out the vox.com article for where this will head and for the entire text of the Warren/Cummings letter.

What Can Be Done About Trump’s Conflicts of Interest? That’s Up to Congress. reports MotherJones.com. However, His business entanglements are unprecedented, but there’s little to hold him accountable.. Moreover, he has gotten away with just about everything - with impunity writes Brian Beutler at the New Republic.

Through luck and graft and privilege, Trump has gotten away with an incredible amount of chicanery in his life. If people behave ethically, whether out of genuine moral uprightness or the pragmatic desire to escape punishment, they exhibit self-control and an awareness of and respect for the rules. If people don’t particularly care about these things, they risk catastrophic consequences, but higher up the income scale, it becomes easier to escape penalty, and more tempting to let ethics slip further. Impunity serves as a magnet for bad people, and erodes the mental habits that make decent-but-flawed individuals behave ethically, creating a breeding ground for vice.

Trump has inhabited such an environment his entire life. Having suffered no serious repercussions for any of his misdeeds, it is unsurprising that he gives little thought to how his actions affect other people. We can explain all of Trump’s transgressions with this single formative fact. And the most alarming thing about it is the way his air of impunity allows attendant failures–greed, incompetence, cruelty–to feed upon one another.

If Trump seems to be winging it through the early days of the transition, unperturbed by the potential for horror, this is why.

He can’t (or makes no effort to) distinguish between bumbling and purposefulness; ethics and corruption; normal and abnormal behavior—because these distinctions have never been a lasting source of value to him.

He has always acted with impunity and continues to do so.

The $25 million settlement of the Trump U law suit is a case in point. The dollar amount is chump change to a billionaire and, anyway, is a tax write-off. Plus the settlement allowed him to escape a judgement of wrong-doing. Thus he got away with scamming those folks who put their life-savings at his disposal.

The remaining question is whether Congress will rein in President Profit. If they do not, no one else will.

Update - judge blocks overtime pay rule

A few days ago I blogged about how Republicans were firmly against an Obama rule that would have required time-and-a-half overtime pay for millions of American workers earning less than $47,000: Make America Broke Again - Millions of Trump voters to lose overtime pay. I expected Donald Trump to cancel that rule given his promises to undo everything Obama has done - even if it hurts Trump’s base of blue-collar white workers.

Now it turns out that Trump may be in the position of resurrecting Obama’s rule because a federal judge has done the dirty work of voiding the overtime rule. Here’s the NY Times editorial board’s take on it: No Extra Pay for Extra Work.

The issue

The employees who will be hurt by the ruling typically earn low-to-modest salaries in jobs at retail stores, hotels, call centers and other service-sector businesses. Unless their bosses decide otherwise, they will continue to work without overtime pay for anything beyond 40 hours a week.

Federal overtime law, which dates back to 1938, never intended that result. The law has always been clear that an employer does not have to pay salaried workers time and a half for overtime if those workers earn enough to qualify as executives, professionals or administrators. The problem is that the $455-a-week threshold at which workers qualify for white-collar status has not been fully updated for inflation since 1975. As a result, the share of the work force eligible for overtime has dropped, from about 60 percent in 1975 to 7 percent today.

The updated rules the judge blocked would have raised the threshold to $913 a week, about where it would have been if it had kept pace with inflation. In all, about one-third of salaried employees would have been eligible for overtime under the new threshold.

What the judge did

In blocking the rule, Judge Amos Mazzant III agreed with a coalition of states and businesses that the Labor Department had overstepped its authority. He said the law does not allow the Labor Department to decide which employees are eligible for overtime based on salary level alone.

This was a twisted reading of the law and history. There are various tests that can be applied to determine whether a salaried employee is eligible for overtime. But salary alone can determine the answer. If an employer does not pay an employee a salary equal or above the threshold, the employee is entitled to time and a half for overtime, period.

What can be done and by whom

President-elect Donald Trump indicated during the campaign that new rules on overtime should include exemptions for small businesses, a stance that leaves him room to maneuver. He could defend updated overtime standards and still support legislation with the limited carve-out he suggested. Doing so would mean defying congressional Republicans who opposed the new overtime rule, as well as opposing every other pro-worker labor reform of the Obama era. But it would also mean he is paying attention to the needs of the working people who elected him.

For millions of Americans, there will be no extra pay for extra work anytime soon — unless Mr. Trump makes it happen.

If Democrats want to get on the side of American workers this would seem to be one area in which to push. As the Times’ board put it, “The judge’s ruling is a triumph for economic injustice and income inequality.” That should be one of our calls to action.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The debate over identity politics - commonalities versus individualities

Yesterday I posted a piece on thoughts about unity on Thanksgiving day. I referenced a New York Times article by Mark Lilla on The End of Identity Liberalism which I thought made some good points about letting what makes us individuals overwhelm what we have in common. For example:

The moral energy surrounding identity has, of course, had many good effects. Affirmative action has reshaped and improved corporate life. Black Lives Matter has delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. Hollywood’s efforts to normalize homosexuality in our popular culture helped to normalize it in American families and public life.

But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. …

The practical consequence, as Lilla says, is that liberals lose elections.

… it is at the level of electoral politics that identity liberalism has failed most spectacularly, as we have just seen. National politics in healthy periods is not about “difference,” it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny. … Identity politics, by contrast, is largely expressive, not persuasive. Which is why it never wins elections — but can lose them.

Even as I blogged, I felt a rasp, of a little gremlin scratching about in my left hemisphere, of concern of what might be inferred from what Lilla had to say. But I then wrote it up anyway. My little gremlin was right.

The response came in the form of a counter-essay in the New Republic in which the subtitle says it all: Mark Lilla argues that the Democratic Party needs to move beyond identity politics. But that’s precisely where the country’s salvation lies.

I think we need to step back and take a broader view. The distinction being debated is how much to weight our similarities (as Americans) have vs. the weight placed on our differences (ethnicity, gender, etc.) - what I headlined as commonalities vs. individualities. Actually, there is a long history in philosophy and science about a parallel distinction between two ways of acquiring knowledge - nomothetic vs. idiographic. You can read more about that below the break.

Here I will just opine that treating these two perspectives as mutually exclusive would be a terrible mistake. We need to be fighting for protection of civil liberties for all of our citizens regardless of the individual characteristics. And, particularly as Democrats and progressives, we need to frame what we have to offer in terms of the concerns and needs we share with each other. We need to protect our individualities and promote our commonalities, now like never before.

Colbert's tips for surviving Thanksgiving - what you should have known before yesterday

Colbert’s advice is too late for this year, but file it away for 2017. Alternet.org has the very funny pre-Thanksgiving Late Show clip.

Thanksgiving thoughts about unity and diversity

America is increasingly diverse, but celebrating its diversity has created rifts in our society. So says the author, Mark Lilla, of The End of Identity Liberalism, in the NY Times. (h/t Michele Manos)

One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end. Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.

This is not a plea for the good old days of segregation and subjugation.

The moral energy surrounding identity has, of course, had many good effects. Affirmative action has reshaped and improved corporate life. Black Lives Matter has delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. Hollywood’s efforts to normalize homosexuality in our popular culture helped to normalize it in American families and public life.

But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. …

The practical consequence, as Lilla says, is that liberals lose elections.

… it is at the level of electoral politics that identity liberalism has failed most spectacularly, as we have just seen. National politics in healthy periods is not about “difference,” it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny. Ronald Reagan did that very skillfully, whatever one may think of his vision. So did Bill Clinton, who took a page from Reagan’s playbook. He seized the Democratic Party away from its identity-conscious wing, concentrated his energies on domestic programs that would benefit everyone (like national health insurance) and defined America’s role in the post–1989 world. By remaining in office for two terms, he was then able to accomplish much for different groups in the Democratic coalition. Identity politics, by contrast, is largely expressive, not persuasive. Which is why it never wins elections — but can lose them.

Here are anecdotes illustrating the divisions exacerbated by this year’s election.

Well over a year ago I was caught in the middle of a family shouting match. I kept my cool only by blogging about it as it occurred. Here is the re-post.

America’s tribal hatred transcends familial ties

This evening (April 21, 2015), we had an acrimonious dinner with my brother-in-law and his wife. It turned out to be a perfect example of what Dana Milbanks at the Washington Post writes about. (It’s continuing as I write this - yuk.)

We, as a country and society, have devolved and are continuing to devolve, into a tribal society. Think Waziristan. Our political divisions cross-cut familial ties. Mr. and Mrs. Scriber are aligned with FDR-type economics and social actions. Our in-laws really believe that the country is on a fast track to hell because of the gummint and Obummercare.

So we as a country have arrived at something akin to the war between the states. Now it is a war of ideologies. And that war occurs within family groups. There is no give on either side. Read Milbank’s column.

Our relatives no doubt are gloating over Donald Trump’s victory - even though he lost the popular vote by over 2,000,000. Scriber’s family is not alone in their combat triggered by ideological divisions.

The Guardian solicited stories from its readers about “how you’re planning to cope with the political divide in your family this holiday season.” (h/t Paul McCreary)

Thanksgiving is a time for Americans to come together and celebrate; it’s a holiday that many look forward to all year. But this year, some Americans are feeling more anxiety than anticipation, as fallout from this bitter and divisive election continues to create conflict between friends and loved ones all over the country.

The Guardian published ten of the very sad stories. Here are a couple of them.

‘I won’t be coming home for any holiday in the foreseeable future’
My parents voted for Trump. I spent a very emotional afternoon on the phone begging them not to. I am a sexual assault survivor and it made me sick that they would support a man who brags about assaulting women. I have told them that I will not being coming home for any holiday in the foreseeable future. We have not spoken since. – K, Georgia

‘I don’t think of my dad’s house as my home any more’
Last time I was home, my Dad looked me in the eye and said Trump wasn’t racist, and the “racist” things I accused Trump of saying were simply true. I knew then that I wouldn’t be coming home much any more. I won’t be going home for the holidays this year. In fact, I don’t know the next time I’ll visit him or the rest of that side of my family. To be honest, I don’t think of my dad’s house as my home any more. I’ve made my own home; I’ve made my own family with people who share my values and respect my voice. If I’ve learned anything this past week, it’s that there is no room in my life for hateful people, no matter their blood relation to me. – KF, Utah

These are examples of profound, deep-seated differences in political, social, and economic beliefs. As I have said in recent posts, I do not believe that reconciling those differences by one-on-one “civil discourse” is possible. But I respect those of us who are trying and I wish them well on this Thanksgiving day. I’ll let Mark Lilla have the last words that might offer some hope for, and a strategy to implement, that societal healing.

We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another. …

Some years ago I was invited to a union convention in Florida to speak on a panel about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms speech of 1941. The hall was full of representatives from local chapters — men, women, blacks, whites, Latinos. We began by singing the national anthem, and then sat down to listen to a recording of Roosevelt’s speech. As I looked out into the crowd, and saw the array of different faces, I was struck by how focused they were on what they shared. And listening to Roosevelt’s stirring voice as he invoked the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear — freedoms that Roosevelt demanded for “everyone in the world” — I was reminded of what the real foundations of modern American liberalism are.

Universal realization of FDR’s four freedoms would indeed be something to celebrate on some future Thanksgiving day.

Trump picks school choice advocate as education head

The Washington Post reports that Trump picks billionaire Betsy DeVos, school voucher advocate, as education secretary.

The good news is that Trump did not pick Jerry Falwell. The bad news is that he picked DeVos, “a conservative activist and billionaire philanthropist who has pushed forcefully for private school voucher programs nationwide.” (NPR reported yesterday morning that DeVos’ children attended private Christian schools.)

Trump’s pick underlines his promises on the campaign trail to put “school choice” — the expansion of taxpayer-funded charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools — at the center of his efforts on education.

Betsy DeVos serves as chairman of the American Federation of Children and its associated 527 action fund, a platform she has used to support candidates who endorse vouchers and charter schools — and to attack candidates who don’t.

While hers is hardly a household name, she has helped change the landscape of education across the country. Three decades ago, there were no state voucher programs. Now, according to the advocacy group EdChoice, about 400,000 children in 29 states are going to private schools with the help of public dollars, some via vouchers and others through derivative programs, such as tax-credit scholarships or education savings accounts.

DeVos is working toward a scenario in which “all parents, regardless of their Zip code, have had the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their children,” she told Philanthropy magazine in 2013. “And that all students have had the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential.”

Education associations were quick to respond.

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said that DeVos has “consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education.”

“In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America,” said Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers.

Vouchers … send money to religious schools, a fact that has provoked not just political resistance but also a series of legal challenges in state courts. Vouchers and tax credits “force all Americans to pay for religion, whether they believe in that faith or not. That’s fundamentally wrong,” Barry Lynn, executive director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said in 2010.

More on the DeVos family

DeVos and her husband are major GOP donors who, during the 2016 cycle, gave a total of $2.7 million to the GOP and to Republican candidates and political action committees; they made no donations to Democrats, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

DeVos’s brother is Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, one of the most profitable private security firms during the Iraq War. Blackwater came under intense scrutiny after the company’s guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007; four guards were convicted on charges related to the massacre. Prince has since left the company, which is now called Academi.

Update: That was the tame version. Here’s a link to the more caustic appraisal at alternet.org of DeVos and her school choice (aka money laundering) connections and pursuits.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Warning: School Choice Can be Hazardous to Your Community

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

Carol Burris, Executive Director of the Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education, recently wrote about the direction President-Elect Trump appears headed with education. "There are clear indications" she said, "that President Obama’s Race to the Top will be replaced with something that could be called 'Race to the Bank', as the movement to privatize education seems certain to accelerate.” Trump’s promise to redirect $20 billion in federal funds (most likely in Title I monies), is a good indication of that desire to accelerate. Of the redirect, Trump himself said, “Not only would this empower families, but it would create a massive education market that is competitive and produces better outcomes, and I mean far better outcomes.” Recent studies though, just don’t bear out those "far better outcomes" and although Congress previously considered redirecting Title I funds, they scrapped it with the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Nonetheless, Trump seems determined to press ahead as indicated today by his pick of Betsy DeVos, a forceful advocate for private school voucher programs nationwide, as his Secretary of Education.  And although his website claims that school choice is “the civil rights issue of our time”, the Nation's leading public education advocate, Diane Ravitch writes, “school choice is not the civil rights issue of our time, as its proponents claim; it is the predictable way to roll back civil rights in our time.” Her words are born out by the fact that segregation in the United States is now the highest it has been since the early 1960s. And to that point, the Arizona Republic writes that vouchers, tax credits and charters are used “by those who least need help”, “siphon money from traditional district schools”, and “are thinly disguised workarounds that wealthy parents can use to keep their kids out of the district schools where students of color are in the majority.” Jeff Bryant, on educationopportunitynetwork.org, writes, "it’s hard to see how a system based on school choice – that so easily accentuates the advantages of the privileged – is going to benefit the whole community, especially those who are the most chronically under-served.” After all, we all know there are plenty of disadvantaged families who will likely never be able to access school choice options, partially because it really is schools' choice. This reality plays out every day when commercial schools either don't admit those students they don't want or, weed them out early on.  The desire to not call attention to that truth may be part of the reason we've begun to see the rebranding of "school choice" to “parental choice.”

The real problem though is much more than semantics, but what school choice is actually doing to not only our district schools, but our communities as well. Julie Vassilatos, on chicagonow.com, writes that “choice” “quietly diminishes the real power of our democratic voice while it upholds the promise of individual consumer preferences above all else.” (It's all about me.)  The picture she paints of school choice is this: no schoolmates in neighborhoods, children traveling several hours a day to/from school, and “very little political and residential investment in the heart of neighborhood communities.” The school choice model she contends, is “fracturing and breaking down local bonds among families and within neighborhoods.” Could it be that “divide and conquer” is what this is really about? Vassilatos seems to think so contending that, “Democracies require stable communities with strong institutions that are of, by, and for the community. Democracies are built on strong, stable localities.” School choice she claims, is gutting our communities and robbing our voices.

Meanwhile, Carol Burris points out that our Vice President-Elect, Mike Pence, shepherded such a time of gutting and robbing while Governor of Indiana. His voucher program created $53 million in school spending deficits in the last school year alone and the damage continues to this day. If school choice proponents get their way she warns, we could be looking at the same sort of disastrous full-frontal school choice implementation both Chile and Sweden are now trying to dig themselves out of.

We, as a nation, Burris says, need to ask ourselves two important questions. First, do we want to “build our communities, or fracture them?” Second, do we believe “in a community of learners in which kids learn from and with others of different backgrounds”, or do we want to further segregate our schools by race, income and religion. She contends that we cannot have both and that "true community public schools cannot survive school choice." I agree with Carol, but it isn't because the district schools can't compete. Rather, it is because the deck is stacked against them and politicians and profiteers continue to pile on.

Robin Lake, of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which supports many school choice initiatives, said she believe there needs to be a focus on quality: “My fear is [that] a big ideological push for choice as an end, not a means, is a dangerous prospect. It’s not only dangerous for getting schools started that may not be effective, but it’s also dangerous for long-term politics.” Noah Smith on bloomberg.net, basically agrees, if from a different angle. “The evidence is clear that vouchers are a policy with underwhelming potential” he writes, and "if the U.S. cares about academic success, policy makers should focus not on turning the school system into a marketplace, but on reforming existing schools to improve their quality.

As Arthur Camins points out on HuffingtonPost.com, "there are better choices than school choice to improve education." Unfortunately, those choices are not the path of least resistance for our politicians and our short attention spans make expediency a winning strategy. Too bad those who have no voice are the ones who will ultimately suffer the most.

How Trump can make America truly great again - model DJT after FDR

Despite Trump’s non-love-affair with the press, here is friendly advice from a New York Times business columnist, James Stewart, on how to spend a trillion dollars (or two) remaking America: Trump-Size Idea for a New President: Build Something Inspiring.

First off, here is how NOT to do it.

Repealing Obamacare, lowering taxes for businesses and mostly wealthy people, overhauling the immigration system and privatizing Medicare — what congressional Republicans have cited as their top legislative priorities — would be divisive in a nation bitterly split along partisan and geographic lines. But nearly everyone agrees that America has grossly neglected its infrastructure even as the rest of the world, notably China, has raced ahead.

Trump will need to break out of that congressional, ideological mold.

Here’s the short case for why we should do it. Read the Stewart essay for more evidence that we can do it - we’ve done it before (as in FDR’s New Deal projects).

“Our airports are like from a third-world country,” Mr. Trump said at Hofstra University during the first presidential debate. “You land at La Guardia, you land at Kennedy, you land at LAX, you land at Newark, and you come in from Dubai and Qatar and you see these incredible — you come in from China, you see these incredible airports, and you land — we’ve become a third-world country.”

Let me second that: “Our airports are like from a third-world country.” I’ll add to the list of comparisons. In September we flew out of the newly expanded airport in Livingston, Zambia. Right across the border in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, we saw a new international airport being built (by Chinese, I think). We’ve traveled in Indonesia and the Makassar airport is world-class.

Who could disagree? Hillary Clinton also called for a big increase in infrastructure spending.

“The single best thing the federal government can do to promote economic growth is to repair and build the transportation network, the highways, railroads and airports,” said Roger Noll, an emeritus professor of economics at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. “It’s been neglected for 30 years.”

Last year, Dan McNichol, author of the book “The Roads That Built America,” a history of the Interstate highway system, and a White House adviser on transportation issues for President George H. W. Bush, navigated the country in a 1949 Hudson Commodore on a mission to investigate the state of America’s infrastructure.

“I was trying to see if this was really a crisis or a media sensation,” he told me this week from California, where he’s working on the state’s high-speed rail project. “I found out it’s pretty dire in terms of total infrastructure. For a nation that leads the world in global trade, our systems are failing.”

In just a few words, here is what Trump has promised, what he should not do, and what he should do.

Mr. Trump has pledged $1 trillion over 10 years, but no one I spoke to thought that was enough. Doubling that would be more realistic, Mr. McNichol said. And Mr. Trump’s campaign proposal was limited to infrastructure projects that could pay for themselves out of user fees, which seems like a shortsighted approach. Most economists say the best way to finance a big public works program, particularly given today’s low interest rates, would be for the government to borrow most of the money from investors.

But in the spirit of magnanimity, let’s give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt, as Mr. Obama has suggested. He’ll need his own versions of Harold L. Ickes, Roosevelt’s interior secretary, who ran the P.W.A., and his close adviser Harry L. Hopkins, who ran the W.P.A.

Mr. Trump will also need to be hands-on. (Scriber: Should not be a problem for Trump.) Roosevelt asked states and cities for proposals, but he made nearly all the final decisions himself. “F.D.R. was a fanatic about infrastructure, roads, planning,” Mr. McNichol said. “As a commissioner in New York, he helped lay out the Taconic Parkway. He even helped design the picnic tables.”

So where should President Trump start?

I’ll list here just a few of the possibilities.

California high-speed rail
Cost: $65 billion
America’s first modern high-speed rail project would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles, about 400 miles apart, in under three hours.

Northeast Corridor maglev
Cost: $100 billion
Traveling at 300 miles per hour on a cushion of air, magnetically levitated trains could cut the commute from New York to Washington to an hour and render the painfully slow Acela obsolete.

Miami sea wall
Cost: $20 billion
Miami is one of the cities most vulnerable to rising sea levels and ocean surges. If the Atlantic Ocean rises just five feet, 96 percent of Miami Beach will be submerged. A system of levees, sea walls and storm surge protectors like the Maeslantkering in Rotterdam, the Netherlands — giant sea doors that open and close automatically to protect the harbor — could be both attractive and effective. Miami could be a prototype for other endangered American coastal cities and ports, including Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Galveston, Tex.; Savannah, Ga.; and New Orleans.

Texas bullet train
Cost: $10 billion
Even without a federal program, Texans are actively looking for private investors for a high-speed rail link between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. Passengers would make the 240-mile, one-stop trip in 90 minutes. If successful, the line could be extended to San Antonio and Austin, covering the so-called Texaplex, which includes 75 percent of the state’s population and is home to 52 Fortune 500 companies.

The right public works projects, said Mr. Myers-Lipton of San Jose State, would “address the public anger that elected Trump, which is that the regular folks aren’t being taken care of.” During the Depression, “the government built beautiful hotels and golf courses and parks. The vision was, what’s usually for the elite should be for everybody. That’s the power of public works.”

Now you should read Stewart’s full report for more shovel-ready infrastructure projects.

Dems are the opposition party - not the minority party

“Toughen up” underlies the message Ezra Klein (vox.com) is sending to Democrats: Democrats won the most votes in the election. They should act like it.

Democrats should insist, in both appointments and legislation, that Trump govern with some consideration for the majority of Americans who voted for someone else. That should be the cost for their cooperation. Democrats should force both the media and Republicans to take seriously the fact that Trump is governing without a majority, or even a plurality, of the American people behind him, and that that carries with it a responsibility to govern modestly.

This is nothing more, and nothing less, than asking Trump to absorb the weight of the office he holds, and the message of the election he won. Trump is now president of the entire United States of America, not just the people who voted for him, and he needs to act that way. It’s the opposition party’s duty to remind him of that.

So far, there’s been little evidence that the media, the Democrats, or the Republicans really appreciate this. The media is still trying to understand how Trump won. Democrats are still trying to understand how Clinton lost. And Republicans are thrilled that they’re now in power. Everyone is so shocked by the election’s unexpected outcome that they’ve overlooked the actual results.

There’s been a lot of talk about “normalizing” Trump, but this is more fundamental: To ignore the election results and act like the strongest possible version of Trump’s agenda was endorsed by most voters re-historicizes Trump. It makes the election into something it wasn’t, and gives Trump license to govern in a way he shouldn’t.

Elections decide who wins power. They don’t decide how it should be wielded. If Trump governs in a way that respects the center of opinion in the country — a center Democrats appear to hold — Democrats should work with him. If he isn’t, then they should keep pointing that out, and force him to govern alone. They owe their voters nothing less.

BTW - here is another piece of evidence that Trump’s electoral win was not exactly a mandate by the majority of Americans. The Washington Post reports that Clinton won the economy two to one.

In the modern era of presidential politics, no candidate has ever won the popular vote by more than Hillary Clinton did this year, yet still managed to lose the electoral college. In that sense, 2016 was a historic split: Donald Trump won the presidency by as much as 74 electoral votes (depending on how Michigan ends up) while losing the nationwide vote to Clinton by 1.7 million votes and counting.

But there’s another divide exposed by the election, which researchers at the Brookings Institution recently discovered as they sifted the election returns. It has no bearing on the election outcome, but it tells us something important about the state of the country and its politics moving forward.

The divide is economic, and it is massive. According to the Brookings analysis, the less-than–500 counties that Clinton won nationwide combined to generate 64 percent of America’s economic activity in 2015. The more-than–2,600 counties that Trump won combined to generate 36 percent of the country’s economic activity last year.

Clinton, in other words, carried nearly two-thirds of the American economy.

Trump confronts the press and doubles down on his conflicts of interest

Yes, there are two stories here wrapped into a single tale by events during the early part of this week. First there was an acrimonious meeting with TV anchors and new executives in which Trump unloaded on the press. Then there was an on-again-off-again-on-again meeting with the New York Times in which, among other positions, Trump defending his international business connections apparently brushing aside the idea that they represent the potential and reality of multiple global conflicts of interest. I’ll let John Cassidy of the New Yorker explain those conflicts, why they are so troubling, what consequences there might be for Trump the President and the nation, and what Trump might (not) do about them.

Trump takes shots at the press

Trump has had a contentious relationship with the press - to put it mildly. According to David Remnick at the New Yorker, there was a meeting at which Trump and his advisors were lined up against an array of New anchors and network executives. It resembled, according to one source, a “firing squad.”

“Sitting at a large conference table and flanked by his top aides, including Stephen Bannon, Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, and Conway” Trump faced off against “around two dozen anchors and executives from CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, and ABC, including Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Wolf Blitzer, Gayle King, David Muir, and Martha Raddatz.”

Remnick summarizes what he learned about that meeting.

The fantasy of the normalization of Donald Trump—the idea that a demagogic candidate would somehow be transformed into a statesman of poise and deliberation after his Election Day victory—should now be a distant memory, an illusion shattered.

First came the obsessive Twitter rants directed at “Hamilton” and “Saturday Night Live.” Then came Monday’s astonishing aria of invective and resentment aimed at the media, delivered in a conference room on the twenty-fifth floor of Trump Tower. In the presence of television executives and anchors, Trump whined about everything from NBC News reporter Katy Tur’s coverage of him to a photograph the news network has used that shows him with a double chin. Why didn’t they use “nicer” pictures?

For more than twenty minutes, Trump railed about “outrageous” and “dishonest” coverage. When he was asked about the sort of “fake news” that now clogs social media, Trump replied that it was the networks that were guilty of spreading fake news. The “worst,” he said, were CNN (“liars!”) and NBC.

This is where we are. The President-elect does not care who knows how unforgiving or vain or distracted he is. This is who he is, and this is who will be running the executive branch of the United States government for four years.

The over-all impression of the meeting from the attendees I spoke with was that Trump showed no signs of having been sobered or changed by his elevation to the country’s highest office. Rather, said one, “He is the same kind of blustering, bluffing blowhard as he was during the campaign.”

Our president-elect appears to need some help - lessons in anger management and civil discourse come to mind.

Trump talked to the NY Times about his positions

Then, after he had cancelled a meeting with the New York Times, Trump sat down with the Times publisher and reporters for a lengthy meeting.

President-elect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday tempered some of his most extreme campaign promises, dropping his vow to jail Hillary Clinton, expressing doubt about the value of torturing terrorism suspects and pledging to have an open mind about climate change.

Just to be clear - Trump never did have the authority to order prosecution of Clinton - nor to stop it. Here are stories from the NY Times and Washington Post.

He defended Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, against charges of racism, calling him a “decent guy.” And he mocked Republicans who had failed to support him in his unorthodox presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump rejected the idea that he was bound by federal antinepotism laws from installing his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in a White House job. But he said he would want to avoid the appearance of a conflict and might instead seek to make Mr. Kushner a special envoy charged with brokering peace in the Middle East.

Trump embraces conflicts of interest

… in a wide-ranging hourlong interview with reporters and editors at The New York Times — which was scheduled, canceled and then reinstated after a dispute over the ground rules — Mr. Trump was unapologetic about flouting some of the traditional ethical and political conventions that have long shaped the American presidency.

He said he had no legal obligation to establish boundaries between his business empire and his White House, conceding that the Trump brand “is certainly a hotter brand than it was before.” Still, he said he would try to figure out a way to insulate himself from his businesses, which would be run by his children.

Pressed to respond to criticism … he was defiant. He declared that “the law’s totally on my side” when it comes to questions about conflict of interest and ethics laws. “The president can’t have a conflict of interest,” he said.

He said it would be extremely difficult to sell off his businesses because they are real estate holdings. He said that he would “like to do something” and create some kind of arrangement to separate his businesses from his work in government. He noted that he had turned over the management of his businesses to his children, which ethics lawyers say is not sufficient to prevent conflicts of interest.

He insisted that he could still invite business partners into the White House for grip-and-grin photographs. He said that critics were pressuring him to go beyond what he was willing to do, including distancing himself from his children while they run his businesses.

The scale of Trump’s conflicts of interest is mind-boggling

John Cassidy of the New Yorker shows us the international scope of Trump’s business empire and explains why service to “America, Inc.” is fundamentally in conflict with ownership of “Trump, Inc.”

… He evidently still intends to transfer managerial control (but not necessarily ownership) of his businesses to his kids. And rather than make any real break with his interests, he’ll leave things at that. Which means that every time President Trump deals with a country that contains a business with his name attached to it, there will be questions about whose interests he is really looking out for.

These questions will be incessant. According to an analysis of public financial filings that the Washington Post published over the weekend, “At least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries and territories across South America, Asia and the Middle East.” Trump owns some of these enterprises, such as various golf courses in Scotland and Ireland, either by himself or with partners. Many of his other interests are licensing arrangements, in which local businessmen—real-estate developers, usually—have paid to use the Trump name. Along these lines, there is a Trump Tower Mumbai, a Trump Towers Istanbul, and a Trump Tower Punta del Este, on the coast of Uruguay.

And as my colleague Adam Davidson pointed out a few days ago, the Trump business empire is now expanding rapidly. “The firm added three new hotels, in Washington, D.C., Canada, and Panama, during the year and is looking at opportunities in the Dominican Republic, London, Frankfurt, Munich, Amsterdam, and Tel Aviv,” Davidson wrote. “In Asia, a hotel and residential complex in Bali, Indonesia, is under way. … Buildings with his name in Baku, Azerbaijan, and Istanbul have faced some problems, but the company is undaunted.”

Once you grasp the geographical spread of Trump’s interests, it is hard to see how the potential conflicts of interest could ever be resolved. Take the Middle East, a region of the world that every modern American President has had to focus on. According to the Post, in addition to the Trump-branded real-estate development in Turkey, Trump has business ties to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, two oil-rich countries that have funded radical Islamic movements. And, just last year, Trump registered eight companies named after Jeddah, the second-largest city in Saudi Arabia.

So what can Trump do?

As far as I can see, there are only two ways out of this conundrum. One would be for Trump to decide that he doesn’t want the job of President after all, and let Mike Pence do it. The other option is for Trump to sell off his businesses and put the money raised into a bank account, U.S. Treasury bonds, or a genuinely blind trust, which wouldn’t inform him about what investments it had made.

Late last week, a number of good-government groups and government-ethics lawyers issued a public letter that called on Trump to follow the latter course. “We understand that this arrangement would require you to sever your relationship with the businesses that bear your name and with which you have invested a life’s work,” the letter said. “But whatever the personal discomfort caused, there is no acceptable alternative—and your duties to the American people now must prevail over your personal ties to the Trump Organization businesses.” One of the letter’s signatories was Norm Eisen. Another was Common Cause, an organization whose vice-president of policy and litigation said, in a statement, “Turning your businesses over to your children is what leaders of Banana Republics do. Americans expect and deserve better from the Trump Administration.”

None other than the Wall Street Journal advises Trump to follow the second course and divest - completely.

Trump and his advisers will be tempted to shrug off these demands as the work of Democrats and other ill-wishers. They may have more difficulty in dismissing the views of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, a very influential voice in Republican circles. “Mr. Trump’s best option is to liquidate his stake in the company,” an editorial in the Journal said on Friday. And it went on: “If Mr. Trump doesn’t liquidate, he will be accused of a pecuniary motive any time he takes a policy position… . Along the way Mr. Trump could expose himself to charges, however unfair, that he is violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits public officials from accepting gifts or payment from foreign governments.” In conclusion, the editorial said, “The presidential stakes are too high for Mr. Trump to let his family business become a daily political target.”

That will be the reality facing Trump if he ignores the advice to liquidate his holdings—and it will be a perfectly justified reality. The choice is his, and he seems determined to brazen it out. “Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world,” he said Monday night on Twitter. “Only the crooked media makes this a big deal.”

And so it goes. Round and round. Trump’s conflicts of interest are dissed by blaming the press. Try as he might, Trump the President-elect cannot distance himself from Trump the "blustering, bluffing blowhard as he was during the campaign.”