Sunday, April 30, 2017

Trump to Senate: "When I call, you come."

No, he didn’t say that exactly, but the meaning is a reasonable inference given that Trump summoned all 100 senators to a briefing at the White House.

The Washington Post asked: Trump’s administration summoned all 100 senators to the White House to discuss North Korea. Why?

Salon answered:Donald Trump’s North Korea briefing was a political stunt to get senators to come to him. “I didn’t hear anything new,” John McCain told CNN about Trump’s emergency North Korea summit at the White House.

Scriber has a slightly different take: Trump was exercising his power over Congress by dissing the Senate.

Aaron Blake at the Washington Post reports that Trump is now talking about consolidating his power

President Trump has suggested that the judiciary doesn’t have the authority to question him. He was a very early proponent of nuking the filibuster for Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. And he recently raised eyebrows by congratulating Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the expansion of his presidential powers — echoing his previous admiration for strongman leaders.

Now Trump is talking about consolidating his own power.

In an interview with Fox News that aired Friday night, Trump dismissed the “archaic” rules of the House and Senate — using that word four times — and suggested they needed to be streamlined for the good of the country.

Whether this is just him blowing off steam or signaling what lies ahead, it’s significant. Because it suggests a president, yet again, who doesn’t agree with his own powers being limited or even questioned. Remember when senior policy adviser Stephen Miller declared “the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned?” This is more of that kind of attitude.

He wants more power — and he wants it quickly. It’s not difficult to connect this to his past admiration for authoritarian leaders, and these comments are likely to give Democrats (and even some in the GOP establishment) plenty of heartburn. This is a demonstrated pattern for him, for all the reasons listed at the top of this post.

Whether he targets the filibuster specifically or not, his attitude toward his own power is clear: The more, the better. He’s already gotten a taste for rolling back the filibuster, and after just 100 days of frustration, he already wants more.

Kathleen Parker (Washington Post) says that Disliking Trump is getting very boring

Perhaps, as the BBC’s Katty Kay tweeted Friday, “Trump talks in superlatives. We should all get used to that. It doesn’t mean he acts in superlatives too.” While likely so, some thanks are owed to Congress for applying the brakes on his bigger initiatives. What Kay’s comment really suggests, however, is profoundly distressing: We have a president who should be ignored.

To this end, I shall try. Disliking Trump, even for all the right reasons, is exhausting and unsustainable. It’s also boring. With 265 days still left of Trump’s first year — talk about exhausting — our highest calling is to encourage wiser men and women to prevail, to ignore most of what Trump says and to keep our eye on the bouncing ball.

Where it lands, nobody knows.

And this last line is why I think we cannot afford to be bored by Trump’s tirades. His full-court press against the judiciary and media and anyone else who calls him out and his push for more personal power represent real threats to our democracy.

Magically Madeover Moderate Martha McSally votes against transparency and accountability in government

The AZBlueMeanie reports this morning that the AZ House GOP delegation votes to maintain the Trump swamp of conflicts of interest and corruption.

Democrats have forced seven votes in as many weeks on the House floor on resolutions calling for Donald Trump’s tax returns, all of which were defeated along party lines. An [eighth] vote failed this week. …

And what did our CD2 Rep. Martha McSally do? What else? She behaved just as she has always done - voted consistently with Trump’s views and toed the GOP party line.

Our Arizona House GOP delegation, including the local media’s invention of the mythical moderate Republican Rep. Martha McSally, have consistently voted to maintain the Trump swamp of conflicts of interest and corruption by rejecting any transparency and public disclosure.

Voting information below is from the Daily Star’s Capitol link: How members of Congress from Aritona voted on major issues (h/t AZBlueMeanie).

McSally - before
McSally - before the MMM

Disclosure of Trump Tax Returns:
The House on April 26 blocked, 234–191, a parliamentary attempt by Democrats to force floor debate on a bill now in committee that would require presidents and major-party presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns for the preceding three years. A yes vote was to quash the Democratic bid for disclosure. (H Res 275)
Yes:
McSally, Gosar, Biggs, Schweikert, Franks
No:
O’Halleran, Grijalva, Gallego, Sinema

Congressional Oversight of President Trump:
Voting 230–193, the House on April 27 blocked a Democratic bid for floor debate on a measure now in committee that would start congressional oversight of ethics and conflict-of-interest issues involving President Trump, in areas ranging from the public disclosure of official visitor logs to overlaps between the president’s business holdings and official acts. A yes vote was to quash the Democratic measure during debate on H Res 280.
Yes:
McSally, Gosar, Biggs, Schweikert, Franks
No:
O’Halleran, Grijalva, Gallego, Sinema

McSally - after
McSally - afterthe MMM

Combined with McSally’s consistent (that would be 100%) voting along Trumpian lines, these votes give lie to the new and improved Martha McSally. The make-over is purely cosmetic (cf. head shots) and Your Scriber debunked the politically moderate make-over in the 2014 election season: A Magical Moderate Makeover for Martha McSally (posted here on July 28, 2014). It’s MMM for short.

OK, don’t get on my case about being sexist. I practice EO - equal offensiveness - by following Molly Ivins in referring to Rick Perry as Governor Goodhair. …

I then reported the transcript of her latest campaign ad in which unidentified speakers praised McSally (with no details). For example:

(Jamie [no last name given], speaking) “Martha is the most determined, trustworthy, loyal person I know.” [This might be a line spoken by brain-washed soliders about Raymond Shaw (The Manchurian Candidate).]

And here is one of McSally’s responses:

(Martha McSally, speaking) “I am running for Congress I don’t walk by a problem. I have a fire in my belly to make a difference and when things are broken, I want to fix them."

Fix. Verb. To vote against transparency and accountability and to vote for conflicts of interest.

Clearly, McSally’s handlers learned from her previous defeats and are presenting a softer, kinder, more centrist image. Just remember: what I recall from a 2012 primary debate is that she is the one who said there is no difference between her and her then opponent, Jesse Kelly, with respect to core values. That’s why I place no credibility in the new McSally. The old Colonel McSally still lurks, but now just gone MIA - Moderate In Appearance.

That was the situation in 2014 and 2016 and continues to this day. CD2 is but a political stepping stone for the Magically Made-over Moderate Martha McSally. It will continue to be in her interest to vote along with other Trumpists until the CD2 voters give her the heave-ho.

Remember in November.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The AZ legislature's funding of public education is unconstitutional

This is required reading from AZBlueMeanie (Blog for Arizona), Arizona’s lawless Tea-Publican legislature and public education. What motivated the AZBlueMeanie post is this story by Linda Valdez in The Republic (azcentral.com): Who cares what Arizona’s Constitution says about education? Not Republicans.

I’ll quote some snippets from the Blue Meanie’s post.

I have made these constitutional arguments about public education in Arizona for years, but it’s nice to see The Republic’s Linda Valdez write an opinion that contextualizes the constitutional arguments in the current debate over public education in Arizona.

The Constitution is on the side of the people. It mandates a “system of common schools” that are “open to all pupils” and are “as nearly free as possible.” (Article XI, Section 6)

The Constitution also says: “(T)he Legislature shall provide by law for an annual tax sufficient, with other sources of revenue, to defray the necessary ordinary expenses of the state … “ (Article IX, Section 3)

Article XI, Section 10 calls for “taxation” to “insure proper maintenance of all state educational institutions.”

So what do our intrepid lawmakers do?

In addition to underfunding traditional public education, our GOP lawmakers continue diverting money from public schools to private and religious schools.

That’s despite Article XI, Section 7, which says “No sectarian instruction shall be imparted in any school or State educational institution …”

This year’s expansion of publicly funded vouchers for private and religious schools came despite strong evidence that the program contributes to a two-tier system that is nowhere mentioned in the Arizona Constitution.

Unanswered Question: When will the first lawsuit be filed against this unconstitutional “vouchers for all” bill, and who will be the plaintiffs filing it? I assume that it is already in the works and the litigants are just waiting for the appropriate time to announce the lawsuit.

But the thing is: the state supreme court ruled in favor of vouchers, effectively legitimizing money laundering. Here’s part of the March 21, 2014 report from the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required), Supreme Court deems voucher-like program legal.

Without comment, the high court refused to disturb a Court of Appeals decision which said the program, officially dubbed “empowerment scholarship accounts,” does not run afoul of a state constitutional provision that bars public funds from being used to subsidize private and parochial schools. That court said the fact the parents control the money was sufficient to make the program legal.

The state supreme court flunked Logic 101. Money laundering is an instance of transitivity and takes this form: A gives to B, B gives to C, therefore A is giving to C. So the state gives to parents, parents give to private schools, therefore the state gives to private schools. And our state supreme court is OK with that.

The AZ legislators are not the only ones in government who are acting unconstitutionally.

The Sawmill fire, the NRA, Donald Trump, the Second Ammendment, and God

Among many other sources, NPR reports Trump Brings Campaign Rhetoric To NRA Speech, Pledging Gun-Rights Support. I will not burden you with the whole speech. (It sucked.). But here is one to-be-expected juxtaposition and a few significant digits.

God’s role in the Sawmill fire

The Trumpanderer in Chief spoke to the NRA on Friday.

The NRA hoped to hear a clear message from the president, NPR spokesperson Jason Brown said before Friday’s event: “Protecting gun rights, expanding gun rights and getting rid of legislation and gun rights restrictions in this country to make the Second Amendment more powerful than it ever has been before.”

On Friday, Trump delivered that message, though without proposing specifics.

“As your president, I will never ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” Trump said. “Never, ever. Freedom is not a gift from government, freedom is a gift from God.”

The implication is that owning a gun is a “gift from God.”

By transitivity: God grants a gift of guns (A –> B), a gun was used to blow up exploding targets causing the Sawmill fire (B –> C), and, therefore, God caused the Sawmill fire (A –> C). (That would be your Christian God.)

I suppose we could hope for a Trumpian flip-flop on this one.

Significant digits

The Daily Star, in their report on the fire this morning, tells us how bad that fire is. $4.26 million is the cost. 47,00 acres burned so far with only 61% contained by 800 fire personnel.

All this because the agent of God’s will is a dufus who likes to shoot exploding targets to hear a bigger boom.

That’s what comes of making the “Second Amendment more powerful than it ever has been before.”

If Congress - in particular our CD2 Rep. Martha McSally - won’t act in response to mass killings like Sandy Hook, they certainly won’t pay one smidgeon of attention to the Sawmill fire and why it occurred.

Munchkins "have no idea how to pay for" Trump's tax proposal that benefits ...

… Donald Trump.

Nicholas Kristof (NY Times op-ed) explains why This Isn’t Tax Policy; It’s a Trump-Led Heist

What do you do if you’re a historically unpopular new president, with a record low approval rating by 14 points, facing investigations into the way Russia helped you get elected, with the media judging your first 100 days in office as the weakest of any modern president?

Why, you announce a tax cut!

And in your self-absorbed way, you announce a tax cut that will hugely benefit yourself. Imagine those millions saved! You feel better already!

And you justify it by claiming the tax “plan” will create more jobs (no evidence for that), will help families with child care costs (but few families will see benefits), and will pay for itself (few tax experts believe it).

In fairness, Trump’s proposal does include some sensible elements. Raising the standard deduction is smart and would simplify everything, reducing cheating and the need for record-keeping because millions of filers would no longer itemize deductions.

But the heart of Trump’s “plan” is to lower taxes for corporations and the affluent. It would eliminate the alternative minimum tax, without which Trump would have paid less than 4 percent in taxes for 2005; with it, he paid 25 percent.

Where the tax plan would have a big impact is in empowering some very wealthy people, because of another bit of chicanery in the proposal: Trump apparently would allow some business owners to dodge personal income tax by paying at the much lower corporate rate. In other words, tycoons would try to structure their incomes to pay not at a 39.6 percent top personal rate but at a 15 percent corporate rate.

Then there’s the elimination of the estate tax. The White House talks solemnly about protecting family farms and other businesses, but give us a break! The estate tax now affects only couples worth more than $11 million. About one-fifth of 1 percent of Americans are affected — but the estate tax does limit the rise of inequality and assures a hint of fairness, since much of the wealth in rich estates has never been taxed at all.

Munchkins
Trump's Munchkins make the ask for
$160K from each of you

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says Trump’s tax “plan” would be paid for partly “with growth” — which means that he has no idea how to pay for it. The Tax Policy Center examined Trump’s campaign tax plan and found it would cause the federal debt to rise by at least $7 trillion in the first decade, and more than $20 trillion by 2036 — slowing growth, not raising it. To put the latter number in perspective, that’s additional borrowing of about $160,000 per American household.

Effectively, we’d borrow from China or other countries to finance huge tax breaks for Trump and his minions. …

Kristof summarizes: “This isn’t tax policy; it’s a heist.”

Borowitz: Counting to one hundred makes Betsy DeVos' head hurt

New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz cites Betsy DeVos who says media shouldn’t emphasize first hundred days because “it’s so hard to count to a hundred”.

DeVos counting to 2
DeVos teaches Trump about 2 digits

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos criticized the media on Friday for placing so much emphasis on Donald Trump’s first hundred days, because “it’s so darn hard to count to a hundred. … They’re acting like we’re a bunch of math geniuses.”

DeVos added that, if the media wanted to establish a benchmark for Trump’s achievement, “they should have picked a number of days that people can actually count to, like five or ten.”

Or, as she is shown, just the number 2.

The Education Secretary then demonstrated how it was possible to count to ten using one’s hands.

Despite the media’s obsession with “ridiculously big numbers,” DeVos said she has no intention of trying to count to a hundred.

“I have an important job and the last thing I need is to do something that makes my head hurt,” she said.

Friday, April 28, 2017

McSally tinkers with "fatally flawed health-care bill"

Daily Star’s columnist Tim Steller takes on CD2 Rep. Martha McSally for her tinkering with “fatally flawed health-care bill”. Here are snippets.

‘First, do no harm.”

It’s a medical principle that members of Congress ought to keep in mind when messing with our health-care system.

For Democrats pondering the Republican proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act, the principle is easy to apply. They’ll vote no — if they ever get the chance to vote — because the replacement plan, the American Health Care Act, is worse than what it’s intended to replace. It will lead to millions of people losing insurance without many assured benefits other than an end to the dreaded insurance mandate.

But for Republicans like Tucson’s Rep. Martha McSally, the answer is more complicated.

McSally and many other congressional Republicans ran for election on the idea that — to use the phrase she and others repeated often — “Obamacare is collapsing under its own weight.”

But then a funny thing happened. When President Trump was elected and the public was faced with the possible reality of the Affordable Care Act actually being repealed, it became more and more popular. People began to protest, worrying that under the replacement bill, they would again be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition or due to impossibly high rates charged in “high-risk pools."

But this week, the House made another effort at reviving the American Health Care Act, this time with changes that appealed to the more conservative Republicans. When it was revealed that one provision would allow members of Congress to opt out of some changes — protecting themselves from the weakening of standards under the bill — McSally submitted a bill that would remove that provision.

So McSally has taken a tack of trying to fix the problems with the proposed replacements, rather than recognizing that the replacements themselves might be the biggest problem.

Dr. Daniel Derksen, a professor of health policy at the University of Arizona’s College of Public Health, told me the amended bill is aking to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

“The American Health Care Act would be a catastrophic disaster,” said Derksen, who also heads the UA’s Arizona Center for Rural Health.

Most important, he pointed out, would be the drastic cuts in federal commitments to support state Medicaid programs.

“This would take us back to having 1.2 million uninsured Arizonans,” he said.

So, for all McSally’s work at trying to improve the Obamacare replacement, perhaps the solution is simpler than tinkering around the edges. It’s to do no harm by saying no.

McSally should vote no on the Trumpcare bill - the American Health Care Act - because a Steller claims it is fatally flawed. That bill is not in the interests of her constituents. But will she? I am pessimistic. McSally’s voting record is 100% Trump.

The Sawmill Fire: The least they could not do

When it comes to public safety, the Arizona state government sometimes does the least possible. And sometimes, often, our government does not even do that.

For example, consider the matter of driving while distracted. (That’s my generic term that includes driving while using a cell phone - either for texting or for voice.) I’ve covered the issue and what scientific research has to say (cell phone use is right up their with driving while legally drunk) in Ducey should sign SB 1080 (texting while driving). Here’s why. It was like pulling teeth in the lege to get SB 1080 to Gov. Ducey’s desk. But he did finally sign it. Howard Fischer writes in the Daily Star Ban on new drivers using cell phones behind the wheel now Arizona law. The ban only covers teens but adults are just as likely to be impaired while using a cell phone. So SB 1080 is the least AZ could do.

The Sawmilll Fire has now consumed over 40,000 acres. Check out these photos. We know the cause, now reported by the Star and GV News, as relayed by the Tucson Sentinel in GV News: Border Patrol confirms off-duty agent tied to Sawmill Fire.

The man was firing at exploding targets when brush apparently ignited near Box Canyon and Santa Rita Ranch at about 11 a.m. He tried to put out the blaze, then called to report it. He later turned himself in, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Exploding targets? WTF! That’s a new one for me. I never heard of that before now. So here is one of many videos on youtube. It shows some gun nuts blasting away, hootin’ and hollerin’ as they shoot containers of explosives. Now to be fair, all that was done in what appears to be a barren old quarry with no combustibles in sight. But that was not the case here in Southern Arizona.

The KGUN9 report this morning focused on ranchers worried about whether the fire would reach their homes and herds. He reported that ranchers dodged a bullet until the next time “nature” threatens. Nonsense. “Nature” didn’t start this fire. The Border Patrol dufus shooting exploding targets did that.

Here’s the thing. Exploding targets is a big business. They are sold over the internet (Amazon) and in sporting goods stores (Cabela’s). (Just Google “exploding targets” for lots more.) And such targets are legal in Arizona. Nothing stops any dips#!t with a rifle and an exploding target from setting another fire.

The firefighting effort has cost about $1.6 million thus far, the Green Valley News reported.

Exploding targets are an instance of what our government should do (legislate against them) but does not do.

Preventing such incidents is the least they could not do.

Trump's conjured tax plan defended by Treasury Secretary Munchkin

The NY Times reports on Trump’s tax plan: White House Proposes Slashing Tax Rates, Significantly Aiding Wealthy.

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday proposed sharp reductions in individual and business income tax rates and a radical reordering of the tax code that would significantly benefit the wealthy, but he offered no explanation of how the plan would be financed as he rushed to show progress before the 100-day mark of his presidency.

Munchkins
Gary D. Cohn, left, & Steven Mnuchin

Mr. Trump’s skeletal outline of a tax package, unveiled at the White House in a single-page statement filled with bullet points, was less a plan than a wish list. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Gary D. Cohn, the director of Mr. Trump’s National Economic Council, laid out the bare bones to reporters, part of a mad dash toward the administration’s 100th day on Saturday that has included the resurrection of a health care bill and near-daily signings of executive orders.

But they offered none of the standard accouterments of such rollouts, such as detailed charts showing the cost of each provision, phase-in periods, the impacts of the proposals on people and testimonials on the program’s potential benefits.

What’s in it for Trump

The proposal envisions slashing the tax rate paid by businesses large and small to 15 percent. The number of individual income tax brackets would shrink from seven to three — 10, 25 and 35 percent — easing the tax burden on most Americans, including the president, … The president would eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, a parallel system that primarily hits wealthier people by effectively limiting the deductions and other benefits available to them — both moves that would richly benefit Mr. Trump.

Questioned about that repeatedly on Wednesday, Mr. Mnuchin said that Mr. Trump, the first president in four decades not to disclose at least a portion of his tax returns, had “no intention” of releasing them now.

“I can’t comment on the president’s tax situation since I don’t have access to that, O.K.?” Mr. Mnuchin said when asked how large of a tax cut the president would receive under his own plan.

The rest of the American people “don’t have access” either.

Here, from John Cassidy (New Yorker) is an answer to Mr. Mnuchin’s lack of access, Trump wants to give himself a tax cut and undermine the tax code.

… Trump wants to give himself a big tax break, and not just by slashing the tax rates that high earners and business owners face. Thanks to a leaked tax filing, one thing we know about Trump’s tax history is that in 2005 he paid the federal government thirty-eight million dollars on income of about a hundred and fifty million dollars. But, because Trump had so many deductions, and exploited so many loopholes, his initial tax liability that year was much lower: $5.3 million. The only reason he ended up paying thirty-eight million is that he got caught by the Alternative Minimum Tax (A.M.T.)—a fallback mechanism that the Internal Revenue Service uses to prevent people like him from paying too little.

If Trump’s plan goes into effect, the A.M.T. will be eliminated. Why? Mnuchin’s explanation was that the tax code is too complex. “The A.M.T. is just another example of a … complicated set of rules,” he said. If Trump gets his way, he and other rich people won’t have to worry about the A.M.T. With the help of their accountants, they will be able to minimize their tax exposures in the knowledge that the I.R.S. won’t be able to undo their handiwork.

And what about the small businesses that are supposed to benefit?

Those who stand to benefit the most from Trump’s proposal, however, aren’t local businesses or owners of mom-and-pop stores—they are hedge-fund managers, private-equity moguls, real-estate investors, and other wealthy groups that organize their businesses in “pass through” partnerships specifically to take advantage of the tax code. “About half of all pass-through income flows to the top 1 percent of households (those with incomes above $693,500 in 2016),” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in a February report. “About 27 percent goes to the bottom 90 percent of households.”

So much of what Trump proposes is aimed at more benefits for the already wealthy. At what cost to the rest of us?

Magical thinking

In a brief session with reporters, Mr. Cohn and Mr. Mnuchin said they had been toiling for weeks on the proposal, much of which closely resembles the plan Mr. Trump championed as a presidential candidate. They argued that it would spur robust economic growth that would — along with the elimination of deductions — cover the potentially multitrillion-dollar proposal entirely, a prospect that even many Republicans privately concede is virtually impossible.

“This will pay for itself with growth and with reduction of different deductions and closing loopholes,” Mr. Mnuchin said, repeating his optimistic estimate that the plan would spur the economy to grow at a rate of 3 percent annually. “The economic plan under Trump will grow the economy and will create massive amounts of revenues, trillions of dollars in additional revenues.”

What they don’t tell you about are the effects on the deficit. Here’s the NY Times’ listing of what components of Trump’s tax plan will add to the deficit, What Trump’s Tax Proposal Will Cost.

Here’s John Cassidy’s take at the New Yorker, Trump’s tax plan looks like a plutocrat’s dream.

According to the nonpartisan Center for Tax Policy, cutting the corporate rate to fifteen per cent would cost about $2.4 trillion over ten years. If you add in all the personal-income-tax cuts that Trump proposed during last year’s campaign, the tab comes to about $6.2 trillion.* Even the original Voodoo Economists in the Reagan Administration would have blanched at claims that more rapid economic growth could close a fiscal hole of this size. If the White House persists with its flaky argument, it will have trouble selling its plan to deficit hawks in the Republican Party, let alone to Democrats.

NY Times:Democrats rejected what they described as magical thinking behind the plan and condemned it as a giveaway to the rich masquerading as a tax overhaul.”

Finally, there is the basic unfairness of it all. In his address to Congress at the end of February, Trump said that he would provide “massive tax relief for the middle class.” But, from everything we know, the primary beneficiaries of his plan will be the very rich. As highly paid executives, they stand to reap big gains from a cut in the top income-tax rate. As owners of so-called pass-through businesses and investment partnerships, they stand to gain from the cut in the corporate tax rate. And as major owners of corporate equities, they stand to gain from the profit-repatriation scheme, the proceeds of which are likely to be largely used for stock buybacks and other financial-engineering schemes.

Munchkins
Munchkins in 1939 Wizard of Oz

Shortly after the press briefing Scriber’s usually unreliable sources observed Sean Spicer, Gary Cohn, and Steven Mnuchin, disguised as a troup of Munchkins, making for the back door while eating some cakes.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Update: Teacher standards under attack

Here is Steve Farley’s report on Doozy’s solution to our teacher shortage - hire less qualified teachers. (From the Farley Report #275).

We have a teacher crisis in Arizona with 44% of teachers leaving after just two years because the Governor and the Legislative Majority have slashed state support for schools by 21% since 2008. We have the lowest teacher pay in the country.

Governor Ducey’s solution? SB1042 to lower standards for teaching credentials. The Senate Republicans earlier today passed this abomination on party lines, and Ducey has said he will sign it as soon as he gets it.

We were voting on other bills on the floor and heading toward adjournment for the day when SB1042 was thrown onto the vote board without warning. The bill guts our teacher credentialing system by allowing people with knowledge in one subject area to teach kids without taking any standardized test, and without training in classroom management or any other subjects.

I spoke out strongly against the bill, as did most of my Democratic colleagues. I explained the only way to solve a teacher retention crisis is by investing in teacher raises, building maintenance, computers, and textbooks. Attract the best and the brightest, don’t lower your standards to take unqualified jobseekers, insulting the fully credentialed and experienced teachers who are sacrificing to serve our kids right now.

We are witnessing the destruction of our public school system by the current leaders. They have 1) slashed public school funds; 2) stolen public school money to give to private schools; and 3) lowered public school teaching standards.

Hiring standards under attack: Can anyone be a teacher or border patrol agent?

There is a dangerous attitude loosed upon America. It can be characterized as a free-for-all approach to government. If you can get away with it, it’s yours. We need no regulations that protect the public good. We can look away from incompetence, corruption, and nepotism. Qualifications and certification for public employees are now routinely trashed. Such is the state of our union under control by one political party that prides itself in not governing.

Here are two examples from the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) showcasing reduced or eliminated qualifications for hiring public servants - teachers and immigration officers. Following those is a report of the consequences of lacking oversight of a government agency (Customs and Border Protection).

Can anyone teach - even a governor?

Ducey signals signing teacher certification legislation
Gov. Doug Ducey is defending controversial legislation he sought - and is expected to sign -which would allow more people without formal teacher training to lead a public school classroom.

Existing laws already allow people who have expertise in science, technology, engineering or math to teach. SB 1042 would open it up to anyone who has “expertise in a content area or subject matter.”

More significant, it exempts the person from having to take a test of professional proficiency, leaving much of the decision on who is qualified up to local school superintendents rather than the state Department of Education. It is that provision that has upset foes who have said simply being knowledgeable in an academic area does not mean an ability to actually teach.

“We have a teacher shortage in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said. “We’ve got some very high qualified, educated people in our community that have expressed interest in teaching.”

Among the provisions, school superintendents would be able to create what amounts to their own certification process, subject only to an avowal that person “has made satisfactory progress and achievement with students.”

But Ducey sidestepped a question of whether he, as an Arizona State University graduate, is qualified to teach a third grade class.

“This isn’t about me or what I’m qualified to do,” Ducey said. “I want to help bring the best qualified people, more of the best possible people into our classrooms.”

Unfortunately, neither was the 2014 election about Ducey and what he is (not) qualified to do.

Hire border agents without due diligence?

Rush to hire border agents raises concerns about unqualified officers
A Trump administration plan to hire thousands of border and immigration officers has advocates concerned about a possible repeat of the last hiring binge, which they said was followed by an increase in corruption and misconduct cases.

A report Tuesday by the American Immigration Council pointed to the hiring of 8,000 Border Patrol agents from fiscal 2006 to 2009, and what it called a corresponding surge in corruption cases and complaints against officers at the agency from 2007 to 2012.

“Now the Trump administration wants to repeat history by hiring thousands of additional Border Patrol agents, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, without introducing the reforms and safeguards needed to avoid the abuses and scandals of the past,” the report said.

President Donald Trump proposed hiring 5,000 border patrol agents and 10,000 ICE officers as part of his sweeping series of executive orders on immigration that included his plan for a border wall, among other proposals.

Customs and Border Protection insisted in a statement Tuesday that it will not lower hiring standards in order to hire the number of officers identified by the president. It also rejected the suggestion that border agents hired during the 2006–2009 surge were worse.

Border patrol “opaque and unaccountable”

Is it the case that CBP cannot lower hiring standards if the standards are already at rock bottom? I don’t know the answer to that one, but it looks to me that things at the CBP are not looking good. Here is a report from John Washington at The Nation (h/t Michele Manos), Why We Need a Whistle-Blower in US Customs and Border Protection. The agency, which oversees Border Patrol, is one of the most opaque and unaccountable in our government.

CBP’s budget is larger than the combined budgets of the FBI, DEA, and ATF; all told, it employs more than 62,000 agents and operates an entire fleet of planes, helicopters, and drones. The federal government spends more on immigration enforcement than on all other federal law-enforcement agencies combined. In the last 10 years, for both immigration and border enforcement (CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the government has spent approximately $170 billion. According to its own statistics, the Border Patrol interacts with around 27 million people a year, most of whom are US citizens, and yet they are also one of the least transparent federal agencies. As ACLU of Vermont Executive Director James Lyall put it, “We don’t know very much about the Border Patrol, except that they are the most lawless, abusive, and unaccountable law enforcement agency in the country—we do know that.”

The agency … routinely refuses to answer FOIA requests (a crucial resource the media has to pressure government agencies to make information available to the public), or redacts documents to the point of illegibility. Last year, the ACLU sent CBP a letter expressing its frustration with the lack of responsiveness to its FOIA requests, writing that “the public is routinely denied access to critical information about CBP activities. Extensive delays, inappropriate denials, and non-responses have resulted in costly and lengthy litigation.” In many cases, ACLU Policy Counsel Chris Rickerd explained, CBP simply doesn’t respond, and information is only obtained when litigation is pursued. He showed me a CBP response to a FOIA request in which entire pages are completely redacted. One page was entirely inked over except for the text of the Fourth Amendment. Los Angeles Times reporter Nigel Duara told me that he needs to throw “prolonged and sustained tantrum[s]” to get basic info from CBP, even for incidents in which agents have used lethal force.

But the problems aren’t only limited to the airing of the truth; the truth itself is sufficiently damning. Agents have abducted and raped border crossers, molested them while in custody, destroyed life-saving water left for migrants, chased migrants off of cliffs, run them over in their vehicles, beaten to death a man in handcuffs, and colluded with Mexican drug-traffickers. They have routinely harassed borderlands residents, intimidated humanitarian aid workers, destroyed protected natural environments, treated asylum seekers like criminals, and denied migrants medical care. They have also psychologically abused migrants, set dogs on migrants, coerced migrants into signing voluntary departure, urinated on migrants’ belongings, separated migrant children from their parents, and detained migrants of all ages in freezing-cold holding cells for days without beds or proper sanitation. [Scriber: Evidence for each of these claims is provided in the form of links in the original article.]

The Nation is now making an open call for CBP whistle-blowers and leakers. We recognize that becoming a whistle-blower is a serious matter, with enormous consequences for the individuals involved—any person wishing to come forward with information of wrongdoing should seriously consider the potential personal ramifications. But we also believe that the public is safer when the country is aware of how the government is operating, and that we are more secure when the people act as a check on government overreach, abuse, and secrecy. When public interest and government policy drastically diverge from each other, when government officials engage in unconscionable acts, and when the system in place is not guiding policy or officials back toward legal or ethical governance, it is the duty of the individual—the person of conscience—to speak out.

Check out the report for information about how to (securely) report CBP abuses.

Trump's "review" is a threat to our national monuments

An impending disaster headed toward our national monuments in the form of a “review” ordered by President Trump.

The Daily Star carries the AP report on how Trump’s Monument review includes oceans, tribal lands and Sequoias. Here are some examples of what I suspect are on the chopping block.

GIANT SEQUOIA NATIONAL MONUMENT-CALIFORNIA

In a decision praised by environmentalists but scorned by loggers, President Bill Clinton created this monument in 2000 covering about 328,000 acres of land in central California where the giant sequoia grows naturally. It expanded the number of groves protected, adding to Sequoias already safeguarded in Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Park.

A coalition of timber interest groups, recreation groups and a California county sued to reverse the designation or reduce the size. They argued that the trees were already protected and that the county’s school districts depended on money that came from fees collected for logging. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit.

In 2006, a federal judge rejected a plan by the Bush administration plan to allow commercial logging inside the monument.

PAPAHANAUMOKUAKEA MARINE NATIONAL MONUMENT-HAWAII

This remote monument northwest of Hawaii’s main islands was created by President George W. Bush in 2006 and was quadrupled in size last year by President Barack Obama. The nearly 583,000-square mile safe zone for tuna, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and thousands of other species is the world’s largest marine protected area, more than twice the size of Texas.

Obama pointed to the zone’s diverse ecology and cultural significance to Native Hawaiian and early Polynesian culture as reasons for expanding the monument when he visited the turquoise waters last fall. “I look forward to knowing that 20 years from now, 40 years from now, 100 years from now, this is a place where people can still come to and see what a place like this looks like when it’s not overcrowded and destroyed by human populations,” Obama said.

The decision to expand the monument was the subject of fierce debate within Hawaii, with both sides invoking Native Hawaiian culture to argue why it should or shouldn’t be expanded.

The monument designation bans commercial fishing and any new mining. Fishing will be allowed through a permit, as will be scientific research and the removal.

Opponents argued the region is heavily dependent on fishing and can’t afford the hit, adding that a federal ban would infringe on the traditions that ancient Hawaiians used to protect natural resources.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is due to make a recommendation on Bears Ears [national monument in Utah] within 45 days ahead of a final report about all the monuments within 120 days.

I think I could write the final report now given Trump’s aversion to regulations of any sort - except those he likes.

If the Utah Republicans get their way, the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante monuments will be opened up to “new energy development” including mining of coal.

Get out and enjoy our parks and national monuments while you can. You might have just four months to do it.

Stock in Concrete Companies?

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

As a leader in the military, I learned a long time ago that if something was easy to fix, someone would have already fixed it. President Trump evidently hadn’t learned that prior to his election, but since then, has time and again realized that uh, YEAH, this shit is hard!

Take the border wall for example. It might have been good “red meat” for his supporters, but there are three good reasons why there is not a finished border wall along our southern border: 1) it is a very complicated endeavor, 2) it is really, really expensive, and 3) it won’t solve the problem of illegal immigration. I mean, get real! Trump isn’t the first politician to try to make hay with this issue, but the rhetoric always slams into reality eventually.

I knew for example in 2011, that Arizona Senator Steve Smith wasn’t going to get anywhere with his “www.BuildTheBorderFence.com” initiative and I was right. Smith promised to raise some $50 million to build a 15 foot fence at busy border-crossing points and erect fences where there were no federal fences. After three years however, the project had only raise $265,000, not even one-tenth of the $2.8 million needed to build the first mile of fencing. As for the $265,000, last I could find the advisory committee assigned to do something with the funding were asking sheriffs how they would use it.

I also knew Trump would never get the wall built and he sure as hell wasn’t going to get Mexico to pay for it. Recent negotiations over the continuing resolution have proven Trump’s real lack of commitment to demand the $25 billion or so his wall is estimated to cost.

I have personal experience with the border wall – or more accurately, the lack of a working border surveillance system. After my retirement from the Air Force, I was hired by L–3 Communications as Deputy Program Manager for the Strategic Border Initiative, or SBInet. This “virtual fence” that would stop illegal immigrants at the border with a mix of guard towers, cameras, sensors and other infrastructure feeding data to a sophisticated IT system, was President George W. Bush’s answer to the problem in 2006. As a subcontractor to Boeing, L–3 was responsible for designing and building the towers and microwave system that was to provide electronic surveillance for the Border Patrol. I worked on the project for almost seven months, but eventually quit because I just couldn’t continue to be a part of the fleecing of the government that was occurring. On one of my trips to field test the system, I was at Playas, New Mexico. I recall being out in the desert with a colleague driving around in circles for hours so that the microwave could try to lock in on us. It didn’t work, and when I went to a meeting at Boeing where I felt like they were sitting around joking about how we weren’t making progress, I decided I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Not even my writing my Congressman (Webb - Virginia) with my concerns had helped, since he never responded. That’s when I knew for my own piece of mind, it was time to resign.

In February 2008, a Government Accountability Office report cited that “the radar information was too slow to appear on screens, and was being inappropriately triggered by rain and other weather phenomena. Camera resolutions was insufficient for targets beyond 3.1 miles and the stylus-controlled laptops mounted on moving vehicles were not rugged enough and were difficult to use.” No surprise to me that the project was killed in 2011, after about $1 billion in taxpayer dollars were flushed down the drain.

Eventually, Border Patrol officials decided to take a look at preexisting, tested technology and a $145 million contract was awarded to a U.S. based subsidiary of Israel’s Elbit Systems. As of 2016, the IFT system had been used successfully at one installation on the border.
Using technology (including drones) to monitor the border though, is way different than building an actual wall over the entire 1,989 mile United States - Mexico border. For starters, the terrain is very rough in some areas, much of the land is privately owned (either by individuals or Native tribes), there are hundreds of tunnels in use, there are significant detrimental impacts on wildlife migration and survival with endangered species laws causing complications, and where there is a will, there is a way. As former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano once said, “You show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.” In fact, I remember a story told me by a Border Patrol agent who said that they once watched Mexican drug smugglers, drive up to a section of the border wall, push a button on a remote control to raise the wall like a garage door, drive through, and then close the door again. When there is money to be made, or a desperation to make something happen, people will find a way.

All this aside, the U.S. does already have barriers along 653 miles of the southern border (mostly the western portion.) These barriers range from 18-foot-tall iron fencing and corrugated metal to makeshift vehicle barriers and barbed wire. And “in 2015, the Border Patrol claimed an 81 percent success rate in apprehending or turning back people who attempted to cross illegally.” A large number of those trying to cross now though, are asylum seekers, who present themselves to border agents at legal ports of entry. The Department of Homeland Security also says that in FY2015, about 530,000 simply overstayed their legal visas after flying into the country, about 200,000 more than were caught at the border with Mexico. No amount of wall would have helped in these situations.

Oh by the way, the Mexican border isn’t the only one the U.S. shares and, the other one is twice as long. Wall proponents will often claim we must build it to keep out terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, but you almost never hear someone talking about our border with Canada. Because of the heavy forests and numerous bodies of water the two countries share, it is much easier to slip across undetected. If I was a terrorist, I know which border I’d pick to cross.

Finally, Bloomberg News reported in February 2017 that an August 2016 poll found that 61 percent of Americans are opposed to “building a wall along the entire border with Mexico,” and only 36 percent favored it. A Pew survey conducted in November-December 2016 revealed that only 40 percent of respondents thought building a wall was very important, or somewhat important. I suspect many of those who think the wall is important, live a long way away from the border and don’t really understand the issues at hand. Most of those who live along the border know building a wall is a fool’s folly as a separate poll in May 2016 of Southwest border city residents which found 72 percent of them opposed to it. What is really needed, says one, is a sensible immigration policy and enforcement of the laws intended to prevent U.S. companies from hiring undocumented immigrants. Supply and demand anyone?

Ah yes, but then that would hurt the corporations and we can’t have that, can we? Better to make American citizens fork over the $25 billion of their hard earned taxpayer dollars to build the almost 2,000-foot-long 40-foot-high concrete wall President Trump wants so he can keep a campaign promise that won’t fix the problem. Hmmmmm, wonder if 45 owns stock in any concrete companies?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Observations on the French election: Poulet Roti is better than a platter of merde.

Now it begins. In the first round of voting, French voters rejected two traditional candidates, one from the left and one from the right, in favor of a newcomer (Emmanuel Macron) and the head of a far right nationalist party (Marine Le Pen). The final numbers were 24% (Macron), 21.3% (Le Pen), 20% and 19.6% for the traditional candidates.

Le Pen, should she win, is expected to do a Frexit, thus further destabilizing the EU, withdraw from NATO (thus threatening European security, and cuddling up to Russia (which already is bankrolling her campaign). And that seriously rattles the traditional parties and, I suspect, French voters generally.

The second round, run-off vote will be on May 7th. What might we predict? Here are polling results from the HuffPollster Tuesday morning. Assuming that Le Pen worries the average French voter, we would expect Macron to poll far better than Le Pen. Indeed, he does.

Surveys give Macron a significant lead - Macron leads Le Pen by about 26 points, 63 percent to 37 percent, in Pollster’s aggregate of runoff polling as of Tuesday morning. No survey to date has shown Macron with less than a 16-point edge. [Pollster chart]

Could France be the next shock election result?- Nate Silver: “Macron is an overwhelming favorite to win the runoff on May 7. But we’re likely to hear two weeks of punditry that draws misleading comparisons between Le Pen, President Trump and Brexit — and that exaggerates Le Pen’s chances as a result. Although vote counts are still being finalized, the first-round result should be a good one for pollsters, which correctly had Macron and Le Pen in the top two positions….[W]hile there were plenty of precedents for a polling error large enough to elect Trump, there aren’t all that many examples of a 26-point polling error, which is what Le Pen would need….[T]here’s no evidence that candidates such as Le Pen systematically outperform their polls. Across dozens of European elections since 2012, in fact, nationalist and right-wing parties have been as likely to underperform their polls as to overperform them.” [538, more on Le Pen’s chances from The Economist]

We might also expect Le Pen to go on the offensive and she did. Le Pen Calls Parties in France ‘Completely Rotten’ as They Unite to Fend Her Off.

John Cassidy reports on the post-election political support for Macron in Vive L’Europe! A Macron win would give the E. U. a lifeline.

On Sunday night, Macron received endorsements from two of the candidates he’d just defeated: François Fillon, of the center-right Republican Party; and Benoît Hamon, of the center-left Socialist Party. On Monday, President François Hollande also expressed support for Macron, saying, “What is at stake is France’s make-up, its unity, its membership of Europe and its place in the world.” (The far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who got almost twenty per cent of the vote—finishing within two percentage points of Le Pen—withheld his endorsement, but he is also expected to come out against the National Front leader.)

The French need to lend lots more support to Macron given what happened in the 2016 United States election says Hadley Freeman writing in The Guardian: Le Pen is a far-right Holocaust revisionist. Macron isn’t. Hard choice?

That … take on the French election, one reflected by the Monday front pages of both the Daily Mail and the Times in this country (England), was the most obviously idiotic, given that Le Pen comes from a political dynasty built on the tenacious foundation of antisemitism, racism and fascism. But I’d like to talk a little about the distaste for Macron on the left, members of which would doubtless insist that Macron is NOT centre-left. But those of us who listened in despair last year to American friends loftily declare there was no substantive difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been here before. Clinton was “more dangerous” than Trump, I believe: how’s that statement holding up for you, Susan Sarandon?

I know a little about the effects of fascism in France. My grandmother, her three brothers, their mother and cousins lived in Paris in the 30s. My grandmother managed to get out in time, reluctantly moving to the US just before the war and leaving behind her fiance who was soon killed. Of her three brothers, two were sent to the camps where one was murdered and from which another escaped. Her oldest brother hid in his apartment throughout the war but was shopped to the authorities three times by his French neighbours – each time, through miraculous interventions, he escaped. A cousin paid someone to row him and his wife to Spain; the boatman took their money and drowned them, orphaning two children. I knew one of those children when he was an adult, and sadness always hung over him. As it did all of the surviving members of my French family, including my grandmother.

A week before the US election David Sedaris wrote about undecided American voters, and he compared them to passengers on a plane being presented with their meal options: “‘Can I interest you in the chicken?’ [the flight attendant] asks. ‘Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?’ To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.”

Those are the options in this election now, and they are options everyone who remembers the US election will have seen on the menu before. When an election comes down to a binary choice you are not just voting for someone but against someone else, and when you start carping about the chicken, you are validating the shit. Get over yourself. Eat the chicken.

I wish we, in the United States, had taken that advice. Poulet Roti is far better than a platter of merde.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Manufactured Crises

Cross-posted from Restore.Reason.com.

The AZ Capitol Times reports that although Governor Ducey is disavowing any connection to the effort, the GOP’s attack on Arizona’s public (district) schools is far from over. Sean Noble, the political hack running the two 2018 ballot measures though, “funneled millions into Ducey’s 2014 campaign through dark money groups.”

The first initiative would require 60 percent of district funding to be spent in the classroom, (per the U.S. Department of Education.) The second initiative looks to “cap executive pay in K–12 public schools at no more than twice the average teacher pay in the same school district or the highest salary a principal receives within that district, whichever is lower.”

What the hell? I mean, the ink isn’t even dry on the full expansion of vouchers and now the GOP is again trying to stick it to our district students by allegedly solving a problem that doesn’t really exist.

First of all, it is telling that Noble defines classroom spending as “defined by the U.S. Department of Education.” What???? Defer to the Feds about how to do something in Arizona? He obviously knows there is a disconnect in our state between how the AZ Auditor General defines classroom spending and how the Governor, Legislature, and public school leaders define it. The AZ Auditor General defines classroom spending (or instruction) as: “Salaries and benefits for teachers and instructional aides; costs related to instructional supplies, such as pencils, paper, and workbooks; instructional software; athletics; cocurricular activities, such as band or choir; and tuition paid to private institutions.” Our lawmakers though, agree with the Arizona School Boards Association’s (ASBA) definition of what they call “classroom support” which includes funding allotted to “instructional support and student support.” This categories include reading and math intervention specialists, librarians, counselors, speech pathologists, physical therapists, nurses and social workers which due to the high number of Arizona students who live at or below the poverty line, is critical for students to be successful in the classroom. “In 2015, the definition made it into state law, when the governor, legislators and educators agreed that a more holistic approach was required. As a result, the state’s budget for fiscal year 2016 identified student support and instructional support services along with instruction as the categories that support classroom learning.” This should therefore, be no need to turn to any guidance from the U.S. DOE on what defines classroom spending.

Defintion aside, Arizona districts do a good job of ensuring they are spending their limited monies where they will most matter. In FY 2016, the total amount for classroom, instructional and student support amounted to 67.4% which is down only slightly from the 68.3% in 2001. Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, notes that is “a very small decline given the many significant cuts to school district funding over this period of time, including the elimination of funding for full-day kindergarten and the current annual cut of over $350 million to district additional assistance.” Likewise, an ASBA analysis determined that, “Arizona’s classroom spending continues to be impacted by its low per-pupil funding which is ranked 48th in the nation, students who are poorer than the national average, higher plant operations costs due to extreme temperatures and high transportation costs to serve rural and remote areas.” In fact, over the last 9 years, the Arizona Legislature has cut District Additional Assistance (monies used for textbooks, technology, items like desks and school buses and building repair and maintenance like fixing roofs and plumbing and repairing air conditioners) by two billion dollars, forcing districts to redirect funding they would otherwise have spent in the classroom. In total, our state has cut $4.56 billion dollars to public schools since 2009 – leading the nation in per pupil cuts. This is important, because all categories of costs don’t shrink evenly when a budget gets cut. Fixed costs (such as teacher numbers constrained by numbers of students), and those associated with utilities, building maintenance, and transportation for example, remain, and then eat up a bigger piece of a smaller pie.

I couldn’t find the US DOE definition of classroom spending Noble refers to. I did find a discussion about “instruction” spending. According to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES), this includes “salaries and benefits of teachers and teaching assistants as well as costs for instructional materials and instructional services provided under contract.” On their website, the NCES noted that in 2013–14, instruction percentages were 61% of current expenditures. They also said that these expenditures peaked in 2009–10 (shrinking across the nation since then.)

The initiative to “cap executive pay”, is equally misleading. First off, “cap executive pay” makes it sound like our Superintendents are CEOs of giant corporations living the good life. No, that would be ACTUAL CEOs of corporations, not school district administrators. Secondly, Arizona public school administrative costs are below the national average at 10.4% versus 10.9%. And oh by the way, many of these “executives” are in small rural districts, where their jobs are nothing like that of a CEO. “The New York Times reported that, ”In the Miami Unified School District east of Phoenix, the superintendent is also a grant writer and the principal of the elementary school is also in charge of keeping the toilets running, as the district’s director of maintenance." As for Arizona superintendents being overpaid, not so much. The median school superintendent salary in the U.S. as of March 31, 2017 was $151.636. Although the Phoenix median approaches this number at about $150,000, the median in Tucson is only $137,396 in Lake Havasu City it is $123,108, and in Sierra Vista, it drops to $119,199.

It might be noted by the way, that Arizona’s critical teacher shortage isn’t the only shortage our districts are facing. In 2015, the superintendent turnover rate was the highest seen in the past five years. That same year, of the 45 superintendent openings in the spring, seven were still unfilled by July and 28 were filled by a person with no superintendent experience. And just like 25% of our teachers are eligible to retire by 2020, so were nearly 50% of working superintendents between the ages of 56 and 60, planning to retire soon. Dr. Debra Duvall, former executive director of the Arizona School Administrators Association, said she suspects superintendents are fleeing for many of the same reasons teachers are, basically, that both educational resources and salaries have been stagnant or declining for the past decade. Usurping the local control authority of locally elected governing boards to apply an arbitrary cap, is certainly not the way to turn the tide on our ability to recruit and retain the quality superintendents we need in Arizona.

What we all know this is really about, is continuing to plant the lie in the public’s mind, that district schools are inefficient bloated bureaucracies and that commercializing our schools is the way to go. At least in Arizona, nothing could be further from the truth! If fact, if you want to talk about excessive spending on administration versus instruction, charter schools take the cake. Arizona charter schools spend twice the amount on administration ($1,451 versus $804 in FY2016) as do district schools. And also in FY2016, charter schools spent only 55.33% on classroom instruction, supplies and student support compared to district schools which invested 61.99%.

In short, these “problems” Noble seeks to solve with his initiatives, are manufactured crises, not reality. Of course, he won’t be deterred, saying he has “a ‘couple’ of wealthy Arizonans lined up in support of the plans.” I would just caution him not to allow his wealthy donors to reward the legislators with a free lunch celebration in the event he is successful. Speaker of the Arizona House J.D. Mesnard wisely realized the optics of this with the free lunch offered lawmakers by the American Federation for Children (Betsy DeVos was the chair prior to her SecED gig) after the voucher expansion passage. It doesn’t play well to pass laws that screw over our kids (while benefitting rich donors and corporations) and then do a victory lap around the Capitol.

An "embarrassing surrender" may avert a government shutdown

We’re counting the days to government shutdown. Monday the Senate returned. Tuesday (today) the House returns. That leaves Wed, Thurs, Fri, for Congress to act. If not, then boom - on the occasion of Trump’s 100th day in office - the government stops. What a big, beautiful accomplishment that would be. But here’s a new development.

From all reports I’ve seen, the Democrats and Republicans were well on their way to agreeing to a spending bill that would keep the government running past this Saturday. Then, Trump gummed up the works by insisting that any spending bill include funds for his “beautiful” border wall. And then his budget director jumped in with a proposal to trade a dollar of ACA subsidies for a dollar in border wall funding. The Dems told the administration to go jump in a swamp.

Trump’s hardball play seems about to fizzle. That’s good news for keeping the country running, but bad news for the credibility and reputation of our president. Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports that To prevent a shutdown, Trump begins an embarrassing surrender

Just last week, Donald Trump’s White House tried to play a little hardball. With a government-shutdown deadline looming, Team Trump sent word to Capitol Hill that the president expects any spending bill to include taxpayer money for a border wall. Since there was no chance Democrats would agree to such a demand, it meant one of two things would happen.

Either Trump would shut the federal government down on Friday at midnight, which would be politically problematic for him and his administration, or Trump would surrender, which would be politically problematic for him and his administration.

The president has apparently chosen the latter.

President Donald Trump has indicated that he’s willing to back away from his demand that a government funding bill include money to build a wall on the Southern border, a move that could help clear the way for Congress to avoid a shutdown.

A senior administration official tells NBC News that the president is open to obtaining funding for the border wall in the regular appropriations process for 2018 later this year instead of insisting it be included as part of the large spending bill to keep the government’s lights on past this week.

According to a Washington Post report, the president personally hosted a private meeting with some conservative media figures yesterday afternoon and told them he’s prepared to delay funding for the wall “until September.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters yesterday. “The president is working hard to keep the government open.” And by “working hard,” Mnuchin apparently meant, “crawling away from the corner he backed himself into without any plan for success.”

Democrats are likely to agree to some new funding for border security, in the form of investments in “technology and border agents,” and it’s easy to imagine the president pretending that this is money for some kind of symbolic, metaphorical wall, but let’s not play games: Trump and his team effectively told Democrats, “Allocate money for the wall or else.” Calling the White House’s bluff, Democrats replied, “No.”

And in response, Team Trump blinked.

For a guy who billed himself as a world-class expert in negotiations, the president is remarkably bad at this. It was painfully obvious from the start that this strategy would fail, but Trump and his aides pursued this gambit anyway.

The fact that the White House took one posture last week, only to take a more conciliatory line this week, doesn’t count as a flip-flop, per se. It’s actually something far worse: it’s an example of Trump talking tough, only to quit when the pressure rose and no one much cared about his chest-thumping.

For a fairly new and unpopular president, developing a reputation for failing to follow through on threats will carry consequences. Trump said he desperately needed a Muslim ban. He vowed to unveil a cybersecurity plan. He swore his voter-fraud commission would tackle important work. He’d demand an up-or-down vote in the House on the American Health Care Act. He’d label China a currency manipulator. Each of these commitments were either ignored or forgotten about by an easily distracted president who, everyone now knows, doesn’t always mean what he says.

Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy is known for having said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Donald Trump’s maxim appears to be, “Speak bigly and carry a small golf club.”

However, watch what else is going on this week. Consider a meeting of the ambassadors of the United Nations Security Council and then a closed-door briefing of the entire US Senate by Trump and senior military leaders. If anything the discrepancy between words and action described by Benen put pressure on Trump to do something meaningful to follow through on his rhetoric on North Korea. That’s worrisome. All the players must believe that if North Korea starts something we will finish it. Having a president whose follow-through is in doubt could lead to serious miscalculation.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rosemont mine update: John Dougherty detained by Peruvian police - on HudBay's say-so?

John Dougherty reports on being detained by Peruvian police after showing his documentary about HudBay (the company now responsible for the Rosemont mine project in our Santa Ritas): Peruvian police detain filmmaker after showing documentary critical of Hudbay Minerals.

More than a dozen plain-clothes officers surrounded Mr. Dougherty and Jen Moore, Latin American program coordinator for MiningWatch, Canada, on the street outside the Cusco Cultural Center and forced them into a vehicle without a warrant. They were taken to the immigration office in Cusco. In a statement released early Monday, Mining Watch, Canada detailed Mr. Dougherty and Ms. Moore’s unlawful apprehension.

“I strongly believe that Hudbay directed the Peruvian National Police and immigration authorities to detain us because Hudbay does not want the Peruvian people to know the truth about its long history of environmental contamination, allegations of serious human rights abuses and conflicts with local communities near its Constancia mine in Peru,” Mr. Dougherty says.

“Hudbay has had a contract to pay the Peruvian National Police for security services in the past and I believe that such an agreement is still in place,” Mr. Dougherty says. “The company is now taking the dangerous step of using the state to criminalize a journalist engaged in the distribution of truthful information that it wants to hide.”

This relationship between Hudbay and the Peruvian National Police has previously been reported in the media and elsewhere.

Republicans should be embarrassed by vouchers for all and should pay the political price

Greg Miller, a Republican, charter school founder, and past president of the AZ Board of Education, holds the GOP support of voucher expansion bill an insult to most students. And it is an insult to the rest of us who understand, what our state supreme court does not, that the AZ voucher program is a scam. It is nothing more than money laundering to get around the constitutional prohibition against giving public money to private, religious schools. As such the voucher program is an assault on public education. Period.

Here is Miller’s opinion piece in the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) - emphases added.

As an advocate for education reform for the past 35 years, a co-founder of a very successful charter school, a lifelong Republican, and the most recent past president of the Arizona State Board of Education, I have never been more embarrassed, outraged, disappointed, and angry to call myself a Republican. How on earth do the Republicans in the state Legislature who voted for the Empowerment Scholarship Account (voucher) bill, or our governor, who signed it, look in the mirror and in good faith, not understand what they have just done.

This is an outrageous attack against public education. This out-and-out transfer of state taxpayer money to private education through “school choice” is just what it seems, political rhetoric and very bad financial policy. It even blurs the separation of church and state line defined in the U.S. Constitution by our founders. Public education has been the equalizer for 150 years of economic growth and assimilation of immigrants into the culture that we enjoy today. This is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of students who do not have the resources to pay the additional thousands of dollars for the tuition these private schools will be charging above the state subsidy, and without the opportunity of a quality education provided in their local schools where due process and common goals of expectation drive the continued development of economic expansion for everyone, not just a privileged few.

Does the existing system have its troubles? Yes it does. Has the education reform movement of the past 25 years made a difference? Yes, but with miles left to go. Is money the only answer to solve the major issues in public education? No, but as a state you can starve the system to death. Without adequate funding for public education we have: 35 or more students in classrooms, teacher shortages resulting in 2,000 to 3,000 classrooms going without teachers, hundreds of teachers walking away from their existing classrooms (500 this past fall) because of the stress of the job, the politics of the institutions, and the low pay in one of the highest stress professions. This is our current situation, but instead of finding solutions we are letting more state tax money flow out of the existing system without accountability or transparency.

Are our classroom teachers getting the job done? Many are not! But their efforts are not the only reason: first generation immigrants, exaggerated federal rules and requirements, poverty, highly mobile student populations, uninvolved parents, teaching resources, a lack of commitment to children by their families and the state, and the list goes on! But in a state that is ranked at, or near, the bottom in every category of financial support for public education, how on earth can anyone, let alone those who are responsible for the stewardship of our children’s education and our tax dollars, support or even condone this disgraceful attack on our state’s economic future?

A great big thank you to my fellow Republicans at the Legislature who held ground and used common sense by not giving in to the pressure of those who have crafted and moved this bill to signature. All Republicans that share this view use your vote in next summer’s Republican primary to replace anyone who supported this transfer of economic wealth from our public school system to the private schools of the wealthy.

— Greg Miller is president and superintendent of Challenge Charter School and a former president of the state Board of Education.

Significant digits: French election, no to nepotism, and more cancer on the way

Here are three Significant Digits from the FiveThirtyEight morning email.

23.9 percent
With an estimated 23.9 percent of the vote, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron won the first round of the French presidential election, scooping up endorsements from the right and left for his second-round effort. The cross-party unity is in part because with 21.4 percent of the vote, the far-right Nationalist Front candidate Marine Le Pen also made that runoff. [The New York Times]

Sound familiar? A win in May for Le Pen would likely lead to FRexit. Think Donald Trump in skirts. Here’s the NY Times summary.

The two winners will rely on starkly different bases of support in the runoff on May 7.

Ms. Le Pen captured areas with high unemployment and low wages, where she campaigned on pledges to stop immigration and renegotiate France’s relationship with the European Union.

Mr. Macron dominated in economically dynamic areas and large cities, like Paris and Bordeaux, where his pro-business and socially progressive platform resonated with educated voters.

34 percent
Share of Americans who approve of President Donald Trump giving top government jobs to his son-in-law and daughter; 61 percent of respondents to an ABC News poll said they disapproved . Nepotism still doesn’t go over well, regardless of what people think of a president overall. [ABC News]

To those 61% who disapprove: what makes you think that Trump gives a s#!t about what you think?

40 percent
People are living longer, which means they’re more likely to get cancer in the long run because they’re not dying of other stuff. In the U.S., experts estimate we’re going to need about 40 percent more oncologists by 2025 to meet eventual demand. Shortfalls are likely in the near future, so this is a problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. [Nautilus]

Trump’s response: a budget that cuts the National Institutes of Health.

O'Reilly's Rexit, boys and their toys, and more toons for today

AZBlueMeanie, as usual on Monday Mourning, offers a fine selection of toons.

Here’s my favorite.

toons

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Democrats in need of a powerful alternative, a reason for running, to connect to voters

In this post a long-time activist/organizer, Marshal Ganz, and, via a book review, columnist Matt Taibbi, reflect on the 2016 election and what needs to be done for Democrats to recover (from what ails them).

Wanted: A Democratic powerful alternative - “a different story of why things are screwed up”

Can The Democrats Get Organized? An Interview With Marshall Ganz is a very long transcription of the interview with John Judis at TalkingPointsMemo. (h/t Ann Striker)

Here is a small sample of snippets. Judis begins with an introduction to Ganz.

In the spring of 2007, famed union organizer Marshall Ganz began meeting with the Obama campaign. Ganz persuaded them to create a field operation using the techniques that Ganz had developed with the United Farm Workers in California. Thus the army of thousands of volunteers that helped Obama win the Democratic primary and the presidency in 2008 was born. Ganz, 73, is from Bakersfield, California, the son of a rabbi. He dropped out of Harvard in 1964 to work with a Southern student civil rights group, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The next year he moved back to California to join Cesar Chavez’s fledgling movement to organize the state’s migrant farm workers into a union, eventually becoming the United Farm Workers’ Director of Organizing. In 1991, Ganz returned to Harvard to get his B.A. and in 2000 received a Ph.D. in sociology. For three decades, he has been lecturing in the principles of organizing at Harvard’s Kennedy School, while remaining deeply involved in organizing projects in the United States and overseas. I wanted to ask him about the prospects of the left, liberals and the Democratic Party in the face of Donald Trump’s presidency and Republican control of Congress and the majority of statehouses.

Judis: What is Indivisible?

Ganz: They are a bunch of congressional staffers, one is an SEIU [Service Employees International Union] guy. They got the idea of doing to the Republicans what the Tea Party did to the Democrats. The put out a very simple, accessible manual of how to do that, and they got it out there in a very timely way, and it really clicked with people. They weren’t asking people to send emails or sign petitions. They are asking people to organize locally in the form of those town meetings they are having with the Republicans just like the Tea Party did. And it really took off. They’ve scaffolded some 7,000 groups. They are in every congressional district except for one. What they have done is to scaffold a barebones structure enabling people to focus on a specific tactic. Now the question is how they can take it to the next step. But that’s a very helpful development because of its scale, its depth and its simplicity. …

I really want to underscore the significance of Indivisible. It’s the same experience we had with Obama in 2007 and 2008. You create a plausible pathway to action and all kinds of people come out of the woodwork. The problem is that there haven’t been many plausible pathways to action. And that’s a strategic responsibility, and it requires creating enough structure so that that kind of strategy can be developed and articulated.

Can the traditional Democratic Party machinery do that?

Ganz: The DNC is a distraction. If you look at what the RNC did for the Republican resurgence, it was not much. If you expect the DCCC or the DNC to do it for the Democrats, you’ll be disappointed. Dean temporarily defied the logic with his 50 state strategy. The usual business about not campaigning in every district is so counter-productive. If you look at it from a purely financial standpoint, we have to invest the money where there is the greatest marginal payoff, but it is all short-term. It is not looking at base building, so all these red areas never even hear a counter argument because nobody runs. It is not shocking that all they have is the Fox view of the world. It’s not being challenged.

Democratic politics depends on contention and challenge. One way to do that is through campaigns. It takes people with courage to run for school board. That is one piece of that I just don’t see happening through the DNC.

Judis: Now let’s talk about Trump. If you heard his inaugural address or his speech in Melbourne on Feb. 19, Trump was doing a lot of what you wanted Obama and the Democrats to do. He was telling a story about “making America great again.” He was calling for a movement. He was using the bully pulpit. He was advocating not compromising. Isn’t he doing exactly what you wanted Obama to do after he got elected? Isn’t he following your script?

Ganz: Pretty much. I think the big difference other than the specific values is that at the core, Trump is saying “Follow me and I will take care of you.” It’s mobilizing, but it’s building a movement around dependency. It’s a fear-based movement. Obama or Bernie were inviting their followers to greater agency and autonomy, not less. And that makes all the difference in the world. Their campaigns weren’t about creating dependency on some great leader who is going to save you from everything.

Ganz: … When it comes to organizing at the base, … , you have to have an alternative account. You have to have a different story of why things are screwed up. Bernie came closest to that of anybody recently.

Judis: And the Clinton campaign ignored having an alternative account?

Ganz: They neither motivated their own base nor did they take on his base. They didn’t try to promote Hillary. They tried to undo Trump, but not by offering a powerful alternative. There were ads saying this guy is a racist. What does that do for me?

Bernie was talking alternatives. Hillary wasn’t talking alternatives.

A Shattered campaign

Clinton

Bob Lord at Blog for Arizona reviews a review in Taibbi on “Shattered”: A Book Review Perhaps More Important than the Book. So, I went to the source …

Snippets follow from Matt Taibbi’s review of the New Behind-the-Scenes Book Brutalizes the Clinton Campaign. ‘Shattered,’ a campaign tell-all fueled by anonymous sources, outlines a generational political disaster.

No reason for running?

There is a critical scene in Shattered, the new behind-the-scenes campaign diary by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, in which staffers in the Hillary Clinton campaign begin to bicker with one another.

At the end of Chapter One, which is entirely about that campaign’s exhausting and fruitless search for a plausible explanation for why Hillary was running, writers Allen and Parnes talk about the infighting problem.

“All of the jockeying might have been all right, but for a root problem that confounded everyone on the campaign and outside it,” they wrote. “Hillary had been running for president for almost a decade and still didn’t really have a rationale.”

Allen and Parnes here quoted a Clinton aide who jokingly summed up Clinton’s real motivation:

“I would have had a reason for running,” one of her top aides said, “or I wouldn’t have run.”

The beleaguered Clinton staff spent the better part of two years trying to roll this insane tautology – “I have a reason for running because no one runs without a reason” – into the White House. It was a Beltway take on the classic Descartes formulation: “I seek re-election, therefore I am… seeking re-election.”

Shattered is sourced almost entirely to figures inside the Clinton campaign who were and are deeply loyal to Clinton. Yet those sources tell of a campaign that spent nearly two years paralyzed by simple existential questions: Why are we running? What do we stand for?

Through the politician’s lens darkly

… Washington politicians tend to view everything through an insider lens.

Clinton

Most don’t see elections as organic movements within populations of millions, but as dueling contests of “whip-smart” organizers who know how to get the cattle to vote the right way. If someone wins an election, the inevitable Beltway conclusion is that the winner had better puppeteers.

The Clinton campaign in 2016, for instance, never saw the Bernie Sanders campaign as being driven by millions of people who over the course of decades had become dissatisfied with the party. They instead saw one cheap stunt pulled by an illegitimate back-bencher, foolishness that would be ended if Sanders himself could somehow be removed.

“Bill and Hillary had wanted to put [Sanders] down like a junkyard dog early on,” Allen and Parnes wrote. The only reason they didn’t, they explained, was an irritating chance problem: Sanders “was liked,” which meant going negative would backfire.

Hillary had had the same problem with Barack Obama, with whom she and her husband had elected to go heavily negative in 2008, only to see that strategy go very wrong. “It boomeranged,” as it’s put in Shattered.

The Clinton campaign was convinced that Obama won in 2008 not because he was a better candidate, or buoyed by an electorate that was disgusted with the Iraq War. Obama won, they believed, because he had a better campaign operation – i.e., better Washingtonian puppeteers. In The Right Stuff terms, Obama’s Germans were better than Hillary’s Germans.

“Democrats need therapy”

If the ending to this story were anything other than Donald Trump being elected president, Shattered would be an awesome comedy, like a Kafka novel – a lunatic bureaucracy devouring itself. But since the ending is the opposite of funny, it will likely be consumed as a cautionary tale.

Shattered is what happens when political parties become too disconnected from their voters. Even if you think the election was stolen, any Democrat who reads this book will come away believing he or she belongs to a party stuck in a profound identity crisis. Trump or no Trump, the Democrats need therapy – and soon.

If you’re wondering what might be the point of rehashing this now, the responsibility for opposing Donald Trump going forward still rests with the (mostly anonymous) voices described in this book.

What Allen and Parnes captured in Shattered was a far more revealing portrait of the Democratic Party intelligentsia than, say, the WikiLeaks dumps. And while the book is profoundly unflattering to Hillary Clinton, the problem it describes really has nothing to do with Secretary Clinton.

The real protagonist of this book is a Washington political establishment that has lost the ability to explain itself or its motives to people outside the Beltway.

To win back America in 2018, we, via the Democratic party, or the nation-wide Indivisible movement, or its local counterparts like the Southern Arizona alliance4action, must recover that “ability to explain” a “powerful alternative account” of “why things are screwed up.” We must speak about a credible “reason for running.” Our Democratic forebears did it. We can too.