Monday, December 5, 2016

For More About Betsy DeVos' Priorities, Follow the Money

Posted By on Mon, Dec 5, 2016 at 5:13 PM

Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, and her husband Dick devote a chunk of their $6 billion fortune to funding the political campaigns of candidates who are for more charters, private school vouchers and the rest of the privatization/"education reform" agenda. The couple also has a family foundation which contributed more than $10 million in 2015. Politico looked over a copy of the Foundation's 2015 tax forms and listed some of the recipients. The money makes Betsy DeVos's priorities clear. She likes school choice in its many forms and has a soft spot for religious organizations. Here are some highlights from the Politco list.

The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation is a primary funder of a reasonably recent news-format education website, The 74, begun by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, which is pro-privatization/"education reform" and pro-DeVos. The Foundation gave $400,000 to the website and another $400,000 to Brown's nonprofit, The Partnership for Educational Justice.

New York's Success Academies, a chain of charter schools, got $150,000. Success's founder, Eva Moskowitz, was being talked about as a possible Secretary of Education pick until she took herself out of the running. (Word has it she's angling for the New York City mayor job.)

The American Enterprise Institute is a major voice of the conservative movement. It received $750,000.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Betsy DeVos Set To Join the Trump Cabinet's Billionaire Boys [and Girls] Club

Posted By on Fri, Dec 2, 2016 at 3:34 PM

"I have decided to stop taking offense," Betsy DeVos wrote in a Roll Call column, "at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point."
Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, knows plenty about buying influence and has plenty of money to do so. Dubbed "The New Kochs" by an article in Mother Jones, Betsy and her husband Richard earned multiple mentions in Dark Money, the authoritative book on the topic by Jane Mayer. True, among the über-rich who participate in the Koch brothers' seminars, Richard and Betsy rank a few notches below the top ten. Their almost $6 billion valuation isn't near the combined $86 billion of Charles and David Koch or the $31 billion of Sheldon Adelson. But $6 billion ain't chopped liver. It can buy you a whole lot of influence. And it has, in the pursuit of removing any restrictions from political donations and in promoting the spread of vouchers and charter schools.

Betsy DeVos, born Betsy Prince, came from a wealthy family, and she moved up a rung or two when she married into the Amway marketing empire fortune. Betsy and Richard have been part of the upper echelons of the state and national Republican Party. Richard ran for Michigan governor in 2006, unsuccessfully. In 1997, Betsy was a founding board member of the James Madison Center for Free Speech, a group whose only purpose was to wipe out legal restrictions on spending money in politics. (A school choice group she ran still owes a $5.2 million fine to the Ohio Elections Commission for making illegal political contributions in 2008. One of the lawyer's arguments against paying the fine is that the contribution would have been legal if the Citizens United decision had been in place at the time.)  In 2000, DeVos put $2 million into a state referendum pushing school vouchers, which was voted down by 68 percent of the voters. Vouchers lose when they're put to a popular vote every time, so she decided to devote her efforts to electing pro-voucher legislators who could enact the necessary legislation without needing voter support.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

We Stand Together Network

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 4:03 PM

"I'm here because this feels like a very dark time for me, and I don't know what else to do." Those are the words Robert Yerachmiel Snyderman, program specialist at the Tucson Jewish History Museum, used to begin his presentation at Wednesday night's We Stand Together event organized by YWCA Southern Arizona.

I don't know how many people nodded "Yes" to Snyderman's words. I certainly did. "Give this a shot," I thought as I drove to the event. "Maybe the organizers have some ideas about how to bring together a community of people who will stand as a unified force to combat hatred addressed at individuals, and, if Trump makes good on his promise to deport immigrants and register Muslims, stand up to him in any way we can."

I left feeling more hopeful than I have in the past few weeks. It was a well organized event, the first of many which are in the works, and the YWCA has the necessary organizational heft and the historical commitment to human rights—the phrase at the top of the YWCA's national and local websites is "eliminating racism, empowering women"—to create a kind of umbrella organization which can unite local individuals and groups for a common purpose.

Was this event a beginning which will lead to greater unity and further action in Pima County? I'm encouraged by what I saw and heard, but there are no guarantees. Kelly Fryer, CEO of YWCA Southern Arizona, warned that too often, efforts like this fall into "the cycle of action, reaction and despair." But that doesn't have to be the case. "We're here tonight," she told the 250 people in attendance. "It's an urgent moment, but we can't let this be just another moment, not in Tucson, not in Arizona, not in the U.S."

More on the event in a moment. First, if you want to keep current with what the group is doing and become involved in any way, go to the Join We Stand Together page and register.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: Journalist Christiane Amanpour Is Worried

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 12:00 PM

"I never in a million years thought I would be up here on stage appealing for the freedom and safety of American journalists at home."
That's how Christiane Amanpour began her acceptance speech for the International Press Freedom Award given to her by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Amanpour is one of those strong, steady, fearless journalistic voices. She's a respected international correspondent who has spent time the world's hot spots. She understands what attacks on the press look like. She hosts persecuted journalists on her program. She knows whereof she speaks.

Her entire speech talks about freedom of the press around the world, but she keeps returning to her fears, which she hopes won't turn into reality, of a cowed and cooperative media in this country. Here are a few excerpts.

I was chilled when [Trump's] first tweet after the election was about "professional protesters incited by the media." He walked back the part about the protesters but not the part about the media. We are not there but, postcard from the world: this is how it goes with authoritarians like Sisi, Erdoğan, Putin, the Ayatollahs, Duterte, et al.

As all the international journalists we honor in this room tonight and every year know only too well:

First the media is accused of inciting, then sympathizing, then associating—until they suddenly find themselves accused of being full-fledged terrorists and subversives. Then they end up in handcuffs, in cages, in kangaroo courts, in prison—and then who knows?

. . .

A great America requires a great and free and safe press. So this above all is an appeal to protect journalism itself. Recommit to robust fact-based reporting without fear or favor—on the issues. Don't stand for being labelled crooked or lying or failing. Do stand up together—for divided we will all fall.

. . .

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Betsy DeVos, Privatization and . . . Fallujah?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 2:44 PM

  • Courtesy of
I'm taking a side trip to Iraq, 2004, to create a—Full disclosure: not entirely fair—linkage between events during the Iraq War and Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for Secretary of Education.

I'm a few days late to the DeVos story, but there's still lots to be said. You can sum up her philosophy of education in three words: Privatize, Privatize, Privatize. ("Do you want to supersize monetize that order of privatization, Ms. DeVos?" "Oh, absolutely!") But first, the Iraq War, and Fallujah.

For a number of reasons, the U.S. turned the Iraq War into a highly privatized mission. We needed more boots on the ground than our armed forces could provide, and besides that, the Bush administration believed that anything a government worker or soldier can do, an employee of a for-profit private company can do better. The private forces totaled about a third of the military presence in Iraq.

In 2004, four private security contractors working for Blackwater USA were escorting a convoy of trucks near Fallujah when they were ambushed and killed. The four men's bodies were burned, mutilated and dragged through the streets. The outrage in the U.S. over the brutal killing was partly responsible for the first Battle of Fallujah, which was the largest military operation since the U.S. took control of Iraq. It did not go well. Civilians fled the city, the U.S. attacked from the air and from the ground with little success. The battle ended with the U.S. withdrawing from the city and turning the operation over to a Sunni security force, which soon turned its weapons over to the insurgency and faded away.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: Normalizing 'White Nationalism' Down to 'Nationalism'

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 9:00 AM

A neo-Nazi group met in Washington D.C. over the weekend celebrating Trump's victory. The keynote speaker proclaimed the superiority of whites (though he preferred the word "Europeans"), referenced Nazi Germany and ended his speech by shouting "Hail Trump! Hail Our People!" which was greeted with cheers and Nazi salutes from the crowd.

Since the election, Trump has unleashed Twitter storms against the media, anti-Trump protesters and the cast of Hamilton, but the only comment about the neo-Nazi event and similar outpourings of racist and antisemitic hate around the country came from someone in his transition team who wrote, "President-elect Trump has continued to denounce racism of any kind." Weak tea from a man whose revels in full-throated condemnations of everything and everyone he's against. Trump's racist supporters know a mild statement like that is the equivalent of calling a naughty dog over for a hug. "Come here, you bad dog. Who's a bad dog? Who's my bad dog?"

At a meeting with the New York Times Tuesday, Trump went a bit farther and decided to "disavow and condemn" the white nationalists, though he acted like he didn't know much about them and denied he had anything to do with their current prominence. At the same meeting, he said maybe there's something to climate change and maybe waterboarding isn't such a good idea after all. Oh, and after bashing the New York Times at every opportunity, he called it a "great, great American jewel." That places his comment about the white nationalists as part of a temporary reversal while he was in the room with the Times guys. Someone accused his racist dog of crapping all over their lawn, and Trump gave the dog a light whack across the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.

A few different terms are used to describe the most racist and antisemitic of Trump's supporters—alt-right, white supremacists, white nationalists. Shades of meaning differentiate the three terms, but they're all in the same ballpark. Whites should rule the country. Non-whites should be kept in their place, and their numbers should be kept as low as possible. All three terms have well-deserved negative connotations, which is why Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist and the man who brags he created "the platform for the alt-right" at Breibart News, wants to normalize the term "White Nationalism" to a more neutral, even patriotic-sounding "Nationalism."

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Education Groups Call for 'A Physically and Emotionally Safe Learning Environment'

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2016 at 11:22 AM


Spurred by reports of increased harassment of students who are members of ethic and religious minorities since the election, a number of education organizations have issued a call to action. Most of the organizations are as mainstream as they come: the National PTA, the National School Boards Association and so on.

From Education Week:
The organizations issuing the call to action are: the AASA, the School Superintendents Association; the American School Counselor Association; GLSEN, an LBGT student group; the National Association of Elementary School Principals; the National Association of Secondary School Principals; National PTA; the National School Boards Association; the National Association of School Psychologists; and the National Association of Independent Schools.

"We come together as national education organizations in the wake of the troubling rash of reports of bias incidents and violence occurring in schools across the nation in recent days," the groups said in a statement. "As learning communities, schools and school systems are responsible for providing all students with a physically and emotionally safe learning environment. This principle is the foundation of academic achievement, healthy individual development, and civic engagement. Violence, intimidation, and purposefully harmful expressions of bias undercut the core mission of schools and have no place in our school communities."

The statement applauded the schools and districts "that have already taken meaningful steps to develop and support positive school climate in their communities." It did not list any examples. In recent weeks, districts like Los Angeles Unified have approved resolutions following repeated school walkouts by thousands of students. Those resolutions call for safe and supportive learning environments, and some have made special mention of a refusal to cooperate with possible future federal immigration enforcement.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: 'I Threatened and Insulted You, So You Owe Me an Apology.'

Posted By on Mon, Nov 21, 2016 at 11:00 AM

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was booed and cheered when he entered the theater to watch the musical, Hamilton. At the end of the show, a member of the cast read a short statement directed at Pence. That's what actually happened. Trump tweeted that Pence was "harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton." That didn't happen. The cast didn't "harass" Pence. In another tweet, Trump wrote, "The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!" That also didn't happen. The cast wasn't "rude" to Pence. It doesn't owe him, or Trump, an apology.

What we have here is another post-election shot across the bow of the First Amendment. Trump is once again putting people on notice that criticizing him is dangerous business. For now he'll respond verbally. Later, well, we don't know what will happen later. His response as president could be more than words. The country could become a Trump rally writ large, with dissenters treated like protesters were treated during the campaign, with Trump's consent and assistance. "Get 'em out! Get 'em the hell out of here!"

Let's go through the Hamilton incident piece by piece.

The cast didn't "harass" Pence.
Here is the full statement read by Brandon Victor Dixon, a cast member, while the rest of the cast stood behind him, holding hands.
“Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton, an American Musical, we truly do. We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
That is a pointed, eloquent statement. There isn't a word of harassment, no threatening tone of voice. It is polite dissent, spoken with theatrical diction by a man wearing a formal, American Independence-era suit.

Dixon prefaced his written statement by noting that Pence was in the audience and that he was leaving, and he hoped Pence would stay to listen to the statement. When some audience members booed, Dixon said, "There's nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen, we're all here telling a story of love." You can watch a video of the statement here.

Trump criticized the cast, not the audience.
If anyone could be accused of harassing Pence, it's the audience, some of whom booed him when he walked in, then booed the mention of his name by Dixon after the show. Why did Trump go after the cast and not include the audience in his condemnation? Well, the audience is a well-heeled, predominantly white crowd who could afford to pay anywhere from $300 to thousands of dollars for a ticket. They're Trump's class of people, one percenters to five percenters, even though many of them are of the liberal persuasion. The cast, but for their costumes, could have been a Black Lives Matter demonstration, predominantly people of color with some white faces thrown in. They're among Trump's prime targets.

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