Monday, March 13, 2017

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: Why Does Trump Call the Press 'Vrag Naroda'?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 13, 2017 at 3:13 PM


"Vrag naroda" is Russian for "Enemy of the People." I didn't pull the phrase from some online English-to-Russian translation engine. It is, or was, a much used term in the Soviet Union to describe people who the leadership believed were dangerous and were sent away to some distant prison camp, or executed. Until Stalin died, anyway. Nikita Khrushchev, when he came to power, decided to tone down the rhetoric a bit, because he thought Enemy of the People "eliminated the possibility of any kind of ideological fight."

Trump apparently disagrees with Krushchev. He thinks Enemy of the People is an excellent term to use against people, like journalists, who state facts or espouse views he finds objectionable.

A few weeks ago when I wrote about the literary antecedent of Trump's use of the phrase—Ibsen's play, An Enemy of the People—I was being too clever by half. It's true that Ibsen uses the term ironically to refer to people who try to tell the truth—journalists, scientists, whistleblowers—and are condemned for their efforts by the powers that be, just like Trump is doing. But really, that was an English major/English teacher showing off. Far more important is the Soviet Russia reference, given the Trump campaign and administration's many ties to Russia. Trump, I'm certain, didn't pull the phrase out of thin air, any more than the use of the word "purge" to describe the ousting of people suspected of loyalty to Obama from positions of influence is a coincidence. It's a chilling reminder of the close philosophical, ideological and personal connections between the people surrounding Trump and Russia.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Grandmas, the Declaration of Independence and Cursive

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 8:34 AM

  • Courtesy of wikimedia
Did you know grandmas can't print? Did you know you can only read the Declaration of Independence in the original historical version? Yeah, neither did I.

I don't give much of a damn whether or not schools teach cursive. If it's a choice between cursive or recess time, I say go with recess. If it's cursive or a has-nothing-to-do-with-teaching-to-the-test project, I say go with the project. But if there's time enough and it doesn't cut out anything valuable, sure, why not? Teach cursive if you want.

But I hate ridiculous, sounds-like-common-sense con jobs trying to justify anything, teaching cursive or otherwise. That's what this post is about.

I read an article about the revival of cursive in the classroom. Arizona is now requiring cursive instruction, which is part of a national movement, so it's news. I've heard arguments that cursive instruction encourages some kind of higher level thinking, but so do any number of other educational activities, so that's a silly argument. But not as silly, as ridiculous, as logic-challenged, as maddening, as the arguments in this article.

One cursive proponent says, if children know cursive, they can read a letter from grandma. Sounds logical, right? Grandma sends a birthday card or a postcard from Italy, and the poor little grandchild looks at it, turns to mommy in tears and says, "I (choke) can't read what grandma wrote (sob)." My question is, how stupid is grandma—or grandpa, to make this less sexist (though the article doesn't mention him)? Didn't everyone in that generation learn to print? That's what I do when I send birthday cards or any other written communication to my grand children. I print, so they can read it. For the younger one, I write in all caps, since that's all she writes and reads at this point. That's being, I don't know, thoughtful. Considerate. Loving. My cursive is such a miserable scrawl even I have trouble reading it sometimes, so if I wrote cursive, I'd have to slow down anyway to make it legible. It would take as much effort as simply printing, so they can read it.

But if you don't think about it, you might say, yeah, that makes sense, let's teach kids cursive so they can read grandma's letters.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Sen. Yarbrough Gets Slammed Big Time By the New York Times

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 4:32 PM

Arizona's ongoing tuition tax credit scam was well documented back in 2009 courtesy of some terrific investigative reporting, and it continues to come up in our media now and again. Nothing has changed—what else is new in Arizona?—but at least it's out in the open for anyone who wants to read about it. It's nice to see this Oldie But Goodie getting some national coverage in a New York Times story, DeVos and Tax Credit Vouchers: Arizona Shows What Can Go Wrong. The story's poster child for tax credit profiteering is our own state Senate President Steve Yarbrough.

The Times story begins, "Steve Yarbrough is one of the most powerful men in Arizona." Then it talks about our backdoor voucher program, tuition tax credits, where people give money to School Tuition Organizations and get all of it back when they pay their taxes, meaning their "donation" costs them nothing. The taxpayer picks up the tab, since 100 percent of that money otherwise would have gone into the state coffers. The STOs use most of the money to pay for students' private school tuitions. It can pay for poor kids to go to private schools, but the money can also be used to pay full tuition for millionaires' sons and daughters to attend the most exclusive, expensive private schools in the state. The more you know about this program, the worse it gets.

The dirty secret hidden inside the voucher plan, the Ka-ching! that puts a twinkle in Sen. Yarbrough's eye, is that ten percent of the tuition tax credit money goes to pay the STO's overhead. If your STO pulls in, say, $18 million, like Yarbrough's Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization did in 2014, the most recent year with an online tax form from the STO, that means $1.8 million can be used to pay for the expense of collecting money from donors and handing it out to schools. That's good money if you can get it. Yarbrough gets a $125,000 salary out of the deal. But as the Times piece points out, that's only part of his total take. He owns HY Processing which does the bookkeeping/tech work for the STO, for which it makes $636,000 a year. Yarbrough owns the building that houses the STO, which brings him $52,000 in rent. The STO paid for his car.

I imagine Yarbrough smiles all the way to the bank when he's on his way to the State Capitol to do "the people's work"—with Steve Yarbrough being Steve's favorite "people."

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thoughts on the Sanchez Resignation and the Next Steps for TUSD

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 6:03 PM

As most everyone knows by now, H.T. Sanchez resigned as TUSD superintendent Tuesday. You can read the official Separation and Release Agreement here. It's a clean break agreement. No one is admitting guilt on either side. Members of the board can't speak badly about Sanchez, and Sanchez can't speak badly about the board. If anyone violates this "non-disparagement" agreement, that person can be sued and, if found guilty, is responsible for paying the damages. That should effectively button lips on both sides. Sanchez gets $200,000 for leaving, which I figure is more-or-less half of what he would get in salary if he stayed until his contract was up.

People in the community will continue to talk about Sanchez, I'm sure, but TUSD is saying, "Let's move on." I agree.

What comes next? Unless the board majority has a Plan B with someone already in mind as the next superintendent, the next step is up in the air. So, a few thoughts.

First, I'm folding my hands and praying a secular prayer that the board hires a competent, effective superintendent with as little fussing and fighting as possible. I'm not sure how many great potential superintendents are job hunting right now, but I imagine a number of applicants for the job will be reasonably capable. A great superintendent can move a district forward, usually by small steps, not by leaps and bounds. A bad superintendent can be a drag on the district and bring it down a few notches. A competent, caretaker superintendent can keep things running with a modicum of efficiency and, with a bit of luck, lower the hysteria level just a little. I'll add that I hope the new superintendent is both confident and cautious. People will be pushing and pulling the Supe from all directions, and the best response, at least in the near future, is to plot a steady course instead of bending with whatever wind is strongest.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Is Antisemitism Rising to the Threat Level?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2017 at 4:28 PM

  • Courtesy of static
I'm Jewish. I've watched intently as the antisemitic alt right has grown in prominence during and after the presidential campaign. gave the haters a voice, orchestrated by Steve Bannon, Breibart's executive chair. Trump retweeted some of the alt right's garbage because he liked the way it sounded. After his election, he made Bannon his closest advisor, making Bannon the most powerful man in the White House except for, or maybe including, Trump himself. An exultant group of alt righters gathered in D.C. after the election, ending their celebration with a speech by Richard Spencer who exalted white people using language reminiscent of the Third Reich. He ended his speech with, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail Victory!"

But through all that, I honestly wasn't very worried that antisemitism would rise to the level of a serious problem. I've been focused on the very real threats to Muslims and Hispanics whose daily lives have been harmed and whose feeling of safety within our country has been imperiled. Worrying too much about antisemitism as I sit on my reasonably safe, secure societal perch has felt a bit self indulgent. Sure we're seeing some visible signs of hatred toward Jews, but it has always been there hiding just under the surface, and watching it peek its ugly head out of the cess pool where it lives didn't seem too consequential.

Until now. Now, following the desecrations of Jewish cemeteries and the bomb threats called into Jewish Community Centers across the country, including our JCC here in Tucson, it's beginning to look real. I'm still trying to keep it in context. The Trump administration's moves against immigrants and Muslims are a far more immediate, day-by-day concern. But I'm no longer unconcerned about the threat of antisemitism.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Are Vouchers Bad For Students Who Use Them?

Posted By on Mon, Feb 27, 2017 at 12:37 PM

Arizona's Republican legislators are pushing a vouchers-on-steroids-for-everyone bill. Betsy DeVos, Trump's new Secretary of Education, loves vouchers and private schools far more than public schools. A bill being pushed in Congress would change the way the Feds give money to the states, requiring that the money go to students attending private schools as well as public schools.

And yet, the latest research indicates that voucher students do worse than similar students who stay in public schools, according to a recent article in the New York Times.

Yeah, I know, it's the New York Times, and what right-thinking, pro-privatization School Choice advocate listens to a paper Trump assures us is spouting Fake News and is an Enemy of the People?

OK then, you might want to listen to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative, pro-school choice think tank, whose research is discussed in the NY Times article. The institute published a study in July, 2016, about Ohio's voucher program, which began in 2005. The results for the voucher students weren't good.
The students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools. The study finds negative effects that are greater in math than in English language arts. Such impacts also appear to persist over time, suggesting that the results are not driven simply by the setbacks that typically accompany any change of school.
The authors were hoping for a different result, they wrote, but they showed themselves to be honest researchers.
Let us acknowledge that we did not expect—or, frankly, wish—to see these negative effects for voucher participants; but it’s important to report honestly on what the analysis showed and at least speculate on what may be causing these results.
In the same spirit of honesty, I need to add one positive the researchers pulled from their data: the achievement of students who could have chosen to use the vouchers but stayed in public schools actually improved. The authors drew the conclusion that the public schools improved their instruction out of concern that, otherwise, too many students might leave for private schools. If that finding is confirmed elsewhere — and if it's an actual increase in student learning and not just a result of more intense teaching to the standardized tests — it's something educators should look at more carefully.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

What To Do If ICE Comes To Your Door

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 5:10 PM

  • Images courtesy of
The threat is all too real for many people around the country, especially in areas like Tucson: someone coming to their door asking about their immigration status. The group United We Dream has put together a simple flier telling people what to do in case they find themselves in that situation. You can download the flier in English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Korean.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Did the TUSD Board Come To Bury Sanchez Or To Praise Him? (Answer: C, None Of the Above)

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 1:44 PM

At the second TUSD board meeting in as many weeks, the board punted on the topic of keeping or firing Superintendent Sanchez. Last week, on Feb. 14, the action item was removed from the board's agenda. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, it was the meeting's sole agenda item. After an executive session which ran hours longer than scheduled, the board members walked into the standing-room-only meeting room, listened to members of the audience speak out for and against Sanchez, then told the audience the item had been tabled. See y'all next week!

None of us regular folks know exactly why a vote on Sanchez's future was delayed. The decision was made in executive session, and the board members are supposed to keep those sessions confidential. So the next step is anyone's guess. Sanchez may yet be fired; he may be allowed to remain with conditions; or the board may simply vote against the call to get rid of him and be done with it. I have a feeling the board doesn't know much more about the outcome than the rest of us.

So, nothing happened. But I observed something and drew a conclusion which may or may not be accurate. What I observed was, there's not a whole lot of passionate community support for the "Fire Sanchez" movement. There are probably a significant number of people in the community who are dissatisfied with his performance as superintendent, people who wouldn't be unhappy to see him go, but if the meeting is any indication, the core group of Sanchez haters, the people with fire in their bellies, is reasonably small.

Full disclosure: I think Sanchez should stick around at least until his contract runs out in 2018, so that may color my subjective, anecdotal observations. I claim no scientific rigor here. That being said, I watched carefully, and this is what I observed. If I'm wrong, I'm sure others will let me know.

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