Thursday, December 8, 2016

Phoenix Union High School District Makes a Statement

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 3:45 PM

  • Courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net
Phoenix Union High School District issued a statement of its commitment to "excellence and equality for all students . . . every single one of the young lives entrusted to us." According to the press release, the statement was created "in response to the concerns of many parents, students and staff following the election cycle." It's a model for any school district wanting to affirm its commitment to the safety and welfare of all its students.

I'm including the entire statement, but first I want to spotlight the words at the end.

As a district, we make the following commitments:

We will continue to strengthen and implement processes that authentically raise up student voice.

We will work together - side by side and with all willing stakeholders - to address issues of race, of poverty, of discrimination, and of hate.

We will stand behind our Phoenix Union DACA recipients and DREAMers regardless of changes in law or policy. We will continue to work with community, city, state, and national leaders to create opportunities for our DACA and DREAMer students and their families so that they may thrive personally and academically. Our campuses will remain safe places for our students and their families.

Phoenix Union will continue to shun hate, judgment, violence, discrimination, and divisiveness. Instead, we will promote peace, acceptance, inclusivity, and compassion.

We choose love.

We choose our students and families.

Every single one of them.
The entire statement is below:

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Gen. Michael Flynn, Conspiracy Tweeter and Trump Whisperer, Is a National Security Risk

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 4:30 PM

There's no way Gen. Michael Flynn has the temperament or judgement to be Trump's national security advisor. It's far more frightening that Trump lacks the temperament and judgement to be president, but that's all the more reason he needs a stable, competent person whispering in his ear. Trump is on course to be our least knowledgeable president, a man with a 20 minute attention span who tends to adopt the viewpoint of the last person he talked to. His national security advisor, whose job is to sort through the information and opinions of cabinet members and governmental agencies, then present it to the president and help him figure out how to respond to international crises needs to be an honest man capable of distinguishing fact from fiction and able to arrive at cool, rational conclusions.

Let's ignore Flynn's famous temper and past inflammatory statements—except to note that when he was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, his subordinates referred to his questionable assertions as "Flynn facts"—and look at the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory which circulated during the last weeks of the presidential campaign. It was a fake news story, completely without basis. It was made up. It was a lie created to damage Hillary Clinton. And Flynn did his part to fan the conspiracy's flames.

The "Pizzagate" lie began right after FBI Director James Comey revealed that a new batch of Clinton-related emails were found on Anthony Weiner's computer. The "Pizzagate" lie was that some of the emails pointed to a child-trafficking ring run by Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta out of a pizza restaurant. The story flew around the internet and may have been one of the fake news stories that influenced the outcome of the election. It should have been old news after the election, but it made headlines Sunday when a man burst into the pizza restaurant with an AR-15 rifle, looking to investigate and expose the "scandal" himself. Fortunately, he didn't hurt anyone and is now in custody.

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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 jphotostyle.com
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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Monday, November 28, 2016

Dear Daily Star: An Unsubstantiated Claim Is Not a Citation

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2016 at 2:05 PM

I opened my copy of the Star this morning and found this misleading headline:
Trump assails recount, cites illegal voting
Then I read the first paragraph of the Associated Press story:
President-elect Donald Trump claimed without evidence Sunday that “millions” voted illegally in the national election, scoffing at Hillary Clinton’s nearly 2 million edge in the popular vote and returning to his campaign mantra of a rigged race even as he prepares to enter the White House.
The AP got it right: Trump "claimed without evidence" that people voted illegally. The Star headline got it wrong by writing that Trump "cites illegal voting." "Cites" implies that Trump was referring to evidence or proof. In fact, he threw out a wild, unsubstantiated, debunked claim of voter fraud.

[Full disclosure: Since I've lived in Tucson, I've begun the morning with the Star spread on my lap and a cup of coffee in my hand. It's how I open my eyes. I support the Star. I read it cover to cover. I recommend everyone who can afford to subscribe should do so. We need our local dailies. That makes me a loyal critic of the paper who wants it to be as accurate and credible as possible.]

I looked at other paper's headlines for the same story. Most of them use the "claim without evidence" construction. The Star headline is the outlier. Another headline that includes the word "citing" uses it correctly: "Donald Trump, Citing No Evidence, Claims 'Millions' Of People Voted Illegally In The 2016 Election." [boldface added for emphasis] Interestingly, the headline is a revision of an earlier version which received heavy criticism, as you'll read below.

This isn't nit picking. It's about the role of the media to cover the news accurately and to be acutely aware of the fact that many readers don't read further than the headline and the first paragraph. Get either of those wrong in a news item and readers get it wrong.

Jay Rosen, an Associate Professor of Journalism at New York University, has a terrific Facebook post on this point. He believes the media is being tested by the Trump regime to see how it will respond to misstatements and outright lies. According to Rosen, the real news in this story is "the fact that [Trump] feels entitled to say this without a shred of evidence— THAT is the news, not the fact that he said it." Media outlets that normalize false statements from Trump help blur the line between fact and falsehood, a line Trump spent the campaign trying to erase.

Here is Rosen's post.

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