Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Yarmulkes, Money and Labels: Trump's Antisemitism and Racism

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2019 at 4:46 PM


Is Trump our Racist/Antisemite-in-chief, or does he just play at it on TV and Twitter?

The nicest thing you can say about Trump's racist and antisemitic comments and tweets is what Andrew Gillum said about Ron DeSantis when the two of them were running for Florida governor: "I’m not calling Mr. Desantis a racist," Gillum said. "I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist."

I'm not running for office so I don't have to be as careful as Gillum. I'll say it without equivocation: Trump is an antisemite. Trump is a racist. Full stop.

Except that, some will counter, we know Trump will say or do anything to win the news cycle, pander to his base and vilify his enemies. Can we separate the actual prejudices festering inside his fevered brain from his slash-and-burn political tactics?

After the 2018 clashes between participants in the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and protestors, Trump said there were "fine people on both sides." Was that Trump's honest opinion or a way to assure the continued allegiance of people like neo-Nazi leader Richard B. Spencer whose post-election speech praising Trump's victory included Nazi salutes and the triumphant call, “Hail Trump. Hail our people. Hail victory!”

Me, I'd say anyone who can find a way to defend people chanting "Jews will not replace us" is an antisemite. But we're talking about Trump who lies whenever it suits his needs, so the point is open to debate.

Trump has joined other Republicans in turning Rep. Ilhan Omar, who is black, Muslim and has a foreign accent (she was born in Somalia) — she's a bigot's trifecta — into the Democratic villain du jour. Is he just looking toward 2020, or does he despise Omar as much as he says?

It's hard to tell the difference in Trump's most public statements, but we can get at the genuine bigotry inside that twisted head of his by looking at less publicized moments.

Let's start with his antisemitism. Yes, I know Jared, Trump's son-in-law, is Jewish and Ivanka converted, making her children, his grandchildren, Jewish. He dotes on his daughter and, to the extent he's capable of affection, it's possible he may actually love his grandchildren, but as anyone who has taken a close look at bigotry knows, that doesn't stop him from accepting stereotypes and harboring ill feelings toward Jews.

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Friday, April 5, 2019

Inclusion Matters

Posted By on Fri, Apr 5, 2019 at 4:08 PM

  • Composite from Bigstock images

It's the early 1990s. Imagine a U.S. high-tech company has made a quantum leap in face recognition software. The product is so far ahead of the competition, it corners the market and becomes the industry standard.

In this imaginary scenario, the company is owned and staffed by African American techies.

What are the chances the weakest link in the software would be its inability to recognize dark-skinned faces? Almost zero, right?

When early incarnations of the software were tried out on the company staff, any problems with differentiating and recognizing people with dark skin would jump out at them immediately. The company would make it a priority to pinpoint and correct the problems, because who wants to create a program where they, their coworkers, their mothers, fathers, boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, husbands, sons and daughters can be mistaken for someone else? The recognition system for dark-skinned faces would be as close to flawless as the company could make it.

Of course, before bringing the product to market, the company would make sure the system worked with lighter skinned faces as well, because that's where the money is. Still, its accuracy might drop a bit because Anglos were excluded from the initial testing and tweaking process, and they weren't in the room prodding their fellow techies to work out the bugs.

But if, instead of it being an all-African American company, a quarter of the top people were Anglo, white faces would have gotten more attention from the beginning. If you add Asians and people from other ethnic groups into the mix — and women, let's not forget about women — you're likely to have as close to an equal opportunity face recognition product as any company could create.

Now let's jump back into the real world. One of the weakest links in today's face recognition software is recognizing darker faces. In a grotesque example, in 2015 when Google users asked to see images of gorillas, some African American faces were likely to be included. Google apologized and promised to fix the problem. Instead of fine-tuning the software though, Google simply blocked gorillas from its image search options to take care of that one specific problem.

An article in Thursday's Star is about Amazon's face recognition software which appears to have trouble detecting African American women's faces. As you might imagine, the problem wasn't discovered in house. It was pointed out by a female, African American researcher at MIT.

Both Google and Amazon tried to make excuses for their errors. A Google spokesperson said its software made mistakes with other people's faces as well. Amazon attacked the methodology the MIT researcher used in her recent study, though a group of Artificial Intelligence scholars defended her work. Both companies thought it was perfectly fine to downplay the problem and minimize the effort they put into finding solutions.

Problems like these arise regularly in the private and the public sector because too few members of minority groups are sitting at the table. If Silicon Valley had more African Americans in positions of power, they could throw a spotlight on racially insensitive aspects of the corporation's work, which are invisible or unimportant to others, and work to find solutions to the problems.

Here's another recent example, or two or three, from Hollywood.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Kamala Harris Wants To Raise Teachers' Salaries

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 2:28 PM

  • Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Green New Deal is an aspirational list of ideas of ways we can improve the environment and lift people's standards of living.

Do we need a Green New Deal? Is it doable? Can we afford it? Democrats are asking those questions seriously while Republicans pretend the GND would mean an end to hamburgers, milkshakes and airplanes.

The best thing about the Green New Deal is people are forced to talk about climate change and the environment. The topics now have a place at the political table. The more politicians and others talk about them, the better the chances we'll do something to address them.

On another front, some Democratic presidential candidates are advocating for Medicare for All. Others are calling for a private/public partnership which guarantees health care for everyone.

What's the best way to deliver health care to the most people? How will we pay for it? Democrats are holding a vigorous debate on the topic while Republicans make another stab at killing Obamacare and claim to have a plan of their own, something which they've been talking about for years but have yet to unveil.

This is another issue which no presidential candidate can avoid talking about. Like the environment, health care has a seat at the political table. It cannot be ignored, and that's a good thing.

Kamala Harris, Democratic candidate for president, has pulled another chair up to the table, this one for teachers. Harris says teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated, and she wants to increase their salaries using a combination of federal and state funding.

Should we increase teacher pay? Can we afford it? What's the best way to do it? Thanks to Harris, every Democratic candidate will have to address those issues, and Republicans will have to figure out how to fight against a salary increase without sounding like they hate teachers and children. The discussion and debate will increase the possibility that teachers around the country will see a substantial pay increase sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Thank you, Kamala Harris.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Miserable Charter School Bill Is Put Out Of Its Misery

Posted By on Tue, Mar 26, 2019 at 3:50 PM

  • Illustration from graphic
There are times when something is better than nothing. When it comes to the charter school bill in front of the legislature, this is not one of those times. Nothing is the better, or, to put it another way, the least bad option.

It looks like the charter school bill making its way through the legislature isn't going anywhere. After it passed the Senate, House Speaker Rusty Bowers stopped the bill from getting a hearing in committee. Bowers said he doesn't have the votes to pass it and he's probably right.

The bill's purported goal is to clean up the corruption and profiteering running rampant in some charter schools. People who have been paying attention have known about this for years but a series of articles in the Arizona Republic exposed the seamy underbelly of the charter world to more people, including some Republican politicians who have done their best to look the other way. Not all charters are guilty. Many are run with the primary intent of educating their students, not fatten people's wallets. But as The Republic demonstrated, the bad charter operators are truly bad operators.

The bill's sponsors claim its purpose is to increase charter transparency and lay down some regulations, making it harder for people to game the system. Actually, it does very little, and it does that badly.

Before we look at the bill itself, let's take a look at what's been going on around the bill to see what we can learn.

Here's one clue to what's in the bill: when it passed the Senate 17-13, all the Republicans voted for it. All the Democrats voted against it after trying to amend it to give it more teeth. Seeing as how Republicans created Arizona's charter schools a few decades back and have protected charters from greater regulation and accountability ever since while Democrats have been the ones calling for more transparency and regulation, it makes you think the bill is meant to act as a fig leaf to cover up the naked corruption taking place in some charters, not improve the charter school system.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Arizona Spends $7,613 More Per Student In White Districts Than In Nonwhite Districts? Really? (Answer: No, Not Really)

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 2:47 PM


According to a recent study by Edbuild, Arizona spends $7,613 more per student in predominantly white districts than predominantly nonwhite districts. That would make us the most inequitable state in the nation when it comes to funding our school districts.

Edbuild's study was picked up by media outlets across the country. You can read all about it in the New York Times, the Washington Post and hear about it on CNN and NPR, to name a few major outlets that carried the story. It's also been covered by Arizona media.

If the $7,613 figure comes from a reputable nonprofit which focuses on problems of funding inequality and segregation in the nation’s public schools and is repeated often enough in the media, it must be right. Right?

Wrong. As I explain in an article which will be running in Thursday's print edition of the Weekly, the figure is not only wrong, it's wildly wrong. Arizona may do a lousy job of funding its schools, but it does a reasonably good job of spreading the money out evenly across districts.

For almost 30 years, Arizona has used a funding equalization formula to distribute money to school districts. Before that, schools were funded primarily by local property taxes, which meant districts with expensive homes were rolling in education dough while districts with lower property values struggled to find enough money to run their schools.

Arizona's equalization system is far from perfect. Some school districts, mainly in high rent areas, find ways to game the system and bring in extra money for their students. But compared to other states, we do a fairly good job of evening out the money each district receives.

Instead of being labeled as one of the worst offenders in the way we distribute our education funds, we should be praised as one of the best.

Here are three reasons I know we're doing a reasonably good job of equalizing education funding:

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: Trump Unbound

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2019 at 9:13 AM


It's been awhile since I've written one of these THREAT (Trump Human Rights Erosion And Termination) Watch posts, which I began writing a week after Trump's election.

It's definitely time for another one. Not because Trump has done anything unusually outrageous or frightening lately. He hasn't. He's been steadily outrageous and frightening in word and deed from day one. He continues to trod down the path he stomped out, campaign speech by campaign speech, tweet by tweet, beginning in the election season and continuing during his two years in office. Though he has done damage to the country and the office of the presidency in ways which may not be remedied in our lifetimes, he hasn't irreparably harmed the country.


The only reason Trump hasn't done more harm is because the country's basic institutions have held him in check. The courts have reversed, delayed and curtailed much of what he wanted to do. Once in awhile Congress puts a check on one of Trump's schemes, usually in the foreign policy arena. Rarely, but it happens. And the media—Bless and keep the media, our first line of defense against tyranny!—has stayed strong and independent. The more Trump calls the truth-telling media the Enemy of the People and purveyors of Fake News, the harder reporters work to tell the truth.

Trump should also be held in check by the conventions of the office which say the president is bound by court decisions, by congressional laws and oversight and, possibly most important, by a sense of what's right. A president should have a reasonable amount of honor as well as a sense of shame. When he's done something wrong, or even worse, when he's been caught at it, he should say, "I shouldn't have done that. I'd better back off, maybe even try and make amends. I learned my lesson on that one."

And therein lies the greatest threat Trump presents to the country. He is unbound by the norms of law, society and human decency. He'll lie, cheat and steal, whatever it takes. When he's caught in a lie, he lies harder, repeating the lie more often and ever more outrageously. When the courts rule against him, sometimes he ignores them and other times he works around them, violating the spirit of the court's ruling, trying to find a way to do what he wants in spite of their pesky judicial meddling.

This is nothing new. He's always been this way. But it's gotten worse lately.

Some recent cases in point:

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Groove 106.3 FM Takes To The Air

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2019 at 3:27 PM

  • Courtesy
In case you haven’t adjusted your radio presets in a while, Tucson has a “new” Old School & R&B radio station. 

Late in February, Bustos Media, the new owners of KTGV 106.3 FM The Groove announced the re-launch of the radio station. This new addition brings the number of Bustos Media owned and operated stations to twenty-three across the nation.

So, what’s new? Well, The Groove has expanded their playlist, added a special feature they are calling Commercial Free Mondays and incorporated “live DJs” into the morning, midday and evening mix. And, in the digital age of corporate radio, instead of automatons, this is novel.

Now, let’s meet the crew.

  • Krystal Pino
Krystal Pino takes hold of the wheel during the harried morning commute. Pino is a leading radio and television personality in the Southwest. She is also is an experienced stand-up comedian. “Her commentary on the world around her will start the audience’s day off with a laugh.”

  • Big Ed Alexander
Big Ed Alexander eases into the midday slot. A longtime Tucson radio veteran, Alexander, who graduated from Rincon High School, can boast of holding a Golden Mic Award. “He loves hanging with his listeners and exploring all the great places that make Southern Arizona a wonderfully unique place to live.”

  • SuperSnake
DJ SuperSnake holds down afternoons and the drive home. In addition, Snake will be the new program director for Bustos Media. Snake explained, “From Hotel Congress to the UofA, to my friends at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, I want The Groove to be a force for listeners to have fun and hear great music.”

There you have it.

The guys and gals at The Groove are celebrating the occasion with a launch party. The fête takes place Friday, March 8 at Desert Diamond Casino in the Monsoon Nightclub. See for details.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Charter School Teachers On Strike: A Privatizer's Nightmare

Posted By on Tue, Feb 26, 2019 at 1:44 PM

  • courtesy of flickr

As I write this, teachers in Oakland, California, are out on strike for the fourth day. Some charter school teachers are organizing a sick-out to join the district teachers.

In Los Angeles, teachers went on strike in January, ending with a contract agreement with the district. A small group of charter school teachers joined them on the picket lines.

Charter teachers joining a school district strike should put a scare into the privatization/"education reform" crowd. Here's something even scarier. Last December, unionized teachers from a Chicago charter network held the nation's first charter school strike. The teachers succeeded in getting a pay raise, lowering class sizes and granting undocumented students sanctuary.

Then this month, 200 teachers at another Chicago charter school chain were out on strike for two weeks.
Led by the Chicago Teachers Union, striking charter educators staged a camera-ready civil disobedience campaign that filled downtown sidewalks with loud protests, blocked access to a Loop office tower used by CICS board President Laura Thonn and crowded outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office for a Valentine’s Day card writing campaign.
The new contract will include "pay raises, class-size limits, one week of paid parental leave and shorter work schedules."

The strikes are the visible tip of the charter school unionization iceberg. Many other charters have unionized teachers who regularly engage in collective bargaining with their charter organizations.

It's a privatizer's nightmare.

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Staff Pick

UA Dance: Spring Collection

Spring Collection is the season’s “wrap up party,” and as always we offer you something special. This… More

@ UA Stevie Eller Dance Theatre Fri., April 19, 7:30-9 p.m., Sat., April 20, 7:30-9 p.m., Sun., April 21, 1:30-3 p.m., Thu., April 25, 7:30-9 p.m., Fri., April 26, 7:30-9 p.m., Sat., April 27, 7:30-9 p.m. and Sun., April 28, 1:30-3 p.m. 1737 E. University Blvd.

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