Friday, June 15, 2018

In Which I Find Myself Agreeing With (1) John Huppenthal and (2) The Charles Koch Institute

Posted By on Fri, Jun 15, 2018 at 10:00 AM

  • Courtesy of BigStock
[Gulp!] OK, here goes.

I rarely find people I disagree with more fundamentally than John Huppenthal and the Koch Brothers. But sometimes the universe allows for rare moments of alignment. I'm putting these odd moments of agreement with Huppenthal and the Brothers Koch into one post even though they concern very different issues to amplify the weirdness of the moment (also to spare myself the task of doing this twice). And—this is a plus for me—I find our similar positions are at odds with people and organizations I disagree with as fundamentally as I usually disagree with Hupp and the Kochs.

First, John Huppenthal. A story on public radio station KJZZ talks about one of the major downsides of the letter grades Arizona gives to its schools, namely, schools with lower income students tend to get lower grades, which stigmatizes the students, the teachers and the schools. One of the few nearly undisputed facts in educational research is that no matter where you go, students from lower income families tend to do worse on standardized tests than students from higher income families.

Or, as John Huppenthal put it in the story,
"Here we have this letter grading system that comes in and is beating, to put it bluntly, beating the hell out of schools that are serving the most at-risk populations."
John, I couldn't have said it better myself. To be honest, you said it a hell of a lot better than I did.

Huppenthal's statement is followed by one from Lisa Graham Keegan, who thinks the grading system is not perfect but pretty good. Keegan, like Huppenthal, is an ex-Arizona lawmaker and education superintendent. She has continued to be a player in Arizona's education politics, pushing her destructive privatization/"education reform" agenda forcefully and successfully with a succession of Arizona governors and legislatures. So for a brief, happy moment, I find myself allied with Huppenthal against Keegan. (John, who is a regular commenter here, will most likely rain on my parade and explain how I'm distorting his and Keegan's positions, but I'll savor this rare moment of apparent confluence until the two of us lock horns again.)

Then there's the Charles Koch Institute, which — spoiler alert — is on the same side as I am, lined up against the Goldwater Institute. Imagine my surprise.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Bitter Cup of News: Revolutionary Grounds Is Grinding to a Halt

Posted By on Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 10:12 PM


Revolutionary Grounds Coffee and Books, the small storefront on Fourth Avenue near the corner of Fifth Street, is closing its doors for good on Sunday, June 17. But a revival may be on the horizon.

Usually invisible to the average tourist, the store’s red brick walls housed a vibrant local community for the past decade. The place has a collection of leftist and progressive books that are sourced and sold by the owners, Joy Soler and her husband, attorney Paul Gattone.

You can find paperbacks about Marxism, sustainable food sourcing, feminist memoirs, the Civil Rights Movement and much more stacked on the shelves, adjacent to a comfy seating arrangement with faces of famous activists accenting the wooden tables.

Soler received a letter earlier this month from her landlord, Andy Fried, announcing that their rent has been increased, again. The monthly bill has risen to a point where her family can no longer afford it.

“Our landlord sent a letter saying that he had increased [the rent] back in January and we hadn’t been paying it, but he never told us he increased it back in January.” Soler said.

The letter Fried also said he will be increasing the rent again this month, and he expects back rent to be paid from January through May on top of this increased price.

“He wants us out, so he told us if we leave by the 30th he’ll forgive one month’s rent,” she said.

Soler and Gattone have spent the last decade building up their business at 606 N. Fourth Ave. She told me they have been paying on a month-to-month basis, and although Fried has been slowly raising the rent in the last couple of years, it has never been this drastic until now.

Fried, who also owns the connected buildings where Tallboys and Myztic Rootz are located, told the Weekly he increased the rent because Pima County increased the value of the property, and therefore his property tax.

Records from the Pima County Treasurer’s Office showed the property tax was $8,636 in 2017, compared to $7,856 in 2013.

Soler’s regular customers are understandably upset about this news, which she announced through the store’s Facebook page a few weeks ago. Revolutionary Grounds hosts a lot of niche community events and outreach activities that can’t be found elsewhere.

“A lot of people feel like [Revolutionary Grounds] is a safe space on the Avenue for folks who don’t have many safe spaces to go to,” she said.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

From the People Whose Data Mining Brought You Cambridge Analytica: "Personalized Learning" Is Coming to a School Near You.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 13, 2018 at 3:30 PM

  • Courtesy of wikimedia
Your child's learning may soon be "personalized" by a computer algorithm created by people who know more about ones and zeros than they do about human beings.

I just read another one of those stories that scare the crap out of me every time I see them. The headline on the latest article in Education Week: "How (and Why) Ed-Tech Companies Are Tracking Students' Feelings." A few hundred words into the story, you learn that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla are sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into "whole-child personalized learning." Oh, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have decided to team up with the Zuckerbergs. For all I know, Mark and Bill's wives are genuine sentient beings, but the two men are beta version androids, strong on smarts but weak on understanding of what makes humans human. They'd most likely fail the human/replicant test in Blade Runner.

Here's how the Orwellian world of computerized "personalized learning" works. A student uses, say, an online math learning program. The software keeps track of the student's every keystroke, pause, fast forward and rewind, and of course every right and wrong answer. If the program is sophisticated and invasive enough, it may record facial expressions and eye movements as well. The information is stored in an individual folder on the company server. The next time the student logs on, the software uses what it has "learned" about that child to personalize the lesson to the student's academic and emotional learning style.

Best case scenario: The lessons are better suited to individual students, increasing their levels of interest and comprehension.

Worst case scenario: As the student interacts with educational programs in a variety of subjects, and maybe plays a few games and takes a few fun quizzes ("Which do you like better, playing video games or playing sports?") as a reward for time spent or points earned, the software company amasses a growing file of psychometric data. Year by elementary school year the data accumulates, creating an intimate, multi-dimensional personality profile. Humans come and go, but computer data lives forever. During their school years, young people's data and psychometric analysis can be used to make them "better" students — more attentive and interested maybe, but also more compliant and conforming. For the rest of their lives, it can be sold to people who think they can gain monetarily, or politically, from knowing what individual buttons to push on millions of human beings to elicit the desired responses.

Big Data Is Watching You. And Evaluating You. And Manipulating You.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Architect Threatens To Quit Benedictine Sanctuary Project if City Council Doesn't Play Ball

Posted By on Tue, Jun 12, 2018 at 9:50 AM

Renderings from Poster Frost Mirto's original proposal. The most recent proposal was reduced by two stories.
  • Renderings from Poster Frost Mirto's original proposal. The most recent proposal was reduced by two stories.

While the Benedictine Monastery might not be torn down, it remains in danger of becoming student housing.

In response to the Tucson City Council’s decision on May 22 to initiate an Historic Landmark designation for the 78-year-old monastery, the property owner Ross Rulney sent a letter to the council threatening to build four-story residential buildings throughout the property and repurpose the monastery into private residential or offices, which is allowed under the current zoning.

The project's architects, from Poster Frost Mirto, presented a proposal to 225 neighbors at the end of March, which included seaking the HL designation and repurpose the sanctuary for public use as a boutique hotel, coffee house or public pool—among other ideas. The plan also included eight-story market-rate residential apartments on the north and south side, and five-story apartments to the east.

Renderings of the high rises surrounding the monastery was met with audible gasps. The architects later lowered the taller buildings to six stories and the shorter to four stories in a new proposal. But Councilmember Steve Kozachik says the height is still too tall.

Former Ward 6 Councilmember Molly McKasson was at the public meeting and says the plans broke her heart. She lives in the Sam Hughes neighborhood, not far away, and grew up visiting the sanctuary.

She said she respects the current zoning but any higher would dwarf one of the city’s most famous and exquisite pieces of architecture. And although Poster cited her in his letter to Mayor and Council as saying six stories is acceptable, she says she doesn’t think that at all.

“There’s an opportunity here to develop that very ample parcel into something beautiful, in the middle of the city, and probably make a pretty good profit,” she said. “My hope is people will work together to come up with some sort of compromise to respect people who own property in the surrounding area as well as these historic structures all over town that people don’t want to see boxed in by six-story towers.”

An HL designation of the monastery would not likely stop Rulney from repurposing the inside of the landmark. The designation requires sensitive design that doesn’t diminish or detract from the primary structure.

Corky Poster, an architect with Poster Frost Mirto, wrote a June 1 letter to Mayor and Council warning that seaking the HL designation could lead to the city owing Rulney millions of dollars in compensation because of Prop 207, a 2006 voter-approved initiative that requires jurisdictions to reimburse land owners when new regulations decrease the property's value.

“In our view, the City of Tucson will likely wind up spending millions of taxpayer dollars to ‘save’ a building that we had agreed, for free, to ‘save’ and rehabilitate four months earlier,” Poster wrote.

He added that if the council shoots down the latest proposal, which would prohibit student housing and include 222 residential units, Rulney will likely decide to build student housing, which yields a higher square-foot rental rate. The monastery would have no public use and probably be turned into student housing itself. And Poster, who has worked on many preservation projects throughout Tucson, would resign from the project

“If the neighbors object to student housing, the City might extend the boundaries of the Landmark to include the whole site, effectively prohibiting any development. That would increase the condemnation payment to the owner substantially,” Poster wrote in his letter.

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Monday, June 11, 2018

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: What Rough Beast?

Posted By on Mon, Jun 11, 2018 at 2:58 PM

Two of the world's most unpredictable leaders are meeting in Singapore, each with an olive branch in one hand, a nuclear missile in the other. Our Narcissist-in-Chief cozies up to autocrats while he alienates our natural allies. The country and the world are tip-toeing along the edge of a treacherous cliff. The United States is bracing for the possibility of a dangerous, even irreversible transformation. Some look forward to it with anticipation. Others of us live in dread.

I hear ominous echoes of words and events from a century ago, almost to the year, in the poem by W.B. Yeats, "The Second Coming," which I've reproduced at the end of the post.

We are a country built on a constitution and a system of laws, but they aren't enough to hold us together. We depend on the gravitational pull of societal customs and norms to keep us from falling prey our worst tribal, anti-democratic instincts. With Trump's constant stream of lies and half truths, with his condemnation of every branch of government which isn't under his absolute control, with his willingness to go it alone without guidance from governmental traditions or responsible advisors, he is pulling us ever further from our gravitational center.

If Trump and his enablers continue to spiral out of control, carrying us further from the established norms of the executive branch, they will break free from the force which binds this country, as imperfect and as wrong-headed as it often is, together. Lincoln's appeal to the better angels of our nature, the great president's plea that we use the Constitution to help us form a more perfect union, will become so many pretty words piled on the ash heap of discarded ideals.

The center is barely holding. We're falling apart, with no way of knowing what form the shattered bits and pieces of our country will take when they're reassembled.

When I write these T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch posts, which I began the week after Trump's election, I watch the comments section fill with paeans to Trump and his accomplishments and scorn for anyone who thinks differently. The passionate intensity of Trump's supporters jumps off the page with an untamed energy which makes a response nearly impossible. Most readers who agree with what I write remain silent. A few try arguing with the Trump acolytes, but they find themselves shouted down. They're left with the choice of swapping insults with the Trumpists or leaving the field.

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Friday, June 8, 2018

The 'Invest in Education Act' For Tax Dummies (Like Me)

Posted By on Fri, Jun 8, 2018 at 1:00 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock
I'm seeing lots in the news these days about the "Tax the Rich" ballot measure, the Invest in Education Act. The problem is, lots of us tax-math impaired folk don't understand how the added tax would work if the measure passes. I went and talked to some people who know more about taxes than I do, and I have a better understanding of how it works. Now, I'm taking it upon myself to explain what the new tax would mean to the one percenters who would pay it, in a way even I can understand.

First, the basics. If the Invest in Education Act passes, an individual making more than $250,000 or a couple making more than $500,000 will pay a higher state tax rate than the rest of us. If an individual makes $500,000 or a couple makes $1 million, the tax rate is even higher. The extra taxes go toward funding education.

Arizona's current personal income tax rate is 4.54 percent. It would go up to 8 percent when an individual's income hits $250,000 or a couple's hits $500,000, then 9 percent at $500,000 for an individual or $1 million for a couple.

So what does that mean in terms of money for the one percenters? Let's use a couple for this explanation, just so I don't confuse things by trying to include figures for individuals and couples.

Let's begin with what the tax measure doesn't mean. It doesn't mean a couple making $499,999 pays 4.54 percent on all their income, but add a dollar and they pay 8 percent on the whole $500,000. Uh uh. Not at all. Adding that one dollar doesn't bring a tsunami of new taxes down on their heads. The rate on the first $500,000 is the same as everyone else's: 4.54 percent. Every dollar above that is taxed at the higher rate.

Let's say our hypothetical couple makes $500,100. Their added tax will be—get ready for it—$3.46. That's right. If the Invest in Education Act passes, they'll pay three dollars and forty-six cents more than if it fails.

See, the new 8 percent rate is 3.46 percent higher than the current 4.54 percent rate, and 3.46 percent of $100 is $3.46. If the couple buys one less Cafe Latte Grande at Starbucks that year, they'll come out even.

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: Clear and Present Danger

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2018 at 1:45 PM

Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States and its democracy.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

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

Posted By on Fri, Jun 1, 2018 at 8:31 AM

"When Trump dog-whistled about globalists, I didn't realize he was talking about Jews until after the election." "The monstrous nature of the Jewish people must be known to the public." “I propose a government that makes counter-Semitism central to all aims of the state."
Patrick Little, Republican, California, running for U.S. Senate. His campaign poster: END JEWISH SUPREMACY OVER U.S. POLITICS & SOCIETY.

"I consider myself a white racialist." "Six million Jews [killed in the Holocaust]? Ridiculous!"
Arthur Jones, Republican, Illinois, former member of the American Nazi Party, ran in an uncontested primary for Congress in Chicago, received 20,000 votes.

"It's not because we're racists. It's because we feel marginalized. We're the ones who are being oppressed."
Arthur Jones supporter

“Armed machine gun turrets every 300 yards [on the border]. And you can automate those. Anyone who approaches that barrier will be treated as an enemy combatant. Man, woman or child.” "Jews…commit a disproportionate number of mass shootings.”
Paul Nehlen, Republican, Wisconsin, running for a congressional seat.

Called Virginia Democratic and Republican candidates for governor "cuck" and "cuckservative." ("Cuck" is short for "cuckhold." In alt right parlance, it refers to a white man who watches his wife having sex with a black man.)
Corey Stewart, Republican, Virginia, running for governor. He came within one percentage point of winning the Republican primary against Ed Gillespie by devoting his campaign to defending Confederate monuments.

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