Politics

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Few Thoughts On the Mexican American Studies Trial

Posted By on Wed, Jul 26, 2017 at 2:35 PM

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The Mexican American Studies trial is over. Judge Tashima's decision could come in a few days or a few weeks, though from what I've heard, we might have to wait until the end of August. The defense of the MAS program can win in four ways. The judge can rule that the anti-MAS legislation, HB 2281, violated the equal protection clause with respect to the students in the program, or HB 2281 violated the first amendment rights of those involved in the program. Either ruling would mean ARS §15-112, the law created by HB 2281, will be tossed out. He can also rule that Huppenthal's enforcement of the legislation to dismantle MAS violated one or both of the issues, at which time Huppenthal's decision against the MAS program would be voided. If Tashima rules in favor of the defense on any of the four points, it will be an important victory for supporters of the Mexican American Studies program  Multiple rulings for the defense will be a triumph.

I would love to see Judge Tashima rule for the program and against the anti-MAS law and Huppenthal's enforcement. The whole affair smelled of politics and racism from the beginning.

Here's a question. Are Tom Horne and John Huppenthal a couple of racists who went after the Mexican American Studies program because they hate brown people? If the judge thinks so, the defense is going to win big. But that's not necessary. Even if they were the two least racist white folks on the planet, if they promoted a racist agenda to further their political ambitions, Horne's bill—he essentially wrote HB 2281—and Huppenthal's implementation of the bill could still be racially discriminatory.

A case in point. Remember George Wallace? He was the Alabama governor who stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama auditorium in 1963 to block two African Americans from registering, leading President Kennedy to call out the national guard to allow them in, effectively desegregating the university. But when Wallace ran for governor in 1958, he looked like a different guy when it came to racial issues. By the standards of the south, he was a civil rights moderate, so much so that his candidacy was endorsed by the NAACP. He ended up losing the primary to John Patterson who had the support of the Ku Klux Klan. Stung by his defeat, Wallace said, "You know why I lost that governor's race? ... I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I'll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again." And he never was. In 1963, he famously stated his platform as "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." For Wallace, virulent racism was more career move than personal conviction.

During the MAS trial, Tom Horne claimed he isn't a racist, but he couldn't claim he wasn't ambitious. When he was Superintendent of Public Instruction, he envisioned himself sitting in the governor's chair after a brief stopover in the attorney general's office. All he needed was an issue to get him noticed, and it was handed to him in 2006 when labor activist and civil rights icon Delores Huerta uttered the phrase "Republicans hate Latinos" during a speech to students at Tucson High. The story blew up and became a cause célèbre among Arizona Republicans. For awhile it even went national, making it all the way to Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox. Horne saw his chance. He transferred the conservative fear of this one "uppity brown activist" to the entire Mexican American Studies program, painting its teachers and administrators as revolutionaries who wanted their students to rise up and reclaim the southwest for Mexico. The steps of the TUSD administration building became Horne's home away from home. He was a regular visitor, holding press conferences to condemn the program. Immigration and fear of the growing Hispanic population were already rallying cries for conservatives. Horne claimed a slice of the racist, xenophobic pie as his own.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

McCain Returns to Senate To Push Mystery GOP Healthcare Bill Forward

Posted By on Tue, Jul 25, 2017 at 5:23 PM


On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain returned to the Senate floor to cast his vote in a pivotal moment for the Affordable Care Act. Following surgery to treat a blood clot discovered in his brain, McCain was diagnosed with a deadly form of brain cancer at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix earlier last week.

With surgery scars visible above his left eye, McCain was met by a standing ovation as he took the floor to participate in the Senate's procedural health care vote. Though McCain cast his vote in favor of advancing the GOP’s efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, he also admonished both parties for their lack of bipartisan efforts in recent months.

“We’re getting nothing done my friends. We’re getting nothing done,” he said during his address to the Senate.

Following the outpouring of support from his colleagues and constituents, McCain called for restoring regular order and casting aside sentiments of partisanship, even though he cast the deciding vote to move forward with legislation that was being written on the fly.

But he also took a shot at President Donald Trump: “We are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equals.”

Prior to the vote, President Donald Trump tweeted that “Any senator who votes against starting the debate is telling American that you are fine w/ the OCareNightmare!”

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkwoski of Alaska both voted agains the motion to proceed, along with all the Senate Democrats and independents. Vice President Mike Pence broke the 50-50 tie so the bill could move forward.

With the motion to proceed green-lighted, debate now will begin, although even senators appear to not know details about what legislation they are discussing.

McCain’s office announced that he will remain in Washington for the next few days before returning to Arizona to recover and receive further treatment.

What happens now is anyone’s guess.

BASIS Connives to Maintain Its Elite Charter School Status in Baton Rouge

Posted By on Tue, Jul 25, 2017 at 5:15 PM

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Arizona has no restrictions on the makeup of a charter school's student body, so if a school happens to attract lots of upper income families, that's fine. Not so in Louisiana. If a school district is the chartering agent, the law says the student body has to have a similar percentage of "at risk" students as the district. That presents a problem for BASIS, which wants to open a school in Baton Rouge, where more than 70 percent of students come from families considered "at risk." BASIS thrives on catering to advantaged students. What to do?

BASIS came up with an answer. Build the school on the property of Woman's Hospital. Then half the school's student body can be children of the hospital employees—they get the first shot before other applicants are considered—and they aren't counted in the school's socioeconomic mix. So BASIS can forget the usual 70 percent mark for "at risk" students.
BASIS’ application estimates that only 20 percent of those students will come from poor backgrounds, sometimes called “at risk,” which would make it one of the most affluent public schools in the state.
I'm not sure how BASIS came up with the 20 percent figure. If half the student body follows the Louisiana guidelines, the number should be closer to 35 percent. But whatever the final numbers turn out to be, the school district's board is fine with the arrangement. It voted 6-0 to give BASIS a provisional contract.

The next time BASIS says its schools don't cater to an elite student body, think about Baton Rouge where BASIS is gaming the system to make sure most it enrolls as few "at risk" kids as possible. The truth is, BASIS's much-touted "best in the nation" status has always had more to do with its pupils than its pedagogy.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

A Few Thoughts on the New AzMERIT Scores

Posted By on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 5:30 PM

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We've been given a first look at the new AzMERIT results from the tests students took in spring. They haven't been broken down in granular detail, but we know how students scored at each grade level in math and language arts. The numbers look reasonably good. Basically, they're a little better than they were the year before. No question, up is better than down, but does that mean Arizona students have improved in math and language arts? It's not an easy question to answer. Let me throw out a few ideas without trying to arrive at any solid conclusions.

This is the third year the state has given students the AzMERIT test as a replacement for AIMS, and that means it's the second year teachers have been able to teach to the new test. The first year, teachers didn't have much of an idea what the test was like, so when it came to test prep, they were like generals fighting the last war. They had been teaching to the AIMS test for years, and they didn't know how to change their strategies to help their students with AzMERIT. The second year they knew more about how the new test was structured and what kind of questions the students would be asked, so they made an effort at tailoring their test prep to the task. The third year, with the previous year's experience under their belts, they refined their test prep technique a bit more. Which begs the question: do this year's higher scores reflect an improvement in students' achievement or their teachers' test prep proficiency?

Whenever students are taught how to take a specific test, the results are thrown into doubt. Are students learning the concepts behind the test questions, or have they simply become more adept at answering the questions? Our obsession with yearly results on high stakes tests means the results people value so highly don't mean much. Worse, the tests distort students' educational experience by making teachers focus on narrow sections of the curriculum at the expense of equally important areas which aren't on the test. You can't blame teachers for spending an inordinate amount of time on what will be tested, even when they know their overemphasis on the tested material does their students a disservice. Their individual evaluations and the state grades their schools receive hang in the balance. The scores are too damn important to let giving their students a comprehensive education get in the way.

If we want to monitor students to get a sense of how they're doing on their basic math and language skills, a better way is to test student achievement every few years in selected grades — and separate the scores from funding and school grades.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dr. Word Says: Trump Tries His Hand at Poetry

Posted By on Wed, Jul 19, 2017 at 4:41 PM

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Squeezing a message into a 140 character tweet sometimes results in what might be referred to as poetic compression, but rarely does the product qualify as poetry. More commonly, the compressed phrase is awkward, even confused. However, sometimes one finds a gem. Take as an example the last sentence in a recent tweet by Donald J. Trump.

"The Dems scream death" is a pithy, well-turned phrase, combining both the act of screaming the word "death" and the scream which can accompany death. Those words are followed immediately by the phrase "as OCare dies," repeating the death image while simultaneously referencing the Republican assertion that Obamacare is in a death spiral. The word "OCare" has an antique, almost Elizabethan quality which adds to the poetic resonance of the passage. A rich, complex interplay of words and images is contained in those seven deceptively simple words.

Did Trump intend the sentence to have a poetic ring, or was his phrasing borne of the necessity of keeping the message to 140 characters, which happens to be the exact length of the tweet? One might as well ask, is an especially evocative Haiku beautiful because the poet intended it to be so, or is the beauty of the poem an accident caused by the constraints of the seventeen syllable, five-seven-five form? Since I readily grant the author of a splendid haiku credit for the work, who am I to deny our president similar credit for the felicity of his phrasing?

Now, let's take this analysis a step further and look at the rhythmic form of the eight syllables. The line, it turns out, is written in perfect iambic tetrameter—four iambic feet.

An iamb contains two syllables, the first unstressed, the second stressed. A well known example of a poem written entirely in iambic tetrameter is Joyce Kilmer's Trees. Here is the opening couplet of the poem.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree. 


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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Flake Loves Him Some Cruzcare

Posted By on Tue, Jul 18, 2017 at 4:11 PM

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Trumpcare is dead, or in a coma, and Sen. Ted Cruz's amendment to the bill was one of the nails in its coffin (or the rubber mallet to its head if you prefer the coma analogy). But our Senator Jeff Flake, who usually plays a moderate in the media, decided to embrace Cruzcare in his attempt to court Arizona's right wing in the run-up to the primary. On a radio talk show he joined Cruz to voice his support for the most hated man in the Senate, his new bff. I didn't have to search for the talk show segment. Flake is so proud of it, he put it at the top of his latest constituent email. It landed in my inbox hours before two more Republican senators stated they wouldn't vote for the most recent version of Trumpcare which included the Cruz amendment, ending its chance of passing in its current form.

Cruz calls his plan the "consumer freedom amendment." It means insurance companies can go back to providing the kind of subprime, low cost health care packages forbidden by Obamacare. So, for example, if Senator McCain had purchased one of the "consumer freedom" insurance options, he might only have coverage for high cost care, like his recent surgery. People are estimating that his total bill, if he had to pay it, comes to about $70,000. His "consumer freedom" insurance would say he's covered for hospitalization, but when he opens his bill, he may discover hospitalization coverage is for the room and board portion of his hospital stay but not the cost of the surgery and doctors' visits. And he might also find that his coverage will be canceled at the end of the year, which couldn't happen under Obamacare, leaving him without insurance and nowhere to go for affordable coverage. That's what Cruz and Flake call "freedom."

Flake's email also spotlighted a News 12 story on his Cruzcare stand. I'll bet he loves the first sentence of the segment.
"Is Arizona Senator Jeff Flake backing the most conservative Obamacare repeal plan?"

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Flake Takes a Turn To the Right

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 6:45 PM

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA.ORG
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No politician wants to read words like these, on fivethirtyeight.com.
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is unpopular — really unpopular. According to a poll about all 100 senators released Tuesday by Morning Consult, just 37 percent of registered voters in Arizona approve of their junior senator, compared with 45 percent who disapprove. That gives Flake a net approval rating of -8 percentage points, the worst of any senator.
On Morning Consult, the headline of an article reads, Only One Senator Up for Re-Election in 2018 Has Underwater Approval Rating. Flake's picture is above the headline. Ouch.

Compared to most politicians, Flake usually come off as a reasonably honest, forthright guy with a conscience—a conservative with moderate tendencies. He even got Trump riled up enough that our commander in chief said he'll spend millions of dollars to primary out Flake—which is a plus for the senator in my book. But now, faced with his worst-in-the-nation numbers, Flake has thrown moderation and forthrightness to the winds. He's tacking as far right as he can to fight off certain primary opposition. After that, he figures, he can flip over his political Etch-A-Sketch, give it a shake and put on his "sensible Republican" mantle for the general election.

The first big test for Republican senators is the upcoming health care legislation. Flake decided to throw in with far-right Senator Ted Cruz and support the "Consumer Freedom Option" he developed. Basically, Cruz says if insurance companies have one option that's in line with the Obamacare rules, they should be able to create as many low cost, low coverage options as they like. Remember the subprime loan disaster? This is subprime health insurance. Consumers are sold insurance on the cheap, then when they need it, they find it's all promises and no coverage. The plan is so bad, even insurance companies don't like it. They know healthy people will flock to the low cost, low coverage insurance, and the Obamacare-compliant options will be chosen mostly by people in the greatest need of care—in other words, people with preexisting conditions. The cost of those plans will skyrocket, making them unaffordable to the people who need them most.

Flake brushes off the concern that people with preexisting conditions won't be able to afford coverage with the most confused, convoluted statement I've heard from this generally plain-speaking guy.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

There's Election Integrity, and Then There's Election Integrity

Posted By on Wed, Jul 12, 2017 at 5:02 PM

WIKIMEDIA
  • Wikimedia
The press is calling it the Voter Fraud panel, though it would more accurate to call it the Voter Suppression panel. But the real name of the committee headed by Vice President Mike Pence and anti-immigration, pro-voter suppression Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

Note to Pence and Kobach: The term "election integrity" is already taken. But that never stopped Republicans, who are masters at appropriating other people's language. Remember when "fake news" referred to patently false stories amplified on the internet to create confusion and disinformation during the campaign? Trump made the term his own, changing its meaning to any news he doesn't like that comes from the mainstream media. Remember when "No child left behind" was a term coined by Marian Wright Edelman, the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi bar, who worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973, who honestly believed no child should be left behind, not only in school, but everywhere in society? Maybe you don't, but that's who coined and used the term until George Bush kidnapped it to use for his 2001 education legislation which should have been called "No test left behind."

Election integrity activists have been fighting to assure that every vote is counted accurately for years. Tucson has been one of the centers of the fight since a group of people who believed the results of the 2006 RTA election had been flipped from a loss to a win started scrutinizing the county's voting and vote counting procedures. Whether the group's allegations are right or wrong, we've all benefited from their work to make Pima County elections far more tamper resistant than they were in the past. As they and others across the country have demonstrated, rigging an election to change the results isn't rocket science. It can be accomplished fairly easily by any number of actors starting in the polling booth and ending with the final vote count if no one is paying attention. I haven't seen any slam dunk evidence of a vote count being hacked, but there are lots of wisps of smoke in elections around the country. Given the political stakes, it's hard to believe no one has made an attempt to falsify the count to turn a loss into a win over the past few years.

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@ Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Saturdays, 5-10 p.m. Continues through Sept. 2 2021 N. Kinney Road.

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