Life During Wartime

The Trump Years

First blog post


Thank you Janella Hinds, always an inspiration.

“Choice words from Yale historian, Holocaust expert, and Harvard Academy Scholar Tim Snyder:

“Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.”


Featured post

“Locked and Loaded”

The collateral damage of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un’s bombastic threats has already been felt.

There are 51 million people in South Korea, 25 million in North Korea, about 163,000 people in Guam, and 127 million people in Japan. San Francisco has been mentioned as a North Korean target and in the Bay Area, there are about 7.5 million people. The New York Times ran an article today that references Alaska, San Diego, and “somewhere between Denver and Chicago” as places North Korean missiles can hit with a nuclear warhead.

At first, earlier in the week, if the reporting from these places is to be believed, people were mostly nonchalant, “going about their business.” In today’s papers, however, the reporting strikes deeper, relaying the profound fear people have, of war, nuclear bombs, and the unknown.

This is terrorism. In Google’s dictionary, it defines terrorism as, “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” Take out unlawful and that’s what is happening right now.

For people my age and older, growing up in the 1970s and before, we remember drop and roll drills, daily television news features on underground bunkers stocked with supplies in case of nuclear fallout, SALT I and II talks, Ronald Reagan’s “We begin bombing in five minutes,” the television movie The Day After–literally about the day after a nuclear attack. I remember reading the John Hersey book, Hiroshima, in middle school or high school English class, and thinking hard about what I would do in if a bomb were dropped on my city.

I had nuclear nightmares even through college. The one I recollect was that a bomb was head toward the cul de sac where my family lived in West L.A., and that my family and I held hands as we walk toward what we thought was the bomb’s landing point so we would be obliterated rather than suffer a slower radioactive death.

Perhaps these were so-called first world or fears at the time, a kind of privileged, American middle-class terror.

But I’m not sure that the world has ever seen two more incompetent and bumbling leaders with their fingers on nuclear buttons than Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. They are playing with the lives of real people.

I am not sure what the benefit is for North Korea and its 30-something leader, these threats on Guam; national pride perhaps, for it certainly isn’t about getting economic sanctions lifted and a better life for the North Korean people.

I know for Trump, comments like our country is “locked and loaded”–using the language of guns, the gun lobby, and gun-rights activists–is a way of exciting his base, as they say these days, the angry white people who believe that the world–i.e. immigrants, environmental safeguards, public school, Black Lives Matter, the LGBT community, Google, feminism, and Affirmative Action policies, among others–is conspiring against them.

Trumps threats are from his campaign war chest, remembering that besides the people who voted for him, the rest of the country is pissed off now and could come out and vote in large numbers at the midterm and 2020.

But whether or not the bellicose bullying threats are real or not, people’s lives are at stake and they feel it now, walking on eggshells with fear; the world, and our children are at stake when you bring nuclear missiles into the conversation.

Which means that Trump and Kim Jong-um either don’t care or don’t know. It’s probably a combination of both. We have seen Trump’s knowledge of U.S. and World history, diplomacy, and political leadership is next to nothing–slamming his fist on the table and tweeting in the early morning hours or between golf games is his style. I truly wonder if the man has read any books that were not about him. Kim Jong-um is 33. I once worked for a very arrogant man who was too young to lead a group of people.  Again, having to rely on news reporting, Kim Jong-um has done nothing I can see that will help the people of North Korea live better, short term or long.

In this battle of bluster and ignorance, we all have already lost. Let’s hope we do not lose more.



Twitter as “Modern-Day Presidential”

trump tweeting

In 1933, the Great Depression stared down the future of so many Americans. My grandfather, Abraham Wolkoff, lost everything, took to the road as a traveling salesman with his two young daughters, and died of a heart attack. His Depression story was not unique– anxiety and fear gripped the country. It was certainly a time for the president to lead, if that were possible; “Presidential” is the term we throw around now, perhaps.

Then, U.S. Presidents were inaugurated in March. FDR was inaugurated March 4, 1933. One week later, he gave his first Fireside Chat over the trendy media of the time, radio. It was a different time and a different media than the internet.

“My friends,” he began, “I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking.” They were not literal fireside chats. FDR did not sit by a fireplace. But radios in homes with mantle pieces were often placed there. And they were not really chats but speeches that lasted anywhere from 11 to 30 minutes. According to the FDR Library, he received something like 50,000 letters a week in response to the chats. They were a balm that soothed the nation.

Perhaps, that is what is meant by acting “Presidential”–giving the country what it needs in the form the country can best receive it, generally speaking.

Donald Trump argues Twitter is “modern day Presidential.”

That may be true. If Americans, generally speaking, have the patience to read only 140 characters at a time, as opposed to listening to the President talk for 20 minutes on the radio, than a Twitter post is how the country can best receive what it needs.

Trump’s Tweets, when put in the context of FDR’s Fireside Chats, beg the question: What does the country need? Trump is our monster. Even if we didn’t vote for him, the fact that we have a marginally educated, victory- and money-hungry, popularity seeking bully for a president reflects our times.

The voters spoke, as Trump likes to point out, and even though Clinton got the majority of the popular vote, I don’t think it serves anyone to harp on that. The people who voted for Trump do not want environmental protection. They do not want regulation for oil companies, rich people, markets–on anything really. The Trump Cabinet member who has done the most work this year has been his EPA Chief, Scott Pruit, who has taken a wrecking ball to environmental projection and the agency itself.

Republicans voted for Trump as they would have voted for Rubio or Cruz or anyone. Government is the enemy. They were not ready nor did they want a Black man to be president. And they’re not sure a woman’s place is in the White House.

Trump’s Tweets say to me that the people who voted for Trump don’t care if his Tweets are insulting. What they need is entertainment–WWF, Reality TV, blockbuster movies, celebrity culture, consumerism, video games, trash talking; people falling down and hurting themselves is funny. For them, having a Republican government–however ham-fisted it might be–is salve enough for what they think ails the country, which, for Republicans and Trump supporters, is poor people, immigrants, Black people, LGBT people, welfare, any bkind of regulation, women, environmentalism, Mexican immigrants, crime, taxes–government (unless government is helping them).

For the rest of us…we have to look elsewhere for soothing.

“The Centre Cannot Hold”

I’m reading the news this morning and I’m thinking about Yeats.
The Turks voted to curtail their own democracy, which which would be paradoxical if the voting was reliable,.
The U.S. and North Korea are in a dysfunctional nuclear shouting match.
Lies are truth.
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

This is the season of the second coming for a couple of the world’s major religions. At the Passover Seder, the Jews leave a seat open for Elijah, just in case he’s the Messiah. Yesterday, the Christians celebrate the rising from the dead of their Christ.

But Yeats’ “Second Coming” looks very different, a horrible monster rising out of the desert.
“What rough beast,” Yeats asks, is “slouching toward Bethlehem,” the birthplace of the Christians’ Jesus?
I’d say God only knows, but I don’t believe in God.
Erdogan, Trump, Putin, Kim Jong-un.
ISIS. Boko Haram.
There are more.
My daughter’s Spanish babysitter says Europeans are more cynical than Americans. I believe her. We have a belief system here, even when we have nothing to believe in, tangible, palpable, believable.
A child blows a bubble and it pops.
“Things fall apart…Surely some revelation is at hand.”
Unmitigated power corrupts, transforms into the body of an uncontrollable alpha beast, but not uncontrollable–“the head of a man.”
Paradox slouching toward the largest non-nuclear bomb in our arsenal.
The Second Coming
by William Butler Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Is This the End of Public Education? 

Horace Mann, considered by some the father of American public education, believed that free and state sponsored education was necessary for a stable society.

Mann is often quoted for saying that, “Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men–the balance wheel of the social machinery.”

The great equalizer. Public education, from pre-kindergarten to college, has always had a unique relationship to the way we identify as Americans. We believe we can rise above our station, surpass our parents, overcome obstacles, immigrate so that our children get a college degree, all through a free public education.

As a teacher in New York City, I have always taught immigrants, mostly from the Caribbean, but also from Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Their stories reflected my own: Left economic or political oppression, or physical threats to their lives, in their home country for a “better life” in the United States. And that better life often, but not alway, meant a comprehensive and free public education. In fact, you can’t separate the American Dream–however flawed it might be–from public education. For the American dream was never as specific as living in the suburbs, married with two children, a dog, and a picket fence, but the opportunity to work hard and advance your economic and social position.

But now we have Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education, whose by all accounts opposes public schools, and in an attempt to circumvent them in her home state of Michigan, paid for a successful campaign to free private charter schools from any sort of regulation. She is also a strong advocate, as we know, of school vouchers, which were in part created by Southern white supremacist law makers to sidestep integration (see my blog entry “School Vouchers and Their White Supremacist History”).

Does her confirmation as Education Secretary mean the end of public education, as many pundit and educators are saying?

The question is an important one for the country. Over 50 million children are in public schools, versus the 5 million who attend private schools this year.

One way to answer that is to examine how important the position is in larger scheme of things. The position is 16th in line of succession if something were to happen to the President and 15 other cabinet members and elected officials, right above Secretary of Veterans Affairs. If you don’t have a child in public schools, why would you care about the Secretary of Education?

One could argue that states wield the majority of power when it comes to how K-12 and public college students are educated. The Common Core Standards, for example, game from the National Governors Association and corporate executives who wanted to fund education “reform.”  The states had to adopt or reject the Standards. However, Obama and his initial Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sweetened the standards’ pot when they introduced Race to the Top, federal funding for public schools that hinged upon the state adopting Common Core or similar standards. Some states adopted and later began a process of repealing the Common Core Standards, states like South Carolina and Louisiana as the Common Core came under criticism on a variety of counts from both conservatives and liberals.

My point is that the funding for public education any reform or change on a national scale comes from both state and federal education policy.

DeVos does command a $69.4 billion budget this year–that’s a lot of influence. One fear is that DeVos, who has spearheaded school privatization in Michigan, will dole out lots of that money to not to states to fund public schools, but to fund vouchers and private schools. And ardent Christian and supporter of Christianity in schools, and Christian private schools, as they have in Michigan, might siphon much of the money traditionally earmarked for public schools.

But in the larger scope of school funding, states account for more than Washington does. Also, the national education law, Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind, gives states even more power to set education policy and the Secretary’s office less.

It’s a confusing equation.

Trump himself is an opponent of public schools. He went to a private school in Queens called the Kew-Forest School. From the age of 13 on, he attended a private military academy, then the private Fordham University in the Bronx for two years, and finished his undergraduate degree at the private Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Like DeVos, he is not the product of public schools.

Trump and DeVos’s trade mark education policy choice, a voucher system, may not be successful at raising student achievement. Speaking of Fordham, the school’s study of the Ohio voucher program found that students using voucher money to go to private schools did not do as well on state tests as students who went to public schools. Another program in Louisiana, according to the Atlantic Monthly, did not offer families enough money to subsidize private schools, making vouchers used by wealthier families who could pay for the rest of the school’s tuition that the vouchers didn’t pay for.

In California, voters twice rejected a measure to implement a school voucher system. Still, vouchers are keeping with Trump’s MO: They will make money for companies looking to privatize education, the opposite of public schools.

Another way the Trump administration can hurt public schools is by scaling back or eliminating Title I funding, which both Trump and DeVos have threatened to do. That federal money is from  Lyndon Johnson era Civil Rights legislation that helps fund public schools with poor children. The idea behind it is that schools in neighborhoods with a large percentage of children who live below the poverty line need extra financial support to cope with obstacles that come with poverty. According to the Southern Education Foundation, in 2013, the number of public school students living below the poverty line surpassed the number of students who aren’t. This means that Title I is crucial for public schools to pay for teachers, materials, and books.

What percentage of a typical New York school is Title I funding? It could mean three or four teachers for a small school of  500 kids, which was the case at the Brooklyn public high school where I last taught. The school would lose over $300,000 if Title I monies were taken away; as it is, the school does not have enough money for elective classes or more than one foreign language teacher. The much larger Fort Hamilton High School, according to the United Federation of Teachers, could lose $2.5 million in Title I money.

How many students in New York City would that affect? According the UFT, 700,000 of New York’s 1 million students would face larger class sizes, meaning their schools would not be able to afford as many teachers because their budgets would get slashed. The union’s estimate is that $500 million would be taken away from the city’s education budget.

So again, the question is, does DeVos and Trump  mark the end of public education? There is no easy answer. What we can say for sure is that over the next two to four to eight years, they will make it hard for public school systems, public school educators, and public school students.

I am proud to say that I’ve gone to public school all my life. Above is a picture of my imperfect but still standing public high school, Venice High, in Los Angeles, California. I wonder what will happen to it over the next four years…

We Need One More Republican Senate Vote Against Betsy DeVos

Two G.O.P. Senators to Oppose DeVos as Education Secretary, Imperiling Her Confirmation

Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said on the floor of the Senate that they would vote against Ms. DeVos.

“I will not, I cannot vote to confirm her as our nation’s next secretary of education,” Ms. Collins said.

Both senators, who voted to advance her selection out of committee, said they had serious reservations about her lack of familiarity with public schools. “I think that Mrs. DeVos has much to learn about our nation’s public schools,” Ms. Murkowski said.

Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, has said he believes every Democrat will vote against Ms. DeVos. If that is the case, the defections by Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski would bring the number of votes against her to 50, setting up a tie in the Senate that Vice President Mike Pence, in his capacity as president of the Senate, might need to come in to settle.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said he had no worries.

“I am 100 percent confident she will be the next secretary of education,” he said.


Who might be that Senator? Here are three possibilities, according to the website Talking Points Memo (TPM):

Dean Heller

Heller, who was appointed to replace Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) last year, held his seat in a close contest. Given his slim margin of victory and the fact that his constituents voted by a significant margin to send Obama back to the White House, Heller will have an incentive not to be seen as an ongoing thorn in the president’s side as he works to build a reputation in the chamber.

Heller has displayed an interest in breaking with his party — a major example was his vote against the Ryan budget last summer — and his home state colleague Reid will be eying further opportunities to win his vote.

Mark Kirk

Even as he projects an image as a relative moderate, Kirk’s votes have been difficult to predict as he has also worked to gain the trust of the conservative movement. The Illinois Republican’s votes for the Ryan budget and for repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” reflect that dynamic.

But as a Republican from a solidly liberal state, and the first person elected to fill Barack Obama’s old seat, Kirk has motivation not to be seen as a partisan ideologue. He cultivated a relatively moderate voting record as congressmen, and has occasionally been willing to break with his party as senator, making him a winnable vote for Reid.

Kirk, who has been recovering from a stroke, expects to return to the Senate in January.

Lindsey Graham

Graham is a tricky target because he is up for re-election in bright red South Carolina in 2014. But the senator has, in recent years, collaborated with Democrats on major issues like immigration and climate change, and in the wake of Obama’s re-election, is urging his party to soften its opposition on immigration reform in order to win back Hispanics. He has also been vocal about his support for raising tax revenues to reduce the debt.

If Graham gets hounded by a credible primary challenger early next cycle, his desire for cooperation could prove short-lived. But if he fends off an intra-party battle for his seat, the South Carolinian could reignite his bipartisan streak and become a central figure in advancing and molding Obama’s key second term initiatives.


Trial Balloon for a Coup?

Trial Balloon for a Coup?

By Yonatan Zunger

Trial Balloon for a Coup?

Analyzing the news of the past 24 hours

The theme of this morning’s news updates from Washington is additional clarity emerging, rather than meaningful changes in the field. But this clarity is enough to give us a sense of what we just saw happen, and why it happened the way it did.

I’ll separate what’s below into the raw news reports and analysis; you may also find these twopieces from yesterday (heavily referenced below) to be useful.

From “The Day After Tomorrow.” I resisted the temptation to use the analogous shot from “Planet of the Apes.”

News Reports

(1) Priebus made two public statements today. One is that the ban on Muslims will no longer be applied to green card holders. Notably absent from his statement was anything about people with other types of visa (including long-term ones), or anything about the DHS’ power to unilaterally revoke green cards in bulk.

The other was that the omission of Jews from the statement for Holocaust Remembrance Day was deliberate and is not regretted.

A point of note here is that Priebus is the one making these statements, which is not normally the Chief of Staff’s job. I’ll come back to that below.

(2) Rudy Giuliani told Fox News that the intent of yesterday’s order was very much a ban on Muslims, described in those words, and he was among the people Trump asked how they could find a way to do this legally.

(3) CNN has a detailed story (heavily sourced) about the process by which this ban was created and announced. Notable in this is that the DHS’ lawyers objected to the order, specifically its exclusion of green card holders, as illegal, and also pressed for there to be a grace period so that people currently out of the country wouldn’t be stranded — and they were personally overruled by Bannon and Stephen Miller. Also notable is that career DHS staff, up to and including the head of Customs & Border Patrol, were kept entirely out of the loop until the order was signed.

(4) The Guardian is reporting (heavily sourced) that the “mass resignations”of nearly all senior staff at the State Department on Thursday were not, in fact, resignations, but a purge ordered by the White House. As the diagram below (by Emily Roslin v Praze) shows, this leaves almost nobody in the entire senior staff of the State Department at this point.

The seniormost staff of the Department of State. Blue X’s are unfilled positions; red X’s are positions which were purged. Note that the “filled” positions are not actually confirmed yet.

As the Guardian points out, this has an important and likely not accidental effect: it leaves the State Department entirely unstaffed during these critical first weeks, when orders like the Muslim ban (which they would normally resist) are coming down.

The article points out another point worth highlighting: “In the past, the state department has been asked to set up early foreign contacts for an incoming administration. This time however it has been bypassed, and Trump’s immediate circle of Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Reince Priebus are making their own calls.”

(5) On Inauguration Day, Trump apparently filed his candidacy for 2020. Beyond being unusual, this opens up the ability for him to start accepting “campaign contributions” right away. Given that a sizable fraction of the campaign funds from the previous cycle were paid directly to the Trump organization in exchange for building leases, etc., at inflated rates, you can assume that those campaign coffers are a mechanism by which US nationals can easily give cash bribes directly to Trump. Non-US nationals can, of course, continue to use Trump’s hotels and other businesses as a way to funnel money to him.

(6) Finally, I want to highlight a story that many people haven’t noticed. On Wednesday, Reuters reported (in great detail) how 19.5% of Rosneft, Russia’s state oil company, has been sold to parties unknown. This was done through a dizzying array of shell companies, so that the most that can be said with certainty now is that the money “paying” for it was originally loaned out to the shell layers by VTB (the government’s official bank), even though it’s highly unclear who, if anyone, would be paying that loan back; and the recipients have been traced as far as some Cayman Islands shell companies.

Why is this interesting? Because the much-maligned Steele Dossier (the one with the golden showers in it) included the statement that Putin had offered Trump 19% of Rosneft if he became president and removed sanctions. The reason this is so interesting is that the dossier said this in July, and the sale didn’t happen until early December. And 19.5% sounds an awful lot like “19% plus a brokerage commission.”

Conclusive? No. But it raises some very interesting questions for journalists to investigate.

What does this all mean?

I see a few key patterns here. First, the decision to first block, and then allow, green card holders was meant to create chaos and pull out opposition; they never intended to hold it for too long. It wouldn’t surprise me if the goal is to create “resistance fatigue,” to get Americans to the point where they’re more likely to say “Oh, another protest? Don’t you guys ever stop?” relatively quickly.

However, the conspicuous absence of provisions preventing them from executing any of the “next steps” I outlined yesterday, such as bulk revocation of visas (including green cards) from nationals of various countries, and then pursuing them using mechanisms being set up for Latinos, highlights that this does not mean any sort of backing down on the part of the regime.

Note also the most frightening escalation last night was that the DHS made it fairly clear that they did not feel bound to obey any court orders. CBP continued to deny all access to counsel, detain people, and deport them in direct contravention to the court’s order, citing “upper management,” and the DHS made a formal (but confusing) statement that they would continue to follow the President’s orders. (See my updates from yesterday, and the various links there, for details) Significant in today’s updates is any lack of suggestion that the courts’ authority played a role in the decision.

That is to say, the administration is testing the extent to which the DHS (and other executive agencies) can act and ignore orders from the other branches of government. This is as serious as it can possibly get: all of the arguments about whether order X or Y is unconstitutional mean nothing if elements of the government are executing them and the courts are being ignored.

Yesterday was the trial balloon for a coup d’état against the United States. It gave them useful information.

A second major theme is watching the set of people involved. There appears to be a very tight “inner circle,” containing at least Trump, Bannon, Miller, Priebus, Kushner, and possibly Flynn, which is making all of the decisions. Other departments and appointees have been deliberately hobbled, with key orders announced to them only after the fact, staff gutted, and so on. Yesterday’s reorganization of the National Security Council mirrors this: Bannon and Priebus now have permanent seats on the Principals’ Committee; the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have both been demoted to only attending meetings where they are told that their expertise is relevant; the Secretary of Energy and the US representative to the UN were kicked off the committee altogether (in defiance of the authorizing statute, incidentally).

I am reminded of Trump’s continued operation of a private personal security force, and his deep rift with the intelligence community. Last Sunday, Kellyanne Conway (likely another member of the inner circle) said that “It’s really time for [Trump] to put in his own security and intelligence community,” and this seems likely to be the case.

As per my analysis yesterday, Trump is likely to want his own intelligence service disjoint from existing ones and reporting directly to him; given the current staffing and roles of his inner circle, Bannon is the natural choice for them to report through. (Having neither a large existing staff, nor any Congressional or Constitutional restrictions on his role as most other Cabinet-level appointees do) Keith Schiller would continue to run the personal security force, which would take over an increasing fraction of the Secret Service’s job.

Especially if combined with the DHS and the FBI, which appear to have remained loyal to the President throughout the recent transition, this creates the armature of a shadow government: intelligence and police services which are not accountable through any of the normal means, answerable only to the President.

(Note, incidentally, that the DHS already has police authority within 100 miles of any border of the US; since that includes coastlines, this area includes over 60% of Americans, and eleven entire states. They also have a standing force of over 45,000 officers, and just received authorization to hire 15,000 more on Wednesday.)

The third theme is money. Trump’s decision to keep all his businesses (not bothering with any blind trusts or the like), and his fairly open diversion of campaign funds, made it fairly clear from the beginning that he was seeing this as a way to become rich in the way that only dedicated kleptocrats can, and this week’s updates definitely tally with that. Kushner looks increasingly likely to be the money-man, acting as the liaison between piles of cash and the president.

This gives us a pretty good guess as to what the exit strategy is: become tremendously, and untraceably, rich, by looting any coffers that come within reach.

Combining all of these facts, we have a fairly clear picture in play.

  1. Trump was, indeed, perfectly honest during the campaign; he intends to do everything he said, and more. This should not be reassuring to you.
  2. The regime’s main organizational goal right now is to transfer all effective power to a tight inner circle, eliminating any possible checks from either the Federal bureaucracy, Congress, or the Courts. Departments are being reorganized or purged to effect this.
  3. The inner circle is actively probing the means by which they can seize unchallenged power; yesterday’s moves should be read as the first part of that.
  4. The aims of crushing various groups — Muslims, Latinos, the black and trans communities, academics, the press — are very much primary aims of the regime, and are likely to be acted on with much greater speed than was earlier suspected. The secondary aim of personal enrichment is also very much in play, and clever people will find ways to play these two goals off each other.

If you’re looking for estimates of what this means for the future, I’ll refer you back to yesterday’s post on what “things going wrong” can look like. Fair warning: I stuffed that post with pictures of cute animals for a reason.

Just A Few Famous Refugees

This is a brief list of some famous refugees–there are many more I did not have time to list. All of them contributed to American culture, the American economy, and the American spirit. There are also many more not-so-famous refugees, such as the families of both my parents, and the families of many of my former students. All have made this country a richer place, in every sense of the word.

Madeleine Albright–Former Secretary of State, fled the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948.

Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam–Grammy awarding winning singer, also known as M.I.A., left Sri Lanka as a refugee from the country’s civil war.

Bela Bartok–Composer. Fled Nazi-occupied Hungary for the U.S. in 1940.

Marc Chagall–Modernist painter. Twice a refugee. Left Soviet Russia in the early 1920s because of famine for France. Left Nazi occupied France for the U.S. in 1941.

Albert Einstein–Renounced German citizenship in 1933 when the Nazi Party came into power. Did some nice work in physics.

Sigmund Freud–Jewish, had to leave Nazi Germany at the age of 79 to live in England until he died at age 83. Known as the father of psychoanalytic theory.

Wyclef Jean–Pop singer, three-time Grammy Award winner. Fled the murderous Duvalier regime in Haiti as a nine-year-old in 1978 for the United States.

Henry Kissinger–German born, also a former American Secretary of State, also left Germany because of the Nazis, he has been variously called our county’s finest diplomat and a war criminal for his hawkish advice to Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Martina Navratilova–Defected from Czechoslovakia in 1975. The most dominant woman’s tennis player in the 1970s and ’80s.

I.M. Pei–Went to the U.S. before WWII as a Harvard architectural student, could not return to China because of the war. Designed Kennedy Airport, the Kennedy Memorial, and the National Gallery of Art.

Both Saatchi and Saatchi–Jewish, escaped persecution in Iraq for England in 1947.



If Martin Could Speak to Betsy and Donald About Education (and the Country as a Whole)

Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.

from “The Purpose of Education,” Morehouse College student newspaper, The Maroon Tiger, 1947

School Vouchers and Their White Supremacist History

This is a blog about school vouchers and Donald Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, a symbol of most of the people Trump has chosen to run this country: billionaires unprepared for the job.

But, full disclosure, I didn’t like Arne Duncan much either.

Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education for most of his two terms, supported charter schools, which will be discussed below. I didn’t like Duncan’s Race to the Top, which asked states to vie for federal dollars by expanding standardized tests and rating teachers, students, and schools  on those standardized tests. Students became overwhelmed by high-stakes exams, and the failure of those exams signified that at the top, you can’t find  higher order thinking or student achievement. The Common Core Standards, part of Duncan’s legacy, was had some good ideas, including those that argued for less memorization of factoids and a deeper understanding of how to analyze text, math, and those facts across the curriculum. However, states, school districts, and principals rolled out the Common Core blindly, badly, and belligerently — afraid they would not get the Race to the Top funds — so they rolled over students and teachers instead.  Now, the Common Core Standards are yesterday’s fish wrap, another educational solution to last only a few years, like so many of the “latest” educational developments do.

I don’t know what Obama was thinking about public education. Maybe he wasn’t thinking about it at all.

But while Duncan and Obama failed to improve American public education, DeVos and Trump are out to to destroy it, and anyone paying attention knows it. They are telling the country that the answer to “failing schools”–and one has to ask failing by what and whose measure–is school vouchers and charter schools. Perhaps unwittingly, and perhaps knowingly (I don’t know), she is drawing on the solution Southern states used in the 1950s and ’60s to preserve segregation in the wake of Brown v. the Board of Ed of Topeka Kansas. She is drawing on a legacy of White Supremacy.

According Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana teacher with a Ph.D in applied statistics and research, and author of three books, among them last year’s School Choice: The End of Public Education?, the idea of school vouchers started in Virginia in 1955 and spread throughout the South. U.S. Senator Harry Byrd (VA) conceived of a Southern “‘massive resistance'” to Brown and desegregation, which was ultimately referred to as “The Southern Manifesto.”

This was a two pronged attack on the court order to desegregate public schools. Virginia authorized the governor to close schools that voluntarily desegregated. White families would rather hold their children back from school, watch the school close down, than have those children go to schools alongside Black kids; this state law, though, was repealed after only a few years.

However, Virginia also “Began using public money to fund private school tuition”–the introduction of the voucher. White students could obtain public subsidized vouches to go to all-white private schools. Also, Black families who wanted to brave the antagonism of white communities could apply to the state to transfer to a white school. “School choice” became a choice of the state, Schneider points out, not Black families wanting to go to better and integrated schools. The state controlled the vouchers. And the vouchers went to white families.

North Carolina followed Virginia’s lead. So did Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina. Arkansas, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee also pledge allegiance to the Southern Manifesto. For a few years, at any rate, Virginia and other Southern states staved off integrating its public schools.

“Thus,” Schneider writes, “what is clear about tuition grants, scholarships, and grants-in-aid, and the history of American education is that these were tools to preserve segregation.”

Does DeVos know this history? If she is anything like her potential boss Trump, she might not know much about the Civil Rights movement or the history of segregation in the South. As we watched in such scenes as her Senate Confirmation hearing, she might not know that much about public education period.

She “confused” an existing Federal law about Special Education, called the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, with decisions left up to the states, according to news reports of the first day of her hearing.

In a much covered moment from the hearing, she did not understand the difference between proficiency and growth. DeVos, as Secretary of Education, will have to sign off on each state’s model of measuring student achievement, part of the new Federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind. And each state will have to propose, according to the Atlantic Monthly, how to hold schools accountable–by either using the growth model or the proficiency model, or some combination of the two. The growth model, for those keeping score at home, evaluates students progress, including where they started, in terms of understanding a subject. The proficiency model evaluates students as to whether they’ve met a series of bench marks on a subject, like in New York students are evaluated every year from third through eight grade on their literacy and math skills, and then again in high school.

DeVos’s ignorance of educational issues commonly confronting public schools represents her advocacy for giving families vouchers to send their children to private, and religious, schools on the public dime, and for Charter Schools. DeVos doesn’t know diddly about public schools.

According to the Michigan State Board of Education, John Austin, writing in the blog “Public School Proud,” DeVos and her billionaire husband Dick DeVos campaigned, using millions of their dollars, to get the state to lift its cap and any accountability on Charter Schools. Their efforts were successful. In what Austin deemed “a Wild West of unfettered choices that don’t educate kids,” he wrote that for-profit companies run 85 percent of all Michigan charters. Private companies and public agencies, from oil companies to public educational departments, all need oversight and regulation–not to create more jobs or meaningless bureaucracy, but because not everyone is well intentioned and disastrous mistakes are often made.

It’s not just that DeVos wants to use her office to move Federal money to private schools, either by using vouchers or for-profit run charter schools, it is that she opposes the kind of oversight, accountability, and general scrutiny that govern public schools. In short, what is happening right now in Brooklyn, for example, where charter schools create a battle-like stance for public schools and charters over students and valuable resources, lowering the quality of education, happened in the state of Michigan. And, if DeVos is confirmed, will happen all over the country–public schools will lose out on needed funding and students without the school vouchers to pay for a quality private school will lose out on the excellent education every child deserves.

She probably understands the difference now between growth and proficiency. And she’ll probably become confirmed, given the Republican numbers in the Senate.


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