Archives for the month of: May, 2021

Neil MacFarquar wrote this story in the New York Times. It is a chilling warning.

Many Americans fought and died to protect our democracy and preserve our rights. Sadly, there extremists within the country who threaten the ideas and values we hold dear. They are haters and white supremacists who betray the national idea of e pluribus unem.

They robbed an armored car outside a sprawling Seattle shopping mall.

They bombed a synagogue in Boise, Idaho, and within weeks assassinated a Jewish talk radio host in Denver.

Then a month later, they plundered another armored car on a California highway in a spectacular daylight heist that netted more than $3.6 million.

What initially seemed to F.B.I. agents like distant, disparate crimes turned out to be the opening salvos in a war against the federal government by members of a violent extremist group called the Order, who sought to establish a whites-only homeland out West.

Their crime spree played out in 1984. Fast forward to 2021. Federal agents and prosecutors who dismantled the Order see troubling echoes of its threat to democracy in the Capitol riot and the growing extremist activity across the country…

Those who tracked the group say the legacy of the Order can be seen in the prominent role that far-right organizations like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers played in storming the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“Many of the participants of these groups today come from the same sources as the Order,” said Gene Wilson, the lead prosecutor, who went on to become a U.S. magistrate judge in Seattle before switching to private practice. “I think they might be just as committed to totally changing democracy as we know it.”

The men who played central roles in disbanding the Order still consider it the most important case of their lives. Given the Order’s “potential for violence and destruction,” said Mr. Manis, no other domestic group posed a similar threat to the United States.

The Order collapsed after its charismatic leader, Robert Jay Mathews, died in a fiery shootout with scores of F.B.I. agents on Whidbey Island, Wash., in December 1984. His followers were rounded up in a nationwide manhunt and 23 of them faced trial on racketeering charges involving two murders, robberies that netted more than $4 million, counterfeiting, weapons violations and arson. Sentenced to lengthy terms ranging up to 252 years, most of the core members died in jail.

Far-right groups often express antigovernment ideology or espouse ideas about returning the United States to some imagined, idyllic form of constitutional rule. What made the Order so dangerous was that it set about achieving that goal, killing, robbing and planning spectacular terrorist acts in hopes of toppling the government.

Just before federal agents closed in, its members had been figuring out how to sabotage the power grid in Los Angeles, hoping to incite riots and looting. Men affiliated with the Order had also surveyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City as a target, which helped to inspire Timothy J. McVeigh to blow it up in April 1995, killing 168 people in the worst homegrown terrorist attack in American history.

The First Amendment means that people cannot be prosecuted on the basis of ideology alone, so the hurdle is figuring out which secretive individual or group, whether far right or far left, might be turning to violence. The dangerous core bent on violence is usually only 5 to 10 percent of an extremist organization, agents said.

Mr. Mathews, raised among white supremacists, organized a heavily armed, clandestine guerrilla force designed to spark a civil war. Adherents sought to restore America to its imagined origins and considered preserving the “green graves” of their white forefathers a sacred duty. To join, members stepped into a wide candlelit circle formed around a white infant and pledged to fight, in secret and without fear of death, to make the United States an Aryan nation…

With the robberies that were the initial focus of the group’s efforts, Mathews worked toward a general uprising, dispensing the money to extremist groups nationwide to buy weapons and other matériel. He hoped his war chest would serve to bind them together, with a wave of violence forcing the U.S. government to cede Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado as an initial white homeland…

The men who disbanded the Order believe that any contemporary group with similarly dangerous aspirations would also likely be hidden. Members of the Order shunned publicity to concentrate on crime. “Everything that they did was covert,” said Tom McDaniel, a former FBI agent who moved to Montana in 1984 to pursue the case and never left.

It was only when the FBI agents were closing in on Mathews in November 1984 that he issued a declaration of war. Part of the declaration threatened to kill politicians in Congress: “When the day comes, we will not ask whether you swung to the right or swung to the left; we will simply swing you by your neck.”

The wording came from a tract published by the National Alliance, a far-right organization run by William Luther Pierce, author of “The Turner Diaries,” a dystopian novel that imagines a white supremacist underground that takes over the United States and eventually the world.

Although the motivations are related, there is plenty that separates groups active now from those that operated in the past. Far-right organizations once needed to engage with possible recruits in person; now much of that radicalization occurs online. They can connect, scheme and even act through the internet. It was also unthinkable that any high-profile politician would voice opinions that such groups considered encouragement. Now those words have come from a former president.

Former agents viewed the Capitol riot and last year’s protests over social justice issues as possible seeds for radicalization.

“I feel that if there is an organization today from the extreme right that is following in the footsteps of the Order,” Manis said, “you will not know anything about it until it is too late and they have already done something dastardly.”

The literary world was astonished when the Nobel Prize Committee gave the prize for literature in 2016. Never before had the prestigious award gone to a writer of songs. Dylan was not present at the awards ceremony but wrote a lecture that was released in June 2017.

At the time, I didn’t read it. Probably you didn’t read it either. I can’t quote it in full because of copyright restrictions, but you can find it here. I found it exhilating to read, and I think you will too.

Dylan speaks of the musicians who inspired him, but his main theme is the relationship between literature and music. He writes at length about the books that shaped his values.

He wrote:

When I started writing my own songs, the folk lingo was the only vocabulary that I knew, and I used it.

But I had something else as well. I had principles and sensibilities and an informed view of the world. And I had had that for a while. Learned it all in grammar school. Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest – typical grammar school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by. I took all that with me when I started composing lyrics. And the themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs, either knowingly or unintentionally. I wanted to write songs unlike anything anybody ever heard, and these themes were fundamental.

Specific books that have stuck with me ever since I read them way back in grammar school – I want to tell you about three of them: Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey.

He then goes into detail about the impact that these three books had on him. You cannot understand his music without reading his passionate emotional attachment to these three books. We will forgive him for saying that he read these books in “grammar school,” as they were customarily taught in high school (if at all).

Republicans today rant about President Biden’s “socialist agenda,” trying to scare ignorant people into fear of a humane government. None of the Trumpers I know are willing to give up their Social Security or Medicare, both of which are forms of government socialism.

Max Boot, who was previously a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, explains in this column that President Biden is trying to catch up with the policies of other modern democracies that provide for such things as health care and education. Republicans prefer a society that is deeply inequitable, where people living in poverty are left to fend for themselves with minimal and inadequate basic human services.

Boot writes:

Republicans accuse President Biden of pursuing a radical agenda that will turn the United States into a failed socialist state. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), for example, tweeted a link to a 1974 article about day care in the Soviet Union and wrote ominously: “You know who else liked universal day care.”

It’s true that Biden is proposing a considerable amount of new spending that could reignite inflation: He wants $2.3 trillion for infrastructure and $1.8 trillion for child care, family leave and education. That’s on top of the $1.9 trillion in stimulus spending that was already passed. But those investments won’t turn us into North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela or the Soviet Union — all countries with government ownership of industry. They will simply bring us a little closer to the standard set by other wealthy industrialized democracies — our international peer group.

Many conservatives, of course, seem to think that, as an “exceptional” nation, we have nothing to learn from any other country. But that is hubris speaking. The coronavirus pandemic should have shattered illusions about U.S. omnipotence that not even our rapid vaccination campaign can undo. While other nations such as Brazil and India have much larger outbreaks today, the United States still has more verified covid-19 deaths (more than 576,000) than any other country. The United States remains a leader in some important areas, including our high-tech industry, our financial industry, our universities and our armed forces. But by most indexes we are an embarrassing international laggard.

The Commonwealth Fund notes that the United States spends nearly twice as much on health care as a percentage of gross domestic product than do other wealthy countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Yet, compared with our peers, we have lower life expectancy, higher suicide rates, higher levels of obesity, higher rates of chronic diseases and higher rates of avoidable deaths. It’s no coincidence that the United States, alone among advanced industrialized countries, does not have universal health care. The United States is also alone among OECD nations in not having universal paid family leave.

The Economic Policy Institute notes that income inequality in the United States has been worsening for years: “From 1978 to 2018, CEO compensation grew by 1,007.5%. … In contrast, wages for the typical worker grew by just 11.9%.” Our level of income inequality is now closer to that of developing countries in Africa and Latin American than to our European allies.

In other respects we are simply mediocre. The OECD reports that the minimum wage in the United States is the 15th highest in the world — well behind countries such as Germany and South Korea. The World Economic Forum rates U.S. infrastructure 13th in the world (Singapore is No. 1). The OECD found in 2018 that in an international test of 15-year-olds, the U.S. ranked 11th out of 79 countries in science and 30th in math.

We do lead in some areas. The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate (higher than in Turkmenistan and Cuba!), the world’s highest rate of civilian gun ownership and the highest rate of violent gun deaths among other advanced industrialized democracies (more than eight times higher than Canada’s).

While we spend more on prisons than other countries, we spend less on social services. The U.S. government’s share of GDP (37.8 percent) is considerably lower than in most other OECD countries (in France it’s 55.6 percent). Yet the United States is hardly a free-market paradise: The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom ranks the United States No. 20, far behind countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Denmark that have more robust welfare states.

Yes, it’s possible to combine a vibrant free market with generous social welfare spending. In fact, that’s the right formula for a more satisfied and stable society. In the OECD quality-of-life rankings — which include everything from housing to work-life balance — the United States ranks an unimpressive 10th. The leaders are Norway, Australia, Iceland, Canada and Denmark — again, all emphatically capitalist countries whose governments spend a higher share of GDP than we do.

Biden’s plans, even if fully implemented, won’t cause the United States to leap to the front of the pack in quality-of-life rankings. He doesn’t have the support in Congress to address our rampant gun crime with tougher licensing for handguns and a ban on assault rifles (as occurred in Australia and New Zealand). He is not even trying to institute universal medical care — something that every other wealthy country already has — because to do so would invite the same Republican protests against “socialized medicine” that greeted the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.

At most, with proposals such as federally subsidized child care, elder care, family leave and pre-K education — financed with modest tax increases on corporations and wealthy individuals — Biden is merely moving us a bit closer to the kinds of government services that other wealthy, industrialized democracies already take for granted. We will remain on the smaller-government, lower-tax end of the spectrum, but we will have a slightly stronger social safety net than we had before. That’s far from radical. It’s simply sensible.

The Washington Post published contemporary photographs and videos of the Tulsa Race Massacre. As many as 300 black people were killed.

On May 30, 1921, Greenwood was one of the wealthiest Black communities in the country, home to doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs.

It boasted restaurants, grocery stores, churches, a hospital, a savings and loan, a post office, three hotels, jewelry and clothing stores, two movie theaters, a library, pool halls, a bus and cab service, a highly regarded school system, six private airplanes and two Black newspapers, according to the Greenwood Cultural Center.

Two days later, it was all gone.

Inflamed by rumors that a young black man had assaulted a young white woman, a white mob in Tulsa set out to avenge the alleged event. Fighting broke out between whites and blacks, and a large section of black-owned businesses and homes was reduced to ashes. Hundreds of blacks were killed, and a 35-block area of residences, restaurants, professional offices, and theatre was leveled. Subsequently the black man in the incident was absolved.

Alan Singer of Hofstra University writes here about the day that whites in Tulsa burned down a thriving black community.

Singer writes:

That night, white rioters looted and burned over 1,200 buildings in the Greenwood District, which at the time was a prosperous Black business and residential neighborhood known as Black Wall Street. White mobs bombed, looted, and set fire to buildings and opened fire on Black residents who tried to defend their homes and businesses. A report in the Tulsa Tribune described that “machine guns were set up and for 20 minutes poured a stream of lead on the negroes who sought refuge behind buildings, telephone poles, and in ditches.”

Mercedes Schneider read the letter posted by the board of the celebrated IDEA charter chain. She noted that the chief executive officer and chief operating officer had been fired. She dug deeper and wondered about a culture of corruption and self-aggrandizement that went beyond the leaders who were fired.

The May 25, 2021 Houston Chronicle reports of the firing of IDEA Public Schools charter chain CEO JoAnn Gama and CFO Irma Muñoz “after a forensic review found ‘substantial evidence’ that top leaders at the state’s largest charter network misused money and staff for personal gain ‘in a manner to avoid detection by the standard external audit and internal control processes that the Board had in place.

Schneider dug deep into internet archives to take a close look at the “top leaders at the state’s largest charter network.” The network was rolling in dough. DeVos poured in another $200 million plus. Money and luxury. Greed and temptation.

As blogger Billy Townsend explains, education officials in Florida are either hypocrites or stupid.

In a post that is second in a series, he shows how they campaign against teaching about racism (which they consider “indoctrination”) yet state standards require teachers to teach about the infamous 1920 Ocoee race massacre. Is it possible to avoid teaching about racism and white supremacy while teaching a mandated lesson about racism and white supremacy?

Townsend describes the teacher’s dilemma. He or she might satisfy Governor DeSantis by assuring him that the teacher is definitely not teaching “critical race theory,” because he or she never heard of it before.

Just the facts:

Dear class, today we are going to discuss the Ocoee pogrom, which killed or expelled virtually the entire black population of this little town near Orlando because that black population attempted to vote on the presidential Election Day of 1920.

Here’s the outcome of the Ocoee pogrom demographically:

Ocoee’s purged black population culminated the destruction of a 1920 statewide civil rights/voting registration drive led by black women like Mary McLeod Bethune during the first presidential election of women’s suffrage. Mary McLeod Bethune is about to represent woke Florida in statuary hall in Congress. But in 1920, white people and power crushed her ambition for representative government and legitimate political power with systematic killing and destruction. They did this explicitly to maintain “white supremacy” against black participation in the democratic process and the 1920 presidential election. That’s literally the reason white people gave for doing it — that exact phrase, “white supremacy.” …..

Townsend continues:

I need to quote and address the Chris Latvala Corollary to all these rules: “There is a way to teach it without indoctrinating kids about how bad white people are.” That’s the position of state Rep. Chris Latvala, chairman of the House Education & Employment Committee, on history.

I am not sure what “it” is; so let me just say: White people are awesome. We have always been awesome. Without us, you would not have skinny jeans or emo music or square dancing or hipsters — or so I understand from popular American history. So as you listen to this, remember: it doesn’t mean white people are not awesome. We are. Always have been. OK. Got it?

Even with all that disclaiming, I’m not sure if the Florida powers-that-be will fire me for not teaching Ocoee or for teaching it. Such is the life of an educator in America’s worst designed, worst led, most corrupt, most incoherent, and most stupidly performative state education system.

The New York Times reports on a poll finding that 15% of Americans believe in QAnon conspiracy theories.

Those are the findings of a poll released todayby the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core, which found that 15 percent of Americans say they think that the levers of power are controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles, a core belief of QAnon supporters. The same share said it was true that “American patriots may have to resort to violence” to depose the pedophiles and restore the country’s rightful order…

And fully 20 percent of respondents said that they thought a biblical-scale storm would soon sweep away these evil elites and “restore the rightful leaders…”

Mr. Jones said he was struck by the prevalence of QAnon’s adherents. Overlaying the share of poll respondents who expressed belief in its core principles over the country’s total population, “that’s more than 30 million people,” he said.

“Thinking about QAnon, if it were a religion, it would be as big as all white evangelical Protestants, or all white mainline Protestants,” he added. “So it lines up there with a major religious group.”

In a crowded field of candidates in the Democratic primary, only two are opposed to expanding the number of charters in a city with hundreds of them: Scott Stringer and Maya Wiley.

The other candidates support more charters at a time when the national Democratic Party seems to realize that charters are a key component of the rightwing’s longtime goal of privatization of the public schools. Charter advocates started a PAC for Eric Adams. Andrew Yang supports charter schools and is advised by former Mayor Bloomberg’s advisor Bradley Tusk (Bloomberg was very pro-charter). Financier Ray McGuire’s campaign relies on Bloomberg’s chancellor Joel Klein for advice (his campaign manager is pro-charter).

Betsy DeVos loves charter schools, so does the anti-union Walton family and Charles Koch. Across the country, Republican legislators and governors are passing legislation to expand charters and vouchers, while Democrats put public schools first.

This article explains how deeply entangled one of the candidates is with the charter industry. Dianne Morales has pitched herself as the most progressive candidate in the field, but neglects to mention that she was a Pahara Fellow or that she has long-standing ties to charter world.

Those ties are now producing an outpouring of contributions from the charter industry. And Kathryn Garcia, who was endorsed by the New York Times and the New York Daily News, declared recently that she wants more charter schools in the city and will ask the legislature to raise the cap.

There are currently 267 charter schools in the city. Of 1.1 million public schools in the city, 88% are enrolled in the long-neglected public schools. Ironically, by handing off more students to charter schools, the mayor (whoever it may be) is acknowledging his or her own incompetence as leader of the city’s schools.

At the beginning of the campaign, Scott Stringer was the favorite. He served in the legislature, and he is currently the City Comptroller, meaning he has detailed knowledge of the budget and the city’s massive bureaucracy. The United Federation of Teachers endorsed him, along with many progressive groups. But then a woman stepped forward to say that 20 years ago, when they were both single, he groped her. Many of those who endorsed Stringer withdrew their endorsements. Although I have a tendency to believe women in these situations, I think it’s unfair to discredit a candidate based on an unverified allegation. Stringer has been a candidate many times, and the accuser remained silent.

The charter industry has demonstrated time and again that it has the deep pockets to buy elections. What it has not bought is academic success.

After a scathing state audit of its finances, the EPIC virtual charter school cut its ties to the school’s for-profit co-founders.

The governing board of Epic Charter Schools underwent a major overhaul Wednesday night and then declared its independence from the for-profit school management company owned by Epic’s co-founders.

Epic’s seven-member board of education unanimously approved a mutual termination agreement, effective July 1, to end its contract with Epic Youth Services, which reportedly has made millionaires of founders David Chaney and Ben Harris.

“Big day for our school; big shift, obviously,” said the newly seated board Chair Paul Campbell, an aerospace and energy executive who founded the Academy of Seminole charter school.

“This school has outgrown its management company, which is why we did what we did today. There is no more CMO (charter management organization). … Not only will we save tens of millions of dollars, but you’re taking a significant leap forward in technology for this school…

In early October, a report on the state’s investigative audit of Epic revealed lax school board oversight and that one of every four taxpayer dollars Epic received went to the for-profit school management company, Epic Youth Services.

The state auditor found that 63% of those monies — nearly $80 million budgeted for students’ learning needs — has been shielded from all public or auditor scrutiny. The auditor is still battling in court to get access to those spending records.null

The state audit also revealed that Epic Youth Services was relying almost solely on Oklahoma public school employees to do the administrative work for both Epic’s Oklahoma and California schools while collecting tens of millions of dollars in management fees.

It also found that the company “improperly transferred” $203,000 in Oklahoma taxpayer dollars from the Oklahoma schools’ student Learning Fund account to help cover payroll shortages at Epic’s California charter school.

Other nations have figured out that the best way to reduce gun violence is to impose many barriers to buying a gun: background checks, registration, waiting period, training, proof of a locked safe where the gun will be stored, as well as restrictions on when the gun may be carried.

Texas’ Republican leadership has decided to do away with all those obstacles that interfere with the citizen’s right to bear arms (they always forget the part of the Second Amendment that says, “as part of a well-regulated militias”)

The Texas legislature has passed a bill that allows anyone to carry a handgun without registering it.

NPR reports:

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas is poised to remove one of its last major gun restrictions after lawmakers approved allowing people to carry handguns without a license, and the background check and training that go with it.

The Republican-dominated Legislature approved the measure Monday, sending it to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he will sign it despite the objections of law enforcement groups who say it would endanger the public and police.

Gun control groups also oppose the measure, noting the state’s recent history of mass shootings, including those at an El Paso Walmart, a church in Sutherland Springs, and a high school outside Houston.

Texas already has some of the loosest gun laws in the country and has more than 1.6 million handgun license holders.

Supporters of the bill say it would allow Texans to better defend themselves in public while abolishing unnecessary impediments to the constitutional right to bear arms. Once signed into law, Texas will join nearly two dozen other states that allow some form of unregulated carry of a handgun, and by far be the most populous.

The National Rifle Association was among those supporting the measure, and a spokesman called it the “most significant” gun-rights measure in the state’s history.

“A right requiring you to pay a tax or obtain a government permission slip is not a right at all,” said Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

Texas already allows rifles to be carried in public without a license. The measure sent to Abbott would allow anyone age 21 or older to carry a handgun as long as they don’t have violent crime convictions or some other legal prohibition in their background. But there would be no way to weed them out without the state background check currently in the licensing process.