Archives for the month of: November, 2021

What are you thankful for today?

I’m thankful to be alive. Eight months ago, I had open heart surgery. I was sedated and intubated for five days and spent a total of two weeks in the intensive care unit.

I’m thankful that I have a loving family. Many people don’t, and I consider myself fortunate. My spouse, Mary, was at my side during my long convalescence and made sure that I walked 2-3 miles every day to regain my strength. My two sons and four grandsons give me joy, for which I am grateful.

I’m thankful that I have the means to live comfortably. Many people don’t, and I hate to think that one of the richest countries in the world is unable to reduce the dramatic income inequality and wealth inequality in our country. People should not go without health care because they can’t afford it. People should not go to bed hungry because they can’t afford food. People should not sleep in the streets or in shelters because they can’t afford housing. We see the gaps and the suffering around us, and we see billionaires flying to space in their own vehicles. Yet Congress is unwilling to tax billionaires. I’m not thankful for that. I’m outraged.

I’m thankful for the many essential workers, including teachers and school staff, who have worked with dedication to enable us to get through the pandemic.

I am thankful, as a woman and a Jew, to live in the USA at this time in history. I never forget that the extended families of both my parents were killed in Europe in the 1930s because of their religion. Sure, we live in perilous times, but I feel that I was born in the right place at the right time to make the most of my life.

I’m thankful for the free press and for journalists who shine light on abuses of power and protect our democracy.

I’m thankful to all those who struggle to improve our society, who fight injustice, who understand the need to safeguard our environment, and who are engaged in the political arena to demand a better, more equitable, peaceful future.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I hope you do too.

Chris Rufo has taken credit for creating the furor over “critical race theory,” leading about a dozen Republican-controlled states to pass laws banning it (whatever they think it is, mostly anything to do with racism). He is widely recognized for inventing the fear that public schools are teaching children to “hate” America or to be ashamed for being white. Despite lack of evidence that critical race theory is taught in K-12 schools, the issue has made many teachers fearful of teaching the history of racism.

Critical race theory originated among black law school professors, and it is in law school where students and faculty analyze the persistence of systemic racism in our laws and institutions.

To the extent that teachers talk about racism, it is because it has existed and does exist. It is literally impossible to teach American history without discussion of racism.

Chris Rufo loves attention, so he upped the stakes and increased his targets on Twitter, where he released this tweet. See @Realchrisrufo.

It’s time to clean house in America: remove the attorney general, lay siege to the universities, abolish the teachers unions, and overturn the school boards.

The comments below this tweet are worth reading.

The Arizona Republic conducted an intensive investigation of the effort by the Trump campaign and discovered some fascinating details.

Rusty Bowers was talking on his cellphone to Karen Fann after church services on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, looking ahead to another hectic week.

It was Nov. 22, 2020. The counting was done and Joe Biden led Donald Trump by a razor-thin margin, but the presidential election results in Arizona still had not been certified.

The state’s House speaker and Senate president have a bond that stretches back decades, forged by family friendships. This time, the two Republicans conferred about something that surprised them both.

Fann told Bowers that the president’s allies had called her repeatedly. They wanted to get her involved in a plan to help deliver an election result more to his liking.

By then, it was clear to most that Trump had lost his reelection bid for the White House and that Arizona had helped elect Biden.

Seconds after Bowers hung up with Fann, and while he still sat parked in his driveway in the driver’s seat of his Toyota Prius, the dashboard on his car lit up.

Bowers had a phone call. It was the White House.

Trump and Giuliani wanted Bowers to help ensure President-elect Biden’s 10,457-vote win in Arizona would not be formalized a week later. They told him “there’s a way we could help the president” and Arizona had a “unique law” that allowed the Legislature to choose its electors, rather than voters, he recalled.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of that one,” a skeptical Bowers told them. He told the men he needed proof to back up their claims: “I don’t make these kinds of decisions just willy-nilly. You’ve got to talk to my lawyers. And I’ve got some good lawyers.”

Bowers told them he supported Trump, voted for Trump and campaigned for him, too. What he would not do is break the law for him.

“You are giving me nothing but conjecture and asking me to break my oath and commit to doing something I cannot do because I swore I wouldn’t. I will follow the Constitution,” he told the men.

Trump, who was gregarious throughout much of the call but quiet during that exchange, told Bowers he understood.

Trump told Bowers, “We’re just trying to investigate.”

Giuliani repeatedly assured Bowers he would send the evidence to attorneys at the state House of Representatives.

The evidence never arrived, Bowers told The Arizona Republic.

But Fann proceeded with the ballot review Trump wanted.

Why did this scene unfold in Arizona?

This is how Arizona plunged into a fog of conspiracies, riven with partisanship and targeted by opportunists from across the country.

Trump led the effort to undermine the results after some projected Arizona to slip to Democrat Joe Biden.

The state was one of two targeted by congressional Republicans on Jan. 6 who were willing to disenfranchise millions of voters in a brash legal experiment that would have redefined the election-certification process.

And even before Trump left the White House, Fann put in motion a ballot review.

Of the swing states, Arizona perhaps was the most susceptible to an election challenge.

Biden’s margin of victory in Arizona was the smallest of any state he won. State government was in Republican hands, providing plenty of potential allies, from the governor to the leaders of the state Legislature to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Trump, who viewed the focus on Russian interference in the 2016 election as an effort to delegitimize his victory, now heaped doubt on Biden’s win. But Trump’s loyal base didn’t see how tenuous his hold on Arizona had grown. While Trump evinced confidence at rallies, behind the scenes his campaign team knew the state was up for grabs.

Trump’s push to challenge the election results in Arizona provided balm for a man unwilling to accept defeat. It also sowed lingering doubt that would fuel an attack from people all over the country on the state’s election systems.

Many Republicans quickly joined Trump’s unfounded accusations of fraud, some more forcefully than others. A few, such as Bowers and Gov. Doug Ducey, resisted the public and political pressure to get behind the narrative of a stolen election.

One Arizona member of Congress participated in protests outside Maricopa County’s election facilities even as ballots were being counted; three GOP members of Congress from Arizona later voted to set aside the state’s election results.

The circuslike atmosphere drew Trump die-hards, election conspiracy theorists and far-right media that simultaneously created buzz and fed off it.

It raised cash for Republicans and doubts for voters, threatening public confidence in elections here and elsewhere.

Interviews with dozens of people connected with the drama at the Arizona Legislature and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, where the ballots were examined for months, make this much clear: The spectacle that unfolded here was a partisan obsession pushed by Trump’s close allies and made possible by just a handful of people in Arizona.

It didn’t have to happen this way.

Before Fann ordered the ballot review, for several days in December, Bowers, Fann and the Republican chair of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Clint Hickman, tried to reach a deal for a joint audit conducted by an accredited firm.

Over four months, The Republic examined a trove of text messages, emails and court records, many made public after suing the state for access. Reporters spoke to decision-makers, consultants, staff, contractors, campaign aides and others tied to the review of the presidential and U.S. Senate races. Some talked on the record about their experiences, while others spoke on the condition they not be identified in order to speak candidly about private conversations.

The Republic uncovered efforts to circumvent the popular vote to engineer an illegitimate Trump victory. Once the results were certified, Trump and his allies shifted to a campaign to pressure local Republicans to overturn election results from voters who were using an early ballot system largely shaped over decades by their own party.

Trump, Giuliani, Fann and others who helped bring about the ballot review did not respond to repeated requests to discuss their recollections of the events leading to the review.

Bowers shared his story for the first time over three interviews totaling nearly six hours. The interviews took place by phone, in his office suite, and on the patio of a Cracker Barrel in the East Valley, where he verified key dates from his red leather-bound journal.

Like most of Arizona, the speaker watched the scenes unfold from the periphery as Fann steered the Senate into a probe led by the Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, a company with no prior experience in election reviews that is run by a man who publicly stated the election was tainted by fraud.

Fann has not yet explained her U-turn from favoring an accredited audit to authorizing a review led by partisans. Those who know her and did speak said she sought to quell Republican anger over Trump’s loss and could not resist the pressure campaign from his allies.

Early on, Bowers remembered offering her a stark assessment: Some of Trump’s most ardent supporters in the GOP-controlled Legislature viewed Trump’s election grievances as political opportunity.

“Karen, this is about trophies,” he said he told her. “This is about trophies on the wall — that individual members want to be able to say, ‘I forced them to do this.’”

Before the Veterans Memorial Coliseum became the proving ground for conservative conspiracies, it was the location of a rally at perhaps the high-water mark of Trump’s presidency.

The economy was in the final days of the longest expansion in U.S. history. Coronavirus seemed like a foreign problem in a faraway land. Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who described himself as a democratic socialist, had won the New Hampshire primary the week before. Biden finished fifth.

Trump’s approval rating was inching upward after his acquittal in his first impeachment trial.

So it was on Feb. 19, 2020, when Trump strode onstage to a near-capacity crowd at the coliseum. Like most of his campaign events, it seemed to mix the noise of a rock concert, the passion of a religious revival and the sideshow elements of a carnival.

Two supporters carried Ervin Julian, a 100-year-old World War II veteran, down the coliseum’s steep stairs to a front-row seat on stage behind Trump and in front of the boisterous crowd. 

One of the men carrying Julian wore a shirt that said “We are Q” on the front and “17 WWG1WGA” on the back. It is a phrase adopted by the QAnon conspiracy movement that stands for “Where We Go 1 We Go All.”

One by one, Ducey, all four of the state’s Republicans in Congress, Fann, Bowers and Kelli Ward, the state Republican Party chairwoman, took the stage as Trump praised the state’s GOP team.

“With your help, we are going to defeat the radical socialist Democrats,” Trump said early on. “We have the best economy, the most-prosperous country that we’ve ever had and the most powerful military anywhere in the world.”

Trump’s 82-minute, triumphal speech left his supporters delighted and his campaign confident that he was well positioned to again win a state he had narrowly carried in 2016, when he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by 91,234 votes.

Trump’s victory that year extended Arizona’s run of wins for Republicans in presidential races. The GOP won 16 of 17 presidential contests in the state beginning in 1952.

Trump’s electrifying optimism, shared by thousands of his supporters inside the coliseum, seemed rooted in political inevitability. In hindsight, Trump’s prospects began dimming almost immediately after that rally.

Less than a month after Trump’s speech, Biden took control of his party’s nomination, pitting Trump against the candidate best positioned to win Arizona and the one Trump worried about most. The coronavirus soon exploded into a pandemic that locked Americans inside their homes, upended the political agenda and brought a sudden end to a decade-long run of economic growth.

The state’s presidential preference election on March 17 and the rapidly worsening health crisis raised the first real concerns about voting and election management in Arizona, and they largely came from Democrats.  

By then, COVID-19 was beginning to spark fear across the country, and the White House had called for a 15-day national quarantine to halt the virus. Democrats moved their final presidential debate to Washington, D.C., from Phoenix because of the widening crisis.

Sinema sent Hobbs a link to a Twitter post by a political website that said polling sites could be hazardous during a pandemic. At the time, little was known about the virus and its spread. Some feared shared items, such as pens, could help spread the coronavirus.

“File a request to the Az Supreme Court ASAP asking you (to) postpone,” Sinema texted. “This is what Ohio just … Did. You can file a special action right now.”  

“Who is this,” Hobbs responded in a text.

“Kyrsten. I would file a special action NOW. We do not want to be the state that violated the 15 day effort to stop the virus. The governor has been very slow to move on every precaution. That is his choice, I guess. But you do not have to be like that. You can do what needs to be done. I am going to say the election should be postponed publicly very soon.”

Hobbs responded, “Understood.”

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, wanted to mail ballots to every voter in the primary because of the coronavirus. 

Neither change happened, but for Republicans, who didn’t have a primary election, both ideas raised concerns about voting.

The GOP-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors had taken greater responsibility for management from Fontes in 2019, especially on Election Day operations and emergency issues. But the state’s far-right figures didn’t view board members as reliable allies if there was to be a battle over results.

Meanwhile, Trump had his own worries in Arizona. 

In May 2020, the president held a meeting in the Roosevelt Room in the White House to discuss the state of play in Arizona.

Trump was worried that Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., was losing to challenger Mark Kelly and could “drag” him down as well, those familiar with the discussion said. The president wondered whether the GOP should run someone other than the incumbent against Kelly, the well-known retired astronaut. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who had joined the discussion, made it clear he stood by McSally.

The GOP ticket had other worries, too.

On July 1, Vice President Mike Pence flew to Phoenix to assure the public that Arizona would have enough ventilators to manage the rising COVID-19 caseload.

Privately, Pence had other matters on his mind. 

Away from the news cameras, inside a conference room in the Lincoln J. Ragsdale Executive Terminal at the Phoenix airport, Pence asked how the campaign was preparing for November.

“What is your plan for absentee early voting? Are you guys ready for any of the changes that would come of COVID?” Pence asked, according to someone familiar with the conversation. 

People on hand told the vice president that 80% of Arizona’s electorate routinely vote by mail. It startled Pence, who was following up on concerns Trump had raised because other states, such as Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, were expanding mail-based voting because of the pandemic.

Election officials in key 2020 swing states made significant changes to their election systems. For example, Nevada sent every registered voter a mail-in ballot for its summer primary. Several Pennsylvania counties, including those in the Democratic-heavy Philadelphia area, extended the postmark deadline for that state’s August primary. 

Pence learned Arizona has signature verification and other security provisions in place. 

Arizona Republicans assured Pence they were “comfortable” with the state’s early voting system and would “keep our eye on Adrian Fontes.”

Ducey expounded on voting in Arizona during an Aug. 5 public appearance at the White House, with Trump at his side, to discuss their management of the pandemic. Trump groused about mailing ballots to voters in Nevada. Ducey defended the widespread practice in his state.

When the cameras were gone, Trump seemed pleased with the governor’s answer. The president exuberantly asked Ducey if his state needed any additional help. 

But the August primary created more anxiety for Republicans. Democratic turnout matched the GOP’s, and after Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting, many Republicans held onto their ballots until the last moment before dropping them off at the polls.

One GOP figure said the daily mailed-in returns of Republican early votes had “fallen off a cliff.” Trump’s team on the ground in Arizona was alarmed. 

Trump always had another, unique problem in Arizona that would cost him: his feud with the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

McCain forged a bond with Arizona voters over his almost 36 years in office. He won all 11 House, Senate and presidential races he ran in the state. In 2016, McCain received more votes in Arizona than Trump did.

Trump’s broadsides against McCain, extending even after his death, didn’t matter to most Republican voters. But they did matter to some, and in a close race, it had an outsized impact.

Beginning in the early days of his presidential run in 2015 and continuing into the final months of the 2020 election, Trump attacked McCain in personal terms. 

The attacks cost Trump support among women, moderate Republicans and independent voters who respected McCain and found the attacks unpresidential.

For more than a year ahead of the election, political pollsters and experts warned that Trump was in danger of losing Arizona, in part as support eroded among these key constituencies, especially in parts of Phoenix and its suburbs where the late senator had dominated his races.

Despite the warnings, Trump kept up the attacks.

At one point, Trump personally asked Ducey to help keep the senator’s widow, Cindy McCain, neutral in the race, people familiar with the request said.

A person close to Cindy McCain said the governor never asked her to withhold an endorsement in the race. A spokesman for the governor would not characterize Ducey’s conversations with McCain, saying they were private.

Though Trump’s campaign hoped “to keep her on the sidelines,” they sensed she was “moving in the wrong direction,” someone familiar with the strategy recalled. “And that’s going to be a problem for us.”

In September, The Atlantic magazine published a story citing unnamed sources that said Trump complained when flags were lowered in observance of McCain’s death in 2018.

“What the (expletive) are we doing that for? Guy was a (expletive) loser,” Trump said, according to The Atlantic.

The president denied The Atlantic’s story, although other media outlets substantiated some of the remarks attributed to Trump.

Trump responded with a tweet saying, “Never a fan of John. Cindy can have Sleepy Joe!”

Democrats followed her announcement with an ad blitz that put her words on screens across the country, especially in Arizona.

The Arizona Republican Party later censured Cindy McCain.

In a series of Saturday video conferences from their homes in the final weeks before the election, Ducey and his team advised top staffers in Trump’s campaign to maximize their visits to the battleground state with appearances outside of Phoenix.

Trump and Pence visited eight cities other than Phoenix in the final month in an effort to build a rural firewall. 

Ducey’s team suggested Trump call into country radio shows and talk about how his policies affect their jobs, their pocketbooks and their families. 

One person familiar with the calls said Trump’s political team knew “Arizona was going to be tough.” Election workers drop ballots into a ballot dropbox at the Maricopa County Elections office at 510 S. Third Ave. in Phoenix on Oct. 16, 2020.Arizona counts its mailed-in ballots first, and fewer Republicans sent in early ballots in 2020, instead dropping them off at the polls.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

While Trump, Pence and their surrogates zipped in and out of Arizona to try to shore up support, Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, barely visited.

The GOP campaign rallies left Republicans fired up about their prospects — and poorly prepared for an election loss.

Hours after the polls closed on Election Day, Fox News made an aggressive, but ultimately correct, call that Biden had won Arizona. Four hours later, The Associated Press followed suit. 

Arizona was the first state projected to fall from Trump’s winning 2016 coalition, and it raised the specter of further losses in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. All of those states, plus Georgia, eventually did flip to Biden, but it wasn’t immediately clear that would happen.

Trump responded to the quick Arizona call in an overnight news conference from the East Room of the White House that effectively gave license to his supporters to cast the election as stolen.

“This is a fraud on the American public,” Trump said at 2:30 a.m. Nov. 4 to a cheering crowd. “Frankly, we did win this election. … So our goal now is to ensure the integrity for the good of this nation.”

The president said he wanted “all voting to stop” and said his campaign would be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Instead, the Trump campaign leaned heavily on officials at Fox News, hoping to undo their Arizona projection. In the days after the quick call, Ducey’s 2018 deputy campaign manager walked conservative host Sean Hannity and two senior executives with Fox News through scenarios that indicated why the state remained within Trump’s reach. The Ducey aide gave a similar briefing to the Trump campaign.

While Trump could not fathom how periodic updates could shift the race so dramatically in Arizona, campaign insiders were long accustomed to close races and results that changed over days as ballots were counted.

Arizona counts its mailed-in ballots first, and fewer Republicans sent in early ballots in 2020, instead dropping them off at the polls. Those votes were tabulated last, after Election Day voters’ tallies.

In 2018, Sinema won her Senate seat after six days of counting. In 2016, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., won his first primary election by 16 votes after a recount shifted only a few dozen votes over 17 days.

After the quick call for Biden in Arizona on Nov. 3, raucous protesters gathered outside the building where Maricopa County officials counted ballots.

By then, some Trump supporters suggested — falsely — that election officials provided them Sharpie pens that could bleed through their ballots and eliminate their votes. It was a conspiracy theory amplified in conservative circles, including by Eric Trump, the president’s son.

For people like Fontes and Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, also a Democrat, it was not a moment to explain the intricacies of ballot markings; they feared violence.

Dozens of people — some clearly carrying firearms — swarmed the parking lot area outside the county’s election offices.

Mindful of the deadly clash in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, Penzone put several armed response teams inside the building and had dozens of other deputies in the area on standby “to protect the systems, the ballots, the people — everything in there.”

Fontes, the county recorder, called it a necessary response to a charged situation. At one point, the angry crowd pulled an election worker into their unprotected area.

“This person literally had to get physically wrestled away from a group of them and pulled back into the building,” Fontes remembered. “It was in my head that there would be casualties. It was in my head that we would have to be cleaning blood out of the warehouse because they were ready, they were armed. … They came to assault my staff.”

Protests went on for days, with U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., fueling accusations of a stolen election. Alex Jones, a conspiracy monger who called the 2012 massacre of children at an elementary school in Connecticut a “giant hoax,” used a megaphone to exhort protesters to maintain their fight for Trump.

The Sheriff’s Office has spent an estimated $1.2 million on law enforcement efforts tied to the election and ballot review, including on demonstrations and protection efforts. The tab may not yet be final.

While Trump signaled the beginning of a drawn-out fight in the hours after the election, McSally, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, all but disappeared from public view.

McSally didn’t formally concede her race for days, but by Nov. 9, several of her key campaign staff were vacationing in Mexico. She wound up losing to Kelly by 78,806 votes.

When the presidential ballots were fully counted on Nov. 14, just 10,457 votes — fewer than the number of people who fit in the coliseum — separated Biden from Trump. The 0.3 percentage point difference made it the tightest presidential race in state history.

Unpredictable: A pandemic and the president’s anti-mail-in ballot rhetoric turned the conventional wisdom about Arizona votes upside-down

It was a bitter disappointment, but it wasn’t a complete loss for Republicans.

The GOP maintained its hold on the Statehouse, and Arizona’s four Republicans in Congress were reelected. Republicans accepted those results, made in the same election that delivered Trump’s loss.

But Republicans loyal to Trump could not accept his defeat.

Along with daily protests at the Capitol, thousands of emails, voicemails and text messages were left for Arizona officials in the days following the election.David Wallace/The RepubliTrump supporters across the country bombarded Arizona election officials and lawmakers with staggering numbers of emails, voicemails and text messages.

Like Trump, many voters could not reconcile the energy of his campaign with the quick call for Biden and the ever-tightening margins in Arizona. Democratic gains in traditionally red Maricopa County fueled suspicions that Trump’s loss owed more to cheating rather than his limited appeal.

State Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, said she received 57,000 emails in the first two months after the election — and still gets some.

At one point early on, Bowers’ secretary told him the office received more than 20,000 emails and 10,000 voicemails each day. After receiving 9,000 text messages at one point, now-Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, got another phone number.

The messages often maintained fraud tainted the election, and Democrats and their allies were covering it up. Many were vulgar; some were threatening.

“It is criminal for state legislators to certify a fraudulent election,” one message to Bowers said.

“Rusty is going to prison,” another email said. “80,000,000 patriots will make sure of this.”

“Fix this mess of an election now, do NOT let the people who committed obvious fraud, intimidation, threaten & lie & who did Not win into our Whitehouse,” read another.

The din included more than just Trump supporters, lawmakers said.

“In all of my time in office, I’ve never seen the magnitude or type of people telling me their concerns about the election,” said state Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. 

“Many of them have been from far-off places,” said House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria. “It’s safe to say there’s been a ton of pressure to do something.” 

One thing that set Arizona apart from other close states was the trajectory of the race.

In Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Biden staged come-from-behind victories. Trump drew closer in Arizona’s initial count before falling short.

Trump and Giuliani zeroed in on people in Arizona who could still make a push.

It wouldn’t be Ducey, who had shown little interest in raising doubts about the election. And it wouldn’t be Hobbs, the Democratic secretary of state, who defended it on national television.

The president and his lawyer targeted Bowers and Fann, the Republican heads of the Legislature. 

The weekend before Thanksgiving, a top White House aide called around, looking for cellphone numbers for both.

Those close to Fann said she felt squeezed by the most conservative members in her caucus. She was preparing for the holidays and didn’t want to discuss the election. She seemed to want to put off talking to the president and his surrogates. 

When the White House came calling, Fann needed a strategy. 

“What are we going to do? … They’re putting pressure on me — the national folks want to have fact-finding committees to find out about the fraud in Arizona,” Bowers remembered Fann saying. “She said, ‘They’re trying to get in touch with me and we’ve got to make sure we’re on the same page.’”Arizona Senate President Karen Fann stands on the floor of the Senate at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix on Monday, May 27, 2019.Both Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers (top) and Arizona Senate President Karen Fann were in the Trump team crosshairs.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

They never had a chance. Right after he hung up the phone with Fann, Bowers received the call from Trump and Giuliani while sitting in his Prius.

By itself, the call was memorable for Bowers. It became amusingly so when he needed to search the small screen on his cellphone to find his lawyer’s contact information for the president. 

A natural raconteur, Bowers joked to Trump and Giuliani he might have a story for his grandkids one day: that he accidentally hung up on the president.

“Trump just busted out laughing,” Bowers remembered. “He said, ‘That’s funny.’”

Then Bowers really did accidentally hang up.

The White House called him back, and Bowers and Giuliani shared a laugh. 

Bowers needed some levity. 

While Arizona’s election stirred national passions, Bowers, 69, was privately tending to his dying daughter. Her liver was failing, and she was rejected for an organ transplant. 

Inside his house, and later in a hospital, Bowers saw his daughter’s life slipping away.

Bowers documented the eventful period, as he routinely does, in his handwritten journal through pages and pages of tight cursive writing. It is a distinctive practice for a man with many interests.

Bowers’ weathered face betrays his love of the outdoors, but perhaps his greatest passion is art. He paints and has sold sculptures. At least once, Bowers passed time in the often-mundane setting of the Legislature by building a miniature pinewood derby car for his grandson on his desk during breaks. 

Bowers’ call with Trump and Giuliani revealed two of his more obvious traits: Bowers can be pleasant, but he’s no pushover.

“Rusty is a cowboy,” said one Capitol insider, in a reference to his independent nature.

Fann, 67, grew up in Prescott, one of Arizona’s most conservative areas. Decades ago, she started a transportation business that puts up guardrails to keep motorists safe. 

She was elected to municipal government around the Prescott area where politicking didn’t overshadow problem-solving. 

‘What’s happened to Karen?’ Election audit puts spotlight on Senate president after decades in office

She brought political pragmatism to a legislative seat at the Statehouse, where she has served for a decade, the past two terms as president of the Senate.

Fann, too, has a life outside politics. She likes to golf and cook. She is known to bring homemade pies to friends and is part of a dinner club. 

Her agreeable nature often leaves her in the middle of the warring factions of her Republican caucus.

Her confidants at the Statehouse include lobbyists from both political camps who have worked with her for years. Her philosophy on the job is “‘We’re in this thing together, we’ve got to pick up the trash, we’ve got to do it, let’s work together, let’s figure things out,’” one Democratic lobbyist friend said. 

If the ballot review sometimes felt like a political crucible, it also gave Fann a national political identity

But at the Statehouse, she had one goal: retain her role as Senate president. Unlike Bowers, who won his leadership post despite the misgivings of his party’s far-right members, Fann owed her position to the more conservative members of her chamber. 

Her friend, former state Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, a relative moderate, lost his title as Senate president after the 2012 elections to then-Sen. Andy Biggs and spent four lonely years out of power. Her friends say it was a loss Fann didn’t want to repeat.

Includes information from Arizona Republic reporter Mary Jo Pitzl.

Three Men Found Guilty of Murdering Ahmaud Arbery

The defendants were found guilty of murder and other charges on Wednesday for the pursuit and fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. They face up to life in prison.

That’s the headline in the New York Times.

I never thought I would live to see the day when a jury of 11 white people and one black person in Brunswick, Georgia, would find three white men, pleading self-defense, to be guilty of murder of a black man.

After Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging, local prosecutors didn’t want to bring charges against the men who chased Arbery down and killed him. They said there was no crime. But the victim’s family was relentless in seeking justice.

The New York Times wrote the first national story about this case, following the important work of the local paper, The Brunswick News. We were all following the clamor of hyper-local activism here in Brunswick, where Ahmaud’s family and friends refused to let any of this go. We learned, through a public records request, that a local D.A. was telling the police to make no arrests, because, he argued, these three men had done nothing illegal.

Justice was done.

West Virginia recently passed a charter school law, breaking its promise to the state’s teachers. A new board was created to authorize charters. That board just approved two for-profit online charter schools. One is run by K12 Inc., which changed its name to Stride. The other will be run by Ron Packard’s Accel, which operates low-performing charters in Ohio. Packard was the first CEO of K12 Inc., where he was paid $5 million a year.

Online charters are known for low academic performance, low graduation rates, and high attrition. A study by CREDO found that students in online charter schools learn almost nothing.

While findings vary for each student, the results in CREDO’s report show that the majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. To conceptualize this shortfall, it would equate to a student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school year. This pattern of weaker growth remained consistent across racial-ethnic subpopulations and students in poverty.

Steve Nelson, a retired educator, describes the calculated and underhanded effort to destroy public education, a ruse that proceeds by stealth and loaded language.

He begins:

The same fine folks who brought us the Critical Race Theory (CRT) scare tactic to win the Virginia gubernatorial election are now poised to bring our public education system to its knees and then put it out of its misery.

In an alarming New York Times column, Michelle Goldberg recounts an exchange with Christopher Rufo, the manipulative wizard behind the weaponizing of CRT for broad political purposes.  Rufo gleefully admits that the CRT gambit, combined with widespread pandemic frustration, provides a perfect storm for completion of the decades-long conservative goal of weakening and effectively eliminating “government schools.”

Conservatives have similarly weaponized the phrase “government schools” as an emotional trigger intended to disingenuously characterize public schools as institutional agents of a sinister plot to indoctrinate children into a socialist, anti-religion agenda that violates parental rights, freedom of choice and traditional values.  That none of this is true is of no consequence to the likes of Rufo or other conservatives.  An example of Rufo’s propaganda landed on my desktop as I wrote this post, fresh from his Twitter account: 

Language tip: school choice advocates should always say “scholarships” instead of “vouchers.” It gives a connotation of opportunity and forces our opponents to take the unenviable position of denying scholarships to families and children.

This calculated campaign gives fresh energy to persistent efforts to divert billions of tax dollars into religious education, voucher schemes and charter schools.  Despite all the claims made by charter advocates, study after study shows that public schools do as well or better than charters, even by the relatively meaningless metric of test scores.

The pandemic has turbocharged the school choice movement by also mobilizing anti-mask and anti-vaccine sentiments.  In communities all through the nation, efforts to follow public health protocols have subjected school officials to attacks, up to and including death threats.   The few school systems that have begun to offer vaccinations are under vicious attack for supposedly sacrificing innocent children to a government campaign to impose unproven medical treatments.

These falsehoods run in tandem with local and state elections for school boards and state legislatures.  The evidence is rapidly mounting that this mandate for parental “rights” will spawn new voucher legislation and other school choice measures in unprecedented numbers.   Dissatisfaction with pandemic online programs, mask policies and the myth of CRT training has already led to drops of 4-5% enrollment in New York City and other major public school systems.  These students are migrating to the charter school of choice, Christian schools, or homeschooling, whichever is most consistent with the parents’ “beliefs,” whether rational, mythical or ignorant.  

Inform yourself! Open the link and read the rest.

Niall Ferguson is a historian who has been a professor at Oxford, New York University and Harvard. He is now at the Hoover Institution, a well-endowed conservative think tank located on the Stanford University campus. The following essay appeared on the Bloomberg News site.

Ferguson doesn’t acknowledge the paradox behind his proposal. He argues that academia has become so stifling of conservative ideas that it has become necessary to open a new college where those ideas could be freely expressed. Yet if every college student has been indoctrinated for many years, what accounts for the power of Trumpian ideas in American society today?

It’s true that Trump ideology is favored more by non-college graduates, while college graduates are likely to reject xenophobia, racism, homophobia, encouragement of violence, and contempt for democratic norms associated with Trumpism. If American higher education was having such a stifling effect on conservatism, why the power and spread of such noxious ideology?

I suppose that Ferguson might disassociate conservatism from Trumpism, but who in the Republican Party today represents those conservative ideas that Ferguson honors? Mitt Romney? Liz Cheney? They are outcasts in their own party.

Ferguson wrote:

If you enjoyed Netflix’s “The Chair” — a lighthearted depiction of a crisis-prone English Department at an imaginary Ivy League college — you are clearly not in higher education. Something is rotten in the state of academia and it’s no laughing matter.

Grade inflation. Spiraling costs. Corruption and racial discrimination in admissions. Junk content (“Grievance Studies”) published in risible journals. Above all, the erosion of academic freedom and the ascendancy of an illiberal “successor ideology”known to its critics as wokeism, which manifests itself as career-ending “cancelations” and speaker disinvitations, but less visibly generates a pervasive climate of anxiety and self-censorship.

Some say that universities are so rotten that the institution itself should simply be abandoned and replaced with an online alternative — a metaversity perhaps, to go with the metaverse. I disagree. I have long been skeptical that online courses and content can be anything other than supplementary to the traditional real-time, real-space college experience.

However, having taught at several, including Cambridge, Oxford, New York University and Harvard, I have also come to doubt that the existing universities can be swiftly cured of their current pathologies. That is why this week I am one of a group of people announcing the founding of a new university — indeed, a new kind of university: the University of Austin.

The founders of this university are a diverse group in terms of our backgrounds and our experiences (though doubtless not diverse enough for some). Our political views also differ. To quote our founding president, Pano Kanelos, “What unites us is a common dismay at the state of modern academia and a belief that it is time for something new.”

There is no need to imagine a mythical golden age. The original universities were religious institutions, as committed to orthodoxy and as hostile to heresy as today’s woke seminaries. In the wake of the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution, scholars gradually became less like clergymen; but until the 20th century their students were essentially gentlemen, who owed their admission as much to inherited status as to intellectual ability. Many of the great intellectual breakthroughs of the Enlightenment were achieved off campus.

Only from the 19th century did academia become truly secularized and professional, with the decline of religious requirements, the rise to pre-eminence of the natural sciences, the spread of the German system of academic promotion (from doctorate up in steps to full professorship), and the proliferation of scholarly journals based on peer-review. Yet the same German universities that led the world in so many fields around 1900 became enthusiastic helpmeets of the Nazis in ways that revealed the perils of an amoral scholarship decoupled from Christian ethics and too closely connected to the state.

Even the institutions with the most sustained records of excellence — Oxford and Cambridge — have had prolonged periods of torpor. F.M. Cornford could mock the inherent conservatism of Oxbridge politics in his “Microcosmographia Academica” in 1908. When Malcolm Bradbury wrote his satirical novel “The History Man” in 1975, universities everywhere were still predominantly white, male and middle class. The process whereby a college education became more widely available — to women, to the working class, to racial minorities — has been slow and remains incomplete. Meanwhile, there have been complaints about the adverse consequences of this process in American universities since Allan Bloom’s “Closing of the American Mind,” which was published back in 1987.

Nevertheless, much had been achieved by the later years of the 20th century. There was a general agreement that the central purpose of a university was the pursuit of truth — think only of Harvard’s stark Latin motto: Veritas — and that the crucial means to that end were freedom of conscience, thought, speech and publication. There was supposed to be no discrimination in admissions, examinations and academic appointments, other than on the basis of intellectual merit. That was crucial to enabling Jews and other minority groups to take full advantage of their intellectual potential. It was understood that professors were awarded tenure principally to preserve academic freedom so that they might “dare to think” — Immanuel Kant’s other great imperative, Sapere aude! — without fear of being fired.

The benefits of all this defy quantification. A huge proportion of the major scientific breakthroughs of the past century were made by men and women whose academic jobs gave them economic security and a supportive community in which to do their best work. Would the democracies have won the world wars and the Cold War without the contributions of their universities? It seems doubtful. Think only of Bletchley Park and the Manhattan Project. Sure, the Ivy League’s best and brightest also gave us the Vietnam War. But remember, too, that there were more university-based computers on the Arpanet — the original internet — than any other kind. No Stanford, no Silicon Valley.

Those of us who were fortunate to be undergraduates in the 1980s remember the exhilarating combination of intellectual freedom and ambition to which all this gave rise. Yet, in the past decade, exhilaration has been replaced by suffocation, to the point that I feel genuinely sorry for today’s undergraduates.

In Heterodox Academy’s 2020 Campus Expression Survey, 62% of sampled college students agreed that the climate on their campus prevented them from saying things they believed, up from 55% in 2019, while 41% were reluctant to discuss politics in a classroom, up from 32% in 2019. Some 60% of students said they were reluctant to speak up in class because they were concerned other students would criticize their views as being offensive.

Such anxieties are far from groundless. According to a nationwide survey of a thousand undergraduates by the Challey Institute for Global Innovation, 85% of self-described liberal students would report a professor to the university if the professor said something that they found offensive, while 76% would report another student.

In a study published in March entitled “Academic Freedom in Crisis: Punishment, Political Discrimination and Self-Censorship,” the Centre for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology showed that academic freedom is under attack not only in the U.S., but also in the U.K. and Canada. Three-quarters of conservative American and British academics in the social sciences and humanities said there is a hostile climate for their beliefs in their department. This compares to just 5% among left-wing faculty in the U.S.

Again, one can understand why. Younger academics are especially likely to support dismissal of a colleague who has made some heretical utterance, with 40% of American social sciences and humanities professors under the age of 40 supporting at least one of four hypothetical dismissal campaigns. Ph.D. students are even more intolerant than other young academics: 55% of American Ph.D. students under 40 supported at least one hypothetical dismissal campaign. “High-profile deplatformings and dismissals” get the attention, the authors of the report conclude, but “far more pervasive threats to academic freedom stem … from fears of a) cancellation — threats to one’s job or reputation — and b) political discrimination.”

These are not unfounded fears. The number of scholars targeted for their speech has risen dramatically since 2015, according to research by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE has logged 426 incidents since 2015. Just under three-quarters of them resulted in some kind of sanction — including an investigation alone or voluntary resignation — against the scholar. Such efforts to restrict free speech usually originate with “progressive” student groups, but often find support from left-leaning faculty members and are encouraged by college administrators, who tend (as Sam Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College demonstrated, and as his own subsequent experience confirmed) to be even further to the left than professors. There are also attacks on academic freedom from the right, which FIRE challenges. With a growing number of Republicans calling for bans on critical race theory, I fear the illiberalism is metastasizing.

Trigger warnings. Safe spaces. Preferred pronouns. Checked privileges. Microaggressions. Antiracism. All these terms are routinely deployed on campuses throughout the English-speaking world as part of a sustained campaign to impose ideological conformity in the name of diversity. As a result, it often feels as if there is less free speech and free thought in the American university today than in almost any other institution in the U.S.

To the historian’s eyes, there is something unpleasantly familiar about the patterns of behavior that have, in a matter of a few years, become normal on many campuses. The chanting of slogans. The brandishing of placards. The letters informing on colleagues and classmates. The denunciations of professors to the authorities. The lack of due process. The cancelations. The rehabilitations following abject confessions. The officiousness of unaccountable bureaucrats. Any student of the totalitarian regimes of the mid-20th century recognizes all this with astonishment. It turns out that it can happen in a free society, too, if institutions and individuals who claim to be liberal choose to behave in an entirely illiberal fashion.

How to explain this rapid descent of academia from a culture of free inquiry and debate into a kind of Totalitarianism Lite? In their book “The Coddling of the American Mind,” the social psychiatrist Jonathan Haidt and FIRE president Greg Lukianoff lay much of the blame on a culture of parenting and early education that encourages students to believe that “what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker,” that you should “always trust your feelings,” and that “life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

However, I believe the core problems are the pathological structures and perverse incentives of the modern university. It is not the case, as many Americans believe, that U.S. colleges have always been left-leaning and that today’s are no different from those of the 1960s. As Stanley Rothman, Robert Lichter and Neil Nevitte showed in a 2005 study, while 39% of the professoriate on average described themselves as left-wing in 1984, the proportion had risen to 72% by 1999, by which time being a conservative had become a measurable career handicap.

Mitchell Langbert’s analysis of tenure-track, Ph.D.-holding professors from 51 of the 66 top-ranked liberal arts colleges in 2017 found that those with known political affiliations were overwhelmingly Democratic. Nearly two-fifths of the colleges in Langbert’s sample were Republican-free. The mean Democratic-to-Republican ratio across the sample was 10.4:1, or 12.7:1 if the two military academies, West Point and Annapolis, were excluded. For history departments, the ratio was 17.4:1; for English 48.3:1. No ratio is calculable for anthropology, as the number of Republican professors was zero. In 2020, Langbert and Sean Stevens found an even bigger skew to the left when they considered political donations to parties by professors. The ratio of dollars contributed to Democratic versus Republican candidates and committees was 21:1.

Commentators who argue that the pendulum will magically swing back betray a lack of understanding about the academic hiring and promotion process. With political discrimination against conservatives now overt, most departments are likely to move further to the left over time as the last remaining conservatives retire.

Yet the leftward march of the professoriate is only one of the structural flaws that characterize today’s university. If you think the faculty are politically skewed, take a look at academic administrators. A shocking insight into the way some activist-administrators seek to bully students into ideological conformity was provided by Trent Colbert, a Yale Law School student who invited his fellow members of the Native American Law Students Association to “a Constitution Day bash” at the “NALSA Trap House,” a term that used to mean a crack den but now is just a mildly risque way of describing a party. Diversity director Yaseen Eldik’s thinly veiled threats to Colbert if he didn’t sign a groveling apology — “I worry about this leaning over your reputation as a person, not just here but when you leave” — were too much even for an editorial board member at the Washington Post. Democracy may die in darkness; academic freedom dies in wokeness.

Moreover, the sheer number of the administrators is a problem in itself. In 1970, U.S. colleges employed more professors than administrators. Between then and 2010, however, the number of full-time professors or “full-time equivalents” increased by slightly more than 50%, in line with student enrollments. The number of administrators and administrative staffers rose by 85% and 240%, respectively. The ever-growing army of coordinators for Title IX — the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination — is one manifestation of the bureaucratic bloat, which since the 1990s has helped propel tuition costs far ahead of inflation.

The third structural problem is weak leadership. Time and again — most recently at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a lecture by the University of Chicago geophysicist Dorian Abbot was abruptly canceled because he had been critical of affirmative action — academic leaders have yielded to noisy mobs baying for disinvitations. There are notable exceptions, such as Robert Zimmer, who as president of the University of Chicago between 2006 and 2021 made a stand for academic freedom. But the number of other colleges to have adopted the Chicago statement, a pledge crafted by the school’s Committee on Freedom of Expression, remains just 55, out of nearly 2,500 institutions offering four-year undergraduate programs.

Finally, there is the problem of the donors — most but not all alumni — and trustees, many of whom have been astonishingly oblivious of the problems described above. In 2019, donors gave nearly $50 billion to colleges. Eight donors gave $100 million or more. People generally do not make that kind of money without being hard-nosed in their business dealings. Yet the capitalist class appears strangely unaware of the anticapitalist uses to which its money is often put. A phenomenon I find deeply puzzling is the lack of due diligence associated with much academic philanthropy, despite numerous cases when the intentions of benefactors have deliberately been subverted.

All this would be bad enough if it meant only that U.S. universities are no longer conducive to free inquiry and promotion based on merit, without which scientific advances are certain to be impeded and educational standards to fall. But academic illiberalism is not confined to college campuses. As students collect their degrees and enter the workforce, they inevitably carry some of what they have learned at college with them. Multiple manifestations of “woke” thinking and behavior at newspapers, publishing houses, technology companies and other corporations have confirmed Andrew Sullivan’s 2018 observation, “We all live on campus now.”

When a problem becomes this widespread, the traditional American solution is to create new institutions. As we have seen, universities are relatively long-lived compared to companies and even nations. But not all great universities are ancient. Of today’s top 25 universities, according to the global rankings compiled by the London Times Higher Education Supplement, four were founded in the 20th century. Fully 14 were 19th-century foundations; four date back to the 18th century. Only Oxford (which can trace its origins to 1096) and Cambridge (1209) are medieval in origin.

As might be inferred from the large number (10) of today’s leading institutions founded in the U.S. between 1855 and 1900, new universities tend to be established when wealthy elites grow impatient with the existing ones and see no way of reforming them. The puzzle is why, despite the resurgence of inequality in the U.S. since the 1990s and the more or less simultaneous decline in standards at the existing universities, so few new ones have been created. Only a handful have been set up this century: University of California Merced (2005), Ave Maria University (2003) and Soka University of America (2001). Just five U.S. colleges founded in the past 50 years make it into the Times’s top 25 “Young Universities”: University of Alabama at Birmingham (founded 1969), University of Texas at Dallas (1969), George Mason (1957), University of Texas at San Antonio (1969) and Florida International (1969). Each is (or originated as) part of a state university system.

In short, the beneficiaries of today’s gilded age seem altogether more tolerant of academic degeneration than their 19th-century predecessors. For whatever reason, many prefer to give their money to established universities, no matter how antithetical those institutions’ values have become to their own. This makes no sense, even if the principal motivation is to buy Ivy League spots for their offspring. Why would you pay to have your children indoctrinated with ideas you despise?

So what should the university of the future look like? Clearly, there is no point in simply copying and pasting Harvard, Yale or Princeton and expecting a different outcome. Even if such an approach were affordable, it would be the wrong one.

To begin with, a new institution can’t compete with the established brands when it comes to undergraduate programs. Young Americans and their counterparts elsewhere go to college as much for the high-prestige credentials and the peer networks as for the education. That’s why a new university can’t start by offering bachelors’ degrees.

The University of Austin will therefore begin modestly, with a summer school offering “Forbidden Courses” — the kind of content and instruction no longer available at most established campuses, addressing the kind of provocative questions that often lead to cancelation or self-censorship.

The next step will be a one-year master’s program in Entrepreneurship and Leadership. The primary purpose of conventional business programs is to credential large cohorts of passive learners with a lowest-common-denominator curriculum. The University of Austin’s program will aim to teach students classical principles of the market economy and then embed them in a network of successful technologists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and public-policy reformers. It will offer an introduction to the world of American technology similar to the introduction to the Chinese economy offered by the highly successful Schwarzman Scholars program, combining both academic pedagogy and practical experience. Later, there will be parallel programs in Politics and Applied History and in Education and Public Service.

Only after these initial programs have been set up will we start offering a four-year liberal arts degree. The first two years of study will consist of an intensive liberal arts curriculum, including the study of philosophy, literature, history, politics, economics, mathematics, the sciences and the fine arts. There will be Oxbridge-style instruction, with small tutorials and college-wide lectures, providing an in-depth and personalized learning experience with interdisciplinary breadth.

After two years of a comprehensive and rigorous liberal arts education, undergraduates will join one of four academic centers as junior fellows, pursuing disciplinary coursework, conducting hands-on research and gaining experience as interns. The initial centers will include one for entrepreneurship and leadership, one for politics and applied history, one for education and public service, and one for technology, engineering and mathematics.

To those who argue that we could more easily do all this with some kind of internet platform, I would say that online learning is no substitute for learning on a campus, for reasons rooted in evolutionary psychology. We simply learn much better in relatively small groups in real time and space, not least because a good deal of what students learn in a well-functioning university comes from their informal discussions in the absence of professors. This explains the persistence of the university over a millennium, despite successive revolutions in information technology.

To those who wonder how a new institution can avoid being captured by the illiberal-liberal establishment that now dominates higher education, I would answer that the governance structure of the institution will be designed to prevent that. The Chicago principles of freedom of expression will be enshrined in the founding charter. The founders will form a corporation or board of trustees that will be sovereign. Not only will the corporation appoint the president of the college; it will also have a final say over all appointments or promotions. There will be one unusual obligation on faculty members, besides the standard ones to teach and carry out research: to conduct the admissions process by means of an examination that they will set and grade. Admission will be based primarily on performance on the exam. That will avoid the corrupt rackets run by so many elite admissions offices today.

As for our choice of location in the Texas capital, I would say that proximity to a highly regarded public university — albeit one where even the idea of establishing an institute to study liberty is now controversial — will ensure that the University of Austin has to compete at the highest level from the outset.

My fellow founders and I have no illusions about the difficulty of the task ahead. We fully expect condemnation from the educational establishment and its media apologists. We shall regard all such attacks as vindication — the flak will be a sign that we are above the target.

In our minds, there can be no more urgent task for a society than to ensure the health of its system of higher education. The American system today is broken in ways that pose a profound threat to the future strength and stability of the U.S. It is time to start fixing it. But the opportunity to do so in the classic American way — by creating something new, actually building rather than “building back” — is an inspiring and exciting one.

To quote Haidt and Lukianoff: “A school that makes freedom of inquiry an essential part of its identity, selects students who show special promise as seekers of truth, orients and prepares those students for productive disagreement … would be inspiring to join, a joy to attend, and a blessing to society.”

That is not the kind of institution satirized in “The Chair.” It is precisely the kind of institution we need today.

To contact the author of this story:
Niall Ferguson at nferguson23@bloomberg.net

On his regular television show “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver explains how big corporations like Amazon prevent their workers from forming a union. They hire expensive consultants to advise them on tactics. They bombard their workers with warnings about what they will lose if they join a union. They require them to watch anti-union videos.

His show is both informative and amusing. He runs an anti-union video in which two actors play the part of workers who warn their colleagues not to join the union. After all, “we are one big family here.” Oliver points out that the two actors belong to a union. When he questions them about their hypocrisy, he responds that he can be paid to act like a rapist, but that doesn’t make him a rapist.

This show is a must-see. Oliver relies on data gathered by the Economic Policy Institute in D.C., which is a rare think tank that supports labor unions and progressive legislation.

We have had some animated discussion on this blog about whether the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse was “fair,” since he walks away a free man despite murdering two men and maiming a third.

Paul Butler, a law professor at Georgetown University and a contributing columnist to the Washington Post, wrote on this subject today:

Kyle Rittenhouse beat his case because he put on the best defense money can buy.

Don’t believe the hype that Rittenhouse, who was prosecuted for homicide after shooting three people at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wis., in August 2020 was acquitted because self-defense cases are tough for prosecutors to win. More than 90 percent of people who are prosecuted for any crime, including homicide, plead guilty. The few who dare to go to trial usually lose — including in murder cases.

Rittenhouse’s $2 million legal defense funds enabled his lawyers, before his trial, to stage separate “practice” jury trials — one in which 18-year-old Rittenhouse took the stand and one in which he did not. The more favorable reaction from the pretend jurors when Rittenhouse testified informed the decision to let the teenager tell his story to the real jurors. His apparently well-rehearsed testimony was probably the most important factor in the jury ultimately letting Rittenhouse walk.

All that money also allowed Rittenhouse’s lawyers to retain O.J. Simpson’s jury consultant — and arguably her skills helped the defense win the same “not guilty” verdict. Now, in the eyes of the law, Kyle Rittenhouse is just as innocent of homicide as O.J. Simpson.

Most criminal defendants cannot afford those kinds of resources. Rittenhouse, raised in a working-class family, could not have either but for influential people such as former president Donald Trump and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) acting as his cheerleaders.

On Monday night, Rittenhouse — in the tradition of dancing with the one who brung you — will be interviewed by Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Regardless of whether Rittenhouse wants or deserves to be, he is now the poster child for reactionary White men who seek to take the law in their own hands, who want to patrol Black Lives Matter protests with assault weapons and who think that violence is a legitimate form of political discourse.


Some people have questioned how this case, in which a White man killed two White men and severely wounded another, implicates race. But it is impossible to imagine the right embracing the cause of a young Black man who brought a semiautomatic rifle to, say, a “Stop the Steal” rally and ended up killing two people and blowing the arm off another. For Rittenhouse’s supporters, his Whiteness is an integral part of his appeal.

Here’s where I am supposed to say that the issue is not that Rittenhouse had the funds to bankroll his defense but, rather, that other accused persons should enjoy that same benefit. To be sure, I do wish that each of the 10 million-plus people arrested in the United States every year — most of whom are poor people of color — actually were extended their constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. Too many are forced to rely on underfunded public defenders or overburdened appointed lawyers — no match for the prosecutor’s budget.

Still, I’m okay that not every armed White man who kills people while playing the role of a wannabe cop gets millions of dollars to turbocharge his privilege. I am glad that the defense is not as well-financed for the three men on trial for murder in Georgia after they killed Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through their neighborhood.

When defendant Travis McMichael took the stand, his testimony was not nearly as smooth as Rittenhouse’s — perhaps because McMichael did not have as many chances to practice. Indeed, McMichael, testifying about how he, his father and a neighbor hunted down a Black man and demanded that he stop and justify his presence on public streets, sounded like a slave catcher. This was fitting because empowering White civilians to apprehend runaway slaves was the origin of the Georgia citizens’ arrest law — since revised — that is the linchpin of the defense.

That defense appears to be floundering. Maybe that is why, with closing statements scheduled for Monday, the lawyer for defendant William “Roddie” Bryan reportedly asked prosecutors if his client could cop a plea.

All criminal defendants have a right to spend as much money as they want on their case, but it’s a fanciful right for most defendants of color. Let them eat cake, and let them hire jury consultants. There is nothing wrong with begrudging all the resources Rittenhouse was provided to fight his case when those resources are a product of his Whiteness. Maybe that’s not the high road, but the high road is not leading to equal justice.

In the Georgia trial, in a sign of its confidence, the prosecution reportedly turned down Bryan’s late request for a plea. Perhaps if those defendants had Kyle Rittenhouse’s kind of money, things would be going differently. I am glad they don’t.

Arthur Camins is a retired science educator.

In this post, he emphasizes the importance of teaching students to ask the right questions, rather than memorize the “right answers.”

Camins begins his article:

It is inescapable: Truths, lies, and inaction about climate change, Covid-19, and racism. Everywhere we see pitched battles over whether and how to respond. Our children live in this adult-made mess. They pay attention. Some age-appropriate shielding of young children may be wise, but they don’t live under rocks. The very least we can do is ensure that they grow up to be smarter about evidence and more caring than so many adults. It is imperative and possible through K-12 curriculum that prioritizes scientific thinking and a caring school culture.

Adults and young people alike are bombarded with a range of information which, depending on personal perspective, appears to range from obviously true to patently false with a whole lot of ambiguity in between.  We want to figure out what’s true and what’s not, but too many of us are flummoxed. Even more challenging and frustrating, we often hit a wall in dealing with repeaters of clear disinformation or folks who simply refuse to care about others.  For the sake of our children, we need to do better now and prepare them to face similar conflicts in their future.

Some mix of scientific illiteracy, mistrust of social institutions, and lack of care for fellow humans created a perfect anti-truth storm. As a result, we failed as a nation to stave off the dire climate-altering effects of uncontrolled burning of fossil fuels or to take timely action to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Several generations of decision-makers in government and industries have abetted the use of scientific inquiry to make things worse rather than better for most of their fellow humans. In addition, we live with the lie that inequity and racism are normal and unavoidable, making the impact far worse for some than others.

Alarmingly, a small cadre of parents, with Republican support, are now making a loud fuss at school board meetings demanding purposeful ignorance of history and disease prevention measures.  The rest of us, the majority, need to fight just as vigorously–but without the anger and threats–for curricula and instruction that help prepare students to deal with complex contentious problems.

Let’s start with evidence rather than conjecture about what goes on in classrooms every day. Children are not always the most reliable or detailed reporters of, “What did you do in school today?” Parents cannot nor should they be constant classroom observers. Students and their teachers need some space. So, we need inferential evidence.  It’s what comes home: A backpack filled with papers or what is in notebooks.  Along with all the other normal and pandemic-enhanced demands on parents, it’s a lot to pick through. But take a moment to look for some specific indicators. It is a matter of life and death– not for tomorrow but for the world our children will inherit and be able to influence.

Look for evidence that they are engaged in answering scientific questions through investigations: Across the day, what causes the length of shadows changes from long to short and back to long? What explains that rain puddles remain on some materials, but not others; What causes some species to become extinct or the polar icecaps to shrink; Where does all the material in a giant redwood tree come from?    

These questions lend themselves to learning vital science concepts but there is something more important: You should see that students offer their tentative ideas about natural phenomena and then gather evidence to confirm or revise their thinking.   For example, you might see some variation on:  I used to think……., but then we found this new evidence ……… Now, I think ………

That is quite different from what many of us remember about school science: Memorizing–and soon-forgetting the chemical equation for photosynthesis; What went where on the periodic table; or the order of the planets in our solar system.  And, it is not just getting to do hands-on science, although engaging in investigation with materials is important...