Archives for the month of: May, 2023

There is a growing awareness that Biden managed to outsmart Kevin McCarthy in the debt negotiations. Robert Hubbell thinks so. Biden is a lot smarter than he gets credit for. Fifty years in Congress counts for something.

Hubbell writes:

A key part of the Republican mythology heading into 2024 is that Joe Biden is addled to the point of incoherence and incompetence. So, on the eve of the House vote on the debt ceiling legislation, Republicans are struggling with the reality that Biden bested them in a high-stakes negotiation in which they were holding a nuclear bomb they were willing to detonate. 

As Rep. Lauren Boebert admitted on Twitter, “We got absolutely destroyed in this negotiation.” Or, as former-adult-in-the-room GOP Rep. Nancy Mace tweeted, “Republicans got outsmarted by a President who can’t find his pants.” [See my criticism of Rep. Mace in Concluding Thoughts.]

          As Charlie Sykes aptly noted, Republicans are experiencing “cognitive dissonance” as they struggle to digest their defeat. In the Orwellian logic of the GOP, Kevin McCarthy is declaring “total victory” for negotiating a deal that has ignited calls for his removal as Speaker. As Freedom Caucus member GOP Rep. Chip Roy said,

I want to be very clear: Not one Republican should vote for this deal. Not one. It is a bad deal. No one sent us here to borrow an additional $4 trillion to get absolutely nothing in return. . . . [The deal is] a complete and total sellout . . . and a betrayal of the House power-sharing arrangement.

          While McCarthy is attempting to convince his caucus that the sow’s ear compromise bill is a silk purse for Republicans, Biden is being praised in the political press for his Ninja-like negotiating skills. See Jennifer Rubin in Washington PostOpinion | The debt ceiling shows Biden’s underrated deal-making prowess. Or, as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put it, How the “F” Did Joe Biden Do That? For a comprehensive analysis of Biden’s negotiating strategy, see Daily KosThe many levels of genius in Pres. Biden’s negotiating strategy.

          It may take a few days for Republicans to understand what just happened to them, but here is an example. One of McCarthy’s proudest achievements is that he imposed new work requirements for SNAP food assistance for recipients between 50 and 54 years old. But Biden negotiated “carve-outs” to that expanded work requirement that will actually increase the amount of SNAP funding by expanding the pool of eligible recipients. Per the NYTimes,

[The Congressional Business Office] said a series of changes in work requirements for food stamp eligibility — tightening them for some adults, but loosening them for others including veterans — would actually increase federal spending on the program by $2 billion.

While Republicans demanded stricter work requirements be a part of the compromise, the White House bargained to lessen the impact, and the budget office estimated that overall, the deal would increase the ranks of the program, making an additional 78,000 people eligible for nutrition assistance.

          Got that? The signature achievement of Republicans designed to kick people off SNAP will instead increase funding for the program (by $1.8 billion) and expand the number of eligible recipients. As Josh Marshall said, “How the “F” did Biden to that?” Democrats should help pass the bill through Congress before more such details emerge.

         The “good” news is that a floor vote in the House will likely occur on Wednesday—five days before the US will not have sufficient cash to pay all of its bills.  Late on Tuesday evening, the legislation cleared a key hurdle in the House, passing out of the House Rules Committee. As a result, the bill will be put to a vote on Wednesday. See NYTimesDebt Ceiling Deal Moves Toward House Vote Despite GOP Revolt.

          But . . . many Democrats are unhappy with compromises made by Biden to avoid default. Two of the leading criticisms involve the age-based increased work requirements for SNAP recipients and changes to the permitting process for energy projects.

          As to SNAP, Biden agreed to increase the existing work requirements to include beneficiaries 50 to 54 years old. But as noted above, carve-outs to those increased work requirements have the effect of increasing the total number of Americans eligible for SNAP benefits. Still, the precedent of using a debt-ceiling negotiation to target the poorest and most vulnerable Americans is a bad one. See Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles TimesHiltzik: Debt ceiling deal is all about punishing the poor.

          A corollary to the GOP’s effort to punish the poor is their effort to protect the rich. By reducing funding for the IRS and leaving tax rates untouched, the two groups unaffected by the debt-ceiling compromise are ultra-wealthy Americans and large corporations. See Raw StoryProgressives condemn Biden-GOP debt ceiling deal as ‘cruel and shortsighted’.

A second major point of criticism is the concession to “fast track” future energy projects, thereby limiting environmental review. And the deal expressly grants special consideration for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a Joe Manchin pet project. See The Guardian, ‘An egregious act’: debt ceiling deal imperils the environment, critics say | Environment.

Per The Guardian,

Environmental groups, already angered by Biden’s ongoing embrace of large fossil fuel projects, such as the recently approved Willow oil drilling operation in Alaska, said these provisions mean that Democrats should block the debt deal when it is voted upon in Congress this week.

“President Biden made a colossal error in negotiating a deal that sacrifices the climate and working families,” said Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congress should reject these poison pills and pass a clean debt ceiling bill.”

          But apart from the permitting concessions, Biden managed to protect the massive investments in climate and clean energy achieved in the infrastructure bill and Inflation Reduction Act passed during the last session of Congress. The Inflation Reduction Act alone invested $369 billion in climate protection and clean energy—the largest investment in protecting the environment by an order of magnitude. That investment will reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030. See CNBC, Inflation Reduction Act: Climate change provisions.

          The criticisms over cruelty targeting the poor and special accommodations for a pipeline that will make Joe Manchin richer are well-taken. But as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Shalanda Young, said in defense of the bill:

We are in divided government. This is what happens in divided government. They get to have an opinion and we get to have an opinion, and all things equal, I think this compromise agreement is reasonable for both sides.

And we must remember that as we evaluate the provisions of the bill, the implied question is always, “Compared to what?” Here, the relevant comparison is to a national default that would have injured hundreds of millions of Americans and millions of American businesses. Retirement savings would have been decimated, and monthly benefit checks would have been diminished or halted. It is legitimate and reasonable to evaluate (and criticize) the proposed bill, but to do so without recognizing the alternative outcome is an incomplete analysis.


Hubbell goes on to chastise former moderate Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who has gone full-MAGA in her cruel taunts aimed at Biden, who apparently negotiated the pants off McCarthy.

Heather Cox Richardson writes about Biden’s deliberately low-key description of the deal he made with Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy is on television, Biden is not. McCarthy claims victory, Biden is quiet. What gives? (Interesting comment at the end of the post: Tara Reade, the woman who accused Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her has moved to Russia “for her safety.”)

She writes:

“[O]ne of the things that I hear some of you guys saying is, ‘Why doesn’t Biden say what a good deal it is?’” President Joe Biden said to reporters yesterday afternoon before leaving the White House on the Marine One helicopter. “Why would Biden say what a good deal it is before the vote? You think that’s going to help me get it passed? No. That’s why you guys don’t bargain very well.”

Biden’s unusually revealing comment about the budget negotiations was actually a statement about his presidency. Unlike his Republican opponents, he has refused to try to win points by playing the media and instead has worked behind the scenes to govern, sometimes staying out of negotiations, sometimes being central to them.

The result has been, as Daily Beast columnist David Rothkopf summarized today, historic. Biden has worked to replace 40 years of supply-side economics with policies to rebuild the nation’s economy and infrastructure by supporting ordinary Americans. The American Rescue Plan gave the United States a faster economic recovery from the COVID pandemic than any other major economy. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has already funded more than 32,000 projects in more than 4,500 communities in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and U.S. territories.

The Inflation Reduction Act made the biggest investment in addressing climate change in our history, and according to University of Washington transportation analyst Jack Conness, it and the CHIPS and Science Act have already attracted over $220 billion in private investment, much of it going to Republican-dominated states: Tennessee, Nevada, North Carolina, and Oklahoma have each attracted more than $4 billion; Ohio, more than $6 billion; Arizona, more than $7 billion; South Carolina, more than $9 billion; and Georgia, more than $13 billion.

Victoria Guida in Politico yesterday reported that the reordering of the economy under Biden and the Democrats has reversed the widening income gap between wage workers and upper-income professionals that has been growing for the past 40 years. The pay of those making an average of $12.50 an hour grew by almost 6% from 2020 to 2022, even after inflation.

Those gains are now at risk as pandemic measures end and the Fed raises interest rates to bring down inflation, although the wage increases are only a piece of the inflation puzzle: Talmon Joseph Smith and Joe Rennison of the New York Times today reported that companies raising their prices to “protect…profits” are “adding to inflation.” In other words, companies pushed prices beyond normal profit margins during the pandemic and the economic recovery, then maintained those higher profit margins with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and continue to maintain them now.

The fight over the debt ceiling is both an example of the different approaches to negotiation on the part of Biden and Republicans like House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and part of the larger question about the direction of the country.

On January 13, 2023, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned McCarthy that the Treasury was about to hit the borrowing limit established by Congress and that she would have to resort to extraordinary measures in order to meet obligations until Congress raised the debt ceiling.

On March 9, as part of the usual budget process, Biden produced a detailed budget, which was a wish list of programs that would continue to build the country from the bottom up. He told McCarthy he would meet with the speaker as soon as he produced his own budget, which McCarthy could not do because the far-right House Freedom Caucus (these days being abbreviated as HFC) wanted extreme cuts to which other Republicans would never agree.

On April 26 the House Republicans passed a bill that would require $4.8 trillion in cuts but was quite vague about how it would do so apart from getting rid of much of the legislation the Democrats had just passed. HFC members said they would not raise the debt ceiling until the Senate passed their bill. That is, they would drive the United States into default, crashing the U.S. and the global economy, until the president and the Democrats agreed to their policies. Even then, they would raise it only until next spring, with the expectation that it would then become a key factor in the 2024 election.

Biden insisted all along that he would not negotiate over the debt ceiling, which pays for money already appropriated under the normal process of Congress and which Congress raised three times under former president Trump even as he added $7.8 trillion to the national debt. Biden said he would happily negotiate over the budget. McCarthy, meanwhile, was out in front of the cameras and on social media insulting Biden and insisting that it was Biden’s fault that talks took so long to get started.

Late Saturday, the two sides announced an agreement “in principle” to raise the debt ceiling for two years—clearing the presidential election. As the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell noted, it protects current spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; keeps tax rates as they are; increases spending on defense and veterans’ programs; leaves most other domestic spending the same; cuts a little from the expanded funding of the Internal Revenue Service; and tweaks both the permitting process for energy projects and the existing work requirements in the food assistance program.

As Rampell points out, “this much-ballyhooed ‘deal’ doesn’t seem terribly different from whatever budget agreement would have materialized anyway later this year, during the usual annual appropriations process, under divided government. To President Biden’s credit, the most objectionable ransoms that Republicans had been demanding are all gone.”

Now the measure has to get through both parties, with congressmembers back in Washington today after the holiday weekend. Freedom Caucus members are howling at the deal. Representative Chip Roy (R-TX) is threatening to bottle the measure up in the House Rules Committee, which decides what bills make it to the floor. The Freedom Caucus forced McCarthy to stack that committee with far-right extremists as part of his deal for the speakership (it has nine Republicans but only four Democrats on it). But Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo suggests that McCarthy’s alliance with Representatives Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) might pay off here, since the two have thrown their weight behind the measure.

Even if the measure does pass before the June 5 deadline when the Treasury runs out of money, it has had an important effect. As Rampell noted, it has weakened the United States. It has enabled both China and Russia to portray the U.S. as unstable and an unreliable partner. As if to prove that criticism, Biden had to cancel a trip to Australia and Papua New Guinea, where he was strengthening the Indo-Pacific alliances designed to weaken Chinese dominance of the region. (And Russia continues to involve itself in U.S. politics: today Tara Reade, the woman who in 2020 accused Biden of sexually assaulting her, appeared on Russian television next to alleged spy Maria Butina to say she has fled to Russia out of fear for her life in the U.S.)

Writing in Foreign Policy, Howard W. French sees a more sweeping problem with the debt ceiling fight: it “highlights America’s warped priorities.” “[W]hen a rich and powerful country finds it easier to cut back on the way that it invests in its people, in education, in science, and in making sure that the weakest among them are not completely left behind than to curtail useless and profligate weapons spending,” he said, “there are reasons to worry about the foundations of its power.”



Jeffrey Epstein, sexual predator and child abuser, became a very rich man as a financial advisor to the rich and famous. When he died awaiting trial, he was allegedly worth $600 million. His estate paid off claims to more than 100 women whom he had abused.

Due to his notoriety and his many powerful friends, he continues to be a fascinating figure. The Wall Street Journal somehow obtained his daily diaries and has written several stories about his interactions with his important friends.

This one was published a few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal:

On Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, Jeffrey Epstein had a full calendar. He was scheduled to meet that day with Bill Gates, Thomas Pritzker, Leon Black and Mortimer Zuckerman, four of the richest men in the country, according to schedules and emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Epstein also planned meetings that day with a former top White House lawyer, a college president and a philanthropic adviser, three of the dozens of meetings the Journal reported he had with each of them.

Six years earlier, in 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution, and he subsequently registered as a sex offender. He was arrested again in 2019 on sex-trafficking charges, and died that year in jail awaiting trial.

Mr. Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, has said they discussed philanthropy, and it was a mistake to meet with Epstein. Mr. Black, a co-founder of Apollo Global Management, who has said previously he met for tax and estate advice, declined to comment. The other two men haven’t previously discussed their meetings with Epstein and didn’t respond to requests for comment. Mr. Pritzker is chairman of Hyatt Hotels and Mr. Zuckerman is a real-estate investor and media owner.

That Monday featured appointments at two luxury hotels in midtown Manhattan—the Park Hyatt and Four Seasons. Epstein was also scheduled to host several visitors at his sprawling townhouse near Central Park.

Epstein’s driver picked him up in the morning and brought him to meet the Microsoft mogul and Hyatt hotel heir at the Park Hyatt hotel near Central Park.

Epstein had met with each of them before. In 2011, Epstein was discussing a multibillion-dollar charitable fund with JPMorgan Chase executives and wrote in emails to them that he could involve Mr. Gates and Mr. Pritzker.

On this day, Mr. Gates was scheduled to spend several hours with Epstein, accompanying him to various meetings. Mr. Gates runs, with his ex-wife, one of the world’s biggest philanthropies. 

“As Bill has said many times before, it was a mistake to have ever met with him and he deeply regrets it,” said a spokeswoman for Mr. Gates.

Mr. Pritzker, part of a wealthy and politically connected Chicago family, was a frequent guest at Epstein’s townhouse, according to the documents. 

Mr. Pritzker and Hyatt representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment about the scheduled meetings.

The schedule called for Epstein and Mr. Gates to head two blocks along 57th Street to the skyscraper that houses the offices of Apollo Global Management. 

Epstein had been scheduled to meet with its co-founder Mr. Black the day before, and the two men were slated to meet again three days later, the documents show.

Mr. Black had more than 100 meetings scheduled with Epstein from 2013 to 2017. They typically met at Epstein’s townhouse and occasionally at Mr. Black’s office, the documents show.

The billionaire stepped down as Apollo’s CEO in March 2021. An Apollo review found he paid Epstein $158 million for estate planning and tax work. 

Mr. Black declined to comment about the scheduled meetings. Apollo has said Epstein was working for Mr. Black, not Apollo.

Epstein and Mr. Gates were next scheduled to head to Epstein’s townhouse to meet with Mr. Zuckerman, the owner of U.S. News & World Report.

At the time of the meeting, Mr. Zuckerman also owned the Daily News and was executive chairman of Boston Properties, a big owner of office buildings. 

Mr. Zuckerman was scheduled to meet Epstein more than a dozen times over the years. On some occasions, the two men planned to meet at Mr. Zuckerman’s office or home, which was near Epstein’s townhouse, the documents show. 

One night in January 2014, Epstein waited past 11 p.m. to meet with Mr. Zuckerman, who was scheduled to visit his townhouse at 10:30 p.m., the documents show. 

A spokeswoman for Mr. Zuckerman had no comment on the scheduled meetings.

The Four Seasons, a luxury-hotel chain in which Mr. Gates’s investment firm holds a stake, was the next scheduled stop. There, Epstein introduced Mr. Gates to Kathryn Ruemmler, who until earlier that year had served as President Obama’s top White House lawyer.

Over the next few years, Epstein often had appointments with Ms. Ruemmler, who was a partner at Latham & Watkins at the time and is now general counsel at Goldman Sachs

Ms. Ruemmler had a professional relationship with Epstein and many of their meetings were about a mutual client, a Goldman Sachs spokesman said. “I regret ever knowing Jeffrey Epstein,” Ms. Ruemmler said. 

The spokeswoman for Mr. Gates said Epstein never worked for Mr. Gates. A spokeswoman for Latham & Watkins said Epstein wasn’t a client of the firm.

Epstein returned to his Upper East Side townhouse in the afternoon, the schedule shows. One of the largest private homes in Manhattan, the townhouse was originally built for a Macy’s heir.

At 4:30 p.m., Epstein was scheduled to meet with Ramsey Elkholy, a musician and anthropologist. Mr. Elkholy had several other meetings with Epstein over the years.

Mr. Elkholy said one of Epstein’s girlfriends had introduced them, and that he occasionally went to Epstein for financial and book publishing advice. “When I heard about everything that happened, I was sick to my stomach,” he said.

“In hindsight, I realize that Jeffrey was a very good con man,” Mr. Elkholy said. “He could give the impression that he was helping you when in fact he was mostly B.S.-ing.”

The next person on Epstein’s calendar, Leon Botstein, was running late that day. The longtime president of Bard College was arriving at LaGuardia Airport and planned to head straight to the townhouse, the documents show.

Mr. Botstein said he first visited Epstein’s townhouse in 2012 to thank him for $75,000 in unsolicited donations for Bard’s high schools, then visited again over several years in an attempt to get more. He also invited Epstein to events at the college.

Mr. Botstein said fundraising for the school was his responsibility, and that he met just as frequently with other potential donors.

“It was a humiliating experience to deal with him, but I cannot afford to put my pride before my obligation to raise money for the causes I’m responsible for,” Mr. Botstein said.

“It looked like he was someone who was convicted and served his time,” Mr. Botstein said. “That turned out to be corrupt, but we didn’t know that.”

The last meeting scheduled for the day was with Barnaby Marsh, a philanthropic adviser to wealthy families. At the time, Mr. Marsh was an executive at the John Templeton Foundation, which donates to various science and research groups. He had roughly two dozen meetings with Epstein.

Mr. Marsh said he often went to Epstein’s townhouse for gatherings because it was full of academics and wealthy people who discussed philanthropy ideas. “So many of these billionaires knew him,” Mr. Marsh said. “And he would sit in the corner, just kind of watching.”

Mr. Marsh said Epstein openly discussed his jail time. Mr. Marsh said, however, that he never saw evidence Epstein made significant donations. “He was a lot of talk, but he never did anything.” 

That is just one day in Epstein’s calendar. He was scheduled to meet regularly with some of those same people, and infrequently with others. Here is a look at how often they appeared in Epstein’s schedule in the year before and the year after that day:

Paul Bonner is a retired teacher and principal. He suggests a way to undermine the complaints about CRT, WOKE, and other scarecrows.

Perhaps the greatest injustice of all of this sound and fury for nothing, is that few of the individuals who are the most outspoken concerning cultural disinformation have set foot in a school in the last decade, much less observed or engaged in classroom instruction. Most of the right wing celebrities who profit from all of this noise send their children to private schools. Well intentioned policy makers and Washington politicians also opt for private schools when they are available. It is my experience that when school officials open their doors the reception from the public is very positive. I was principal of an elementary school where my predecessors actually barred members of the community from the building. There was a metal pull down door at the front of the office that was always closed by 4:00 pm. The neighborhood perception of the school was bad because there were no relationships between the school and community.

When I got there, I stopped using the metal door and invited the real estate developers to come and see what we were doing. The overall outlook toward the school from all constituencies, including the staff, improved dramatically. I took similar steps at my previous school, invited the “difficult” parents in, and increased afternoon activities to accentuate the positive. According to Gallup (August 2022) 76% of parents are satisfied with their child’s public school (Compare that to 22% for Congress), it was 82% before the pandemic.

My experience has taught me that if we are open to parents being in the schools and participating in activities, the dissatisfaction reduces significantly. Yes, it is well documented on this blog and through other media outlets that there are nefarious actors pushing a destructive agenda, but it is important that we fight their lies with the good that takes place in schools. The knee jerk firing and isolation of teachers who teach about diversity is one example of the the defensive posture taken by district and state leaders.

Part of the reason, certainly not all, that the right wing disinformation campaigns take root is because school officials too often take cover and act to separate schools from the greater community. We simply don’t know one another. Our best weapon against false opaque charges of indoctrination is to open our doors, invite the community in, and get the positive out.

This may be the best article about education that you will read all year. It is as good an explanation as you will find of “the Finnish miracle.”

As Chaltain explains, the success of the schools is only one part of the picture. For the sixth year in a row, Finland has been named “the happiest country in the world,” based on these metrics: “healthy life expectancy, GDP per capita, social support, low corruption, generosity in a community where people look after each other and freedom to make key life decisions.

The secret to happiness: “Taking a holistic view of the well-being of all the components of a society and its members makes for better life evaluations and happier countries.”

Sam Chaltain writes:

I spent last week in Finland, the small Scandinavian country that, for educators, has become a Mecca of sorts. And while I was there, a surprising thing happened:

I came for the schools.

I stayed for the library.

It’s hard not to be aware of the schools, which have experienced a dramatic metamorphosis over the past half-century.

For much of the early 20th century, Finland was agrarian and underdeveloped, with a GDP per capita trailing other Nordic countries by 30 to 40 percent in 1900. But in 1917, Finland declared its independence from Russia, and insisted that women be heavily represented in its first parliament.

As a result, the new nation prioritized a whole slate of policies that have helped support the development over time of a society that values and protects children. Free preschool programs enroll 98 percent of children in the country. Compulsory education begins at the age of seven, and after nine years of comprehensive schooling, during which there is no tracking by ability, students choose whether to enroll in an academic or a vocational high school. The graduation rate is nearly 95 percent.

Finland’s deep investments in the welfare of all people impact every aspect of public life. “It seems to me that people in Finland are more secure and less anxious than Americans because there is a threshold below which they won’t fall,” said Linda Cook, a political scientist at Brown University who has studied European welfare states. “Even if they face unemployment or illness, Finns will have some payments from the state, public health care and education.”

On our tour of schools in Helsinki and Turku (the current and former capitals), we saw evidence of both the “Finnish Miracle,” and features far less miraculous.

In every location, the atmosphere in the rooms and hallways were marked by an orderly, active hum, the kind that emerges only when everyone knows one’s role, responsibility and contribution. Classes are just four or five hours a day, and as many as one-third of the courses Finnish students take are non-academic.

Lest a visitor decide that any one of these solutions would solve their country’s own problems, our host for the week — Ari Koski of Turku University — warned us that “a Finnish system doesn’t work in any school outside Finland. Everything influences everything else — and if you take one piece out, it doesn’t work anymore.”

Of those influences, Koski believes Finland’s teacher preparation program is the most important. Only eight universities are permitted to prepare teachers, and admission to these programs is highly competitive: less than one of every ten applicants is accepted.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when almost every classroom lesson I observed was . . . OK. As one of my traveling colleagues said, “I feel like I’ve seen this movie before.” And that’s because we have seen it before — teacher-driven, content-heavy, “sit and get” instruction.

Where’s the miracle in that?

Then I remembered that the goal of the Finnish system is equity — as in, choose any school, anywhere, and it will be of a certain quality — and that they have actually achieved it.

In other words, Finland’s goal is not to spark the creation of spectacular schools — it’s to ensure an entire country of good ones.

Its miracle, therefore, flows from its integration, not its innovation.

Whereas its schools may not be hotbeds of innovative teaching, the newest public library in its capital city may be the most spectacular model for the future of learning that I have ever seen.

It’s known simply as Oodi. It opened in 2018 — a gift to the Finnish people to honor a century of independence. And it is a beautiful, vibrant, multigenerational civic hub for creativity and connection.

“Oodi is what you want it to be,” explains its website. “Meet friends, search for information, immerse yourself in a book or work. Create something new in a studio or an Urban Workshop — seven days a week, from early in the morning till late in the evening.

“Oodi is a meeting place, a house of reading and a diverse urban experience. Oodi provides its visitors with knowledge, new skills and stories, and is an easy place to access for learning, relaxation and work.”

It is, in other words, the ideal “school” of the future — a living meeting place of discovery that is open to all….

Please open the link and read the rest of this wonderful post. The secret of Finland’s success is not its schools; nor even its wonderful new library. It’s the nation’s determination to ensure that everyone does well.

Compare the Finnish approach to what is happening here:

In education: competition, standardization, winners and losers, privatization, state-funded religious schools, charters and vouchers; schools without nurses. The search for silver bullets, innovation, miracles.

In society: high income inequality, high wealth inequality, many people in poverty, many people without healthcare, many homeless people.

What are our politicians talking about: critical race theory, drag queens, trans kids, book banning, censorship, making people work for any government assistance.

Do you see a pattern here?

The Washington Post tells the story of Baby Milo. His mother learned midway through her pregnancy that the fetus had a rare fatal condition. It would die within hours or days of its birth. She wanted to get an abortion but Florida abortion law made it impossible. The unborn baby had a heartbeat. No doctor would break the law by performing an abortion despite the fatal diagnosis. She had to carry the baby for three months. Baby Milo was born, then died in 99 hours. That must have made legislators happy to know the baby was born, despite the toll on its mother and father.

Milo Evan Dorbert drew his first and last breath on the evening of March 3. The unusual complications in his mother’s pregnancy tested the interpretation of Florida’s new abortion law.

Deborah Dorbert discovered she was pregnant in August. Her early appointments suggested the baby was thriving, and she looked forward to welcoming a fourth member to the family. It didn’t occur to her that fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a half-century constitutional right to abortion would affect them.

A routine ultrasound halfway through her pregnancy changed all that.

Deborah and her husband, Lee, learned in late November that their baby had Potter syndrome, a rare and lethal condition that plunged them into an unsettled legal landscape.

The state’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of gestation has an exception for fatal fetal abnormalities. But as long as their baby’s heart kept beating, the Dorberts say, doctors would not honor their request to terminate the pregnancy. The doctors would not say how they reached their decision, but the new law carries severe penalties, including prison time, for medical practitioners who run afoul of it. The hospital system declined to discuss the case.

Instead, the Dorberts would have to wait for labor to be induced at 37 weeks.

For the next three months, the Dorberts did their best to prepare for their second son’s short life. They consulted with palliative care experts and decided against trying to prolong his life with high-tech interventions.

“The most important thing for us was to let him know he was loved,” Deborah said.

The day before Milo was born, the Dorberts sat down with their son Kaiden to explain that the baby’s body had stopped working and that he would not come home. Instead, someday, they told Kaiden, they would all meet as angels. The 4-year-old burst into tears, telling them that he did not want to be an angel….

Without functioning kidneys, a fetus with Potter syndrome cannot produce the amniotic fluid that allows the lungs to expand and that cushions the growing body. The babies who survive until birth typically have contracted limbs, club feet and flattened features from being compressed against the uterus wall.

But after Deborah’s 12-hour labor, Milo turned out to be 4 pounds and 12 ounces of perfection, with tiny, flawlessly formed hands and feet and a head of brown hair.

“I thought I had my miracle,” said Peter Rogell, the baby’s grandfather, who attended the delivery. He allowed himself a moment of hope until the obstetrician cut the umbilical cord that for 37 weeks had performed the functions Milo’s underdeveloped lungs and missing kidneys would now take over.

He never cried or tried to nurse or even opened his eyes, investing every ounce of energy in intermittent gasps for air.

“That was the beginning of the end,” Rogell said, recalling the persistent gulps that he thought at first were hiccups but turned out to be his grandson’s labored efforts to inhale.

Lee read a book to his dying son — “I’ll Love You Forever,” a family favorite that the Dorberts had given Kaiden for Valentine’s Day — and sang Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

For 99 minutes that lasted a lifetime, they cuddled and comforted their newborn.

Ron DeSantis recently changed the Florida abortion law to make it more restrictive: abortions not permitted after six weeks. The Governor and legislature have essentially banned abortion in the state since few women know they are pregnant within six weeks. They may think their period is delayed, and they won’t have time to get the required doctor’s approval.

The six-week ban won’t go into effect until after the state’s Supreme Court has decided a challenge to the 15-week ban. Since DeSantis appointed four of seven justices, the court’s approval is expected.

Expect more heart-breaking stories, more grief, more sadness.

Nancy Goldstein writes in the Texas Observer about her pleasure in watching the state’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives impeach Ken Paxton, the state’s Attorney General. Paxton, a stalwart MAGA-man, has been under indictment for corruption for eight years. Eight years! Paxton is the Trump ally who filed a lawsuit after the 2020 elections, joined by other Republican attorneys general, to throw out the votes of states that Biden narrowly won. The Supreme Court rejected his suit, saying that Texas had no standing to sue.

For another account of Ken Paxton’s pickle, read this story in The Texas Tribune.

Was yesterday’s performance by the Texas House of Representatives intended to restore public faith in the body’s commitment to the rule of law? Separate the good cops in the GOP from the bad cops? Or prove that a legislature that spent a year cravenly ignoring the pleas of Uvalde victims’ relatives for common-sense gun safety laws before rejecting them outright while rushing through an attempt to put the Ten Commandments in every classroom isn’t really the 10th circle of hell? If so, the hearing leading up to a 121-23 vote to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton for corruption was an epic fail.

What the public saw—regardless of the lawmakers’ intentions—were the open of fissures that have more to do with pride and power than justice. It was a cross between the state’s largest intra-party catfight and its most public self-inflicted gunshot wound, as the bad blood between Paxton and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, who serve as proxies for Trump and Republicans trying to distance themselves from Trump in advance of next year’s elections, finally spilled out into the open.

The lineup featured, on the one hand, GOP representatives who suddenly had a lot of worries about “due process,” “precedent,” and “evidence” that had not been evident while banning abortionand stripping transgender youth and their families of access to healthcare. Opposing them were those GOP colleagues who solemnly intoned about what appears to be their newly discovered “obligation to protect the citizens of Texas from elected officials who abuse their office and their powers for personal gain.”

Various media outlets, and a few of Paxton’s defenders, have made much of the lightning speed of this past week. But while it may have been mere days between the Republican-led House General Investigating Committee’s announcement of their investigation and their unanimous vote to introduce 20 articles of impeachment to the full House for Saturday’s hearing and impeachment vote, Paxton has been under felony indictment for securities fraud since he became attorney general in 2015. The FBI had been investigating Paxton on allegations that he used his office to benefit a wealthy donor, Nate Paul, since late 2020. Only in February of this year did the Department of Justice take over that probe, breathing new life into it.

Paxton’s overreach the next month, in March of this year, appears to have been the second-to-last straw. According to the committee’s own memo, released the day before the full House hearing: “But for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement over his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not be facing impeachment.” Not, please note, the wrongful conduct—that is, Paxton’s firing of four whistleblowing members of his own senior staff after they accused him of using his office to help out Paul. Nor Paxton’s decision this past spring to pay $3.3 million to settle out of court. Or even the $600,000 the House spent defending Paxton. But Paxton’s request that taxpayers pay that $3.3 million—and that his fellow GOP colleagues go on record approving that request.

The final straw? Paxton, likely knowing that Phelan was going to try to gloss this most recent disgusting legislative term by ending it on a high note, called on him to resign last week over alleged drunkenness—via a tweet. Making it look super-extra-duper political when the House General Investigating Committee revealed that afternoon that it had been investigating Paxton in secret since March. The committee then heard a three-hour presentation from its investigators detailing allegations of corruption against the attorney general and voted to forward 20 articles of impeachment to the full House.

Believe me when I say that I, like many people who have been burned by the Texas GOP’s seemingly endless appetite for cruelty, ignorance, and hypocrisy, felt a certain satisfaction as I watched yesterday’s coverage of it setting itself on fire. Top moment? When the first group to appear outside the Capitol in Austin in response to Paxton’s call for supporters to turn out was around 100 people preparing for the “Trot for Trans Lives,” a 5K run held in support of transgender Americans affected by the waves of anti-trans rights legislation passed in recent years, including by Texas lawmakers.

Small pleasures aside, none of this is as satisfying as it sounds, nor do I think it will end well. First of all, because of all the bureaucracy that lies ahead. Governor Greg Abbott, who has remained curiously silent this past week while he sticks his finger into the political wind, has 10 days to tell the Senate to start a trial. A trial that would be presided over by Paxton buddy arch-conservative Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and that’s likely to be kicked down the road infinitely and/or end with an acquittal.

But ultimately because the bottom line is that while Paxton burns—or simmers or escapes entirely—and intra-party fighting and dirty laundry airing be damned, the members of the USA’s largest, richest, and most powerful wing of the GOP have screwed Texas on such a large, systemic level that they’ll still prevail. In the state, through control of both chambers and the governor’s seat, held in place by voter suppression and gerrymandering. Nationally, with courts packed with ideologues, including a Supreme Court that has already demonstrated its willingness to let Texas gut constitutional rights, overturn precedent, and play an enthusiastic role in the new national sport: playing on whatever field offers your agenda the best advantage. That means valorizing states’ rights when it’s convenient, or passing the ball to the Supreme Court if a federal ban looks more likely or appealing.

Call this, with apologies to Taylor Swift, the “Errors Tour” or, in a nod to the Ziegfeld Follies, “Hypocrisy on Parade.” Or let’s go “Paris is Burning” and give the representatives a Realness Award for their impersonation of legislators who seriously care about integrity, democracy, and the will of voters.

But whatever you do, don’t hold your breath waiting for justice.

VOX reported on a peculiar twist of fate that temporarily saved abortion rights in Wyoming. Last week, Wyoming District Court Judge Melissa Owens blocked the state’s new abortion ban. The reason she did so was because the abortion ban violated an amendment to the state constitution intended to cripple Obamacare that passed in 2012.

This was the second time she blocked the abortion law, based on the amendment’s guarantee of the individual’s right to control their healthcare decisions.

On Wednesday, a judge in the deep-red state of Wyoming temporarily blocked a state law that would make performing nearly any abortion in that state a felony. She relied on a 2012 amendment to the state constitution that was intended to spite then-President Barack Obama.

Wyoming district court Judge Melissa Owens’s Wednesday decision temporarily halting her state’s abortion ban is the second time she intervened to prevent this ban from going into effect. Wyoming’s abortion ban is quite strict, although it does provide exceptions for rape, incest, or when either a pregnant patient or the fetus has certain medical conditions.

Last summer, shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision overruling Roe v. Wade, an array of patients, doctors, and nonprofit groups brought a suit arguing that Wyoming’s abortion ban violated the state’s constitutional provision protecting each adult’s right to individual health care decisions. That case is known as Johnson v. Wyoming.

Regardless of the political circumstances that led to this amendment being written into the state constitution, Owens reasoned that the amendment “unambiguously provides competent Wyoming citizens with the right to make their own health care decisions,” and she was bound by that unambiguous text. “A court,” she wrote, “is not at liberty to assume that the Wyoming voters who adopted” the amendment “did not understand the force of language in the provision.”

Just as significantly, Owens construed the amendment to give people in Wyoming a “fundamental right” to make their own health care decisions, including the decision to seek an abortion. This designation matters because fundamental rights can only be abridged when the state seeks to advance a “compelling state interest” and when it uses the “least intrusive” means to do so.

So the Wyoming legislature’s effort to hobble Obamacare turned into a shield for abortion rights, at least temporarily.

The state legislature in Texas passed a bill that will place an expensive burden on the state’s 300 or so small small bookstores. The mandate is not only costly but almost impossible to comply with. The state wants every bookstore to rate every book they sell by its “sexual content” and to refuse to sell books with sexually explicit content to teachers, librarians, and school libraries. In addition, the bookstores are supposed to report whether they have ever in the past sold books with such content to teachers or schools.

Independent bookstores around Texas warn that a bill designed to rid school libraries of sexual content could have unintended consequences that devastate their businesses.

The bill, which received final passage in the Legislature this week and is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature, requires booksellers to rate every book they sell to a school, librarian or teacher for use in their classroom. Books can be without a rating, “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit,” and those with the explicit rating will be banned from schools entirely.

And by April of next year, every bookseller in the state is tasked with submitting to the Texas Education Agency a list of every book they’ve ever sold to a teacher, librarian or school that qualifies for a sexual rating and is in active use. The stores also are required to issue recalls for any sexually explicit books.

Many have expressed concerns that the bill is an effort to restrict books with LGBTQ themes or by Black authors. In addition, throughout the legislative process, independent bookstores repeatedly have warned that the bill misunderstands how book sales to schools work, is unworkable in its current form and could be harmful to small businesses.

“The First Amendment person in me says, ‘Why do we have to mark the books at all? ’ The business person in me says, ‘that’s going to be very hard to administer for the middle vendor,’ which we are,” said Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Book Shop in Houston.

Owners and employees of bookstores around the state have said they don’t have the staff or expertise to read and rate every single book they are selling to an educator, and they have no records to retroactively rate every book they’ve ever sold to a school. If the TEA finds that bookstores have been incorrectly rating books, they can be banned from doing business with charter schools or school districts, which might make up between 10 percent and a third of their business.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco. He dubbed it the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources act, or READER Act. The measure was born out of conservative fears in the last few years of sexual content in public schools. Many of the books that were subsequently identified as inappropriate were written for LGBTQ children and teenagers.

Patterson has said the bill was inspired by “Gender Queer,” a coming-of-age graphic novel that explores the author’s gender identity and personal sexuality.

“We’re not talking about a certain type of sexual activity. We’re talking about sexually explicit of any sort. It doesn’t belong in front of the eyes and in the minds of kids,” Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, said during a Senate debate Tuesday night. Paxton shepherded the measure through that chamber. [Senator Paxton is the wife of State Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was just impeached for multiple financial crimes by the Texas House.]

Paxton said the bill will mostly affect large vendors, as just 50 companies sell most books purchased by Texas public schools, and three giants are responsible for the bulk of titles in campus libraries.

“If vendors want to sell books in Texas, they certainly have a vested interest in making sure it’s done properly,” she added.

But while those large vendors may be able to more easily bear the extra costs associated with this bill if it becomes law, it will be more difficult for the roughly 300 independent bookstores in Texas that have much smaller profit margins overall than the giants.

It’s common for stores to offer discounts for teachers, librarians and schools, which means the margins on those sales are lower.

For example, a librarian might give the store a list of 150 books they want to buy, at an average of 200 pages each. If this bill becomes law, the store will need to pay someone to read and rate each of those books, and run the risk of being punished by the Texas Education Agency if they get it wrong.

This could either make it more expensive for schools to buy books or make such sales infeasible for small bookstores, said Elizabeth Jordan, general manager of Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio. Her store had a goal of increasing its share of sales to schools to about 15 percent of its total business, she said, but that will no longer be possible.

“If I am selling a book to a school, I will have to have read the whole book to determine if it’s sexually relevant or sexually explicit. And both of those things, I think, are pretty subjective, and I might rate them differently than others might,” she said. “I don’t see why I would put myself at risk to do that. If all the onus is on me, all the liability is on me, and it’s not a job I’m trained to do or my employees are trained to do….

In addition, the bill requires stores to retroactively rate every book they’ve ever sold that is still “in active use by (a) district or school.”

“The way the bill is written right now is that not only can we get in trouble for what we sell to a school, we can get in trouble for something we sold 10 years ago to a school,” Koehler said.

The Associated Press published this article about how DeSantis has unleashed a nation-wide zeal for censorship. It appeared in newspapers across the nation.

TALLAHASSEE — As he vies for the Republican presidential nomination, laws pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis have led to an upswing in banned or restricted books not only in Florida schools but also in an increasing number of other conservative states.

Florida last year became the first in a wave of red states to enact laws making it easier for parents to challenge books in school libraries they deem to be pornographic, deal improperly with racial issues or are in other ways inappropriate for students.

Books ensnared in the Florida regulations include explicit graphic novels about growing up LGBTQ+, a children’s book based on a true story of two male penguins raising a chick in a zoo and “The Bluest Eye,” a novel by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison that includes descriptions of child sexual abuse. Certain books covering racial themes also have been pulled from library shelves, sometimes temporarily, as school administrators try to assess what material is allowed under the new rules.

While efforts to ban books or censor education material have come up sporadically over the years, critics and supporters credit DeSantis with inspiring a new wave of legislation in other conservative states to regulate the books available in schools — and sometimes even in public libraries.

The number of attempts to ban or restrict books across the U.S. last year was the highest in the 20 years the American Library Association has been tracking such efforts.

EveryLibrary, a national political action committee, said it’s tracking at least 121 proposals introduced in state legislatures this year targeting libraries, librarians, educators and access to materials. The group said 39 of those proposals would allow for criminal prosecution.

“He really is blazing a trail,” said Tiffany Justice, the Florida-based co-founder of the conservative group Moms for Liberty, whose members have filed challenges to books in libraries in several states. “What Ron DeSantis does that I think is effective is he uses all the levers of power to make long-term change happen.”

“Other governors,” Justice said, “are paying attention and following suit.

In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law, set to take effect this summer, that could impose criminal penalties on librarians who knowingly provide “harmful” materials to minors. The law also would establish a process for the public to challenge materials and ask they be relocated to a section minors can’t access.

“It’s a perverse world when we’re talking about trying to criminalize librarians,” said Nate Coulter, executive director of the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock, which is expected to sue over Arkansas’ law.

In Indiana, school libraries will be required by July 1 to publicly post a list of books they offer and provide a complaint process for community members under a law Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed this month. In Texas, a bill creating new standards for banning books from schools that the government considers too explicit has been sent to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

In Oklahoma, the state school board has approved new rules that prohibit “pornographic materials and sexualized content” in school libraries and allow parents to submit formal complaints. The rules still must be approved by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt.

DeSantis insists books aren’t being banned, preferring to call the forced removal of some books “curation choices that are consistent with state standards.

“There has not been a single book banned in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said Wednesday. He later said, “our mantra in Florida is education, not indoctrination.”

Librarians, free speech advocates and some parents and educators say the push is driven by a small, conservative minority that happens to have outsized clout in Republican primaries like the one DeSantis is now competing in.

“This is all part of his plan to run for president, and he believes his vilification of books and what’s happening in public schools is his path to the presidency,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s main teachers union.

Kasey Meehan, who directs the Freedom to Read program at the writers’ organization PEN America, said that, when books are targeted in Florida, they later become the subject of complaints filed by parents in other states.

“It’s something that continues to cause alarm for individuals who are advocating for the freedom to read or for a diversity of knowledge, ideas and books to be available to students across the country,” Meehan said.

There have been challenges to books in schools for decades — “The Bluest Eye” has been targeted in various states for years, long before DeSantis became governor.

But the restrictions accelerated in Florida after DeSantis signed bills last year barring discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms, a ban that has since expanded through 12th grade. He also created a mechanism for parents to challenge books in school libraries and has targeted how race is taught in Florida schools.

Many teachers and districts complain that the laws’ standards are so vague they don’t know what books might place them in legal jeopardy.

Michael Woods, a special education teacher in Palm Beach, said new rules compelling him to catalog books in his classroom led him to empty a small library he set up where students could choose to read something that interested them. Now those volumes are stored in a box he’s stashed in his closet for fear of getting in trouble.

“That kind of positive connection to reading is no longer there,” he said.

The individual challenges to books might be coming from a fairly narrow segment of the population, according to PEN and the American Library Association, which track requests to pull books. The library association said 40% of all requests challenged 100 or more books at a time.

Raegan Miller of Florida Freedom to Read, a group fighting the book restrictions, said she has talked about education issues with fellow parents of all political persuasions for years, and no one has ever complained about inappropriate material in their children’s schools. She contends the issue has been ginned up by a small group of conservative activists.

“Do you really think we are all just happily dropping our kids off at Marxist indoctrination and pornography?” Miller said. “You only hear this stuff at school board meetings.”

Moms for Liberty, which boasts 285 chapters, has a strong presence at school board meetings in the state and nationwide. It also has successfully backed several candidates for school board.