Archives for category: Accountability

The Washington Post reports that Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema signed on to the “Inflation Reduction Act”—which provides funding for climate change/health care. Her demand? She blocked taxes on the wealthiest and on corporations that pay nothing. Why is she a Democrat?

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) said she would “move forward” on a revised version of Senate Democrats’ health care, climate and deficit-reduction package, after party leaders agreed to scale back some of their original tax proposals.
The new approach — along with other changes to the proposal known as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 — satisfied Sinema’s chief concerns and helped set in motion a plan to approve it as soon as this weekend.

In a statement, Sinema said Democrats had “agreed to remove” a key tax targeting wealthy investors and had made changes to a second provision that aims to impose a new minimum tax on corporations that currently pay nothing to the U.S. government. From here, Sinema said she would await a final review from the chamber’s parliamentarian — a critical step in the process that allows Democrats to move their spending bill — at which point she would “move forward.”

Leonie Haimson, executive director of the advocacy group Class Size Matters (and a board member of the Network for Public Education), reports that parents won their lawsuit against the City of New York and the Department of Education for budget cuts. The city rushed the process and failed to follow the procedures required by law.

As the opening of school draws near, principals are uncertain how to plan their budget. Have their budgets been cut or not? Are they laying off teachers or not?

Mimi Swartz writes in Texas Monthly that the Dobbs decision banning abortion has unleashed a broad assault on freedom in Texas. And it will get much, much worse as long as Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Ken Paxton remain in office.

I guess you could say that Texas giveth and Texas taketh away. For those too young to recall, the abortion-rights case Roe v. Wade was won in 1973 by two attorneys from the state, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee. But from virtually the moment abortion became legal in all fifty states, some lawmakers here, and their supporters who opposed abortion rights, started chipping away at it. Half a century later, our Legislature had passed some of the most restrictive laws in the nation—and that was before Roe fell. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken Roeaway, with a 6–3 majority in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, some Texas leaders seem eager to exploit the opportunities that the ruling offers for further rollbacks of reproductive and sexual freedoms. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office released employees from work early on the day of the decision to celebrate, declaring June 24 a new, annual agency holiday “to commemorate the sanctity of life.”

What could come next? Just about everything is on the table. Criminal penalties? They’ll be much stiffer, not just for those who aid Texans in getting abortions, but possibly for abortion-seekers themselves. Abortion pills? They were banned from sale for those more than seven weeks pregnant during last year’s legislative session. Enforcement mechanisms, however, are unclear. Most such medications arrive by mail from other states and countries, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has said that states “may not ban mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” suggesting that court battles lie ahead. Limits on contraception? You betcha. The same privacy rights that the Supreme Court overturned in the Dobbscase underlie what we have for decades considered the right to contraception and private sex acts between consenting adults—and, more recently, same-sex marriage. Indeed, just as the 2022 Texas GOP platform embraces “the humanity of the preborn child,” it also calls homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice.” Paxton told an interviewer he was “willing and able” to defend a Texas law—which was overturned by the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision—that bans gay sex.

Texas statutes that predate Roe but were never overturned by the Legislature are now in effect, prohibiting all abortions except “for the purpose of saving the life of the mother.” A miscarriage could now be a death sentence for those whose doctors are averse to litigation or, worse—under the “trigger law” that takes effect thirty days after the Court’s ruling—to arrest on felony charges and a possible prison sentence, along with fines starting at $100,000. “It is kind of astounding that we are at a point where Roe will be overturned, but that won’t be enough,” said Democratic state representative Donna Howard, chair of the Texas Women’s Health Caucus. “The concern is that there will be those who will not only want to criminalize those who are seeking abortion but will use this as an opportunity to roll back access to contraceptives and other advancements that were made that the underlying privacy protection of Roe also supports.” While the law does not prohibit someone from ending their own pregnancy, a South Texas woman, Lizelle Herrera, was arrested and jailed earlier this year for ending hers, and the charges were dropped only after the case became a national controversy.

Unless you subscribe to The Texas Monthly as I do, you can’t read any more. Sadly, the rightwing fascists now running state government are flexing their muscles to stamp out the freedom of anyone they don’t like. Maybe everyone should subscribe to the Texas Monthly to see how low our nation can fall when mean-spirited bigots take control. It’s hard to believe that the same state elected the great Ann Richards as its governor. She was a strong, full-bore Texas liberal, who hated racism, sexism, and everything else that Greg Abbott represents.

Kansas was the first state in the nation to hold a referendum on abortion rights since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Kansas protects the right to abortion in its state constitution. A “yes” vote would have repealed that protection and enabled the GOP majority in the legislature to write new restrictions or to ban abortion altogether. A “no” vote would protect the abortion language in the state constitution.

In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the state constitution protected abortion rights. Anti-abortion activists hoped that this referendum would reverse the 2019 decision.

The judges in Kansas blocked the law on the basis of the state Constitution’s Bill of Rights, ruling that it “affords protection of the right of personal autonomy, which includes the ability to control one’s own body.” This extends, they ruled, to the decision of whether to have an abortion.

Political commentators expected a close vote. Kansas is a conservative state, even though it has a Democratic Governor.

The vote was not close. The vote to preserve abortion rights in the state constitution was decisive. At last count, it was about 60%-40%.

Voters of both parties supported women’s right to bodily autonomy.

CNN commented:

Polls have consistently shown that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is broadly unpopular. A CNN poll released in late July found nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court decision, with even 55% of self-identified moderate or liberal Republicans saying they disapproved of the decision. But the results on Tuesday, the first electoral test of abortion rights after the Supreme Court decision, put an even finer point on that sentiment.

One can only imagine what would happen if abortion rights were put on the ballot in every red state, rather than left to the male-dominated state legislatures who would like to turn back the clock by at least 50 years and keep women barefoot and pregnant.

Jennifer Berkshire inquires into why so many Democratic leaders and pundits have refused to defend public schools, even though most parents are satisfied with their public schools. As the public schools are blamed for all the evils of modern life by extremists like Chris Rufo, Democrats refuse to stand up for the public schools. She explores why in this article.

Parents are not abandoning the public schools, but Democratic politicians are.

She begins:

Last spring, taking a break from waging conspiratorial campaigns against the republic, an assortment of luminaries associated with the Claremont Institute gathered to lay out a plan to foment a culture war against the nation’s schools. The Clubhouse event, entitled “Building A New Right: Red States vs. Wokeness,” featured a grab bag of Claremont fellows and friends. The star attraction was Manhattan Institute agitprop specialist Christopher Rufo, chief sower of the panics against critical race theory (CRT) and “grooming.”

In a now familiar exercise, Rufo sketched out his campaign to make CRT toxic as part of a larger propaganda war against public institutions. The ultimate goal, he explained, was essentially to do away with those institutions and redirect school funding to families and individuals based on their “values.” Rufo waxed apocalyptic about the scourge of “wokeness,” and yet he struck a hopeful note. After all, he reminded listeners, it had only taken the country a few years to go from the Black Panthers to Nixon.

In the ensuing months, Rufo’s propaganda campaign would grow increasingly lurid, but on this occasion, he urged his audience to raise the discussion to a higher level. Focus on “excellence,” he admonished them, and attack public schools for failing to meet that standard. Conservative communications guru David Reaboi, who helped seed a previous moral panic on the right against the sinister spread of Sharia law, weighed in with some messaging advice of his own: Go full bore against the teachers unions. Do damage.

Today, this coordinated plan to wage a public relations war against the nation’s public schools is an undeniable success. Forty-two states have moved to restrict teaching about oppression, race or gender. According to one estimate, more than one third of students in the country attend school in a state where educators are now subject to some kind of classroom gag order.

The achievement of Rufo and his allies is all the more astonishing, given the deep unpopularity of the policies they champion. Polls consistently show that voters across party lines are repelled by the GOP’s education extremism. Across the chasm of our current political divide, bipartisan majorities are largely in agreement that banning books and gagging teachers is bad.

And for all of the insurgent right’s bold rhetoric about mining parent outrage for electoral gold, the polls that matter most have shown remarkably poor results for candidates running on scorched-earth education platforms. In New Hampshire, New York, Montana, Georgia, Wisconsin and beyond, voters are rejectingright-wing culture warriors, often by wide margins—a movement that might be summed up as “keeping the crazy away from the kids.”

There’s just one problem, though: The leadership of the Democratic party doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo.

The Economic Policy Institute is one of the very few think tanks in Washington, D.C. that cares about the status of working people. When one of its reports gets attention, critics are fast to point out that it is funded by unions. The same critics are silent when a think tank is funded by one or more billionaires, who like low taxes.


The value of the federal minimum wage has reached its lowest point in 66 years, according to an EPI analysis of recently released Consumer Price Index (CPI) data. Accounting for price increases in June, the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is now worth less than at any point since February 1956. At that time, the federal minimum wage was 75 cents per hour, or $7.19 in June 2022 dollars.

We are currently in the longest period without a minimum wage increase since Congress established the federal minimum wage in 1938.

As shown in the chart below, a worker paid the current $7.25 federal minimum wage earns 27.4% less in inflation-adjusted terms than what their counterpart was paid in July 2009 when the minimum wage was last increased. They earn 40.2% less than a minimum wage worker in February 1968, the historical high point of the minimum wage’s value.

After the longest period in history without an increase, the federal minimum wage today is worth 27% less than 13 years ago—and 40% less than in 1968

Real value of the minimum wage (adjusted for inflation)

Note: All values in June 2022 dollars, adjusted using the CPI-U in 2022 chained to the CPI-U-RS (1978–2021) and CPI-U-X1 (1967–1977) and CPI-U (1966 and before).

Source: Fair Labor Standards Act and amendments.

Economic Policy Institute

In the past few years, we have seen the rise of something called the “parental rights” movement. This movement consists of angry white parents, mostly women, like “Moms for Liberty” and “Parents Defending Freedom,” who insist that they as parents have the “right” to decide what their children are taught in school and what books they read. They strenuously object to teaching about race and racism, which they say makes their children “uncomfortable.” They believe that teachers are “grooming” their children to be gay or transgender by teaching them about gender or sexuality. Of course, if the last were true, almost everyone would now be transgender, since most students have taken a sex-ed course at some point, focused mainly on health.

In response to the outcry from these groups, a number of states, led by Florida and Virginia, have passed laws they describe as “parental rights” laws, which ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” because they make students “uncomfortable.” The most “divisive” concept of all is “critical race theory,” which states ban. Since legislators don’t know what critical race theory is, their laws are meant to remove any teaching about race and racism from the curriculum.

Bottom line: only white parents have parental rights.

But what about Black parents? Do they have rights? Apparently not.

What about other parents who do not identify with angry white parents? Don’t their children have the right to learn an accurate history of the state, the U.S., and the world?

Why do Moms for Liberty get to define what all parents want?

Shouldn’t Black children learn about the history of race and racism?

Why shouldn’t all students learn accurate history, even if it makes them “uncomfortable”?

Why should a small subset of far-right fringe white parents get the power to censor what everyone else is taught and is allowed to read?

These “parental rights” laws are a paper-thin veneer for censorship, gag orders, lies and propaganda. They are the product of arrogant racists who can’t be bothered to hide their venomous racism.

They prefer ignorance to knowledge. They should not be allowed to impose their hateful ideology on others.

Florida is led by a Republican governor and legislature determined to crush public schools. The state is overrun by unregulated voucher schools, where teachers and principals need no certification. Some of these openly discriminate and indoctrinate. The Orlando Sentinel ran a series about the voucher schools called “schools without rules.”

Florida has a thriving charter industry, many of them operated by for-profit corporations.

Now the state has passed a new law making it easier to open new charter schools and suck money out of the public schools.

As this rampant privatization continues, Governor DeSantis keeps up a barrage of attacks on public schools and their teachers, accusing them of “indoctrinating” their students with anti-racist views and “grooming” children to be transgender.

The Houston Chronicle reports that a participant in the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol is likely to be elected to the Texas State Board of Education. She has pledged to fight “critical race theory” (i.e. teaching about racism) and to support charter schools.

Underscoring Texas lawmakers’ rightward lurch on education issues in recent years, the candidate likely to replace a moderate Republican on the State Board of Education in a district outside Houston is a right-wing activist who participated in protests at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

After winning the primary in March, the front-runner in the District 7 race is Julie Pickren, a former trustee for Alvin Independent School District. Pickren was voted off that board last year after her participation in the protest at the U.S. Capitol was revealed — the basis of a campaign against her by the Brazoria County NAACP.

Pickren is a former delegate to the GOP’s national and state conventions, her LinkedIn says, and on Facebook she blamed antifa, rather than Trump supporters, for violence during the Capitol riot, a claim that other Republicans have made without proof. She declined a request for an interview….

Republicans have moved further to the right on education issues in Texas over the past 18 months. Earlier this summer, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his support for private school vouchers and endorsed a “Parental Bill of Rights” to give parents more power over what and how their kids are taught in schools. Last year, the Legislature passed and Abbott signed a slew of conservative bills relating to education, including restrictions on how social studies can be taught and on transgender children playing school sports.

At the local level, school board politics have become increasingly heated, with often angry discussions over diversity and equity policies in the schools. Parent groups have organized PACs in opposition to what they view as progressive activism in education, raising substantial amounts of money to reshape local school boards around the state.

Next year’s State Board of Education is set to be more conservative, with Robinson leaving as well as two other Republicans who lost their March primaries to opponents supported by right-wing PACs. There are currently nine Republicans and six Democrats serving on the board.

The board’s core responsibilities include writing Texas’ public school curriculums, managing the permanent fund that backs debt taken out by schools, and deciding whether to allow new charter schools in the state; Pickren has said she supports adding more of them.

Moderate pushed out

The District 7 seat opened up last year, when the Legislature during redistricting moved incumbent Matt Robinson into a different district so he couldn’t run for re-election. Robinson, a doctor from Friendswood, has said he feels Republican political leaders in the state did this intentionally because they did not believe he was sufficiently supportive of charter schools and other conservative policy goals.

In a rare move in today’s increasingly polarized politics, Robinson is endorsing the Democrat in the race, Galveston ISD teacher Dan Hochman, to be his successor.

Why?

“Because he’s running against Julie Pickren. And she will be bad for public education,” Robinson said.

In lists of the most important issues to her campaign, Pickren has named ridding public schools of critical race theory, an academic theory that critics use as a catchall term to describe diversity and equity initiatives as well as discussion of systemic or historical racism. Pickren is also supportive of “parents rights” initiatives such as those espoused by Abbott.

“She is leading a fight, an assault on public education that’s going on right now. It’s not among all Republicans, but it’s among a good number and she’s kind of leading that fight. And the idea that critical race theory is going on in most schools and most districts, which is entirely false. So her overall approach is, in my view, anti-public education,” Robinson said…

Soul of public education

Hochman acknowledged that he’s facing an uphill climb in the race, as the district leans conservative. Pickren’s campaign has spent about $40,000 so far, while Hochman’s has spent about $10,000. Hochman said his campaign bank account currently had less than $100 in it…

“It really, truly is a fight for the soul of public education in the state of Texas, which is failing right now,” Hochman said of the race. Hochman added that he would oppose expansion of charter schools.

“I’m up against a woman who is clearly anti-public education. She’s being funded by the far right, whose agenda has been publicly clear that they want to dismantle public education and replace it with private schools and charter schools so they can push through a far-right Christian agenda in schooling. And that’s not like a conspiracy, that’s been pretty much out in the open.”

edward.mckinley@chron.com

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post chastises CPAC, the Trump wing of the Republican Party, for inviting Hungarian leader Viktor Orban as a keynote speaker at its meeting in Dallas this week.

He writes:

Thank you, Viktor Orban, for showing us where the American right is heading.


The Hungarian strongman, who derailed his country’s nascent democracy, has been a darling of the MAGA crowd for his anti-immigrant policies. He has enjoyed a fawning interview and favorable broadcasts from Budapest by Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, and he has been invited as a featured speaker to next week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas alongside a who’s who of Republican senators, governors and members of Congress, as well as former president Donald Trump himself. Several such luminaries addressed a CPAC gathering in Hungary in May, at which Trump described Orban as “a great leader, a great gentleman.”


But Orban made things awkward for his American friends a few days ago. During a July 23 address (in which he said immigration should be called “population replacement or inundation”) he gave voice to the belief underlying his nationalism: He opposes the mixing of races.

“Migration has split Europe in two — or I could say that it has split the West in two,” he said, after commending to his listeners a 50-year-old racist treatise. “One half is a world where European and non-European peoples live together. These countries are no longer nations. They are nothing more than a conglomeration of peoples.” He went on to contrast that with “our world,” in which “we are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed race.”


That was too much even for Orban’s longtime adviser Zsuzsa Hegedus, who resigned and lambasted the prime minister for “a pure Nazi speech worthy of Goebbels.” She said the speech could “please even the most bloodthirsty racists” and suggested he was “advocating an openly racist policy that is now unacceptable even for the Western European extreme right.”

But not for the American right! CPAC’s organizer confirmed to me on Wednesday that Orban is still scheduled to address the group next week. “Let’s listen to the man speak,” Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Coalition, told Bloomberg News on Tuesday. Orban’s name remained on CPAC’s speakers list, along with Trump; some two dozen GOP House members; Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Rick Scott (Fla.) and Bill Hagerty (Tenn.); Fox News’s Sean Hannity; Texas Gov. Greg Abbott; and former Trump aides including Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.


These leaders shouldn’t say they’re surprised to be sharing a stage with a man leading the fight against “peoples of mixed race.” Last year, CPAC canceled an appearance by a speaker who had referred to Judaism as a “complete lie” that was “made up for political gain.” After the Guardian reported that the CPAC conference in Budapest featured a speaker who had previously called Jews “stinking excrement,” referred to the Roma population as “animals” and used racist epithets for Black people, CPAC issued a statement saying “anti-Semitism and racial intolerance are scourges that must be eradicated.” (The program for the Budapest CPAC, from which many media organizations were banned, included live or virtual addresses by Trump, Carlson, four Republican members of Congress and former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows.)


Republicans have hailed Orban as “Trump before Trump” (Bannon), whose government is doing “so many positive things” (Sen. Ron Johnson). Among the things it has been doing: seizing control of the judiciary and media, banning the depiction of homosexuality, demonizing Jewish billionaire George Soros, expelling asylum seekers and erecting a wire fence on the border, forcing out the country’s top university, and halving the size of parliament and redrawing districts to keep itself in power.


At its core, Orban’s rule has been about sustaining, and being sustained by, white nationalism. His July 23 speech was an extended articulation of the “great replacement” conspiracy idea — embraced by Carlson and House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), among others — that non-White people are plotting to wipe out White people.

He claimed: “Brussels, reinforced with Soros-affiliated troops, simply wants to force migrants on us.” Orban railed against a “mixed-race world” in which “European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe.” He warned that “Islamic civilization” is “constantly moving toward Europe” and is now “occupying and flooding the West.”

“This is why we stopped the Turks at Vienna,” he said, citing the 1683 battle between a European alliance and the Ottoman Empire. “This is why, in still older times, the French stopped the Arabs at Poitiers.” This was a reference to the Battle of Tours — in the year 732, when a Frankish Christian ruler defeated an army of Moors invading from Spain.


It was good of Orban to spell that out, because now we know what Hungary’s white nationalists — and their American fan boys at CPAC — have in mind when they rage against immigration and the “great replacement.” They want to take us back to the Dark Ages.

I