Archives for category: Fake

Maurice Cunningham wrote in the Tampa Bay Tribune about “Moms for Liberty.” It seems to be a Dark Money front for some familiar billionaires.

Is it Koch? DeVos? Waltons? Or another billionaire?

Democracy cannot exist without free and fair elections.

Democracy depends on the general belief that elections are conducted honestly and that the results are reported honestly.

Since the 2020 Presidential election, Donald Trump has told his followers that the election he lost was fraudulent. Despite dozens of court cases that his team lost because they were unable to produce evidence of fraud, Trump insists that he won in a landslide.

Despite multiple recounts and hand recounts, Trump continues to lie.

Despite the testimony of Trump lawyers that Trump lost, Trump continues to claim he won.

Trump’s campaign of lies is a direct threat to our democracy.

NPR undertook an investigation to assess the influence of four election deniers who work at the local level, spreading propaganda and misinformation.

Every citizen concerned about the health of our democracy should read the NPR report. The election deniers can say whatever they want. It’s a free country.

But the public should know who they are and what they do.

If you want to protect our Constitution and our freedoms, be informed to combat lies with facts.

Maurice Cunningham is a political scientist who recently retired from the University of Massachusetts. He recently published Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.

When he learned that the U.S. Department of Education had included the National Parents Union on its list of parent organizations advising the Department, he wrote the following letter to Secretary Cardona:

June 28, 2022

Secretary Miguel Cardona
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Cardona,

The Department of Education has made a significant error in including the National Parents Union among the groups invited to participate in the National Parents and Families Engagement Council. NPU does not represent parents and has few if any parent organizations as members. It is a front operation for the policy preferences of wealthy individuals who wish to transform American education to meet their ideological preferences, political goals, to keep their own taxes low, and to profit off what Rupert Murdoch has termed a $500 billion market.

I am very familiar with National Parents Union. As a recently retired professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and the author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021) I have been researching groups like NPU since 2015 and continue to do so.

Since NPU is related to a group I was already following named Massachusetts Parents United (the leader of both groups is Keri Rodrigues) I took note when a concept paper for the new group surfaced in April 2019, appealing to the Walton Family Foundation for funding (WFF is the primary sponsor of MPU, over $2.2 million from 2017 through 2020). The concept paper listed three goals. First, to impact the 2020 Democratic Party nominating process. Second, to support “dozens of organizations (that) are building strong pockets of parent power.” Third, “to take on the unions in the national and regional media, and eventually on the ground in advocacy fights.”

National Parents Union does not now and never has published a list of its member parent organizations. However I researched this question for my book based upon organizations NPU was claiming as participants to its January 2020 founding convention, primarily in claims made on Twitter and other social media. On its website NPU was claiming to be “a network of highly effective parent organizations and grassroots activists.” I collected seventy organizations or activists that seemed to be part of an organization. I created categories for different types of organizations and was able to categorize 64 of the 70 organizations. Only four of them even purported to represent parents. There were 15 charter school organizations and nine charter school trade organizations. There were another 15organizations I categorized as education options/choice, groups which present as helping navigate among different schools but which are designed to funnel students to charter schools. That makes 39 organizations tied in to the charter schools industry. There are nineteen organizations I identified as “civic” and some I could further identify, for instance civic/Latinx, civic/civil rights, civic/autism, etc. Within the civic groups that could be identified, there were four I categorized as civic/parents.

I was able to locate primary state locations for 53 of the 70 organizations. Of those I could place in states, there are 22 states represented plus the District of Columbia. The Massachusetts parent organization was MPU, the Walton operation. The Minnesota parent organization incorporated about the same time as NPU did. The other two parent organizations were also doubtful.

NPU’s arrival was announced in a January 2020 story in U.S. News and World Report, heralding “Two Latina mothers from opposite sides of the country” starting a parents group to “disrupt” education. One founder, Alma Marquez of California, disappeared from the organization about 8 months later. Ms. Rodrigues, known in her days as a radio host in the heavily Portuguese city of Fall River as the “pint-sized Portuguese pundit” remains.

Even with Ms. Marquez gone it is difficult to sort out NPU’s real leadership. At the January 2020 meeting Ms. Marquez was elected to a three year term as secretary-treasurer. She was a director in filings with the Massachusetts Secretary of State but left by March 2021. In March 2021 the National Parents Union website listed three board members: Peter Cunningham, Bibb Hubbard, and Dan Weisberg. But NPU registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation with the Secretary of State in Massachusetts where its annual report filed November 1, 2020 showed two directors: Keri Rodrigues and Tim Langan. The Secretary filings listed Ms. Rodrigues as president and clerk and Tim Langan as treasurer (he was chief operating officer on the website). In January 2020 Gerard Robinson was also listed as a founding director, but he left a year later. Ms. Hubbard is also gone and filings with the Secretary have been updated but still do not match the website.

Of the founding directors and officers, Mr. Cunningham, Ms. Hubbard, Mr. Weisberg, Ms. Marquez, and Ms. Rodrigues all were communications professionals or had significant experience in public relations. Ms. Rodrigues, always billed as a parent activist, has been a communications professional for nearly a quarter of a century, since commencing her career with CBS Radio in 1998 while completing her 2000 BS in Broadcast, Telecommunications, and Media Management from Temple University. Since 2014 she has been executive vice president – strategy and communications for Democrats for EducationReform in Boston, state director of Families for Excellent Schools, president of the IRC 501(c)(4) Massachusetts Parent Action and 501(c)(3) Massachusetts Parents United, and president of IRC 501(c)(3) National Parents Union. Corporate records indicate that she and Mr. Langan (to whom she is engaged) are the principals of the Estrella Group LLC, a political consultant firm. Across the two state and one national organizations they paid themselves over $626,000 in 2020—an atypical income for working parents.

NPU has a page where one can “find your delegate.” Delegate suggests that someone has been chosen by others to represent them. But I cannot find where NPU explains what their delegates do and it appears that delegates are not chosen by parents (or the mostly non-existent parent organizations) but from the top down, by NPU itself. For example in Massachusetts—the corporate headquarters of NPU and MPU—when NPU wanted to find a state “delegate” it advertised for someone to become “an official Massachusetts delegate” on Twitter!* (* indicates material in Addendum).

No, National Parents Union is not about parents at all.

To understand NPU, follow the money. The Walton Family Foundation funneled $400,000 to NPU in 2020 through MPU.The Vela Education Fund, a joint venture of the Walton Family Foundation and the Charles Koch Institute, invested $700,000.The CEO of Vela is an oil and gas executive from Koch’s corporate holdings. Other donors include the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and The City Fund, which receives funding from the Waltons, the Hastings Fund, and the Arnold Foundation. Reed Hastings has called for the abolition of school boards. John Arnold is most well-known for his campaign to gut workers’ pension plans.

Most parents have taken tickets at the high school football game or baked goods to be sold at intermission of the school play. Not many have started a little parents’ organization that collected $1,481,110 in its first year. NPU paid out $400,461 in grants and had a payroll of $634,273. In October 2021 the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced a grant of $1,500,000 to support NPU—an organization that had not existed less than two years before. Also in 2021 the Silicon Valley Community Foundation donated $1,500,000 to NPU. SVCF is a donor advised fund, a pass through that protects the identity of the ultimate check writer. It’s deep dark money—the true source of the $1,500,000 will never be known. But it isn’t parents.

Small wonder then that since its inception NPU has retained the services of top conservative and Walton Family pollster Echelon Insights and the international communications firm Mercury LLC. Just like any other infant parents group.

NPU affects a different posture than recently founded “parents” operations that have attacked Critical Race Theory and LGBTQ youth. NPU purports to speak up for people of color (as did Families for Excellent Schools, which was driven by the Waltons and wealthy Wall Streeters). Scratch the surface though and NPU’s billionaire-driven agenda appears. NPU has been happy to surf on the turmoil created by right wing attack groups with its own “Disrupt the Status Quo—School Board Edition” campaign, and after the victory of Glenn Youngkin in Virginiaoffered by tweet to work with Leader Kevin McCarthy and the House Republicans on a Parents Bill of Rights. Ms. Rodrigueshas appeared at a forum organized by Betsy Devos’s American Federation for Children and just recently on a panel with Governor Youngkin’s Secretary of Education. In a Twitter exchange with a friendly journalist who was doubting the level of “School Board Chaos” being created by right wing groups, she responded “Depends on the type of chaos we are talking about.”*

That remark may help illuminate a paradox of the recently contrived “parents” movement: why is Charles Koch funding both the “progressive” NPU and the white backlash Parents Defending Education? And the answer is that both groups are designed to create chaos in the public education system. Chaos is the product.

As a “parent” group NPU is mostly distinguished by a lack of parents. It will produce polling information but as you understand interest group polling is going to show what the interest group wants you to see. NPU has had substantial media success—with the New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, and Fox—but it’s worth asking yourself: how do two moms on opposite coasts afford Mercury LLC to run communications?

DOE should be working with real parents, not billionaire directed right wing fronts masquerading as parents. If the department wishes to hear the viewpoints of the Waltons, Gates, Koch et al., heavens knows they have access to key policy makers. DOE should not permit them to sneak in the door masquerading as parents.

Sincerely,

 

Maurice T. Cunningham

 

 

Forrest Wilder of the Texas Monthly has been trying to sort out the conflicting accounts of what happened at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. He learned that everyone in a position of authority has gone silent. Governor Greg Abbott initiated the government response by praising the courage of law enforcement; when he learned that the shooter was left alone in the classrooms for more than an hour, he said he was “livid” about being misinformed.

One authority after another offered accounts and pointed the finger of blame for the slaughter of children and teachers. The State Senate promised a thorough investigation but Lt. Governor Dan Patrick pointedly left the Uvalde representative off the committee.

Now everyone has clammed up. Answers are not likely to be forthcoming until after the Governor’s race in November. A strategically timed response. Family members want to know what happened to their loved ones. They are not likely to get answers until Greg Abbott is safely re-elected.

Wilder writes:

More than three weeks have passed since the terrible events in Uvalde. What was once a torrent of appalling facts about the police response—many of them misleading or false—has now slowed to a trickle of leaks and lawyer-mediated, self-serving narratives. Governor Greg Abbott has pivoted to talking about the border again. Texas Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw, last seen slipping into a closed-door meeting of a state House investigative committee, has gone quiet. The Uvalde schools chief of police, Pete Arredondo, finally emerged from hiding last week, lawyer at hand, to contradict reports that he had made the call to wait around for more than an hour while the gunman lingered in the classrooms with dead and dying children and teachers; hours later, key parts of his story were contradicted by evidence reported in the New York Times.

For anyone expecting an apology, accountability, or even a clear and concise narrative of what happened at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022, well, you may be waiting a while longer—perhaps forever. No one has resigned, no one has been fired, and local and state authorities from the Uvalde CISD superintendent up to the governor have stopped providing updates. Local and state agencies are refusing most requests to release information they are supposed to make available under Texas’s open records law, even to the state senator who represents Uvalde. Off-duty police from around the state, as well as mysterious motorcycle clubs whose members reportedly include former police officers, descended on Uvalde to physically block reporters from talking to families and community members, even after those locals had agreed to talk—a blockade so unusual and aggressive that one veteran Texas journalist has called it “bordering on official oppression.” It’s as if those in power concluded that the answer to communicating poorly was to stop communicating altogether, and to obstruct anyone seeking answers.

Perhaps all will be revealed soon. Perhaps ongoing investigations by the Texas Rangers and the U.S. Department of Justice will bring clarity. Perhaps the Texas House committee, which is taking testimony in private, will emerge with a full report. Perhaps someone will take responsibility. But right now, it seems that authorities are biding their time, waiting for public attention to move on to the next outrage, and hoping to insulate themselves from accountability. “People in Uvalde are angry,” said state senator Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents the small city. “They want answers. They’re distrusting of law enforcement. The credibility of law enforcement is at stake,” he said. “They’re good people, but they just want honesty, man.”

The inflection point—the shift from a public reckoning to a studied silence—came on May 27, just three days after the nineteen kids and two teachers were killed. That morning McCraw gave a press conference in which he announced to a stunned world that police had committed a grave “mistake.” They had not, as Abbott and McCraw had stated in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, engaged the gunman at the earliest possible moment. Instead, the DPS director said, law enforcement had waited more than an hour before breaching the classroom and killing the shooter.

At the outset of the press conference, McCraw said his only goal that day was to “report facts” and not to “criticize what was done or the actions taken.” But faced with a barrage of pointed questions from the media, McCraw did point a finger—at Arredondo. Without using his name, McCraw said Arredondo, as incident commander that day, was responsible for the dilatory response. It was his decision—a “wrong decision, period”—to treat the gunman as a “barricaded subject” rather than an “active shooter.” It was Arredondo alone who had held back all the gathered law enforcement—Uvalde city police, the county sheriff’s deputies, Border Patrol officers, and DPS state police.

Later that day, Abbott held his own press conference. The governor, not known for his emotional range, seemed eager to convey outrage. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, he had praised law enforcement for their “amazing courage” and averred that without their actions, “it could have been worse”—the “it” referring to the 21 deaths. Abbott wanted everyone to know that he had been wronged. “I was misled. I am livid about what happened,” he said. What happened, he explained, was that in the aftermath of the shooting “law enforcement officials and non–law enforcement officials” had debriefed him on the shooting. Abbott had taken notes by hand, writing everything down “in detail” and “in sequential order.” The information he then provided the public was a “recitation” of those facts.

Who had given him such bad information? What consequences would they face? If the governor was so angry, surely heads would roll. But Abbott offered no names, no accountability. In an unusually quick turnaround after an open records request, the governor’s office released his notes this week to a Houston television station. But the nine pages of scrawl confirmed only that Abbott had been misled, not who had done the misleading.

At the May 27 press conference, Abbott signaled that he was moving on. He admonished law enforcement leaders to “get to the bottom of every fact with absolute certainty” as part of their investigations. Ever since, Abbott, McCraw, and other officials have stopped answering questions or publicly sharing information, pointing to the ongoing investigations. It’s an all-purpose excuse. Republicans in the Legislature are using the investigations as a reason to avoid calling for a special session on gun violence prevention. They’re also conveniently postponing, perhaps forever, a discussion about gun safety; as one state senator put it, “bad facts make bad law.”

The story goes one. Subscribe to The Texas Monthly and finish reading.

The New York State Board of Regents recently decided to permit the Ember Charter School in Brooklyn to expand and add a high school. Charter schools get permission to grow if they have demonstrated success. Gary Rubinstein checked state data and found that Ember’s greatest “success” was getting rid of students by attrition.

The Regents must know this too. Why did they vote to expand a failing charter school?

Rubinstein writes:

Currently there are 267 charter schools in New York City. In New York State the charter ‘cap’ is 460, though the cap for New York City is 267 so as of right now, no new charters can open in New York City.

Charter school supporters often complain that the cap needs to be lifted or that some of the out of NYC charter slots could be given to New York City. But there are two ways that charters can get more students even without lifting the cap. The most obvious way is for charters to reduce their attrition rates. So a network like Success Academy has about 40,000 students right now. But about 75% of their students who start in kindergarten don’t make it to graduation. Success Academy could probably increase their population to 70,000 if few of their students weren’t on the official or unofficial ‘got-to-go’ list. The other way to evade the cap is for existing charter schools to expand into more grades.

Ember charter school is a K-10 school that currently has 568 students. They were recently permitted to add high school grades based, in part, on the school’s ability to raise test scores. If you go to their website you will see a very impressive looking graph:

The light green line shows the percent of their first cohort’s math percent passing the state test from grade 3 to grade 7. It went from 28% in grade 3 down to 23% in grade 4 and then again to 14% in grade 5 Then an amazing reversal occurred and in 6th grade they shot up from 14% up to 56% and the next year they had 82% passing in grade 7. It seems to be an incredible turnaround from 14% to 82% in just 2 years.

When faced with a miracle statistic like this, there are two questions that cross my mind. The first thing I wonder is how much of this growth is based on attrition. The second is whether they were able to replicate this success for their other cohorts.

For that first cohort who finished 7th grade in 2018, I found on the New York State data site that this cohort once had 60 students when they were in first grade. By the time they got to the miracle 2017-2018 year where they got 82% passing the math test, they were down to just 28 students. Here is a graph of their percent passing math and their cohort size on the same graph.

As you can see, the two graphs are practically mirror images of each other. When they were 3rd graders, 16 out of 57 was 28%. When they were in 7th grade, 23 out of 28 was 82%. So basically they got 7 more kids to pass the test.

I made a similar chart for the second and third cohorts. The second cohort had similar attrition, they went fro 71 students down to 37 between 4th grade and 7th grade but they did not get the 82% passing by 7th grade. They only got to 43% passing, even with the nearly 50% attrition.

The third cohort was the lowest performing of all. They had almost no attrition, keeping around 65 students throughout. They only had 6% of that cohort passing in both 3rd and 4th grade. And by 6th grade they were up to 23%, well below the district.

So just like so many other charter schools, when they can’t cheat by booting out their students, their test scores are nothing special. How they get permission to expand is definitely a scandal.

Michael Hiltzik is a brilliant columnist for The Los Angeles Times. This article is the single best analysis of gun control that I have read anywhere. In it, Hiltzik demonstrates the fallacies of those who oppose gun control. The Second Amendment does not give unlimited rights to own guns. Gun control is supported by majorities. Effective gun control saves lives. Why should the right to own a gun be more sacred than the right to life?

Hiltzik writes:

Another massacre, another outpouring of political balderdash, flat-out lies about gun control and cynical offers of “thoughts and prayers” for the victims.

I haven’t commented on the slaughter of 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas, by an assault rifle-wielding 18-year-old before now, hoping that perhaps the passage of time would allow the event to become clarified, even a bit more explicable.

But in the week since the May 24 massacre, none of that has happened. The news has only gotten worse. It’s not merely the emerging timelines that point to the inexcusable cowardice of local law enforcement at the scene, but the ever-growing toll of firearm deaths across the country.

The right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.

— Justice Antonin Scalia, District of Columbia vs Heller

There have been 17 mass shootings nationwide since Uvalde, including 12 on Memorial Day weekend alone. A mass shooting is defined by the Gun Violence Archive as one in which four people or more are killed or wounded, not including the shooter.

What is most dispiriting about this toll is the presumption that campaigning to legislate gun safety is fruitless, because gun control is unconstitutional, politically unpopular, and useless in preventing mass death.

These arguments have turned the American public into cowards about gun control. Voters seem to fear that pressing for tighter gun laws will awaken a ferocious far-right backlash, and who wants that?

Yet not a single one of these assertions is true, and repeating them, as is done after every act of mass bloodshed, doesn’t make them true. The first challenge for those of us concerned about the tide of deaths by firearms in America is to wean the public and public officials from their attitude of resignation.

We’ll skip lightly over a few of the more ludicrously stupid claims made by politicians and gun advocates about Uvalde.

For example, that the disaster could have been averted if the school had only one door, says Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas); apparently Cruz is ignorant of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster, in which 146 garment workers died, many because they could not escape the factory through its locked doors.

But that happened in 1911, and who can expect a Senator to remain that au courant?

Or the admonition by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), about second-guessing law enforcement officers engaged in “split second decisions.” By most accounts, local first responders failed to confront the Uvalde shooter for 78 minutes, which works out to 4,680 “split seconds.”

Or the assertion by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and many others that the problem leading to Uvalde isn’t the epidemic of assault weapons, but mental illness. This is nothing but an attempt to distract from the real problem.

“Little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes,” a team from Vanderbilt University reported in 2015.

Even if it were true, Abbott’s Texas has done nothing about it — the state is one of 12 that has not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. What’s America’s largest single source of funding for mental health services? Medicaid.

Finally, there’s the argument that the aftermath of horrific killings is not the time for “politics.” In fact, it’s exactly the time for politics. Mass death by firearm is the quintessential political issue, and there’s no better time to bring it forward than when the murders of children and other innocents is still fresh in the public mind.

Let’s examine some of the other common canards about gun violence and gun laws, and start thinking about how to move the needle.

The 2nd Amendment

For 217 years after the drafting of the Bill of Rights, which included the 2nd Amendment, courts spent little effort parsing its proscription that “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

mass shootings

Since the federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004, mass shootings with those weapons has climbed. An assault weapon was used in the Uvalde massacre of May 24. (Mother Jones)

That changed in 2008, with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the so-called Heller case overturning the District of Columbia’s ban on possession of handguns in the home. Since then, the impression has grown — fostered by the National Rifle Assn. and other elements of the gun lobby — that Heller rendered virtually any gun regulation unconstitutional.

But Justice Antonin Scalia’s 5-4 majority opinion said nothing of the kind. Indeed, Scalia explicitly disavowed such an interpretation. “The right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,” he wrote. The Constitution does not confer “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

There was, and is, no constitutional prohibition against laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons, he found. Nothing in his ruling, he wrote, should “cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or … the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings,” or conditions on gun sales.

The problem with the D.C. law, Scalia wrote, was that it went too far by reaching into the home and covering handguns, which were popular weapons of defense in the home. “The Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools” for regulating handguns, as well as other firearms, he wrote.

The federal assault weapons ban, which was enacted in 1994 and expired in 2004, repeatedly came under attack in federal courts, and prevailed in every case. Not a single one of those challenges was based on the 2nd Amendment. Since the expiration of the ban, mass shooting deaths in the United States have climbed steadily.

“Heller has been misused in important policy debates about our nation’s gun laws,” wrote former Supreme Court clerks Kate Shaw and John Bash in a recent op-ed. “Most of the obstacles to gun regulations are political and policy based, not legal.” Shaw and Bash worked on the Heller decision as clerks to Scalia and John Paul Stevens, the author of the leading dissent to the ruling, respectively.

So let’s discard the myth that gun control laws are unconstitutional.

The NRA

By any conventional accounting, the NRA is a shadow of its former self. Its leadership has been racked with internal dissension, its resources have been shrinking and it has faced a serious legal assault by New York state. Attendance at its annual convention last week in Houston drew only a few thousand members, even with former President Trump on hand to speak.

Yet the organization still carries major political weight. To some extent that’s an artifact of its political spending. Even in its straitened circumstances it’s a major political contributor, having handed out more than $29 million in the 2020 election cycle. Some of the politicians taking resolute pro-gun stands are beneficiaries of this largess, mouthing “thoughts and prayers” for the victims of gun massacres while pocketing millions from the NRA.

The NRA also has played a lasting role in blocking funds for research into gun violenceby federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an obstacle that remained in place for some two decades until Congress restored funding in 2019. But the gap in research still hampers gun policymaking. It’s long since time to curb this organization’s blood-soaked influence on our politics.

Debate? What debate?

Part of the knee-jerk news coverage of the aftermath of gun massacres is the notion that the American public is deeply divided over gun regulations. This is a corollary of the traditional claim that American society is “polarized,” which I showed last year to be absolutely false. The truth is that large majorities of Americans favor abortion rights, more COVID-related restrictions and, yes, gun regulations.

More than 80% of Americans favor instituting universal background checks on gun buyers and barring people with mental illness from owning guns, according to a Pew Research Center poll. More than 60% favor banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammo magazines.

The poll was taken last September; it’s a reasonable bet that the majorities would be larger now. To put it another way, the “debate” is over — most Americans want to bring gun sales and ownership under greater control.

Gun regulations work

One claim popular among pro-gun politicians is that gun regulations don’t serve to quell gun violence. (A common version of this trope is that proposed regulations wouldn’t have stopped the latest newsworthy massacre.)

This is a lie, as statistics from the CDC show. States with stricter gun laws have much lower rates of firearm deaths than those with lax laws. The first category includes California (8.4 deaths per 100,000 population) and Massachusetts (3.7). The second group includes Louisiana (26.3) and Texas (14.2, and the highest total gun-related mortality in the country, at 4,164 in 2020).

Texas even loosened its gun regulations just months before the Uvalde massacre. When Missouri repealed its permit regulations for gun ownership in 2007, gun-related homicides jumped by 25% and gun-related suicides by more than 16.1%. When Connecticut enacted a licensing law in 1995, its firearm homicide rate declined by 40% and firearm suicides by 15.4%.

Make them vote

Perhaps the most inexplicable argument justifying congressional inaction over gun laws is that tough laws have no chance of passage, so it’s pointless even to try. Defeatism in the face of urgent need is inexcusable.

The resistance of Republicans to voting for gun laws is precisely the very best reason for bringing those bills to the floor. There’s no reason to give Republican obstructionists a free pass — make them stand up and take a vote.

Make them explain what it is about making Americans safer in schools and workplaces that they find objectionable, and why they think that voting against measures supported by 80% of the public is proper. Bring the fight to them, and show voters the character of the people they’ve placed in high office.

Show the pictures

Americans have become inured to gun violence in part because our culture minimizes its horrors. We’re awash in the most visceral depictions of shootings in movies and television, but at their core those depictions are unthreatening — indeed, in most cases they’re meant for entertainment.

Even our news programs revel in gore — the classic dictum of local news broadcasting has long been “If it bleeds, it leads.”

These conditions have inoculated us against the horror of firearm injuries as they occur in real life — especially those caused by assault weapons such as the AR-15. There’s a big difference between hearing the words “gunshot wound” and learning what actually happens to the organs of victims of AR-15 assaults. They don’t look anything like what we see on TV, and we need to have a true, visceral sense of the difference.

“These weapons are often employed on the battlefield to exact the maximum amount of damage possible with the strike of each bullet,” radiologist Laveil M. Allen wrote last week for the Brookings Institution. “Witnessing their devastating impact on unsuspecting school children, grocery shoppers, and churchgoers is unfathomable. The level of destruction, disfigurement, and disregard for life that a high-powered assault rifle inflicts on the human body cannot be understated. Placed into perspective, many of the tiny Uvalde victims’ bodies were so tattered and dismembered from their ballistic injuries, DNA matching was required for identification because physical/visual identification was not possible.”

You’ll hear the argument that showing photographs of real victims or the scenes of massacres will only be more traumatizing. For some people, including the victims’ families, that may be true. But that only underscores my point — we have not been sufficiently traumatized, and the creation of a truly effective mass movement for gun laws requires that we be traumatized.

Because we experience the horror of gun massacres at a remove, they tend to drift out of public consciousness in a distressingly short time span. Even after the Sandy Hook killings, which took the lives of 20 children ages 6 and 7 less than 10 years ago, there was something distancing about reportage of the event. Photos of some of the murdered children have been made public, but they are photos from life, showing the children smiling at birthday parties or gamboling about the playground.

Let’s face it — few Americans were thinking about the Sandy Hook killings until May 24, when the Uvalde massacre brought them bubbling back to public consciousness. Would our reaction be different had we seen photographs of classrooms slathered in blood, of children’s bodies ripped to pieces by Adam Lanza’s assault rifle?

You bet it would. Those images would not easily be forgotten. Every time a GOP senator or representative stood up to declare that the right to own assault weapons trumped the right of those children to live their lives, someone should have produced one of those photographs and said, “Justify this.”

Our risk is that Uvalde will be just another Sandy Hook. Soon to move off the front burner, or soon buried under the choruses of “We can’t pass this” or “This won’t work” or “This is the path we’ve chosen.” We need to change the terms of discussion, or Uvalde will just be the latest massacre of a long line, not the last massacre of its kind.

Conservatives used to be known as people resistant to radical change. In decades past, conservatives sought to conserve traditional institutions and make them better. That stance appealed to many Americans who were unsettled by radical ideas, opposed to big-box stores that would wipe out small-town America’s Main Street. Conservatives were also known for opposing government intrusion into personal decisions; what you did in your bedroom was your business, not the state’s. What you and your doctor decided was best for you was your decision, not the state’s.

Chris Rufo is the face of the New Conservatism, who wants to frighten the parents of America into tearing down traditional institutions, especially the public school that they and their family attended.

Rufo became well-known for creating a national panic about “critical race theory,” which he can’t define and doesn’t understand. But he seems to think that schools are controlled by racist pedagogues and sexual perverts. In his facile presentation at Hillsdale College, one of the most conservative institutions of higher education in the nation, he makes clear that America has fallen from its position as a great and holy nation to a slimepit of moral corruption.

He has two great Satans in his story: public schools and the Disney Corporation. The Disney Corporation, in his simple mind, is a haven for perverts and pedophiles, bent on corrupting the youth of the nation.

Rufo asserts, based on no discernible evidence, that the decline and fall of America can be traced to the failed revolution of 1968. The radicals lost, as Nixon was elected that year, but burrowed into the pedagogical and cultural institutions, quietly insinuating their sinister ideas about race and sex into the mainstream, as the nation slept. Rufo’s writings about “critical race theory,” which he claims is embedded in schools, diversity training in corporations, and everywhere else he looked, made him a star on Tucker Carlson’s show, an advisor to the Trump White House, and a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute. Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote a profile of Rufo in The New Yorker and identified him as the man who invented the conflict over critical race theory, which before Rufo was a topic for discussion in law schools.

Before Rufo’s demonization of CRT, it was known among legal scholars as a debate about whether racism was fading away or whether it was systemic because it was structured into law and public policy. I had the personal pleasure of discussing these ideas in the mid-1980s with Derrick Bell, who is generally recognized as the founder of CRT. Bell was then at the Harvard Law School, after working as a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He reached the conclusion that the Brown Decision of 1954 was inadequate to root out systematic racism.

At the time, I was a centrist in my politics and believed that racism was on its way out. Derrick disagreed. We spoke for hours, he invited me to present a paper at a conference he was organizing, which I did. Contrary to Rufo, I can attest that Derrick Bell was not a Marxist. He was not a radical. He wanted an America where people of different races and backgrounds had decent lives, unmarred by racial barriers. He was thoughtful, gentle, one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. He wanted America to be the land it professed to be. He was a great American.

Was 1968 the turning point, after which the radicals took over our culture and destroyed our founding ideals, as Rufo claims? No, it was not. I was there. He was born in 1984. He’s blowing smoke, making up a fairy-tale that he has spun into a narrative.

In 1968, I turned 30. I had very young children. I was not sympathetic to the hippies or the Weather Underground or the SDS. I hated the Vietnam War, but I was not part of any organized anti-war group. I believed in America and its institutions, and I was firmly opposed to those who wanted to tear them down, as the Left did then and as the Right does now. I worked in the Humphrey campaign in 1968 and organized an event in Manhattan—featuring John Kenneth Galbraith, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and a long lineup of “liberals for Humphrey”— that was disrupted and ruined by pro-Vietnam Cong activists. That event, on the eve of the 1968 election, convinced me that Nixon would win. (While my event was disrupted, Nixon held a campaign rally a block away, at Madison Square Garden, that was not disrupted.)

1968 was the year that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. It was a horrible, depressing year. America seemed to be falling apart.

Did the Weathermen and other radicals begin a long march through the institutions and eventually capture them? That’s ridiculous. Some became professors, but none became college presidents, to my knowledge. Many were ostracized. Some went to prison for violent crimes. Those who played an active political role in 1968 are in their 80s now, if they are alive.

Rufo’s solution to what he sees as the capture of our institutions by racists and pedophiles is surpringly simple: school choice. He hopes everyone will get public money to send their children to private and religious schools, to charter schools, or to home school them. If only we can destroy public schools, he suggests, we can restore America to the values of 1776.

Good old 1776, when most black people were slaves, women had no rights, and the aristocracy made all the decisions. They even enjoyed conjugal rights to use their young female slaves. Those were the good old days, in the very simple mind of Christopher Rufo.

Turning the clock back almost 250 years! Now that’s a radical idea.

Republicans will say anything crazy and insulting about public schools as a way to radicalize parents against them. The worst example: the repeated claim that schools are installing litter boxes in bathrooms for children who identify as cats or dogs.

No one knows for sure where this started–could have been Moms for Liberty or the National Parents Union or some other money-grubbing rightwing extremists.

The AP reported:

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska state lawmaker apologized on Monday after he publicly cited a persistent but debunked rumor alleging that schools are placing litter boxes in school bathrooms to accommodate children who self-identify as cats.

Sen. Bruce Bostelman, a conservative Republican, repeated the false claim during a public, televised debate on a bill intended to help school children who have behavioral problems. His comments quickly went viral, with one Twitter video garnering more than 300,000 views as of Monday afternoon, and drew an onslaught of online criticism and ridicule.

Bostelman initially said he was “shocked” when he heard stories that children were dressing as cats and dogs while at school, with claims that schools were accommodating them with litter boxes.

“They meow and they bark and they interact with their teachers in this fashion,” Bostelman said during legislative debate. “And now schools are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for these children to use. How is this sanitary?”

The rumor has persisted in a private Facebook group, “Protect Nebraska Children,” and also surfaced last month in an Iowa school district, forcing the superintendent to write to parents that it was “simply and emphatically not true…”

The false claim that children who identify as cats are using litter boxes in school bathrooms has spread across the internet since at least December, when a member of the public brought it up at a school board meeting for Midland Public Schools northwest of Detroit.

The claim was debunked by the district’s superintendent, who issued a statement that said there had “never been litter boxes within MPS schools.”

Still, the baseless rumor has spread across the country, and become fuel for political candidates, amid the culture wars and legislative action involving gender identification in schools.

Hours after his remarks, Bostelman backtracked and acknowledged that the story wasn’t true. He said he checked into the claims with state Sen. Lynne Walz, a Democrat who leads the Legislature’s Education Committee, and confirmed there were no such incidents.

The furor over public school restrooms comes as a growing number of conservative states seek laws to ban transgender students from using bathrooms that match their gender identity.

People who believe this nonsense should actually visit a public school, talk to the principal, talk to teachers and students before they spread it and make fools of themselves.

Tom Ultican, chronicler of the Destroy Public Education movement and retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, investigated a strange occurrence in the District of Columbia: Two respected, experienced black educators were fired for refusing to adopt the practices of the so-called Relay “Graduate School” of Education. Relay is not a real graduate school. It has no campus, no research, no graduate programs. It was created by charter schools and recognized by their allies so that charter teachers could teach the tricks of raising test scores to other charter teachers and enable them to get a “master’s degree” from people who had never earned doctorate degrees. Relay’s textbook is Doug Lemov’s “Teach Like a Champion.” Relay does not offer the wide range of courses offered in real graduate schools.

He begins:

School leaders and teachers in Washington DC’s wards 7 and 8 are being forced into training given by Relay Graduate School of Education (RSGE). West of the Anacostia River in the wealthier whiter communities public school leader are not forced. When ward 7 and 8 administrators spoke out against the policy, they were fired. Two of them Dr. Carolyn Jackson-King and Marlon Ray, formerly of Boone Elementary School are suing DC Public Schools (DCPS) for violating the Whistleblower Protection Act and the DC Human Rights Act.

Jackson-King and Ray are emblematic of the talented black educators with deep experience that are being driven out of the Washington DC public school system. They are respected leaders in the schools and the community. When it was learned Jackson-King was let go the community protested loudly and created a web site publishing her accomplishments.

In 2014, Jackson-King arrived at the Lawrence E. Boone Elementary school when it was still named Orr Elementary. The school had been plagued by violence and gone through two principals the previous year. Teacher Diane Johnson recalled carrying a bleeding student who had been punched to the nurse’s office. She remembered fighting being a daily occurrence before Jackson-King took over.

In 2018, Orr Elementary went through a $46 million dollar renovation. The community and school board agreed that the name should be changed before the building reopened. Orr was originally named in honor of Benjamin Grayson Orr, a D.C. mayor in the 19th century and slave owner. The new name honors Lawrence Boone a Black educator who was Orr Elementary’s principal from 1973 to 1996.

Jackson-King successfully navigated the campus violence and new construction. By 2019, Boon Elementary was demonstrating solid education progress as monitored by the district’s star ratings. Boone Elementary is in a poor minority neighborhood. It went from a 1-star out of 5 rating when Jackson-King arrived to a 3-star rating her last year there….

Marlon Ray was Boone’s director of strategy and logistics. He worked there for 13-years including the last six under Principal Jackson-King. Despite his long history in the district, Ray was apparently targeted after filing a whistleblower complaint over Relay Graduate School. Ray questioned RGSE’s relationship with DCPS, the Executive Office of the Mayor and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. He implicated Mary Ann Stinson, the DCPS Cluster II instructional superintendent who wrote Jackson-King’s district Impact review that paved the way for her termination. In the lawsuit, Ray alleges that DCPS leadership responded by requiring him to work in person five days a week in the early months of the pandemic while most of his colleagues, including Jackson-King’s replacement Kimberly Douglas, worked remotely. This continued well into the spring of 2021.

In October of 2020, Ray joined with about 30 Washington Teacher’s Union members, parents and students to rally against opening school before it was safe. Ray reported that he received a tongue lashing from a DCPS administrator for being there and then 2-hours later receive a telephoned death threat. He reports the caller saying, “This is Marcus from DCPS; you’re done, you’re through, you’re finished, you’re dead.”

Ray’s position was eliminated in June, 2021…

In Washington DC, the mayor has almost dictatorial power over public education. Therefore, when the mayor becomes convinced of the illusion that public schools are failing, there are few safeguards available to stop the policy led destruction.

In the chart above, notice that all of the key employees she chose to lead DC K-12 education have a strong connection to organizations practicing what Cornell Professor Noliwe Rooks labeled “segrenomics.” In her book Cutting School (Page 2), she describes it as the businesses of taking advantage of separate, segregated, and unequal forms of education to make a profit selling school. Bowser’s first Deputy Mayor for Education, Jennifer Niles, was a charter school founder. Her second Deputy Mayor, Paul Kihn, attended the infamous school privatization centric Broad Academy. She inherited Kaya Henderson as DCPS Chancellor and kept her for five years. Kaya Henderson, a Teach For America alum, was the infamous Michelle Rhee’s heir apparent. The other two Chancellors that Bowser chose, Antwan Wilson and Lewis Ferebee, also attended the Broad Academy and both are members of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change….

The State Superintendent of Education who awarded $7.5 million in public education dollars to five private companies was Hanseul Kang. Before Bowser appointed her to the position Kang was a member of the Broad Residency class of 2012-2014. At that time, she was serving as Chief of Staff for the Tennessee Department of Education while her fellow Broadie, Chris Barbic, was setting up the doomed to fail Tennessee Achievement School District. In 2021, Bowser had to replace Kang because she became the inaugural Executive Director of the new Broad Center at Yale. Bowser chose Christina Grant yet another Broad trained education privatization enthusiast to replace Kang.

For background information on the Broad Academy see Broad’s Academy and Residencies Fuel the Destroy Public Education Agenda.)

Bowser and her team are in many ways impressive, high achieving and admirable people. However, their deluded view of public education and its value is dangerous; dangerous for K-12 education and dangerous for democracy.

“Teach like it is 1885”

The root of the push back against Relay training by ward 7 and 8 educators is found in the authoritarian approach being propagated. NPR listed feedback from dismayed teachers bothered by instructions such as:

  • “Students must pick up their pens within three seconds of starting a writing assignment.
  • “Students must walk silently, in a straight line, hands behind their backs, when they are outside the classroom.
  • “Teachers must stand still, speak in a ‘formal register’ and square their shoulders toward students when they give directions.”

Dr. Jackson-King noted“Kids have to sit a certain way, they have to look a certain way. They cannot be who they are. Those are all the ways they teach you in prison — you have to walk in a straight line, hands behind your back, eyes forward.”

RSGE does not focus on education philosophy or guidance from the world’s foremost educators. Rather its fundamental text is Teach Like a Champion which is a guidebook for no excuses charter schools.

In her book Scripting the Moves Professor Joanne Golann wrote:

No excuses charter school founders established RGSE. In the post “Teach Like its 1885.” published by Jenifer Berkshire, Layla Treuhaft-Ali wrote, “Placed in their proper racial context, the Teach Like A Champion techniques can read like a modern-day version of the *Hampton Idea,* where children of color are taught not to challenge authority under the supervision of a wealthy, white elite….”

‘“Ultimately no-excuses charters schools are a failed solution to a much larger social problem,’ education scholar Maury Nation has argued. ‘How does a society address systemic marginalization and related economic inequalities? How do schools mitigate the effects of a system of White supremacy within which schools themselves are embedded?’ Without attending to these problems, we will not solve the problems of educational inequality. ‘As with so many school reforms,’ Nation argues, ‘no-excuses discipline is an attempt to address the complexities of these problems, with a cheap, simplistic, mass-producible, ‘market-based’ solution.’” (Page 174)

Legitimate education professionals routinely heap scorn on RSGE. Relay practices the pedagogy of poverty and as Martin Haberman says,

“In reality, the pedagogy of poverty is not a professional methodology at all. It is not supported by research, by theory, or by the best practice of superior urban teachers. It is actually certain ritualistic acts that, much like the ceremonies performed by religious functionaries, have come to be conducted for their intrinsic value rather than to foster learning.”

So these two courageous black professionals were fired for refusing to accept the harsh “no excuses” pedagogy designed for black children, designed to make them servile and obedient.

Their jobs should be promptly restored. Mayor Bowser has been captured by the forces of privatization and conformity. She should wake up. Some of the “no excuses” charter schools have recognized the harm they do to black children by treating them as clay to be molded, instead of human beings with vitality and interests who need to discover their talents and the joy of learning.

The New York Times recently wrote about Twitter’s suspension of the personal (not the official) account of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. Twitter applied its rule of “five strikes and you’re out” because she posted misinformation about COVID and vaccines that could cause harm to others. Among other things, she had posted on Twitter that COVID was not dangerous and that vaccines should not be mandated; that the vaccines were “failing”; and that many people who got the vaccines had died.

While reading this article, I learned of a website called The Center for Countering Digital Hate. This organization published research on the dozen most influential social influencers who spread misinformation about vaccines.

The Center surveyed major social media platforms and found that 12 people were the source of 2/3 of the lies about COVID and the vaccines. The only name familiar to me was that of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The leading influencer was one Dr. Joseph Mercola. His Twitter handle was @drmercola. Perhaps he was banned by Twitter. But he now reappears as @mercola.

At the time the CCDH report was written, the COVID death toll in the U.S. was 500,000. It is now over 800,000. It’s likely that the Dirty Dozen caused some of those deaths (and will be responsible for many more) by encouraging resistance to the life-saving vaccines.