Archives for category: Injustice

Teresa Hanafin writes the “Fast Forward” column for the Boston Globe:

 

The biggest story that is still reverberating today isn’t Bernie Sanders’ victory in the New Hampshire primary, or Pete Buttigieg’s close second-place finish, or Amy Klobuchar’sremarkable rise, or the surprising slide of Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

No, it’s Trump’s stunning, deliberate, and unprecedented insertion of presidential power, politics, and favoritism into our judicial system.

Look, we all know there’s plenty of injustice in the justice system. Look at the decades-long practice of imposing far harsher sentences on those convicted of using or distributing crack cocaine vs. cocaine in powder form. Those using crack cocaine tended to be Black, while powder cocaine was the preferred drug of white people. What a coincidence!

That’s an example of systemic disparities that many are working to change. (The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the cocaine penalties’ differences.)

Trump used the power of the presidency to put his stubby thumb on the scales of justice to benefit a close ally and longtime friend.

Trump’s demand that the sentence recommended by federal prosecutors for his good buddy Roger Stone be reduced is astonishing enough. But adding to the impropriety was the fact that AG William Barr and top Justice Department officials jumped when Trump interfered, declaring that they would change the prosecutors’ recommendation to a lighter sentence for the president’s friend because, well, that’s what you do when you’re in the tank.

The whole stinking mess caused all four prosecutors to resign from the case — and one quit the Justice Department altogether.

To recap: Stone is a longtime political adviser to Trump, who used him during the 2016 campaign as a conduit to WikiLeaks, which had more than 19,000 e-mails that had been stolen from the servers of the Democratic National Committee. He tried to use Stone to get a heads-up when WikiLeaks was going to release e-mails that were damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

It was special counsel Robert Mueller who charged Stone last year. There were seven charges, all felonies: five counts of lying to investigators, one count of obstructing Congress (specifically, the House Intelligence Committee), and one count of tampering with a witness (in both the House inquiry and Mueller’s investigation).

A jury found Stone guilty of all seven charges. As is customary, the probation department then came up with a recommended sentence — 7 to 9 years in prison — and the prosecutors agreed.

They argued that Stone’s conduct was exceptionally egregious because the House and Mueller probes into Russian interference in the 2016 election were critical to our electoral system, and because of the danger to our democracy posed by foreign meddling.

But the bulk of the prison time prosecutors requested was related to Stone’s witness tampering because it involved threats of physical violence to his longtime associate, Randy Credico, after Credico indicated that he would cooperate with the House committee. Stone and Credico both said the threats were jokes, but the jury didn’t believe them.

Stone’s defense attorneys say federal guidelines call for a sentence of 15 to 21 months, and they are asking for probation. Prosecutors say their enhanced sentence request because of the threatened violence is in keeping with federal guidelines. As I’m sure you know, prosecutors often overreach when asking for sentences, and defense attorneys always downplay the offenses.

After Trump’s interference, the Justice Department announced that it would take the rare step of changing its prosecutors’ recommendation. DOJ officials ended up submitting a statement to the judge without a sentence recommendation, but asked her to impose a lighter sentence.

Yes, these are the prosecutors asking the judge to go easy on a convicted felon.

So it’s up to Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who could impose a lesser sentence or a harsher sentence. Or she could demand that the Justice Department explain why it changed the original recommendation, and ask the prosecutors who resigned why they did so.

Unsurprisingly, Trump already has attacked Jackson. He also declared that Stone should not have been found guilty — a nice trashing of the system of trial by jury — and should never have even been charged with anything because only Trump’s political opponents are supposed to be investigated and locked up.

Now congressional Democrats are demanding that the DOJ inspector general — who is independent of the department — investigate. House Democrats may also call Barr to Capitol Hill to explain his actions.

Please remember how critical it is to our democracy that justice be administered fairly and independent of influence. Imagine if one of your kids were arrested with a friend for say, drug use, but the parents of your child’s friend were chummy with the mayor, who gets the local prosecutors to drop the charges against that kid. But your kid gets jail time because you’re not buddies with the mayor. Would you shrug your shoulders the way congressional Republicans are?

No U.S. Attorney General in history has ever turned the Department of Justice into a political tool belonging to the president. Until now. Bill Barr has totally politicized the Department.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote today:

There has never been a better time to be a Hooker for Jesus.

Under Attorney General Bill Barr’s management, it appears no corner of the Justice Department can escape perversion — even the annual grants the Justice Department gives to nonprofits and local governments to help victims of human trafficking.

In a new grant award, senior Justice officials rejected the recommendations of career officials and decided to deny grants to highly rated Catholic Charities in Palm Beach, Fla., and Chicanos Por La Causa in Phoenix. Instead, Reuters reported, they gave more than $1 million combined to lower-rated groups called the Lincoln Tubman Foundation and Hookers for Jesus.

Why? Well, it turns out the head of the Catholic Charities affiliate had been active with Democrats and the Phoenix group had opposed President Trump’s immigration policies. By contrast, Hookers for Jesus is run by a Christian conservative and the Lincoln Tubman group was launched by a relative of a Trump delegate to the 2016 convention.

That Catholic Charities has been replaced by Hookers for Jesus says much about Barr’s Justice Department. Friends of Trump are rewarded. Opponents of Trump are punished. And the nation’s law enforcement apparatus becomes Trump’s personal plaything.

Federal prosecutors Monday recommendedthat Trump associate Roger Stone serve seven to nine years in prison for obstruction of justice, lying to Congress, witness tampering and other crimes.

Then Trump tweeted that the proposed sentence was “horrible and very unfair” and “the real crimes were on the other side.” And by midday Tuesday, Barr’s Justice Department announced that it would reduce Stone’s sentence recommendation. All four prosecutors, protesting the politicization, asked to withdraw from the case.

But politicization is now the norm. Last week, Barr assigned himself the sole authority to decide which presidential candidates — Democrats and Republicans — should be investigated by the FBI.

Also last week, the Department of Homeland Security, working with the Justice Department, announced that New York state residents can no longer enroll in certain Trusted Traveler programs such as Global Entry — apparent punishment for the strongly Democratic state’s policies on illegal immigrants.

On Monday, Barr declared that the Justice Department had created an “intake process” to receive Rudy Giuliani’s dirt from Ukraine on Joe Biden and Hunter Biden — dirt dug in a boondoggle that left two Giuliani associates under indictment and Trump impeached.

The same day, Barr’s agency announced lawsuits against California, New Jersey and King County (Seattle), Washington — politically “blue” jurisdictions all — as part of what he called a “significant escalation” against sanctuary cities.

On Tuesday, to get a better sense of the man who has turned the Justice Department into Trump’s toy, I watched Barr speak to the Major County Sheriffs of America, a friendly audience, at the Willard Hotel in Washington.

Even by Trumpian standards, the jowly Barr, in his large round glasses, pinstripe suit and Trump-red tie, was strikingly sycophantic. “In his State of the Union, President Trump delivered a message of genuine optimism filled with an unapologetic faith in God and in American greatness and in the common virtues of the American people: altruism, industriousness, self-reliance and generosity,” he read, deadpan.

Trump, he went on, “loves this country,” and “he especially loves you.” The boot-licking performance continued, about Trump’s wise leadership, his unbroken promises and even the just-impeached president’s passionate belief in the “rule of law.”

Then Barr turned to the enemy. He attacked “rogue DA’s” and “so-called social-justice reformers,” who are responsible for “historic levels of homicide and other violent crime” in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Chicago and Baltimore. Politicians in sanctuary jurisdictions, he said, prefer “to help criminal aliens evade the law.” Barr vowed to fight these foes with “all lawful means” — federal subpoenas to force them to turn over “information about criminal aliens,” dozens of lawsuits to invalidate statutes and attempts to deny them both competitive and automatic grants.

In response to a question, Barr railed against tech companies’ use of encryption: “They’re designing these devices so you can be impervious to any government scrutiny,” he protested.

Maybe people wouldn’t be so sensitive about government scrutiny if the top law enforcement official weren’t using his position to punish political opponents and reward political allies.

Instead, with Barr’s acquiescence, we live in a moment in which: Trump’s Treasury Department immediately releases sensitive financial information about Hunter Biden, while refusing to release similar information about Trump; Trump ousts officials who testified in the impeachment inquiry and even ousts the blameless twin brother of one of the witnesses; and Trump’s FBI decides to monitor violent “people on either side” of the abortion debate — although the FBI couldn’t point to a single instance of violence by abortion-rights supporters.

This week, the Pentagon released a new color scheme for Air Force One, replacing the 60-year-old design with one that looks suspiciously like the old Trump Shuttle.Surprised? Don’t be. Soon the entire administration will be able to apply for a Justice Department grant as a newly formed nonprofit: Hookers for Trump.

Bill Barr will be remembered by historians for his role in destroying the professionalism, morale, and ethics of the Department of Justice. He is Trump’s Joker.

 

Jan Resegger summarizes the disastrous Ohio plan to expand vouchers and how grossly unfair it is to public schools, which enroll nearly 90% of the children in the state. As she points out, most of the children drawing money away from her district never attended public schools, yet now their tuition will be extracted from the budget of the public schools. Read her post in its entirety.

She writes:

On Tuesday afternoon, I went to a meeting of my monthly book discussion group—all of us retired and over 70.  But as we sat down with our coffee and before we discussed the book we had all been reading for the month, we found ourselves distracted by the topic that is tearing our community apart: the changes the Ohio Legislature made last summer in the fine print of the FY 20-21 state budget—changes that exploded the size of the state’s EdChoice school voucher program.

I wonder whether legislators have any real understanding of the collateral damage for particular communities from policies enacted without debate. Maybe, because our community has worked for fifty years to be a stable, racially and economically diverse community with emphasis on fair housing enforcement and integrated schools, legislators just write us off as another failed urban school district. After all, Ohio’s education policy emphasizes state takeover and privatization instead of equitable school funding. The state punishes instead of helping all but its most affluent, outer ring, exurban, “A”-rated school districts, where property values are high enough that state funding is not a worry.

What this year’s EdChoice voucher expansion means for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district where the members of my book discussion group all live is that—just to pay for the new vouchers—our school district has been forced to put a property tax levy on the March 17 primary election ballot. Ohio’s school finance expert, Howard Fleeter explains that in our school district, EdChoice voucher use has grown by 478 percent in a single year.  Fleeter continues: “Cleveland Heights isn’t losing any students…. They are just losing money.’” “If this doesn’t get unwound, I think it is significant enough in terms of the impact on the money schools get to undermine any new funding formula.”

Ohio deducts the price of the vouchers students carry to private and religious schools from the local school district budget even though, in the case of Cleveland Heights-University Heights this year, 94 percent of those students have never attended the public schools in our district. The state counts the voucher students who live in our community as though they are enrolled in our school district and then deducts the voucher from the local school budget, but the cost of each voucher is more than the state allocates per pupil.  In fact, in the current Ohio biennial FY20-21 state budget, state public education basic aid funding is frozen, which means our district actually gets no new state funding for each voucher student, but one hundred percent the cost of each voucher is deducted anyway.

Why are the people in my book group so upset about the voucher explosion and another levy on the ballot in March?  We are not a bunch of old ladies grousing about the burden of our taxes.  Two of us co-chaired a successful school levy campaign back in 1993; one person served on the board of education; and the rest were teachers in our school district. As we read the conversation threads on Next Door, where people are accusing our district of mismanaging funds, or paying teachers too much, or hiring too many school psychologists, we worry about all the undocumented misinformation floating around. Members of our group are anxious about our grandchildren and our neighbors’ children who depend on the public schools we have spent our lives supporting and protecting.  But it is difficult to explain what happened in the budget, our plight this winter set in motion last June and July in the budget conference committee, when amendments were added to the state budget without debate. It was done so quietly at the time that people across the state only began to grasp the impact later in August when the Ohio Association of School Business Officials alerted school treasurers about the potential impact.

Fortunately the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District sponsored a special public meeting on January 9, 2020, to explain the changes in the EdChoice Voucher Program and begin quelling the anxiety that is tearing our community apart. The school district has posted the powerpoint presentation from the meeting, and at the meeting,  the school district distributed a clear, factual brochure about the legislature’s changes in the EdChoice Vouchers.  The brochure explains: “(T)he program was expanded to the point of unsustainability. Ohio had fewer than 300 buildings deemed eligible for vouchers in 2018-2019; that number has exploded to 1,200 for 2020-2021. When the Ohio General Assembly passed its biennial budget in July 2019, it froze receipts at 2018-2019 levels. This means that for every new voucher used, none of the cost would be offset by state aid. Legislators also removed the provision that required students to attend a public school prior to using the voucher. Unable to prepare financially for the change, the District was forced the following month to negotiate one-year contracts with the teachers union, as opposed to multi-year contracts. In CH-UH, approximately 1,400 students, 94% of whom have never attended our K-12 public schools, are taking scholarships to attend private schools. This has amounted to an actual loss of $4.2 million for us last fiscal year and an estimated loss of $6.8 million this fiscal year.” Each time a student secures an EdChoice Voucher, that student can keep the voucher, paid for by the school district deduction, every year until the student graduates from high school.

The school district’s information handout continues: “The CH-UH City School District will ask the community for a new 7.9 mill operating levy in March. The current funding issues with EdChoice are the major reason for this millage. In fact, the District would not need to ask for a levy until 2023 if it weren’t for the way EdChoice was funded, and the millage would be significantly less.”

School districts across Ohio are demanding that the Legislature do something about what has become a crisis for many school districts. It is important that the Legislature act quickly, before the February EdChoice Voucher enrollment period for next school year. The Heights Coalition for Public Education, a community organization, has prepared a list of short-term voucher fixes which the Legislature should consider:

  1. Remove budget language from House Bill 166 (the current state budget) expanding vouchers in grades 7-8 and for high schools.  Restore voucher language to pre-budget language.”
  2. Limit state report card ratings on which EdChoice schools are designated to 2017-18 and 2018-19.  Currently districts are held accountable all the way back to 2013-14, and considerable changes in school programming have occurred in the seven ensuing years.
  3. “Restore funding for school districts that have lost funds to voucher students who were not part of their 2019 Average Daily Enrollment.”
  4. “Cut the loss of funds for high poverty (50% economically disadvantage) districts at 5% and other school districts at 10%.”
  5. Adopt the funding methodology for EdChoice Expansion (another Ohio voucher program) which awards vouchers to needy students and pays for the vouchers fully with state funds (not the school district deduction).

State Senator Matt Huffman has long been among the Ohio Legislature’s strongest proponents of school vouchers.  Earlier this week, the Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell reported that Senator Huffman himself supports the fifth voucher fix listed above: “State Sen. Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, wants a bigger change. He is resurrecting his 2017 proposal to offer vouchers to any family in Ohio whose income falls under certain limits… His proposal would have the state, not districts, pay for the vouchers of $4,650 for grades K-8 and the $6,000 a year for high school. That would eliminate many district complaints that voucher costs are killing their budgets.  He said the state can control costs by limiting how many students can use vouchers in a given year. Some extra money is already available in the budget, he said. ‘That seems to be the only way, really, to do this in a fair way,’ he added.”

There is reason for caution here, even though Huffman’s assessment is correct that eliminating the school district deduction method for funding vouchers is the only fair way to address what has become an urgent crisis for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools and for many other Ohio school districts. We all remember Naomi Klein’s 2007 warningabout the danger of adopting “shock doctrine,” privatization policies in a hurry in the midst of a crisis. We need to be sure that any so-called fix isn’t just an opportunity for the Legislature to grow the state’s voucher programs in some other way.  After all, in the case of Ohio’s current voucher mess, the Ohio Legislature itself created the crisis by expanding school privatization with explosive growth in the EdChoice school district deduction.

This blog has emphatically and consistently opposed private school tuition vouchers paid for with public funds, because vouchers undermine public funding for public education. Education privatization is never in the public interest.

However, currently in Ohio, an existential crisis for local school districts demands an immediate solution. The Legislature has saddled school districts with a school privatization program whose size the Legislature has no incentive to control because the money quietly washes out of local school district budgets. Neither can school districts control what is happening to their local budgets when the Legislature has set up an uncontrollable flow of dollars into the vouchers.

Huffman’s proposed solution would not solve the bigger problem of Ohio school vouchers. On the other hand, Huffman’s plan would pay for the vouchers out of the state budget, and as he points out, if it were to be so inclined, the Legislature could control costs by limiting how many students can use vouchers in a given year. Huffman’s idea would address the immediate school district financial crisis. It would then be up to all of us to pressure the Legislature to control the size and number of Ohio school vouchers awarded each year. Perhaps we can motivate a future legislature to eliminate vouchers entirely and return to a system where public dollars serve the mass of our children in the public schools.

Teresa Hanafin summarizes the impeachment proceedings, which should be called a “trial,” but since the Republicans voted in lockstep to allow no evidence and no witnesses, it would be better not to use the word “trial.” Hanafin writes the Fast Forward daily commentary for the Boston Globe.

Trump’s impeachment trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress continues at 1 p.m., with House Democrats starting their three days of arguments as to why Trump should be convicted and removed from office.

After some Republicans prevailed upon Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to loosen up the impossibly strict schedule he had proposed, which would have required 12-hour days. The new schedule will have 8-hour days and look like this:

Today through Friday: House Democrats’ arguments
Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday: Trump’s lawyers’ arguments
Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 29-30: Questions from senators
Friday, Jan. 31: Debate on whether to debate on whether to vote to call witnesses. (No, that’s not a typo.) Given that the GOP isn’t interested in hearing any new evidence or from any witnesses who Trump blocked from testifying in the House, it’s likely the GOP will simply vote to acquit.

Honestly, I don’t know why they just don’t vote right now, except for the fact that Democrats have another chance to make their case to the American people that Trump is hopelessly corrupt.

Remember, McConnell is under strict orders from Dear Leader to get this over quickly, especially before Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, Feb. 4, or else he’ll make McConnell cry by calling him a mean name on Twitter.

Yesterday’s session was a study in contrasts: The House managers came equipped with facts, documents, charts, video, just a ton of evidence to support their impeachment charges. The president’s lawyers didn’t mount a defense — perhaps they believe Trump’s actions are indefensible. Instead, they just attacked the House managers and the impeachment process.

And every Republican senator voted against every House amendment seeking to call witnesses or collect new documents blocked by Trump before arguments begin. Maine’s Susan Collins broke ranks to vote to give both sides more than two hours to respond to a motion. But even that failed.

At least Trump’s lawyers helped us all realize just how different this impeachment trial is from a real trial. For example, unlike in a traditional courtroom, Trump’s attorneys will suffer no sanctions for lying on the floor of the Senate.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone claimed that no Republicans were allowed into the closed-door hearings in the House when depositions were being taken from witnesses. Not sure where he dreamed up that whopper, but every Republican member of the three committees holding those hearings was there. (If they chose to attend, that is. Many didn’t.)

And Trump’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, lied when he told the senators that House Democrats refused to let Trump cross-examine witnesses. In truth, Trump’s lawyers could have cross-examined to their heart’s content, but Trump rejected the offer.

Meanwhile, “pettifogging” is my new favorite word. After Trump’s lawyers attacked House managers by name, and House manager Jerry Nadler called Trump a liar and accused GOP senators of being part of a coverup, Chief Justice John Roberts admonished both sides to act more civilly. And to emphasize his point, he referred to the impeachment trial of Charles Swayne, a judge who was impeached in 1904 and acquitted by the Senate in 1905.

“In the 1905 Swayne trial, a senator objected when one of the managers used the word ‘pettifogging’ and the presiding officer said the word ought not to have been used,” Roberts said. “I don’t think we need to aspire to that high of a standard, but I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are.”

Merriam-Webster defines a “pettifogger” as a lawyer whose methods are petty, underhanded, or disreputable. Sounds like a word we should resurrect.

Alan Singer posts here a brilliant speech that he delivered about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. the civil rights movement, and Dr. King’s continuing legacy today. He reminds us that the issues that Dr. King addressed are still unresolved: racism, poverty, war, violence. He points out that when Dr.King was assassinated, he was helping low-wage sanitation workers in Memphis to organize a union to improve their wages, working conditions, and lives. The next time you hear a billionaire or right-winger claim that school choice is “the civil rights issue of our time,” ask him or her (or yourself) whether they are also fighting as Dr. King did to end racism, poverty, war, and violence.

Speaking recently at the Uniondale, New York, public library, Singer said (and this is an excerpt),

The traditional myth about the Civil Rights Movement, the one that is taught in schools and promoted by politicians and the national media, is that Rosa Parks sat down, Martin Luther King stood up, and somehow the whole world changed. But the real story is that the Civil Rights Movement was a mass democratic movement to expand human equality and guarantee citizenship rights for Black Americans. It was definitely not a smooth climb to progress. Between roughly 1955 and 1968 it had peaks that enervated people and valleys that were demoralizing. Part of the genius of Dr. King was his ability to help people “keep on keeping on” when hope for the future seemed its bleakest.

While some individual activists clearly stood out during the Civil Rights Movement, it involved hundreds of thousands of people, including many White people, who could not abide the U.S. history of racial oppression dating back to slavery days. It is worth noting that a disproportionate number of whites involved in the Civil Rights movement were Jews, many with ties to Long Island. In the 1960s, the Great Neck Committee for Human Rights sponsored an anti-discrimination pledge signed by over 1,000 people who promised not to discriminate against any racial or ethnic groups if they rented or sold their homes. They also picketed local landlords accused of racial bias. The Human Rights Committee and Great Neck synagogues hosted Dr. King as a speaker and raised funds for his campaigns on multiple occasions.

King and Parks played crucial and symbolic roles in the Civil Rights Movement, but so did Thurgood Marshall, Myles Horton, Fanny Lou Hammer, Ella Baker, A. Philip Randolph, Walther Reuther, Medger Evers, John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, Pete Seeger, Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson, as well as activists who were critics of racial integration and non-violent civil disobedience such as Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers.

The stories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King have been sanitized to rob them of their radicalism and power. Rosa Parks was not a little old lady who sat down in the White only section of a bus because she was tired. She was only 42 when she refused to change her seat and made history. In addition, Parks was a trained organizer, a graduate of the Highlander School where she studied civil disobedience and social movements, and a leader of the Montgomery, Alabama NAACP. Rosa Parks made a conscious choice to break an unjust law in order to provoke a response and promote a movement for social change. 

Martin Luther King challenged the war in Vietnam, U.S. imperialism, and laws that victimized working people and the poor, not just racial discrimination. When he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, he was helping organize a sanitation workers union. If Dr. King had not be assassinated, but had lived to become an old radical activist who constantly questioned American policy, I suspect he would never have become so venerated. It is better for a country to have heroes who are dead, because they cannot make embarrassing statements opposing continuing injustice and unnecessary wars.

The African American Civil Rights Movement probably ended with the assassination of Dr. King in April 1968 and the abandonment of Great Society social programs by the Democratic Party, but social inequality continues. What kind of country is it when young Black men are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system than in college, inner city youth unemployment at the best of times hovers in the high double-digits, and children who already have internet access at home are the ones most likely to have it in school? What kind of country is it when families seeking refuge from war, crime, and climate disruption are barred entry to the United States or put in holding pens at the border? These are among the reasons I am recruiting everyone to a movement for social justice. These are the things that would have infuriated Martin Luther King.

I promised I would share excerpts from four of Dr. King’s speeches. Everyone has the phrases and speeches that they remember best. Most Americans are familiar with the 1963 “I have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and the 1968 “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis just before he died. These are four other speeches that still resonate with me the most today.

The first speech I reference is one for local Uniondale, Long Island, and Hofstra pride. In 1965, Dr. King was honored and spoke at the Hofstra University graduation. It was less than one year after he received the Nobel Peace Prize and three years before his assassination. In the speech Dr. King argued “mankind’s survival is dependent on man’s ability to solve the problems of racial injustice, poverty and war” and that the “solution of these problems is . . . dependent upon man squaring his moral progress with his scientific progress, and learning the practical art of living in harmony.” I have no doubt that if Dr. King were alive today, he would be at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, demands for gun control, climate activism, and calls for the impeachment of Donald Trump. 

In his Hofstra speech, Dr. King told graduates, families, and faculty, “we have built machines that think, and instruments that peer into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space. We have built gigantic bridges to span the seas, and gargantuan buildings to kiss the skies . . . We have been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains . . . Yet in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, something basic is missing. That is a sort of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish. But we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

Read the rest of this powerful speech by Professor Singer about Dr. King’s relevance for us today.

 

 

A state judge in Texas blocked the state takeover of the Houston Independent School District until she issues a final order in June. 

A state judge Wednesday evening immediately blocked Texas from taking over the Houston Independent School District until she issues a final ruling on the case, complicating the state’s plan to oust the district’s school board by March.

In doing so, Travis County District Judge Catherine Mauzy preliminarily sided with Houston ISD, the state’s largest school district, in a legal battle that will ultimately determine whether Texas can indefinitely seize power from its elected school board.

Calling the injunction a temporary setback, the TEA vowed in a statement to appeal the ruling.

The Texas Education Agency had planned to seize control of the district, oust the elected school board, and replace it with a governing board appointed by State Commissioner Mike Morath in March. Now the state must wait for the judge’s ruling in June.

The takeover was prompted by the persistent low test scores of Wheatley High School, which has a higher proportion of students in need than other schools in the district of 280 schools.

The state has failed to improve other, smaller districts that it has taken over.

Morath is a software developer, not an educator. He thinks that fixing a school district, one of the largest in the nation, is akin to ironing out bugs in a software program.

Critics in Houston think that Morath’s goal is to replace public schools with charter schools. During his single term on the Dallas school board, Morath led a failed effort to turn Dallas into a charter district, a goal he shared with billionaire John Arnold (Ex-Enron).

Mauzy hinted at her decision just before she stood to leave the courtroom Tuesday afternoon.

“Democracy is not always pretty,” she said. “But I am convinced it’s the best system we have. If we applied some of [the state’s arguments] to the Texas Legislature, I don’t know where we’d be.”

Now there is an interesting thought. Judge the members of the Texas legislature by their thoughtfulness, their diligence, and their intelligence, and how many would be ousted?

Imagine this: an emergency room nurse gives birth to a premature baby. She gets a bill for $898,984 from her employer. She thought she had insurance coverage. Her employer says she didn’t sign up in time for the baby. What is she to do?

ProPublica gets involved.

This obviously is not an education issue. But it is an issue about what kind of society we are.

“Lauren Bard opened the hospital bill this month and her body went numb. In bold block letters it said, “AMOUNT DUE: $898,984.57.”

“Last fall, Bard’s daughter, Sadie, had arrived about three months prematurely; and as a nurse herself, Bard knew the costs for Sadie’s care would be high. But she’d assumed the bulk would be covered by the organization that owned the hospital where she worked: Dignity Health, whose marketing motto is “Hello humankindness.”

“She would be wrong.

“Bard, 30, had been caught up in an unforgiving trend. As health care costs continue to rise, employers are shifting the expense to their workers — cutting back on what they’ll cover or pumping up premiums and out-of-pocket costs. But a premature baby, delivered with gaspingly high medical claims, creates a sort of benefits bomb, the kind an employer — especially one funding its own benefits — might look for a way to dodge altogether….

“Bard’s saga began, traumatically, when she gave birth to Sadie at just 26 weeks on Sept. 21, 2018, at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center in Southern California. Weighing less than a pound and a half, tiny enough to fit into Bard’s cupped hands, Sadie was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit. Three days after her birth, Bard called Anthem Blue Cross, which administers her health plan, to start coverage. Anthem and UC Irvine’s billing department assured her that Sadie was covered, Bard said.

”But Dignity’s plan, like many, requires employees to enroll newborns within 31 days through its website, or they won’t be covered — something Bard said she didn’t know at the time.

“Meanwhile, believing that everything with her health benefits was on track, Bard spent nine of those first 31 days recovering in her own hospital bed and then had to return to the emergency room because of a subsequent infection. She spent as much time as she could in the neonatal intensive care unit, where Sadie, in an incubator, attached to tubes and wires, battled a host of critical ailments related to extremely premature birth. At times, doctors gave her a 50-50 chance of survival.

“Right from birth she was a fighter,” Bard said.

“Then, eight days past the 31-day deadline, UC Irvine’s billing department alerted Bard to a problem with Sadie’s coverage. Anthem was saying it could not process the claims for the baby, who was still in the NICU.

“Bard, an emergency room nurse at St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino, called Dignity’s benefits department and made a sickening discovery. Sadie wasn’t enrolled in its health plan. It was too late, she was told, she could no longer add her baby.

”Dignity bills itself as the fifth-largest health system in the country, with services in 21 states. The massive nonprofit self-funds its benefits, meaning it bears the cost of bills like Sadie’s. And it doesn’t appear to be short on cash. In 2018, the organization reported $6.6 billion in net assets and paid its CEO $11.9 million in reportable compensation, according to tax filings. That same year, more than two dozen Dignity executives earned more than $1 million in compensation, records show.”

Bard was facing bankruptcy when ProPublica found out about her dire situation.

One reason I am posting this story is because I was moved by the injustice of it. Another is because a reader in the South chastised me for writing an appeal on behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He sent me the SPLC 990 form for the IRS, showing that it has nearly $500 million in assets. There are many worthy organizations that need crowd-funding. ProPublica is one of them.

This is one reason why unions are valuable for teachers and public schools. Unions have the resources to go to the courts to fight capricious actions, like the pending takeover of the Houston Independent School District based on the low test scores of one school.

 

HFT_release_VOCUS 2018 new.jpg

For Immediate Release
November 19, 2019

 

CONTACT:
Zeph Capo
713-670-4348

Zcapo@hft2415.org
   
HFT Files Federal Lawsuit over Proposed State Takeover of School District
HOUSTON—The Houston Federation of Teachers filed a federal lawsuit in Austin today, stating the proposed state takeover of the Houston Independent School District is unconstitutional under U.S. and Texas law because it disenfranchises and discriminates against people based on race and national origin.   

Gov. Greg Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath claim the state takeover of the entire Houston school district, which earned an 88 (out of 100) academic accountability rating, was triggered due to one chronically failing school, Wheatley High School, which is attended by predominantly black and brown students. The takeover decision was made just days after voters elected new school board members in Houston, who would not be able to take their seats under the takeover, effectively silencing the democratic electoral process.

“The state’s action to take over the HISD is flagrantly unconstitutional and has nothing to do with giving kids a strong public education,” said Zeph Capo, president of HFT and Texas AFT.

“Gov. Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath will do just about anything to give private charter operators a chance to get their hands on our schools—even violate the state and U.S. constitutions. We can’t allow our government officials to unconstitutionally marginalize black and brown children, deny them their right to a quality public education, or defy the voice of voters who have just elected new school board members,” he said.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin.

The suit, which seeks injunctive relief, alleges that the proposed takeover violates the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution because it disenfranchises minority voters and discriminates against the plaintiffs (three educators, one of whom is a parent of children in the district) on the basis of race and national origin and deprives people, no matter their race, color or ethnicity, of participating in the political process or electing representatives of their own choice. Further, the suit states the proposed takeover violates Texas’ Equal Rights Amendment, which states: “Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin.”

The educator plaintiffs explained why they are participating in the lawsuit:

Jackie Anderson, a special education teacher at Ortiz Middle School, said the takeover would erase citizens’ legitimate votes. “Growing up, my parents instilled the value of civic responsibility. I voted for the first time with my mother. I was taught the value of my vote. Voting is something that you have an obligation to do. Everyone’s vote should count. My choice should be respected. To say that it doesn’t matter is a violation of my right as a citizen,” Anderson said.

Maxie Hollingsworth, a math teacher at Red Elementary and parent of HISD students, said her experience growing up in Little Rock, Ark., cemented her strong feelings about the sanctity of voting rights. “I was raised with the idea of the importance of equitable education and every person’s right to vote. It offends me to my core that people of privilege and power truly don’t care about communities of color and poor people. This takeover is a very targeted and intentional process and amounts to illegal disenfranchisement. It would take away my vote and everyone else’s who voted in the school board election. I can’t look at myself in the mirror and say this is OK. It’s not OK,” Hollingsworth said.

She added that she believes a takeover would result in fewer resources available to students and a greater turnover of educators. “All the progress HISD has made will all be for naught,” Hollingsworth said.

Daniel Santos, a social studies teacher at Navarro Middle School, said he became a naturalized citizen in 2008, when he voted for the first time in his life. “Through voting, I am holding policymakers accountable and making sure that minorities are not disenfranchised. I view the takeover of our recently elected school board as unconstitutional. It’s a serious violation of my civil rights that prevents me as a citizen from holding our policymakers accountable,” Santos said.

Following a state takeover, Santos predicted, “We will see market-based reforms that have failed to improve student achievement in other cities. We cannot let that happen.”

The HFT believes the state’s clear goal is to convert Houston’s public schools to privately operated charter schools, which the previously elected Houston school board had refused to do. However, Capo noted, several Houston charter schools are doing worse than Wheatley but are still being allowed to continue operating and are not being singled out in the takeover. Morath is justifying the takeover using a rule he enacted in 2018 that allows the Texas Education Agency to downgrade a school’s rating if it did not pass three of four measures, even if it would have passed otherwise. Wheatley had a passing 63 grade, or a D, but was curved down to a 59, or an F.

“The real shame is that the focus is on a scheme to charterize the district, not to get Wheatley the resources it needs to improve student achievement. Experience shows that charters do not produce the improvements their supporters claim,” Capo said.

 

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Today in the New York Times, columnist Charles Blow wrote a scathing critique of Bloomberg, based on his “stop and frisk” policy.

He wrote:

Let me plant the stake now: No black person — or Hispanic person or ally of people of color — should ever even consider voting for Michael Bloomberg in the primary. His expansion of the notoriously racist stop-and-frisk program in New York, which swept up millions of innocent New Yorkers, primarily young black and Hispanic men, is a complete and nonnegotiable deal killer.

Stop-and-frisk, pushed as a way to get guns and other contraband off the streets, became nothing short of a massive, enduring, city-sanctioned system of racial terror…

In 2002, the first year Bloomberg was mayor, 97,296 of these stops were recorded. They surged during Bloomberg’s tenure to a peak of 685,724 stops in 2011, near the end of his third term. Nearly 90 percent of the people who were stopped and frisked were innocent of any wrongdoing.

A New York Times analysis of stops on “eight odd blocks” in the overwhelmingly black neighborhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn found close to 52,000 stops over four years, which averaged out to “nearly one stop a year for every one of the 14,000 residents of these blocks.”

In 2009, there were more than 580,000 stop-and-frisks, a record at the time. Of those stopped, 55 percent were black, 32 percent Hispanic and only 10 percent white. Most were young, and almost all were male. Eighty-eight percent were innocent. For reference, according to the Census Bureau, there were about 300,000 black men between the ages of 13 and 34 living in the city that year.

Not only that, but those who were stopped had their names entered into a comprehensive police database, even if they were never accused of committing a crime. As Donna Lieberman, then the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in 2010, the database became a place “where millions of completely innocent, predominantly black and Latinos have been turned into permanent police suspects.”

The state outlawed the keeping of these electronic records on the innocent, over the strong objections of Bloomberg and his police chief…

Bloomberg’s crime argument was dubious. The Columbia Law School professor Jeffrey Fagan produced a report that became part of a class-action lawsuit against the city in 2010. It found that: “[s]eizures of weapons or contraband are extremely rare. Overall, guns are seized in less than 1 percent of all stops: 0.15 percent … Contraband, which may include weapons but also includes drugs or stolen property, is seized in 1.75 percent of all stops.”

As Fagan wrote, “The N.Y.P.D. stop-and-frisk tactics produce rates of seizures of guns or other contraband that are no greater than would be produced simply by chance…”

A federal judge ruled in 2013 that New York’s stop-and-frisk tactics violated the constitutional rights of racial minorities, calling it a “policy of indirect racial profiling.”

Yet, a little over a month before that ruling, Bloomberg said on a radio show, “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.” 

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights attorney who writes frequently for the Stamford (CT) Advocate.

In this article, she takes issue with a public-private partnership that fails to address the state’s woefully School finance system.

Ray Dalio, a billionaire who wants to do good, has created a partnership with the state government that will operate outside public scrutiny. Dalio and the state will each contribute $100 million and raise another $100 million. This amount, she writes,  will barely scratch the surface of the state’s neediest children and schools.

Controversially, the Partnership insists on being exempt from Connecticut transparency and ethics rules. Supporters maintain that “innovation” is required to solve entrenched problems like poverty and struggling public schools, and addressing these sensitive issues can only be done in private.

When it comes to public education, the issues have already been addressed in a public forum- the CCJEF trial. The trial judge made thousands of public findings of fact in his 2016 decision in Connecticut’s school funding case, all based on evidence presented during the months-long public trial.

Among his findings are that Connecticut’s poorest districts have significantly lower levels of children who attend high quality preschool, and that preschool provides significant lasting benefits, particularly for poor children, such as: reduced grade repetition and special education identification rates, decreased behavioral problems, higher graduation and employment rates, higher lifetime earnings, reductions in involvement with the criminal justice system, reductions in the probability of being on welfare, and improved health measures.

The evidence at trial also proved that, despite higher need, Connecticut’s poorest districts could not afford an adequate supply of guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, reading interventionists, special education teachers, and teachers and services for bilingual students. The lack of these essential services prevented these districts from successfully serving their neediest children. Districts often had to spend their Alliance District money, funds intended to be “extra,” to try to pay for at least some of these basic services and staff; and had to divert money intended for general education to cover growing special education costs.

This persuasive public evidence came from people who work in and belong to the communities shut out of the secretive Partnership for Connecticut leadership. They are the ones with the knowledge of what these communities lack and need.

The trial court findings paint a picture of districts in triage mode, trying to plug gaping holes caused by inadequate state education funding.

Unfortunately the same judge who reached these findings did not order the state to remedy the injustice, which only the state can do, not a public-private philanthropy operating behind closed doors.