Archives for category: Lies

Within a day of the brutal hammer attack on Paul Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi’s 82-year-old husband, rightwing media began circulating scurrilous rumors. They said that the intruder did not break in, that he was invited in, and they claimed that the two men met in a gay bar, then quarreled.

The Capitol Police in D.C. had surveillance cameras around the property. Today they released the video of the intruder using a hammer to break the glass of the door or windows in the back of the house, then entering. This confirms the original account.

This is the video.

Capitol Police surveillance video from outside former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home in San Francisco, released publicly on Friday, shows the man who attacked her husband in October breaking in.

Before he does that, the attacker can be seen peering into the dark house, walking away and then returning with bags, which he rummages around in for more than two minutes.

Shortly after 2 a.m. local time — the time stamp on the video says 5:10 a.m., which would be consistent with the Eastern time zone, where the Capitol Police force is based — the assailant starts trying to smash a window or a door with what appears to be a hammer. It takes him about 30 seconds of repeated strikes to break through, at which point he climbs into the house and the footage ends.

The surveillance video shows two key things.

First, it indicates that the attacker was outside the Pelosis’ home for several minutes before he entered, meaning it might have been possible to prevent the attack had the Capitol Police been monitoring the surveillance camera in real time.

Second, it unequivocally dispels a baseless conspiracy theory that began circulating soon after the attack: that the suspect, David DePape, had not broken in but rather had been invited in and then got into a fight with Mr. Pelosi.

The New York Times reported on Nov. 1 that the Capitol Police were not monitoring the video feed from the Pelosi home in real time, and that costly minutes elapsed before Capitol officers saw the break-in.

You know our democracy is in trouble when legislators flat-out ignore the will of the voters. When a referendum goes to the voters, and the voters decisively say NO, Republican legislators create a work-around. That’s what happened in Arizona, where voters rejected vouchers by 65-35%; Republicans responded to their loss by proposing a dramatic expansion of their voucher programs.

Now in Kansas, the Daiky Kos reports that Republicans are developing ways to bypass a state referendum in 2022 in which voters stunningly rebuked a proposal to outlaw abortion by

Imagine that your party puts forward a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion before the public, and it gets demolished by voters. I mean, the kind of blowout we didn’t even see in a presidential election in Kansas, a deep-red state. In 27 out of 40 state state Senate districts, the amendment was defeated. Statewide, the amendment was a disaster for Republicans, helped set the stage for the retention of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, and made way for an equally solid win by Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids in a newly drawn district geared at making her a candidate they could beat.

So how do Republicans respond to this news in the land of Oz? I would say they are doubling down but at this point, I can’t even keep track of how many times they are going back to this old chestnut.

Legislation proposed by GOP state Sen. Chase Blasi, who recently replaced state Sen. Gene Sullentrop, indicates that Republicans have decided that, if Kansas residents won’t approve abortion bans, city councils and city governments will. Republicans hope they will find themselves stacked up with conservatives willing to ban abortion procedures everywhere in Kansas that they still exist.

Blasi represents District 27, where 54% of voters rejected the anti-abortion constitutional amendment. Despite that, the newly minted state senator wants to make a splash—by working at crafting legislation that would result in exactly the opposite of what his district chose at the ballot box.

Nothing says “I respect voters” like trying to fool them into thinking the issue is over—while putting the issue in front of friends and allies in lower offices before voters have even had a chance to consider who represents them. That’s right: Imagine passing legislation that allows a local city council member or mayor to move on an anti-abortion agenda three years into their term—when such a policy was expressly impossible for those three years, and before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The bill offers a straightforward change to Kansas statute:

(b) No political subdivision of the state shall regulate or restrict abortion Except as provided in subsection (a), nothing shall prevent any city or county from regulating abortion within its boundaries as long as the regulation is at least as stringent as or more stringent than imposed by state law. In such cases, the more stringent local regulation shall control

The endgame here is not that hard to calculate. Republicans believe that their attempt to ban abortion during a special election failed because it got the attention of voters. If they can continuously place the issue on every single ballot from now on, voters will be forced to take abortion access into consideration in city council votes and mayoral votes in every locale in Kansas.

While there are few actual clinics in the state, fear, uncertainty, and doubt could certainly propel elections in every community—including places like my own sub-1,000-population hometown—into wild debates. Does our town want to allow a clinic? Would a council member vote to permanently ban one from ever coming into town?

With more Democrat-friendly city governments and county commissions in larger communities, Republicans are hoping to take on abortion again this November. This is a strategy built on moving the goalposts, to keep trying to make it easier and easier for the side that lost—badly—to come back and declare victory.

For Kansans who believed the Aug. 2 “No” vote on the constitutional amendment banning reproductive care would be the end of Republican attacks on the issue, it’s now crystal clear: Kansas Republicans have no intent of giving up on forcing birth, and banning abortion remains one of their top goals—whether the public is with them or not.

Mercedes Schneider takes issue with the new authoritarians who are imposing book bans in the name of “freedom” and limiting free expressions of views they disagree with in the name of of “choice.”

She writes:

We are certainly in an age in which the term, “free speech,” is indeed not free because of increasing conservative pressure to shape speech into that which a minority of extreme, right-wing conservatives would agree with.

Of course, that is not “free speech” at all.

In my school district, the St. Tammany Library Alliance is combating the right-wing conservative push to ban library books not to its liking. In its campaign declaring “Libraries Are for Everyone,” the Alliance is circulating a petition that states the following:

St Tammany Parish is a welcoming community to all and we stand firmly against banning books. As such we endorse the following statements:

  • We believe that all young people in our Parish deserve to see themselves reflected in our library’s collection.
  • We know a large majority of Americans (75%) across the political spectrum oppose book bans.We stand in opposition to the St Tammany Parish Accountability Project’s proposed “Library Accountability Board” ordinance because we believe parents should not be making decisions for other parents’ children about what they read or what is available in our public libraries.
  • Banning books from public libraries is a slippery slope to government censorship and a violation of our first amendment rights.
  • We hold our library Director, board and library staff in high regard and trust them to do their jobs.

We are united against book bans and we ask that our Parish President and Council pledge to act to protect the rights of members of our community to access a variety of books, magazines and other media through our public libraries.

Those truly adhering to and protecting free speech are at risk of losing their jobs– and under increasing pressure to modify their speech in order to please the extreme, disgruntled few.

I gladly signed the petition. Even though it is not likely that I might choose to read certain books harbored in my local public library, there is something much greater at risk if I try to impose a self-tailored book purge, and that something is freedom itself.

Freedom is not freedom if I tailor the freedom of others to suit my own preferences.

A great irony is that some of the same folks who would shape education and curriculum into their preferred image also promote themselves as great advocates of “school choice.”

Mercedes goes on to describe examples of “choice” that is no choice at all.” Freedom is curtailed when one group of people can curtail the rights of others to disagree.

Please open the link and read her warning about the threat to democracy posed by today’s narrow-minded ideologues.

Think of the most extreme, most vitriolic, least responsible members of the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives. Think of the ones who defended the insurrection. Think of those who encouraged the effort to overturn our government. Speaker Kevin McCarthy just put them on the most important committee in the House, the one that will conduct investigations for the next two years.

Hunter Biden’s laptop! Hunter Biden’s Laptop! Jewish space lasers! QAnon! Pedophiles! The entire Biden family (unlike the Trump family) enriching themselves on your dime (please don’t bring up the $2 billion that the Saudis gave Jared Kushner after Biden took office!) Hunter Biden’s laptop! The hundreds of classified documents that Trump fought to hold onto for over a year, first claiming they were planted by the FBI, then claiming they were his personal property, and the small number of documents that Biden immediately turned over! Trump good, Biden bad! Laptop!

The New York Times reported:

WASHINGTON — They were deeply involved in President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. They have come to the defense of people being prosecuted for participating in the deadly storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Some have called for violence against their political enemies online, embraced conspiracy theories or associated with white supremacists.

Several of the most extreme Republicans in Congress and those most closely allied with Mr. Trump have landed seats on the Oversight and Accountability Committee, the main investigative organ in the House. From that perch, they are poised to shape inquiries into the Biden administration and to serve as agents of Mr. Trump in litigating his grievances as he plots his re-election campaign.

Their appointments are the latest evidence that the new Republican majority is driven by a hard-right faction that has modeled itself in Mr. Trump’s image, shares his penchant for dealing in incendiary statements and misinformation, and is bent on using its newfound power to exact revenge on Democrats and President Biden.

Many of the panel’s new Republican members — including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania — are among Mr. Trump’s most devoted allies in Congress. Their appointments underscore that, while the former president may be a shrunken presence in the current political landscape, he still exerts much control over the base of his party.

Billy Townsend writes in the Tampa Bay Times about how Florida politicians game the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores to boast about unearned “success.” The gaming consists of bragging about fourth grade scores (which are high) while ignoring eighth grade scores (which are unimpressive).

The big Florida trick is third grade retention—holding back the children in third grade who have low reading scores. This artificially boosts fourth grade scores. But then comes the eighth grade scores, and Florida falls behind. They can’t hide the low-scoring students forever.

He writes:

A close look at ‘the Nation’s Report Card’ shows how Florida fails its students as they move up through the grades.

A few years ago, just before COVID hit, a Stanford University study of state-level standardized tests showed that Florida’s “learning rate” was the worst in the country — by a wide margin.

Florida has the worst learning rate, according to a Stanford study.
Florida has the worst learning rate, according to a Stanford study. [ Provided ]

Florida students learned 12 percent less each year from third to eighth grade than the national average from 2009 to 2018. The next worst state was Alabama, according to The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University. Florida’s political and education leaders completely ignored that finding.

Contrast that deafening silence with the hype and misinterpretation that comes with the release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), “the Nation’s Report Card.” When those results came out last fall, Gov. Ron DeSantis crowed on Twitter that, “We kept schools open in 2020, and today’s NAEP results once again prove that we made the right decision. In Florida, adjusted for demographics, fourth grade students are #1 in both reading and math.”

Tellingly, DeSantis ignored the eighth grade results, which came out far worse than fourth grade — just as they have in every NAEP cycle since 2003.

The “Nation’s Report Card” is a snapshot of group proficiency taken by different cohorts of kids every two years in reading and math in fourth grade and eighth grade. It produces state-by-state results and proficiency rankings. It does not track individual kids year over year. But it does tell you how Florida’s fourth and eighth graders compare with students in other states. I crunched the data, and here’s the bottom line: Florida’s students perform worse as they move up through the grades. There is consistent, massive systemic regression with age. And the gap is widening.

This is a state failure, not a local one attributable to individual districts. Yet, in every NAEP cycle, Florida politicians and education leaders brag about fourth-grade NAEP results in press releases.

But ignoring the eighth grade results or the “learning rate” study does not change these facts:

· Florida kids regress dramatically as they age in the system. Since 2003, Florida’s eighth grade rank as a state has never come close to its fourth grade rank on any NAEP test in any subject.

· The size of Florida’s regression is dramatic and growing, especially in math.Florida’s overall average NAEP state rank regression between fourth and eighth grade since 2003 is 17 spots (math) and 18 spots (reading). But since 2015, the averages are 27 spots (math) and 19 spots (reading).

· No other state comes close to Florida’s level of consistent fourth to eighth grade performance collapse. In the last three NAEP cycles — 2017, 2019 and COVID-delayed 2022 — Florida ranked sixth, fourth and third among states in fourth grade math. In those same years, Florida ranked 33th, 34th and tied for 31st in eighth grade.

· For comparison, Massachusetts typically ranks at or near #1 among states on both the fourth grade and eighth grade NAEP for math and reading. Its eighth grade rank has never been more than one spot lower than fourth.

· Florida has never matched the U.S. average scaled score on eighth grade math NAEP.

· In COVID-marred 2022, Florida’s eighth grade scale scores in reading and math both lost 8 points relative to the national average, compared to fourth grade. That’s larger or equal to the overall collapse of NAEP scores nationwide attributed to COVID.

To restate, what happens every NAEP cycle between fourth and eighth grade in Florida matches and mostly exceeds the negative impact of COVID. Overall, recent NAEP cycles show Florida collapsing from elite test scores in fourth grade reading and math to abysmal in eighth grade math and average in eighth grade reading, even after its much-hyped approach to COVID in 2022.

And, worse, there is no reason at all to believe Florida’s test performance regression with age stops at eighth grade. The only two years the NAEP tested 12th graders — 2009 and 2013 — the Florida collapse worsened significantly with further age, but against a smaller pool of states.

Willful ignorance, useless testing

So what to make of this?

You can rest assured that your top education officials know all about Florida’s eighth grade NAEP and learning rate failures, which is why they never discuss them. I suspect these test data realities helped drive Florida to drop its big state growth test — the Florida Standards Assessment — and move toward a “progress monitoring” regime this year that may or may not create functionally different data reporting models.

The discourse around Florida’s NAEP performance — and the catastrophic learning rate that we ignore on our state tests — makes me deeply skeptical of standardized tests and their use in our education systems and society. I see them as punitive political and social sorting tools, rather than “assessments” designed to help individual children reach their potential.

Forget whether test results are valid or biased. We can’t even accurately describe what the test results say — on their face — about the success of our state school system. So what use are they?

Florida’s politicians, education leaders, policy community and journalists should look at these results and ask this basic question: The data tells us your child will regress dramatically every year he or she stays in the Florida system. What’s going on?

If we can’t do that, then why do we force standardized tests on kids at all?

What we should be studying

I’ve been attempting to draw attention to this dramatic Florida regression dynamic for years. So I was pleased to the see the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board and Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis notice and publicly address the massive drop in test performance between fourth and eighth grade in Florida on the 2022 NAEP. But I was puzzled by suggestions that it was something new, caused by COVID. It isn’t; and it wasn’t.

Indeed, if we took standardized tests seriously as diagnostic and development tools, we would have long ago started asking: What causes this? What changes need to be made beyond rebuilding and supporting a developmentally focused teacher corps? What are the system quirks of Florida that cause this dynamic?

Here are some good questions to ask and study:

· Why doesn’t “learn to read, read to learn” work in Florida?

One of our treasured education cliches is “learn to read” so you can “read to learn.” It’s essentially the policy justification for imposing mass retention on third graders, as Florida does. And yet, although Florida routinely ranks high fourth grade NAEP reading, our readers immediately lose massive ground relative to other states. The data shows that Florida’s often punitive emphasis on “learn to read” by third or fourth grade creates no benefit in “reading to learn” in later grades — in math or reading. Why not?

· What is the role of mass third grade retention in Florida’s fourth grade peak and subsequent collapse?

Florida pioneered mass third grade retention based on reading standardized test scores in 2003. This prevents the lowest scoring third grade readers from taking the NAEP with their age cohort in fourth grade. And when that low scoring third grader finally takes the fourth grade NAEP, retention has made it as if he or she is a fifth grader taking the fourth grade NAEP.

Florida law theoretically subjects more than 40 percent of Florida’s roughly 200,000 public school third graders to retention because of low scores. A smaller — but still significant — number is actually retained. Florida does not appear to publish that actual total number of third graders retained.

· What is the cost to the individual children and overall system performance?

Essentially all data shows that ripping kids away from their age cohort because of testing leads to significant human harm and increased drop out rates over time.

Is that affecting Florida’s learning rate for older kids and the eighth grade NAEP collapse? A 2017 study of a cohort of southwest Florida students showed that seven years after retention, 94% of the retained group remained below reading proficiency. It also showed that third and sixth graders find retention as stressful as losing a parent.

· How many voucher third grade testing refugees are there? What effect do they have on the fourth grade NAEP?

Third grade retention is not Florida’s only way to get low scoring fourth graders off the books for the NAEP. It’s been well-established that Florida over-testing and third grade retention is a primary sales tool for vouchers.TheOrlando Sentinel’sPulitzer-worthy “Schools without Rules”report in 2017 about voucher schools reported: “Escaping high-stakes testing is such a scholarship selling point that one private school administrator refers to students as ‘testing refugees’.”

How many testing refugees are there? And how does Florida’s massive voucher program — America’s largest and least studied — affect performance on the NAEP by allowing low scoring kids to duck it?

· What effect do voucher school dropouts have on scoring when they return in massive numbers to public schools?

At the same time, 61 percent of voucher kids abandon the voucher within two years (75 percent within three years),according to the Urban Institute, in the closest thing to a study ever done on Florida vouchers.

Enormous numbers of “low-scoring” kids duck third and fourth grade tests and then come back into the public system to be counted in the eighth grade NAEP and other yearly tests. That’s likely a recipe for score collapse. But there is no hard data to analyze. Florida is long overdue for such a study, and voucher advocates know it will be a data bloodbath.

Perhaps that’s because independent studies of smaller state voucher programs — with much greater oversight — shows attending a voucher school will “meet or exceed what the pandemic did to test scores,” according to Michigan State researcher and former voucher advocate-turned-critic Josh Cowen.

· Does chasing test scores kill test scores over time?

Test-driven instruction isn’t engaging. Kids come to understand how useless these tests are to their lives; and they behave accordingly. Teachers come to hate the test-obsessed model and leave the profession. How has that affected test scores?

A longstanding waste of human potential

For me, the eighth grade NAEP and “learning rate” failures are evidence that we’ve wasted a generation of human potential and severely damaged Florida’s teaching profession. Will anyone “follow the data” where it leads? Will anyone ask: Should our kids peak at age 9 and decline inexorably from there?

I believe Florida has long had one of America’s worst test-performing state school systems because of its governance model and intellectual corruption and pursuit of useless measures and fake accountability.

I

Billy Townsend was an award-winning investigative reporter for The Lakeland Ledger and Tampa Tribune. He oversaw education reporting as an editor for The Ledger. He has been an independent writer and journalist since 2008, focused on Florida history, education and civic systems. He was an elected Polk County School Board member from 2016-2020. Today he writes the Florida-focused email newsletter “Public Enemy Number 1.” He can be reached at townsendsubstackpe1@gmail.com.

Arnie Alpert is an activist in New Hampshire. In this post, he calls out the state GOP for attributing its racist “divisive concepts” law to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Its real author is Donald Trump, or more likely, Trump’s sidekick Stephen Miller. At the end of his article is a tape of Dr. king’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963. It has nothing in common with the GOP’s efforts to whitewash the curriculum of America’s schools. The GOP betrays Dr. King’s ideals.

When New Hampshire House Republican leaders quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. in their defense of the state’s “Divisive Concepts” or “Non-Discrimination” law last week, it wasn’t the first time King’s words were used to imply something quite different from what he intended.

All the law does, according to a statement from GOP Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, and Deputy Leader Jim Kofalt, R-Wilton, is prohibit “teaching children that some of them are inherently racist based on their skin color, sex, race, creed, etc. Is that not what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for when he said, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character?’”

To that I say, no, that’s not what he called for, not if one takes the time to review the entirety of the speech now known as “I Have a Dream.”

Since all sides to this controversy say they want history portrayed accurately, a review is in order, starting with the New Hampshire law in question.  The statute began its life in 2021 as HB 544, sponsored by Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, and co-sponsored by Rep. Osborne, aiming to bar teachers, other public officials, and state contractors from the “the dissemination of certain divisive concepts related to sex and race in state contracts, grants, and training programs.”

The proposal was not of local origin.  According to The First Amendment Encyclopedia, “’Divisive concepts’ legislation emerged in multiple states beginning in 2021, largely fueled by conservative legislatures seeking to limit topics that can be explored in public school classrooms. The laws have been driven in large part by opposition to critical race theory, an academic theory that says racism in America has largely been perpetuated by the nation’s institutions.”  Those proposals followed an Executive Order on “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” issued by President Donald Trump the previous year, which blocked federal agencies from providing diversity, equity, and inclusion training “rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors.”

In its statement of purpose, the order cited the same brief extract from Dr. King’s 1963 speech, talked about the “significant progress” made in the intervening 57 years, and went on to criticize diversity training conducted in a variety of federal agencies.  It listed nine “divisive concepts” which would be prohibited, among them were that “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist,” and that anyone “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” 

Trump’s order was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge and later rescinded by President Joseph Biden, but it’s intent and language were picked up by legislators in several states, including New Hampshire. 

The Trump order’s list of “divisive concepts” was repeated almost word-for-word in Rep. Ammon’s bill, which received considerable attention from supporters, several of whom tried to recruit Dr. King among their ranks.  For example, a letter-to-the-editor published both in the NH Union Leader and Concord Monitor, stated, “HB 544 eliminates the use of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the discussion of issues of race and the other ‘isms’ we are addressing today.”  It went on, “America has been moving in that direction of Dr. King’s idea for the last 50 years. We want to teach our children and share with our employees that we want to act in the way Dr. King has prescribed, not the CRT idea of systemic racism.”  Speakers made similar comments at a State House rally that spring, where one participant reportedly carried a sign reading, “Teach MLK, Not CRT.” 

But after a public hearing and extensive work in committee, HB 544 was tabled on the House floor.

The proposal was not dead, however.  Instead, it sprang back to life as a provision in the House version of the state budget.  Now titled, “Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education” and with a somewhat reduced menu of concepts to be prohibited in schools and other public workplaces, the Finance Committee inserted it into HB 2, the budget trailer bill.  Under this version, “any person” who believed they had been aggrieved by violation of the law could pursue legal remedies. 

When Senate GOP leaders heard that Governor Sununu was not happy about the “Freedom from Discrimination” language, Senator Jeb Bradley re-re-wrote it, turning it into what is now the non-discrimination statute.  Once again the proposal’s scope was reduced, for example limiting it only to conduct of teachers.  But it did contain a provision that “any person claiming to be aggrieved by a violation of this section, including the attorney general, may initiate a civil action against a school or school district in superior court for legal or equitable relief, or with the New Hampshire commission for human rights.” 

It’s worth noting that other than in the original public hearing on HB 544, at no time did the House or Senate provide a meaningful opportunity for public comment on the proposal, whose final details were worked out in the rapid deliberations of a House-Senate conference committee.  

Following adoption of the budget, with the Bradley version intact, the NH Department of Education added a link to its website encouraging parents to report teachers they believe are disseminating ideas banned under the “Non-Discrimination” law.  A right-wing group promised $500 to the first family that files a successful complaint.

Given what we might call the “original intent” of its sponsors, it’s no surprise that some teachers are fearful that “any member” of the public might put their jobs at risk if they teach about the ways in which African Americans and other people of color have faced systematic discrimination. 

It was the clamor for laws that would end systematic discrimination that brought a few hundred thousand people to Washington DC on Aug. 23, 1963, for the March for Jobs and Freedom.  Inspired by A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the rally marked the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation which ended slavery in the states of the Confederacy.  It took place shortly after demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama brought inescapable attention to the brutality needed to maintain racial segregation.  By emphasizing jobs and freedom, the march sought to advance an agenda for job training and an end to workplace discrimination as well as voting rights and a civil rights bill that would end segregation in schools and public accommodations.  Dr. King was one of several major speakers.  

A century after emancipation, Dr. King said, “the Negro still is not free; one hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”  Referring to the Declaration of Independence, Dr. King said, the founders of the nation had issued “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” 

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned,” he charged, saying that instead of following through on a promise, America had issued a bad check.  “We’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice,” Dr. King said. 

Seeking to rescue the nation from “the quicksands of racial injustice,” including “the unspeakable horrors of police brutality,” Dr. King said, “There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.  The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” 

Looking back, there is no doubt Dr. King was addressing the collective and systematic discrimination experienced by African Americans, a view fully consistent with what HB 544 backers decried as critical race theory. 

Yes, progress has been made since 1963. But the realities of police brutality, extreme inequality, and denial of voting rights which Dr. King condemned are still with us. Dr. King can still help us find the way forward if we take the time to study what he actually meant.

Periodically, the Network for Public Education sponsors a conversation with an important voice in education policy. On January 11, I interviewed Josh Cowen, Professor of Education Policy at Michigan State University.

Josh has been an insider in voucher research for almost 20 years. It’s a small club, and he knows the research and the researchers. Josh came to the conclusion that vouchers have been a disaster for the students who leave public schools, supposedly to be “saved” by them.

But he points out that 70-80% of the students who use vouchers were never enrolled in public schools. Many return to the public schools. The political pressure for vouchers comes from politicians and parents seeking a subsidy for students already attending private and religious schools. The claim that they will help “save kids from failing schools” is a hoax to cover up the real purpose of vouchers: to transfer funds to private and religious schools.

The discussion was oversubscribed. Many people who wanted to watch the zoom were turned away. You can watch the recording here. The link is at the bottom of the page.

Far-right extremists concocted a cascading series of so-called culture wars that have no basis in fact or reality. Their purpose is to undermine public trust in teachers and public schools, paving the way for divisive “school choice,” which defunds public schools.

Teachers are intimidated, fearful that they might violate the law by teaching factual history about race and racism. Students are deprived of honesty in their history and social studies classes. Schools are slandered by extremists. Needless divisions are created by the lies propagated by zealots whose goal is to privatize public funding for schools.

First came the furor over “critical race theory,” which is not taught in K-12 schools. CRT is a law school course of study that examines systemic racism. The claim that it permeates K-12 schools was created as a menace threatening the children of America by rightwing ideologue Chris Rufo, who shamelessly smeared the teachers of America as purveyors of race hatred that humiliated white children. Rufo made clear in a speech at Hillsdale College that the only path forward was school choice. The entire point of Rufo’s gambit was the destruction of public trust in public schools.

Then came a manufactured brouhaha over transgender students who wanted to use a bathroom aligned with their sexual identity. The number of transgender students is minuscule, probably 1%. And yet again there was a furor that could have easily been resolved with a gender-neutral bathroom. Ron DeSantis made a campaign ad with a female swimmer who complained that she competed against a trans woman. What she didn’t mention was that the trans woman was beaten, as was she, by three other female swimmers.

And then came the nutty claim that teachers were “grooming” students to be gay. Another smear. No evidence whatever. Reading books about gay characters would turn students gay, said the critics; but would reading about elephants make students want to be elephants?

Simultaneously, extremists raised loud alarms about books that introduced students to dangerous ideas about sexuality and racism. If they read books with gay characters, students would turn gay. If they read about racism, they would “hate America.” So school libraries had to be purged; even public libraries had to be purged. One almost expected public book burnings. So much power attributed to books, as if the Internet doesn’t exist, as if kids can’t watch porn of all kinds, as if public television does not regularly run shows about American’s shameful history of racism.

As citizens and parents, we must stand up for truth and sanity. We must defend our schools and teachers against libelous claims. We must oppose those who would ban books.

Of course, parents should meet with their children’s teachers. They should partner with them to help their children. They should ask questions about the curriculum. They should share their concerns. Learning benefits when parents, teachers, students, and communities work together.

Timothy Snyder is a historian at Yale University. He is author of numerous books on tyranny, fascism, and democracy. He is the author of On Tyranny, Bloodlands, and most recently, Road to Unfreedom. This post appeared on his blog “Thinking About…”

He wrote on his blog:

After he lost, Trump was lying to extend his political life. It wasn’t that he labored under a misapprehension about the election. He knew that he had lost. But he was lying not so much to deny the truth [but] to invite people into an alternative reality. In November and December of 2020, this gave him a certain advantage. Everyone else was waiting for the election results, then for the candidates’ reaction. Trump had already thought this through. He knew that he was likely to lose. And he knew what he was going to do. He was going to tell a Big Lie, declare victory, and try to stay in power illegally.

The report of the January 6th committee is enlightening in many ways. For the most part, its authors are concerned to establish the simple course of events, which is damning enough. It is quite clear that Trump, in the full knowledge that he had lost the election, engaged in several acts that were meant to culminate in the overthrow of constitutional rule, and in his installment as president by fraud and violence. For the committee, wishing to establish intention, it was important to show that Trump knew that he lost the election, and also knew that his specific claims of fraud were untrue. And that is all made abundantly clear.

Yet there is a deeper point to be made about the nature of politics, which is that it can be transformed by big lies issued from positions of authority. One of the more interesting sections of the January 6th report is a graph that demonstrates that Trump, time after time, lied about specific claims of fraud right after being informed that they were false. His big lie about the election, once believed, summoned forth countless smaller lies or fantasies that seemed to support it. Trump repeated these more specific lies because it was precisely fiction that he wanted. He couldn’t think them all up himself; he needed help. He waited for the various inventions to reach him, made sure that they were not true, and then repeated them to millions of people.

In Trump’s world, there is no true and false, there is only a kind of Darwinistic competition of belief. If a lie made it up to him on the food chain, then it must be a good one that people will believe.

So the lying by Trump was more than a deliberate falsehood. It was a preference for a Big Lie over reality, and then a search for smaller lies to promote that would cast basic elements of reality into doubt, and thereby create a sense of grievance. The coup attempt that resulted was, in this sense, entirely predictable. Big Lies demand violence, since they command the faith of some, but cannot overcome the common sense or lived experience of others. The smaller lies within the Big Lie, by generating distrust of institutions, create a sense that only violence can restore the righteous order of things. People who believe Big Lies act on the grievances the smaller lies generate. The January 6 committee demonstrates that Trump urged people to violence directly. But it is also important to understand that the deliberate generation of an alternative reality is itself incompatible with democracy.

The striving for an all-embracing fiction explains the deep affinity between Trump and Putin, which came out into the open in 2016. To be sure, Putin had a strategic interest in a Trump presidency, which could be counted upon to weaken the United States, as it did. But in the various Russian efforts to support Trump, there was something more than a calculation: there was also the recognition of a brother in the fraternity of fiction, of another man who understood lying as life.

The Russian backing of Trump in 2016 was based on the assumption that what Trump needed above all was the spread of lies. And so the Russians worked social media not to show any real virtue of Trump, but to pass on lies about Hillary Clinton that would appeal to certain demographics. It did not try to show that Trump had not sexually abused women, but rather changed the subject to an imaginary crime of Clinton. (One of the chief architects of that Russian campaign of 2016, Evgeny Prigozhin, is now a leading figure in the invasion of Ukraine, as the owner of the mercenary firm Wagner.)

This is my book Road to Unfreedom, read by a Ukrainian soldier on the front. The book is about the turn towards post-truth fascism in Russia and the implications for Europe and the U.S. I am glad to have a reader, but can’t help thinking that he would not have to risk his life resisting Russian invasion if more of us had taken these issues seriously earlier on.

Putin also tells big lies, for example that Ukraine does not exist, that there is no Ukrainian society, no Ukrainian nation. Like Trump’s big lie about the election, Putin’s big lie about Ukraine then incubates smaller lies: If Ukraine does not exist, the war all be a plot of NATO! The people in charge of Ukraine must be Nazis! Or Jews! Or drug addicts! Or gays! Or gender theorists! Or Satanists! (All of these claims are made in the Russian information space; the official line is in fact at the moment that Russia is fighting Satan in Ukraine).

If Ukraine does not exist, then we, the Russian invaders, are the real victims. There should not be anyone there holding us back from what we think is right. This was the same sense of grievance expressed by the Americans who invaded the U.S. Capitol: we are the real victims, we are only restoring what should have been. No one should be holding us back from seeking justice with our own hands. Just as there was a natural affinity between Putin and Trump, there is a natural affinity between those who support Trump’s Big Lie and those who support Putin’s.

Newly-elected congressman George Santos took Trump’s approach to politics to its logical conclusion. Trump was a failed businessman and successful entertainer, who then used his entertainer skills to pretend to be a successful businessman and run for office. But no one could deny that he had careers. In the case of Santos, everything is just made up. He is not even a failed businessman (though he is a confessed thief). He is not even an entertainer (unless you count customer service). He is just a man who understands that lying for its own sake is a way to do politics, attract money and gain power. It will not take years to take apart his story; it will take weeks. (One thing that has emerged is a connection to Russia). And then the question arises: is alternative reality the future of America, or at least of its Republican Party?

Trump’s Big Lie opened the way for Santos, who repeats it, and who attended the rally to, in his own words, “overturn the election for Donald Trump.” Trump was a model of a man who came to power and gained money on little beyond mendacious schtick. Santos is following that lead. But it is also important to understand the new context in which Santos functions. By lying constantly during the first campaign and during the presidency, Trump set an example, one that is most relevant to members if his party. For two years now, Trump’s Big Lie has functioned the way that the Stalinist line used to function in the communist party. What Stalin said had to be treated as true, even if party members knew at some level that it was not. They had to engage constantly in what George Orwell called double-think, living in one lie, and preparing themselves for the next one, all the while imagining that somehow the process served some greater good.

Trump has trained Republicans, and a large part of the American people, in just these mental habits. Elected officials can say that elections don’t work, and no one really even notices the doublethink. Republicans claim that Democrats can alter electoral results, even as Republicans win control of the House of Representatives by a tiny margin. We ask ourselves: how can Russians continue to support the war in Ukraine? How do they handle obvious contradictions, like saying they are fighting a war against Nazis when the country they invade has an elected Jewish president? This is the answer: they have been trained that there is no truth, only the leader’s sheltering fiction, the comforting big lie, the line that comes down from above. We can all be trained like that, and too many Americans have been.

Once factual truth is no defense in politics, all that remains is spectacle and force. If Putin says there is no Ukraine, the war must prove it. If Trump says he won, his followers must storm the Capitol.

What follows from this, as students of democracy have argued since ancient times, is that the truth matters, and that truth needs defenses. Part of that defense is ethical. The truth cannot take revenge on a Santos (or whatever his name turns out to be) or a Trump or a Putin on its own. People have to care about it as a moral value. Democracy can only exist on the basis of such a moral commitment.

Aside from this, truth needs equality. When wealth is too unevenly distributed, as it is in this country, it is very hard to have a national conversation of any sort, and it is very easy for oligarchs to ride artificial spectacle to power (or fund others to do so — it will be interesting to learn who, aside from a sanctioned Russian oligarch’s cousin, funded Santos).

Perhaps most fundamentally, truth needs everyday champions. In every case I have mentioned — Putin’s war in Ukraine beginning in 2014, Trump’s 2016 campaign, Santos’s 2022 campaign — we simply lacked the foreign correspondents or investigative journalists. The only pre-election coverage of Santos’s lies was in a local newspaper, which contradicted his claims to great wealth. No larger medium picked it up in time. If we had more newspapers, and if we had more reporters, this story would likely have developed, and Santos would likely not have been elected.

This is the underlying sadness in the media brouhaha about Santos. Once a few facts were revealed (in a New York Times story on December 19), the television talk shows and social media could unleash a firestorm of indignation. But that was too late. The point of journalism is not to be outraged afterwards, but to prevent outrages from happening. It is not our role as citizens to be angry after an election. It is our role to vote calmly on the basis of what we should know. And we just don’t know what we should.

The problem is not that media are not alert. The problem is that the correct media are ceasing to exist. Talk shows can only talk about what someone else investigates. The internet can repeat, but it cannot report. We speak about the news all day, but pay almost no one to get out and report it. This rewards people who lie as a way of life. Every political career demands investigation at its beginnings, and most American counties lack a daily newspaper. That is where we are, and it has to change.

Many of the same people who promote The Big Lie about the 2020 election also just happen to be promoters of charter schools and vouchers.

Patrick Byrne is one of them. He is the CEO of Overstock.com.

Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld writes about him here.

Patrick Byrne has been back in the news. Remember him? If you’ve followed Indiana politics – especially education politics – for the past decade, you very well may.

Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com, has as a prominent election denier trying to cast doubt on the fact that Donald Trump lost in 2020. He was part of an “unhinged” White House meeting Dec. 18, 2020, where he and others reportedly urged Trump to fight harder to overturn the results.

Byrne promoted the idea that 65% of all education spending should be in the classroom. A big, simple solution. George Will loved it. So did the governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, and the legislature so they passed a law mandating it.

Byrne has made big contributions to organizations pushing charters and vouchers.

Byrne spent eight years as board chair of EdChoice, the Indianapolis-based pro-voucher organization started by the libertarian economist Milton Friedman. He stepped down in 2019, the same year he left Overstock.com after his affair with a Russian woman who tried to influence U.S. politics became public.

Election denialism and school privatization: two big, simple ideas that are wrong.