Saturday, September 16, 2017

Editorial: Let Our Dreamers Stay

It remains to be seen whether the hurricanes that ravaged the Texas and Florida Gulf coasts will cause Donald Trump to reconsider his dismissal of the effects of climate change. But it might give Trump a pretext to rethink his campaign promises to expand the wall along the length of the US border with Mexico and his determination to expel the children of undocumented immigrants who have remained in the United States under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Trump is capable of mental gymnastics to justify whatever he really wants to do. On Sunday, Sept. 10, Trump cited Hurricane Irma, which had just made landfall in Florida, as his rationale to ask Congress “for a speed up” on his proposed tax cuts for the wealthy.

“We will discussing our plan for dramatic tax cuts and tax reform. And I think now with what’s happened with the hurricane, I’m going to ask for a speed-up,” Trump told his cabinet at Camp David. “I wanted a speed-up anyway but now we need it even more so.”

There was no need for a tax cut before the hurricanes hit the Texas and Florida Gulf coasts. If anything, the federal government needs more revenue to pay for infrastructure improvements, including seawalls and other protections against flooding and higher winds as a result of climate change. And Republicans who voted against $15 billion in emergency appropriations to address needs in Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast because they objected to further driving up the national debt now have no excuse for supporting tax cuts that will increase the debt even further.

The grassroots resistance to Trump has bolstered Democrats’ determination to oppose Republican plans to repeal Obamacare, build a border wall and “reform” the tax code, which would give more advantages to corporations and the rich at the expense of the working poor. Republicans have yet to offer anything but broad concepts on tax reform and many oppose the border wall. And that was before Trump threw Republican leaders for a loop Sept. 6, when he agreed with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to accept a three-month fix on spending and the debt ceiling and a six-month stay of execution on the order to deport as many as 800,000 young “Dreamer” immigrants.

The tax “reform” bill would require a 60-vote supermajority, as long as Senate Republicans keep the filibuster rule on legislation — and many Republican senators want to keep the filibuster because they prefer to let Democrats save them from casting record votes on some of the crazy ideas House Republicans send them.

Trump has given the Republican Congress an ultimatum: Pass a bill within six months that replaces DACA, or Trump will decide whether to scrap the program and start deporting those young would-be Americans. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly pressed Trump to end DACA. House Speaker Paul Ryan has promised a fix, but nativist Republicans such as Steve King (R-Iowa) are vowing to stop anything that looks like amnesty.

In the meantime, US immigration agents continue to round up and deport undocumented immigrants, as well as women and children who have fled murderous gangs and narco-terrorism in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

The presence of millions of undocumented immigrants in the US continues to enrage Americans who have seen high-paying industrial jobs moved to Mexico or overseas. As they see it, they have to compete with immigrants who are willing to work for lower wages. But middle-aged white men who don’t want to compete with young Dreamers for minimum-wage jobs at $7.25 an hour should support an increase in the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour and focus their complaints on the corporate executives who look to Mexico or overseas for lower-wage workers to increase their corporate profits. And despite the statement by Sessions, in announcing Trump’s decision to rescind DACA, that the program “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens” stretches the truth, as the Department of Labor reported a 4.4% unemployment rate in August, which is considered full employment, particularly since a record six million jobs remain unfilled in the US. We need immigrants to work on farms and nursing homes, mow lawns, clean hotels and bus tables at restaurants, and do other jobs that Americans won’t do, at least not for the minimum wage.

It is ironic, of course, that many farmers who voted for Trump now find it hard to hire field hands, as ICE agents go after undocumented immigrants. We’ll need all hands available, including undocumented immigrants, to help rebuild cities on the Gulf Coast in Texas and Southern Florida.

Sessions also argued that ending DACA “protects taxpayers,” which is inaccurate since undocumented workers pay taxes but don’t get access to most social welfare programs. DACA recipients and other undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal means-tested welfare, such as cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid or most other federally funded programs, but the Social Security Administration estimated in 2014 that unauthorized immigrant workers paid $13 billion in payroll taxes in 2010, its most recent estimate. If the immigrants aren’t paying federal taxes, it’s because their employers are not withholding those taxes. Go after them.

Nichole Chavez reported at CNN Sept. 6 that DACA recipients have paid $2 billion in state and local taxes, but they are not eligible for Medicaid. In seven states they do not qualify for lower tuition as state residents, but they must have at least a high-school degree to enter the program and 36% of DACA recipients older than 25 have a bachelor’s degree while another 32% are pursuing a bachelor’s degree, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

“The NAS finds that among recent immigrants who entered as children, those with a high school degree are positive to the government, to the tune of $60,000 to $153,000 in net present value, meaning it’s like each immigrant cutting a check for that amount at the door. For those with a bachelor’s degree, it’s a net positive of $160,000 to $316,000. Each DACA permit canceled is like burning tens of thousands of dollars in Washington,” David Bier of the Cato Institute wrote in the Washington Post Sept. 7.

Sessions also claimed that DACA repeal “saves lives” and “protects communities,” and he implied that DACA “put our nation at risk of crime.” But DACA participants are not criminals, Bier noted. “Unauthorized immigrants — the applicant pool for DACA — are much less likely to end up in prison ... More important, to participate in DACA, applicants must pass a background check. They have to live here without committing a serious offense. If they are arrested, DACA can be taken away even without a conviction.”

The Senate in June 2013 passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill 68-32, as 14 Republicans joined the then-Democratic majority. The bill, proposed a pathway to legal status and eventually citizenship for undocumented residents with otherwise clean records, as well as more resources for border security, but not a bigger wall along the US-Mexico border. Teabaggers prevented the bill from coming up for a House vote, and that failure in the House prompted Obama to order DACA.

Congress should pass a law formalizing the DACA provisions, but they also should dust off the 22013 immigration reform bill and put it forward again. It could easily pass the Senate and it would pass the House if House Speaker Paul Ryan denies the teabaggers’ veto of bipartisan legislation. We don’t need a border wall, certainly not as long as there are cities along the Gulf Coast — as well as the Atlantic and Pacific coasts — that desperately need infrastructure improvements to survive the next few decades of rising sea levels and fiercer storms induced by climate change. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2017

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Selections from the October 1, 2017 issue

COVER/Steven Rosenfeld
Trump’s banishment of Dreamers may become GOP’s worst nightmare

Let our Dreamers stay


Economic sanctions in fact and fiction

Scientists minimized Irma’s damage, but Trump policies make future storms riskier;
Right-wing media pushed fa?
Sanders' single-payer bill gains Democratic support;
Evangelical preachers have one weak excuse after another for sticking with Trump;
Former rail exec in line to head pipeline safety agency;
Controversial pick for civil rights chief appears headed for confirmation ...

Try running like a Democrat for a change

Trigger happy with toxins

Nativism is alive in the White House

Seeing Ricsy Sanchez

Meet human needs? Nah, let’s play tea party games

When the parades are over, who stands with unions?

This is your brain playing football, research says

Horse and buggy politics

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Our kaleidoscope-in-chief: Below-the-fold havoc

Trump protects Confederate statues but puts natural monuments at risk


Harvey: None dare speak its real causes

Guaranteed income could be a game changer

Lyrics swing low

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
New biopic chronicles UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta, working class heroine

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
What Donald Trump and Republican men know about women

and more ...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Why some left-leaners like charter schools & why they shouldn’t. It comes down to confusing Alinsky & Friedman


Whenever I contemplate the fact that many leftists and left-leaning centrists believe charter schools are a good idea, I am reminded of Reinhold Niebuhr’s premise in The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness that it is not the evil children of darkness who cause most of the world’s problems, but foolish, misguided or uneducated children of light, i.e., well-intentioned good people.
Make no mistake about it, from day one the charter school movement has been a darling of contemporary children of darkness, very wealthy families seeking to lower their taxes or make more money by privatizing public schools and the right-wing ideologues who support them. People like the DeVoses, the Princes, the Anschutzes, the Bradleys, the Kochs. I think you get the idea—the selfish ultra wealthy, as dark a group of people as the average leftist or lean-leaner could imagine. These are the people who originally funded the charter school idea, set up think tanks and grass roots associations to campaign for charter school funding and got public relations agencies to make sure the mainstream news media thought this failed idea was more successful than it actually was. These people know in their greedy little hearts that the charter school idea is the big right-wing lie in education policy discussions, similar to the big lies in other important policy areas, such as climate change denial, intelligent design, voter fraud claims, abstinence only training, budget deficit panics and the idea that lowering taxes on the wealthy stimulates the economy. All are discounted ideas of America’s children of darkness that persist and, in the case of charter schools are thriving, in practice and public discussion.
One reason more charter schools are popping up around the country despite their widespread failures and scandals is because of support from well-intended children of light, including a good number of left-leaning centrists and leftists, such as President Obama, Hillary and President Bill, Andrew Cuomo, Howard Dean and Marian Wright Edelman. A survey by Stanford’s Hoover Institute found that 58% of Democrats liked charter schools in 2016.
The advocacy of charter schools by left-leaning politicians can’t be because of charter school performance, since studies show that the students in more than 70% of all charter schools across the country perform at lower or the same level as the students in the competing public school, 31% performing worse. Many of the approximately 29% of charter schools whose students manage to do better than those in their public school alternative have fixed the game. They discourage kids with disabilities from applying or weed out students who are less successful; for example, one Arizona charter school that U.S. News & World Report placed in the top 10 of all high schools across the country starts with 125 students in sixth grade but has a mere 21 in the graduating class. The administration presumably weeded out low performers, who then returned to their traditional public school, artificially raising the performance of the charter school and lowering the performance of the traditional public school. Improvement at a mere 29% of schools, up from a miniscule 17% in 2009, makes charter schools a failure. Only ideologues who prefer to create their own reality would continue a program that fails to work 71% of the time and actually makes things worse about a third of the time. On top of all that, it turns out that charter schools are more segregated than regular public schools. I have an article in the autumn issue of Jewish Currents that goes into greater detail on the disadvantages of charter schools and other right-wing educational reforms such as cyber schools and school vouchers, but I think you get the idea: charter schools are bad.
I can understand why many desperate parents of modest or little means with children in schools of few resources in poor districts might be attracted to the line of bull professed by charter school operators, many of whom are for-profit companies whose investors will make their dough by spending less on the children and lowering compensation for their teachers. Just like subprime mortgages, payday loans and for-profit vocational schools, charter schools target the most vulnerable and sell them a bill of goods.
But what about sophisticated left-leaners, policy wonks like the Clintons and Obama? I think there are three reasons so many mainstreamers seem comfortable with charter schools: First, out of respect for minority communities among whom they think there is a lot of support for charter schools, mainly because the mainstream news media and charter school lobbyists tell them so. In point of fact, there is an organization that purports to represent African-Americans who like charter schools, called the Black Alliance for Educational Options, but it receives most of its support from the ultra-right, ultra-white Bradley Foundation. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Movement for Black Lives, an umbrella group for 50 organizations, have come out vehemently against charter schools.
Secondly, embracing charter schools is part of centrist Democrats’ slow dance away from unions. It’s not that Democrats don’t like unions, it’s that they don’t think about them as a central part of their core constituency anymore. Union issues have become an afterthought. Centrist Dems don’t consider the impact on unions when deciding how to shape policies, in or out of power; e.g., NAFTA. When unions protested that the impetus behind charter schools was to kill public school unions and thereby lower teachers’ salaries, the centrists probably thought it was more union obstructionism, or perhaps veiled racism since charter school folks were falsely touting how minorities could take hold of and thereby improve their children’s education. Maybe they have vague memories of accusations of union racism that marred the first controversy over locally controlled schools, in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville section of Brooklyn in 1968, long before conservative billionaires started funding the charter school movement. On the one hand, who can blame the centrists Dems, given that so many union members abandoned the Democrats for Trump? On the other hand, it’s inconceivable to imagine a progressive movement or a large middle class in this country without a vibrant, large and politically active union workforce.
The last reason is the most subtle, and perhaps the most important. Leftists and left-leaners who have supported charter schools look at its superficial features and see the model for community organizing advocated by the sainted Saul Alinsky. In his Rules for Radicals and elsewhere, community organizer Saul Alinsky proposed to effect progressive change and empower people by organizing them around existing community organizations or symbols for direct nonviolent action against a well-known (“useful”) enemy. The Alinsky model asks the community itself to determine the precise goal of the organizing.
That does seem a lot like charter schools, doesn’t it? The existing organization or symbol is the public school. The community as represented by the school’s board of directors—all community members and parents at the school—determine the goals. The enemy is the public school/union bureaucracy. The nonviolent direct action is to take over the school. The empowerment results when the community has more control over how its children are educated.
No wonder charter schools excited sixties and seventies radicals turned establishment types like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It sure does sound like solid gold Alinsky.
But it’s not even cheap brass plating. It’s an illusion. Underneath the radical left exterior, the operation of a charter school is a conveyance for privatization by which control of all decisions rests in the hands of private businesses, either for-profit companies or non-profit companies whose administrators make big bucks. Since state and national standards drive virtually all curriculum decisions, virtually all the decisions the community boards make come early and involve window-dressing, e.g., make it a Spanish-language school or mandate uniforms. The board can’t dictate that the school not teach evolution or teach that the South won the Civil War. The board can’t restrict minorities or those with handicaps from attending the school, although the for-profit school administration has been known to do so by where they market the school and what they require of applicants. Maybe that’s why charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools.
Everything else is driven by the administration installed by the charter school operator with whom the community board has contracted. Like many boards of directors in the private sector, the community board becomes a rubber stamp for the senior management. As long as the operator fulfills the terms of the contract, it can pretty much do what it likes. And that almost always involves hiring less experienced teachers and fewer certified teachers, nonunion in most cases, paying them less, and providing them with fewer professional development opportunities. Cut and take profit. It’s how government privatizers make a living, be it in education, prisons or the military, and it’s central to the crony capitalism practiced by the contemporary Republican Party.
In a sense, much like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the charter school movement is Milton Friedman masquerading as Saul Alinsky.
Charter schools have proven to be a failure. It’s time to move on, to shut down all existing charter schools and reintegrate those schools and the students in them, into their traditional public school district.
But ending a school-reform-gone-bad is not enough. We also have to address what made the charter school attractive in the first place—not the racism, but the lack of resources in public schools. We need to invest in more teachers in elementary schools, where it is well-established in the real world that smaller classes are better for the students. We need to buy schools more computers, updated non-Texas-vetted text books, more enrichment such as music and art materials and teachers, equipment and supplies for special magnet schools and other resources that public schools now lack in many areas. It might be helpful to tax rich school districts statewide to support poor school districts, to in a sense, mandate equity in public education.
There are lots of things we can do to improve our public schools and make sure that every student gets the best and most appropriate education. Virtually all of these ideas involve increasing spending. The only thing that will really help our education system that doesn’t involve spending more money is to end all charter schools.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Tell your Rep & Senators to cut military spending below $400 billion a year, with no funds for new nukes or automated weapons


The agenda of the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans includes raising military spending by billions of dollars. A lot of that money will go to developing a new generation of smaller, “smarter” nuclear weapons and to developing weapons that will inflict damage on the enemy without prior command by a human, so called automated weapons systems—robot weapons.
Both new weapons systems raise grave questions of morality and ethics, starting with the fact that each has characteristics that make its use easy to justify. Instead of slowly dismantling our nuclear capability or letting it go obsolete, which President Obama pledged to do, the plan—approved by Obama—is to spend more than a trillion to build smaller nukes that inflict pinpoint damage, which would enable generals to make the claim that they are almost conventional and therefore okay to use. I can imagine a future Buck Turgidson (from Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 masterpiece “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”) assuring a future president that the bomb he wants to drop on Pyongyang will only kill 20,000 and not the 146,000 killed by the Hiroshima blast, and that the radiation fallout will be negligible and limited to a small area, maybe the size of France.
Automated weapons incite a number of ethical challenges. We can anticipate that decision-making weapons will be as susceptible to bugs, hacking and programming errors as other sophisticated systems based on digital technology, such as bank databases, credit card companies, government servers, clouds and the Internet. Triggered by a hacker or by a bug in one of millions of lines of code, a robot could turn on us, kill the wrong target or mindlessly start slaughtering innocents.
There is also the moral issue of agency. The very thing that makes automated weapons so attractive—we can send them into battle instead of live soldiers—also underlies the essential immorality of using robots to kill other humans. It’s so easy to kill an animated figure on a screen in a video game. And then another, and then another, each of them so realistic in their detail that they could almost be human. Pretty soon you’ve knocked off hundreds of imaginary people. Not so easy, though, for most of us to pull a trigger, knowing that a bullet will rip through heart of someone standing ten feet away and end their existence. Perhaps we instinctively empathize with the victim and fear for our own lives. Or maybe most of us kill with difficulty because the taboo against killing is so strongly instilled in us, that moral sense that taking the life of another human being is wrong, sinful.
The problem with all advanced military technologies is that they turn war into a video game, and by doing so distance the possessors of the technology from their adversaries. Whether the attack is by conventional bomber, missile, drone or the decision-making robot weapons now under development, the technology turns the enemy into video images. Remote warfare dehumanizes the enemy and makes it easier to kill lots of them without giving it a thought. The bombardier doesn’t see the victims below, or if he can, they look like specks. The operator of the drone is even farther away from his intended victims. The operator of robots even more so.
Developing either or both of these advanced weapons systems will lead to an arms race with any number of other countries, including China, Russia and Iran. History and their own actions suggest to me that neither China nor Iran really want to spend any more money on military spending than they have to. But they will, if they have to, we can be sure of that. Let’s not forget that as countries develop new systems to keep pace with us, the chance grows that these weapons of mass destruction will fall into the hands of countries led by irresponsible leaders such as North Korea and…and…and, on my god!, the United States.
Seriously (or at least not mordantly funny)…it’s not enough merely to cut development of nuclear and automated weapons from the Pentagon budget. Pentagon spending has been at historically high levels for more than a decade. When we correct for inflation, every year since 9/11 we have spent from 20-55% more than the average annual outlay for defense 1962-2018 (est.). The average is $486.9 billion and includes the most expensive years of the Viet Nam War and the build-up under Reagan. We’ve spent about $600 billion annually the last few years, and the Pentagon wants to boost that to about $650 billion.
Over the last 10-year period for which we have statistics (2004-2014), the United States spent more on the military than China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, India and Saudi Arabia combined, Plus, our NATO and other major allies collectively spent almost as much as we did.
What’s worse—most military build-ups in American history have lasted five to ten years. Our current orgy of spending on weapons and wars has lasted 16 years and counting. The best source I have found for facts and figures on military spending is the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the Quaker’s lobbying arm.
As FCNL reminds us, besides making the world a much more dangerous place, military spending makes no economic sense. Each billion dollars spent on the military creates about 12,000 jobs, including 6,800 direct jobs. These job numbers created by military spending are paltry in number compared to the jobs generated by the same investment in education (25,000 jobs, including 15,300 direct), health care (17,000; 8,400 direct) or clean energy (17,000; 7,900 direct). To an advanced economy, spending on defense is almost the 21st century equivalent of a potlatch, the ceremonial festival held by the Kwakiutl and other Northwest American Indian tribes in which the host enhanced his (and it was always a “his”) social status in the tribe by the destruction of his personal property. I write ”almost” because our military potlatch also kills other human beings, many of them non-combatants.
The military establishment, Trumpty-Dumpty and his team, most Republicans and many Democrats proclaim that we have to boost military spending because of the dangers in the world. Remember that the military establishment speaks in a self-serving voice. Trump and the GOP are the same people who tell you that our cities are warzones, when crime is at historic lows everywhere save Chicago, Milwaukee and Baltimore. They are the people who tell us that immigrants create crime waves, when immigrants have a much lower crime rate than those born here. They are the people who tell you it was better for American society for rich folk to get a tax break than for 22 million people to get health care. They want to cut spending on education, health care, food stamps and other social welfare programs and they don’t seem to care a gnat’s buttocks about infrastructure, but when it comes to arms, it’s more, more, more, more and more.
But we’ve done more, and it has left the country broke and with little if nothing to show for our wars and military excursions except death, destruction and a loss of reputation. Meanwhile, a cheap economic boycott and a little diplomacy produced the truly transformative nuclear deal with Iran.
We can remain the world’s strongest nation while improving our economy by cutting military spending to about $400 billion a year. I’ve selected that amount for several reasons. It’s one quarter less than the average for the past 55 years. More to the point, it’s what we spent in the mid-1970’s. For those too young to remember, the mid-1970’s was not only the era in which we spent relatively little on the military, it also saw earnings for the average American worker peak. It was when America experienced the least inequality of wealth and income.
Limiting Pentagon spending to $400 billion a year must come with a stipulation that none of it be spent on developing a new generation of nuclear weapons or automated weapons. Yet even without these expensive programs for mass destruction, the Pentagon will still have to cut elsewhere, and that’s a good thing. There’s a lot of fat, especially in military contracts to for-profit companies to fight senseless, goalless wars in the Middle East.
But we’ll benefit from cutting the Pentagon budget to the bone only if government spends the money represented by those cuts to create new jobs. Congress can’t let the private sector—AKA rich folk—try to create jobs via tax cuts, because they won’t. They’ll put the added cash in their pockets or in Jeff Koons paintings, high-tech stocks and never-occupied apartments overlooking Central Park.
Now that I have convinced you that instead of increasing military spending, we should be decreasing it, here’s the call to action: Tell your elected officials.
Contact your two senators and your congressperson and make demands as explicitly as possible:
  1. Stop all research and development in automated weapons and new nuclear weapons.
  2. Cut the total military budget for the next 10 years to $400 billion a year, no inflation increase.
  3. Use the more than $200 billion in savings per year on education, mass transit and the development of alternative fuels.
I would recommend contacting these elected officials once a month until there is a budget vote later this year. And you might want to donate some money to FCNL, which seems to be leading the charge on the issue of reducing military spending.