Monday, August 21, 2017

Friday, August 4, 2017

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sunday Reading

American Dignity on the Fourth of July — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

More than three-quarters of a century after the delegates of the Second Continental Congress voted to quit the Kingdom of Great Britain and declared that “all men are created equal,” Frederick Douglass stepped up to the lectern at Corinthian Hall, in Rochester, New York, and, in an Independence Day address to the Ladies of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society, made manifest the darkest ironies embedded in American history and in the national self-regard. “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” Douglass asked:

I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

The dissection of American reality, in all its complexity, is essential to political progress, and yet it rarely goes unpunished. One reason that the Republican right and its attendant media loathed Barack Obama is that his public rhetoric, while far more buoyant with post-civil-rights-era uplift than Douglass’s, was also an affront to reactionary pieties. Even as Obama tried to win votes, he did not paper over the duality of the American condition: its idealism and its injustices; its heroism in the fight against Fascism and its bloody misadventures before and after. His idea of a patriotic song was “America the Beautiful”—not in its sentimental ballpark versions but the way that Ray Charles sang it, as a blues, capturing the “fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top.”

Donald Trump, who, in fairness, has noted that “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job,” represents an entirely different tradition. He has no interest in the wholeness of reality. He descends from the lineage of the Know-Nothings, the doomsayers and the fabulists, the nativists and the hucksters. The thematic shift from Obama to Trump has been from “lifting as we climb” to “raising the drawbridge and bolting the door.” Trump may operate a twenty-first-century Twitter machine, but he is still a frontier-era drummer peddling snake oil, juniper tar, and Dr. Tabler’s Buckeye Pile Cure for profit from the back of a dusty wagon.

As a candidate, Trump told his followers that he would fulfill “every dream you ever dreamed for your country.” But he is a plutocrat. His loyalty is to the interests of the plutocracy. Trump’s vows of solidarity with the struggling working class, with the victims of globalization and deindustrialization, are a fraud. He made coal miners a symbol of his campaign, but he has always held them in contempt. To him, they are luckless schmoes who fail to possess his ineffable talents. “The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son,” Trump once told Playboy. “If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination—or whatever—to leave their mine. They don’t have ‘it.’ ”

Trump is hardly the first bad President in American history—he has not had adequate time to eclipse, in deed, the very worst—but when has any politician done so much, so quickly, to demean his office, his country, and even the language in which he attempts to speak? Every day, Trump wakes up and erodes the dignity of the Presidency a little more. He tells a lie. He tells another. He trolls Arnold Schwarzenegger. He trolls the press, bellowing “enemy of the people” and “fake news!” He shoves aside a Balkan head of state. He summons his Cabinet members to have them swear fealty to his awesomeness. He leers at an Irish journalist. Last Thursday, he tweeted at Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC: “I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came . . . to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” The President’s misogyny and his indecency are well established. When is it time to question his mental stability?

The atmosphere of debasement and indignity in the White House, it appears, is contagious. Trump’s family and the aides who hastened to serve him have learned to imitate his grossest reflexes, and to hell with the contradictions. Melania Trump, whose “cause” is cyber-bullying, defends the poisoned tweet at Brzezinski. His righteously feminist daughter Ivanka stays mum. After the recent special election in Georgia, Kellyanne Conway, the counsellor to the President, tweeted, “Laughing my #Ossoff.” The wit! The valor! Verily, the return of Camelot!

Trump began his national ascendancy by hoisting the racist banner of birtherism. Since then, as candidate and as President, he has found countless ways to pollute the national atmosphere. If someone suggests a lie that is useful to him, he will happily pass it along or endorse it. This habit is not without purpose or cumulative effect. Even if Trump fails in his most ambitious policy initiatives, whether it is liberating the wealthy from their tax obligations or liberating the poor from their health care, he has already begun to foster a public sphere in which, as Hannah Arendt put it in her treatise on totalitarian states, millions come to believe that “everything was possible and that nothing was true.”

Frederick Douglass ended his Independence Day jeremiad in Rochester with steadfast optimism (“I do not despair of this country”). Read his closing lines, and what despair you might feel when listening to a President who abets ignorance, isolation, and cynicism is eased, at least somewhat. The “mental darkness” of earlier times is done, Douglass reminded his audience. “Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe.” There is yet hope for the “great principles” of the Declaration of Independence and “the genius of American Institutions.” There was reason for optimism then, as there is now. Donald Trump is not forever. Sometimes it just seems that way.

Making the Grade — The Miami Herald editorial board.

Every traditional public school in Miami-Dade County made the grade, and not one of those grades was an F. It’s a gratifying and hard-won accomplishment for schools chief Alberto Carvalho and his team, School Board members, educators in all capacities, parents and, of course, the students. And it’s a first.

The achievement is the result of a slow but steady march to the day when the state Department of Education would release the annual school grades and every school in the county would receive a passing grade. That glorious day arrived last week.

Success came despite the challenges — or maybe because of them. There are schools with large numbers of students living in poverty and low parental engagement. About 70 percent of students district-wide get reduced-price or free lunch because they come from low-income families. And more than 72,000 students are learning English. All are indicators of students facing the most hurdles to academic success. The district amped up the focus on them. “We put in counselors and coaches,” Carvalho told the Editorial Board. “ We put in new supports for fragile schools.”

The district earned a B average overall; two-thirds of all schools received a grade of A or B. Almost 20 years ago, there were 26 F schools in Miami-Dade.

School grades are weighted most heavily toward students’ scores on standardized tests, with graduation rates and the number of students taking advanced courses also factored in. What makes the school district’s no-F achievement even more remarkable is that since 1999, when the tests were first administered, state legislators have tinkered and rejiggered and generally messed around, making the test always more difficult — arbitrarily setting back some students’ progress — and harder to administer. The introduction of computers, for instance, was a disaster, plus many poor students had little experience with such technology in their homes.

In fact, the only failure in the district’s good-news story is that of the state Legislature — again. As reported by Kristen Clark of the Herald/Tallahassee new bureau, because of the new education reform law, Senate Bill 7069, passed during the session, 650 charter schools throughout the state, privately managed and independent of schools districts, could be entitled to receive as much as $96 million from school districts’ taxpayer funds for construction and maintenance. At the very least, lawmakers imposed certain financial and academic standards before many of these for-profit schools can receive funds.

There’s more: Superintendent Carvalho rightly laments new restrictions placed on the use of federal Title 1 funds. Public-school districts are expected to distribute this funding for schools with poor and at-risk students to private and charter schools, as well. In addition, under a new state-imposed formula, the Title 1 money that remains with the district must be spread further throughout the district, clearly with the potential to dilute the beneficial impact these funds have when concentrated in the neediest schools.

“SB 7069 rewards publicly funded schools that don’t have a track record of lifting failing students,” Carvalho told the Editorial Board. He later added that “These funding levels and restrictions will endanger the progress we have made.”

It’s a legitimate fear. For this sweeping law that will likely undermine hard-won gains like those in Miami-Dade, lawmakers have earned an F.

How to Get an Asteroid Named After You — Marina Koren in The Atlantic.

Mary Lou Whitehorne was at a work conference in 2007 when her colleagues surprised her with an asteroid.They were at an annual meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in Calgary. Whitehorne, a member of the organization and a longtime science educator, was standing outside of a pub, engaged in a conversation, when a coworker called her inside. He had a special announcement to make: A small asteroid, orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, had been named after Whitehorne.“I was completely floored and completely speechless,” Whitehorne says.

Whitehorne’s colleagues had waited about two years for the name to be approved. Asteroids can’t be named for just anything or anyone; there’s a careful selection process with lots of rules, managed by an international organization in charge of collecting and sorting observational data for asteroids. The organization is the Minor Planet Center, which is run out of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Massachusetts, and under the purview of the International Astronomical Union, an organization of professional astronomers.

The first asteroids to be discovered, in the early 1800s, were named for figures in Roman and Greek mythology, like Ceres, Pallas, and Vesta. Astronomers ran out of those options fairly quickly, so they started looking elsewhere. Today, most asteroids are named for people, both real and fictional, and the rest for places, animals, plants, and other natural phenomena. The discoverers of asteroids are responsible for proposing the names—but there are rules, and their proposals can get denied.When a new asteroid is first spotted, the Minor Planet Center gives it a provisional designation composed of the the year of discovery and two numbers. If astronomers successfully study and confirm its orbit, it gets a permanent numeral designation that corresponds with the object’s place on the chronological list of previous discoveries. The discoverer then has 10 years to suggest and submit a name for the object, including a short pitch for why the name should be accepted. A 15-person committee at the International Astronomical Union judges the name and, if it approves, publishes it in a monthly newsletter.The names should be “16 characters or less in length; preferably one word; pronounceable (in some language); non-offensive; and not too similar to an existing name” of an asteroid, according to the Minor Planet Center’s website.

There are guidelines for certain kinds of asteroids. Objects that cross or approach the orbit of Neptune, for example, must be named for mythological figures associated with the underworld, while objects right outside of Neptune’s orbit get named for mythological figures related to creation.

Asteroids can’t be named for pets, but there’s at least one named for a cat, allowed perhaps because the cat itself was named for a Star Trek character. In 1985, an astronomer received approval to name his asteroid Mr. Spock, after the cat that had kept him company during long hours at work.Discoverers can’t sell the chance to name their asteroid, but naming contests are allowed. In 2012, NASA asked students to name (101955) 1999 RQ36, a near-Earth asteroid and the target of a robotic mission, OSIRIS-REx, which launched last year. They picked Bennu, for the Egyptian mythological bird resembling a heron.Whitehorne’s asteroid was among a number of asteroids discovered by three astronomers doing comet surveys in 2004. Her colleagues knew of the trio and their work, and asked them whether they could claim one in Whitehorne’s honor, to celebrate her years of contributions to the field. Whitehorne started out 30 years ago as a volunteer amateur astronomer at a small planetarium in Halifax, her hometown. Not long after, she jumped into astronomy and science education, working with students and teachers and developing programs and curricula for schools across the country. In 2015, she became the first female fellow at the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, a position created to recognize the contributions of long-serving members.

Whitehorne has seen only a photograph of her asteroid, which is about three-kilometers across. It’s too faint to see with her backyard telescope. She calls it her “orbiting tombstone.”

“I am mortal and I am going to die, but my name is going to be on the asteroid as long as there’s human civilization and society on this planet,” she says. “Every once in a while I think about that and think, my goodness, what have I done?”

 Doonesbury — Safe.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Short Takes

Italy may stop ship unloading migrants.

Forty arrested for protesting healthcare bill on Capitol Hill.

U.S. to hold off on further airline laptop bans.

Miami-Dade public schools achieve no “F” schools status.

Arkansas Ten Commandments monument run over.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Who Needs Civil Rights Anyway?

From the Washington Post:

The Trump administration is planning to disband the Labor Department division that has policed discrimination among federal contractors for four decades, according to the White House’s newly proposed budget, part of wider efforts to rein in government programs that promote civil rights.

As outlined in Labor’s fiscal 2018 plan, the move would fold the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, now home to 600 employees, into another government agency in the name of cost-cutting.

The proposal to dismantle the compliance office comes at a time when the Trump administration is reducing the role of the federal government in fighting discrimination and protecting minorities by cutting budgets, dissolving programs and appointing officials unsympathetic to previous practices.

[…]

Under President Trump’s proposed budget, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights — which has investigated thousands of complaints of discrimination in school districts across the country and set new standards for how colleges should respond to allegations of sexual assault and harassment — would also see significant staffing cuts. Administration officials acknowledge in budget documents that the civil rights office will have to scale back the number of investigations it conducts and limit travel to school districts to carry out its work.

Because we all know that public schools have always been the bedrock of equality in America and they are perfectly capable of taking care of their own problems without any intervention by the federal government.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Well, That Was Awkward

Talk about bad timing:

About 40 minutes after Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch began his second day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, all eight of the justices he hopes to join said a major disability decision Gorsuch wrote in 2008 was wrong.

Both the Supreme Court’s decision and Gorsuch’s 2008 opinion involved the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires that public school systems which take certain federal funds provide a “free appropriate public education” to certain students with disabilities.

Applying this law to individual students, the Supreme Court acknowledged in its Wednesday opinion in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, is not an exact science. “A focus on the particular child is at the core of the IDEA,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the unanimous Supreme Court. “The instruction offered must be ‘specially designed’ to meet a child’s ‘unique needs’ through an ‘[i]ndividualized education program.’”

But while this process can be difficult, it must provide meaningful educational benefits to disabled students — which brings us to Judge Gorsuch’s error in a 2008 opinion. In Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P., a case brought by an autistic student whose parents sought reimbursement for tuition at a specialized school for children with autism, Gorsuch read IDEA extraordinarily narrowly.

Under Gorsuch’s opinion in Luke P., a school district complies with the law so long as they provide educational benefits that “must merely be ‘more than de minimis.’”

De minimis” is a Latin phrase meaning “so minor as to merit disregard.” So Gorsuch essentially concluded that school districts comply with their obligation to disabled students so long as they provide those students with a little more than nothing.

All eight justices rejected Gorsuch’s approach. IDEA, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “is markedly more demanding than the ‘merely more than de minimis’ test applied by the Tenth Circuit.” Indeed, Roberts added, Gorsuch’s approach would effectively strip many disabled students of their right to an education. Roberts went on:

When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing “merely more than de minimis” progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to “sitting idly . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out.’”

To the contrary, the unanimous Supreme Court concluded, in most cases a student’s progress should be measured according to whether they are able to keep up with their non-disabled peers.

Aside from the lousy optics for Judge Gorsuch, the ruling also makes things a bit awkward for the Trump administration’s plans to basically gut public education funding and to privatize portions of it, including IDEA.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

School Safety Zone

Via CBS Miami:

The Miami-Dade School District took up the immigration debate Wednesday.

The district reports undocumented students are worried sick for themselves and their parents. And the school board issued what is essentially a “stay away” order to federal agents.

[…]

“It should never be at a school. They have that ability to come in other parts of our community, but the school should never be a place where any child is questioned or taken from our schools,” said board member Lubby Navarro.

Miami-Dade County Public School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho hugged little Jasmine coach, and issued and unbending declaration.

“On behalf of every single kid in this community, over my dead body will any federal entity enter our schools to take immigration actions against our kids,” Carvalho said.

Good for them.  Good for us.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sunday Reading

Another Episode — Charles P. Pierce on the latest from Mar-A-Lago.

At some point, I guess, you just have to walk away. Not forever, and not for long. But, sooner or later, you have to arrange one morning where you wake up and deliberately decide not to find out how the country has lost its mind overnight. I’m getting to that point, I have to tell you.

Around 5:30—in the freaking A.M. morning!— the president*, or someone like him, got on the official Donald Trump electric Twitter account and threw the ongoing controversy over Russian influence on his campaign and on the 2016 presidential election deep into the red zone. In short, he is now accusing his predecessor of using the powers of the intelligence community and of the national law-enforcement apparatus to spy on his campaign. Kudos to The Washington Post for the “citing no evidence” disclaimer.

Trump offered no citations nor did he point to any credible news report to back up his accusation, but he may have been referring to commentary on Breitbart and conservative talk radio suggesting that Obama and his administration used “police state” tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team. The Breitbart story, published Friday, has been circulating among Trump’s senior staff, according to a White House official who described it as a useful catalogue of the Obama administration’s activities.

Gee, I wonder if the “White House official” possibly could be the guy who used to run that particular information SuperFund site and, anyway, it’s nice to know that the president* of the United States goes dumpster diving for his political news.

I think the whole thing started percolating to draw attention away from Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s unfortunate collision with his own confirmation testimony this week. But I think the real match tossed into the powder magazine was an interview that Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, gave to Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC Friday afternoon.

In that interview, Coons as much as said that he believes that transcripts of conversations between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials exist. In my opinion, if those transcripts exist, and the Trump people know it, and know what’s in them, it is in the interest of the administration to flip the script pre-emptively to how the transcripts were obtained as opposed to what they might contain. If administration officials are in contact with the Breitbart people—which isn’t exactly a leap in the dark—then they slip the possibility of wiretaps to those people and then the president* reacts to news that some of his own people may have planted. (Think Dick Cheney, Judy Miller, and the aluminum tubes.) In any case, the stakes in this matter just became mortal.

“It’s highly unlikely there was a wiretap,” said one former senior intelligence official familiar with surveillance law who spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity. The former official continued: “It seems unthinkable. If that were the case by some chance, that means that a federal judge would have found that there was either probable cause that he had committed a crime or was an agent of a foreign power.”

“Unthinkable” is one of those Washington CYA words that does a lot of work until a lot of people start thinking about something seriously. (The president ordered a cover-up of a burglary? The president signed off on sending missiles to Iran? The president was doing the help? Unthinkable!) Let us assume for the moment that, if there’s a shred of truth to what the president* is saying, then the previous occupant of the White House didn’t do it without availing himself of the legal requirements.

If he requested a FISA warrant and got it, then there’s something out there that troubled not only the previous administration, but also some federal judges on a secret court. If that happened, then what President Obama did was not in any way “illegal.” You can argue that it might be improperly political during an presidential election season, but then you get hung up on why Lyndon Johnson didn’t blow the whistle on how Richard Nixon jacked around with the Paris Peace Talks. It’s impossible to conclude in retrospect that the country was well-served by LBJ’s uncharacteristic delicacy in that matter. If this keeps up, the demand for complete transparency is going to become overwhelming.

A spokesman for Barack Obama issued a statement early Saturday afternoon refuting President Trump’s claims:

A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of the practice neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.

There is a critical mass building quickly concerning the connections between the president*, his administration, his aides, and the Putin regime. There’s just too much of it right now for the administration to contain. Given that, it probably would have been helpful if the president* hadn’t had another episode on Saturday morning. Of course, once the episode passed, he was back to serious business again – tweeting about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance on Celebrity Apprentice. I guess the time for trivial fights really is over.

The Next Step — Kristina Rizga in Mother Jones on the Trump-DeVos plan to send money to religious schools.  Florida is the model.

During his address before a joint session of Congress earlier this week, President Donald Trump paused to introduce Denisha Merriweather, a graduate student from Florida sitting with first lady Melania Trump. Merriweather “failed third grade twice” in Florida’s public schools, Trump said. “But then she was able to enroll in a private center for learning, great learning center, with the help of a tax credit,” he continued, referring to Florida’s tax credit scholarship program that allows students attend private schools. Because of this opportunity, Denisha became the first member of her family to graduate from high school and college.

Trump used Denisha’s story to call for his favorite education policy, school choice, asking lawmakers to “pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has also been pointing to Denisha and Florida in the past two weeks as a way to promote school choice. “Florida is a good and growing example of what can happen when you have a robust array of choices,” DeVos told a conservative radio host on February 15. DeVos brought up the state’s school choice model again during her speech to the leaders of historically black colleges earlier this week.

So what is it about Florida? For starters, the state offers many different types of school choice, including charter schools, vouchers for low-income students and those with disabilities, and tax credit scholarships. Charter schools, found in 43 states and Washington, DC, represent the most common type of school choice. Vouchers are a little more complicated: They essentially operate like a state-issued coupon that parents can use to send their child to private or religious schools. The amount is typically what the state would use to send a kid to a public school. But vouchers are difficult to implement, because many state constitutions, like those in Michigan and Florida, have what are called Blaine Amendments, which prohibit spending public dollars on religious schools. And notably, only 31 percent of Americans support vouchers.

Tax credit scholarships provide a crafty mechanism to get around these obstacles. Tax credits are given to individuals and corporations that donate money to scholarship-granting institutions; if parents end up using those scholarships to send their kids to religious schools—and 79 percent of students in private schools are taught by institutions affiliated with churches—the government technically is not transferring taxpayer money directly to religious organizations.

While DeVos is best known as an advocate of vouchers, most veteran Beltway insiders told me that a federal voucher program is very unlikely. “Democrats don’t like vouchers. Republicans don’t like federal programs, and would rather leave major school reform decisions up to states and local communities,” Rick Hess, a veteran education policy expert with the conservative American Enterprise Institute said. “Realistically, nobody thinks they’ve got the votes to do a federal school choice law, especially in the Senate.”

This political reality is perhaps why Trump and DeVos are singling out Florida’s tax credit programs as a way to expand private schooling options. While Trump and DeVos have not specified what shape this policy might take at the federal level, most of these changes will come from the state legislators. Republicans have full control of the executive and legislative branches in 25 states, and control the governor’s house or the state legislature in 44 states. At least 14 states have already proposed bills in this legislative session that would expand some form of vouchers or tax credit scholarships, according to a Center for American Progress analysis. (And 17 states already provide some form of tax credit scholarships, according to EdChoice.)

This perfect storm for pushing through various voucher schemes comes at a time when the results on the outcomes of these programs “are the worst in the history of the field,” according to New America researcher Kevin Carey, who analyzed the results in a recent New York Timesarticle. Until about two years ago, most studies on vouchers produced mixed results, with some showing slight increases in test scores or graduation rates for students using them. But the most recent research has not been good, according to Carey: A 2016 study, funded by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation and conducted by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, found that students who used vouchers in a large Ohio program “have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”

Then there is the issue of state oversight and transparency. Many states, including Florida, have little to no jurisdiction over private schools and don’t make student achievement data public, save for attendance. A 2011 award-winning investigation by Gus Garcia-Roberts of the Miami New Times described the resulting system as a “cottage industry of fraud and chaos.” Schools could qualify to educate voucher and tax credit scholarship students even though they had no accreditation or curriculum. Some staffers in these schools were convicted criminals for drug dealing, kidnapping, and burglary. “In one school’s ‘business management’ class, students shook cans for coins on the streets,” Garcia-Roberts found.

Florida’s Department of Education investigated 38 schools suspected of fraud and in 25 cases, the allegations were substantiated. “It’s like a perverse science experiment, using disabled school kids as lab rats and funded by nine figures in taxpayer cash,” Garcia-Roberts wrote. “Dole out millions to anybody calling himself as educator. Don’t regulate curriculum or even visit campuses to see where the money is going.”

But these on-the-ground realities in Florida won’t tame the enthusiasm of a voucher booster like DeVos. As I showed in my recent investigation, her philanthropic giving shows an overwhelming preference for promoting private, Christian schools, and conservative, free-market think tanks that work to shrink the public sector in every sphere, including education. These past choices suggest that the data—or the fact that there are many stories like Denisha Merriweather’s in America’s public schools—doesn’t matter.

Spring Hopes Eternal — Justin Verlander and the Tigers are back for more.

LAKELAND, Fla. — Justin Verlander gave up two home runs here on Thursday. One was hit well, and the other was carried away by a steady wind to center field.

“It got out,” Verlander said with a shrug by his locker in the Detroit Tigers’ clubhouse. “One of those days here in Lakeland.”

Verlander’s status in baseball has been so thoroughly restored that a rocky day in spring training means nothing. Last season, he was 16-9 with a 3.04 earned run average, leading the American League in strikeouts (254) and walks plus hits per inning (1.001). He had the most first-place votes for the Cy Young Award, but finished second over all to Boston’s Rick Porcello, a onetime teammate.

Verlander telegraphed his turnaround in late 2015, when he finally felt strong again after torn abdominal and adductor muscles — and the resulting physical weakness and compromised mechanics — had sapped his dominance. The Tigers were out of the race then, but his comeback may have saved their immediate future.

“That opened our eyes,” General Manager Al Avila said. “I even told him: ‘What you just did the last month and a half of the season has given our group, from ownership to us, new life. Maybe we do have another run in us.’ It was that kind of revival. That was him.”

A different A.L. Central team, the Cleveland Indians, rose to the World Series last year. But the Tigers hung in the playoff race until the final day of the regular season and kept their roster intact this winter. They would like to get younger, but Avila found no deals worth breaking up a group still striving to win a title.

Verlander has the longest tenure with the same team of any active major league pitcher. He joined the Tigers in July 2005 and has helped lead them to A.L. pennants in 2006 and 2012. They nearly won another, in 2013, with Verlander gritting through pain in October.

“Dying,” he said. “Everything hurt.”

For most observers, it was hard to tell: Verlander gave up one run in 23 postseason innings. But he tore the muscles while lifting weights after the 2013 season, the result of the wear and tear of an eight-season stretch in which only C. C. Sabathia pitched more innings.

Verlander had core-muscle surgery in Philadelphia in January 2014. His surgeon, Dr. Bill Meyers, called the area — from midthigh to midchest — the engine of the body.

“That’s really the harness for your power,” Meyers said. “It’s like if you’re riding a horse and you lose your bridle. It’s not only that you lose power, but you can’t really control it.”

Verlander, who was one year into a seven-year, $180 million contract extension, made it back for opening day. He made 32 starts and helped the Tigers back to the playoffs — but he also led the league in earned runs allowed and contemplated his career mortality.

“For the first time, I saw the end of the line,” said Verlander, who turned 34 last month. “I mean, I want to play ’til I’m 40 or 45. I’ve always wanted to play ’til the wheels fall off. I kind of saw that then: ‘If this is the way it’s going to feel, I can’t pitch like this.’”

Because he came back so soon, without proper rehabilitation, Verlander’s mechanics were a mess. Everything was off, he said, from his feet to his head. He could still direct the ball, generally, to its intended location. But a fastball that once crackled with life was often dead on arrival.

In August 2014, he lasted just one inning in Pittsburgh, hammered for five runs with a fastball hovering around 85 miles per hour. Verlander has always been a student of pitching, highly attuned to his body and how it moves. He knew he was risking his future by pitching with bad mechanics, and he expected to pay a steep price.

“I’m very fortunate that I didn’t get hurt,” he said. “I remember after I came out of that game in Pittsburgh, they said I was going to go get an M.R.I. on my shoulder — and I thought I was done. I thought I was going to need shoulder surgery. That’s how bad it felt.”

It was just tendinitis, although Verlander still knocks on the wooden frame of his locker when telling the story. He worked intensely with a physical therapist before the 2015 season, hurt his latisimuss dorsi muscle that spring, but returned to make 20 starts with a 3.38 E.R.A.

He was ready to break out again in 2016, but not because he suddenly learned how to win with lesser stuff. Even at his very best, Verlander baffled hitters with a devastating pitch mix.

“He was always like that,” said Sabathia, the Yankees left-hander. “He was always a power pitcher, but he always knew how to pitch. I don’t think it’s going to be hard to transition from when he does lose the velocity on his fastball, because he came in with all the pitches.”

Verlander’s average fastball was 93.5 m.p.h. last season, according to Fangraphs, up a tick or two from 2014 and not far removed from his Most Valuable Player season of 2011. Then, his fastball averaged 95 m.p.h., a speed he hit consistently on Thursday.

“He throws his fastball a lot,” the Tigers’ Michael Fulmer said. “And to see him work both sides of the plate, up and down, it really works as eight different pitches — two-seam and four-seam to each quadrant — and he commands it. I’m trying to get to the point where I can at least think I’m doing that.”

Fulmer won the A.L. Rookie of the Year award last season, and he said Verlander encouraged him to pitch for weak contact early in counts and save his wipeout stuff for two strikes. It was counterintuitive advice from the league’s strikeout king, but it underscored Verlander’s intuition about the craft.

After a start in Cleveland last May 3, Verlander noticed that nothing good was happening with his slider: Hitters took it if he threw it for a ball, and crushed it if he threw it for a strike. He needed more deception, and he asked the pitching coach, Rich Dubee, about holding the ball a different way.

Verlander created the new slider by offsetting the grip on his four-seam fastball, moving his index and middle fingers to the right side of the ball. This is a common cutter grip, but Verlander’s pitch retained the slash of a slider with increased velocity.

Some pitchers take weeks, or even years, to master a new grip. Verlander tried it on flat ground, then in a bullpen session, then used it in his next start.

“It was instantaneously a go-to pitch,” Manager Brad Ausmus said. “It was a big factor. It wasn’t the factor, but it was a big factor.”

Verlander made 28 starts with the new slider, and opponents hit .193 against him. In his dream season of 2011, when he went 24-5, they batted .192.

Baseball is better when Verlander is good. The sport needs more crossover stars, and Verlander’s fiancée, the supermodel Kate Upton, is more famous than he is. He is back in a leading role and could stay there a while; Meyers said the recurrence rate of a core injury after proper repair was 1 percent.

With his body intact and his arm alive, Verlander is unafraid to say where he hopes this all leads: Cooperstown, N.Y.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about that,” he said. “Of course I want to be in the Hall of Fame when I’m done playing. That’s kind of the end goal: win a World Series and be in the Hall of Fame. I think that’s what every kid wants growing up and I’ve never wavered on that. I will say, Baseball’s fun again.”

Doonesbury — Tweeting along with the twit.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Friday, February 24, 2017

Short Takes

Kim Jong-nam killed by VX nerve agent.

Arms Race: Trump calls for U.S. nuclear supremacy.

Hang in there, RBG — Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she’ll stay on SCOTUS as long as she can.

Miami-Dade and Broward schools to keep protections for transgender students.

Cheap Seats — Airlines’ no-frills flying taking off.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

They Put The “Duh” In Florida

Via Miami New Times, here is the latest evidence that my state is run by idiots.

The federal government is run by a despotic regime that dictates laws and hands down rulings wholly incongruous with the vision laid out by America’s Founding Fathers, say two Florida lawmakers. According to state Sen. Keith Perry  — a Republican who represents Alachua, Putnam, and portions of Marion Counties — and Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Venice Republican, the regime now running the United States constitutes an oligarchy of wealthy elites that “must be dismantled for the sake of our republic and for the continued empowerment of its people.

Who are those tyrants? Try the entire judicial branch of the U.S. government.

In December, Gonzalez filed a resolution in the Florida House, which, if passed, would urge the U.S. Congress to straight-up invalidate the judicial branch. And this morning, Perry filed a companion bill in the state Senate. The pair is asking Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution so that Congress can overturn any judicial decision. Under the crackpot bills, which are identical, Congress could overturn U.S. Supreme Court decisions with a 60 percent vote.

Really.

“Florida Legislature respectfully petitions the United States Congress to propose to the states an amendment to the United States Constitution providing that any law, resolution, or other legislative act declared void by the United States Supreme Court or a United States court of appeals may be deemed active and operational, notwithstanding the court’s ruling, if agreed to by Congress pursuant to a joint resolution adopted by a 60 percent vote of each chamber of Congress within 5 years after the date the ruling becomes final,” Gonzalez’s resolution reads.

It sounds like these guys were not paying attention in their junior high school civics class that explained the basics of our constitutional system; you know, the part about the three co-equal branches of government that consist of executive, legislative, and judicial.

The legislators write that the judicial branch of the government has “taken on an increasingly activist role aimed at molding legislation according to the political beliefs of its members,” adding that such an activist posture tends to excessively consolidate power in one branch of government, and, as George Washington observed, such encroachments eventually create “a real despotism.”

They also add that federal judges tend to rule by “usurpation,” and then, staggeringly, complain that “the United States Supreme Court currently possesses ultimate and unchecked authority on matters of the constitutionality of the United States’ laws such that its opinion on such matters has the same effect as amending the United States Constitution.”

The two men don’t mention that this is, quite literally, the exact job of the U.S. Supreme Court. Nor do they mention that the federal courts have done nothing out of the ordinary this year, compared to other times in American history.

This morning, Perry didn’t cite Trump’s recent judicial smackdown as a reason for proposing the resolution. But the president’s influence is all over the text: Trump, too, has waged a war against the courts, the biggest check on his power, and would clearly be happier if pesky things such as the U.S Constitution, federal judges, and opposing legislators didn’t exist.

Perry, it seems, would rather we be governed by Trump alone. In the meantime, New Times is soliciting donations to send a few copies of the children’s A-Z civics book D Is for Democracy to the two lawmakers’ offices.

What we need now is immediate increased emergency funding for remedial civics education in Florida.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Teachable Moment

The U.S. Department of Education does not, as the right-wingers tell you, dictate policy and curriculum to each one of the thousands of public school boards in this country.  The Secretary of Education does not, by law, have the power to tell a school board what it can or cannot do in the classroom any more than the Secretary of Transportation can dictate speed limits on city streets or country roads.  They don’t have those kinds of powers.  Their power, as with all federal departments, lies in their ability to allocate funds and decide who gets them and for what purpose.  That power is more potent than being able to dictate whether or not to teach “intelligent design” in a biology class.  In short, it’s money.

That is what is most disturbing to me about appointing someone like Betsy DeVos, a person with demonstrably no idea of how public education works but a very long history of how money works, as the Secretary of Education.  She has spent her entire adult life fighting against a system of state and local entities that she has no knowledge of other than what she reads in the papers.  She seems to have arrived at her views of public education based on the conservative knee-jerk reflex that anything funded by a government is inherently bad and wasteful and the truest way to be both American and productive is to embrace the profit motive.

That works in some cases; a bank is wiser to hire its own armed guards to keep an eye on the place rather than to solely rely on the local police who have other obligations as well as protecting a bank vault, and chances are the bank can afford it.  Private education is good — I’m a product of it from Grade 3 through my undergrad degree — but my parents could afford it for me and my siblings, and it did not supplant the local public schools in my hometown.  Nor could it.

Betsy DeVos cannot march into a local school district and tell them what to teach.  She cannot even take away the basic entitlement programs that fund education for the poor and disabled; those programs are written into law and can only be repealed by Congress.  But what she can do is decide whether or not to fund programs that reach beyond the local districts’ abilities to provide for more than just a basic education such as magnet school programs and outreach to parents to become better first teachers.  Her breathtaking lack of fundamental knowledge of how students are evaluated puts at risk programs that reach students who struggle in the classroom thanks to factors that have never been encountered by someone who has never walked into a public school.  And for every public school system that is struggling — and there are many — there are public schools in every part of the country — rural, urban, suburban — that are shining examples of just how well public education works, and a good deal of it is thanks to programs funded by the federal government.

There are some fundamental elements of our democracy and capitalist system that should be left in the hands of public trust.  Defense, infrastructure, law enforcement, and education come to mind, and not coincidentally, each one of those elements makes life not just better but possible.  To defund public education and turn it over to venture capitalists is as ridiculous an idea as disbanding the armed forces and turning our national defense over to Blackwater.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Time For Schooling

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) teaches Betsy DeVos, nominee for Secretary of Education, a lesson.

Senator Al Franken came to [Tuesday’s] hearing on Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as Education Secretary armed with facts and figures and basic knowledge of education policy.

Sadly, Mrs. DeVos did not, as Franken soon exposed.

At one point, her answers showed she did not understand the difference between proficiency and growth when evaluating student’s performance on standardized tests.

Growth is the measure of how much a student learns year-to-year compared to his or her peers. Proficiency is the attainment of specific objective benchmarks, usually determined via standardized testing. There’s a huge difference between the two, and the debate is one that heavily influences public education policy.

Franken let DeVos know he wasn’t impressed, chiding, “It surprises me that you don’t know this issue.”

He then asked her about her family’s massive donations to anti-LGBTQ groups such as Focus on the Family who promote conversion therapy to get gay people on the straight and narrow.  She didn’t know anything about that, either.

It’s worth watching.

Oh, by the way, she also thinks that it’s okay to have guns in schools because they might be attacked by grizzly bears.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Job Qualifications

I’ve taught in middle and high school and college. I have two advanced degrees, including a PhD. I’ve spent the last fourteen years as a mid-level administrator in the grants department of the fourth-largest school district in the country. So how come I’m not the new Secretary of Education? Because I didn’t donate a shitload of money to the GOP, that’s why.

betsy-de-vos-11-28-16Via.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Short Takes

Russian fighter buzzes U.S. surveillance plane.

President Obama meets with Philippine president despite outburst.

ITT students advised to take the money and run.

Mexico finance minister who arranged Trump visit resigns.

FBI director says decision not to charge Clinton as not a close call.

The Tigers lost 7-4 to the White Sox.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Short Takes

Senate Zika bill blocked by Planned Parenthood fight.

Trump denies any wrongdoing in donation to Bondi campaign.

ITT Tech shuts down after USDOE cuts off student loan support.

Gretchen Carlson gets $20 million and apology in Fox sexual harassment suit.

Giant pandas no longer on the endangered species list.

Tropical Update: Invest 92L isn’t moving yet.

The Tigers lost to the White Sox 2-0.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Making Amends

Georgetown University will be offering scholarships and admissions preference to the descendants of its former slaves that the university sold in 1838.

Georgetown President John J. DeGioia offered a public apology Thursday afternoon for the 1838 sale and outlined what the university plans to do to acknowledge racism in its past.

“Some descendants and their families have joined us in person and some have joined online, and it is with gratitude and humility that I recognize your presence,” DeGioiga said from Georgetown’s Gaston Hall auditorium. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.

In addition to offering descendants the same preferential status in admissions that Georgetown currently offers children of alumni, the university will develop a memorial to the enslaved and will rename two buildings — one after Isaac Hall, a slave whose name is the first mentioned in the 1839 sale documents, and another in honor of Anne Marie Becraft, an African-American who founded a school for black girls in Georgetown’s neighborhood in 1827.

I am sure that there are those — especially among the white entitlement class — who will consider this to be “affirmative action.”  Yes, it is, in the best sense of the term.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Freedom To Go Where You Want

From the New York Times:

The Obama administration is planning to issue a sweeping directive telling every public school district in the country to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity.

A letter to school districts will go out Friday, adding to a highly charged debate over transgender rights in the middle of the administration’s legal fight with North Carolina over the issue. The declaration — signed by Justice and Education department officials — will describe what schools should do to ensure that none of their students are discriminated against.

It does not have the force of law, but it contains an implicit threat: Schools that do not abide by the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law could face lawsuits or a loss of federal aid.

The move is certain to draw fresh criticism, particularly from Republicans, that the federal government is wading into local matters and imposing its own values on communities across the country that may not agree. It represents the latest example of the Obama administration using a combination of policies, lawsuits and public statements to change the civil rights landscape for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people.

As the article says, the directive doesn’t carry the force of law, but school districts that don’t comply might have to explain why not when they reapply for federal grants.  The timing is interesting: the deadline for applying for education entitlement grants for the 2016-2017 school year is fast approaching.

Of course this will raise a huge stink with some school districts, especially those in areas dominated by right-wing control freaks.  North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), whose state is already embroiled in a fight over bathrooms in his state, suggests that Congress should reconsider the 1964 Civil Rights Act if it means that people get to pee where they want to.

Leave it to the wingnuts to get all worked up about the guvamint telling them they have to allow students to go where they want to and then in the next breath tell us how much they believe in giving people more freedom.  Just not those people.