Massachusetts Governor’s Office Advises Pro-Charter Allies to Use Private Emails

It is no secret that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker wants to more privately managed charter schools in his state. He has been openly campaigning for Question 2, that would privatize a dozen schools every year for the indefinite future. As readers on this blog have often noted, once charter schools are part of the picture, they dominate all discussions about education. As we have seen in many other states, charter schools fight any accountability or transparency even though they receive public money. They operate in secret with taxpayer dollars, keep the students they want, push out the ones they don’t want.

Recently some emails became public that reveal an interesting part of the discussion. The advocates for charter schools in the governor’s office are advised to use their personal email accounts, so their efforts to promote privatization cannot be subject to FOIL (Freedom of Information Law). They are paid by the public, and acting against the public interest, and they don’t want voters to read about their conversations.

The emails can be seen here.

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Ross Douthat: President Trump? Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

The New York Times invited Ross Douthat to be its regular conservative commentator. He writes here about the catastrophes that a Trump presidency would create.

First, he predicts, would come an economic crisis and a recession comparable to Britain post-Brexit.

Then would be inevitable civil disorders as white nationalists flaunt their new power, encouraged by Trump’s mouth.

Add to that international disorder as every other nation seeks to take advantage of Trump’s ignorance and naïveté.

And this is the view of the Times’ conservative columnist!

A portion:

“The first is sustained market jitters, leading to an economic slump. Trump’s election alone would probably induce a Brexit-esque stock market dip, but the real problem would be what happened next. Instead of Theresa May’s steadiness inspiring a return to fundamentals, you would have the spectacle — and it will be a spectacle — of the same Trump team that drop-kicked its policy shop and barely organized a national campaign trying to staff up an administration. Even without his promised pivot to mercantilism and trade war, a White House run as a Trump production is likely to mainline anxiety into the economy, sidelining capital, discouraging hiring and shaving points off the G.D.P.

“The second peril is major civil unrest. Some of Trump’s supporters imagine that his election would be a blow to left-wing activists, that his administration would swiftly reverse the post-Ferguson crime increase. This is a bit like imagining that a President George Wallace would have been good for late-1960s civil peace. In reality, Trump’s election would be a gift to bad cops and riot-ready radicals in equal measure, and his every intervention would pour gasoline on campuses and cities — not least because as soon as any protest movement had a face or leader, Trump would be on cable bellowing ad hominems at them.

“The third likely highly-plausible peril, and by far the most serious, is a rapid escalation of risk in every geopolitical theater. It’s probably true that Trump, given his pro-Russia line, would be somewhat less likely than Clinton to immediately stumble into confrontation with Vladimir Putin over Syria. But it’s silly to imagine Moscow slipping into a comfortable détente with a President Trump; Putin is more likely to pocket concessions and keep pushing, testing the orange-haired dealmaker at every opportunity and leaving Trump poised, very dangerously, between overreaction and his least-favorite position — looking weak.

“That’s just Russia: From the Pacific Rim to the Middle East, revisionist powers will set out to test Trump’s capacity to handle surprise, hostile actors will seek to exploit the undoubted chaos of his White House, and our allies will build American fecklessness into their strategic plans. And again, all of this is likely to happen without Trump doing the wilder things he’s kind-of sort-of pledged to do — demanding tribute from allies, trying to “take the oil,” etc. He need only be himself in order to bring an extended period of risk upon the world.

“The history of geopolitics prior to the Pax Americana is rife with examples of why this sort of testing should be feared. Overall, Trump’s foreign policy hazing, his rough introduction to machtpolitik, promises more danger for global stability — still a real and valuable thing, recent crises notwithstanding — than the risks incurred by George W. Bush’s interventionism, Barack Obama’s attempt at offshore balancing, or (yes) Hillary Clinton’s possible exposure of classified material to the Chinese, the Russians and Anthony Weiner’s sexting partners.

“There is no algorithm that can precisely calibrate how to weigh global instability against the reasons that remain for conservatives to vote for Trump. No mathematical proof can demonstrate that the chance of a solidly-conservative Supreme Court justice isn’t worth a scaled-up risk of great power conflict.

“But I think that reluctant Trump supporters are overestimating the systemic durability of the American-led order, and underestimating the extent to which a basic level of presidential competence and self-control is itself a matter of life and death — for Americans, and for human beings the world over.

“I may be wrong. But none of my fears (and I have many) of what a Hillary Clinton presidency will bring are strong enough to make me want to run the risk of being proven right.”

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Jane Mayer on the James Comey Letter

Jane Mayer of The New Yorker is a careful investigative reporter. Her most recent book is “Dark Money,” which explores the billionaires’ assault on democracy.

She wrote a post about James Comey and his decision to go rogue, breaking well-established policies at the Justice Department, not to make unsubstantiated accusations and not to meddle in elections.

She writes:

“Comey’s decision is a striking break with the policies of the Department of Justice, according to current and former federal legal officials. Comey, who is a Republican appointee of President Obama, has a reputation for integrity and independence, but his latest action is stirring an extraordinary level of concern among legal authorities, who see it as potentially affecting the outcome of the Presidential and congressional elections.

“You don’t do this,” one former senior Justice Department official exclaimed. “It’s aberrational. It violates decades of practice.” The reason, according to the former official, who asked not to be identified because of ongoing cases involving the department, “is because it impugns the integrity and reputation of the candidate, even though there’s no finding by a court, or in this instance even an indictment.”

“Traditionally, the Justice Department has advised prosecutors and law enforcement to avoid any appearance of meddling in the outcome of elections, even if it means holding off on pressing cases. One former senior official recalled that Janet Reno, the Attorney General under Bill Clinton, “completely shut down” the prosecution of a politically sensitive criminal target prior to an election. “She was adamant—anything that could influence the election had to go dark,” the former official said.

“Four years ago, then Attorney General Eric Holder formalized this practice in a memo to all Justice Department employees. The memo warned that, when handling political cases, officials “must be particularly sensitive to safeguarding the Department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality, and nonpartisanship.” To guard against unfair conduct, Holder wrote, employees facing questions about “the timing of charges or overt investigative steps near the time of a primary or general election” should consult with the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division.

“The F.B.I. director is an employee of the Justice Department, and is covered by its policies. But when asked whether Comey had followed these guidelines and consulted with the Public Integrity Section, or with any other department officials, Kevin Lewis, a deputy director of public affairs for the Justice Department, said, “We have no comment on the matter.”

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I Support Tom Nelson for Congress in Wisconsin

If you live in Northeast Wisconsin, I urge you to support Tom Nelson for Congress.

He has never accepted money from DFER or any other privatizers.

He has fought Scott Walker over Walker’s full-blown efforts to privatize public funding for public schools.

He has served in the state legislature and as a county executive.

Elect a friend of public education to Congress!

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Troy LaRaviere Warns Boston Teachers About Charters

Troy LaRaviere, award-winning principal in Chicago who was dismissed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel for what was probably political reasons (he supported Senator Sanders in the primaries and he is an outspoken critic of Rahm) recently spoke to the Boston Teachers Union. He came to warn them to fight hard against Question 2, which would expand charters. He explained the havoc that charters have wreaked in Chicago, the damage they have done to public schools, even though public schools outperform the charters.

His talk was “Why Public Schools Are Far Better than Charter Schools.”

Although Rahm fired him, LaRaviere was elected by his colleagues as president of the Chicago Principals’ and Administrators’ Association.

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Rebecca Mead of The New Yorker: Did the Candidates Forget about K-12 Education?

Rebecca Mead writes in The New Yorker that the presidential campaign has almost entirely overlooked K-12 education. The subject never came up in the presidential debates (nor did climate change).

She writes:

Unsurprisingly, the candidates differ as much on their approach to education as they do on virtually every other issue, as the Washington Post outlined in a helpful analysis earlier this month. In September, Donald Trump delivered a speech at the Cleveland Arts and Sciences Academy, a charter school in Cleveland, Ohio, in which he offered his vision, though not before delivering an extended peroration about the perfidies of his Democratic opponent—e-mail, Iraq, the Clinton Foundation—unrelated to educational concerns. When he did get around to his own proposals, he spoke of expanding existing school-choice programs, promising that in a Trump Administration twenty billion dollars of federal education funds would be reassigned to provide a block grant enabling the eleven million students living in poverty to attend the private or public school of their parents’ choice. “Competition always does it,” he said. “The weak fall out and the strong get better. It is an amazing thing.” He advocated merit pay for teachers, stated his opposition to Common Core, and spoke in favor of charter schools and against teachers’ unions. “It’s time for our country to start thinking big and correct once again,” he declared, thereby failing to meet the second-grade Common Core standard 2.1.E. (“Use adjectives and adverbs, and choose between them depending on what is to be modified.”)

Clinton has a long-standing commitment to educational issues; as First Lady of Arkansas, in 1983, she headed a committee to improve academic achievement among the state’s public-school students. She has declared the intention of “preparing, supporting, and paying every child’s teacher as if the future of our country is in their hands,” and has given some suggestions as to how that estimable goal would be accomplished. She has said that she will provide funding to increase the teaching of computer science; she has also pledged to fund the rebuilding of school infrastructure, and to address the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, whereby African-American and minority students are disproportionately subject to overly punitive disciplinary policies, often involving law enforcement, within the schools they attend; she would fund interventions in social and emotional learning, to the tune of two billion dollars.

Clinton has left us all guessing about charter schools, but she has a balancing act: She needs money to run her campaign (think DFER), and she needs to satisfy the her strong supporters, the teachers’ unions, whose very existence is put at risk by the growth of the non-union charter industry (more than 90% of charter schools are non-union).

But of this we can be sure: Trump is 100% aligned with the far-right that hates public schools and unions. He loves charter schools and vouchers. He thinks he will “get rid” of the Common Core, but he doesn’t know that the president does not have the power to do so. His surrogate Carl Paladino of Buffalo, New York, said that Trump would not put an educator in charge of the Department of Education. The Trump campaign seems to look at public education as a cancerous growth on American society.

A vote for Trump is a vote to cripple and perhaps abandon public education.

A vote for Clinton is a vote for a candidate who has some good ideas and who knows that Obama’s education policies have been unsuccessful. Many think she will continue the status quo, but count me as one who expects that she will look for ways to improve public schools, not destroy them.

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What Kind of a School Fines a Departing Teacher $6,087 for “Liquidated Damages”?

EduShyster knows the answer: A popular suburban charter school in Massachusetts called the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School. This is a school that was created by a group of friends and families that wanted the equivalent of a private school at public school prices. It makes up its own rules. It has very high test scores. And the state has received scores of complaints about the school.

She writes:

So what were parents complaining about?

Special education services, denial of;

English Language Learners, complete lack of;

Teachers, high turnover of;

Property all over Malden, snapping up of (in cash, which seems, um, kind of strange);

Open meeting laws, ignoring of;

Friends and family of founders, hiring of/preferential treatment of;

Admissions lottery, odds-defying nature of, especially when concerning founders, friends and family of;

Communication with board, difficulty of;

Spending priorities, nature of (see $12 million athletic facility, building of)

Student club and athletic team fees, high cost of;

Day-to-day management of the school, interference in

Parents and students who complained, repercussions against, nudging towards door of

In which we pause briefly to consider one downside of the charter model

Let’s pause here briefly to consider why these parents have been deluging state officials with their complaints. You see, because charter schools are autonomous, overseen by their hand-picked boards, parents who have issues with the school and its management have no choice but to bring their complaints to the friends-and-family-esque Board of Directors. Which can be *awkward,* not to mention difficult, because of the board’s penchant for conducting much of its business out of view of the public. The state, meanwhile, doesn’t have much leverage either. While it can step in when the law is being broken or non-complied with, there is no statutory penalty for what might best be described as *dick-ish-ness.* Add in the fact that Mystic Valley is awash in the very treasure that the state most treasures these days—high MCAS scores and a long wait list—and, well, you see where this is not going. As for those unhappy parents, they have a choice: suck it up or *vote with their feet.*

The founders treat the school as their private school, funded by taxpayers. No one cares about the complaints of parents or teachers. The state provides no supervision. What will happen if the charter cap is lifted and more such publically funded, unaccountable, elite charters pop up?

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Two Deputy Attorney Generals, Democrat and Republican, Say Comey Undermines Democracy

Jamie Gorelick, who served as Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton administration, and Larry Thompson, who served as Deputy Attorney General in the George W. Bush administration, strongly criticized FBI Director James Comey for his recent actions.

They write:

The Justice Department has a proud history of enforcing the federal criminal law without fear or favor, and especially without regard to politics. It operates under long-standing and well-established traditions limiting disclosure of ongoing investigations to the public and even to Congress, especially in a way that might be seen as influencing an election. These traditions protect the integrity of the department and the public’s confidence in its mission to take care that the laws are faithfully and impartially executed. They reflect an institutional balancing of interests, delaying disclosure and public knowledge to avoid misuse of prosecutorial power by creating unfair innuendo to which an accused party cannot properly respond.

Decades ago, the department decided that in the 60-day period before an election, the balance should be struck against even returning indictments involving individuals running for office, as well as against the disclosure of any investigative steps. The reasoning was that, however important it might be for Justice to do its job, and however important it might be for the public to know what Justice knows, because such allegations could not be adjudicated, such actions or disclosures risked undermining the political process. A memorandum reflecting this choice has been issued every four years by multiple attorneys general for a very long time, including in 2016.

When they take their vows and assume office, senior officials in the Justice Department and the FBI become part of these traditions, with an obligation to preserve, protect and defend them. They enjoy a credibility established by generations of honorable public servants, and they owe a solemn obligation to maintain that credibility. They are not to arrogate to themselves the choices made by the Justice Department and honored over the years.

As part of that obligation, they must recognize that the department is an institution, not a person. As its temporary custodians, they must neither seek the spotlight for their own advancement nor avoid accountability for the hard decisions they inevitably face. Justice allows neither for self-aggrandizing crusaders on high horses nor for passive bureaucrats wielding rubber stamps from the shadows. It demands both humility and responsibility.

As former deputy attorneys general in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, we are troubled by the apparent departure from these standards in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server. First, the FBI director, James B. Comey, put himself enthusiastically forward as the arbiter of not only whether to prosecute a criminal case — which is not the job of the FBI — but also best practices in the handling of email and other matters. Now, he has chosen personally to restrike the balance between transparency and fairness, departing from the department’s traditions. As former deputy attorney general George Terwilliger aptly put it, “There’s a difference between being independent and flying solo.”

At the same time, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch — nominally Comey’s boss — has apparently been satisfied with advising Comey but not ordering him to abide by the rules. She, no doubt, did not want to override the FBI director in such a highly political matter, but she should not have needed to. He should have abided by the policy on his own.

Events as they have played out point to the value of the department’s traditions. Having taken the extraordinary steps of briefing the public, testifying before Congress about a decision not to prosecute and sharing investigative material, Comey now finds himself wanting to update the public and Congress on each new development in the investigation, even before he and others have had a chance to assess its significance. He may well have been criticized after the fact had he not advised Congress of the investigative steps that he was taking. But it was his job — consistent with the best traditions of the Department of Justice — to make the right decision and take that criticism if it came. Department officials owe the public an explanation of how events have unfolded the way they have. There must be some recognition that it is important not to allow an investigation to become hijacked by the red-hot passions of a political contest.

As it stands, we now have real-time, raw-take transparency taken to its illogical limit, a kind of reality TV of federal criminal investigation. Perhaps worst of all, it is happening on the eve of a presidential election. It is antithetical to the interests of justice, putting a thumb on the scale of this election and damaging our democracy.

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I Wish I Could Vote for Hillary Clinton Twice

[This article was posted last night at zhuffington Post.]

As we all know, James Comey, the director of the FBI, shook up the Presidential election by informing Congress that the FBI is re-opening the investigation of Hillary Clinton after finding thousands of emails on the computer used by her close aide Huma Abedin and her lecherous husband Anthony Wiener. Director Comey said in his brief message that the emails have not been reviewed and may not be significant.

This announcement was contrary to the Justice Department’s longstanding policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations and not interfering in elections within the 60 days prior to the vote. Comey’s intervention may influence the outcome of the election, and he surely knows it. Let me repeat from his own statement to Congress that the emails have not been reviewed and may not be significant.

A Trump supporter in Iowa was arrested for voting twice. She was caught breaking the law. She said she was convinced that the election was “rigged,” as her candidate has said scores of times, so she thought she should vote twice.

Well, I won’t be voting twice, because it is against the law.

But I feel more strongly than ever that Donald Trump is a menace to our nation and to the world. He will do anything and say anything to spew hatred of Hillary Clinton and distrust for our democracy and its electoral process. He said a few days ago that the election should be canceled and he should be anointed President.

Let me count the reasons why I will do whatever I can to support Hillary Clinton.

She is far better qualified for the presidency than Donald Trump, who is completely unfit for the position.

She is better educated, more experienced, more thoughtful, wiser, and more knowledgeable than Trump.

She has a demonstrated commitment to the well-being of all Americans, while he is a bigot who has manipulated his followers’ fear of anyone who is not white and Christian.

Let me count the reasons that Trump should not be president.

He has stirred bigotry against blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and women.

By his own admission, he is a sexual predator.

He will appoint Supreme Court justices committed to rolling back Roe v. Wade, civil rights, environmental protection, and any restrictions on campaign finance and on corporate greed.

He has given no evidence that he understands either foreign or domestic policy.

He has given permission to all the hate groups in the nation to crawl out from under their respective rocks and voice their venom against Jews, blacks, Muslims, Hispanics, and anyone they consider “other.” Anyone who expresses criticism of Trump on Twitter receives hundreds or thousands of responses that are anti-Semitic, anti-black, anti-everything but white nationalism.

Trump has unleashed a virulent form of white nationalism that has felt ashamed to show its face–or its hoods–for many years. If you want to know more about the Trump base, read this article that appeared in the New Yorker about a man who spends full time as a “troll for Trump.”

To understand his campaign and the white nationalists who are managing it, read this article “Inside the Bunker,” which I posted a few days ago.

Donald Trump is ignorant of the government, of democratic processes, of economics, and of any of the issues facing our nation.

Trump lacks the character or temperament to be President. He is a bully. He is vengeful. He is thin-skinned. He is a braggart. He is a con man. He is a liar. He has a documented history of defrauding the same people who are now voting for him, the working people to whom he offers lies and false promises of bringing back jobs that were lost to automation and outsourcing (which he participated in with his own products). And then there is Trump University, which ripped off working people, widows, and pensioners with false promises of riches. He should be selling snake oil, not running for the highest office in the land.

Listening to the radio this morning (CNN), I heard one of his biographers defend him (“The Truth about Trump”), saying that he was a consummate performer. He actually believes in nothing. No, there won’t be a wall, and Mexico won’t pay for it. He is running because he wants to win the biggest prize of all: the Presidency. He isn’t interesting in being President, just winning. Not to worry, Mike Pence will run the country. Pence is a homophobe who went on national television to defend discrimination against gays but was forced by corporations to back down when they threatened to leave Indiana. Mike Pence, darling of the far right, former talk-show host, is the Rush Limbaugh of Indiana.

James Comey acted inappropriately. He ignored the policies and norms of the Justice Department and the FBI. He announced a new investigation without any facts or evidence or charges; it will be weeks or months before the FBI decides whether there is anything of significance on the laptop shared by Anthony Wiener and Huma Abedin. If Comey helps elect Donald Trump, he should start a new investigation of the fraudulent voting inspired by Trump’s phony claims of vote rigging and the fraudulent business practices of President Trump. Will Trump separate himself from his hotel chain and his golf courses? Will he use his position as President to drum up money for his business empire? Will his children continue to profit from his businesses? He can’t put his business empire into a blind trust. Will he pause in affairs of state to open a new hotel, as he did a few days ago, or to launch a new line of clothing?

If this charlatan is elected, our democracy is at risk. Our economy is at risk. Our ideals, our values, and our aspirations for a more perfect union will be endangered by the takeover of the national government by the alt-right, by men like Steve Bannon of Breitbart, Roger Ailes of Fox News, and Rudy Guiliani, the skeletal ex-mayor of New York City who cheers on all of Trump’s wildest exaggerations.

Trump says he represents change, and that is true. But Trump’s change would mean chaos, incompetence at the highest levels of government, and a revival of the worst racism and bigotry of our lifetimes.

I can only vote for Hillary once, but I will vote for her with renewed enthusiasm.

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New York Times Endorses Zephyr Teachout

Good news for Zephyr Teachout!

She received the endorsement of the News York Times!

From the New York Times’ endorsement of Zephyr Teachout:

“In the sprawling 19th District, in the Hudson Valley and Catskills, Zephyr Teachout, a Democrat, is running against John Faso, a Republican who was the Assembly minority leader. Ms. Teachout, a Fordham law professor and author, is an expert on political corruption and the corrosive influence of money in politics. She gained national attention as a political novice for her surprisingly potent bid to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary. Her campaign is focused on fighting corporate monopolies and dirty money, protecting the environment and cutting red tape for small businesses and farms. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a kindred spirit, has endorsed her.

“Mr. Faso, well known and respected in this district, has a lifetime ‘A’ rating from the National Rifle Association. He wants to support the local economy by speeding up environmental reviews of big projects and cutting corporate taxes. Mr. Faso says he disagrees with Mr. Trump on several issues but refuses to say whether or not he will vote for him. Ms. Teachout is the better candidate for this era of gridlock and disillusionment. She promises to be the strong voice for change in Washington that so many angry voters are demanding.”

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