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I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means…

Not every policy change is a reform, and I’m getting more than a little annoyed by efforts to paint things like tax cuts and voucher programs as “reforms.”

I’ve explained in previous posts why the abominable tax bill currently being rushed through Congress isn’t “reform.”  In several states, including Indiana, theocrats intent upon taking tax dollars from public school systems and directing those dollars to religious schools have employed a similar tactic, cloaking those efforts in the rhetoric of “educational reform.”

Betsy DeVos has frequently referred to one such program, in a county in Colorado, in glowing terms, so it was really satisfying to learn the results of a recent school board election in that county.

On Tuesday night, the longstanding fight over a controversial voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado, appeared to have come to an end. In a local school board election that has found its way into the national debate over voucher programs, four anti-voucher candidates—Chris Schor, Kevin Leung, Anthony Graziano, and Krista Holtzmann—defeated reform-supporting candidates in a landslide.

According to the story in Mother Jones, Douglas County is one of the wealthiest counties in the country. The school district is large, with 67,000 students.

As Politico has put it, the county “has gone further than any district in the nation to reshape public education into a competitive, free-market enterprise.” Since 2009, the board has successfully ended a collective bargaining agreement with the local teachers union and enacted a “pay for performance” salary system for teachers.

Its most controversial move, though, came in 2011, when it approved a sweeping school voucher program that aimed to give up to 500 students publicly-funded scholarships to attend participating private schools. The county’s voucher program was the first district-created program in the country. Ninety-three percent of the pilot class of scholarship recipients enrolled in religious schools, according to court documents. It sparked outcry from those who argued that it was a diversion of public money away from public schools. Over the next few years, the suburban district in many ways become a model for conservatives looking to reform education nationwide and the group of reform-minded board members received support from national right-wing groups like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

That generous financial support kept pro-voucher commissioners on the school board until an election in 2015, when three members were ousted by opponents of the program. The Board was still majority pro-voucher, 4-3, but their power was weakened.

This month, after a campaign that saw hundreds of thousands of dollars pour in from the Koch brothers, a Republican political committee on behalf of pro-voucher candidates and the teachers’ union on behalf of the anti-voucher candidates, the anti-voucher candidates swept to decisive victories in all seven races.

That voters were not swayed by the influx of money and rejected the voucher program was a great outcome. But here’s my beef. A spokesperson for the winning slate was quoted as follows:

“Students at every school, students at every grade level and students with varying needs, all of them won tonight because our schools can now continue the return to excellence that began two years ago, after it became clear that reform had failed our children.”

Reform didn’t fail. An effort to enrich religious schools at the expense of public ones failed.

If I learned one thing in law school and in the practice, it was this: he who frames the issue wins the debate. When political activists accept the other side’s framing, they are agreeing to fight on the other guy’s turf.

The word “reform” denotes improvement. Tax cuts for rich people at the expense of middle-class Americans isn’t “reform.” Robbing public schools in order to benefit religious schools isn’t “reform.” In both cases, it’s theft, and with respect to vouchers, it’s an effort to circumvent the First Amendment’s Separation of Church and State.

Call it what it is.

Women Are Always The Ones Cleaning Up….

The revelations about Harvey Weinstein–not to mention Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and a growing cast of other characters–have seemingly opened floodgates of pent-up female anger. The #metoo hashtag on social media, and the daily reports of confessions and accusations have been accompanied by a veritable tsunami of rage and recrimination.

Sex sells newspapers (or as we say these days, motivates clicks). But the attention paid to the problem isn’t just a way to sell media;  the revelations are clearly newsworthy, and the anger is justifiable. Most women–especially those of us who entered the workforce as so-called “pioneers”– can relate. We all have our stories, and I’m not exempt. On the other hand, we’ll be making a big mistake if our focus on sexual predators and harassment stories distracts from the emergence of another important wave of bipartisan feminine activism.

I think it is fair to say that a huge number of American women saw the 2016 election results as an existential threat to women’s equality and the well-being of our children and grandchildren.

The Women’s March was the first signal that–like Howard Beale in “Network”–we were “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” It was just the beginning.

Last weekend, I moderated a couple of panels in a day-and-a-half training event called “Ready to Run.” It was geared to women interested in running for public office at any level, and sessions explored the basics of a political campaign: research, fundraising, messaging. A couple hundred women from all over Indiana filled the ballroom at Hine Hall on the IUPUI campus: they were Republicans and Democrats and Independents, white and black and brown, Muslim, Christian and Jewish. Most had never run for or held political office–or thought they ever would.

But they were thinking about it now. Seriously.

What struck me about the attendees and their interactions and questions was a repeated emphasis on what they wanted to accomplish: a government characterized by civility and integrity–two words I heard over and over.

There’s an old saying in political circles to the effect that men run for office because they want to be someone, and women run because they want to do something. That’s obviously an unfair generalization, but the women I met at Ready to Run (like those working through Women4Change, one of the day’s sponsors) clearly want to make government work again. They understand government’s importance; they also understand that making government work properly will require research and knowledge–a familiarity with the operations of the agency or branch they propose to join, certainly, but also an understanding of the “big picture.” They are willing to study, to do the work necessary to acquire what I’ve sometimes called “constitutional competence”–a genuine understanding of our American approach to self-government.

Right now in Indiana, women have announced their candidacies for several Congressional seats and a number of legislative ones. Others are considering running for local school boards and city councils. If even a third of the attendees at “Ready to Run” follow through and win offices, we will see some pretty profound changes in Indiana. Even those who lose, however, will elevate the conversation and hold incumbents accountable.

Right now, a lot of women have just had it–both with the sexual predators who make it hard to do our jobs, and with the preening and power-hungry politicians who are more invested in their own importance than in making government work for its citizens. And when women have had it, things change.

It’s like that refrigerator magnet says: When momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

 

 

Good Things Still Happen!

The news isn’t all terrible. (Okay, mostly it is. But not all.) The GOP’s latest effort to strip healthcare from millions of Americans appears to be dead, and Patheos has reported on a rare and welcome bit of bipartisanship:

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved three amendments late Tuesday that would defund a notorious federal forfeiture program that was recently restored by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions…

Sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash, Tim Walberg, and Jamie Raskin and co-sponsored by Reps. Steve Cohen, Jim Sensenbrenner, and Mark Sanford, the amendments address so-called “adoptive” seizures and forfeitures. Under the federal adoption program, state and local law enforcement can seize property without filing criminal charges, and then transfer the seized property to federal prosecutors for forfeiture under federal law. Local and state agencies can collect up to 80 percent of the forfeiture proceeds.

This pernicious practice had been curtailed under former AG Holder, it has been reinstated by Sessions. The amendments cut off funding for the reinstated program. Political sentiment across the spectrum has shifted strongly against asset forfeiture; more than a dozen states have moved to restrict the practice over the past few years.

For those who may not be familiar with civil forfeiture, it is a practice that allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners of the property need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or real property to be confiscated by the government.

 

As the ACLU has explained,

Forfeiture was originally presented as a way to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by diverting their resources. But today, aided by deeply flawed federal and state laws, many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting. For people whose property has been seized through civil asset forfeiture, legally regaining such property is notoriously difficult and expensive, with costs sometimes exceeding the value of the property.

 

After Sessions moved to restore the program, The Atlantic looked at the numbers, which are staggering:

Civil forfeiture has existed in some form since the colonial era, although most of the current laws date to the War on Drugs’ heyday in the 1980s. Law-enforcement officials like Sessions defend modern civil forfeiture as a way to limit the resources of drug cartels and organized-crime groups. It’s also a lucrative tactic for law-enforcement agencies in an era of tight budgets: A Justice Department inspector general’s report in April found that federal forfeiture programs had taken in almost $28 billion over the past decade, and The Washington Post reported that civil-forfeiture seizures nationwide in 2015 surpassed the collective losses from all burglaries that same year.

 

Civil forfeiture has always been problematic, even in theory. As practiced, it makes a joke of the rule of law, not to mention constitutional values like fundamental fairness and limited governmental authority.

 

Let’s hope the Senate follows the example set by the House, and tells Jeff Sessions there are limits to his regressive efforts.

From Your Mouth To God’s Ears…

When I was a girl, if someone made a rosy prediction, my grandmother would respond with “From your mouth to God’s ears!” It was her way of saying, “I hope you are right!”

That phrase came immediately to mind when I saw this Washington Post headline –“How Trump is Helping to Save Democracy.”

Ordinarily, seeing  a headline like that would signal that the piece was written by a pro-Trump apologist, but the co-authors of the column were Norman Ornstein, Thomas Mann and E.J. Dionne, all of whom I respect immensely, and the column itself made an argument that I have actually made myself, at least in my more Pollyanna moments.

The election of Donald Trump could be one of the best things that ever happened to American democracy.

We say this even though we believe that Trump poses a genuine danger to our republican institutions and has done enormous damage to our country. He has violated political norms, weakened our standing in the world and deepened the divisions of an already sharply torn nation.

But precisely because the Trump threat is so profound, he has jolted much of the country to face problems that have been slowly eroding our democracy. And he has aroused a popular mobilization that may far outlast him.

The article went on to enumerate the multiple points of resistance to the Trump Administration, and the recognition by previously apolitical Americans that apathy is no longer an option.

The election has also highlighted the importance of democratic norms of behavior.

Trump’s sheer disregard for the normal practices and principles of presidential behavior has cast a spotlight on the vital role that norms play in regulating and protecting our democracy. Only when norms disappear are we reminded of how important they were in the first place.

Trump has also brought the simmering divisions within the GOP to the fore; the defections from the party line from principled conservatives make it more likely that the party will have to face up to the reality that white supremacists and outright racists have become an important segment of its base.

A large group of influential conservative thinkers — Jennifer Rubin, Michael Gerson, Max Boot, George F. Will, Peter Wehner, William Kristol and Tom Nichols, to name just a few — has spoken out against the nativist and xenophobic strain in the Republican Party that gave rise to Trump and against his manifest disrespect for our institutions. They want a problem-solving Republican Party, a necessity for our political system to operate. Only a handful of Republican politicians have joined them, but their ranks are growing and include Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Meanwhile, Republicans’ failure to pass any major piece of their legislative agenda, despite their control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, is a sign that tea partyism provides no plausible path to governing.

The column approvingly notes the pushback Trump has received from corporate America and the press, especially (but certainly not exclusively) his refusal to condemn the Nazis and Klansmen who marched in Charlottesville, and his rescinding of DACA protections for undocumented children brought to the U.S. by their parents. And it applauds renewed civic activism.

The Trump jolt has done more than force the country to a necessary reckoning. It has also called forth a wave of activism, organizing and, perhaps most important, a new engagement by millions of Americans in politics at all levels.

The entire column is worth reading.

It’s probably true that, had Hillary won, the U.S. would have experienced four or eight more years of what we had under Obama–a Republican-dominated Congress determined to block any and all Administration initiatives, no matter the common good or national interest.  Trump’s election has made the increasing evidence of the dysfunction of our government impossible to ignore.

I just wish I could be confident that the resistance these scholars describe will ultimately succeed in correcting our downward spiral–preferably, before the maniac in the White House triggers a nuclear war.

From their mouths and God’s ears…..

If You’ve Been Missing This Blog….

My apologies, but today I’m taking a “time out” from substantive matters to address an irritating housekeeping issue.

Over the past several weeks, I have been getting messages from people who generally access this blog on Facebook, saying that they no longer see it in their feeds, and asking what happened.

I investigated, and discovered that I am not the only blogger, or manager of a Facebook page, who has been having this problem; Facebook has changed its algorithm, and the various efforts made by bloggers and others to “fix” the issue and regain the previous level of visibility have had very spotty results.

My webmaster (aka my son) has been working on the problem, and will probably continue tinkering with solutions for awhile, so I’m asking for your patience if glitches arise due to changes/experiments he’s trying. But this is important: he tells me that the only way to ensure receipt of my daily posts is by subscribing to the site. The process is very simple, and there is a “subscribe” button on the front page. Subscribers get a daily email with a link to that day’s post. People who rely on their Facebook feed remain at the mercy of Facebook’s algorithms, which (as we’ve seen) change periodically.

Of course, those of you reading this message aren’t the ones having the problem–which leaves me with a dilemma: how do I reach the people who are no longer getting these posts?

Since the latest Facebook change (which appears calculated to “encourage” paid advertising, a tactic I am loathe to reward), my readership has fallen significantly. Google Analytics confirms that I was getting nearly half of my readership through Facebook. So here’s my request to those of you who agree with my  often-snarky and sometimes convoluted musings –or at least find them worth discussing/considering: if you have a Facebook or other social media account, please share these posts there. Or forward them on to friends.

And if you are a Facebook reader who is still seeing this blog in your feed, or in posts by your friends, please consider subscribing to ensure that you will continue to get it.

Okay–enough shameless promotion. Tomorrow, this site returns to its regularly scheduled content….