Monday, August 31, 2020

"...The American people have both the right and the need to know that another nation, Russia, is trying to help decide who their president should be..." -Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff

Washington, DC – Today [August 29, 2020], Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) released the following statement following the cancellation of all election security briefings for the Congress by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence:
“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has informed us that it will no longer provide briefings to Members of Congress, including the House and Senate Intelligence committees, on foreign efforts to interfere in our upcoming election.  This is a shocking abdication of its lawful responsibility to keep the Congress currently informed, and a betrayal of the public’s right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy.  This intelligence belongs to the American people, not the agencies which are its custodian.  And the American people have both the right and the need to know that another nation, Russia, is trying to help decide who their president should be. 
“The ODNI had requested the opportunity to brief the intelligence committees and the full U.S. House of Representatives in mid-September and has now cancelled those briefings and said it would hold no others.  This is shameful and – coming only weeks before the election – demonstrates that the Trump Administration is engaged in a politicized effort to withhold election-related information from Congress and the American people at the precise moment that greater transparency and accountability is required.  This keeps both the American people and the Congress in the dark, when both are in need of the information. 
“Instead of transparency, the Trump Administration, including President Trump, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, has already sought to promote a false narrative of equivalence among the interests of several nations in U.S. elections and policy.  The aims and actions of Russia, China and Iran are not the same.  Only one country – Russia – is actively undertaking a range of measures to undermine the presidential election and to secure the outcome that the Kremlin sees as best serving its interests.
“We expect the Administration and Intelligence Community to keep us fully and accurately informed, and resume the briefings.  If they are unwilling to, we will consider the full range of tools available to the House to compel compliance.”

Sunday, August 30, 2020

On His Second Term: "I Think It Would Be Very Very"

Washington (CNN) “On Thursday night, President Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination for a second term. Twenty-four hours earlier, he had a very hard time saying exactly what he would do with another four years.

“‘But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we'd have a very, very solid, we would continue what we're doing, we'd solidify what we've done, and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done,’ Trump told The New York Times' Peter Baker.
Yes, that's the quote. And no, it makes no sense.

“Which really shouldn't surprise anyone paying attention. Trump has repeatedly struggled to articulate why he wants a second term -- and what he would do with it -- over these last few months.

“Last month, in an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Trump offered this up when asked about four more years: ‘One of the things that will be really great -- the word experience is still good, I always say talent is more important than experience, I've always said that -- but the word experience is a very important word, a very important meaning. I never did this before, never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington maybe 17 times and all of a sudden I'm the President of the United States, you know the story, riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with our first lady and I say this is great but I didn't know very many people in Washington, it wasn't my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York, and now I know everybody. And I have great people in the administration. You make some mistakes, like an idiot like Bolton, you don't have to drop bombs on everybody.’

(Sidebar: That is 138 words of not answering the question.)

“Then, days later, Eric Bolling, an anchor for conservative Sinclair Broadcasting, gave Trump a second chance. Which he didn't take. Here's part of how Trump answered Bolling's second term question:

“‘We're going to make America great again. We've rebuilt the military, we have a ways to go. We've done things for the vets like nobody's ever seen. We can do even more -- we did choice, as you know, we did accountability. What we've done nobody's been able to do. But we have more to do... At the end of our first term, it's going to be great, it would have been phenomenal. We got hit with the plague. At the end of the second term, it's going to be at a level that nobody will have ever seen a country. We're doing it, whether it's trade, whether it's military -- all made in the USA, so important. Made in the USA. ... We've got to bring back our manufacturing and I brought it back very big, but we have to make our own pharmaceutical products, our own drugs, prescription drugs.’

“Again, what? Trump's answers about his second term tend to be a recitation of what he did in his first term -- and then sort of a vague promise to do, uh, more of that. Or, in the words of Vice President Mike Pence at the Republican convention on Wednesday night: ‘Make America Great Again. Again.’

“Trump has never been a big planner -- or someone who sees long-term. This excerpt from The Art of the Deal is one of the most important passages to understand both Trump and his approach to life -- and the presidency:

“‘Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don't carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can't be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you've got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops. There is no typical week in my life. I wake up most mornings very early, around six, and spend the first hour or so of each day reading the morning newspapers. I usually arrive at my office by nine, and I get on the phone. There's rarely a day with fewer than fifty calls, and often it runs to over a hundred. In between, I have at least a dozen meetings. The majority occur on the spur of the moment, and few of them last longer than fifteen minutes. I rarely stop for lunch. I leave my office by six-thirty, but I frequently make calls from home until midnight, and all weekend long.’

“‘I play it very loose.’ ‘I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.’ ‘I have at least a dozen meetings. The majority occur on the spur of the moment, and few of them last longer than fifteen minutes.’

“Trump is -- and has always been -- far more reactive than proactive. He isn't someone any sort of blueprint he is following or even a general sense of where he would like a day/week/month/year of his presidency to wind up. Things happen. He reacts. Then he reacts to the reaction. It's why Trump loves Twitter so much; he can gauge reaction in real time and then respond accordingly.

“This approach, of course, has its downsides. Mostly that Trump's first term has felt like a constant lurching between a panoply of issues and grievances as opposed to any sort of steady attempt to push a few core principles or policies. So, when Trump is asked about a second term, he's unable to come up with any sort of cohesive answer -- descending instead into a sort of laundry list of stuff he's done (or thinks he done) in his first four years.

“The real answer of what a second Trump term would look like? Exactly like his first term: Seat-of-the-pants decision-making, policy being created to fit a spontaneous tweet and lots (and lots) of chaos” (CNN). 

Saturday, August 29, 2020


“The first ‘unalienable right’ that Jefferson mentions in ‘The Declaration of Independence’ as a ‘self-evident’ truth is ‘life.’ Without it, there would be only oblivion and its cold rocks. Trump’s most egregious act has been to insult this truth by choosing to ignore essential measures and precautions to safeguard against Covid-19.

“[More than] 180,000 now dead, and still he refuses to wear a mask or enforce CDC regulations in an effort to protect the precious life of the nation. He is no less than a killer, announcing in the midst of over a thousand American deaths a day that ‘the virus is behind us’ when it isn’t.

“But his murderous attitude and dearth of responsible policies toward both the health of his fellow citizens AND the environment are not simply due to his lack of respect and belief in sound science, but to a mean-spirited, illiterate, polarizing, gangster-like, narcissistic personality that values only his life and personal wealth.

“By blaming innocent victims of police brutality, along with peaceful protesters, for their own murders while extolling vigilantes as justified peace keepers and ‘nice people,’ he violates the first and most sacred truth of Americans’ unalienable right with a fascist ‘law and order’ mentality.

“He willfully maintains a hard heart that’s impervious to human life’s most essential quality, namely an empathetic understanding of the other, especially those most unlike himself.

“He fails miserably at apprehending the idea of a trans-personal self that maintains the highest democratic principle which Walt Whitman expressed so eloquently in the opening lines of his poem, ‘Song of Myself’: ‘Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.’

“And not only doesn’t he begin to grasp the universal tenets of democracy, he willfully chooses to oppress and kill with prevarication, delusion, and a devil-take-hindmost cruelty. He’s not American. He’s a monster.

-Chard DeNiord

Chard DeNiord is an American author, Poet Laureate of Vermont, poet, and teacher. He lives in Westminster West, Vermont with his wife Liz. Chard DeNiord is the author of five poetry collections Asleep in the Fire, Sharp Golden Thorn, Night Mowing, The Double Truth, and Interstate: Wikipedia

Friday, August 28, 2020

Resistance through Silence in Camus’s The Plague by Matthew Blackman

“The writer and philosopher Albert Camus grew up in a world of silences in a working class suburb in Algiers. His mother, who was partly deaf and spoke so little that people assumed she was mute, was a mysterious figure in his life. The poet and scholar Stephen Watson described her as a Christ-like figure in Camus’ religionless world

Camus’ regular bouts of tuberculosis—contracted when he was 17—placed him, as he struggled for breath, in a ‘monastery’ of ‘silence.’ And then there were, as Camus put it, the ‘silenced and subjugated’ Arabs whom he grew up alongside in Algeria. Given the circumstances of his youth, it is perhaps unsurprising that his last form of political protest was a refusal to speak.

“In Camus’ creative work, silence is everywhere. It often stands in stark opposition to the bureaucratic state, bourgeois rationalism, and ideologies which condone ‘rational murder.’ The silences are set in opposition to dominant discourses that justify oppression, violence, and murder in the name of ‘freedom’ or ‘law and order.’ In Camus’ most famous novel L’Etranger (1942) the main character, Meursault, is condemned to death: not for the murder of an Arab, but because he is silent in the face of the norms of French society and its legal system.

“However, the story of Camus’ famous public silence really begins with the publication of The Plague (1947), a novel that has found a new readership in our COVID-19 period. The chronicle of the plague-infested city of Oran, in northern Algeria reflects stark parallels to our ‘new normal.’ The dogged heroism of the frontline workers, the daily publicized deaths, the incomplete science, the reckless sociopolitical rhetoric, the desperate hope for a vaccine, are all there.

“The chronicle of Oran, besieged by rats, relates the travails of Dr. Rieux, a quiet hardworking medic during a time of a plague in ‘194–.’ As Rieux’s job takes on broader public engagement, he befriends another taciturn man by the name of Tarrou. Together they take on the tasks of fighting the faceless bacterium, caring for the infected, counting the dead, sanitizing the city, and testing a new vaccine.

“Underlying the actions of these two silent men is a greater philosophical point—one that is only made clear when Tarrou suggests to Rieux that ‘suppose we take an hour off—for friendship?’ As they sit, the ‘silence returned’ to the city, Tarrou extends the notion of the plague from a faceless, amoral microbe to the idea that people are its carriers; that in an epidemic, human actions have devastating, and mortal, consequences.

“‘And I know, too, that we must keep endless watch on ourselves,’ he says to Rieux, ‘lest in a careless moment we breathe in somebody’s face and fasten the infection on him… All I maintain,’ Tarrou continues, ‘is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.’

“As Camus would explain after The Plague’s publication, not least in his philosophical work The Rebel (1951), the plague that every person carries with them is transmitted as much in the breath of our words as in a cough or sneeze. Ideological discourse that justifies violence and ‘rational murder,’ as fascism, colonialism, and communism did, is as deadly as any pandemic. The Plague, in this sense, seems to have an even starker relevance not only in our current pandemic, but in a political world where the murderous violence of authority is condoned.

“Camus would be systematically ridiculed, questioned and condemned for these ideas, right up to the present day. His erstwhile friend Jean-Paul Sartre was the first to humiliate Camus, mocking him relentlessly for his naïve, moralizing stance against all political violence. To make an omelette, Sartre and his fellow Marxists argued, you had to break a few eggs. As Ronald Aronson points out, Sartre went further, suggesting that violence had ethical value.

“This philosophical battle between the men, which initially took place in Sartre’s publication Les Temps Modernes, would gather momentum in tandem with the troubles in Algeria. As editor of the French Resistance newspaper Combat, an important voice in postwar France, Camus had called for an end to French colonialism. But, as the scholar John Foley points out, Camus had argued for a ‘one state’ solution for his beloved Algeria, the country federated within France with equal political rights for Arabs and Berbers.

“But Camus’ voice was a marginal one, and much to Camus’ disquiet, the two dominant discourses that emerged from the debate were uncompromisingly bellicose. By the early 1950s many of Camus’ friends on the left had begun to vocally support the militant Arab nationalism of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), while the opposing voice of a combative French establishment was supported by the French colonial pied noirs with whom Camus had grown up.

“Neither side would compromise, and a full-scale war of independence began in 1954. A year later, Camus would write that if neither side would listen to one another, Algeria would become a site of plague: ‘a land of ruins and of corpses that no force, no power in the world, will be able to restore in our century.’

“With hundreds of thousands (some say millions) of people killed and a policy of torture adopted by the French government, the Algerian war would be one of the most vicious and devastating Africa would experience. As historian Robert Zaretsky states, Camus’ ‘plague’ prophecy became reality when civilians became not simply collateral damage, but targets for both the French and the FLN.

“In January 1956, Camus attempted to make an intervention into the toxic environment where FLN radicals and French ‘Ultras’ lived and breathed violence. As Zaretsky says, in an attempt to ‘apply Tarrou’s ethic,’ Camus went to Algiers to broker a civilian truce. Walking to the hall in which he would speak he could hear thousands of Ultras at Place du gouvernement shouting for his death [‘Camus to the gallows!’]. As he took to the stage with the future first Arab president of Algeria, Ferhat Abbas, an irascible crowd surrounded the building still calling for Camus’ head.

“Stones smashed the windows as he began his talk, saying: ‘This meeting was supposed to demonstrate that there is still a chance for dialogue’—but this was not the case. Even the moderate Abbas, Camus’ friend and co-organizer of the proposed civilian truce, would join the FLN a few months after their meeting.

“Camus would neither rhetorically join his ‘white tribe,’ nor would he support the FLN. Instead, as the violence in Algeria increased, he resigned from the newspaper L’Express and refused to speak publicly about the matter. Rhetoric, he realized, was part of the problem. ‘When speech can lead to the remorseless disposal of other people’s lives,’ he would go on to say, ‘silence is not a negative position.’

“But his public silence did not mean a failure to act. Until his tragic death in a car accident in 1960, he continued to work via back channels, writing over 150 appeals to government officials on behalf of Arabs facing imprisonment or the death sentence. Despite these efforts, Camus’ silence is still thought to have given consent to the French government’s murderous role in the war. Emily Apter, for example, observes that Camus’ name triggers a “deplorable record on the Algerian War that rightly cost him friendships on the left.”

“His reputation suffered further damage from his position of silence. Edward Said, in his book Culture and Imperialism (1994), delivered a distinctive posthumous literary blow. As John Foley points out, Said finished off the job that Conor Cruise O’Brien began with his famous monograph, Camus (1970). Their position was summed up by Apter when she said that Camus offers in his fiction a “systematic nullification of Arab characters.”

“Much of this criticism is directed at L’Etranger, a novel in which the protagonist kills a nullified, nameless, and silent Arab on a beach. Worse than this, Said and O’Brien continued, was that there was almost no Arab presence in The Plague, despite it being set in Algeria. As O’Brien wrote, raising the rhetorical temperature considerably, Camus’ removal of the Arabs from Oran amounted to an “artistic final solution.”

“David Carroll responded to this argument, pointing out that Camus’ heroes of The Plague fight tirelessly to save human life. To suggest that Camus wished an Arab genocide, even if only as a literary conceit, seems bizarre when one considers Camus’ attitude toward ‘rational murder.’ Camus made it perfectly clear that the allegorical underpinning of The Plague was an attack against the crimes of both Nazism and colonialism.

“As Carroll would point out elsewhere, much was ‘nullified’ in The Plague’s Oran—fascism and communism, for a start. As the narrator states, when looking at a quarantine camp in Oran, there were other ‘camps’ elsewhere but ‘for lack of firsthand information and in deference to veracity, [the narrator] has nothing to add about them.’ There is clearly conscious elision in The Plague: silences that Camus prompts the reader to fill.

“Camus’ biographer Olivier Todd quotes Camus as saying that, writing The Plague with the Second World War hanging over him, the novel would ‘show people who have taken the part of reflection, silence, and moral suffering during the war.’ For O’Brien, Said, and Apter, this makes little sense. For them, silence and absence are an entirely negative position, the marker of exclusion and nullification. This may be so for them, but it certainly was not for Camus.

“This notion of silence would again appear in Camus’ short story ‘The Silent Men’ (1957)—a story unmentioned by O’Brien, Said, or Apter—which tells the tale of barrel coopers who come back to work after a failed strike. These men, both pied noir and Arab, are said to be filled with ‘an anger and helplessness that sometimes hurts so much that you can’t even cry out.’ Yvar, the pied-noir, shares his sandwiches with a character named Said, as they wait for the confrontation with the boss, which takes the form of a refusal to speak. Silence here, as in all of Camus’ work and life, was both a voice and a locus of resistance.

“In our current moment, this notion of the silence of resistance is perhaps worth contemplating: as a response to social media, to polarized political discourses, and to our confusing, inchoate COVID-19 world. It is perhaps a valid response to the claims and counterclaims about what certain scientific data are telling us. Speaking out, as Camus learned, might only harm and offer no solutions. But, again, silence did not mean a failure to act. Tarrou and Rieux of The Plague continue to fight the plague, not with words but with the methods available to them—those they knew would do no harm” (JSTOR Daily).


JSTOR is a digital library for scholars, researchers, and students. JSTOR Daily readers can access the original research behind our articles for free on JSTOR.

By: Ronald Aronson
Sartre Studies International, Vol. 11, No. 1/2, Sartre Today: A Centenary Celebration (2005), pp. 302-310
Berghahn Books

By: John Foley
The Irish Review (Cork), No. 36/37 (Winter, 2007), pp. 1-13
Cork University Press

By: Robert Zaretsky
The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 86, No. 1, SPECIAL ISSUE: North Africa (WINTER 2010), pp. 214-222
University of Virginia

By: Emily Apter
MLN, Vol. 112, No. 4, French Issue (Sep., 1997), pp. 499-516
The Johns Hopkins University Press

By: David Carroll
MLN, Vol. 112, No. 4, French Issue (Sep., 1997), pp. 517-549
The Johns Hopkins University Press

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Signing a Waiver Is to Excuse a Catholic School for Its Gross Negligence

“The Archdiocese of Chicago is asking parents to sign a waiver before sending their child to school during the coronavirus pandemic. Parents reported receiving an ‘acknowledgement form’ stating they understand the risks, will adhere to coronavirus protocols and waive the right to sue the school and the Catholic Bishop of Chicago for ‘any claims of negligent exposure.’

“The archdiocese said the document requires parents to ‘agree to review protocols’ put in place to limit the spread of coronavirus, but also acknowledges the risks of sending a child to school as ‘there was no foolproof measure to prevent the introduction of the virus in our school environment.’

“As for the waiver of liability, the Archdiocese said it chose to include it ‘as a way to impress upon parents the importance of our partnership in implementing these protocols to limiting the introduction and spread of disease in our school communities.’

"'To be very clear, the Office of Catholic Schools informed its school principals that if a family refused to sign the waiver portion of the document that it would not recommend the family not be permitted to return for that reason, provided they accepted the protocols and assumption of risk,' the archdiocese said in a statement. 'Our schools will work with our families.' Some parents still expressed concern after receiving the letter. 'I understand why they did it, but I would not have felt comfortable signing it,' Kelly said. 

Attorney Paul Lannon, who specializes in education, said it's unclear if such waivers will hold up in court. ‘There is typically some limitations on it,’ he told NBC 5. ‘They don't cover intentional or gross negligence, just ordinary negligence.’

“Despite plans from other area districts, including Chicago Public Schools, to start the year remotely, the Archdiocese of Chicago has continued on its plan to keep children in classrooms. 

In a letter to parents earlier this month, the Archdiocese said they strongly believe that their reopening plan, which allows for students to return to full-time in-person learning, is in the best interests of children and their mission. ‘In-person learning is essential for the intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual growth of our students,’ the letter read. ‘Our reopening plan maximizes the safety of our students and employees while allowing the resumption of in-person learning.’ 

[Signing a waiver means the school is not accountable for a student’s safety and health. It is a “death release.” What kind of so-called “intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual growth” are these students going to have while wearing masks (and, of course, some of them will not be able to wear them all day long!)? What kind of so-called socialization will they have in these classrooms while social distancing? What will happen when they take their masks off to eat their lunch? What is the school going to do when a teacher, staff member or student tests positive with the coronavirus? Will the school cooperate with health officials and do the necessary contact tracing and testing? Will the school do what is moral and safe and close its doors for at least 14 days, or will it wait until more children, teachers and staff are exposed to this deadly virus? Furthermore, why would a school require parents to sign away their “rights to recover” if liability were to be found? “[After all] in Illinois, the law is well established that a parent cannot waive, compromise or release a minor child’s cause of action. Only by statute or court approval is a parent’s waiver and or liability release effective to bar a minor child’s future cause of action.”]

“The Archdiocese said they plan to offer both five-day, in-person learning as well as remote e-learning for those unable or whose parents are unwilling to return to classrooms. The plan includes measures like mandatory face masks for students over the age of 2, student ‘cohorts’ and temperature checks. [What good are "temperature checks" when there are asymptomatic carriers of this coronavirus?].

“‘We live in extraordinary times and it is our intent to reopen our school buildings safely to all families this fall,’ Dr. Jim Rigg, superintendent of the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools, said in a statement. ‘Such a reopening has required careful and diligent planning on the part of our school employees, along with consultation from medical professionals, state and local officials, educators, parents, and others. We believe that in-person instruction is the best way to benefit our students and are committed to providing that instruction in a safe manner’” (NBC). 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

“Reality looks a lot less triumphant than [yesterday’s] tawdry performance in the house that has sheltered Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, and which belongs not to the Trumps, but to the American people”-Heather Cox Richardson

“…The Trump team is not using half-measures; they are meeting head-on the criticisms of Trump and exacerbating them. They are campaigning by audacity. That is, after all, one of the characteristics Trump’s base likes most about him.
“[Yesterday] that audacity dovetailed with what appears to be the Trump family’s growing authoritarianism to make them broadcast that they are above the law. Tonight’s proceedings smashed all U.S. laws and traditions against using public property for partisan purposes. The power of the presidency, the physical space of the White House—the people’s house-- and the nation’s international standing are all enlisted to get this president, this one man, reelected.
“Trump used the power of his office to pardon as a campaign stunt. He used a naturalization ceremony—the fundamentally non-partisan act of becoming an American citizen—to sell the idea he is not anti-immigrant. Melania Trump spoke from the White House Rose Garden, behind a podium that bore the presidential seal, to campaign for her husband. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke virtually from an official trip to the Middle East.
“There is a law—the Hatch Act—which prohibits all employees of the Executive Branch except the president and the vice president from engaging in partisan political activity. It also prohibits the president and the vice president from commanding any employee to work on behalf of any candidate. The act is designed to make sure that officials cannot leverage the power of their office to enhance their own power. Since the law’s passage in 1939, presidents of both parties have scrupulously adhered to it. Members of the Trump administration have violated that act repeatedly, but tonight’s performance celebrated and extended those violations.
“Pompeo’s speech made it clear the violations were no accident. One of the State Department’s own legal memos says in bold letters: ‘Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention.’ But Pompeo not only spoke at the convention, he did it on an official overseas trip paid for by U.S. taxpayers. Former Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who spent 35 years in the foreign service, told NBC News: ‘People are extraordinarily upset about it. This is really a bridge too far…. Pompeo is clearly ensuring the State Department is politicized by using his position to carry out what is basically a partisan mission.’
“Pompeo’s appearance with some of the religious sites of Jerusalem showing behind him was intended to highlight Trump’s outreach to evangelical voters like Pompeo himself. Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the other day said: ‘We moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem. That’s for the evangelicals.’
“The State Department said Pompeo addressed the convention in his ‘personal capacity,’ but even this is out of bounds. In February, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun wrote an email to department employees saying he would not talk politics even when responding ‘to emails from friends.’
“The State Department says that the RNC will pay for ‘everything’ associated with the talk, but four current and former high-ranking diplomats noted that the logistics of overseas travel make that unlikely: the planes, motorcades, security, and so on required for a Secretary of State’s travels is all paid for with taxpayer money.
“A State Department official told NBC News, ‘It is outrageously un-American for a sitting secretary of state to participate in a political convention.’ At least the State Department indicated a little nervousness about using taxpayer money for partisan purposes. The White House has shown no such concern.
“The first two nights of the convention have ranged far from the truth, keeping weary fact-checkers working overtime. But the gaslighting is not an accident, either; it is the point. Trump is selling the classic alternative reality of authoritarians who have little actual good news to report: he claims the country is in chaos, caused by lawless ‘others,’ and he alone can solve the problem. He will return his supporters to the positions of authority they feel they have lost, ushering back in the good old days when the country was great.
“Far from objecting to Trump’s lies or his violation of the law to use of the government to win reelection, Trump’s true believers will likely applaud both. The lies are a comforting story, made better by how much they upset non-believers—those ‘others’—and in their minds, the power of the government actually should be used to put down Trump’s unAmerican opposition.
“Trump’s plan for a second term, though, will not necessarily benefit his supporters. He appears to intend to continue to act as he has done for the past three and a half years, slashing regulations and taxes, destroying the social safety net, and privatizing infrastructure, all in the service of freeing up capital to boost the economy.
“That plan was in the news today as, in response to an inquiry from leading Democrats, the Chief Actuary for Social Security crunched the numbers behind Trump’s plan to end the payroll tax. Chief Actuary Stephen C. Goss said that the plan would end Disability Insurance in mid-2021 and Social Security by mid-2023.
“Payroll taxes are just that: taxes that come out of your paycheck. In this case, the tax in question is the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) payroll taxes and the Self-Employment Contributions Act (SECA) taxes. These taxes provide the money that funds Social Security and Disability Insurance. Trump has talked about eliminating the taxes, arguing that getting rid of them would put more money in people’s pockets. It would, in the short term but, as Goss explains, it would almost immediately destroy Social Security and Disability Insurance.
“A disregard for social welfare laws is not limited to Trump. In the New York Times, former chair of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen and Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Priorities, note that the Senate is on vacation while thirty million American households did not have enough food last week. ‘The economics of this moment are not complicated,’ they write. The economy can’t recover and sustain itself until the coronavirus is under control. Until then, it is imperative for Congress to fund a relief bill to put money back into people’s pockets, both for moral reasons, and to keep the economy from grinding to a halt.
“The House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill in May, but the Senate refused to take it up. The Senate turned to writing a bill in late July, just as the federal boost of $600 a week to unemployment benefits was due to expire, along with the moratorium on evictions. Quickly, though, it became clear the Republican caucus could not agree on a bill, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell turned the problem of negotiating a new bill over to White House leaders and congressional Democrats.
“With Republicans on the sidelines, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows refused to budge from their $1 trillion starting point even after the Democrats offered to meet them halfway. Trump declared the negotiations over and dramatically claimed to be handling the most crucial problems with executive actions. His use of the nation’s disaster relief fund to pay for a $300 weekly bonus in unemployment benefits to people in 30 states (so far) will not last more than five weeks, even as it drains our capacity to respond to the California and Colorado wildfires, the Iowa derecho, and the two tropical storms bearing down on Louisiana.
“Reality looks a lot less triumphant than [yesterday’s] tawdry performance in the house that has sheltered Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, and which belongs not to the Trumps, but to the American people.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Will Public Schools Survive Covid-19? by Nelle Chesler

The “Great” Reopening 
“So, let’s just call the situation what it is: a misguided attempt to prop up an economy failing at near Great Depression levels because federal, state, and local governments have been remarkably unwilling to make public policy grounded in evidence-based science. In other words, we’re living in a nation struggling to come to terms with the deadly repercussions of a social safety net gutted even before the virus reached our shores and decisions guided by the most self-interested kind of politics rather than the public good.
“Seventeen years ago, against the advice of my parents, I decided to become a public school teacher. Once I did, both my mother and father, educators themselves, warned me that choosing to teach was to invite attacks from those who viewed the profession with derision and contempt. They advised me to stay strong and push through when budgets were cut, my intellect questioned, or my dedication to my students exploited.
“Nobody, however, warned me that someday I might have to defend myself against those who asked me to step back into my classroom and risk my own life, the lives of my students and their families, of my friends, my husband, and my child in the middle of a global pandemic. And nobody told me that I’d be worrying about whether or not our nation’s public schools, already under siege, would survive the chaos of Covid-19.
“Pushing students back into school buildings right now simply telegraphs an even larger desire in this society to return to business as usual. We want our schools to open because we want a sense of normalcy in a time of the deepest uncertainty. We want to pretend that schools (like bars) will deliver us from the stresses created by a massive public health crisis. We want to believe that if we simply put our children back in their classrooms, the economy will recover and life as we used to know it will resume.
“In reality, the coronavirus is -- or at least should be -- teaching us that there can be no going back to that past. As the first students and teachers start to return to school buildings, images of crowded hallways, unmasked kids, and reports of school-induced Covid-19 outbreaks have already revealed the depths to which we seem willing to plunge when it comes to the safety and well-being of our children.
A Return to School?
“For teachers like me, with the privilege of not having to work a second or third job, summer can be a time to reflect on the previous school year and prepare for the next. I take classes, read, develop new curriculum, and spend time with family and friends. Summer has been a time to catch up with all the pieces of my life I’ve neglected during the school year and recharge my physical and emotional batteries. Like many other public school teachers I know, I step away in order to step back in.
“Not this summer, though. In these months, there’s been no reprieve. In Portland, Oregon, where I live, the confluence of the historic Black Lives Matter uprising, a subsequent invasion by the president’s federal agents, the hovering menace and tragic devastation of the coronavirus, and rising rates of homelessness and joblessness have contributed to a seismic disruption of the routines and structures of our community. A feeling of uncertainty and anxiety now permeates every facet of daily life. Like so many, I’ve been parenting full time without relief since March, acutely aware of the absence of the usual indispensable web of teachers, caregivers, coaches, camp counselors, family, and friends who have helped me raise my child so that I can help raise the children of others.
“The dislocation from my community and the isolation caused by the breakdown of normal social ties, as well as my daughter’s and my lack of access to school, has had a profound effect on our lives. And yet, knowing all that, feeling it all so deeply, I would still never advocate sending our children back to school in person as Covid-19 still rages out of control.
“Without a concerted effort to stop the spread of the virus -- as cases in this country soar past five million and deaths top 170,000 -- including masking mandates, widespread testing, effective contact tracing, enough funding to change the physical layout of classrooms and school buildings, a radical reduction in class sizes, and proper personal protective equipment for all school employees, returning to school becomes folly on a grand scale. Of course, an effort like that would require a kind of social cohesion, innovation, and focused allocation of resources that, by definition, is nonexistent in the age of Trump.
Sacrificing the Vulnerable
“In late July, when it was announced that school districts across the state of Oregon would open fully online again this fall, I felt two things: enormous relief and profound grief. The experience of virtual schooling in the spring had resulted in many families suffering due to a lack of access to the social, emotional, and educational resources of school. No one understands that reality better than the teachers who have dedicated our waking hours to supporting those students and the parents who have watched them suffer.
“As refreshing as it should be to hear politicians across the political spectrum communicating their worries about a widening achievement gap and the ways in which the most vulnerable American children will fall behind if they don’t experience in-person schooling, their concerns ring hollow. Our most vulnerable children are historically the least served by our schools and the most likely to get sick if they go back. Having never prioritized the needs of those very students, their families, and the communities they live in, those politicians have the audacity to demand that schools open now.
“Truly caring for the health and well-being of such students during the pandemic would mean extending unemployment benefits, providing rental assistance, and enacting universal health care. The answer is hardly sending vulnerable kids into a building where they could possibly become infected and carry the virus back to communities that have already been disproportionately affected by Covid-19.
“Take the example of my school, which has an air ventilation system that’s been on the fritz for more than a decade, insufficient soap or even places to wash your hands, and windows that don’t open. In other words, perfect conditions for spreading a virus. Even if I were given a face shield and ample hand sanitizer, I’d still be stuck in classrooms with far too many students and inadequate air flow. And those are just the physical concerns.
“What very few people seem to be considering, no less discussing, is the long-term psychological trauma associated with the spread of the virus. What if I unknowingly infected my students or their family members? What if I brought the virus home to my family and friends? What if I contracted the virus from a student and died? No educator I know believes that online teaching will better serve our students, but stepping back into in-person learning while the virus is still out of control in America will clearly only contribute to its further spread.
“Schools are unable to shoulder the burden of this crisis. Politicizing the return to school and pitting parents against teachers -- as if many teachers weren’t themselves parents -- is a devious way of once again scapegoating those very schools for perennial failures of funding, leadership, and policy. Forty years of the neoliberal version of austerity and divestment from public schools by both Democratic and Republican administrations have ensured that, unlike in many of the wealthiest nations on this planet, public schools in the U.S. don’t have the necessary institutional support, infrastructure, or resources to envision and carry out a safe and effective return to school.
“To put all this in perspective, in its budget proposal for 2021, the Trump administration requested $66.6 billion for the Department of Education, $6.1 billion less than in 2020. In contrast, Congress just passed the National Defense Authorization Act authorizing $740 billion in spending for the Defense Department. Even with the proposed allocation of an additional $70 billion dollars for schools in the Republican-backed HEALS Act, the now-stalled second attempt to respond to the spreading pandemic, two-thirds of those funds would only be available to school districts that hold in-person classes. And because a majority of school funding is tied to local and state tax revenues, badly hit by an economy hobbled by the virus, schools will actually be operating on even smaller budgets this year.
Grassroots Privatization
“It’s as if they want us to fail. Perhaps the most powerful foe of public education in the Trump administration, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, even threatened to withhold federal funding if local school districts decided to resume school totally online this fall. After she was reminded that she didn’t have the authority to do so, she pivoted instead to asking parents to consider other options for their children. That request amounted to encouraging them to pull their children from public schools (depriving them of essential funding) and instead seek out vouchers for private or charter schools.
“DeVos didn’t just stop there. In an attempt to redirect funds allocated to low-income students by the CARES Act, Congress’s initial response to the pandemic, she ruled that school districts deciding to use that money for programs that might benefit all students (instead of just low-income students) must also pay for “equitable services” for all private schools in the district. This would potentially siphon up to $1.5 billion dollars of CARES Act money from public to private schools. Such schools have already benefited from Paycheck Protection Program loans that were distributed as part of the CARES Act. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that they stand to receive yet more money if anything like the present version of the Senate’s HEALS Act ever passes. It’s easy to see who wins and who loses in such an equation.
“The fear and anxiety prompted by uncertainty about how public schools will function in the chaos of this moment is giving way to grassroots decision-making that will adversely affect such basic institutions for the foreseeable future and may even contribute to even more segregated schools. People like me -- white, highly educated, and accustomed to having options -- are scrambling to figure out individual solutions to problems that would best be solved by community organizing.
“Some families are indeed choosing to pull their children out of public schools, enrolling them in online academies, private schools, or simply homeschooling their kids. Others are forming small instructional pods, or micro schools, and hiring private teachers or tutors to educate their kids.
“The twisted irony of these developments is that many white people who support the Black Lives Matter movement are making decisions for their own children that will adversely affect Black students for years to come. Declining enrollment and white divestment in public schools will bring about funding shortages and educational disparities sure to undermine whatever gains those protests achieve.
“The inevitable result will be more segregated schools, while the gap between the haves and the have-nots only widens. Ultimately, privatization on the smallest scale plays into the desire of those like DeVos who seek to undermine and, in the end, even potentially dismantle public education in favor of private schools and charter schools, which, unsurprisingly enough, were first formed to perpetuate school segregation.
The Survival of Public Schools
“Public schools are deeply imperfect institutions. Historically, they’ve perpetuated racial inequities and solidified economic and social disparities. In many ways, they’ve failed all our children on almost every conceivable level. Their funding models are little short of criminal and the lack of resources across the system should have been (but generally wasn’t) considered unconscionable long before the coronavirus struck.
“Yet institutions are made up of people and, many of them, myself included, believe that a free public education accessible to all is a foundation for hope in the future. In the end, schools may still prove to be our last best chance for salvaging what’s left of our fractured nation and the promise of democracy. Abandon them now, when they’re under threat at the federal, state, and grassroots level, and you imperil the fate of the nation.
“Needed today are creative solutions that put the focus on the most vulnerable of our childrenPerhaps enlisting our nation’s retirees, many of whom are currently isolated at home, to help small groups of students, or launching a civilian corps of the currently unemployed, paid to step in to rebuild critical public school infrastructure or provide supplementary support and tutoring for kids who might otherwise be left behind, would help. I know there are creative solutions out there that don’t just benefit the most privileged among us, that could, in fact, focus on the most marginalized students. Now is the time to be creative, not to withdraw from the system. Now is the time to pool resources, while amplifying the voices of students, parents, and families historically not invited into such conversations.
“Long-term divestment in public education has brought America’s schools to a dangerous crossroads, where mistrust of science and expert advice is threatening the very fabric of this nation. The only way out of this mess is to reverse the tide. Do we really want to be governed by fear and self-imposed scarcity? Do we really want the gears of institutional racism to grind on, whether virtually or in person? It’s time to act more collectively, to truly put the “public” back in public schools. It’s time to set partisanship aside to protect all our children as we navigate the unknown and unknowable.
“As I prepare for an academic year unlike any other, I expect to watch with terror as many of our nation’s schools, woefully unprepared, open in the midst of a pandemic. Exhausted and heartbroken, I will worry nonstop about the students and teachers walking through those doors” (Vox Populi).
-Belle Chesler is a visual arts teacher at a public school in Beaverton, Oregon.