Why Is President Trump Trying So Hard to Piss Off South Korea?

Mother Jones

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Let me get this straight. First, Donald Trump pisses off South Korea by parroting the Chinese president’s claim that Korea was once part of China. Then he pisses them off again by saying the USS Carl Vinson is on its way to the Yellow Sea when, in fact, it’s cruising around in Indonesia. Then, today, he pisses them off again by saying he might terminate our trade agreement with them, and then demanding that they pay us a billion dollars for the anti-missile system we’re installing there.

But…we need good relations with South Korea if we’re planning to take on North Korea in some way. Right? Why would we be going out of our way to piss them off repeatedly?

It is a mystery. It is a Trumpism. Perhaps Trump still doesn’t realize that it’s not like the old days, when doing something stupid would get him some attention for a couple of news cycles and then go away. I thought maybe he’d finally figured that out after the whole Obama wiretapping fiasco.1 I guess not.

1In retrospect, it’s pretty obvious that he was delighted with those tweets at first because they turned the spotlight back on him and that’s all he wanted. He figured it would be like the campaign, when he’d do this kind of stuff, bluff his way through it for a couple of days, and then everyone would get tired and let it go. I imagine he was pretty shocked that everyone took it seriously for weeks on end. Come on! It was a weekend tweet! It’s not like I’m the presi— Oh.

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Why Is President Trump Trying So Hard to Piss Off South Korea?

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This Report Card for Betsy DeVos’ Favorite Education Policy Is Pretty Bad

Mother Jones

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Students in Washington, DC’s federally funded voucher program performed worse academically, particularly on math test scores, after a year of private school, according to a new federal analysis released Thursday.

The study, conducted by the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, found that students who left public schools as part of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program performed significantly lower on math scores than those who did not. (They also scored lower in reading, but researchers noted that those results were not statistically significant.) In 2010, when the DOE’s research division previously evaluated the voucher program, it found that it had no significant impact on reading and math scores but a significant increase in high school graduation. Notably, Thursday’s study found that parents in the voucher program were more likely to feel like their child’s school was safe.

US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences

The analysis comes as President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continue to promote the expansion of school choice at the national level. The administration has proposed a $1.4 billion investment toward school choice programs for the coming fiscal year, including $168 million in spending for charter schools and $250 million in school vouchers for families.

While decades of research has shown voucher programs have had little to no effect on student achievement, studies of newer programs in the last two years have mostly revealed worse academic outcomes for participating students:

A November 2015 study of Indiana’s voucher program determined that students who attended private school through the program scored lower on math and reading tests than kids in public school.
In Louisiana, students who attend private schools through the voucher program showed significant drops in both math and reading in the first two years of the program’s operation, according to a February 2016 study by researchers at the Education Research Alliance of New Orleans. The program had no impact on students’ non-academic skills.
Researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, concluded in a July 2016 study of Ohio’s voucher program that students who took part in the voucher program fared worse academically than those who attended public schools.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program, created by Congress in 2004, provides tuition vouchers for 1,100 low-income students who transfer from public schools to private ones in the nation’s capital. Earlier this year, House Republicans filed legislation to renew the DC voucher program, even as a majority of city council members submitted a letter in March expressing “serious concerns” about the use of public funds to send kids to private school. Mayor Muriel Bowser split from the council, saying at the time she supported the program’s extension. Last year, Sen. Ted Cruz filed a bill that would expand the voucher program to cover the entire school district.

In response to the study, DeVos said in a statement that people should look beyond its one-year assessment, arguing that voucher programs didn’t hurt public schools. “When school choice policies are fully implemented,” she said, “there should be no differences in achievement among the various types of schools.” But Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who serves as ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, slammed the DC voucher program in a statement to the Associated Press. “We know that these failed programs drain public schools of limited resources,” he said, “only to deliver broken promises of academic success to parents and students.”

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This Report Card for Betsy DeVos’ Favorite Education Policy Is Pretty Bad

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The Most Important Free Speech Question Is: Who Decides?

Mother Jones

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Like everyone, I’ve been watching as the free speech debate on college campuses has morphed from its usual steady background hum into a Big Issue Of The Day. First there was Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley. Then Charles Murray at Middlebury. Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna. Ann Coulter at Berkeley. The right is naturally outraged that these speakers were harassed or banned, and the left is—well, what is the left’s reaction to all this? At first, it was mostly a matter of not really sticking up for free speech rights on campus. That was bad enough, but then the conversation changed. Instead of a collective mumble, I began reading affirmative arguments that there was absolutely nothing wrong with “no-platforming” these folks. For example, a few days ago a New Republic article showed up in my Facebook feed and got high fives from several people I follow. Here is Aaron Hanlon:

When departments or groups arrange for a speaker, invitations are usually authorized by small committees or localized administrative offices without a campus-wide discussion or debate….Instead of community-wide discussion and debate over the merits of bringing a given speaker to campus, the debate happens after the invitation, giving the misleading impression that no-platforming is about shutting down speech.

….But no-platforming is better understood as the kind of value judgment that lies at heart of a liberal arts education….This has always meant deciding what people needed to know, but also what they don’t need to know—or at least which knowledge and skills deserved priority in one’s formal education.

….No-platforming may look like censorship from certain angles, but from others it’s a consequence of a challenging, never-ending process occurring at virtually all levels of the university: deciding what educational material to present to our students and what to leave out. In this sense, de-platforming isn’t censorship; it’s a product of free expression and the foundational aims of a classically liberal education.

The sophistry here is breathtaking. If it’s just some small group that invites someone, then it’s OK if the rest of the university blackballs their choice. After all, universities are supposed to decide what students don’t need to know. It may “look like censorship from certain angles,” but it’s actually the very zenith of free expression. Juliet Kleber followed up today:

As Aaron Hanlon argued in the New Republic earlier this week, choosing not to host Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos on campus is not a suppression of their free speech. Academia certainly has an important place in selecting and elevating certain voices to relevance in a broader culture, but let’s not forget that a college isn’t a town hall: it’s a particular community of people engaged in intersecting missions of education. Coulter is not a member of that community and she has no claims upon it. Campus life is curated, and none of us outside of it are guaranteed access to that platform.

Enough. I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to the latest outrages on college campuses because college campuses are teeming with smart, verbal, overconfident 19-year-olds. Of course they do stupid things. We all did stupid things at that age. I’m generally happy for all these micro-outrages to remain local controversies handled by local administrators.

But now everyone is weighing in, and here on the left we’re caving in way too often to this Hanlon-esque lunacy. Is some of the speech he’s concerned about ugly and dangerous and deliberately provocative? Of course it is. But that’s not a reason to shut it down. That’s the whole reason we defend free speech in the first place. If political speech was all a harmless game of patty-cake, nobody would even care.

Speech is often harmful. And vicious. And hurtful. And racist. And just plain disgusting. But whenever you start thinking these are good reasons to overturn—by violence or otherwise—someone’s invitation to speak, ask yourself this: Who decides? Because once you concede the right to keep people from speaking, you concede the right of somebody to make that decision. And that somebody may eventually decide to shut down communists. Or anti-war protesters. Or gays. Or sociobiologists. Or Jews who defend Israel. Or Muslims.

I don’t want anyone to have that power. No one else on the left should want it either.

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The Most Important Free Speech Question Is: Who Decides?

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Texas Is About to Crack Down on Undocumented Immigrants

Mother Jones

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Texas is about to become the second state to outlaw sanctuary cities, jurisdictions that refuse to fully comply with federal enforcement of immigration laws. On Thursday, lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives gave approval to legislation that would make it a misdemeanor crime for local law enforcement to not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, with penalties of up to $25,500 in fines for local governments and jail time for individual law enforcement officials who maintain sanctuary cities. The legislation would also allow local police officers to inquire about someone’s immigration status during routine encounters such as traffic stops. A slightly different version of the bill already passed in the state senate, and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has made passing legislation banning sanctuary cities a top priority this legislative session, will likely sign the final measure.

Texas became one of the battlegrounds in the national debate over sanctuary cities when Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, after taking office earlier this year, instituted a new policy for her department to not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Gov. Abbott cut off funding in retaliation and even threatened to oust the sheriff. In a parallel effort, the Trump administration is also trying to cut off federal funding to jurisdictions that refuse to fully cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Thursday’s vote followed an initial 16-hour overnight hearing on the House floor. State Rep. Mary González, a Democrat who was once an undocumented immigrant herself, told her colleagues that she was a victim of sexual assault, and that the proposal would actually make Texas less safe by discouraging immigrants from talking to the police when a crime has been committed. “We aren’t exaggerating when we say the people empowered by this piece of the amendment will be criminals,” Gonzalez said. “We aren’t exaggerating when we say the people who will feel the biggest effects of this are the most vulnerable—the women and children who are victims of rape, sexual assault, human trafficking.”

González also beseeched other lawmakers to limit questioning about immigration status to those who were under arrest. “If you ever had any friendship with me, this is the vote that measures that friendship,” González pleaded during the hearing.

According to the Texas Observer, hundreds protested in the Capitol rotunda, where their chants opposing the legislation could be heard during the marathon debate. The protest didn’t dissuade Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer, who added language to the bill that would allow police to check someone’s immigration status during routine “detainments” like traffic stops. “This was about making sure that our law enforcement officers can continue to do what they have a duty to do, which is to make sure that we’re safe,” he said. “That means using every reasonable tool available under the law to inquire about criminal activity.”

State Rep. Ana Hernandez, a Democrat who was also undocumented as a child, fought back tears as she described her fears growing up. “I knew I wasn’t a U.S. citizen, and I feared the reactions from my classmates if they knew I wasn’t a citizen,” Hernandez said. “I see myself in many of those students now that share the same fear of being deported, or having their parents deported.”

Sanctuary city legislation is expected to head to the governor’s desk soon, but local leaders and civil rights advocates opposing the bill say the fight is only getting started, and they plan to file lawsuits challenging the legality of the measure. “The legislature is attempting to blackmail cities into violating our own resident’s constitutional rights,” Austin City Council member Greg Casar said on a press call. “I believe we have no responsibility to follow an unconstitutional law, and we should not be complying with a law that is so discriminatory and dangerous in its mandate.”

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Texas Is About to Crack Down on Undocumented Immigrants

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The Department of Defense Is Investigating Michael Flynn

Mother Jones

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The Defense Department’s inspector general has opened an investigation to determine whether Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s former national security advisor, accepted payments from a foreign government without permission, according to documents released Thursday by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

“These documents raise grave questions about why General Flynn concealed the payments he received from foreign sources after he was warned explicitly by the Pentagon,” Cummings, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee, said in a statement. “Our next step is to get the documents we are seeking from the White House so we can complete our investigation. I thank the Department of Defense for providing us with unclassified versions of these documents.” Earlier this week, Cummings blasted the White House for refusing to provide his committee with documents related to whether Flynn disclosed his foreign payments when he reapplied for a security clearance last year.

Prior to working for Trump, Flynn had led the Defense Intelligence Agency under former President Barack Obama. Flynn was pushed out of that job in 2014 and the DIA explicitly told Flynn that he could not to accept any compensation from a foreign state without prior permission from the federal government. Flynn, however, took $45,000 in speaking fees from television network RT (formerly know as Russia today), which U.S. intelligence officials describe as a Russian propaganda outlet.

Flynn claims the DIA was briefed on the payment, but the information released by Cummings shows that the agency cannot find any documentation “referring or relating” to his “receipt of money from a foreign source.” There’s also another relationship that Cumming says is alarming and may not have been properly disclosed: Flynn’s company received $530,000 from a firm owned by a Turkish businessman with close ties to the government. Flynn’s lawyer wrote that the business relationship “could be construed to have principally benefited the republic of Turkey,” and Flynn filed belated paperwork identifying his work as a foreign agent after losing his post in the Trump administration.

During Thursday’s White House briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer blamed the Obama administration when he was asked about the thoroughness of Flynn’s vetting by Trump’s transition team. “There’s an issue…that the Department of Defense Inspector General is looking into,” Spicer said. “We welcome that, but all of that clearance was made by the Obama administration and apparently with knowledge of the trip that he took.”

Earlier this week, Cummings and House oversight committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) held a joint press conference, during which they revealed that Flynn may have broken the law by not disclosing the payment from RT when he reapplied for a security clearance last year.

But Republicans on the oversight committee are furious about Cummings’ decision to make the documents public. “Though we’ve walked hand-in-hand with the Democrats during this investigation, this morning they broke with long-standing protocol and decided to release these documents without consulting us,” a spokeswoman for Chaffetz said on CNN.

Democrats say they’ve been working with the Pentagon to release unclassified versions of the documents to the public. A spokeswoman for Cummings said Republicans on the committee were informed the documents would be released this morning. “I honestly don’t understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn,” Cummings said at a press conference today following the release of the documents. “There is a paper trail that the White House does not want our committee to follow it.”

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The Department of Defense Is Investigating Michael Flynn

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