Education is Doomed
On Monday, February 6th, the 115th United States Congress confirmed Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education. DeVos is a woman who has not only never attend or worked in a public school, her children have never attended a public school either.
For the next four years, we are stuck with a Secretary of Education that lacks experience and knowledge about public schools and is an avid supporter of charter schools. Betsy DeVos is the most inexperienced and untested nominee for the Secretary of Education in U.S. history. DeVos also has no government experience and no experience running or managing a bureaucracy.
During her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos was non-committal on her family’s record of political donations. DeVos and her family have donated over $200 million to Republicans, including sizable donations to many of the senators who will vote on her confirmation. Senator Bernie Sanders asked DeVos, “Do you think that if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions, that you would be sitting here today?” DeVos is open about her support of pay-for-play, saying, “I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return.”
Republicans asked very soft questions during the confirmation hearing, such as, “Do you support public education?” from Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. DeVos possibly perjured herself with her answer about her role in her mother’s foundation.
DeVos’ answer to Senator Maggie Hassan’s question asking if she stood by her previous answer that it should be up to the states to follow the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It was obvious that DeVos didn’t understand a basic tenet of one of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
DeVos has donated millions to politicians to fund lobbying efforts supporting vouchers that give money to conservative religious schools. As if turning education into a voucher system wasn’t bad enough, DeVos has said that she wants to “advance God’s kingdom” through school reform. DeVos has tried to distance herself from some of her family’s more alarming views, such as support for conversion therapy, opposition to same-sex marriage or the view that intelligent design should be taught in schools.
Tim Kaine asked DeVos, “Do you think K-12 schools that receive government funding should meet the same accountability standards, outcome standards?” She refused to agree that all schools receiving federal funds be held to equal accountability standards saying, “All Schools that receive public funding should be accountable” and never actually answering the question.
DeVos couldn’t even answer the no brainer question, should guns be allowed in schools. Her reply was that it should be left “locales and states to decide,” then referred to a school in Wapiti, Wyoming, that has a fence surrounding the schoolyard to keep grizzly bears out, saying that she imagines there is a gun in the school “to protect from potential grizzlies.” When Politifact called Park County School District No. 6, which includes Wapiti Elementary School, to ask if they have a gun on the premises to protect against grizzlies, assistant to the superintendent, Angie Page said, “No, we do not.”
As a result of Betsy DeVos’ lengthy confirmation hearing, she has become the butt of a lot of jokes. Her guns to protect against “grizzlies” earned her criticism from Trevor Noah. Jimmy Kimmel said Ms. DeVos “has no experience in education” and noted that her children had attended private schools. Many other celebrities including Michael Moore and Olivia Wilde have spoken out against her.
Civil Rights are Doomed
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a name that sounds like he most certainly has slaves on his plantation back in Alabama, was confirmed as the new United States Attorney General today, February 9, 2017.
Jeff Sessions is an avid supporter of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. This case dismantled key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, triggering a multi-state offensive against voting rights, mainly for African-Americans and Hispanics. More than two dozen states have imposed voter ID requirements, closed voter registration offices, limited early voting and other steps to impede voting. The reason these states have imposed the regulations is largely due to rampant voter fraud, a allegation that is has no supporting evidence.
In North Carolina, a federal appeals court concluded that a voting law passed post-Shelby was drafted to disenfranchise African-Americans. Judges in Texas, Kansas, North Dakota and Wisconsin have blocked similar post-Shelby voting laws. Prior to Shelby, the Voting Rights Act was regularly used to block such laws.
In the early 80’s, as a federal prosecutor, Jeff Sessions brought a case for voter fraud against three civil rights workers engaging in registering black voters. A jury swiftly returned an acquittal.
In 1986, when Sessions was a U.S. attorney in Alabama, President Ronald Reagan nominated him to the federal bench. Thomas Figures, a black assistant US attorney who worked for Sessions, testified that Sessions called him “boy” on multiple occasions and joked about the Ku Klux Klan saying that he thought Klan members were “OK, until he learned they smoked marijuana.” This accusation caused this nomination to fail. During his confirmation hearing, Jeff Sessions tried to play the victim in regards to the judgeship debacle, saying his views were misrepresented.
Jeff Sessions has attempted to come off as a civil rights champion, stating to have “personally litigated” several case that back his claim. Former Department of Justice attorneys, who brought three of the four cases Sessions referenced came forward and stated that Sessions had “no substantive involvement in any of them,” emphasizing that Sessions did nothing more than add his name and signature to the complaints as the U.S. Attorney in the district where the cases were brought.
As a senator, Jeff Sessions has opposed bills to provide or enhance penalties for crimes against women. He has also opposed similar bills based on the victim’s sexual orientation, gender or disability. During the 2016 General Election, Sessions said grabbing women by their genitals is not constitute sexual assault.
According to a recent study by the Project On Government Oversight, Sessions’ largest political donors have issues pending before the Justice Department, ranging from active investigations to antitrust reviews of major mergers. These are blatant conflicts of interest.
Three African-American members of Congress; Senator Cory Booker and Representatives John Lewis and Cedric Richmond; testified against Sessions, saying they doubt Sessions would “aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all.”
At the Senate Judiciary hearings in March and May of 2016, Jeff Sessions made racist remarks and called the NAACP and the ACLU “un-American.” While the NAACP President, Cornell William Brooks, did not bring up Sessions’ racism, he did say, “As a matter of conscience and conviction, we can neither be mute nor mumble our opposition to Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions becoming attorney general of the United States. Senator Sessions has callously ignored the reality of voter suppression but zealously prosecuted innocent civil rights leaders on trumped up charges of voter fraud. As an opponent of the vote, he can’t be trusted to be the chief law enforcement officer for voting rights.”
Healthcare is Doomed
While the nomination of Tom Price as the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t as controversial as Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions, he is still a very bad choice.
According to USA Today, Price has bought and sold health care company stocks often enough as a member of Congress to warrant probes by both federal securities regulators and the House ethics committee. One of these stocks is his highly publicized investment in an Australian biotech company, Innate Immunotherapeutics. Innate Immunotherapeutics offered Price preferential treatment for a private stock offering he learned of through the company’s biggest stockholder who happens to be a Congressional colleague.
Aside from Price’s shading stock dealings, the main reason that he received the nomination is because of his support of destroying the Affordable Care Act and gutting Medicare and Medicaid. Price is exactly the nominee Republicans need to move forward, because many policy changes can be made administratively. Gutting the Affordable Care Act in this way is very attractive to Congressional Republicans because Republicans get what they have pushed for since the ACA’s inception in 2010 without the politically suicidal blowback.
Education, Civil Rights and Healthcare are in extreme peril. All we can do now that we have Betsy DeVos running the Department of Education, Jeff Session as the Unites States Attorney General and Tom Price likely to be running the Department of Health and Human Services is stand up, protest and make our opposition known to Congressional Republicans. We can force Republicans to listen by letting them know that their jobs are in jeopardy if they allow monied interests dictate their decisions instead of their constituents that sent them to to Congress to represent their interests.