fresh voices from the front lines of change








Jeff Bryant

Have Democrats Changed Course On Charters?

Education has been mostly ignored in previous presidential elections, and the topic had not come up for serious discussion among the candidates in televised debates prior to the Public Education Forum 2020, held in Pittsburgh on December 14. But at an event in which candidates knew they would have to field some tough questions about education issues and be held closely accountable for their answers, most of the leading candidates—including the front-runners—showed up and welcomed the dialogue. Furthermore, the tables were turned on who controlled the dialogue. “How many times have we been dictated to, have we been told to do?” asked American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. Teachers, students, and community organizers who’ve wanted more of a dialogue with political candidates and elected officials have often been “silenced,” Weingarten stated. But what unfolded in Pittsburgh was “a paradigm shift,” she said, because the candidates had to “actually listen” to the folks who inhabit the world that is “the farthest place in the universe,” to use Bennet’s words, from education policymakers in Washington, D.C. The candidates heard that “the priorities of the federal law should be to level the playing field to make sure that kids… actually have the things they need,” she said. “These candidates are listening to us.” The change in heart of Democratic candidates has been a long time in coming.

Iran Tensions Escalate

The nightmare stage of Trump’s rule is here. NYT: "There are no more adults in the room. After three harrowing years, we’ve reached the point many of us feared from the moment Donald Trump was elected. His decision to kill Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s second most important official, made at Mar-a-Lago with little discernible deliberation, has brought the United States to the brink of a devastating new conflict in the Middle East. We don’t yet know how Iran will retaliate, or whether all-out war will be averted. But already, NATO has suspended its mission training Iraqi forces to fight ISIS. Iraq’s Parliament has voted to expel American troops — a longtime Iranian objective. (On Monday, U.S. forces sent a letter saying they were withdrawing from Iraq in response, only to then claim that it was a draft released in error.) On Sunday, Iran said it will no longer be bound by the remaining restrictions on its nuclear program in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal that Trump abandoned in 2018. Trump has been threatening to commit war crimes by destroying Iran’s cultural sites and tried to use Twitter to notify Congress of his intention to respond to any Iranian reprisals with military escalation. Rather than self-defense, the Suleimani killing seems like the dreadful result of several intersecting dynamics. There’s the influence of rapture-mad Iran hawks like Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence. Defense officials who might have stood up to Trump have all left the administration."

Boston ICE Court Must Justify Detentions

Boston ICE must now justify detaining noncitizens. The Intercept: "in at least two decades, lawyers for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are required to justify the detainment of noncitizens who are awaiting court proceedings in New England. In immigration proceedings, unlike in criminal courts, immigrants bear the burden of proving to the satisfaction of a judge that that they do not pose a danger or a flight risk — or else they are denied bond and locked up. But a November decision by a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts reversed the burden of proof, instead calling on ICE to establish why someone ought to be detained. The ruling came in a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts last June and went into effect on December 13. The significance of the ruling, said ACLU of Massachusetts attorney Dan McFadden, is reversing a system that’s been in place since 1999 whereby the government did not have to prove anything to keep noncitizens in jail while their cases were decided — a process that sometimes takes several years. 'I think that if our Constitution means anything,” McFadden said, 'it has to mean that the government can’t put people in jail without showing that there’s a strong justification for taking away their liberty.' 'It still doesn’t really feel quite real,' said Matt Cameron, a Boston-based immigration attorney. The ruling applies only to the Boston immigration court, which covers all of New England except Connecticut (which has its own immigration court). Local immigration attorneys say the difference is palpable already. 'It still doesn’t really feel quite real,' said Matt Cameron, a Boston-based immigration attorney. For years, Cameron said, he has had to work quickly to obtain every page of a client’s criminal record — even pertaining to charges that had been dropped — to prove that the client deserved their liberty. 'I’m so trained that you just do not show up with anything less than an absolutely 100 percent complete case, because you only get one chance at a bond hearing. You don’t get to do it again. So, you know, I’m always very careful in making sure that I don’t do it halfway.' Now, if an ICE attorney is unable to prove the inverse — that a noncitizen poses a danger or a flight risk — a noncitizen is likely to be granted release."

Bolton Willing To Testify

Bolton is willing to testify in Trump impeachment trial, raising pressure for witnesses. NYT: "John R. Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, said on Monday that he was willing to testify at President Trump’s impeachment trial, putting new pressure on Republicans to call witnesses and raising the possibility of revelations as the Senate weighs Mr. Trump’s removal. Mr. Bolton’s surprise declaration, in a statement on his website, was a dramatic turn that could alter the political dynamic of the impeachment process in the Senate and raise the risks for Mr. Trump of Republican defections. The former national security adviser is a potentially vital witness, with direct knowledge of presidential actions and conversations regarding Ukraine that could fill in blanks in the narrative of the impeachment case. It came as the House continued to withhold the articles of impeachment necessary to start the trial in a bid to increase Democratic leverage in Senate negotiations over calling Mr. Bolton and three other administration witnesses the president blocked from testifying in the House inquiry. 'I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify,' Mr. Bolton said in the statement."

Castro Endorses Warren

Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro may be rivals — but they’re buddies, too. Texas Tribune: "When Julián Castro walked off the Miami debate stage in June, his campaign staff felt confident he’d had a successful night. They weren’t the only ones. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent him a text congratulating him on his performance. For any other sharp-elbowed politicians competing for their party’s nomination, the exchange might have been unusual. But Warren and Castro have, at various points in the primary, acted more as friends than foes. Castro, mired at the bottom of most national polls and on the brink of not making the cutoff for the November debate stage, has found an ally in Warren, whose profile continues to climb. It has led to speculation — or palpable hope for fans of both candidates — that Castro might be a leading choice for vice president on a Warren ticket."

War Hawks Fail To Disclose Ties To War Industry

Pundits praising Suleimani killing neglect to disclose ties to arms industry. The Intercept: "a loud chorus of voices has appeared in the media to celebrate President Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a move that has sparked renewed tension in the Middle East, a new deployment of U.S. forces, and predictions of increased military spending. Many of the pundits who appeared on national television or were quoted in major publications to praise the president’s actions have undisclosed ties to the defense industry — the only domestic industry that stands to gain from increased violence. Jack Keane, a retired Army general, appeared on Fox News and NPR over the last three days to praise Trump for the strike on Suleimani. “The president acted responsibly,” Keane said during an appearance with Fox News host Lou Dobbs. “It should have happened a long time ago. Keane has worked for military companies, including General Dynamics and Blackwater, and currently serves as a partner at SCP Partners, a venture capital firm that invests in defense contractors. Van Hipp, chair of the lobbying firm American Defense International, which represents more than two dozen defense contractors — including Raytheon, Palantir, and General Atomics, the manufacturer of the MQ-9 Reaper drone used in the Suleimani slaying — published an opinion column on Fox News’s website praising Trump and suggesting increased pressure on the Iranian government. David Petraeus, the retired general who once commanded U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, notably, works for Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Co., the investment firm with holdings in several major defense contractors that is reportedly moving to 'build up its defense portfolio at a time when military budgets are skyrocketing.' John Negroponte, a former State Department official who now serves as vice chair of the defense and aerospace lobbying firm McLarty Associates, appeared on Fox News to dispute the claim by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that the strike represented a threat of war. 'I think it’s an act of self-defense,' countered Negroponte."

Corporatism And The 'Madness Of Militarism'

Biden and Buttigieg exemplify how corporatism and ‘the madness of militarism’ go together. Common Dreams: "There's nothing like an illegal and utterly reckless U.S. act of war to illuminate the political character of presidential candidates. In the days since the assassination of Iran’s top military official, two of the highest-polling Democratic contenders have displayed the kind of moral cowardice that got the United States into—and kept it in —horrific wars from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. Eager to hedge their bets, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg have offered merely tactical critiques of President Trump’s decision to kill Qassim Suleimani. In sharp contrast to Elizabeth Warren and especially Bernie Sanders, the gist of the responses from Biden and Buttigieg amounted to criticizing the absence of a game plan for an atrocious game that should never be played in the first place. Many journalists have noted that only in recent days has foreign policy become prominent in the race for the 2020 nomination. But what remains to be addressed is the confluence of how Biden and Buttigieg approach the roles of the U.S. government in class war at home and military war abroad—both for the benefit of corporate elites. 'In sharp contrast to Elizabeth Warren and especially Bernie Sanders, the gist of the responses from Biden and Buttigieg amounted to criticizing the absence of a game plan for an atrocious game that should never be played in the first place.' Let’s be clear: More than 50 years ago, when Martin Luther King Jr. bravely condemned 'the madness of militarism,' he was directly challenging those who included the political ancestors of the likes of Buttigieg and Biden—Democratic politicians willing to wink and nod at vast death and destruction, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, equivocating while claiming that the war machinery would operate better in their hands."

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