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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Another Two Bite the Dust
      •  Trump Files Executive Privilege Lawsuit
      •  Texas State House Makes District Maps Official
      •  2020 Census May Have Undercounted Black People
      •  Too Bad We Can't Just Let Teachers Teach
      •  Colin Powell, 1937-2021
      •  Washington State Football Coach Terminated

Another Two Bite the Dust

Last week, eight-term Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) decided to call it a career. Yesterday, Reps. Mike Doyle (D-PA) and David Price (D-NC) announced that they would join him in retirement. They both offered vague platitudes about spending more time with family, and passing the torch to the next generation.

It is not likely that either will yield their seat to a Republican successor. Doyle's district, PA-18, which covers much of the city of Pittsburgh, is currently D+13. Price's district, NC-04, which includes Durham and much of Raleigh, is currently D+16. No matter how the district maps are redrawn, neither of those is likely to drop below D+10. And in both cases, there was already a Democratic challenger. Now, more challengers will surely jump in. So, the party won't be at risk of losing the seats for want of a decent candidate.

Still, the two retirements are not happy news for the Democratic Party. Thus far, there have been 12 Democrats to announce their retirement versus 9 Republicans. That seems to be pretty even, except that most of the Republican retirements are members who are seeking higher office (mostly U.S. Senate seats). The Democratic retirements, by contrast, are predominantly members who are leaving politics altogether. It strongly suggests that those folks, or some of them at least, see a near future in which Republicans run the show in the House. Being in the minority in the House is never any fun, and being in the minority in a House run by Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is likely to be about as bad as it gets.

The election is still over a year away, and the Democrats' fate is far from sealed. Certainly, they are jumping ship at a rate far lower than that of the Republicans in 2018 and 2020. Still, the retirements are likely more bad, as a sign, than the blue team's brisk fundraising is good, as a sign. (Z)

Trump Files Executive Privilege Lawsuit

Donald Trump has secrets he would like to keep hidden. Unfortunately for him, the fate of many of those secrets rests in the hands of the man who won the presidential election of 2020. And as regards the use of executive privilege to protect Trump-era documents from the House 1/6 Commission, Joe Biden said "No way!" So, on Monday, Trump filed suit in D.C. District Court, asking the Court to stop the White House and the National Archives and Records Administration from sharing Trump-era records with the Commission.

There is one piece of good news for Trump (beyond the chance that he'll draw a very friendly judge on appeal, like Neomi Rao). Executive privilege has no statutory basis; it's a prerogative that was claimed by presidents, and was sustained (on a limited basis) by Supreme Court jurisprudence, most notably 1974's United States v. Nixon. That means it's fuzzy enough to allow a bit of room for...interpretation.

And now the bad news for Trump. First of all, the point of executive privilege is to allow the executive branch to do its job without undue interference from Congress. It is a stretch to argue that documents from a previous president are relevant to the current separation of powers. Further, there is overwhelming existing precedent that says that the sitting president is the one who decides when to invoke privilege, and when to waive it. Yes, there is some precedent for overriding a presidential determination of "privileged!", but there is zero precedent for overriding a presidential determination of "not privileged!"

There is also the small matter of the Nixon case, which made clear that to survive scrutiny, the privilege has to apply to legitimately sensitive information; a general desire for privacy is not enough. Whoever is serving as counsel for Donald Trump does not appear to have familiarized themselves with the relevant case law, as the filing largely ignores the issues that Nixon raised, and instead argues that Biden's refusal to assert privilege is "a political ploy to accommodate his partisan allies." Perhaps that is true, and perhaps it is not, but either way, it's not relevant according to existing case law.

Presumably, this is just a garden-variety Trump attempt to buy time and to gum up the works, and he's not really expecting to win. Although he still apparently thinks he won the presidential election last year, so who really knows what's in his head? (Z)

Texas State House Makes District Maps Official

Well, they're not quite official yet. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) still has to apply his signature. But, as Ben Franklin said, there are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and that Greg Abbott will do whatever he can to keep Republicans in power. At least, that's how we heard it. Anyhow, the Governor will undoubtedly sign today, and so the district maps approved by the Texas state House yesterday (and the Texas state Senate last week) will become the law of the land in the Lone Star State.

Of course, that's not the end of the story, as the lawsuits are coming. A bunch have already been filed, and more are expected. The basic argument is that the new district maps are discriminatory, and constitute illegal racial gerrymanders. The population growth that blessed Texas with two shiny, new districts was 95% driven by minority residents, and yet the two new districts are majority-white, while many other districts were drawn in a way that splits Latino populations in comparison to the previous district map. The courts have occasionally struck down racial gerrymanders, most recently in North Carolina. So, in contrast to most other gerrymandering suits, these might just be successful. The situation certainly bears watching. (Z)

2020 Census May Have Undercounted Black People

Speaking of giving minority voters a raw deal, detailed data from the 2020 census has not been made available yet. However, there is enough data to do some preliminary number crunching. And barring a surprise in the final numbers, it appears that Black people, and in particular Black children, were significantly undercounted. All told, there may be as many as 2 million Black Americans who were not included in the final numbers.

As a practical matter, the undercount will affect the amount of money made to these folks' home states for things like Medicaid and Medicare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Section 8 housing vouchers and Head Start. Less money necessarily means less availability and/or lower quality of services. Meanwhile, the two states with the largest Black populations in the country—California and New York—both lost a seat in the House this year, the latter by just 89 people. It is likely that neither of them would have taken a hit had the numbers been correct. That may also be true of Illinois and Michigan, which also lost seats, and which also have sizable Black populations.

On one hand, this is exactly what the Trump administration was hoping for when it began mucking around with the census, except that they were looking to undercount undocumented immigrants rather than Black people. Still, it's fair to guess that people like Donald Trump, former Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and former White House adviser Stephen Miller were happy about this news. On the other hand, be careful what you wish for. Unlike undocumented immigrants, many Black Americans are able to vote. And if there are thousands, or tens of thousands, of largely Democratic voters that went uncounted in a particular district, it could undermine the best-laid plans of gerrymanderers and men.

One more thing: There is nothing that stops Congress from ordering a new census, if that is what they want to do. However, it is unlikely to happen. It would be politically risky, and would cost a bunch of money. Further, unless the Democrats persuade Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough that this can be done via reconciliation, there's no way it gets through Senate Republicans.

That said, you never know. MacDonough might go for it, since an incorrect census has a clear budgetary impact, in terms of where money is spent. Further, overlooking 2 million voters, in a group that breaks 90% Democratic, may be a bridge too far for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) & Co. And maybe Trump's obvious gaming of the census will afford political cover to "do it over, and this time do it right." Again, it's unlikely, but it's not impossible. (Z)

Too Bad We Can't Just Let Teachers Teach

When it comes to broth, we've figured out that having too many cooks will spoil it. With education, by contrast, that lesson seems to have flown over most people's heads. The result is that what happens in the classroom is often the product of both democracy (people can show up to school board meetings and have their say) and hierarchy (school administrators, and other public officials, get to weigh in with, and often impose, whatever they think is best). This serves to drive many good teachers away, and leaves many among the remainder trying to work with directives that are deeply problematic, or don't fit their teaching style, or don't work especially well for their particular group of students.

One problem, which we wrote about yesterday in the item about Moms for Liberty, is the potential for education to become politicized. This has been a moderate-level problem for a long time (ahem, Scopes Monkey Trial), but now it's a huge problem. Republican activists realize that school boards are a place where a small number of dedicated (translation: fanatical) people can have an outsized influence, either by showing up at meetings to make a scene, or by getting themselves elected/appointed to the board. Moms for Liberty is just one part of this; it's a project that Republican groups have been working on for years.

The most notable recent expression of this, beyond arguing about mask mandates, is the "debate" about the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in the classroom. Never mind that, as we've pointed out several times, there isn't a single school below the university level that teaches this subject. And even in universities, it's largely the province of a few faculty members, usually in law departments/schools. The point is, it's an invented issue in service of a cause other than education. And as it turns out, that cause is white anxiety. As a study released last month reveals, the school districts where anti-CRT sentiment was most pronounced just so happen to be the school districts that are diversifying most rapidly.

A related problem is the obsession that many Americans have with "balance" in the classroom. This often comes from Republicans, who have persuaded themselves that "their side" isn't getting a fair shake in curricula, particularly in the social sciences. Sometimes, however, it comes from people who simply think that "balance" and "fairness" sound swell, and want to see others embrace those values. Complaints never come from people who think their viewpoint is getting too much attention and the opposing views deserve more attention. The complaining is always from people who feel their viewpoint is not being covered adequately.

The fact is that the vast majority of teachers—the folks who know what they are talking about—do attempt to give both sides of the story. At least, they do so when it is appropriate. Considering U.S. history, for example, there's no such thing as a lecture or unit on the Revolutionary War that does not address both the colonist/rebel side and the British/loyalist side. Same thing with the Civil War, except it's the North and the South. Or management vs. labor in the Gilded Age, or Natives vs. the federal government in the 19th century, or imperialists vs. isolationists in the early 20th century, or pro-Civil Rights Movement vs. anti-Civil Rights Movement in the mid-20th century. Heck, most teachers, at least at more advanced levels, even explain the Nazis' perspective in World War II. That's not an endorsement of them, it's just that it's basically impossible to explain how the Second World War emerged out of the First World War if you don't outline German resentments and Nazi scapegoating.

That said, there are many occasions where "both sides" isn't apropos. Or, at very least, both sides are not worthy of equal attention. One does not spend half of the lecture on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln explaining why some people wanted him dead, or half the lecture on lynch law explaining why poor, white Southerners had reasons for their anger, or half the lecture on McCarthyism explaining why the fanatical red-baiters had a good point. There are also occasions where "both sides" is too much information. The amount of time it would take to explain competing legal theories of Southern statehood after the Civil War (did they commit "state suicide" or not?), or to explain the scientific debate over atomic bomb designs ("Fat Man" and "Little Boy" were based on very different concepts) just isn't worthwhile, in terms of how much these things actually add to understanding.

Still, there's a balance fetish out there, and there are many adherents of it who have no idea what they are talking about. Not only the folks at the school board meetings, or the ones who get themselves elected to school boards, but quite often the actual, professional, school administrators. The big story this weekend was the Texas school administrator who told teachers in the district that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also have a book that covers the "opposing" perspective. Since an enormous number of elementary classrooms have a copy of The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, the administrator's instruction presumably means that the teachers are expected to acquire a copy of...what, Mein Kampf? Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolf Hoess? It is not clear if this administrator was motivated by personal politics or is just, well, stupid. Either way, this is not a person who should be dictating curricula.

A related fetish, before we finish discussing this subject for now, is the one centered on "standards" and "rubrics." As a general rule, the former refers to a universal list of things that should be taught, the latter refers to a universal set of standards by which students should be graded or evaluated. There is broad support for these things at all levels of academia, and among people of all political stripes. The general idea seems to be that, in an ideal world, every student in every classroom can have the same exact experience, regardless of the specific circumstances.

Is such uniformity achievable? Dubious. Is it desirable? Also dubious. We are willing to accept that in disciplines where a very specific, and relatively narrow, skill set is being taught, it might be useful to have a set of standards, so that teachers handling the advanced levels of the subject can be clear about what students have learned from taking the basic levels. On the other hand, teachers at all levels seem to have adapted just fine across centuries of teaching Calculus, or accounting, or animal husbandry, or material engineering, without benefit of "standards."

As to rubrics, we are considerably less willing to accept that they might have any redeeming value. Please be clear, the concept isn't that you can come up with a rubric that can be used to evaluate say, all the students who take a class in Shakespeare, regardless of instructor. The concept isn't even that the rubric can be used to evaluate, say, all lit classes. No, the idea is that the same rubric can be used to evaluate any class—history, philosophy, chemistry, physical education, fashion design, it's all (apparently) the same.

(Z) was once compelled to spend (translation: waste) three days of his life on a "the wonder of rubrics" seminar. And at the conclusion of the seminar, all 40 of the professors enrolled in the seminar were given an essay and a rubric and asked to grade the essay using the rubric. (Z) observed that it would be necessary to know the prompt for the essay, since the opening paragraph suggested one subject, but the body of the essay was on a different, only tangentially related subject. In that circumstance, the essay might have been basically OK, but with a clunky intro. Alternatively, it might have been a train wreck, almost entirely off-topic except for the first couple of sentences. Again, it depends on the prompt. Anyhow, the seminar leader explained that the great thing about rubrics is that it doesn't matter what the prompt is. So, the 40 professors graded the essays and then went around the table and shared their grades. There were exactly 8 As, 8 Bs, 8 Cs, 8 Ds, and 8 Fs. So much for the wonder of rubrics.

There are plenty of things to worry about in America right now, and the state of the educational system is definitely one of them. Between the political fanatics that want to turn the classroom into a propaganda mill, and the ostensibly well-meaning "experts" who want to commodify learning—the educational equivalent of 19th century author Frederick Winslow Taylor, who saw all workers as interchangeable cogs—an education system that was once among the best in the world is going to be dragged down into the muck. (Z)

Colin Powell, 1937-2021

It was all over the news yesterday, so you've probably heard by the time you read this, but the general and statesman Colin Powell has passed away at the age of 84. His family announced the passing on Facebook; he succumbed to complications of COVID-19. Though he was fully vaccinated against the disease, he was also battling multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that interferes with the body's immune response. So, he developed a breakthrough infection that proved to be fatal.

Powell was among the great trailblazers of American history. He was the first Black National Security Advisor (under Ronald Reagan), the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton) and the first Black Secretary of State (under George W. Bush). While leading the Joint Chiefs, he played a key role in planning and executing the successful Persian Gulf War. Less noted (we didn't see it mentioned anywhere) is that he largely broke the hammerlock that service academy graduates had on the Chairmanship. Before him, there were 12 Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs (or equivalent); 10 graduated either West Point or Annapolis, and the other two began their military careers on the cusp of World War II, when many promising young folks skipped college and volunteered directly for service. Powell was a graduate of City College of New York and George Washington University, and since his term as Chairman, only three of his eight successors have been service academy graduates. There's nothing wrong with service academy members, per se, but there is a certain insularity that comes when you only select people from a small number of fairly similar institutions (take note, Supreme Court).

As important and impressive as Powell's career was, however, the big stain on his record will linger as a major part of how he is remembered. That, of course, would be his role in selling the Iraq War under false pretenses. Did he knowingly go before the United Nations and misrepresent the evidence that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction? Or was he an unwitting patsy set up by the Dick Cheneys and Paul Wolfowitzes of the world? That will never be known for certain, but either way, it reflects poorly on him. And since this disastrous chapter of his public career also proved to be, in effect, the final chapter, it's undoubtedly the thing that many people thought of first when they heard of his passing yesterday.

Once the news broke, the chances were 100% that Powell's dying from COVID-19, despite being vaccinated, would be deployed as a talking point by right-leaning folks. The only question was how long it would take. Well, if you guessed "roughly 10 minutes," then you're a winner. About that long after the news went public, Fox's Will Cain decreed that Powell's passing would lead to "conversations about the fact he was fully vaccinated, according to his family and he died from complications from COVID." Cain was a bit restrained, given that the news was, you know, less than a quarter-hour old. Still, the implication was clear, leading to articles pointing out (yet again) that nobody claims 100% efficacy for the vaccines, and that the risk of breakthrough infection and even death, while much reduced, is still there for the vaccinated, particularly if they are immunocompromised.

If you would like a fuller obituary of Powell, there are good ones here, here, and here. For our part, we'll close with one interesting question. Powell could easily have been elected president; the office was his for the asking. He said he didn't want it, which is certainly understandable. Michelle Obama could have the job for the asking, too, and she also doesn't want it. Still, if the first Black president had been a moderate conservative and a military man, would there have been the sort of backlash that Barack Obama produced? We very much doubt it. And so, if Powell had actually run, it's fair to guess that there may not have been a President George W. Bush (since 2000 was when the "Draft Powell" movement was strongest), and there may also not have been a President Donald Trump. Put another way, the most impactful part of Powell's legacy, instead of being something he did, may be something he chose not to do. (Z)

Washington State Football Coach Terminated

As long as we're on the subject of COVID-19 culture wars, there is yet another story from the world of sports that intersects with the world of politics. Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) mandated vaccination for state employees as of yesterday (unless a person was granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons). The highest-paid state employee in Washington was Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich. Note the tense of that sentence, though. He and four of his assistant coaches refused to abide by the Governor's order. And so, yesterday afternoon, they were terminated by the university.

Rolovich claimed that he had "religious" objections to being vaccinated, but on its face, this did not pass the smell test. To start, he was unable to explain to reporters, in any way, what his objections were. You could argue that he's entitled to privacy, but you could also argue that accepting a job as a Division-I head football coach largely means that right is moot, particularly in circumstances like these. On top of that, it is improbable that five people on the same coaching staff (made up of roughly 20 people in total) would have legitimate religious objections. In any case, Rolovich's request for an exception was reviewed by WSU staffers in a blind situation (i.e., they didn't know whose request they were considering) and it was only tentatively approved.

The problem with approval, even if it had been full approval, is that Athletic Director Pat Chun would have needed to make a determination that a non-vaccinated coach would be able to fulfill the requirements of his job. And there is no way Chun was going to make that determination. On a messaging level, you can't let people think that the rich and powerful play by one set of rules, and everyone else plays by another. They do, but you can't put it out there so obviously. On a practical level, a football coach interacts with hundreds of players and personnel, who then interact with most of the rest of the university community. A football coach also interacts with donors and boosters, many of whom are not exactly spring chickens. And Rolovich, like many coaches, also led youth clinics. It was just too risky to let a head coach go around unvaccinated. In particular, if a player contracted the disease from the coach and then died, the university would be sued for millions. Maybe tens of millions.

And speaking of millions, Rolovich left more than $10 million on the table here, as he was fired for cause. His career is also in ruins, unless Liberty University has a coaching vacancy. It's possible that he got some sort of golden handshake that has not yet been reported, so as to keep him from making a stink. But he probably didn't, so this is likely to turn ugly. Even if he doesn't make a stink, either due to the money or to personal preference, plenty of Trumpublicans are going to make a stink on his behalf. And so goes another day in the culture wars. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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