Archive for June, 2023

Around the country parents are trying to stifle what children learn. This time it’s in South Carolina.

Thursday, June 15th, 2023

In the 1920s and 30s, Joseph Goebbels demonstrated to the world how easy it was to mold the thinking of the youth of Germany. His mantra of “a lie becomes the truth if you say it loud enough and often enough” co-opted an entire generation. He was able to convince university students that things he and Hitler labeled as “unGerman”  were evil and had to be eradicated from education.

On 10 May 1933, about a month after the Nazis took power and created the Third Reich, and at the instigation of Goebbels, German university students organized an “act against unGerman spirit” in nineteen university towns across the country. They compiled a list of “unGerman” books, seized them from all the libraries they could find, piled them up in public squares, and set them all alight. Goebbels joined the students at the Berlin burning, the biggest, telling them they were “doing the right thing in committing the evil spirit of the past to the flames.” One after another, books were thrown onto the funeral pyre of intellect.

We’re not burning books in America — yet, but we sure are banning them.

A case in point dropped this morning when Judd Legum’s Popular Information chronicled the story of South Carolina teacher Mary Wood, who teaches English Literature at Chapin High School in Chapin, South Carolina.

Wood teaches a variety of honors courses, including Advanced Placement (AP) English Language and Composition. She has been teaching this AP course for the last decade and getting superb results from her students. A passing score in the course is a 3; 82.6% of her students achieved a 3 or higher, as opposed to 55.7% of students in the rest of the nation. The test is given by the College Board, the same organization that administers the annual SATs.

AP courses are not normal high school courses; they go deeper than high school and require more analysis and critical thinking, the kind of thinking one would find in a college course. In AP courses, students are presented reading material aimed at expanding their minds more broadly than traditional high school texts.

As Legum writes in his article:

No one is required to enroll in an AP class. The course description, created by the College Board, specifically notes that the course involves the thoughtful consideration of controversial issues, including racial issues:


Issues that might, from particular social, historical, or cultural viewpoints, be considered controversial, including references to ethnicities, nationalities, religions, races, dialects, gender, or class, may be addressed in texts that are appropriate for the AP English Language and Composition course. Fair representation of issues and peoples may occasionally include controversial material. Since AP students have chosen a program that directly involves them in college-level work, participation in this course depends on a level of maturity consistent with the age of high school students who have engaged in thoughtful analyses of a variety of texts. The best response to controversial language or ideas in a text might well be a question about the larger meaning, purpose, or overall effect of the language or idea in context.

In February 2022, Mary Wood assigned Ta-Nehisi Coates’s memoire Between the World and Me as a supplemental text to her AP students. Coates wrote the book as a letter to his teen-aged son about being Black in America. The book won the 2015 National Book Award and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize. Wood told her school what she was doing, and the school ordered Coates’s book for her students. She also assigned reading material by Malcolm Gladwell and none other than Donald Trump.

No one complained.

In February 2023, she once again assigned Between the World and Me as supplemental reading for her AP course. This time was different.

As she did in 2022, she showed two short videos at the beginning of the course. One describes the consequences of wealth disparities and housing discrimination on marginal groups and uses a track meet as a metaphor; the other describes how Redlining can disadvantage Black Americans.

As any good teacher would, Mary Wood asked her students to discuss and think about the arguments Coates makes in his book. A writing assignment asks, “What is Coates’ primary argument about education and its role in equality? Is he justified in this stance? Explain.”

This year, two students complained, and one of them went directly to the School Board, not the teacher. Which is where newly-elected School Board member Elizabeth Barnhardt enters the plot.

Barnhardt was endorsed by Moms 4 Liberty, a far-right group responsible for many of the book complaints around the nation that have resulted in numerous books being banned in red states, or taken off library shelves while state “investigators” determine if they are suitable for the classroom.

In the student’s email to Barnhardt, they wrote that the videos “made me feel uncomfortable” and “ashamed to be Caucasian.” Moreover, the videos “portrayed an inaccurate description of life from past centuries that she (Wood) is trying to resurface.” It is “antiquated history” the student felt “too heavy to discuss.”

The other complaining student also wrote an email in which they also claimed to be “incredibly uncomfortable, and “in shock” that the videos were shown.

This second student also wrote “a teacher talking about systemic racism is illegal in South Carolina” and that Coates was “a Malcolm X fanatic” who believes “everything that is bad happened stems from the ‘whiteness’ of America.” Finally, the high school student accused Wood of trying to “subtly indoctrinate our class under the guise that she is trying to ‘get us to think about different points of view.'”

The upshot? As Legum wrote this morning:

Chapin High School sided with the two students and Barnhardt. On February 6, Wood was called into a meeting with the Assistant Principal of Instruction, Melissa Magee. According to a “script” provided to Magee and released pursuant to a document request, Wood was told that assigning Coates’ book was illegal and “we need you to cease this assignment.” The removal of Coates’ book was first reported by The State.

As has happened elsewhere with school book complaints, the decision to remove the Coates book did not follow written policy, which required the complaint to have been made in writing to the superintendent and reviewed by a special committee. Moreover, the policy stipulated that the book under review should have stayed in use until the review was completed. None of that happened.

Whether you throw books you don’t like onto an intellectual funeral pyre or simply ban students from reading them, the result is the same.

And what about the issue of the videos and the Coates book making the students “incredibly uncomfortable?”

At times, the study of history is supposed to make us uncomfortable.

Studying the French Terror of 1792/93 is supposed to make us uncomfortable. Studying the Spanish Inquisition is supposed to make us uncomfortable. Studying what Christopher Columbus did to the indigenous populations he encountered is supposed to make us uncomfortable. Studying the Insurrection of January 6th, the downing of the Twin Towers, and, yes, the Jim Crow America Coates describes should make us very uncomfortable.

But that does not mean we should not study all of it. Why? Because, as has been shown repeatedly throughout history, if we don’t learn from all of that, we’ll do it all again in a new and improved way.

What happened to Mary Wood and her AP Class is a harbinger of a future we should do all in our power to avoid. Her students wrote they were being “indoctrinated.” They were, but not by Mary Wood.

What’s Trump’s Excuse?

Tuesday, June 13th, 2023

When  Willie Sutton, one of the first criminals to earn a spot on the FBI’s Top Ten List of fugitives, was asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

Although he was a bank robber, Sutton had the reputation of a gentleman; he robbed banks, but never resorted to violence. He’d wave around a handgun, but never use it. The thing might not even have been loaded. In fact, people present at his robberies said he was quite polite. One victim said witnessing one of Sutton’s robberies was, “like being at the movies, except the usher had a gun.”

Born on 30 June 1901 in Brooklyn, New York, Slick Willie Sutton was one of America’s pre-eminent bank and jewel robbers from the early 1930s until his final capture on 18 February 1952. I write “final capture,” because after a number of arrests and convictions, he escaped from one prison or another three times. The final time was from Philadelphia County Prison, in Homesburg, Pennsylvania, where, on 10 February 1947, Sutton and other prisoners dressed as prison guards carried two ladders across the prison yard to the wall after dark. When the prison’s searchlights hit him, Sutton yelled, “It’s okay.” No one stopped him, and over the wall he went.

I bring up the interesting and colorful life of Willie Sutton to make the point there was never any doubt about why he did what he did. Looking back at his career of crime we see a transparent picture of his motives, which were clear as cleaned glass. He liked money, wanted a lot of it, and repeatedly did whatever it took to get it. Unfortunately for him he got caught a lot. He wasn’t good at evading capture, but he was a master at escaping.

Contrast the life of Willie with what went on at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago as detailed in the former President’s 37 count indictment unsealed by Special Prosecutor Jack Smith on Friday, four days ago. Boxes upon boxes of files just lying around for all and sundry to see. Photos, richly colored, of Top Secret and Classified files treated as cavalierly as a dinner menu at the resort’s restaurant. Among them the Plan of Attack for Iran.

What, you ask, does any of this have to do with a mid-20th century bank robber?

It’s this: Willie Sutton did not seem able to stop robbing banks. It was in his being from beginning to end. In his DNA. Donald Trump did not seem capable of just giving all the boxes and files back to the National Archives where they all belonged. If he had, there would have been no Jack Smith and no 37 count indictment.

Not only did he not give them back, the easy thing to do, but according to the indictment, he moved them around to evade discovery and instructed his lawyers to lie for him about it. Apparently, they did not know they’d be lying, because he misled them, as well as everyone else. This was prevarication on a grand scale. But why did he not simply give it all back?

There are many opinions about this, and here’s mine. In Donald Trump we have a man with a colossal ego as big as Gibraltar, a narcissistic personality in which the entire universe resides within him, and a biblically religious belief that he is never wrong. If I’m right about that, there is no way he could ever entertain the notion of just giving the stuff back. Everything in the boxes happened on his Presidential watch, therefore all of it belonged to him.

An absolute inability to just return everything to its rightful custodian, the National Archives,  is the only way I can square this whole sordid affair’s circle. That was all he had to do to avoid the continuing American Fiasco that will enter a new chapter at 3:00pm this afternoon in Miami as he turns himself in to be arrested, finger-printed, photographed with a number under his face, charged in court, asked to enter a plea, and released to await trial. All this with possible bedlam in the streets as his he-can-do-no-wrong supporters rant and rail about this latest persecution. This continuing witch-hunt, as Trump likes to say.

And then he will take his martyrdom to the Presidential campaign trail. I can’t help wondering (and neither can you, I’d bet) what will happen if he actually secures the Republican nomination, which, according to a CBS poll taken immediately following the indictment’s unsealing, seems possible, even probable, at this time. Think about that for a moment.

And what if Trump is convicted? In the CBS poll, 80% of Republican Primary voters say that should not disqualify him from serving as President¹ However, 80% of the General Election public say it should disqualify him.

Although a lot can happen between here and November 2024, right now it appears unlikely Trump can win a general election, even though he stands a good chance of being the nominee of whatever remains of the Republican Party.

We all have our views on how and why we got to this point. I’ve given mine. But the real “why” of this will probably never be known. The “why” question may just bounce around America like a  bee bee in a box car far into the future and provide historians with enough fodder for a lifetime.

Willey Sutton had an excuse: “That’s where the money is.” What’s Trump’s excuse?


¹ The Constitution is silent on this; I guess the Founders never contemplated in their wildest imaginings that anyone with a moral compass this misaligned could ever run for, much less win, a Presidential election. But, here we are.



Trump’s Indictment: Shameful Beyond Words

Friday, June 9th, 2023

Well, here we are, heading straight down the long and winding Donald Trump Rabbit Hole. And, once again, the man is sucking all the air out of the room known as the United States of America.

By now, everyone knows the ex-president is the first ex-president to be charged with a criminal felony, and, right now he has 37 of them strapped to his back, including violation of the Espionage Act, which carries a prison sentence of 20 years. As far-right Fox contributor Mark Levin said last night, “Donald Trump is 76 years old. If convicted he will die in prison.”

And Levin may be right. This time is for real. The United States vs. Donald Trump is now.

Yesterday, the entire congressional Republican Righteous Right and its base lined up to condemn the persecution, torment and torture of Donald Trump. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, a paragon of hypocrisy with a backbone of soft as a sneaker full of puppy poo, said about the at-that-point-unsealed indictments, “Today is indeed a dark day for the United States of America. House Republicans will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable.”

He was right about the “dark day” part, and most Republican members of congress echoed the “weaponization of power accountable” part, even with the poor syntax. There is fury within the Republican beast, and McCarthy must keep tossing it meat.

But all that posturing was before the Justice Department unsealed the charges in its 44-page indictment at 2:00pm today. And they are damning in the extreme. It is going to be hard for anyone, regardless of political persuasion, to defend Donald Trump anymore. Oh, they’ll try, but whatever screed they shout will disappear in the winds of fate. I urge every one of my readers to read the indictment. It is American History in the making.

Trump now faces:

31 counts related to withholding national defense information;

4 counts related to concealing classified documents; and,

2 counts related to false statements made to the FBI.

That totals 37 felony charges related to the mishandling of classified documents. Here’s a taste. According to the indictment’s paragraph 6:

6.a. In July 2021, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, during an audio-recorded meeting with a writer, a publisher, and two members of his staff, none of whom possessed a security clearance, Trump showed and described a “plan of attack” that Trump said was prepared for him by the Department of Defense and a senior military official. Trump told the individuals that the plan was “highly confidential” and “secret.” Trump also said, “as president I could have declassified it,” and, “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.

6.b. In August or September 2021, at The Bedminster Club, Trump showed a representative of his political action committee who did not possess a security clearance a classified map related to a military operation and told the representative that he should not be showing it to the representative and that the representative should not get too close.

The indictment says that Trump appeared to be proud of the materials he retained and eager to show them off as keepsakes. “Isn’t it amazing?“ he asked a visitor to his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., after showing off Iran intelligence, boasting that military commanders “presented me this.’ Trump said he randomly took the papers off ‘a big pile,’ suggesting he had many more.

Paragraph 66 of the indictment is particularly problematic. Here, the indictment recounts how, according to his lawyer’s words, Trump made a “plucking motion” that implied, “why don’t you take them with you to your hotel room and if there’s anything really bad in there, like, you know, pluck it out.”

The indictment details 31 highly classified documents that Trump has kept at his resort. They included information about the military and nuclear capabilities of foreign countries, White House intelligence briefings, a country’s support of terrorist attacks against the U.S., and U.S. military contingency planning.

The US Plan of Attack on Iran was left lying around at various places and various times in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort where anyone could have, and probably did, see it.

In a particularly stinging portion of the indictment, Trump’s own words about the importance of protecting classified documents are recited. The Indictment recounts him saying, “We can’t have someone in the Oval Office who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word confidential or classified.” He also said, “In my administration, I’m going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information. No one will be above the law.” He said all that during his campaign in 2016 against Hilary Clinton. “But her Emails!”

Special Prosecutor Jack Smith held a short and terse news conference at 3:00pm today announcing the indictments and paying tribute to the prosecutors in his office and the FBI agents who have worked on this case for 14 months. He made a point of emphasizing that the defendant, Trump, is absolutely presumed innocent until convicted in a court of law by his citizen peers.

We should remember that. Thus far, the only thing Donald Trump has been convicted of is sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll. That conviction happened four weeks ago.

Trump still faces the possibility of being indicted in Georgia for attempting to change  Georgia’s results in the 2020 presidential election in his favor. And then there’s New York where he is already indicted for alleged financial illegality.

The indictment unsealed today is full of Trump’s own words. If he is convicted of any of this, it will be his own words that do it.

This has been a shameful day in America’s history.

Greed On Grand Scale

Thursday, June 8th, 2023

“Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” — Said by Wall Street financier Ivan Boesky, May 18, 1986, in his commencement address at UC Berkeley’s School of Business Administration.

Less than a year after uttering those words, immortalized by Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film,  Wall Street, Ivan Boesky went to jail for insider trading. But what Boesky said about greed has driven humanity since it began walking upright. Greed is a most powerful and overriding emotion driving rational thought to a place it cannot be found.

A case in point happened on Tuesday of this week, when the PGA (Professional Golfers Association) merged with LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed tournament series set up in 2021.

LIV Golf had hired PGA Tour Hall of Fame player and former champion Greg Norman as its commissioner. The Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund, which is known as the Public Investment Fund (PIF), poured billions of dollars into LIV, which lured famous PGA tour players into joining it by offering an average of $100 million dollars just for signing up. A Forbes report estimates that Phil Mickelson received a signing fee of an astonishing $200 million, likely receiving half of that up front. Forbes further reports that with earnings of $138 million, Mickelson was the world’s highest paid sportsperson of 2022. The investment by the Saudi’s PIF fund boosted the earnings of the 10 highest-paid LIV golfers by an estimated $370 million—in one year.

When the Saudi’s created LIV Golf and stole 48 of the world’s best players, they also created a new golf format and pay scale for winning, or, for that matter, losing, too.

PGA tournaments consist of four rounds of golf beginning on Thursday and ending the following Sunday. After the first two days, the lower scoring bottom half of the field is cut, and those players go home—empty handed. Only in the four major tournaments do players who miss the cut get paid anything. In 2023, it was $10,000 for the Masters and US Open, $5,000 for the British Open, and $3,250 for the just completed PGA Championship.

LIV Golfers play in 12, four-person teams. The tournaments last only three days, there is no cutting anyone, and both teams and individuals win money; in each tournament, the golfer finishing last still wins $120 thousand! There’s a season-long individual points race with $30 million in the pot. The leading player in the standings at the end of the season picks up $18 million of that.

For two years, the PGA, and its players who stayed, vociferously condemned LIV Golf. Last year the PGA brought suit against LIV Golf, and the parties were currently getting ready for trial. Discovery was about to begin.

In its suit the PGA said:

LIV has executed a campaign to pay the LIV Players astronomical sums of money to induce them to breach their contracts with the TOUR in an effort to use the LIV Players and the game of golf to sportswash¹ the recent history of Saudi atrocities…

But on Tuesday all that changed when the Saudis, to the total surprise of the PGA golfers, bought the PGA. There really isn’t any other way to put it. They’re calling it a “merger,” but the deal stipulates that the only investor in the enterprise is PIF, and PIF has first refusal if any other investor wants to get into the game.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, the man who banged the drum loudest about the awful LIV Golf, will be CEO of the combined organization, but the Chair of the Board will be PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan.

So, who is he, you may ask? And what does he know about golf?

Yasir Al-Rumayyan sits at the right hand of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the man who runs Saudi Arabia, and the man the CIA says is responsible for the murder and dismemberment of US-based Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Al-Rumayyan is the brains behind LIV Golf, and he is the reason PIF is the exclusive investor to the new entity and a “premier corporate sponsor” of the PGA Tour.

The players who were steadfast in their loyalty to the PGA in its fight with LIV have been blindsided by the whole thing. Most found out about the deal on Twitter. Those players now stand to make a lot more money with all that Saudi financing. They probably won’t complain.

But we should. The killing of Khashoggi, the mass executions (decried and condemned by the EU), the plight of women², the treatment of migrants, the list goes on and on. The kingdom has a lot of blood on its hands—and money in the bank, a chunk of which will now and in the future, find its way into the hands of the adult golfers young golfers look up to. It’s all rather shameful.

So, the lawsuit goes away, and things one might have learned in Discovery about the Saudi government will now stay hidden.

How does this whole thing make you feel? To me, a venerable, but elitist, sport is now dangling from the hand of a malevolent and clever puppeteer who bears no resemblance to the kindly Geppetto.

One unanswered question is: How will this affect television ratings for golf? I suspect not at all. That’s a shame.

This Faustian bargain comes on the heels of Saudi Arabia announcing four days ago it would cut oil production by one million barrels a day to “ensure oil price stability.” That “stability” will probably finance the new golf deal.

Put that in your tank and drive it.


¹ Sportswashing is a term used to describe the practice of individuals, groups, corporations, or governments using sports to improve reputations tarnished by wrongdoing. The 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Nazi Germany, is widely viewed as an early case of sportswashing.

² In March, the Council of Ministers passed a new Personal Status Law, which came into effect in June. The new law, which was not previously codified, enables discrimination against women, including through male guardianship. Only men can be legal guardians under this law, and women must have a male guardian’s permission to marry and are then obliged to obey their husband. Moreover, the law does not give women and men equal rights over matters relating to their children in the event of separation. While the mother is automatically granted custody, the father is designated as the child’s legal guardian without due consideration of the best interests of the child.