Category: Current Affairs

Current Affairs Discussion Group

June 15, 2017
Current Affairs Discussion:
US-Mexico Relations

Discussion leader: Gary Banks

Nafta has made Mexico a better place, writes @MaryAnastasiaOG from Harris

May 18, 2017
Current Affairs Discussion:
The Federal Deficit

Discussion leader: John Bartlett

This is a basic, sensible introduction to trade deficits from the Peterson Institute.
Is the US Trade Deficit a Problem?

National Commission of Fical Responsibility

Go to and in the search area enter the following: Financial Audit: Bureau of the Fiscal Service’s Fiscal Years 2016 and 2015 Schedules of Federal Debt.

CBO 2017 Long-Term Budget Outlook
CBO 2017 Long Term Deficits

United_ States_budget_sequestration_in_2013

“The Education of David Stockman” is a classic on how the Federal Budget is actually constructed. It was published in the Atlantic in 1981 and was expanded into his book, “Triumph of Politics.” It isn’t pretty. Recall that Stockman was Reagan’s first term budget director. No one, including Reagan, comes off well. This article was off the record – until it wasn’t. It lead to Stockman’s famous trip to the woodshed. (Full disclosure – I worked for David for 6 years. Gary)

This is the link to Steve Balmer’s new website:
USA Facts

April 20, 2017
Current Affairs Discussion:
Charter Schools

Charter Schools: Pros & Cons

Discussion leader: David Mace

Discussion Questions:
Our discussion on Charter schools will begin with a brief understanding of what is a charter school.
Who attends charter schools?
Who pays for charter schools?
Why do some charter schools succeed and others fail?
What is the impetus behind wanting to give children more school choices?

We will discuss the impact on the public school systems when local taxpayer dollars are redirected to support charter schools.

Do we think it is wise to direct more federal funding for education toward charter schools?

Should charter school teachers have to pass the same qualification exams as public school teachers or should we treat charter school teachers more like a private schools where teacher qualification is established by each school?

Is it appropriate for profit making corporations to manage and benefit financially from charter schools?

Finally, should we be lobbying the Department of Education in Washington to create more charter schools or should we be pushing back on this effort which Betsy DeVos says she wants to pursue?


Paper by Beverly Miyares, the Director of Education Policy for the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
Click here: Beverly Miyares

Charter Schools In Perspective: A Guide to the Research



This provides good, current data on enrollment trends. I would not focus on the outcomes section of this report, as it is biased.

This is from the Intelligence squared debates – topic “Charter Schools Are Overrated” Yes or No?.

Are Charter Schools Making a Difference: A Study of Student Outcomes in Eight States.
This small piece summarizes RAND’s 2009 study of charter schools. It’s dated, but gives a good perspective.

A twisted interpretation of historically black colleges paves the way for a failed market-driven education policy.

Here’s a late entry. (It is 10:20PM and I am cramming for the discussion.)

NYTimes: Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?

The arguments over the confirmation of the new secretary of education were about something bigger: which government institutions benefit which citizens.

The new studies come at an interesting moment, with a proponent of vouchers newly in charge of the Education Department.

Charter Schools in Connecticut

Basic FAQ’s from the state.

Charter schools in CT:

Achievement First is a high performing charter high school in Hartford. AF Hartford High School students outperformed the state average on the SAT, as well as earned the highest average SAT scores among low-income students in the state. On the 2015 Connecticut state SBAC exam, students achievement scores surpassed those of neighboring West Hartford. Watch the video.

From: “Miyares, Beverly”
Subject: RE: Charter Schools
Date: April 10, 2017 at 11:50:36 PM EDT
To: David Mace

Sorry again to take so long to reply. Here are my thoughts on your questions:

A. Why would the MA State Board of Education disallow a superintendent or school board from expressing an opinion on the establishment of a particular charter school? Whose interest is being served by this posture?
The MA Board of Education has always interpreted MA statues re: charter school approvals as prohibiting them from taking community opinion on the establishment of the charter school into consideration. The Board’s understanding is that they can consider only the merits of the charter application and not the impact on the traditional public schools. Many members have expressed frustration with that interpretation but it has not ever been challenged.

I am not exactly sure where this understanding comes from. I believe the Board can establish the criteria for approving a charter application. The regulations governing this process, in my view, do not clearly exclude consideration of community impact. However, it is the principle on which the Board operates. I will need to research this point further.

As to whose interests it serves, it serves the interests of charter school advocates. Given the funding mechanism, it is almost always going to be the case that the traditional public school will oppose the charter school. Prohibiting the decision makers from taking the funding loss into consideration is an advantage for the applicant.

For most of the charter school era, MA has had a governor who supported charter schools. The MA Board of Education has been much more conservative than the state as a whole given that the governor appoints the Board members. The Democratic dominance of the state legislature provides a veto-proof majority; and, in my opinion, a Republican governor leaves the legislature with more power than if there were a Democratic governor. The legislature has typically put the limitations on charter schools; left to its own devices, the Board would likely approve many more charters.

B. My impression is that a large part of the support for charter schools is to get the teachers unions off their back. Is this a fair statement? For example, some I have spoken with say it is very difficult (not impossible) to remove a teacher from a public school. Like the medical profession where doctors protect their own, teachers come to the support of teachers even when it is not warranted. I am asking my question this way purposely to anticipate those in our group who will support charters in all events. Your comment please.
Unions are required to enforce the contract and represent teachers when there is a question of whether the contract has been violated – they have no choice. Unions do not make the decision to hire a teacher; they do not make the decision to give them job protection rights – called Professional Teacher Status in MA; tenure in other states – and they do not evaluate them. Management does. When management has gone through all those steps – hired, awarded tenure and evaluated an person, it should have to follow the agreed upon process when a person who was once good enough to be hired, given tenure and received good evaluations no longer meets the standard of performance. Unions defend the process; not the person. In MA, management has a three year probation period before a teacher earns professional teacher status. During that time, there are very few requirement a district needs to follow in order to non-renew a teacher. Three years should be enough.

The term, “union contract” is a misnomer; a contract is agreed upon by both parties and, hence, is called a collective bargaining agreement. Both parties agree to follow the rules specified in the agreement. If the rules are too difficult, then management should bargain about changing those rules when the agreement expires. Typically they do not. And, often, management has not followed the agreed upon process in an instance when a teacher should no longer be employed.

I don’t believe it is a case of “teachers protecting their own.” No teacher wants to teach next door to someone who is not able to do their job; nor does any teacher want to receive students from a teacher who has not taught children adequately. However, the agreed upon process must be followed. Historically, bargaining over dismissal processes comes from an era when patronage was an issue or discrimination on the basis of race and gender was common in employment practices.

C. Would you agree that some charter schools are exceptional because they have an outstanding principal and a strong board. If that is the case, then the strengthening of public schools can be achieved by having better principals and stronger school boards.

I am always in favor of good principals and I wish there were more concern about the quality of principals in our schools. We hear much about the “bad teacher” and not much about the “bad principal.” We have an extreme shortage of quality principals; teachers are not interested in the job even when they have the credential. In MA, we have thousands of teachers with principal licenses, but a shortage of candidates for principal positions. In MA, principals cannot be union members; they have a difficult job, often asked to be change agents and have no job protection. In fact, federal policy required that principals be replaced for low performing schools to receive federal school improvement funds- regardless of whether anyone thought the principal needed to be replaced.

I do not know of any research that finds that charter schools have better principals as a group. Research does show that charter principals have a higher turnover rate than do principals in traditional public schools. As I have described, the working conditions in charter schools are not sustainable over time; people with families and other demands cannot sustain what charter schools typically require of its staff members, including principals.

I would agree that many schools, not just charters, are exceptional because they have an outstanding principal and staff. Staff likes to work for an outstanding principal; they do not like to work for a poor principal. There is clear research that supportive leadership is more important than compensation when a teacher makes a decision about whether to work in a particular school.

D. My impression is that public schools are the responsibility of local cities and towns, not the Federal government. If so, how much influence can Betsy DeVos have in pushing for more charter schools at the expense of public schools? How much damage can she do?

What Betsy has an influence on is the federal funding specified in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the successor legislation to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, more recently known as the No Child Left Behind Act. This federal law covers a large number of federal funding programs, the largest of which is Title 1 that provides funding for low income students. MA receives about $250 million in Title 1 each year; most schools receive some Title 1 funds, but the bulk of it goes to large urban districts where a high percentage of low income students reside.

The US Education Department can set conditions on receiving this grant money through regulations and guidance. In the Obama administration, states were allowed to waive particular requirements of the federal law, but had to agree to other requirements, for example, regarding how teachers were evaluated. These “waiver” requirements were much more specific than federal programs had ever included.

Congress has now rescinded regulations for some of the programs included in ESSA; it is not clear at all how Betsy may advance a charter/choice/religious school agenda through requirements around eligibility for federal programs or perhaps through revisions in federal tax policy. Much more to come.

Hope this is helpful. Sorry to take so long – lots going on here. Feel free to send along any more questions – I am enjoying having to put my charter thoughts together!

Beverly Miyares
Massachusetts Teachers Association
Center for Education Policy + Practice
2 Heritage Drive, 8th Floor
Quincy, MA 02171-2119


This is from the CT Mirror. It highlights proposed change to the education funding formula. I is complicated to figure out if Charters are a bargain or a drain.

School choice

Even more controversial is Duff and Rojas’s proposal for funding charter and magnet schools and other choice programs. Currently, separate funding formulas or set amounts written into state law govern funding for various school choice programs.

Duff and Rojas want to end that and instead have all schools funded under the same formula used for traditional neighborhood schools.

However, there is one exception — and that’s where the controversy is rooted.

Since charter, magnet and other choice schools don’t have a local tax base and are primarily supported by state funding, Duff and Rojas propose the state calculate how much each local district spends to educate a student on average and then withhold one-quarter of that amount for each student who leaves for a magnet or charter school. The withheld funding would be sent to the school the child actually attends.

Currently districts do not get funding for students who leave for charter schools. However, districts still get state funding for students who leave for magnet schools, which is somewhat offset by tuition that magnets charge the sending districts.

The changes that Duff and Rojas propose would drive huge funding increases for several charter schools — including about $1,800 more per student for Achievement First Hartford Academy and $1,700 for Stamford Academy, according to a preliminary run done by the School Finance Project. Four of the state’s 22 charter schools would lose funding, with the largest being Explorations Academy, which would lose $475 per student.

The network of regional magnet schools opened in the Hartford region in an effort to comply with a Connecticut Supreme Court order to desegregate Hartford schools would be hit hard by the changes, with a loss of $3,569 per student.

Rojas and Duff said more money should leave than currently does when a student leaves to attend a charter or magnet school — but others see this as an effort to drain more money that would have gone to neighborhood schools.

“It’s a public school voucher plan. This is the Michigan model,” said Waxenberg, referring to the controversial approach Betsy DeVos successfully got into place in Michigan before becoming the U.S. education secretary.

Duff denies it’s a voucher plan.

“That’s not true at all. That’s over-the-top rhetoric that’s trying to fan the flames of fear rather than what this bill actually does,” he said, pointing out that no state funding will go to private schools. “For some reason opponents are hanging their hat on that instead of focusing on the fact that 550,000 public school students would be better served by this new funding formula. I would rather focus on those public school students.”

March 16, 2017
Current Affairs Discussion:
Sanctuary Cities and Immigration

Sanctuary Cities – Their impact on

– Immigration
– Local economies
– Legal system
– Law enforcement

Discussion leader: Bob Baker


Sanctuary Cities in Vermont

Campus Politics in the Age of Trump – The New York Times “sanctuary”

Here’s a recent editorial by the WSJ’s Jason Riley, I thought you might find interesting.

Connecticut Governor Sends Immigrant Enforcement Recommendations To Police Chiefs, School Superintendents – Darien, CT Patch
This shows potential conflict between governor and law enforcement officials in CT.

I (Charles Salmans) am from Garden City, a small town in Western Kansas that had a population of 5,000 when I was growing up in the 1950s. Today, in contrast to towns that have become ghost towns across the prairie Midwest, Garden City has a population of 26,000. Our big high school rival, Dodge City, Kansas, has remained at around 5,000. Many towns have simply disappeared. The influence of immigration on Garden City was profiled last week on NPR.

What a shock! I’ve never had my hometown profiled anywhere nationally.

I think linking the growth to immigration alone is overly simplistic. The key reason is the vertical integration of agriculture. First, in the 1970s came a beef packing plant and today to serve meat packing, 140,000 head of cattle are being raised in feedlots at any given time. Farmers shifted from wheat to feed corn from cattle. Then came an ethanol plant. And huge “unit trains” take grain to the coast (much like the unit coal trains). Now they are diversifying into vertically integrated dairy farming by building the world’s largest plant to dehydrate milk.

But working in beef packing, which started it all, is one of the most dangerous, least desirable jobs in America. It’s extremely difficult to get people to work in the plant and there is a long tradition of recruiting immigrants. There is a large Vietnamese population (boat people of the 1970s) as well as those of Mexican ancestry and other backgrounds, who work in the meat packing plant and other difficult jobs and many, I am sure, are illegals.

I’m simply offering this up for one of the discussion points, as it doesn’t “prove” one side of the sanctuary argument or the other in my opinion. Here are the two (of two) NPR segments:

Segment 1
Segment 2

How can the federal government motivate states to enforce federal laws??

ACLU Immigration Detainers

Editorial in WSJ today, (March 13) ” Crime and Immigration” gives factors relating to “Sanctuary Cities”

List of sanctuary cities:

Sanctuary cities protect 11,800 criminal aliens.

Our state’s one of only a few where illegal immigration is up | The Seattle Times

Murder – Page 2 – United States Illegal Alien Crime Report

Discussion Guide:
Sanctuary Cities “SC”
(more than 300 sanctuary “entities”)
Basic Facts
1. No legal definition of “sanctuary” cities or states or colleges. No legal procedure for their establishment
Can be formal (policies written), or informal (all policies are implied)
2. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is a federal responsibility
The US government cannot force states to enforce federal laws
But states may voluntarily assist in enforcement
Formal state “sanctuaries” cannot force municipalities to comply with policies
3. Perception of justification of “sanctuaries” probably influenced by attitudes:
“The US welcomes immigrants and they deserve protection” or
“The US needs to enforce immigration laws and deport illegal immigrants”
(These are not mutually exclusive but create differences on policy)
What are motivations of states, cities, universities to establish SCs?
Are the SCs providing “sanctuaries” only for immigrants not convicted of felonies, or to protect undocumented immigrants which may be subject to deportation?
Legal obligation under warrants, detainer requests
Enforcement mechanisms if perceived violations
Is there a humanitarian argument for “sanctuaries”?
Conn. (Gov. Malloy) announced the state is a SC, what are our views and options?

(the first, fourth and tenth amendments have been cited in arguments for/against SCs)
Related issue—“Kates Law”

February 16, 2017
Current Affairs Discussion:
Fake News

Mainstream journalists today are being subjected to disintermediation. Anyone with access to the Internet can post most anything posing as “news” on Facebook, Google, YouTube, and a variety of other websites. Journalism as practiced in the 1960s is a distant memory, as when Walter Cronkite of CBS declared that the Vietnam war could not be won and President Lyndon Johnson lamented, “If I have lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

The proliferation of cable channels, talk radio, news websites, and other sources of “news”, most would agree, has plusses and minuses. We no longer have our news delivered by “The Voice of God”, whether it’s Walter Cronkite or Henry Luce’s Time Magazine and we can easily access a wider range of opinion and policy proposals.

But many of us would admit that we tend to access news sources that will reinforce our own biases, and to ignore those outlets that would challenge our opinions. Possibly this has eroded the power of politicians at the “center” and made political compromise in Congress more difficult.

Fake News is reflective of the trend of fragmentation of sources, but different

What fewer would debate is that our country is not well served by “fake news” that undermines the power of an informed citizenry. Educated voters can hold our political leaders to account for policies and actions but world history is replete with the danger if public opinion is based on lies.

There are a number of reasons for the rise of “fake news”, but one especially strong incentive is that you can make a lot of money by creating it. The process is pretty simple and straightforward. Set up a website, create headlines — the more provocative the better — and get advertisers to pay based on the number of visitors to the site.

The New York Times profiled a recent college graduate who makes between $10,000 and $30,000 a month from creating fake news.
His masterpiece: playing on the fear of Trump supporters that there would be a rigged election. His headline: “Breaking: Tens of thousands of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse.”
None of this was true. The story was illustrated with a stock photo of plastic crates labeled “Ballot Box”, which was actually a photo from an election in Britain. See image above.

“Fake News” content creators are found around the world. Eastern Europe is a particularly fertile ground for such individuals, who need only a computer. Earning $1,000 or $3,000 a month can put the individual at the upper end of the income range in some of these countries.

Fake news technology can now change facial expressions and audio to put false statements into the mouths of anyone a target of fake news and make falsehoods seem believable.

NY Times: 10 Times Trump Spread Fake News


Researchers asked survey respondents whether they had heard various pieces of news on the two presidential candidates. These fell into three categories:
1) News that was true
2) News that had been posted that was fake
3) News that researchers created that was fake “fake news”. In other words, it had never been circulated.

In the second category, 15.3% of respondents remembered seeing the fake news stories and 7.9% recalled seeing them and believing them. But roughly the same number of people remembered seeing and believing the news in the third category.

The conclusion of the researchers: Some 8% of the adult population is willing to believe anything that sounds plausible and fits their preconceptions about the heros and villains in politics.

What to do about this?

Both Facebook and Google have recently adopted a policy to refuse to place ads on sites controlled by fake news publishers. But the purveyors and profit-makers from fake news are likely to be nimble and set up new websites when their discredited ones have been shut down.

Here is a wikipedia list of all the fake websites and their founders, etc. Notice they are deliberately close to legitimate news sites. Several are operated by the same person/organization.

The New York Times solicited ideas and came up with four proposals:
Facebook must acknowledge and change its financial incentives
Algorithms could help social media users spot fake news
3) Users must be more critical of online content
4) Social media companies need to hire human editors

There are several sites that try to investigate and debunk fake rumor and news including,, and but in entering some of the “fake news” stories I found, these didn’t always come up as stories discredited.

Another proposal is to create a crowdsourced, open list of false news sites regularly updated and refined by consensus (like Wikipedia) and persuade Google, Facebook, YouTube and other social media to agree to abide by this list and block such site advertising. Employ self-policing as with Wikipedia.

Also I found the following 32 page guide to fake news sites. There is a directory of specific sites and warning flags that can be deduced from the URL. For example, if the site ends in it’s a website in Colombia, not a traditional dot com.

Issues for Discussion

Who is the arbiter of “fake news”? It’s the age-old conundrum of the rights of free speech vs. censorship. The line between satire and “lying for cash” may be difficult to draw.
Should there be penalties for those who knowingly create “fake news”? Is it the equivalent of “shouting fire in a crowded theater”?

Should prominent social media sites such as Facebook and Google be legally required to root out fake news sites, or even to face fines for failure of due diligence?

What is the obligation of politicians to be accountable for exercising due diligence on stories that they distribute? Donald Trump has been accused of re-tweeting fake news without checking the validity of a story.

What methods should be adopted to educate citizens about how to test the truthfulness of stories they may see on social media and the Internet?

Do mainstream journalists need to change their methods of communicating and sourcing stories in order to offer a more legitimate and accessible alternative to fake news?

Finally, Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams started a series today in which the dumb pointy-haired boss has re-tweeted a racist conspiracy theory. We’ll see where he takes that in the coming days and whether it could be an amusing addition to what we have pulled together. Too soon to tell. Here’s the first panel:

Other Reading

Discussion leader: Charles Salmans


January 19, 2017
Current Affairs Discussion:
The Electoral College

The Electoral College:

– Why was it created?
– How it works.
– Is it still relevant?

Discussion Leader: Jim Phillips

Current Affairs

If you enjoy researching and discussing current affairs then you should join the DMA Current Affairs Discussion Group.

The Current Affairs group meets on the third Thursday of each month (Sep-Jun) at 8AM in the Lillian Gate Room on the second floor of the DCA.

The structure is as follows: With input from the group, the Current Affairs Coordinator will maintain a list of potential discussion topics. At the end of each meeting, a topic and discussion leader is chosen for the next meeting. The discussion leader will (i) define and articulate the topic; (ii) assemble and circulate background materials; (iii) lead the discussion. All members are encouraged to share information they find informative and relevant. The topic will be posted on this website.

We are not debating so the focus is on being better informed. The discussion leader will maintain this focus and allow everyone the opportunity to summarize what they have learned from the articles and what struck them as meaningful.

We hope to see you there.

Jim Phillips.