- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 29

Let’s unite to fight sectarian terrorism

Lawmakers, tech executives, and the general public should be inspired by a bold rabbi.

For the second time in as many weeks, worshipers were attacked in a horrific, hate-filled assault.

Last week, it was Christians on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka as three churches and three hotels were targeted in suicide bombings carried out by Islamic terrorists allegedly directed by ISIS in attacks that killed at least 250 people. On Saturday, it was Jewish congregants at the Chabad of Poway, a synagogue about 25 miles north of San Diego, six months to the day after an attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh killed 11 and injured seven.



In March, Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, were attacked at two mosques during Friday prayers in assaults that killed 50.

More innocent victims, including nine slain in 2015 at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina., have died in what should be sanctuaries from worldly evil.

Saturday’s attack killed one 60-year-old woman who tried to protect Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who himself was wounded confronting the gunman. A 34-year-old man and a young girl were also injured.

His hands bandaged after being shot, Goldstein later said in an interview with NBC’s “Today Show” that “terror will not win.”

That message, and the rabbi’s inspirational courage in confronting the gunman, should resonate as the world faces the rise of sectarian hate.

In the U.S., the perpetrators are typically lone wolves - not those directly connected to larger terror groups - often inspired by white-nationalist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic or other extremist hate-laced rhetoric rocketing around the internet.

That appears to be the case with Saturday’s alleged assailant, identified as 19-year-old John T. Earnest. Like many attackers before him, Earnest was hiding his hate in plain sight, reportedly posting a racist, anti-Semitic rant online and on the internet message board 8chan. In it, Earnest claimed he received inspiration from the Tree of Life attack and the slaughter in New Zealand. He also claimed responsibility for a fire at a mosque in Escondido, California, in March.

The U.S. should be as bold as the synagogue’s rabbi in confronting this societal scourge and pledging that terror indeed will not win.

For political leaders, that means taking the rise of domestic terrorism more seriously, and not flinching out of fear it will be equated with the continuing controversy over President Donald Trump’s assessment that there were “very fine people on both sides” after racists, anti-Semites and white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. More recently, it’s troubling that the Department of Homeland Security has disbanded a group of intelligence analysts who had focused on domestic terror, according to a story first reported by the Daily Beast.

Elected officials need to stop kowtowing, if not cowering, before inflexible gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association and instead listen to the overwhelming majority of Americans calling for common-sense gun legislation. And high-tech executives must do more to police their sites and eliminate hostile, hateful rhetoric, some of which clearly inspires some attackers. It’s not enough to express remorse after a site is hijacked by hate; more resources and innovative solutions are required.

American citizens can take inspiration from the heroism of Rabbi Goldstein, who offered this message after Saturday’s attack: “Everyone needs to be a hero, and everyone needs to step up and do something in the face of terror.”

___

Post Bulletin, Rochester, April 29

Graduation rates tell only part of the story

In a perfect world, every current high school freshmen would graduate in 2022. Of course, perfection is unattainable, but that doesn’t mean our education system can’t strive to get as close as possible.

So we applaud last week’s announcement by the Minnesota Department of Education that the statewide high school graduation rate has hit a record high, with more than 83 percent of students graduating on time in 2018.

Digging deeper into the numbers, the gap between black and white students has steadily closed during the past five years, with black students now graduating at a rate of 67 percent, compared to 88 percent for white students.

In Rochester, those numbers are even better, with an overall graduation rate of 87 percent. Ninety percent of white students and 80 percent of black students are graduating, and multiple trend lines are moving steadily in the right direction.

Make no mistake - this is great news. While a high school diploma is no longer a guarantee of a good job, it opens doors to future paths that would otherwise be closed. Furthermore, the apparent shrinking of the achievement gap will have a profound impact on generations to come, because regardless of race, people who complete high school are far more likely to make education a priority for their own children.

But rising graduation rates shouldn’t distract anyone from the need for continued improvement in our public schools at the local level and statewide.

In Rochester, for example, 13 out of every 100 students are falling through cracks in the educational system. If you are the parent of such a high school student, you probably know what it’s like to receive an automated phone call in the evening, informing you that your child didn’t show up for school that day.

We’d prefer that parents be notified sooner in the day so they could take steps to find their child and get him/her back to school. At 6 p.m., it’s too late to do anything.

Truancy, after all, is a big problem. Statewide, the chronic absenteeism rate for white students is 14 percent, for Hispanic students 23 percent, for black students 24 percent. Those numbers track fairly well with graduation rates, which makes sense. It’s tough to graduate if you’re habitually absent.

Rochester Public Schools has strong policies and procedures against truancy, but we fear that those policies are not always promptly enforced. When a child starts skipping school, intervention must be both immediate and significant. Kids need to understand that their teachers and administrators care about them. Robocalls and form letters aren’t enough, and by the time law enforcement gets involved, it’s probably too late.

Truancy aside, we’d also argue that even students who have perfect attendance aren’t spending enough time in Minnesota’s classrooms - which is why we also would argue for a longer school year.

Gone are the days when our state’s farmers depend three months of child labor. Air conditioning can make classrooms perfectly comfortable in late June and mid-August.

More importantly, today we know that the traditional three-month break from school negatively impacts kids’ retention - which is why so many educational companies now charge hefty tuition for programs to prevent the so-called “summer slide.”

Education and knowledge are the ultimate international commodities, and in other nations - China, Japan, India, Israel - the school year includes more than 200 instructional days. Chinese students attend classes 260 days per year.

Yet right here in Minnesota, after a winter that nixed two weeks worth of classes in most districts, the very notion of having to make up some of those days in an already-short academic calendar seemed unthinkable. So while there is a state law mandating 165 days of school, the Legislature stepped in and essentially said “Oh, never mind.”

We blame this decision on a mindset that prioritizes leisure over education. Elected officials and school administrators know full well that if they added makeup days at the end of the school calendar or subtracted days from spring break, many parents would simply take their kids out of school anyway for ski trips to Colorado or a week on the beach in Florida.

And yes, such absences would likely be considered “excused.”

___

The Free Press of Mankato, April 25

Election Security: Kiffmeyer, Gazelka failing the people

Why it matters: Republican Mary Kiffmeyer and Majority Leader Paul Gazelka are not acting responsibly as legislators to the people of Minnesota.

GOP Senate elections committee chair Mary Kiffmeyer and GOP Sen. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka have crossed the line into obstructionism by playing political games with election security funding from the federal government.

They’re holding $6 million of taxpayer funding hostage in a gambit to score political points. Only it’s the voters who will lose.

Kiffmeyer, a former Minnesota secretary of state, has been delaying approval of the $6 million in federal funds aimed at thwarting cyberattacks. Her reasons are flimsy and relate to vague ideas about voter ID laws. Every other state has already approved these federal funds, which were allocated based on evidence and investigations that showed Russia hacked into the U.S. voting system in several states. Those investigations noted Minnesota was targeted.

Kiffmeyer is apparently not fazed by these threats that both parties agree are very real. She told the Star Tribune: “People are being hacked all the time. You’re being hacked all the time. I am. This is no big thing.”

Gazelka’s excuse for allowing Kiffmeyer to single-handedly control this important election security issue revolves around some idea that committee chairs should be empowered. Kiffmeyer has demonstrated she should be given very little power.

Gazelka does a disservice to all Minnesotans to continue to allow Kiffmeyer to thwart funding for important security upgrades. Republicans who follow her lead by, for example, not showing up for a committee hearing to discuss the issue and reach compromise, are complicit.

Senate GOP leaders have decided politics is more important than secure voting rights of the people of Minnesota. Republican legislators should challenge the actions of Senate leaders and remove them if they refuse to yield.

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