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Shope joins Ducey in blasting vaccine mandate
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PHOENIX — Reactions to President Joe Biden’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate fell sharply along partisan lines in Arizona, with outraged Republicans demanding legal action against what they deemed a tyrannical policy and Democrats, though largely quieter, supportive of the policy.

Gov. Doug Ducey, who has blocked schools and local officials from imposing vaccine and mask mandates in Arizona, called the new requirement “dictatorial” and “un-American.”

“COVID-19 is a contagious disease, it is still with us and it will be for the foreseeable future. President Biden’s solution is hammering down on private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way,” Ducey said in a press statement.

The governor argued that the mandate would do more harm than good.

“How many workers will be displaced? How many kids kept out of classrooms? How many businesses fined?” he said. “The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective tools to prevent the disease, but getting the vaccine is and should be a choice.”

Ducey also urged legal action against the mandate, which he predicted would be struck down in court: “We must and will push back.”

Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who’s running in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate, said he’s reviewing Biden’s mandate and he’ll take “all legal recourse to defend our state’s sovereignty and the rights of Arizonans to make the best healthcare decisions for themselves.”

“President Biden is now taking federal overreach to unheard of levels by dictating vaccine mandates for all private companies with over 100 people, federal contractors, and healthcare providers receiving federal dollars,” Brnovich said. “This would be a devastating step toward the nationalization of our healthcare systems and private workforce, and greatly erode individual liberties.”

The policy that Biden announced Thursday requires private employers with at least 100 workers to require their employees to either get COVID-19 vaccines or submit to weekly tests for the virus.

Various Republican lawmakers voiced their opposition to the mandate as well.

“The only people who will make the decision on what I inject into my body will be between me, my family and my doctor. You want the vaccine, get it! You don’t, don’t!” tweeted House Majority Whip Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City.

Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, called the policy “pure government overreach” and posited, without evidence, that China was using COVID-19 to amass DNA records of Americans.

“Did we get hijacked by China, Beijing Joe?” said Bolick, a candidate for secretary of state. “The covid testing has already handed over our DNA to the Chinese producing these tests.”

Sen. T.J. Shope opposed a bill during the 2021 legislative session that would have barred private businesses from refusing service to unvaccinated customers. But Shope, a Coolidge Republican whose family owns a grocery store, said he opposes government-imposed vaccine mandates, tweeting, “I join Gov. @dougducey and I’m sure a majority of my colleagues in looking forward to our day in court with @POTUS over this unconstitutional mandate!”

Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, went as far as to suggest that Biden’s mandate could lead to political violence, tweeting, “Don’t Australia my America. We have the 2nd Amendment.”

“Buy more ammo. It is as American as Apple Pie,” she added.

Several Republican gubernatorial candidates blasted the mandate as well. State Treasurer Kimberly Yee called it “socialism in action when the government tells the private sector what to do,” former Congressman Matt Salmon castigated the policy as “immoral and unconstitutional,” and former Fox 10 anchor Kari Lake called it a “gross, unconstitutional attack on our God-given liberties.”

On the other side of the aisle, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for governor, said, “Vaccines are our best path to defeat this pandemic and keep our economy open. This is the right move to protect Arizonans and our economic recovery.”

Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego lauded Biden’s vaccine policy.

“This is leadership. President Biden is doing what needs to be done to beat COVID-19. No ifs, ands, or buts—there is no reason to not get the shot if you are eligible. For months, we’ve had a safe and effective vaccine available for free and in ample supply. The time to wait is over,” Gallego said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, a vocal opponent of Ducey’s ban on mask mandates in schools, argued that Biden’s policy has the support of a majority of Arizonans, though she didn’t cite any specific polls.

“Controlling the virus has always been the key to ensuring safe in-person learning. Enough political games — our focus must be on accelerating student learning and helping schools recover,” Hoffman said.

And Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who has also clashed with Ducey over COVID policies, said Biden’s mandate will protect and save lives.

“This is the critical action we need to appropriately fight this virus. It’s great to see strong leadership at a time when others have prioritized politics over science,” she tweeted.

Raquel Terán, chairwoman of the Arizona Democratic Party and a state representative from Phoenix, said she was grateful for Biden’s leadership in the face of Ducey’s “ineffectual and irresponsible” leadership on COVID-19.

“If our governor won’t protect us, it’s even more imperative that we have a president who will,” Terán said. “It’s quite simple: Arizonans have a right to go to work without worrying that they’ll bring a deadly virus home with them, and parents have a right to send their children to school without worrying that they’ll get sick.”

Arizona’s two U.S. senators were more circumspect in their comments.

Sen. Mark Kelly spoke about the policy in positive terms, though he stopped short of saying he supported it.

“The best way to beat COVID-19 and keep our economy and schools on track is for more Arizonans to get vaccinated, and I’m hopeful that these steps will encourage more folks to speak to their doctors and get the vaccine,” Kelly said in a statement provided to the Arizona Mirror.

In a statement provided to the Mirror, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said she looks forward to “reviewing the details of how today’s announced policies will be implemented,” but didn’t say whether she supports the policy.

“The health and safety of Arizonans, and our continued economic recovery, both depend on beating this pandemic. The only way to do so is for every eligible American to get vaccinated and follow public health guidelines, and I support efforts to achieve those goals including masking and testing where appropriate,” Sinema said.


ASU panel: 9/11 changed how America viewed itself and its core values
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TEMPE — In the days that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush addressed the nation, framing the incident as an attack on freedom and democracy — both concepts that are widely recognized as pillars of the American way of life — and an act of war.

Twenty years later, what are the repercussions of that declaration?

The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and the Center on the Future of War at Arizona State University co-sponsored a discussion Wednesday in which they asked panelists to consider that question, and in particular, whether and how the promise and pursuit of freedom and democracy in the United States has changed since 9/11.

“I would say no other event in the last 20 years has left such an indelible mark on the national consciousness … nor had such enduring global repercussions. And I think that’s saying something, given what we’ve been through these past few years,” said John Carlson, interim director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, itself a byproduct of the attacks, having been established at the behest of then-newly minted ASU President Michael Crow to act as an institution that would foster inquiry about the role of religion in modern society and geopolitics more broadly.

Carlson moderated the panel discussion, “Freedom and Democracy at Home,” part one of the two-part series “Freedom and Democracy Since 9/11,” which continued Thursday with part two, “Freedom, Democracy and U.S. Foreign Policy.”

Wednesday’s discussion on domestic questions of freedom and democracy included Anand Gopal, an award-winning journalist and an assistant research professor at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and ASU’s Center on the Future of War; Craig Calhoun, a social theorist and historical and comparative sociologist and a university professor of social sciences at ASU; and Rozina Ali, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine who is part of an ASU research team investigating the lived experience of post-9/11 mass detention and surveillance.

All of the panelists were personally affected by 9/11 — Calhoun and Gopal having been in New York City the day the attacks occurred, and Ali, who had never set foot in the city, woke up on the opposite coast to news of the attacks on TV and a frightened father.

“Immediately, he was frightened,” she said, “not just because of the terrorist attack, but frightened about what the government response would be. I distinctly remember him saying aloud, ‘Please don’t let it be Muslims.’”

Both Ali and Calhoun agreed that the Bush administration’s decision to call what happened “war” was critical — and unfortunate.

Labeling 9/11 as an act of war rather than a crime, for example, Calhoun said, “set in motion responses that were troublesome.”

“It wasn’t just the day that completely transformed the country,” Ali added, “but how we responded to it that has left us with really lasting changes.”

Changes, such as the passing of the Patriot Act, that were made in the name of protecting Americans’ personal freedoms. Not only would the efficacy of such changes eventually come under question, but as Gopal discovered when he moved to Afghanistan in 2008, so would their necessity.

In the villages and countrysides where Gopal interviewed people, trying to get an understanding of why they would fight for the Taliban, he was met with blank stares when he asked about 9/11.

“They had no idea what I was talking about,” he said. “Or they would tell me stories that had absolutely nothing to do with geopolitics. They would tell me about the strongman in their village who was harassing them (to join the Taliban), or that they had absolutely no work. Reasons that had nothing to do with my understanding of the war on terror.”

In other words, reasons that had nothing to do with hating American freedom or democracy. In fact, they had their own questions for Gopal: Why did the U.S. invade us? Do they hate us because we are Muslim?

The question of who “us” and “them” were in this war on terror was also a complicated one.

“U.S. troops operated as if al-Qaida and the Taliban were one big conglomerate,” Gopal said. “You were either with us or against us. There was no third category. But there was a third category, which was people who were just trying to live their lives.”

The effect all that confusion had on Americans’ idea of freedom was that it became more about individual freedom than collective freedom, the panelists agreed. And the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and other such national security measures as a result of the war on terror emphasized that.

“When 9/11 happened, I bought into the narrative that they did in fact hate us for our freedoms,” Ali said. “It wasn’t until after the war warped what it meant to have freedoms in this country that I started questioning that narrative because it became very clear that … civil liberties and constitutional rights were not being afforded to everyone.”

In particular, immigrant and Muslim communities that were surveilled and detained, sometimes without any charges, following 9/11.

Ali continued, “The goal of the war on terror was freedom. … And it was so amorphous that it actually lost meaning, to the point where freedom is now defined in terms of individual rights rather than community. We lost our vision of what community is.”

One notable way we see the effects of that today, Ali said, is in Americans’ struggle to combat the pandemic, something that requires camaraderie and collective action but which has been thwarted by a lack of solidarity when it comes to such precautionary measures as mask wearing.

And as Calhoun pointed out, the proliferation of mass surveillance that immediately followed 9/11 echoes today in tactics that are used to police all Americans, but especially Black Americans.

“The policing of Black Americans in ways that led to the struggles of the last couple years was greatly accelerated during the war on terror,” Calhoun said. “And also the war on drugs. We love declaring war on things in big but futile ways.”

“Is this how democracies die?” Carlson asked the panelists.

“The question implies we had a lot of (democracy) before,” Calhoun replied. “I prefer to think of it not as an on/off switch but as forward or backsliding. … America was not really born a robust democracy, but it was born with some mechanisms in place that allow progress over (time).”

For example, the Civil War was a backslide, but the end of slavery it brought about was a step forward. Five years later, in 1870, the 15th Amendment granted the right to vote to men of all races, but not to women. That would come in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

“So it’s two steps forward, one step back,” Calhoun continued. “But net forward movement. We’re in a backward step now, for sure. … I hope we will reverse that, but it’s not an easy challenge.”


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CG district principals break down troubling high school grades
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CASA GRANDE — Underclassmen at Casa Grande Union and Vista Grande struggled with the transition to high school last year, according to a report by the schools’ principals.

Vista Grande Principal Glenda Cole and Casa Grande Union Principal Brian Mabb presented improvement plans during the latest Casa Grande Union High School District board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7. During the discussion, the two broke down grade distributions and demographic results from the previous school year as well as select state test scores.

The pattern that emerged was that even with remedial efforts, the grades and graduation rates at the two high schools were lower than where they should be.

Despite the disappointing numbers, Superintendent Anna Battle praised the principals and their work, both in the past and during the current school year, working on improvement plans and coordinating despite the continued specter of COVID-19.

“They hit the ground running this year under complex circumstances,” Battle said. “Every day gets more interesting, but they maneuver through it seamlessly. I enjoy working with both of them.”

The district currently partners with the company Edgenuity for various curriculum and program options to help students. However, the board suggested they may explore additional options, and possibly even a replacement, if they determine the learning recovery program isn’t satisfying intended goals.

Overall, 33% of students at CG Union and 42% of students at Vista Grande received overall grades of D and F last year. Even 10% of students in the district’s “Promise” program, designed to prevent drop-outs, failed to graduate.

On the English language arts test given to juniors, both schools had passing levels below the state average of 32%. The principals cited Native American students in particular as needing more support from the district to help pass proficiency exams; last year there were just over 50 seniors in that sub-group enrolled in district high schools.

While at least some of those numbers were due to the pandemic and disruption to the regular learning routine, principals cited the need for a more streamlined path between the high school and elementary districts. Cole also said they were looking at ways to create more family and community engagement with the schools.

“We need to support our students before they fail,” Mabb said, “as opposed to working on recovery after they fail.”

Battle did say she’d had good discussions with Casa Grande Elementary School District Superintendent JoEtta Gonzales. The districts held trainings and leadership activities together over the past year.

“Dr. Battle gets emails from families in Toltec or Stanfield (elementary districts),” Mabb said. “They are students that really need a lot of love, especially where technology is concerned.”

Battle agreed on the need for timely interventions but also was cautious in identifying tools or solutions that are research-based.

“We can’t blame anything on any particular program or intervention,” Battle said. “It really is how we respond to data and what we do with it.”

During the meeting, the board recognized Rotary and Career and Technical Education students of the month.

The Rotary students honored were Delaney Dickey and Angel Flores, while the CTE students were Martina Wells and Treston Cardita.

The next board meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 28.