David Brooks:  Is Our Country as Good as its Athletes?

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, David Brooks, had a piece yesterday that examined American success at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio these past two weeks as indicative of broader strength in our country and its institutions.  He commented that we are not that bad off compared to other countries and compared to the pessimistic rhetoric of the presidential campaign.  Here is an excerpt:

“Pessimism has flavored this election campaign. America is in decline. The country is on the wrong track. We’re getting our clocks cleaned in global trade deals. We’re still suffering from the humiliation of Iraq.

The share of Americans who say that democracy is a “fairly bad” or “very bad” system of government is rising sharply. A quarter of young Americans feel that way, according to data drawn from the World Values Survey. A majority of young Americans believe that the United States should stay out of world affairs, according to a Chicago Council on Global Affairs report.

Yet when you watch the Olympics, we don’t seem like some sad-sack country in terminal decline. If anything, the coverage gets a little boring because we’re always winning! And the winners have such amazingly American stories and personality types (Biles, Ledecky, …

…America doesn’t win because we have better athletes (talent must be distributed equally). America does well because it has such great systems for preparing athletes. Medals are won by institutions as much as by individuals. The Germans have a great system for training kayakers, equestrians and throwers — the discus or javelin. The U.S. has amazing institutions to prepare jumpers, swimmers, basketball players, gymnasts, runners and decathletes.

The big question is: Is the greatness of America’s sports institutions reflective of the country’s strong institutions generally, or is it more like the Soviet Union’s sports greatness, a Potemkin show masking national rot?

Well, if you step outside the pall of the angry campaign rhetoric, you see that America’s institutions are generally quite strong. Over the past decades, some developing countries, like Brazil, India and China, posted glitzy economic growth numbers. But those countries are now all being hampered by institutional weakness and growth is plummeting.

But America’s economic success is like our Olympic success, writ large. The nation’s troubles are evident, but our country has sound fundamentals. The American dollar is by far the world’s currency. The Food and Drug Administration is the benchmark for medical standards. The American patent system is the most important in the world.

Nine of Forbes’s 10 most valuable brands are American (Apple, Google, IBM and so on). The U.S. is the leading energy producer. We have 15 (at least!) of the world’s top 20 universities, while Hollywood is as dominant as ever.

America is also quite good at change. The median age in the U.S. is 37.8, compared with 46.5 for both Germany and Japan. The newer a technology is the more the U.S. is likely to dominate it — whether it’s the cloud or the sharing economy. According to The Economist, 91 percent of online searches are done through American companies’ services, and 99 percent of smartphones run on American-made operating systems.”

Brooks concluded:

“Of course, we have to take care of those who are hurt, but the biggest threat now is unmerited pessimism itself, and the stupid and fearful choices that inevitably flow from it.”

Pessimistic, stupid, and fearful are apt descriptors of this year’s  Republican presidential campaign.

Tony

Surprise, Surprise – Paul Manafort Resigns as Chairman of Donald Trump’s Campaign!

Dear Commons Community,

Paul Manafort resigned as chairman of Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential campaign this morning days after he was demoted from his leadership position.  As reported by Reuters:

“Trump said in a statement he had accepted Manafort’s resignation, but did not offer an explanation for the departure. Campaign sources said that Trump had been unhappy with Manafort for a variety of reasons.

Manafort had presided over a period in which Trump had fallen behind in opinion poll numbers in the race against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for the Nov. 8 election.

On Wednesday, Trump overhauled his campaign team, hiring Stephen Bannon,  the head of a conservative news website to bolster his combative image and try to reverse poor opinion poll numbers.

That move, his second staff revamp in less than two months, essentially served as a demotion for Manafort, who had been brought in to try to bring a more professional touch but struggled to rein in Trump’s freewheeling ways.

“This morning Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign,” Trump said in a statement on Friday.

“I am very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today, and in particular his work guiding us through the delegate and convention process. Paul is a true professional and I wish him the greatest success,” Trump said.

In recent days, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had been searching for someone to join the campaign whom both he and Trump could agree was trustworthy, according to a campaign source. Both, the source said, had grown uncomfortable with Manafort.

Manafort had been brought in initially at Kushner’s urging, the source said.

Trump also was not pleased with ongoing revelations about Manafort’s past lobbying for the formerly pro-Russian government in Ukraine, said a source familiar with the situation. Manafort has come under scrutiny in recent days over his alleged ties with pro-Russian political groups in Ukraine. Earlier on Friday, a Ukrainian lawmaker offered more details of what he said were payments made to Manafort by the political party of the Kremlin-backed former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich.

Manafort, in a statement earlier this week, has denied any wrongdoing. The allegations were first made in The New York Times on Monday.”

I would venture to say that most observers saw this coming.

Tony

Helping Flood Victims in Louisiana!

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Dear Commons Community,

By now we have all seen the devastation caused by the flooding in Louisiana.  More than two feet of rain has fallen in the past week, causing massive flooding and leaving a swath of damage to areas in the eastern and southern parts of the state. At least 50,000 homes have been damaged, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). The death toll has risen to 13.  Roads are flooded and closed, while schools, businesses and government offices have been shut down for days. The country has not seen a natural disaster this bad since 2012, when Hurricane Sandy pummeled the East Coast.

If you would like to do help, Randi Weingarten, AFT President and Larry Carter, Louisiana Federation of Teachers Interim President, are making a plea and have set up a donation fund.  See details below.

Please be generous!

Tony

===========================================

 

Our brothers and sisters in Louisiana need our help after severe rainstorms caused massive flooding there earlier this week, leaving at least thirteen  dead and more than 50,000 homes damaged, most beyond repair. 

Help us show our union family in Louisiana that we have their backs. Donate today.[click.actionnetwork.org]

In times of crisis, the AFT opens the Disaster Relief Fund to collect donations for our members in need and their families. We started the Disaster Relief Fund after Hurricane Katrina and have since helped members affected by Superstorm Sandy and by tornadoes in Oklahoma and Illinois. 

And now, our members in Louisiana need our help; any contribution makes a difference, so please consider donating today.[click.actionnetwork.org]

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been harmed by this flood, and we will be with them as they fight to recover from this disaster.

Please help AFT families in Louisiana rebuild their homes and communities by donating to the AFT Disaster Relief Fund today.[click.actionnetwork.org]

In unity,
Randi Weingarten, AFT President 
and
Larry Carter, Louisiana Federation of Teachers Interim President

P.S. If you have been affected by the flooding, please visit the LFT’s website[click.actionnetwork.org] for information and resources that might be available to you.

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What is Breibart and Who is Stephen Bannon!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday Donald Trump shook up the management of his campaign by adding two new top level managers to his staff.  Stephen Bannon, a former banker who runs the conservative outlet Breitbart News and is known for his fiercely anti-establishment politics, has been named the Trump campaign’s chief executive. Kellyanne Conway, a veteran Republican pollster who has been close to Trump for years, will assume the role of campaign manager.  Much of the attention with this announcement has been on Bannon and Breibart.  The New York Times published an article this morning describing the two.

“The Breitbart News Network, usually just called Breitbart, is a conservative-leaning news website. It was founded in 2007 by Andrew Breitbart, a former liberal from Los Angeles who became a conservative standard-bearer until his death from heart failure at 43 in 2012.

The site that bears his name comprises about a dozen different verticals that feature original reporting and commentary, including three of its most prominent sites: Big Government, Big Journalism and Big Hollywood. A fourth “Big” site, BigPeace.com, now redirects to Breitbart’s National Security section.

Under the supervision of its founder, Breitbart gained prominence by breaking news about a series of scandals involving liberal politicians, bureaucrats and organizations, and by relentlessly pushing those stories…

The website is loathed by many liberals, moderates and establishment Republicans who say it stokes a partisan atmosphere and misleads readers in order to escalate what they see as nonissues.  But it has been beloved by many on the right as an answer to mainstream media organizations, including The Times, that are viewed as liberal in outlook.

Stephen Bannon, is a Navy veteran who has a background in finance and used to work at Goldman Sachs, was an adviser to Sarah Palin and has been a longtime adviser to Mr. Trump.  He became the executive chairman of Breitbart in 2012, after Mr. Breitbart’s death, and helped adapt the anti-Clinton book “Clinton Cash” into a film.

Not all of Mr. Breitbart’s friends are happy with the direction in which Mr. Bannon took the site. Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator who was 17 when he met Mr. Breitbart and who became the editor-at-large of Breitbart.com in 2012 about three weeks before Mr. Breitbart died, said in an interview  “As I said when I left Breitbart,  I am absolutely appalled by what Breitbart’s become. I think Bannon has perverted Breitbart’s legacy.”

If you can imagine it, this election is about to get dirtier.

Tony

 

Vanderbilt University to Remove Racially Insensitive “Confederate” from Building Name!

Dear Commons Community,

Vanderbilt University in Tennessee will remove an inscription from one of its dormitories, and return an 83-year-old donation to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  As reported in The Atlantic:

“The chancellor of Vanderbilt University, Nicholas Zeppos, announced Monday the school would remove “Confederate Memorial Hall,” the name engraved in the stone above the main entrance of a residence hall. Zeppos called the inscription a “symbol of exclusion” in a statement to the university, a private undergraduate and graduate college in Nashville.

“It spoke to a past of racial segregation, slavery, and the terrible conflict over the unrealized high ideals of our nation and our university, and looms over a present that continues to struggle to end the tragic effects of racial segregation and strife,” Zeppos said.

The dorm will be renamed Memorial Hall, the name that has been used in all campus housing assignments, websites, maps and other materials for more than a decade, according to the school.

Vanderbilt will return $1.2 million to the Tennessee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the present value of the $50,000 the group donated to the school in 1933 for the construction of the dorm. The United Daughters of the Confederacy is a national organization of female descendants of Confederate soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Back then, the dorm was part of the George Peabody College for Teachers, an independent institution that merged with Vanderbilt in 1979, according to the school. The inscription has been in place since the dorm’s construction in 1935.

The payment complies with a 2005 court ruling in the state. In 2002, Vanderbilt tried to rename the building and drop the inscription, but the Tennessee branch United Daughters of the Confederacy sued the school, arguing it was breaching a contract. A Tennessee appeals court ruled the school could only remove the inscription if it returned the 1933 donation to the group at its value in current dollars. But “Vanderbilt chose to use those funds … for other purposes rather than enrich an organization whose values it does not share,” the school said.

The $1.2 million payment will come from anonymous donors who gave specifically for the removal of the inscription, the school said.”

A bit late but a good move by Vanderbilt.

Tony

 

Teachers Pay Trails Other Workers with College Degrees and Getting Worse!

Teacher Salaries

Dear Commons Community,

The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based nonpartisan think tank, concluded in a report released yesterday that  pay for teachers has stagnated nationally over the past two decades, and fallen behind earnings of other workers with college degrees.  As reported by EdSource:

“In 1994, teachers earned on average 1.8 percent less than other comparable workers; by 2015, they earned 17 percent less, adjusted for inflation. Factoring in total compensation, including health benefits and pensions, teachers earned the same as other workers with college degrees in 1994 but 11 percent less by 2015, the report found.

The report suggests that the pay gap or “penalty,” as the institute calls it, could complicate the efforts by California and other states to solve a teacher shortage and compete for high-achieving college graduates. “If the policy goal is to improve the quality of the entire teaching workforce, then raising the level of teacher compensation, including wages, is critical to recruiting and retaining higher-quality teachers,” the study said.

“It will be a big lift to increase compensation by 11 percent, but it’s important to move in that direction,” Larry Mishel, president of the institute and co-author of the report, said in an interview.

The average pay of public school teachers decreased by $30 per week – 2.6 percent – from 1996 to 2015 in inflation-adjusted dollars while weekly wages of all college graduates rose 9.6 percent, from $1,292 to $1,416, during that period.

The average teacher in America makes 77 percent of what other workers with a college degree earn, based on 2011-15 data in the report; the closest state to parity is Wyoming, where the gap is only 1.5 percent. In only five states are teacher weekly wages less than 10 percent behind.

California teachers earned 86 percent of the salaries of other workers with college degrees, the 10th-highest among the states, the report said. Since the late 1990s, the average pay for teachers in California has ranked among the top five states (see EdSource States in Motion), although this advantage has been offset by a high cost of living, particularly in the Bay Area, metropolitan Los Angeles and San Diego.”

The issue also is a serious problem for schools of education that have seen applications drop significantly in some parts of the country over the past five years.  This has definitely been the case here in New York.

Tony

Rudy Giuliani at Trump Rally States that “Successful” Terrorist Attacks Did Not Happen until President Obama Took Office.  What!!!

Dear Commons Community,

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani today blamed President Barack Obama for allowing acts of terrorism to occur under his watch, claiming that “successful” attacks did not happen until Obama took office. As reported by ABC News:

“Before Obama came along, we didn’t have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack inside the United States,” Giuliani said at an event for Donald Trump in Ohio.

Giuliani was the mayor of New York City from 1994 to 2001, including 9/11, when the World Trade Center’s twin towers were destroyed and almost 3,000 people were killed after members of al-Qaeda hijacked commercial airliners and flew them into the buildings.

Just seconds before that comment, Giuliani referred to the attacks twice while touting Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence’s foreign affairs experience and recalling a trip Pence made to lower Manhattan as a congressman in the aftermath of the attack.”

Giuliani has either forgot, has become a Trump fool,  or he is in complete denial as to what happened on September 11, 2001, in our great city.

For shame!

Tony

 

Trump Campaign Chief Paul Manafort’s Shady Dealings with Russian Political Operatives in Kiev!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a lead story this morning detailing Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort’s dealings with Ukraine’s pro-Russian political party.  Here is an excerpt:

“KIEV, Ukraine — On a leafy side street off Independence Square in Kiev is an office used for years by Donald J. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, when he consulted for Ukraine’s ruling political party. His furniture and personal items were still there as recently as May.

And Mr. Manafort’s presence remains elsewhere here in the capital, where government investigators examining secret records have found his name, as well as companies he sought business with, as they try to untangle a corrupt network they say was used to loot Ukrainian assets and influence elections during the administration of Mr. Manafort’s main client, former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.

Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.

In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.”

Just when we thought that the Trump candidacy could not become more bizarre, here we have his campaign manager involved with election dirty tricks, payoffs, and nefarious business dealings with Russian agents in the Ukraine.

Tony

 

The Chronicle Makes Available 120 Data Tables from its 2016 Almanac!

Dear Commons Community,

For anyone interested in accessing data on the state of American higher education, The Chronicle of Higher Education has just made available a website which provides access to 120 tables. It has an easy to use search feature and pull-down menu which lists various categories in its collection.  Unfortunately, a subscription is required, however, the website does allow limited visitor access.

Try it out!

Tony

 

Linda Katehi Resigns as Chancellor of the U of California – Davis!

Dear Commons Community,

After months of negotiation with University officials, Linda Katehi resigned this past Tuesday as Chancellor of the U of California – Davis.. As reported by Reuters:

“The embattled chancellor of the University of California, Davis resigned after allegations the school spent $175,000 to quash negative internet posts prompted an ethics probe.

Linda Katehi was placed on administrative leave in April, just days after the Sacramento Bee newspaper published documents it said showed the university paid consultants at least $175,000 to combat negative posts about the school and Katehi after campus police pepper-sprayed student protesters in 2011.

In the wake of the news, the Office of UC President Janet Napolitano launched an investigation on the social media allegations and other issues, including the employment of Katehi’s immediate family members at the campus.

A redacted copy of the report provided by the university system said Katehi misled and potentially lied to Napolitano and the public by saying she was not involved with the social media campaign.

The report also said that while there was no evidence of nepotism with regard to the hiring of her son and daughter-in-law at the school, Katehi did not strictly adhere to university policy on the matter.

Napolitano’s office said the investigation “found the chancellor had exercised poor judgment, not been candid with University leadership, and violated multiple University policies.”

Katehi also faced questions over her acceptance of paid seats on the boards of DeVry Education Group and textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons.

Katehi, who had been chancellor since 2009, apologized in a letter to students in March for her role at DeVry, saying it violated UC policy and that she had resigned the seat. She said her time between 2011 and 2014 on the board of John Wiley & Sons, however, did comply with university policy.

Melinda Guzman, an attorney for Katehi, said the investigation found “no policy violations in the areas of alleged nepotism, conflicts, financial mismanagement of funds or personal gain.”

Guzman told Reuters Katehi would return to her position on the faculty as a distinguished professor in the college of engineering and keep the title of chancellor emeritus.

Video showing seated student protesters being pepper-sprayed by campus police came to symbolize law enforcement aggression against anti-Wall Street protesters. School officials agreed in September 2012 to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit filed over the actions.”

Finally this sad saga comes to an end!

Tony