Governor Andrew Cuomo Defends Doctor Diagnosed with Ebola!

Dear Commons Community,

Governor Andrew Cuomo says yesterday that Craig Spencer, the doctor who tested positive for the Ebola virus, “obviously felt he wasn’t symptomatic” when he went out “in a limited way.”

Cuomo made his comments on NBC’s Today show Friday after being asked whether Dr. Craig Spencer acted responsibly, even though he rode the subway, bowled and rode a cab.

Spencer recently returned to the city after treating Ebola patients in West Africa.

The governor told CNN’s New Day Spencer had a slight fever of 100.3 degrees when he sought help. Spencer’s temperature was previously reported to have been 103 degrees.

Ebola patients are not contagious until symptomatic.

Spencer tested positive for the virus on Thursday. He is the first case in the New York City and the fourth in the nation.

Tony

First Ebola Case in New York City!

Dear Commons Community,

A doctor in New York City who recently returned from treating Ebola patients in Guinea became the first person in the city to test positive for the Ebola virus yesterday. The doctor, Craig Spencer, was rushed to Bellevue Hospital Center and placed in isolation at the same time as investigators sought to retrace every step he had taken over the past several days. As reported in The New York Times:

“While officials have said they expected isolated cases of the disease to arrive in New York eventually, and had been preparing for this moment for months, the first case highlighted the challenges involved in containing the virus, especially in a crowded metropolis. Dr. Spencer, 33, had traveled on the A and L subway lines Wednesday night, visited a bowling alley in Williamsburg, and then took a taxi back to Manhattan.

People infected with Ebola cannot spread the disease until they begin to display symptoms, and it cannot be spread through the air. As people become sicker, the viral load in the body builds, and they become increasingly contagious…

Dr. Spencer had been working with Doctors Without Borders in Guinea treating Ebola patients, and completed his work on Oct. 12th. He flew out of the country on Oct. 14, traveling via Europe, and arrived in New York on Oct. 17.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking at a news conference at Bellevue on Thursday night, sought to reassure New Yorkers that there was no reason to be alarmed.

“Being on the same subway car or living near a person with Ebola does not in itself put someone at risk,” he said.

It appears that Mayor de Blasio is confident that the City is prepared to deal with Dr. Spencer. We wish the doctor  a speedy recovery and hopefully he has not infected anyone else.

Tony

 

Time Magazine Cover Bashes Teachers as Rotten Apples!

Teachers Bad Apples II

Dear Commons Community,

Randi Weingarten, President of the AFT, sent out the email below to her membership regarding the upcoming (November 3rd) edition of Time Magazine referring to teachers as rotten apples.

Tony

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

Dear Member,

Time magazine is about to use its cover to blame teachers for every problem in America’s schools. On Monday, Nov. 3, this cover will be in every supermarket checkout line and newsstand across the country—and it’s already online.

When I saw this today, I felt sick. This Time cover isn’t trying to foster a serious dialogue about solutions our schools need—it’s intentionally creating controversy to sell more copies.

Tell Time‘s editors to apologize for this outrageous attack on America’s teachers.

The millionaires and billionaires sponsoring these attacks on teacher tenure claim they want to get great teachers into the schools that serve high-need kids. It’s a noble goal, but stripping teachers of their protections won’t help.

In fact, this blame-and-shame approach only leads to low morale and high turnover, making it even harder to get great teachers into classrooms. Just today, constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky wrote a fact-based argument 1 that tenure protections help recruit and retain high-quality teachers! In fact, there is a strong correlation between states with strong teacher tenure and high student performance.

And Time‘s cover doesn’t even reflect its own reporting. The Time article itself looks at the wealthy sponsors of these efforts. And while it looks critically at tenure, it also questions the testing industry’s connections to Silicon Valley and the motives of these players.

But rather than use the cover to put the spotlight on the people using their wealth to change education policy, Time‘s editors decided to sensationalize the topic and blame the educators who dedicate their lives to serving students. The cover is particularly disappointing because the articles inside the magazine present a much more balanced view of the issue. But for millions of Americans, all they’ll see is the cover, and a misleading attack on teachers.

There are serious challenges facing our schools—tell Time that blaming teachers won’t solve anything.

When we work together instead of pointing fingers, we know we can help students succeed.

In places like New Haven, Conn., Lawrence, Mass., Los Angeles’ ABC school district and many others, union-district collaboration is leading to real change2.

Instead of pitting students and teachers against each other, these districts are showing how we can build welcoming, engaging schools by working together to give kids the education they deserve. As a result of this collaborative approach, once-struggling schools all over America are turning around.

When we collaborate, we’re able to recruit AND retain high-quality teachers, and reclaim the promise of a high-quality education for every student.

And when we work together, we can also change tenure to make it what it was supposed to be—a fair shake before you are fired, not a job for life, an excuse for administrators not to manage or a cloak for incompetence.

But instead of a real debate, Time is using the cover to sensationalize the issue so it can sell magazines.

Tell Time magazine to apologize for blaming teachers in order to sell magazines.

We need to have a substantive, facts-based conversation about the challenges our schools face and the real solutions that will help educators and kids succeed.

Help us tell Time that blaming teachers isn’t the way to help struggling schools.

In unity,

Randi Weingarten, AFT President

 

University of North Carolina Scandal: 18 Years of Bogus Classes for Athletes!

Dear Commons Community,

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is reeling after a scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades was made public. Athletes got easy A’s and B’s in no-show courses over a span of nearly two decades, according to an investigation released yesterday. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“At least nine university employees were fired or under disciplinary review, and the question now becomes what, if anything, the NCAA will do next. Penalties could range from fewer scholarships to vacated wins.

Most of the athletes were football players or members of the school’s cherished basketball program, which won three of its five national titles during the scandal (1993, 2005, 2009).

Athletic director Bubba Cunningham wouldn’t speculate on any possible sanctions.

“We’ll work with the NCAA and work through the report with them as part of our ongoing investigation,” Cunningham said. “That’s going to take some time.”

In all, about 3,100 students enrolled in classes they didn’t have to show up for in what was deemed a “shadow curriculum” within the former African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department from 1993 to 2011, the report by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein found.

Many at the university hoped Wainstein’s eight-month investigation would bring some closure. Instead, it found more academic fraud than previous investigations by the NCAA and the school.

The UNC case stands out among academic scandals at Harvard, Duke and the Naval Academy, said Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education who studies cheating.

“I think the existence of fake classes and automatic grades — you might say an athlete track, where essentially you might as well not have the university at all — I think that’s pretty extreme. I hope it’s pretty extreme,” he said.”

This scandal sadly tarnishes one of the great universities in our country.

Tony

Four Former Blackwater Guards Convicted!

Dear Commons Community,

After seven years, four former Blackwater Worldwide security guards were convicted and immediately jailed yesterday for their roles in a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad’s Nisour Square that marked a bloody nadir in America’s war in Iraq. A jury in Federal District Court found that the deaths of 17 Iraqis in the shooting, which began when a convoy of the guards suddenly began firing in a crowded intersection, was not a battlefield tragedy, but the result of a criminal act. The convictions on murder, manslaughter and weapons charges represented a legal and diplomatic victory for the United States government, which had urged Iraqis to put their faith in the American court system. That faith was tested repeatedly over seven years as the investigation had repeated setbacks, leaving Iraqis deeply suspicious that anyone would be held responsible for the deaths. As reported in the New York Times:

“This verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war,” said Ronald C. Machen Jr., the United States attorney in Washington. “Seven years ago, these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families.”

One defendant, Nicholas A. Slatten, a sniper who the government said fired the first shots, was convicted of murder. The others — Dustin L. Heard, Evan S. Liberty and Paul A. Slough — were convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a machine gun to carry out a violent crime. A fifth contractor, Jeremy Ridgeway, previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter and cooperated with prosecutors.

Jurors could not reach verdicts on several of the counts against Mr. Heard, but that will have little bearing on the sentencing. The machine-gun charges carry mandatory 30-year minimum prison sentences, more than the manslaughter charges. Mr. Slatten faces possible life in prison. No sentencing date has been set.

The trial was an epilogue to the story of Blackwater, which began as a police- and military-training facility in North Carolina and came to symbolize the country’s outsourcing of its wartime responsibilities.

About 1,000 of Blackwater’s contractors guarded diplomats in Iraq. Others loaded bombs onto Predator drones. The company’s founder, Erik Prince, tapped retired Central Intelligence Agency officials for executive positions, and at one point, the C.I.A. hired Blackwater contractors to covertly track and kill Qaeda operatives worldwide, a program that was shelved before any killings were conducted.

While the company’s security guards were involved in scores of shootings in Iraq, it was the 2007 incident in Nisour Square that helped cement Blackwater’s image as a company that operated with impunity because of its lucrative contracts with the American government. The company became the subject of several Justice Department investigations, all of which the company and its executives survived. But ultimately, public outrage over the shooting contributed to Blackwater’s demise. It lost its contracts and was renamed, sold and renamed again.”

Blackwater was a black mark on the American involvement in Iraq and a lesson in what happens when government outsources military operations to mercenaries.

Tony

 

 

Native American Schools Decaying!

Dear Commons Community,

Federally owned schools for Native Americans on reservations are marked by remoteness, extreme poverty and few construction dollars. There are 183 such schools spread across 23 states. They are in some of the most out-of-the-way places in America; one is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, reachable by donkey or helicopter. Most are small, with fewer than 150 students. The schools serve about 48,000 children, or about 7 percent of Native Ameircan students, and are among the country’s lowest performing. These are schools, says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, whose department is responsible for them, “that you or I would not feel good sending our kids to, and I don’t feel good sending Indian kids there, either.” The Associated Press describes the conditions of one such school in Arizona:

“On a desert outpost miles from the closest paved road, Navajo students at the Little Singer Community School gleefully taste traditional fry bread during the school’s heritage week.

“It reminds us of the Native American people a long time ago,” says a smiling 9-year-old, Arissa Chee.

The cheer comes in the midst of dire surroundings: Little Singer, like so many of the 183 Indian schools overseen by the federal government, is verging on decrepit.

The school, which serves 81 students, consists of a cluster of rundown classroom buildings containing asbestos, radon, mice, mold and flimsy outside door locks. The newest building, a large, white monolithic dome that is nearly 20 years old, houses the gym.

On a recent day, students carried chairs above their heads while they changed classes, so they would have a place to sit.”

Principal Etta Shirley’s day starts at 6 a.m., when on her way to work, she picks up kids off the bus routes. Because there’s no teacher housing, a caravan of teachers commutes together about 90 minutes each morning on barely passable dirt roads.

All this, to teach in barely passable quarters.

“We have little to work with, but we make do with what we have,” says Verna Yazzie, a school board member.

The school is on the government’s priority list for replacement.

It’s been there since at least 2004.”

Another victim of our do-nothing federal government.

Tony

NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña Replaces or Reassigns 15 of 42 School Superintendents!

Dear Commons Community,

NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, on Monday, announced the replacement and/or reassignment of 15 of 42 city school superintendents in her biggest personnel shakeup since taking office. As reported by The Daily News:

“Fariña’s goal is to create a handpicked cadre of lieutenants capable of whipping the nation’s largest school system into shape. They start their jobs Tuesday.

“We’re going to get it right,” said Fariña, 71, who’s worked in city schools for five decades. “We’re making sure every child is in a school where they can be successful.”

The chancellor’s shakeup of the school system has been months in the making. In July, she told the city’s superintendents that they would all have to reapply for their jobs. Of 42 who reapplied, 27 kept their positions. Seven resigned. Two retired, two found other jobs with the Education Department and four more will be employed through Dec. 31, unless they find other work at the agency.”

One of Fariña’s themes since being appointed is that she wants people with experience in public schools in leadership positions. Those who remain all meet Fariña’s new minimum requirements of at least 10 years of experience in schools, including three as a principal.

Since taking over as chancellor, Ms. Fariña has indicated that she plans to roll back some of the changes that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg made to the school support system. In 2007, that administration created a system of so-called networks, which were created to provide principals with operational and instructional support while leaving them significant autonomy. Unlike superintendents, the networks were not geographically based, and principals could choose which of the roughly 60 networks to join. Superintendents, meanwhile, lost their traditional power over hiring and budgeting when Mr. Bloomberg became mayor in 2002.

A report commissioned by the Bloomberg administration from a consultant last year concluded that the networks had been mixed in their effectiveness, in part because of a range in the quality of their staff. The report found that struggling schools in some cases needed more assertive direction and suggested that superintendents should perhaps play a greater role in guiding them.

In her remarks to the new group of superintendents, Ms. Fariña hinted at her frustrations with the decentralized system created by the previous administration and said that she saw the superintendents as the “anchors” of her administration.

Tony

Jefferson County, Colorado School Board Controversy Turning Republicans into Democrats!

Dear Commons Community,

The Jefferson County School Board controversy is turning Republicans to vote Democratic in upcoming elections. The controversy began last November, when three conservative candidates for county school board swept into office, establishing a majority on the five-person board. The newly-elected board members hired their own attorney and proceeded to clash with teachers and parents over issues such as pay, charter schools and kindergarten expansion. The move that garnered the most national attention, however, was a proposal for a new Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum that would de-emphasize civil disobedience and disorder while emphasizing patriotism, citizenship and “respect for authority.” To protest the proposal, thousands of students left their classrooms and held demonstrations in solidarity with their teachers, who called in sick. However, parents are now fed up with the three members of the Board. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“For the first time in my life, I will probably vote a straight Democratic ticket.”

That realization came as something of a surprise to non-practicing attorney Wendy McCord, who has always thought of herself as a Republican. The mother of two children in Jefferson County’s public school system, McCord told The Huffington Post that she has been politically transformed by the actions of the new conservative majority on the county school board, which presides over the state’s second-largest school district…

Here in Jefferson County, a bellwether battleground that is almost evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and independents, a local educational controversy is resonating with county voters who otherwise might not have been engaged in this year’s elections. Frustrated Republicans like McCord could be the deciding votes in Colorado’s gubernatorial race, in which Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) faces a strong challenge from former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R), as well as its Senate race, in which Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is in danger of being unseated by Republican challenger Rep. Cory Gardner.

“Seeing how the narrow-minded, very focused agenda of the three people who got elected to the school board and now can do pretty much whatever they want, it has made me much more attuned with what’s going on with many of the political races,” McCord said. “I consider myself generally conservative but to have people with such extreme views running the show has been really frightening.”

What is really frightening is that there are more than a few like-minded extremists who are running the Republican Party in the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C.

Tony

Catholic Bishops Rescind Pope Francis’ Welcome to Gays!

Dear Commons Community,

The welcome that Pope Francis extended to gays was rescinded by Catholic bishops on Saturday. Their position showed deep divisions at the end of a two-week meeting sought by Pope Francis to chart a more merciful approach to ministering to gays and Catholic families. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“The bishops failed to approve even a watered-down section on ministering to homosexuals that stripped away the welcoming tone of acceptance contained in a draft document earlier in the week.

Rather than considering gays as individuals who had gifts to offer the church, the revised paragraph referred to homosexuality as one of the problems Catholic families have to confront. It said “people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy,” but repeated church teaching that marriage is only between man and woman. The paragraph failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

Two other paragraphs concerning the other hot-button issue at the synod of bishops – whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion – also failed to pass.

The outcome showed a deeply divided church on some of the most pressing issues facing Catholic families.

It appeared that the 118-62 vote on the gay section might have been a protest vote by progressive bishops who refused to back the watered-down wording. The original draft had said gays had gifts to offer the church and that their partnerships, while morally problematic, provided gay couples with “precious” support.”…

Pope Francis’ gesture, and his words inside the synod hall chastising bishops who were overly wed to doctrine and were guided by “hostile rigidity,” as well as those bishops who showed a “destructive goody-goodiness,” indicated that he was well aware of the divisions the debate had sparked. His speech received a four-minute standing ovation, participants said.”

Pope Francis is leading the church well and is on the right path to making it more inclusive.  The bishops are indeed too rigid and dogmatic.

Tony

U.S. Supreme Court Allows Texas Voter ID Law – Ginsburg Writes Scathing Dissent!

Dear Commons Community,

The Supreme Court said yesterday that Texas can use its controversial new voter identification law for the November elections.  A majority of the justices rejected an emergency request from the Justice Department and civil rights groups to prohibit the state from requiring voters to produce certain forms of photo identification in order to cast ballots. Three justices dissented.  The law was struck down by a federal judge last week, but a federal appeals court had put that ruling on hold. The judge found that roughly 600,000 voters, many of them black or Latino, could be turned away at the polls because they lack acceptable identification. Early voting in Texas begins Monday.

The Supreme Court’s order was unsigned. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, saying they would have left the district court decision in place.

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote in the dissent and blasting the court’s decision to allow Texas to use its new voter ID law in the November elections.   As reported in The Huffington Post:

Ginsburg disputed the Fifth Circuit court of appeals’ argument that it was too close to the November election to stop the law. Early voting begins on Monday in Texas.

“In any event, there is little risk that the District Court’s injunction will in fact disrupt Texas’ electoral process,” she wrote. “Texas need only reinstate the voter identification procedures it employed for ten years (from 2003 to 2013) and in five federal general elections.”

Ginsburg argued that the Fifth Circuit was remiss to ignore the findings of a full trial in district court, which found that the law was “enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose and would yield a prohibited disriminatory result.”

District Court Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos struck down the law earlier this month on the grounds that it would serve as a deterrent to a large number of registered voters, most of them black or Hispanic. “Based on the testimony and numerous statistical analyses provided at trial, this Court finds that approximately 608,470 registered voters in Texas, representing approximately 4.5% of all registered voters, lack qualified SB 14 ID and of these, 534,512 voters do not qualify for a disability exemption,” Gonzalez Ramos wrote.

Ginsburg echoed these findings in her dissent. “The potential magnitude of racially discriminatory voter disenfranchisement counseled hesitation before disturbing the District Court’s findings and final judgment,” Ginsburg wrote. “Senate Bill 14 may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5% of all registered voters) from voting in person for lack of compliant identification. A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic.”

Texas officials have argued that these numbers are meaningless, on the grounds that all registered voters are able to obtain ID. Ginsburg also took aim at this assertion in her dissent, arguing that the cost of obtaining the required ID constitutes an unconstitutional barrier to voting. “Even at $2, the toll is at odds with this Court’s precedent,” she wrote. “And for some voters, the imposition is not small. A voter whose birth certificate lists her maiden name or misstates her date of birth may be charged $37 for the amended certificate she needs to obtain a qualifying ID. Texas voters born in other States may be required to pay substantially more than that.”

Ginsburg pointedly added that “racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact. To the contrary, Texas has been found in violation of the Voting Rights Act in every redistricting cycle from and after 1970.”

As Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts has said on a number of occasions:  “The game is rigged”.

Tony

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