U.S. Supreme Court Decision Upholds Rights of Special Education Students to a Meaningful Education!

Dear Commons Community,

Too often, kids with disabilities are left behind. Last Wednesday, a unanimous Supreme Court took a step toward ensuring that students with disabilities can receive their right to a meaningful public education.   In Endrew F. v. Douglas County Sch. Dist.,  school districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, “appropriately ambitious” progress, the Supreme Court said in its  8-0 ruling.  The decision could have far-reaching implications for the 6.5 million students with disabilities in the United States.

The case centered on a child with autism and attention deficit disorder whose parents removed him from public school in fifth grade. He went on to make better progress in a private school. His parents argued that the individualized education plan provided by the public school was inadequate, and they sued to compel the school district to pay his private school tuition.

The Supreme Court today sided with the family, overturning a lower court ruling in the school district’s favor.

The federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act guarantees a “free appropriate public education” to all students with disabilities. Today’s opinion held that “appropriate” goes further than what the lower courts had held.

The case drew a dozen friend of the court briefs from advocates for students with disabilities who argued that it is time to increase rigor, expectations and accommodations for all.

“A standard more meaningful than just above trivial is the norm today,” wrote the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

The ruling seems likely to increase pressure from families and advocates in that direction.

Since its passage, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has required state and local schools receiving federal funding to provide students with disabilities a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Currently, over 6 million students across the country with various types of disabilities benefit from the IEDA’s protections. But parents, school districts, and the lower federal courts have contested exactly what that actually requires. 

Congratulations to the U.S. Supreme Court!


Must Read Maureen Dowd Letter to Donald Trump – “The Dupe”!

Dear Commons Colleagues,

Maureen Dowd has a “Dear Donald” letter in her column in the New York Times today.  It is a must read for those who want a little more of a Washington insider’s take on what is going wrong in the Donald Trump White House.  In her style, Dowd provides a number of zingers such as:

“I was born here. The first image in my memory bank is the Capitol, all lit up at night. And my primary observation about Washington is this: Unless you’re careful, you end up turning into what you started out scorning.  And you, Donald, are getting a reputation as a sucker. And worse, a sucker who is a tool of the D.C. establishment.” 


“You sold yourself as the businessman who could shake things up and make Washington work again. Instead, you got worked over by the Republican leadership and the business community, who set you up to do their bidding.

That’s why they’re putting up with all your craziness about Russia and wiretapping and unending lies and rattling our allies.

They’re counting on you being a delusional dupe who didn’t even know what was in the bill because you’re sitting around in a bathrobe getting your information from wackadoodles on Fox News and then, as The Post reported, peppering aides with the query, “Is this really a good bill?”

You got played.”

The entire column appears below.  Read, enjoy and then cry at what has become of the American presidency.



New York Times Sunday Review | OP-ED COLUMNIST

Donald, This I Will Tell You

Maureen Dowd 

MARCH 25, 2017

WASHINGTON — Dear Donald,

We’ve known each other a long time, so I think I can be blunt.

You know how you said at campaign rallies that you did not like being identified as a politician?

Don’t worry. No one will ever mistake you for a politician.

After this past week, they won’t even mistake you for a top-notch negotiator.

I was born here. The first image in my memory bank is the Capitol, all lit up at night. And my primary observation about Washington is this: Unless you’re careful, you end up turning into what you started out scorning.

And you, Donald, are getting a reputation as a sucker. And worse, a sucker who is a tool of the D.C. establishment.

Your whole campaign was mocking your rivals and the D.C. elite, jawing about how Americans had turned into losers, with our bad deals and open borders and the Obamacare “disaster.”

And you were going to fly in on your gilded plane and fix all that in a snap.

You mused that a good role model would be Ronald Reagan. As you saw it, Reagan was a big, good-looking guy with a famous pompadour; he had also been a Democrat and an entertainer. But Reagan had one key quality that you don’t have: He knew what he didn’t know.

You both resembled Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloons, floating above the nitty-gritty and focusing on a few big thoughts. But President Reagan was confident enough to accept that he needed experts below, deftly maneuvering the strings.

You’re just careering around on your own, crashing into buildings and losing altitude, growling at the cameras and spewing nasty conspiracy theories, instead of offering a sunny smile, bipartisanship, optimism and professionalism.

You promised to get the best people around you in the White House, the best of the best. In fact, “best” is one of your favorite words.

Instead, you dragged that motley skeleton crew into the White House and let them create a feuding, leaking, belligerent, conspiratorial, sycophantic atmosphere. Instead of a smooth, classy operator like James Baker, you have a Manichaean anarchist in Steve Bannon.

You knew the Republicans were full of hot air. They haven’t had to pass anything in a long time, and they have no aptitude for governing. To paraphrase an old Barney Frank line, asking the Republicans to govern is like asking Frank to judge the Miss America contest — “If your heart’s not in it, you don’t do a very good job.”

You knew that Paul Ryan’s vaunted reputation as a policy wonk was fake news. Republicans have been running on repealing and replacing Obamacare for years and they never even bothered to come up with a valid alternative.

And neither did you, despite all your promises to replace Obamacare with “something terrific” because you wanted everyone to be covered.

Instead, you sold the D.O.A. bill the Irish undertaker gave you as though it were a luxury condo, ignoring the fact that it was a cruel flimflam, a huge tax cut for the rich disguised as a health care bill. You were so concerned with the “win” that you forgot your “forgotten” Americans, the older, poorer people in rural areas who would be hurt by the bill.

As The Times’s chief Washington correspondent Carl Hulse put it, the G.O.P. falls into clover with a lock on the White House and both houses of Congress, and what’s the first thing it does? Slip on a banana peel. Incompetence Inc.

“They tried to sweeten the deal at the end by offering a more expensive bill with fewer health benefits, but alas, it wasn’t enough!” former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau slyly tweeted.

Despite the best efforts of Bannon to act as though the whole fiasco was a clever way to bury Ryan — a man he disdains as “the embodiment of the ‘globalist-corporatist’ Republican elite,” as Gabriel Sherman put it in New York magazine — it won’t work.

And you can jump on the phone with The Times’s Maggie Haberman and The Washington Post’s Robert Costa — ignoring that you’ve labeled them the “fake media” — and act like you’re in control. You can say that people should have waited for “Phase 2” and “Phase 3” — whatever they would have been — and that Obamacare is going to explode and that the Democrats are going to get the blame. But it doesn’t work that way. You own it now.

You’re all about flashy marketing so you didn’t notice that the bill was junk, so lame that even Republicans skittered away.

You were humiliated right out of the chute by the establishment guys who hooked you into their agenda — a massive transfer of wealth to rich people — and drew you away from your own.

You sold yourself as the businessman who could shake things up and make Washington work again. Instead, you got worked over by the Republican leadership and the business community, who set you up to do their bidding.

That’s why they’re putting up with all your craziness about Russia and wiretapping and unending lies and rattling our allies.

They’re counting on you being a delusional dupe who didn’t even know what was in the bill because you’re sitting around in a bathrobe getting your information from wackadoodles on Fox News and then, as The Post reported, peppering aides with the query, “Is this really a good bill?”

You got played.

It took W. years to smash everything. You’re way ahead of schedule.

And I can say you’re doing badly, because I’m a columnist, and you’re not. Say hello to everybody, O.K.?



NY Times Editorial:  The TrumpRyanCare Debacle!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, we witnessed what can be described as a “debacle” when Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan were forced to withdraw a new American Health Care bill because there were not enough Republican votes for it to pass.  This after a couple of weeks of arm twisting and threats from President Trump.  Later in the day, Trump commented on the defeat and rather than be gracious, blamed the Democrats for the failure of his and Ryan’s healthcare bill.  Below is a summary of this sad state of affairs as analyzed by the New York Times editorial board.




The TrumpRyanCare Debacle

New York Times

Editorial Board

May 25, 2017.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act was meant to be the first demonstration of the power and effectiveness of a unified Republican government. It has turned out to be a display of incompetence and cruelty.

Republican leaders withdrew the American Health Care Act before a vote scheduled for Friday afternoon after it became clear that they did not have the votes to pass it. Many far-right conservatives opposed the bill because it would not have completely repealed the A.C.A., or Obamacare. And some more moderate Republicans said they would vote no because the bill would cause immense damage — 24 million people would lose health insurance over 10 years and millions of others would be hit with higher premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs. Surely, many of them were also thinking about a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing that 56 percent of American voters opposed the legislation and just 17 percent supported it.

When Barack Obama was president, Republicans in the House voted dozens of times to repeal the health care law in a symbolic exercise meant to appeal to their base. But never did they present a plan that could improve on the law for their constituents. Still, G.O.P. leaders imagined that with the House, Senate and White House in their hands, what had once been a hollow threat could become actual policy. That they failed in this legislative effort could well affect the rest of their agenda — tax cuts for the rich, changing the corporate tax structure and new infrastructure spending. The debacle shows President Trump and Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, that they can’t count on automatic Republican majorities, especially when they’re offering a destructive, incoherent measure.

Which is pretty much what happened here. Despite their ceaseless attacks on the health care act since Mr. Obama signed it into law in March 2010, Mr. Trump, Mr. Ryan and their colleagues have never had a workable plan that could gain the support of a congressional majority. That is why they rushed their turkey of a bill to the floor without going through the laborious process of holding hearings and building coalitions. The last-minute wheeling and dealing did nothing to disguise the bill’s underlying and increasingly obvious purpose, which was to reduce taxes for the wealthy by cutting benefits for the needy.

Meanwhile, the great dealmaker at the White House was completely ineffectual. Mr. Trump spent a few days cajoling and threatening lawmakers, then threw up his hands and said he had done all he could and was now moving on to other matters. Groups representing doctors and hospitals, as well as public interest groups like AARP and the American Civil Liberties Union, fought hard, and even Republican governors like John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada opposed the bill.

In fact, as Republicans moved closer to a vote, public support for Obamacare went up — 49 percent of those polled this month by the Kaiser Family Foundation had a favorable view of the law, up from 43 percent in December. Obamacare, though not without flaws, has done a world of good. The percentage of Americans who do not have health insurance has fallen to 9.1 percent, from 16.3 percent in 2010. A 2016 Kaiser study of people who gained insurance in California found that 77 percent of them said their health needs were being met very well or somewhat well. By comparison, only 49 percent of those people said their needs were being met three years earlier.

There is no doubt that improvements are needed. Deductibles and premiums are too high for many people, and too many young people are forgoing insurance altogether. More generous subsidies for people with modest incomes could bring the cost of health care down at a relatively small expense to the government.

The worry now among advocates for lower-income Americans and the sick is that the Trump administration might seek to undermine the health care law through administrative steps. For example, officials could seek to reduce subsidies that help people earning just above the federal poverty line pay for out-of-pocket costs. Republicans in the House sued the Obama administration in 2014 to block those subsidies. That case is still pending, and the Trump administration could decide to stop defending the subsidies. Such a move would only compound the mistakes it made by trying to rush a half-baked bill through the House.

Friday’s outcome is good for the country, but humiliating for the Republican leadership. For Mr. Trump, it is a rather brutal reminder that campaigning is the easy part.


U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry Criticizes Texas A&M for Electing a Gay Student Body President!

Dear Commons Community,

When he ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Presidential nomination, we became use to Rick Perry’s outlandish and at times less than thought through positions.  On Wednesday, he set off  a media firestorm when he declared that the recent Texas A&M student government election was rigged to secure the election of an openly gay student, Bobby Brooks.  As reported by Reuters:

“Texas A&M University said on Thursday it respectfully disagreed with comments U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry made on Wednesday when he criticized an election at his alma matter that led to the school’s first openly gay student body president.

In an opinion article submitted to the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board published on Wednesday, Perry, a former governor of Texas, said the Texas A&M student election may have been rigged to secure a result that projected diversity at a campus known for being conservative.

The comments set off a social media debate in Texas where some questioned why a member of the president’s cabinet keeping an eye on the U.S. nuclear arsenal needed to weigh in on a student election. Others applauded him for bringing attention to what they see as a problem at one of the state’s flagship schools.

“We were surprised that he weighed in on the university student body election and respectfully disagree with his assessment,” university spokeswoman Amy Smith said in a statement.

Perry said the Student Government Association (SGA) Election Commission made a mockery of the election when it disqualified the person who secured the most votes for a minor procedural violation.

“At worst, the SGA allowed an election to be stolen outright,” he wrote.

Bobby Brooks, who came in second, became student body president after Robert McIntosh was disqualified on a charge he failed to provide receipts for glow sticks used in a campaign video.

“Now, Brooks’ presidency is being treated as a victory for ‘diversity.’ It is difficult to escape the perception that this quest for ‘diversity’ is the real reason the election outcome was overturned,” wrote Perry, who as governor helped lead the charge to ban same-sex marriage in Texas.

University spokeswoman Smith said the decision was correct, adding “to suggest that the same decision of disqualification would not have been made if the roles were reversed is to deny the Texas A&M of today where accountability applies to all.”

In comments to the student newspaper The Battalion, McIntosh said he did not know of Perry’s plans to complain about the election and was appreciative of the support.

Brooks has not spoken to media about the Perry letter but has said he wanted to use his new post to help make the school more inclusive.”

Perry’s inane statements are a win for gay rights!


New York Times Editorial:  Betsy DeVos and Predator Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

Coming on the heels of last week’s announcement of the hiring of Robert S. Eitel as a special assistant to Betsy DeVos, the New York Times has an editorial today blasting the relationship that is developing between the U.S. Department of Education and predator colleges.  The editorial gives a brief history of how such colleges survive entirely on federal loans and will likely thrive under Betsy Devos’ Department of Education.  It specifically points out the delay in implementing “the gainful employment rule” designed to provide a modicum of protection for students. Below is the editorial.


Predator Colleges May Thrive Again

New York Times

Editorial Board

March 23, 2017

Congress has tried since the 1940s to curb predatory for-profit schools that survive almost solely on federal money while they saddle students with crushing loans for useless degrees. As the industry’s scandals grew and its role in the student debt crisis became more excessive, the Obama administration established rules that could get the worst of these programs off the federal dole. But the Education Department under its new secretary, Betsy DeVos, seems ready to undermine those regulations and let predatory schools flourish once again.

The department has hired two high-level officials from the for-profit sector — one of whom has since resigned. The other is from a school, under state and federal investigation, that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined last year for duping students into taking out costly private loans.

The Education Department also announced it would review and extend compliance deadlines for a rule created to ensure schools train students for good jobs by requiring that their graduates’ average debt not be too burdensome compared to their income. This delay could leave students — often the most disadvantaged and unsophisticated consumers — vulnerable to programs that are already failing the federal performance test.

The industry is trying to cast this “gainful employment rule” as onerous and unnecessary. But the abuses that prompted the Obama administration to develop this rule in the first place are well documented.

A history of the for-profit college industry published earlier this year by the Century Foundation shows how crooked schools sprang up to swindle World War II veterans out of their G.I. Bill benefits, attracting students with predatory recruitment techniques, enrolling them in sham courses and using false attendance records to bill the government.

A congressional report in 1952 noted that scores of for-profit executives had been convicted of fraud and that “hundreds of millions of dollars [had] been frittered away on worthless training.” A few years later, another federal report estimated that of more than 1.6 million veterans who had attended for-profit schools, only 20 percent had completed the course of study.

Congress eventually specified in the Higher Education Act of 1965 that career-training programs had to prepare students for “gainful employment in a recognized occupation” to be eligible for federal aid.

The gainful employment rule formulated during the Obama administration requires for-profit and nonprofit career-training programs to show that, on average, the annual loan payments of their graduates amount to less than 8 percent of their total income, or less than 20 percent of their discretionary income, after the cost of basic necessities like food and housing. Programs that fail for two out three years are supposed to be cut off from federal aid.

The test is hardly rigorous; only 9 percent of career-training programs failed it. But 98 percent of those were at for-profit colleges, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonpartisan research group.

Some of the programs failed the test spectacularly. For example, only 7 percent of the students at McCann School of Business and Technology in Hazelton, Pa., finished the “medical assisting” degree program on time. After paying more than $30,000 in tuition, graduates earn only about $20,300 per year — less than the typical high school graduate earns. According to an analysis of federal data by the institute, graduates of this program at all McCann locations had an average of more than $26,000 in student loan debt.

The Education Department’s delay in enforcing the rule will keep some prospective students from being warned off programs that would bleed them of student aid. Gutting the rule would keep these predatory schools in business.

Wall Street Journal:  Donald Trump – Becoming A “Fake” President!

Dear Commons Community,

The Wall Street Journal released a blistering editorial today aimed at President Trump saying he has a credibility problem and may soon be known as a “fake president.”

The editorial titled “A President’s Credibility” hammers Trump for doubling down on his wiretapping claims despite being recently refuted by the director of the FBI himself.

“Yet the President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle, rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims,” reads the editorial.

The piece argues the president has become his own “political enemy” by creating a credibility problem for himself, alienating allies such as Britain by falsely claiming GCHQ helped tap his phones.  It states that “Trump’s falsehoods are eroding public trust, at home and abroad.”

The editorial concludes, “if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President.”

This editorial is remarkable given that the Wall Street Journal is generally right of center, Republican-friendly, and owned by Trump associate, Rupert Murdoch.

The scathing review comes as the President took to the hill to push his replacement for Obamacare. The bill’s passing is uncertain.




Noah Isenberg’s “We’ll Always Have Casablanca…”

Dear Commons Community,

This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the release of the movie, Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  Just in time, Noah Isenberg has authored, We’ll Always Have Casablanca:  The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie.  The movie became a cult favorite in my parent’s generation for a number of reasons but mainly because it was a great love story that gave people hope in the early years of World War II.  In addition, it is a tense movie set in an exotic locale where people of different nationalities are fleeing the cruelty of the Nazi regime and trying to escape to the United States.   

I have just finished reading Isenberg’s book and as a Casablanca fan, I found it provided provocative insights into the movie, the script, and especially the actors.  I like the vignettes of the secondary cast such as Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, and Dooley Wilson, who played Sam, Rick’s piano playing buddy.  Conrad Veidt, who played the Nazi Commander  Heinrich Strasser, out to detain Victor Laszlo, actually emigrated from Germany because he was deeply concerned about the safety of his Jewish wife. He is quoted as saying:  “I know this man (Strasser) well.  He is the reason I left Germany many years ago. He is the man who turned lunatic and betrayed his friends, his homeland, and himself in his lust to be somebody and to get something for nothing.”  Isenberg also captures well the emotions of the movie especially as generated from the music namely the refrain of As Time Goes By, and the tear-rendering singing of La Marseillaise. 

In sum, I highly recommend Isenberg’s book for Casablanca fans. Below is an excerpt from the New York Times book review by Peter Biskind.



“We’ll Always Have Casablanca” was written by Noah Isenberg, the director of screen studies at the New School, and probably best known for a biography of Edgar G. Ulmer, a B-film director much beloved by cineastes. Here, Isenberg gives us the soup-to-nuts on “Casablanca,” dutifully making his way through script, casting, production and reception, to the inevitable squabbling over credit, all the while trying to account for its enduring popularity.

“Casablanca” was rooted in a trip that the aspiring playwright Murray Burnett and his wife took to Vienna in the summer of 1938, just after they were married. Austria had overwhelmingly voted to serve itself up to the German Anschluss that March, and was busy implementing the notorious Nuremberg Laws. Burnett quickly discovered that it was not the best place for Jews on their honeymoon. But getting out of Vienna was considerably harder than getting in, especially since Burnett, wearing diamond rings on every finger, and his wife, wearing a fur coat in August, were smuggling out valuables belonging to relatives. When they reached the South of France, they stopped at a cafe full of refugees and army officers. Burnett said to his wife, “What a setting for a play.”

Burnett developed his play with his writing partner, Joan Alison, but could not get it produced. He did, however, manage to sell it to Warner Brothers, generally known for its progressive pictures, and in particular a series of anti-Nazi films like “Confessions of a Nazi Spy,” released in 1939, when other studios were still trying to protect their German assets.

Nobody involved with “Casablanca” had high expectations for the picture, although it was written by the colorful Epstein twins, Julius and Philip, and Howard Koch. The Epsteins were widely admired for their witty dialogue, on and off screen. Of the film, Julius once said, “There wasn’t one moment of reality in ‘Casablanca.’ We weren’t making art. We were making a living.” Nevertheless, when it was released, it became an instant hit, and won three Oscars, including best picture. It’s all in Isenberg’s account, and “Casablanca” fans will find it to be a treasure trove of facts and anecdotes.

David Rockefeller Dead at Age 101

Dear Commons Community,

David Rockefeller, the last surviving son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. died yesterday at the age of 101 at his home in Pocantico Hills.  I lived in Pocantico Hills for thirty-seven years just across the road from the north edge of the Rockefeller Estate (now the Rockefeller State Park) and on several occasions had conversations with Mr. Rockefeller through my work as a volunteer firefighter and a member of the local Board of Education. While a titan of banking and philanthropy, I found him to be a regular person and “neighbor”.  The last time I spoke with him was in 2004 when he invited a small group of firefighters who had responded to an alarm at the Stone Barns, a portion of his property that he was converting into an Education Center as a memorial for his wife Peggy.  He hosted a small cocktail party for about fifteen people, mostly fellow volunteer firefighters.  His living room was quite comfortable with a pile of old newspapers collecting in one corner and a large, floppy couch with an incredible view of the Palisades. There were also a number of Monets on the walls of which he was quite proud and spoke to us about.  In a discussion I had with him about his autobiography, Memoirs, which I had read and was published in 2002, he gave me a detailed description of the Shah of Iran affair in the late 1970s that preceded the taking of American hostages.  It was quite an interesting evening.  Mr. Rockefeller could not have been more gracious and welcoming. On a another ocassion, I had the privilege of introducing him as the main speaker at a Memorial Day Parade. When I contacted him to ask if there was anything that he would like me to mention as part of the introduction, he said “to just introduce him as our neighbor of seventy years”.

His complete New York Times obituary is below.


David Rockefeller, Philanthropist and Head of Chase Manhattan, Dies at 101

David Rockefeller, the banker and philanthropist with the fabled family name who controlled Chase Manhattan bank for more than a decade and wielded vast influence around the world for even longer as he spread the gospel of American capitalism, died on Monday morning at his home in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. He was 101. A family spokesman, Fraser P. Seitel, confirmed the death.

Chase Manhattan had long been known as the Rockefeller bank, although the family never owned more than 5 percent of its shares. But Mr. Rockefeller was more than a steward. As chairman and chief executive throughout the 1970s, he made it “David’s bank,” as many called it, expanding its operations internationally.

His stature was greater than any corporate title might convey, however. His influence was felt in Washington and foreign capitals, in the corridors of New York City government, in art museums, in great universities and in public schools.

Mr. Rockefeller could well be the last of a less and less visible family to have cut so imposing a figure on the world stage. As a peripatetic advocate of the economic interests of the United States and of his own bank, he was a force in global financial affairs and in his country’s foreign policy. He was received in foreign capitals with the honors accorded a chief of state.

He was the last surviving grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the tycoon who founded the Standard Oil Company in the 19th century and built a fortune that made him America’s first billionaire and his family one of the richest and most powerful in the nation’s history.

As an heir to that legacy, David Rockefeller lived all his life in baronial splendor and privilege, whether in Manhattan (when he was a boy, he and his brothers would roller skate along Fifth Avenue trailed by a limousine in case they grew tired) or at his magnificent country estates.

Imbued with the understated manners of the East Coast elite, he loomed large in the upper reaches of a New York social world of glittering black-tie galas. His philanthropy was monumental, and so was his art collection, a museumlike repository of some 15,000 pieces, many of them masterpieces, some lining the walls of his offices 56 floors above the streets at Rockefeller Center, to which he repaired, robust and active, well into his 90s.

In silent testimony to his power and reach was his Rolodex, a catalog of some 150,000 names of people he had met as a banker-statesman. It required a room of its own beside his office.

Spread out below that corporate aerie was a city he loved and influenced mightily. He was instrumental in rallying the private sector to help resolve New York City’s fiscal crisis in the mid-1970s. As chairman of the Museum of Modern Art for many years — his mother had helped found it in 1929 — he led an effort to encourage corporations to buy and display art in their office buildings and to subsidize local museums. And as chairman of the New York City Partnership, a coalition of business executives, he fostered innovation in public schools and the development of thousands of apartments for lower-income and middle-class families.

He was always aware of the mystique surrounding the Rockefeller name.

“I have never found it a hindrance,” he once said with typical reserve. “Obviously, there are times when I’m aware that I’m treated differently. There’s no question that having financial resources, which, thanks to my parents, I learned to use with some restraint and discretion, is a big advantage.”

An Ambassador for Business

With his powerful name and his zeal for foreign travel — he was still going to Europe into his late 90s — Mr. Rockefeller was a formidable marketing force. In the 1970s, his meetings with Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt, Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union and Zhou Enlai of China helped Chase Manhattan become the first American bank with operations in those countries.

“Few people in this country have met as many leaders as I have,” he said.

Some faulted him for spending so much time abroad. He was accused of neglecting his responsibilities at Chase and failing to promote aggressive, visionary managers. Under his leadership, Chase fell far behind its rival Citibank, then the nation’s largest bank, in assets and earnings. There were years when Chase had the most troubled loan portfolio among major American banks.

“In my judgment, he will not go down in history as a great banker,” John J. McCloy, a Rockefeller friend and himself a former Chase chairman, told The Associated Press in 1981. “He will go down as a real personality, as a distinguished and loyal member of the community.”

Mr. Rockefeller’s forays into international politics also drew criticism, notably in 1979, when he and former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger persuaded President Jimmy Carter to admit the recently deposed shah of Iran into the United States for cancer treatment. The shah’s arrival in New York enraged revolutionary followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, provoking them to seize the United States Embassy in Iran and hold American diplomats hostage for more than a year. Mr. Rockefeller was also assailed for befriending autocratic foreign leaders in an effort to establish and expand his bank’s presence in their countries.

“He spent his life in the club of the ruling class and was loyal to members of the club, no matter what they did,” the New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote in 2002, citing the profitable deals Mr. Rockefeller had cut with “oil-rich dictators,” “Soviet party bosses” and “Chinese perpetrators of the Cultural Revolution.”

Still, presidents as ideologically different as Mr. Carter and Richard M. Nixon offered him the post of Treasury secretary. He turned them both down.

After the death in 1979 of his older brother Nelson A. Rockefeller, the former vice president and four-term governor of New York, David Rockefeller stood almost alone as a member of the family with an outsize national profile. Only Jay Rockefeller, a great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, had earned prominence, as a governor and United States senator from West Virginia. No one from the family’s younger generations has attained or perhaps aspired to David Rockefeller’s stature.

“No one can step into his shoes,” Warren T. Lindquist, a longtime friend, told The Times in 1995, “not because they aren’t good, smart, talented people, but because it’s just a different world.”

A Privileged Life

The youngest of six siblings, David Rockefeller was born in Manhattan on June 12, 1915. His father, John D. Rockefeller Jr., the only son of the oil titan, devoted his life to philanthropy. His mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, was the daughter of Nelson Aldrich, a wealthy senator from Rhode Island.

Besides Nelson, born in 1908, the other children were Abby, who was born in 1903 and died in 1976 after leading a private life; John D. Rockefeller III, who was born in 1906 and immersed himself in philanthropy until his death in an automobile accident in 1978; Laurance, born in 1910, who was an environmentalist and died in 2004; and Winthrop, born in 1912, who was governor of Arkansas and died in 1973.

David grew up in a mansion at 10 West 54th Street, the largest private residence in the city at the time. It bustled with valets, parlor maids, nurses and chambermaids. For dinner every night, his father dressed in black tie and his mother in a formal gown.

Summers were spent at the 107-room Rockefeller “cottage” in Seal Harbor, Me., and weekends at Kykuit, the family’s country compound north of New York City in Tarrytown, N.Y. The estate was likened to a feudal fief. As Mr. Rockefeller wrote in his autobiography, “Memoirs” (2002), “Eventually the family accumulated about 3,400 acres that surrounded and included almost all of the little village of Pocantico Hills, where most of the residents worked for the family and lived in houses owned by Grandfather.”

In that bucolic setting, he developed a fascination for insects that would lead to his building one of the largest beetle collections in the world.

David was 21 when John D. Rockefeller died. “He told amusing stories and sang little ditties,” Mr. Rockefeller recalled in 2002. “He gave us dimes.”

Mr. Rockefeller’s sense of noblesse oblige was heightened by his early education at the experimental Lincoln School in Manhattan, founded by the American philosopher John Dewey and financed by the Rockefeller Foundation to bring together children from varied social backgrounds. He went on to study at Harvard, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1936, and then spent a year at the London School of Economics, a hotbed of socialist intellectuals. Mr. Rockefeller was awarded a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago in 1940.

Moved by the Great Depression at home and abroad, he stated in his doctoral thesis that he was “inclined to agree with the New Deal that deficit financing during depressions, other things being equal, is a help to recovery.” The notion that a Rockefeller would take such a liberal economic view was major news; the family, rock-ribbed Republican, was known for its fierce opposition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the New Deal’s author.

After receiving his doctorate, Mr. Rockefeller became a secretary to Fiorello H. La Guardia, New York’s pugnacious, liberal Republican mayor. In 1940, he married Margaret McGrath, known as Peggy, whom he had met at a dance seven years earlier, when he was a Harvard freshman and she was a student at the Chapin School in New York. His wife, a dedicated conservationist, died at 80 in 1996. They had six children: David Jr., Abby, Neva, Margaret, Richard and Eileen. A complete list of his survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Rockefeller enlisted in the Army in 1942, attended officer training school and served in North Africa and France during World War II. He was discharged a captain in 1945.

He began his banking career in 1946 as an assistant manager with the Chase National Bank, which merged in 1955 with the Bank of Manhattan Company to become Chase Manhattan.

Banking in the early postwar era was a gentleman’s profession. Top executives could attend to outside interests, using social contacts to cultivate clients while leaving day-to-day management to junior officers.

Mr. Rockefeller found plenty of time for such activities. In the late 1940s, he replaced his mother on the Museum of Modern Art’s board and eventually became its chairman. He courted art collectors. In 1968, he put together a syndicate, including his brother Nelson and the CBS chairman, William S. Paley, to buy Gertrude Stein’s collection of modern art. David and Peggy Rockefeller’s own prized paintings — by Cézanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso — were lent to the museum permanently.

Putting a Bank in Order

Mr. Rockefeller’s rise in banking was swift. By 1961, he was president of Chase Manhattan and its co-chief executive with George Champion, the chairman. Promoting expansion overseas, Mr. Rockefeller clashed with Mr. Champion, who thought that the bank’s domestic business was more important. After Mr. Rockefeller replaced Mr. Champion as chairman and sole chief executive in 1969, he was able to enlarge the bank’s presence on almost every continent. He said his brand of personal diplomacy, meeting with heads of state, was crucial in furthering Chase’s interests.

“There were many who claimed these activities were inappropriate and interfered with my bank responsibilities,” Mr. Rockefeller wrote in his autobiography. “I couldn’t disagree more.” His “so-called outside activities,” he insisted, “were of considerable benefit to the bank both financially and in terms of its prestige around the world.”

By 1976, Chase Manhattan’s international arm was contributing 80 percent of the bank’s $105 million in operating profit. But instead of vindicating Mr. Rockefeller’s avidity for banking abroad, those figures underlined Chase’s lagging performance at home. From 1974 to 1976, its earnings fell 36 percent while those of its biggest rivals — Bank of America, Citibank, Manufacturers Hanover and J.P. Morgan — rose 12 to 31 percent.

The 1974 recession hammered Chase, which had an unusually large portfolio of loans in the depressed real estate industry. It also owned more New York-related securities than any other bank in the mid-1970s, when the city was edging toward bankruptcy. And among major banks, Chase had the largest portfolio of nonperforming loans.

Chase also got caught up in a scandal in 1974. An internal audit discovered that its bond trading account was overvalued by $34 million and that losses had been understated. A resulting $15 million drain in net income tarnished the bank’s image. In 1975, the Federal Reserve and the comptroller of the currency branded Chase a “problem” bank.

Even as he struggled to reverse Chase Manhattan’s decline, Mr. Rockefeller found time to address New York City’s financial problems. His involvement in municipal affairs dated to the early 1960s, when, as founder and chairman of the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, he recommended that a World Trade Center be built.

In 1961, largely at his instigation, Chase opened its 64-story headquarters in the Wall Street area, a huge investment that helped revitalize the financial district and encouraged the World Trade Center project to proceed.

In the mid-1970s, with New York City facing a default on its debts because of sluggish economic growth and uncontrolled municipal spending, Mr. Rockefeller helped bring together federal, state and city officials with New York business leaders to work out an economic plan that eventually pulled the city out of its crisis.

At the same time, he put his bank’s affairs in order. By 1981, he and his protégé Willard C. Butcher had restored Chase Manhattan to full health. He yielded his chairmanship to Mr. Butcher that year.

From 1976 to 1980, the bank’s earnings more than doubled, and it outperformed its archrival, Citibank, in returns on assets, a critical indicator of a bank’s profitability. Even after retiring from active management in 1981, Mr. Rockefeller continued to serve Chase as chairman of its international advisory council and to act as the bank’s foreign diplomat. He did not hesitate to criticize United States officials for policies he considered mistaken.

He was notably harsh about President Carter. In 1980, he told The Washington Post that Mr. Carter had not done “what most other countries do themselves, and expect us to do — namely, to make U.S. national interests our prime international objective.”

But Mr. Rockefeller also played the gadfly to Mr. Carter’s far more conservative successor, President Ronald Reagan. While the Reagan administration was supporting anti-Marxist guerrillas in Africa, Mr. Rockefeller took a 10-nation tour of the continent in 1982 and declared that African Marxism was not a threat to the United States or to American business interests.

Late in life, Mr. Rockefeller was involved in controversies over Rockefeller Center, the Art Deco office building complex his father built in the 1930s. In 1985, the Rockefeller family mortgaged the property for $1.3 billion, pocketing an estimated $300 million. In 1989, the family sold 51 percent of the Rockefeller Group, which owned Rockefeller Center and other buildings, to the Mitsubishi Estate Company of Japan. Mitsubishi later increased its share to 80 percent.

The purchase represented the high tide of a buying spree of American properties by Japanese corporations, and it opened the family to criticism that it had surrendered an important national symbol to them. When Japan’s economic bubble burst in the early 1990s and Mitsubishi was forced to declare Rockefeller Center in bankruptcy in 1995, Mr. Rockefeller was criticized again, this time for allowing the site to slip into financial ruin.

Before the year ended, Mr. Rockefeller put together a syndicate that bought control of Rockefeller Center. Then, in 2000, it was sold in a $1.85 billion deal that severed the center’s last ties with the Rockefeller family.

As an octogenarian, Mr. Rockefeller, whose fortune was estimated in 2012 at $2.7 billion, increasingly devoted himself to philanthropy, donating tens of millions of dollars in particular to Harvard, the Museum of Modern Art and the Rockefeller University, which John D. Rockefeller Sr. founded in 1901.

Even in his 90s, David Rockefeller continued to work at a pace that would tire a much younger person. He spent more than half the year traveling on behalf of Chase or groups like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. In 2005, when he was interviewed in his offices at Rockefeller Center, he remained physically active, working with a trainer at the center’s sports club.

He continued to collect art, including hundreds of paintings as well as furniture and works in colored glass, porcelain and petrified wood.

That same year, he pledged a $100 million bequest to the Museum of Modern Art. Such giving became grist for the society pages. One celebrity-filled fund-raising gala at the museum in 2005 drew 850 people paying as much as $90,000 for a table. The occasion was Mr. Rockefeller’s 90th birthday, and at the end of the evening, he was presented with a birthday cake modeled after his house in Maine. Then it was off to a week in southern France to continue the celebration with 21 members of his family.

With the book “Memoirs” in 2002, he became, at age 87, the first in three generations of Rockefellers to publish an autobiography. Asked why he wrote it, he replied in his characteristic reserved tone, “Well, it just occurred to me that I had led a rather interesting life.”



Donald Trump Exposed as Conspiracy Theorist By Everyone Who Matters!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, FBI Director James Comey became the latest government official to declare that there is no evidence to suggest that former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.  The Huffington Post has a piece today reviewing those people in positions to know who have debunked Trump’s latest “conspiracy theory”.  Here is the recap:

“On his allegations of wiretapping, none of the people who might have provided Trump with such secret intelligence have supported him. In fact, many have issued statements refuting those allegations:

* FBI Director James Comey: “I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey told the House Intelligence Committee Monday.

* House Intelligence Committee: Congress took up an investigation of the substance of Trump’s tweets at the request of the White House. But instead of vindicating him, the investigation exposed Trump’s claims as nothing more than a conspiracy theory. 

Last week, the House Intelligence Committee received information from the Justice Department related to the wiretapping claims. Both the chair of the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and the ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), said the evidence showed nothing to back up the president.

“Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, there never was,” Nunes said Sunday. “The information we got on Friday continues to lead us in that direction.”

“I got a classified briefing on [the DOJ] response. They delivered it after most of us had left town. But once again, no evidence to support the president’s claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor,” Schiff added.

* Senate Intelligence Committee: In a joint statement last week, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the committee ― Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) ― said they saw nothing to support Trump’s theory: “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”

* Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: Clapper served as the director of national intelligence under Obama, during the time Trump claimed the president wiretapped him. Clapper said that none of the agencies he oversaw engaged in such activity: “For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the President-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign.” 

* Former President Barack Obama: “As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen,” Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for Obama, said in a statement. “Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”

* The British Government: Although Kellyanne Conway said that Trump knew more than the rest of us and therefore would be in a position to know about secret wiretapping, the White House has pointed to media reports ― which are available to everyone ― as evidence for the March 4 tweets. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, for example, recently cited Fox News legal pundit Andrew Napolitano’s claim that Obama circumvented U.S. intelligence agencies and instead worked with British officials to spy on Trump. Napolitano specifically named the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, which is the equivalent of the National Security Agency. In response, GCHQ took the unusual step of publicly commenting, calling the claim “utterly ridiculous” and saying it “should be ignored.”

It is time for Trump to put up or shut up and apologize.


CUNY to Re-Examine Remediation!

Dear Commons Community,

City University of New York is planning to implement an entire new remediation program by Fall 2018.  All aspects of remediation including initial testing, courses, and final passing criteria will be reviewed.  Presently, eighty percent of new freshmen admitted to CUNY community colleges require some remediation.  The New York Times has a featured article this morning based on interviews with senior CUNY officials on possible new approaches to remediation.  Here is an excerpt:

“Twenty-thousand new students arrived at public community colleges in New York City last fall only to be told they were not ready for college-level work. Instead, they were placed in remedial classes to complete the preparation they were supposed to have received in high school.

But for a significant portion of these students, remedial courses will not put them any closer to a degree. The courses take time and cost money — or consume a portion of a student’s financial aid — while offering no credits. Many students, frustrated that they are sitting in class without progressing toward a degree, drop out. It is a pattern replicated every year, not just in New York but at community colleges across the country.

Now, the City University of New York, the largest urban public university system in the United States, is moving to fundamentally rework its traditional remedial programs. Administrators hope program changes this year and in 2018 will make necessary catch-up less of a stumbling block, while ensuring that students who are in college-level classes are prepared to do the work.

“The notion is that if you can succeed in college, we want to help you get there,” said Vita C. Rabinowitz, executive vice chancellor and university provost at CUNY. “No artificial barriers or screening devices. It’s a matter of true college readiness.”

Dr. Rabinowitz said that about 80 percent of freshman entering community college in the CUNY system require remediation in reading, writing, math, or some combination of those subjects. Students of color are twice as likely to be assessed as needing remediation as white students. But at the end of one year, only half of all students in remediation have advanced out of those classes. The need for remediation is a chronic problem at community colleges around the country as students graduate from high school without the skills they need for college.

“We had outcomes that were in line with national averages, which is to say very disappointing,” Dr. Rabinowitz said. The system, she said, was not working. “And if that’s not working, then CUNY is not working.”

One fundamental shift CUNY is planning will address how students are assigned to remedial courses. Traditionally, most students entering CUNY community colleges take placement tests in reading, writing and math, which determines who needs help. But researchers and college administrators around the country worry that these tests put people in remedial classes who could have done well without them.

In fact, ACT, the testing company, withdrew its placement test from the market last year over such concerns. Ed Colby, a spokesman for the company said that the test, called Compass, and others like it, were not placing students where they should be. Students who had been out of high school for a few years when they took the exam were particularly likely to be unnecessarily steered toward remediation, Mr. Colby said.

For now, CUNY has switched to a different test — ACCUPLACER, which is a College Board exam — but the plan is to incorporate other measures as well. David Crook, associate university provost for academic affairs at CUNY, said they were considering looking at students’ grades in relevant classes, or perhaps their overall grade point average. They hope to have a new system in place for the fall of 2018.

CUNY has also put in place an automatic retesting policy for those who score just below the passing cutoff on the math and reading placement tests. Since the option was put in place last fall, about 550 students have taken advantage of it on the reading exam, and of those, 49 percent passed on their second try. Three hundred students retook the math test, and of those students, 55  

The way students qualify to be promoted out of remediation is changing, as well. Until recently, CUNY required students to pass remediation courses and then pass a test, a fairly unusual requirement. Now, administrators say, students will just have to pass the course. The final test, which they will still take, will count for up to 35 percent of a course grade.

For those who still need remedial classes, there will be new requirements. In the past, those students all had to pass algebra, regardless of whether they planned to study English or economics. CUNY will now require all of its associate degree programs to offer an alternative to remedial algebra, like quantitative reasoning or statistics.

“It doesn’t make sense to prevent students from taking college-level courses because they don’t have skills that they won’t use,” said Thomas Bailey, a professor of economics and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College and the director of the Community College Research Center. “These are legitimate college-level math courses,” he said of alternatives like statistics. “They’re just different.”

CUNY administrators acknowledged that there has been some resistance, particularly from some members of the math faculty who believe algebra to be foundational, something all educated adults should master. Dr. Rabinowitz said the reticence has not come from its highest performing community colleges.

“Community college structures were built around the need for remediation, a very large need for remediation,” Dr. Rabinowitz said, citing such institutional basics as course schedules, departmental structures and faculty hiring. “Disrupting this is truly disrupting how big organizations operate, and that’s stressful.”

For those interested in remediation at CUNY or elsewhere, the article is well worth a read.  How new CUNY policies and procedures evolve will be followed closely particularly by faculty who teach in these programs.  Their involvement in decision making will be crucial for a smooth transition.