6,000 Bullets: Fearing the Gun Lobby!!!

Dear Commons Community,

Today’s New York Times editorial targets our government leaders who have turned away from any meaningful attempt to enact gun control at any level.  Given the horror of Aurora last week, we would have expected some outcry from our elected and would-be officials but alas the response has been lame at best.   With the exception of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a few other local politicians, there have be no significant charges against the governmental policies that allow individuals to buy 6,000 rounds of ammunition on mail order, SWAT helmets, chest protectors, and tear gas canisters.

The editorial particularly targets President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney:

“When he was campaigning for office in 2008, Barack Obama vowed to reinstate the assault weapons ban that had expired in 2004. That would have prohibited the AR-15 rifle used in the Colorado theater shooting on Friday, along with the large 100-round magazine attached to it. But as president, Mr. Obama has made no attempt to do so. Mitt Romney banned assault weapons as governor of Massachusetts and undoubtedly saved many lives, but now he opposes all gun control measures. He never repeats what he said in 2004 when he signed the ban:

“Deadly assault weapons have no place in Massachusetts,” he said. “They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”

Both men fear the power of gun ideologues, particularly in swing states like Pennsylvania, Nevada and North Carolina, where many voters have fallen under the spell of a gun lobby that considers any restriction an unthinkable assault on the Constitution. Senator Ron Johnson, the Tea Party favorite from Wisconsin, spoke for the Republican Party (and many Democrats) when he said that limiting high-capacity magazines would infringe on a basic right. “When you try and do it, you restrict our freedom,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

It is one thing when pro-gun activists hide behind the U.S. Constitution to promote their beliefs, it is quite another when our government leaders live in fear of and sell out to the lobbyists.

To overcome their fear, they need only look at the faces of the victims in Aurora, Colorado, or Columbine or Tucson, Arizona.



Large Urban School Districts Losing Students and Funding!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article today commenting on the fewer number of students in large urban school districts.  Declining birthrates, fewer immigrants and parents opting for charter schools are given as the main reasons.  Fewer students generally also means less funding.  Exacerbated by the the recession and state budget shortfalls, large school districts are cutting teachers and overall reducing programs.

“While the losses have been especially steep in long-battered cities like Cleveland and Detroit, enrollment has also fallen significantly in places suffering through the recent economic downturn, like Broward County, Fla., San Bernardino, Calif., and Tucson. Urban districts like Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio, are facing an exodus even as the school-age population has increased. Enrollment in the New York City schools, the largest district in the country, was flat from 2005 to 2010, but both Chicago and Los Angeles lost students, with declining birthrates and competition from charter schools cited as among the reasons.

The article also mentions that:

“The students left behind in some of these large districts are increasingly children with disabilities, in poverty or learning English as a second language.

Jeff Warner, a spokesman for the Columbus City Schools, said that enrollment appears to be stabilizing, but it can be difficult to compete against suburban and charter schools because of the district’s higher proportion of students requiring special education services.

In Cleveland, where enrollment fell by nearly a fifth between 2005 and 2010, the number of students requiring special education services has risen from 17 percent of the student body to 23 percent, up from just under 14 percent a decade ago, according to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

Such trends alarm those who worry about the increasing inequity in schools. “I see greater stratification and greater segregation,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.”


U.S. Poverty On Track To Rise To Highest Levels Since the 1960s!

Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press and The Huffington Post are reporting that  America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.   Specifically:

“The Associated Press surveyed more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics, both nonpartisan and those with known liberal or conservative leanings, and found a broad consensus: The official poverty rate will likely rise from 15.1 percent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 percent. Several predicted a more modest gain, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest level since 1965.

Poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest poor. More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out. Suburbs likewise are seeing increases in poverty.

“The issues aren’t just with public benefits. We have some deep problems in the economy,” said Peter Edelman, director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy.

He pointed to the recent recession but also longer-term changes in the economy such as globalization, automation, outsourcing, immigration, and less unionization that have pushed median household income lower. Even after strong economic growth in the 1990s, poverty never fell below a 1973 low of 11.1 percent. That low point came after President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, launched in 1964, that created Medicaid, Medicare and other social welfare programs.”

As far as the future, demographers are predicting that:

_Poverty will remain above the pre-recession level of 12.5 percent for many more years. Several predicted that peak poverty levels – 15 percent to 16 percent – will last at least until 2014, due to expiring unemployment benefits, a jobless rate persistently above 6 percent and weak wage growth.

_Suburban poverty, already at a record level of 11.8 percent, will increase again in 2011.

_Part-time or underemployed workers, who saw a record 15 percent poverty in 2010, will rise to a new high.

_Poverty among people 65 and older will remain at historically low levels, buoyed by Social Security cash payments.

_Child poverty will increase from its 22 percent level in 2010.

Analysts also believe that the poorest poor, defined as those at 50 percent or less of the poverty level, will remain near its peak level of 6.7 percent.

Just as a quick afterthought, the United States also has the largest number of millionaires of any country with 5, 134,000.


States Not Recovering from the Great Recession!

Dear Commons Community,

As the country begins to rev up the presidential campaign, the economy is and will be the major issue.  Given that the basis of our presidential election is the electoral college, the economic conditions of the individual states becomes important.  The Huffington Post has an article reviewing how the states are doing in the job market.

“Three years since the recession ended, 43 states have yet to regain the jobs they lost in the downturn. The figure is a reminder of how weak the nation’s job market remains.

“Overall, the U.S. economy has 3.5 percent fewer jobs than it did before the Great Recession, which began in December 2007. The national unemployment rate has been stuck at 8.2 percent.  The states that are the furthest behind in job growth are those that were hit hardest by the housing bust: Arizona, Florida and Nevada.”

On the positive side:

“Despite the weak job market, seven states have regained the jobs they lost during the recession. North Dakota is by far the best. It had 15.7 percent more jobs in June than it did in December 2007. It also had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate at 2.9 percent. The state’s oil production has soared in the past five years…

Alaska had 3.8 percent more jobs in June than before the recession began, the second-largest gain. It has also benefited from oil production. So has Texas, which had 2.4 percent more jobs in June than before the recession, or third best.

The other states that have regained all their lost jobs are: New York, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and South Dakota. New York has seen broad-based gains in education and health care, financial services, and other professional services such as legal services and accounting.”

While there are signs that a number of states are beginning to recover, economists at IHS Global Insight, estimate that 8 states won’t return to their pre-recession peak employment levels until 2016 or later.

This does not bode well for President Obama.



Jessica Redfield: Aurora Victim on the Preciousness of Life!

Dear Commons Community,

One of the murder victims of the Aurora theater tragedy was a young woman, Jessica Redfield, who narrowly escaped being killed a month ago at a similar shooting spree on June 2nd that left five people dead at the Eaton Center in Toronto, Canada.  On June 5th, she blogged about her experience and the importance of savoring every moment of her life.  Here is an excerpt:

“I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.

I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.”

Below is the entire posting.



Late Night Thoughts on the Eaton Center Shooting

Posted by Jessica Redfield in Uncategorized on June 5, 2012

I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest. This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away. I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm‘s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.

What started off as a trip to the mall to get sushi and shop, ended up as a day that has forever changed my life. I was on a mission to eat sushi that day, and when I’m on a mission, nothing will deter me. When I arrived at the Eaton Center mall, I walked down to the food court and spotted a sushi restaurant. Instead of walking in, sitting down and enjoying sushi, I changed my mind, which is very unlike me, and decided that a greasy burger and poutine would do the trick. I rushed through my dinner. I found out after seeing a map of the scene, that minutes later a man was standing in the same spot I just ate at and opened fire in the food court full of people. Had I had sushi, I would’ve been in the same place where one of the victims was found.

My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 pm. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rung out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.

I walked around the outside of the mall. People started funneling out of every exit. When I got back to the front, I saw a police car, an ambulance, and a fire truck. I initially thought that maybe the street performer that was drumming there earlier had a heart attack or something. But more and more police officers, ambulances, and fire trucks started showing up. Something terrible has happened. I overheard a panicked guy say, “There was a shooting in the food court.” I thought that there was no way, I was just down there. I asked him what happened. He said “Some guy just opened fire. Shot about 8 shots. It sounded like balloons popping. The guy is still on the loose.” I’m not sure what made me stick around at this point instead of running as far away from the mall as possible. Shock? Curiosity? Human nature? Who knows.

Standing there in the midst of the chaos all around us, police started yelling to get back and make room. I saw a young shirtless boy, writhing on a stretcher, with his face and head covered by the EMS as they rushed him by us to get him into an ambulance. The moment was surprisingly calm. The EMTs helping the boy weren’t yelling orders and no one was screaming like a night time medical drama. It was as if it was one swift movement to get the boy out of the mall and into the ambulance. That’s when it really hit me. I felt nauseas. Who would go into a mall full of thousands of innocent people and open fire? Is this really the world we live in?

Police start yelling again “GET BACK NOW!” Another stretcher came rushing out of the mall. I saw a man on a stretcher, the blanket underneath him spotted with blood. Multiple gunshot holes in his chest, side, and neck were visible. It’s not like in the movies when you see someone shot and they’re bleeding continuously from the wound. There was no blood flowing from the wounds, I could only see the holes. Numerous gaping holes, as if his skin was putty and someone stuck their finger in it. Except these wounds were caused by bullets. Bullets shot out of hatred. His dark skin on his torso was tinted red with what I assume was his own blood. He was rushed into the ambulance and taken away.

More people joined the crowd at the scene and asked what happened. “There was a shooting in the food court,” kept being whispered through the crowd like a game of telephone. I was standing near a security guard when I heard him say over his walkie talkie, “One fatality.” At this point I was convinced I was going to throw up. I’m not an EMT or a police officer. I’m not trained to handle crime and murder. Gun crimes are fairly common where I grew up in Texas, but I never imagined I’d experience a violent crime first hand. I’m on vacation and wanted to eat and go shopping. Everyone else at the mall probably wanted the same thing. I doubt anyone left for the mall imagined they witness a shooting.

I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.

I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.

I feel like I am overreacting about what I experienced. But I can’t help but be thankful for whatever caused me to make the choices that I made that day. My mind keeps replaying what I saw over in my head. I hope the victims make a full recovery. I wish I could shake this odd feeling from my chest. The feeling that’s reminding me how blessed I am. The same feeling that made me leave the Eaton Center. The feeling that may have potentially saved my life.


Aurora: Mourning and Mulling!

Dear Commons Community,

The media is spending much of its energies on following up on the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado.  There are greater calls for tightening up gun laws, examining the violence that has become part of so many Hollywood movies, attempts to paint a profile of the gunman, James Holmes, speculating on his motives, etc.  Charles Blow in his New York Times column, entitled Mourning and Mulling, evaluates American values vis-a-vis our constitutional  right to bear arms.  Without taking a strong side one way or the other, he concludes:

“We simply have to take some reasonable steps toward making sure that all our citizens are kept safer — those with guns and those without.  We can’t keep digging graves where common ground should be.”



Gunman Kills Twelve and Injures Dozens in Aurora, Colorado!

Dear Commons Community,

News sources have been airing all day the story of a gunman who killed twelve people and injured fifty-nine in a shooting spree in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater.   The gunman, James Holmes (pictured above), has been identified as a doctoral student, studying neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Denver.  The tragedy took place at a Century 16 Movie Theater that was showing the premiere of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.  At the time of this writing, the motive for the killings was unknown. One report stated that Holmes was sporting red hair and told people he was “The Joker” when he was apprehended by police. The suspect has no major criminal record and has not been associated with any cult, terror group or hate organization.

Our hearts and sympathies go out to the families of the victims of another senseless act of violence.


The Trouble With Online Education: Op-Ed Piece!!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an op-ed article today on online education written by Mark Edmundson, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, and is the author of “Why Read?”  By 7:00 am this morning, three colleagues of mine had already alerted me to the piece.  Essentially Professor Edmundson tries to make the case that online learning is problematic mainly because it lacks the equivalent interaction among teachers and students that enables the development of communities of learners .  He even tries to make the case that a large face-to-face lecture class is a more “collaborative” and “collective enterprise” than an online class.

I respectfully disagree with much of what Professor Edmundson proposes but there are kernels of ideas that need further elaboration.

Online classes that minimize interaction between faculty and student and student and student could very well be poor substitutes for face-to-face instruction assuming that the face-to-face instruction is highly interactive and not just a one-way presentation/lecture by the instructor.    In my opinion, it is not the modality but the level of interaction built into a class that is important.  Given the  social media fluency among students and teachers, developing quality interaction online is not difficult to achieve and furthermore is not bound by the time and place limitations of face-to-face classes.

Professor Edmundson also refers to the large MOOC-type courses that enroll tens of thousands of students.  While these are strictly experimental at this time,  the early models seem to rely on a good deal of video lectures as the main form of delivery.  Unless these video presentations are followed up by mechanisms for students and faculty to interact, I would tend to agree with Edmundson that this type of course is not as pedagogically beneficial as a highly interactive face-to-face or online class.

Lastly, Professor Edmundson  also assumes that students in face-to-face instruction are all highly engaged in the material regardless of the pedagogical skills and techniques of the instructor.  We know that this is not the case.  There are excellent teachers and there are less than excellent teachers.  It is my opinion that the excellent teacher can develop lessons that will engage students regardless of the modality.   The less than excellent teacher will likely not engage students regardless of the modality s/he uses.



Michele Bachmann Smears Huma Abedin, Aide to Hillary Clinton!

Dear Commons Community,

Rep. Michele Bachmann along with Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), recently sent letters to five federal agencies demanding investigations into infiltration by the Muslim Brotherhood.  Specifically mentioned were three members of Huma Abedin’s family as  “connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations”.   Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is married to former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner.

The accusations stem from a report by the Center for Security Policy, a right-wing organization run by Frank Gaffney and funded by the likes of the Scaife foundations which have donated over $3 million to it over the past decade.

A number of prominent lawmakers including Sen. John McCain have denounced Bachmann’s accusations.