New York Times to Endorse Hillary Clinton and John Kasich!

Dear Commons Community,

Tomorrow, in its Sunday edition, the New York Times will formally endorse Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president and John Kasich as the Republican nominee.  Here is an excerpt from the announcement as reported by Reuters:

“The New York Times’s editorial board endorses Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John Kasich as they seek to become their parties’ nominees in the U.S. presidential election, calling Clinton one of the most “deeply qualified presidential candidates in modern history.”

“Mr. Sanders does not have the breadth of experience or policy ideas that Mrs. Clinton offers,” and praises him for making important points about economic inequality and foreign policy.

The board praised Clinton’s term as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, and said she had shown a lifelong commitment to American workers, particularly women. The board criticized her as too quick to propose using military force abroad, but said she still would be a better military leader than her Republican rivals.

The Times editorial board previously endorsed Clinton in 2008, when she ran against Barack Obama. In that endorsement, it also argued that Clinton had more experience and had presented more detailed policy ideas than her rival.

Kasich, the governor of Ohio, was the only candidate in the crowded Republican field the board said it was able to stomach.

“Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, though a distinct underdog, is the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race,” the board wrote.

It said Kasich had “been capable of compromise and believes in the ability of government to improve lives.”

The board said that front-runner Donald Trump did not have experience of international issues or interest in learning about them. It said Ted Cruz would “say anything to win”. The line I like best in its endorsement Kasich 

The endorsement for Clinton was expected but Kasich is a surprise.  The line I like best in the endorsement of Kasich is:

“I am so tired of my colleagues out here on the stage spending all their time talking about Barack Obama,” he told a town hall crowd in New Hampshire. “His term is over.” Mr. Kasich said recently that he had “raised the bar in this election. I’ve talked about hope and the future and positive things.” In this race, how rare that is.




John King/U.S Department of Education:  Threaten Funding if Students Opt-Out of Standardized Tests!

Dear Commons Community,

John King failed to listen to parents and teachers regarding standardized testing during his tenure as New York State Commissioner of Education, and as a result, had to leave his position. As Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, he is making the same mistake.  As reported by the Associated Press:

“The U.S. Education Department is not relenting on requirements to test students on math and language arts abilities, despite the end of No Child Left Behind, and it reminded some states that federal funding could be at stake if too many children skip the annual assessments.

But testing opponents say they’re not giving up either, and after a surge in students opting out last year, they’re looking for even more to sit out in the coming assessment season.

A letter from the federal department last month reminded state school chiefs that the requirement to test at least 95 percent of grade 3-8 students is still in place and will continue under the nation’s new education law, passed in December.

Last year, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a group known as FairTest that’s critical of standardized assessments, counted more than 640,000 students in over a dozen states who refused to take the assessments to protest the high-stakes consequences begun under No Child Left Behind.

The new Every Student Succeeds Act that was passed to replace NCLB leaves it to states how to handle schools that fall short in participation, but Ann Whalen, an assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, stressed in her letter that assessment requirements remain.

Whalen’s Dec. 22 memo followed a series of individual requests for improvement plans from states at risk of falling short of the threshold in 2014-15. Letters went out to California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin.

Most states responded with plans that stressed improving communication with parents and teachers about the importance of assessments. Several promised to downgrade a district or school’s rating should they miss participation targets, or revoke eligibility for recognition awards, according to responses obtained by The Associated Press. None of the plans appeared to carry any financial consequence.

New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia described a host of initiatives after 20 percent of students didn’t take the tests last year, which was about four times the number as the previous year. New York replaced test vendor Pearson with Questar to develop new test questions with more teacher input and shortened the assessments, Elia said. After complaints from teachers and parents that the state has moved too quickly on reforms, officials said results will be kept out of student transcripts and teacher evaluations through 2018.

“The letter … was a serious letter from the U.S. D.O.E. indicating clearly that there are ramifications,” Elia said at a budget hearing Wednesday, where she added that students will be able to take as much time as they need on the revised tests.”

King and the U.S. DOE need to realize that fifteen years off No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top and their testing requirements have been a failure in the education of children in this country.  It is not likely in this election year especially that education funding will be denied to the states.



Sanity Returning to the NYS Department of Education:  Timed-Tests Out!

Dear Commons Community,

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced yesterday that time limits will be removed from a number of required student tests.  As reported in the New York Daily News:

“New York schoolkids can take as long as they want to complete state reading and math evaluation tests this year, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said Wednesday.

Speaking at a legislative hearing in Albany, Elia said that the decision to remove time limits for students who take the tests was a reaction to public outcry.

“I heard from parents across this state and from teachers that part of the stresses that we had on our kids was that they were timed, and particularly younger children,” the commissioner said in a question-and-answer period following her testimony on Gov. Cuomo’s $145 billion budget proposal…

…Time limits on the exams in previous years ranged from 70 to 90 minutes for each test. The tests are administered to grades three through eight over six days in April.

The exams have faced intense and widespread criticism that grew when they were first pegged to tougher Common Core academic standards in 2013.

Roughly 20% of 1,000,000 eligible students statewide boycotted the tests in 2015 in protest of the exams’ quality and prominent role in the public schools.

City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said she supports Elia’s decision to lift time limits on the tests.

“I totally applaud it,” said Fariña, who also delivered testimony on Cuomo’s budget in Albany Wednesday. “One of the biggest stress points for students is, will I get it finished in time? And I think it will also go a long way for parents who have complaints about their children not having the stamina for this.”

City teachers also praised Elia’s decision.

“This is a pretty big deal,” said Michele Cleary, a teacher at Middle School 247 in Manhattan. “Kids don’t really have enough time to read closely and answer the questions … so having unlimited time will help them a lot.”

State officials said they will distribute guidance on the policy change to educators in the coming weeks.”

BRAVA – Commissioner Elia!  A significant step in the right direction.




Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly Begs Donald Trump to Participate in the Republican Debate Scheduled for Tonight!

Dear Commons Community,

In the latest Donald Trump/Fox News debate saga, Bill O’Reilly, all but got down of his knees, to beg Trump to participate in the Republican Party’s Presidential Debate scheduled for tonight. 

It is obvious that the Republican Party has a major problem when its number one media outlet, Fox News, and its leading contender for the Party’s presidential nomination are in an open feud over debate logistics.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Bill O’Reilly wants Donald Trump to be the bigger man in his ongoing feud with Fox News, but Trump is promising an “eye for an eye” instead. 

The “O’Reilly Factor” host was trying to convince the GOP frontrunner to join Thursday night’s debate in Iowa despite his dislike for Megyn Kelly, the Fox News host who will be one of the event’s moderators.

O’Reilly even tried appealing to Trump’s Christian faith, something the candidate has spoken of frequently in an effort to woo evangelical voters.

“In your Christian faith, there is a very significant tenet and that’s the tenet of forgiveness,” O’Reilly said. 

“I think you should be the bigger man,” O’Reilly added. “Don’t you think that’s the right thing to do?”

“It probably is,” Trump agreed. “But y’know it’s called an eye for an eye. I guess also you can look at it that way.” 

“No, no, no,” O’Reilly countered. “That’s Old Testament. If you’re the Christian, the eye-for-the-eye rule goes out. Here’s what it is: Turning the other cheek.” 

O’Reilly physically turned his cheek and patted himself to show what he meant.

Trump brushed off the appeal to his faith and instead plugged his event Thursday night for the Wounded Warrior Project, which he will be doing instead of participating in the GOP debate.  

In sum, a media mess for Fox News and Trump!


U.S. Colleges Raised $40.3 Billion in 2015!

Top University Gift Recipients (2015)

University Philanthropy 2015


Dear Commons Community,

A new study has found that U.S. colleges raised $40.3 billion in 2015, an increase of 7.6 percent over the previous year.  This is the third consecutive year charitable fund-raising by institutions of higher education has grown. The Voluntary Support of Education survey, conducted by the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), collected fund-raising information from nearly 1,000 colleges and universities. CAE has conducted the survey since 1957. As reported by The Chronicle of Philanthropy:

“Nearly 29 percent of all money raised in 2015 — $11.56 billion — went to just 20 colleges. Stanford University raised the most, $1.63 billion. Strong support for Stanford’s medical center plus a major art donation helped it secure the top spot, said Martin Shell, the university’s vice president for development. Stanford has led the pack for 10 out of the last 11 years.

Stanford was followed by Harvard University, which raised $1.05 billion, and the University of Southern California, at $653.03 million.

The University of California at San Francisco and Cornell University rounded out the top five, raising $608.58 million and $590.64 million, respectively. UCSF jumped in the rankings from 12th in 2014 to fourth in 2015 thanks to one of the largest gifts made by an individual donor last year: a $177-million grant from Charles F. Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies to establish the Global Brain Health Institute, which will be run in partnership with Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

The data is likely to fuel a growing chorus of criticism about wealthy donors pouring cash into elite universities that already enjoy enormous endowments, rather than spreading their giving to more needy institutions. The proportion of donations going to the top fund-raising colleges has slowly increased over the past decade, said Ann E. Kaplan, survey director for CAE. She attributes that trend to the fact that those colleges have an array of prestigious programs that attract donors.”

American higher education surely appreciates the support from its alumni and others but as the article indicates there is a growing chasm in the resources available to top-tier institutions and other public and non-profit, tuition-driven colleges and universities.




Donald Trump to Skip the Republican Party’s Debate if Megyn Kelly is a Moderator!

Dear Commons Community,

It appears that Donald Trump has decided to skip the upcoming Republican Party’s Presidential Nominee Debate scheduled for this coming Thursday because he does not want Fox News’ Megyn Kelly to be a moderator.   Mr. Trump has been sparring with Ms. Kelly since last August when during a debate she questioned his remarks about women.  As reported in The New York Times:

“Donald J. Trump and Fox News, the candidate who has reordered the Republican presidential race and the cable network of choice for many of the party’s voters, stared each other down on Tuesday over his demand that the news anchor Megyn Kelly be dumped from moderating Thursday’s debate, the last before Monday’s caucuses.

The network did not blink. So Mr. Trump walked.

Mr. Trump’s announcement here that he would “probably,” or would “most likely,” or was “pretty close to” irrevocably planning to skip the debate — an aide put it more directly — created a gaping uncertainty at the center of the Republican nominating contest just as it was formally about to begin in Iowa.

It was the most intense confrontation yet between two mutually dependent but increasingly antagonistic powerhouses of media and politics. Mr. Trump, who has made the presidential race into a riveting television spectacle, was overtly exploiting the ratings leverage his candidacy has created to try to bend Fox News to his will.

“Let’s see how much money Fox is going to make on the debate without me,” he said at a news conference here.

Fox News said Mr. Trump’s refusal to debate his rivals was “near unprecedented.”

“This is rooted in one thing — Megyn Kelly, whom he has viciously attacked since August and has now spent four days demanding be removed from the debate stage,” the network said in a statement.

On her program Tuesday night, Ms. Kelly observed that “what’s interesting here is Trump is not used to not controlling things, as the chief executive of a large organization.”

“But the truth is, he doesn’t get to control the media,” she added.

Mr. Trump’s animus toward Ms. Kelly dates to August, in the first presidential primary debate, when she questioned him about his past comments denigrating women. Afterward, he suggested that Ms. Kelly had been angry at him, so much so that she had blood pouring out of her “wherever” — a remark many saw as a reference to menstruation.

In the months since, Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized Ms. Kelly as a “third-rate” reporter.

And as Thursday’s debate approached, Mr. Trump began disparaging Ms. Kelly as if he were a prizefighter promoting a rematch. He called her dishonest, accused her of bias and a conflict of interest, and said flat-out that he did not like her.

On Monday, Fox News responded to Mr. Trump, tauntingly saying it was “surprised he’s willing to show that much fear” about being questioned by Ms. Kelly. And on Tuesday, after the network’s president, Roger Ailes, declared that Ms. Kelly would “absolutely be on the debate stage,” the network issued yet another taunting statement, this one mocking two of Mr. Trump’s go-to rhetorical crutches.

“We learned from a secret back channel,” the statement said, “that the ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.”

At that, Mr. Trump told Mr. Ailes and his network, effectively, to take a flying leap.”

The other Republican candidates especially Ted Cruz were quick to criticize Trump’s decision and repeated the Fox News line that he [Trump] was afraid of Megyn Kelly.  Trump’s skipping the debate can only be viewed as a plus for the other candidates.  I do not think that Trump’s decision will change the minds of his most loyal supporters but will definitely hurt him with undecided voters.



Texas Grand Jury Exonerates Planned Parenthood and Indicts Two Anti-Abortion Conspirators!

Dear Commons Community,

A grand jury in Houston that was investigating accusations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood has instead indicted two abortion opponents who made undercover videos of the organization.  As reported in the New York Times:

“Prosecutors in Harris County said one of the leaders of the Center for Medical Progress — an anti-abortion group that made secretly recorded videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials trying to illegally profit from the sale of fetal tissue — had been indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record, a felony, and on a misdemeanor charge related to purchasing human organs.

That leader, David R. Daleiden, 27, the director of the center, had posed as a biotechnology representative to infiltrate Planned Parenthood affiliates and surreptitiously record his efforts to procure tissue for research. Another center employee, Sandra S. Merritt, 62, was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record.

The record-tampering charges accused Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt of making and presenting fake California driver’s licenses, with the intent to defraud, for their April meeting at Planned Parenthood in Houston.

Abortion opponents claimed that the videos, which were released starting in July, revealed that Planned Parenthood was engaged in the illegal sale of body parts — a charge that the organization has denied and that has not been supported in numerous congressional and state investigations triggered by the release of the videos.

On Monday, the Harris County district attorney, Devon Anderson, said in a statement that grand jurors had cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.

She declined to provide details about the case against Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt, including any documents or evidence presented to the grand jury, citing state law on the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.

“As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us,” Ms. Anderson said. “All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”

In a statement on Monday night, Mr. Daleiden said: “The Center for Medical Progress uses the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades in exercising our

First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press, and follows all applicable laws. We respect the processes of the Harris County district attorney, and note that buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well. Planned Parenthood still cannot deny the admissions from their leadership about fetal organ sales captured on video for all the world to see.”

The release of the videos last summer created a furor and gave new strength to the conservative drive to defund Planned Parenthood. The organization was forced to apologize for the casual tone that one of its officials had used to discuss a possible transfer of fetal tissue to what she believed was a legitimate medical company. But Planned Parenthood said the fees being discussed were to cover costs and were legal.”

This decision exposes the deceitfulness of those involved with making the anti-Planned Parenthood videos. 

Thank you, Houston!



New DARPA Initiative: Implanting Neural Devices into the Human Brain to Communicate with Digital Technologies!

DARPA Brain Inteface

Dear Commons Community,

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a branch of the US Department of Defense, announced a new initiative to implant neural devices into brains of soldiers to facilitate digital interfacing.  DARPA is the same agency that initiated the development of the Internet in 1960s.  Here is the announcement from the DARPA website.

“A new DARPA program aims to develop an implantable neural interface able to provide unprecedented signal resolution and data-transfer bandwidth between the human brain and the digital world. The interface would serve as a translator, converting between the electrochemical language used by neurons in the brain and the ones and zeros that constitute the language of information technology. The goal is to achieve this communications link in a biocompatible device no larger than one cubic centimeter in size, roughly the volume of two nickels stacked back to back.

The program, Neural Engineering System Design (NESD), stands to dramatically enhance research capabilities in neurotechnology and provide a foundation for new therapies.

“Today’s best brain-computer interface systems are like two supercomputers trying to talk to each other using an old 300-baud modem,” said Phillip Alvelda, the NESD program manager. “Imagine what will become possible when we upgrade our tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics.”

Among the program’s potential applications are devices that could compensate for deficits in sight or hearing by feeding digital auditory or visual information into the brain at a resolution and experiential quality far higher than is possible with current technology.

Neural interfaces currently approved for human use squeeze a tremendous amount of information through just 100 channels, with each channel aggregating signals from tens of thousands of neurons at a time. The result is noisy and imprecise. In contrast, the NESD program aims to develop systems that can communicate clearly and individually with any of up to one million neurons in a given region of the brain.

Achieving the program’s ambitious goals and ensuring that the envisioned devices will have the potential to be practical outside of a research setting will require integrated breakthroughs across numerous disciplines including neuroscience, synthetic biology, low-power electronics, photonics, medical device packaging and manufacturing, systems engineering, and clinical testing. In addition to the program’s hardware challenges, NESD researchers will be required to develop advanced mathematical and neuro-computation techniques to first transcode high-definition sensory information between electronic and cortical neuron representations and then compress and represent those data with minimal loss of fidelity and functionality.

To accelerate that integrative process, the NESD program aims to recruit a diverse roster of leading industry stakeholders willing to offer state-of-the-art prototyping and manufacturing services and intellectual property to NESD researchers on a pre-competitive basis. In later phases of the program, these partners could help transition the resulting technologies into research and commercial application spaces.

To familiarize potential participants with the technical objectives of NESD, DARPA will host a Proposers Day meeting that runs Tuesday and Wednesday, February 2-3, 2016, in Arlington, Va.

NESD is part of a broader portfolio of programs within DARPA that support President Obama’s brain initiative. For more information about DARPA’s work in that domain, please visit:”

As one commentator observed, “While DARPA often advertises its new projects as attempts to achieve great humanitarian goals, like helping the disabled or creating robots that can aid in rescue operations, let’s not forget that DARPA is an agency of the Defense Department. Military innovations trickle out to the public all the time (like, say, the internet), but the primary goal of programs like NESD is to make soldiers more efficient, safe and deadly.”



Maureen Dowd Skewers Sarah Palin and Thanks Her for Saving Feminism!

Dear Commons Community,

Maureen Dowd derides Sarah Palin in her New York Times column today and thanks her for saving feminism by allowing women to be who they are without impugning or stereotyping the entire gender. Here is an excerpt:

“That is why it’s so inspiring to see a woman out on the campaign trail who has had such a historic impact on feminism, helping to recast outmoded assumptions about women.

Yes, Sarah Palin, I’m giving you a shout-out.

Before Palin, if a woman flamed out in a spectacular fashion, it was considered an X through the X chromosome. If Billie Jean King lost to Bobby Riggs, women would be seen as second-class athletes. If Geraldine Ferraro seemed unfit for the White House, all women might be judged incapable.

But when Palin turned out to be utterly unqualified and unintelligible, spouting her own special Yoda-like language, it did not reflect poorly on women as a whole — only on her and John McCain. What the hell were you thinking, Senator?

Ordinarily, it’s considered sexist to call a woman shrill. But Palin liberated us on that score. She really is shrill.

Ordinarily, it’s dicey to focus on what a woman in politics is wearing. But again, Palin has freed us up. She sported a cardigan so gaudy and rogue at her Iowa endorsement of Donald Trump (the man who viciously mocked her former running mate’s war record) that we would be remiss not to mention that it was the sartorial reflection of Palin and Trump themselves.

Ordinarily, you have to tread gingerly in critiquing a working woman on her mothering skills. But Palin’s brawling brood runs so wild around the state she once governed, in a way that is so contrary to her evangelistic, sanctimonious homilies on family values, that it seems only Christian to advise her to study the Obamas to see what exceptional parenting looks like.

With Palin and Trump, a failed reality star and a successful one, gall is divided into two parts. There has been a lot of talk this campaign season about how women pols bring superior qualities to the table: collegiality and listening skills. But Sarahcuda shows that we are truly the equals of men, capable of narcissistic explosions, brazen hypocrisy and unapologetic greed. She had barely finished the endorsement Tuesday when she began using it to raise money for SarahPAC, so she can take her show on the road.

Her oldest son, Track, was a kid with a temper before he served in Iraq for a year, conveniently shipping off in the fall of 2008 as his mother began her hockey-mom spiel. The 26-year-old was arrested Monday on an assault charge, accused of punching his girlfriend in the face and kicking her during an alcohol-fueled argument at the Palins’ home in Wasilla, Alaska. His girlfriend told the police that he was also waving around an AR-15 assault rifle.

Instead of just admitting that her family is a mess, Palin exhibited Trump-like swagger, conjuring a story in an attempt to gin up the crowd and occlude her son’s behavior.

She used the last refuge of scoundrels in Tulsa, Okla., Wednesday, wrapping herself in patriotism. In her convoluted, disingenuous way, she charged President Obama with a lack of “respect” for veterans and suggested that Track had post-traumatic stress disorder and became “hardened,” implying this is what led to the incident prompting his arrest. This from the archconservative who presents herself as a model of personal responsibility and scourge of victimhood?

Outraged vets urged Palin not to reduce PTSD to a political “chew toy,” as one put it, or to excuse domestic violence by citing the disorder.

The rattlebrained Palin has reversed her Iraq position, so that now her stance somehow matches Trump’s consistent and prescient one against the Iraq invasion…

…But Palin has done us a favor by proving that a woman can stumble, babble incoherently on stage and spew snide garbage, and it isn’t a blot on the female copybook.

It’s all on her. Can I get a hallelujah?”


Winter Storm Jonas Loves New York!

Blizzard 2016 1

Dear Commons Community,

Winter Storm Jonas loves New York so much that he decided to stick around a little while longer than originally predicted.  Central Park had over two feet of snow. The boroughs and outlying areas had as much and in some cases more.  Mayor Bill de Blazio and Governor Andrew Cuomo basically closed down the entire downstate region.  Here are some photos.


Blizzard 2016 2

Blizzard 2016 3

Blizzard 2016 4

Blizzard 2016 5

Blizzard 2016 6

Blizzard 2016 7