Bernie Sanders: Democrats Need to Wake Up!

Dear Commons Community,

During the last few days, Democrats have seen a number of polls indicating that Hillary Clinton is developing a commanding lead over Donald Trump in the presidential election. Amid this good news, Bernie Sanders wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that in light of the Brexit vote in Britain, Democrats need to be careful and “wake up” to global forces that could threaten Clinton’s election in the Fall and turn it over to Donald Trump.  Here is his rationale:

“Surprise, surprise. Workers in Britain, many of whom have seen a decline in their standard of living while the very rich in their country have become much richer, have turned their backs on the European Union and a globalized economy that is failing them and their children.

And it’s not just the British who are suffering. That increasingly globalized economy, established and maintained by the world’s economic elite, is failing people everywhere. Incredibly, the wealthiest 62 people on this planet own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population — around 3.6 billion people. The top 1 percent now owns more wealth than the whole of the bottom 99 percent. The very, very rich enjoy unimaginable luxury while billions of people endure abject poverty, unemployment, and inadequate health care, education, housing and drinking water.

Could this rejection of the current form of the global economy happen in the United States? You bet it could.

During my campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, I’ve visited 46 states. What I saw and heard on too many occasions were painful realities that the political and media establishment fail even to recognize.

In the last 15 years, nearly 60,000 factories in this country have closed, and more than 4.8 million well-paid manufacturing jobs have disappeared. Much of this is related to disastrous trade agreements that encourage corporations to move to low-wage countries.

Despite major increases in productivity, the median male worker in America today is making $726 dollars less than he did in 1973, while the median female worker is making $1,154 less than she did in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.

Nearly 47 million Americans live in poverty. An estimated 28 million have no health insurance, while many others are underinsured. Millions of people are struggling with outrageous levels of student debt. For perhaps the first time in modern history, our younger generation will probably have a lower standard of living than their parents. Frighteningly, millions of poorly educated Americans will have a shorter life span than the previous generation as they succumb to despair, drugs and alcohol.

Meanwhile, in our country the top one-tenth of 1 percent now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Fifty-eight percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent. Wall Street and billionaires, through their “super PACs,” are able to buy elections.”

Sanders concludes that Donald Trump could benefit from the same forces that gave the Leave proponents a majority in Britain and should sound an alarm for the Democratic Party in the United States. Millions of American voters, like the Leave supporters, are understandably angry and frustrated by the economic forces that are destroying the middle class.

Sound advice!   Or as Elizabeth Warren said to Clinton’s campaign staff last week:  Don’t Screw It Up!




New York:  Rising Political Star Zephyr Teachout Wins Democratic Primary!

Dear Commons Community,

Zephyr Teachout, a professor of law at Fordham University, breezed to victory yesterday in the Democratic primary for New York’s 19th Congressional District, setting the stage for a November face-off against John Faso, a Republican and former member of the New York State Assembly.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“I am running for Congress to break down those doors in Washington, D.C.; the doors that are keeping the people of America — the real people, the citizens of America — locked out,” Teachout said in an email to supporters after her win. “I’ve been fighting well-paid lobbyists on behalf of working families my entire life. I will fight until we win — for the people of NY 19. For the American people.”

Teachout is one of the top progressive recruits in the 2016 field, a law professor who specializes in the study of corruption and corporate power. Teachout’s campaign has focused on money in politics, denouncing the ease with which big business is able to distort both consumer markets and the political process. She garnered national attention with her 2014 primary challenge to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), a race in which she secured over a third of the vote with a shoestring operation.

The core of Teachout’s support in that contest was in the Hudson Valley, where the 19th District is located. The district leans Democratic, going for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012, but during Obama’s first term the district’s voters elected a Republican, Rep. Chris Gibson, to the House. Gibson is stepping down this year to consider a gubernatorial run of his own, making the district one of the best opportunities for Democrats to pick up a seat from Republicans in November.”

Congratulations Professor Teachout!


Detroit: More School Choice and Charters But Not Better Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article this morning lamenting the condition of public education in Detroit. The article makes the point that while the city is coming back from the brink of bankruptcy, its public education remains mired in mediocrity even though it has the largest percentage of charter schools of any large city in the country with the exception of New Orleans. Here is an excerpt:

“Michigan leapt at the promise of charter schools 23 years ago, betting big that choice and competition would improve public schools. It got competition, and chaos.

Detroit schools have long been in decline academically and financially. But over the past five years, divisive politics and educational ideology and a scramble for money have combined to produce a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.

While the idea was to foster academic competition, the unchecked growth of charters has created a glut of schools competing for some of the nation’s poorest students, enticing them to enroll with cash bonuses, laptops, raffle tickets for iPads and bicycles. Leaders of charter and traditional schools alike say they are being cannibalized, fighting so hard over students and the limited public dollars that follow them that no one thrives.

Detroit now has a bigger share of students in charters than any American city except New Orleans, which turned almost all its schools into charters after Hurricane Katrina. But half the charters perform only as well, or worse than, Detroit’s traditional public schools.

“The point was to raise all schools,” said Scott Romney, a lawyer and board member of New Detroit, a civic group formed after the 1967 race riots here. “Instead, we’ve had a total and complete collapse of education in this city.”

The city has emerged almost miraculously fast from the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. Downtown Detroit hums with development — a maze of detours around construction sites with luxury apartments, a new Nike store along a stretch of prime but empty storefronts. Even where blight resumes a few blocks out, farm-to-table restaurants and modern design stores sprout hopefully. Last year, the city had its smallest population decline since the 1950s.

But the city’s residents — many of them stranded here after whites and middle-class blacks fled in waves — will not share in any renaissance as long as only 10 percent of rising high school seniors score “college ready” on reading tests.

“We’ll either invest in our own children and prepare them to fill these jobs, or I suppose maybe people will migrate from other places in the country to fill them,” said Thomas F. Stallworth III, a former state representative who steered the passage of the 2014 legislation that paved Detroit’s way out of bankruptcy. “If that’s the case, we are still left with this underbelly of generational poverty with no clear path out.”

The 1993 state law permitting charter schools was not brought on by academic or financial crisis in Detroit — those would come later — but by a free-market-inclined governor, John Engler. An early warrior against public employee unions, he embraced the idea of creating schools that were publicly financed but independently run to force public schools to innovate.”

The article demonstrates that the original role for charter schools was to operate outside the public school system free of the problems and large bureaucratic policies that impeded innovation. Instead they have become the problem.


Game Changer:  U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Anti-Abortion Law!

Dear Commons Community.

The Supreme Court today struck as unconstitutional part of a restrictive Texas statute that threatened to close down half of the state’s abortion clinics, deny millions of women the right to a safe abortion.  The ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is being hailed a game changer in women’s rights to an abortion and represents the most significant victory at the high court since the turn of the century. As reported by The Huffington Post:

“The [Roe v. Wade] 1973 decision, refined by a conservative compromise in a 1992 case, established that the Constitution protects a woman’s right to end her pregnancy, but later rulings and conservative lobbying have given states leeway to craft abortion laws and regulations targeting not so much the right but those who facilitate it.

Writing for a 5-3 majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said the two Texas laws at issue in the case are unconstitutional.

“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” he wrote. “Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the Federal Constitution.”

When the Supreme Court heard the Whole Woman’s Health case in March, Texas insisted that “abortion is legal and accessible” in the state, but was badgered by the liberal wing of the court, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to explain how its law, the controversial HB 2, protects women’s health — an interest the court has in the past recognized as a valid justification for abortion-related legislation.

Avowing a concern for women’s health, Texas lawmakers passed the sweeping HB 2, which, among other requirements, mandated that abortion clinics undergo costly structural upgrades so as to resemble mini hospitals, and that abortion doctors obtain so-called admitting privileges at nearby hospitals — all in the name of reducing health risks and increasing safety.

On the ground, these requirements have turned out to be onerously prohibitive for smaller abortion clinics in Texas, forcing many to close since parts of HB 2 went into effect. Were it not for legal action challenging the two provisions and court intervention along the way, only women living in large metropolitan areas of Texas would have access to safe, legal abortions.

But everyone else — particularly women residing in remote areas, hundreds of miles from the nearest abortion clinic — would have been left in the lurch or forced to travel to neighboring states, such as New Mexico, where abortion access is more readily available.

In deciding the Whole Woman’s Health case, the Supreme Court zeroed in on whether the two contested laws amounted to an “undue burden“ on a woman’s constitutional choice to obtain an abortion — the legal test governing abortion restrictions but one that has failed to dissuade state legislatures, particularly in the South, from enacting end-run measures around it.

Breyer’s majority opinion — for which he was joined by Ginsburg and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — reaffirmed this constitutional standard, including the principle that “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden on the right” to an abortion. 

As to the admitting privileges provision, Breyer said there was “nothing” in the record of the case to show that the requirement advanced the interest of protecting women’s health, and chided Texas for admitting during oral arguments that it couldn’t find “a single instance” of it even helping “one woman obtain better treatment.”

Thank you, Justice Breyer and your colleagues on the Court!




New York City’s Gay Pride Parade 2016!

Gay Pride 2016 I

Dear Commons Community,

On a warm summer, sun-filled day yesterday, New York City hosted its annual Gay Pride Parade.  As reported in the New York Times: 

“The New York City gay pride march on Sunday reflected the event’s evolution over more than four decades from a defiant protest by a marginalized community into a freewheeling day that included a presidential candidate and other political leaders, floats from major corporations and a diverse crowd that extended beyond members of the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. (The New York Police Department’s marching band was there, too, and played “Y.M.C.A.,” by the Village People.)

But the numerous tributes to the shooting victims in Orlando, including a float at the front of the march carrying the owner of the club, served as a reminder of the parade’s history as a moment each year for the gay community to celebrate its identity in the face of violence and adversity.

“It’s a much more emotional day for me than just a parade,” said Michael Leb, 76, who teared up as he reflected on a time, not that long ago, when there was less acceptance of gay people and some companies would not hire them, much less march with them.

The theme this year was “Equality Needs You.” The world now is different from the one in which the first march took place, in 1970, called Christopher Street Liberation Day and held a year after the rebellion prompted by police harassment at the Stonewall Inn. (In a signal of that evolution, President Obama declared the bar, in Greenwich Village, and the area surrounding it a national monument and, with it, created a unit of the National Park Service dedicated to the gay rights movement.)

“Whenever we talk about New York values, we’re talking about respect and inclusion of all people,” Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, told reporters before the parade. “This will not just be a celebration of love but a rejection of hatred. This is New York saying, ‘We believe in tolerance for everyone.”

Great day in New York!


Gay Pride 2016 II

Conservative Columnist George Will Leaves Republican Party – Cannot Support Trump!

Dear Commons Community,

Longtime conservative and Washington Post columnist George Will is wiping his hands clean of the Republican Party.   “This is not my party,” Will told PJ Media on Saturday. Will said a Democratic presidency would be better than the alternative offered by Donald Trump.  Will said a “President Trump” with “no opposition” from a Republican-led Congress would be worse than a Hillary Clinton presidency with a Republican-led Congress.

His voter registration in Maryland has now changed from Republican to “unaffiliated,” PJ Media reported. The final straw was House Speaker Paul Ryan‘s (R-Wis) endorsement of Trump, he said. 

There is no love lost between Will and Trump.   In 2012, Will called Trump a “bloviating ignoramus”.  And Trump has called Will a “major loser.”   

“Make sure he loses,” Will said of the presumptive GOP nominee. The Party needs to grit its teeth for four years and win the White House in 2020. 


Is ‘Brexit’ the Precursor to a Donald Trump Presidency? Not Likely!

Dear Commons Community,

As  the world recovers from the vote in the U.K. to withdraw from the European Union (NYSE dropped 600 points yesterday), pundits were speculating whether it bodes well for a Donald Trump presidency here in the U.S.A.   An article in the New York Times today questions this possibility.  Below is an excerpt:

“Driving the “Brexit” vote were many of the same impulses that have animated American politics in this turbulent election year: anger at distant elites, anxiety about a perceived loss of national sovereignty and, perhaps most of all, resentment toward migrants and refugees.

These are the themes that Donald J. Trump harnessed during the Republican presidential primaries to explosive effect, and that he aims to wield to his advantage again in his race against Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump endorsed Britain’s abandonment of the European Union and hailed the vote during a stop in Scotland on Friday.

Veteran Republican and Democratic strategists say that Mr. Trump, and to a lesser extent, Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic contest, represent an American echo of the inward-looking politics that have swept across Europe in recent years.

“There’s a fundamental issue that all developed economies have to confront, which is that globalization and technological changes have meant millions of people have seen their jobs marginalized and wages decline,” said David Axelrod, a former strategist for President Obama and an adviser to Britain’s Labour Party in last year’s general election.

“And so lots of folks want to turn the clock back and make America, or their country, great again.”

Although Mr. Trump may struggle to convert a message of national retrenchment into victory here, some of the stark divisions on display in Britain do mirror political trends in this country.

The highly educated, younger voters around London who voted to remain in the European Union, for example, share some commonalities with the American urbanites who were the pillars of Mr. Obama’s coalition. And Mr. Trump has triumphed with the American counterparts of the British “Leave” voters: older whites who lack university degrees and live in less prosperous regions of the English countryside.

But beneath those generalities, there are crucial distinctions between the Brexit vote and the 2016 presidential election.

In the United States, there is no recent history of electing nationalist presidents hostile to immigration, and even recent Republican presidents have celebrated new arrivals as integral to American prosperity and identity.

American presidential elections are largely decided by a diverse and upscale electorate, anchored in America’s cities and suburbs. These communities more closely resemble London than Lincolnshire. Minorities made up more than a quarter of the electorate in the last presidential campaign.

And while Britain decided to leave the European Union through a popular vote, the White House race will be determined by the Electoral College, which is tilted toward the Democrats. Some large states with significant nonwhite populations have been out of reach for Republican candidates for much of the last three decades; California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Pennsylvania have voted for every Democratic nominee since 1992. Mr. Obama also won Florida twice, and Mrs. Clinton has a lead there now in part because Mr. Trump is unpopular with Hispanics.

Together those six states offer 166 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

Mr. Trump is at an even greater disadvantage than other recent Republican presidential nominees because of his dismal standing with nonwhite, college-educated and female voters. Unless he can reverse the deeply negative views such voters have of him, he is unlikely to capture the voter-rich communities around Philadelphia, Denver, Miami and Washington that are crucial to winning the White House.

Joe Trippi, a Democratic political strategist who was a consultant for former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, said he expected the Brexit vote to embolden American conservatives. But their excitement, Mr. Trippi said, would be largely “a false read” of the results.

“There are some very similar things — a polarized electorate, nativism, nationalism were clearly big factors, and Trump exemplifies them here,” Mr. Trippi said.

“But there is a difference in the multiculturalism and diversity of the United States, versus nowhere near the same factors in the U.K.”

Despite high levels of concern about immigration and foreign trade, polls show that most Americans have so far recoiled from Mr. Trump’s specific policy proposals, such as deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants.

survey published by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution on Thursday found that while Americans were closely split on the benefits of immigration and mostly said global trade was harmful, strong majorities rejected Mr. Trump’s promises to build a wall on the Mexican border and ban Muslim immigration.

Further, the vote in Britain was a referendum on a European entity that was easy to rally against, while the presidential vote here is increasingly becoming a referendum on a polarizing individual.

“Americans will be asked to vote for or against a person: Trump,” said Tony Fratto, a former press secretary for George W. Bush.

“And that’s a higher hurdle. If you want to express yourself with a protest vote, you’ll have to vote for Trump, and he is singularly unattractive and even offensive to a large majority of Americans.”

If the moment seemed to invite a triumphant, thematic victory speech by Mr. Trump on Friday, the candidate himself had other ideas.

Appearing at a golf resort he owns in Turnberry, Scotland, Mr. Trump applauded the vote as an expression of national anger. But in the course of a meandering news conference, Mr. Trump dwelled on the virtues of his property there, and compared the difficulties of the American presidency to the task of refurbishing a golf course.

Mr. Trump was dismissive of the economic ramifications of the referendum, and predicted that a downturn for the British pound would benefit his business. “When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly,” Mr. Trump said.

Mrs. Clinton responded with restraint, issuing a statement offering “respect” for the decision made by a close ally and offering assurances about “America’s steadfast commitment to the special relationship with Britain.”

The two key elements of the analysis above are that America is far-more diverse and multicultural than the U.K. and that voters in Britain were voting for or against the European Union which is far different than voting for a person.  While both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have “person” hurdles to jump,  Donald has a far higher one.


U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Fisher II),!

Dear Commons Community,

In a 4-3 vote in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Fisher II), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of colleges to establish affirmative action programs designed to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of their student bodies.  This is a great win for those of us who believe that education is a major vehicle in helping people from all backgrounds to succeed in our society.  Risa Lieberwitz, General Counsel for the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which had join in the case, analyzed the key legal points of this decision. (see below)



Dear AAUP Member,

Today, in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Fisher II) the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the University of Texas at Austin’s affirmative action program. The AAUP had joined an amicus brief in this case, supporting affirmative action. Due to Justice Kagan’s recusal from the case and the death of Justice Scalia, only seven justices took part, resulting in a four-three decision. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court is significant in taking a realistic and reasonable approach that should enable universities to adopt affirmative action programs that meet constitutional requirements. 

The Court applied the three key criteria from its earlier decision in this case (Fisher I): (1) a university must show that it has a substantial purpose or interest in considering race as a factor in its admissions policy and that considering race is necessary to achieve this purpose; (2) courts should defer, though not completely, to a university’s academic judgment that there are educational benefits that flow from diversity in the student body; and (3) the university must prove that race-neutral alternatives will not achieve its goals of increasing diversity.  

The Court’s decision recognizes that judges should give due deference to universities in defining educational goals that include the benefits of increasing diversity in the student body, such as the promotion of cross-racial understanding and the preparation of students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society. 

The Court confirmed that universities must prove that race is considered only as necessary to meet the permissible goals of affirmative action. In particular, the university must prove that “race-neutral alternatives” will not suffice to meet these goals. This was the most controversial aspect of the Fisher I decision.  In Fisher II, though, the Court takes a reasonable approach, finding that UT had sufficient evidence that its “Top Ten” admissions policy based on class rank was not adequate, by itself, to meet diversity goals. By adding a “holistic” evaluation of applicants who were not admitted in the “Top Ten” program, UT was able to consider race as one factor in a broader assessment of qualifications.  

The Court noted that the “prospective guidance” of its decision is limited to some extent by the particularities of the UT case.  Despite this, the Court’s decision does provide important guidance to universities concerning the criteria that will be applied in evaluating affirmative action programs. The Court also emphasizes that universities have “a continuing obligation” to “engage[] in periodic reassessment of the constitutionality, and efficacy, of [their] admissions program[s].” While this requires ongoing study and evaluation by universities, the Court’s decision creates a significant and positive basis for universities to adopt affirmative action programs that meet constitutional requirements.


Risa Lieberwitz
AAUP General Counsel



Online Learning Journal (OLJ) Devotes Issue to Learning Analytics!

Dear Commons Community,

The June 2016 issue (Vol. 20, (2)) of the Online Learning Journal(OLJ) is dedicated to research on learning analytics.   As described by the guest editors, Karen Vignare and Patsy Moskal:

“…the nine articles provide a range of information including reviewing the literature, examining frameworks in development, presenting a large scale analysis on the effectiveness of learning modalities from the PAR Framework, examining an international study of learning, and providing real-world learning analytics case studies on transfer, facilitation, and medical education. Each of the articles provides new and informative research that we hope can help readers make decisions about applying analytics within the context of their own online teaching and learning environments. This collection of articles presents readers with information about designing environments within online learning while also highlighting studies that expand upon what exists in currently published research. The authors here represent a significant contribution to practical decision making for administrators, insights for faculty teaching online courses, and works for other researchers to build upon.”

I have read the first two articles and plan to read the remaining seven.  The articles are available for free download at:

Well-done issue on an important instructional technology!


Shame on the U.S. Senate!

Daily News Headline Senate Pro Gun Control Vote

Dear Commons Community,

On Monday, the U.S. Senate rejected four measures restricting gun sales after last week’s massacre in an Orlando nightclub where 49 innocent people were killed. The headline above is from the New York Daily News showing the Capital covered in blood.  As reported by Reuters:

“Last week’s massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, had intensified pressure on lawmakers, who moved swiftly to take the issue to the Senate floor. But the gun-control measures lost in largely party-line votes that showed the lingering political power in Congress of gun rights defenders and the National Rifle Association.55 PHOTOS

Republicans and their allies in the NRA gun lobby said the Democratic bills were too restrictive and trampled on the constitutional right to bear arms. Democrats attacked the Republicans’ two proposals as too weak and accused them of being in the thrall of the NRA.

“What am I going to tell the community of Orlando?” asked Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida after the votes. “Sadly, what I’m going to tell them is the NRA won again.”

Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, attacked the Democrats’ amendments and thanked Republicans for rejecting them. “Today, the American people witnessed an embarrassing display in the United States,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the Democratic measures were ineffective and Republican senators “are pursuing real solutions that can help keep Americans safer from the threat of terrorism.”

As the parties remain largely locked in their positions, polls show Americans are increasingly in favor of more restrictions on guns in a country with more than 310 million weapons, about one for every citizen.

Even if the Senate approved a gun compromise, it would also have to be passed by the more conservative, Republican-majority House of Representatives. House Republican leadership aides did not comment on the possibility that any bills proposing gun restrictions would be considered on the House floor this week.

On Monday, all four of the measures to expand background checks on gun buyers and curb gun sales to those on terrorism watch lists – two put forth by Democrats and two by Republicans – fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage in the 100-member chamber.

Gun-control advocates expressed disappointment after the vote and vowed to take revenge on lawmakers at the ballot box in November.

“Shame on every single senator who voted against these life-saving amendments and protected the rights of terrorists and other dangerous people to buy guns,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “The Brady Campaign will expose these politicians for who they really are and call out their failure to disarm hate in America.”