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.


Consummate NYC News Reporter Jimmy Breslin Dead at Age 88!

Dear Commons Community,

Jimmy Breslin, New York City’s news reporter for the common man, died yesterday of pneumonia in his home at the age of 88.  Mr. Breslin was a one of kind, no holds-bar reporter and author who told it like it was.  He worked for several major New York City newspapers including the Daily News, the New York Post, and Newsday. Below is his New York Times’ obituary. 

No matter what he did it always was with passion and honesty! 

A great newspaperman!



Jimmy Breslin, Legendary New York City Newspaper Columnist, Dies at 88!

By Dan Barry

March 19, 2017

Jimmy Breslin, the New York City newspaper columnist and best-selling author who leveled the powerful and elevated the powerless for more than 50 years with brick-hard words and a jagged-glass wit, died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 88, and until very recently, was still pushing somebody’s buttons with two-finger jabs at his keyboard.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Ronnie Eldridge, a prominent Democratic politician in Manhattan. Mr. Breslin had been recovering from pneumonia.

With prose that was savagely funny, deceptively simple and poorly imitated, Mr. Breslin created his own distinct rhythm in the hurly-burly music of newspapers. Here, for example, is how he described Clifton Pollard, the man who dug President John F. Kennedy’s grave, in a celebrated column from 1963 that sent legions of journalists to find their “gravedigger”:

“Pollard is forty-two. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. He is an equipment operator, grade 10, which means he gets $3.01 an hour. One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave.”

Here is how, in one of the columns that won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, he focused on a single man, David Camacho, to humanize the AIDS epidemic, which was widely misunderstood at the time:

“He had two good weeks in July and then the fever returned and he was back in the hospital for half of last August. He got out again and returned to Eighth Street. The date this time doesn’t count. By now, he measured nothing around him. Week, month, day, night, summer heat, fall chill, the color of the sky, the sound of the street, clothes, music, lights, wealth dwindled in meaning.”

And here is how he described what motivated Breslin the writer: “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”

Poetic and profane, softhearted and unforgiving, Mr. Breslin inspired every emotion but indifference; letters from outraged readers gladdened his heart. He often went after his own, from Irish-Americans with “shopping-center faces” who had forgotten their hardscrabble roots to the Roman Catholic Church, whose sex scandals prompted him to write an angry book called “The Church That Forgot Christ,” published in 2004. It ends with a cheeky vow to start a new church that would demand more low-income housing and better posture.

Love or loathe him, none could deny Mr. Breslin’s enduring impact on the craft of narrative nonfiction. He often explained that he merely applied a sportswriter’s visual sensibility to the news columns. Avoid the scrum of journalists gathered around the winner, he would advise, and go directly to the loser’s locker. This is how you find your gravedigger.

“So you go to a big thing like this presidential assassination,” he said in an extended interview with The New York Times in 2006. “Well, you’re looking for the dressing room, that’s all. And I did. I went there automatic.”

Early on, Mr. Breslin developed the persona of the hard-drinking, dark-humored Everyman from Queens, so consumed by life’s injustices and his six children that he barely had time to comb his wild black mane. While this persona shared a beer with the truth, Mr. Breslin also admired Dostoyevsky; swam every day; hadn’t had a drink in more than 30 years; wrote a shelf-full of books; and adhered to a demanding work ethic that required his presence in the moment, from a civil rights march in Alabama to a “perp walk” in Brooklyn — no matter that he never learned to drive.

The real Jimmy Breslin was so elusive that even Mr. Breslin could not find him. “There have been many Jimmy Breslins because of all the people I identified with so much, turning me into them, or them into me, that I can’t explain one Jimmy Breslin,” he once wrote.

Sometimes he presented himself as a regular guy who churned out words for pay; other times he became the megalomaniacal stylist — “J. B. Number One,” he called himself — who was dogged by pale imitators with Irish surnames. On occasion he would wake up other reporters with telephone calls to say, simply, “I’m big.”

He cut longstanding ties over small slights, often published an annual list of “the people I’m not talking to this year,” and rarely hesitated to target powerful friends, depending on his depth of outrage and the number of hours until deadline. He would occasionally refer to those who had fallen out of his favor only by their initials.

After concluding that Gov. Hugh L. Carey of New York had become too enamored of fine living, for example, Mr. Breslin rechristened his old pal Society Carey, a nickname that stuck like gum on a handmade shoe. But when someone he knew was sick, whether a beloved daughter or the switchboard operator at work, Mr. Breslin would be at the bedside, offering his comforting gift of almost vaudevillian distraction.

A man whose preferred manner of discourse was a yell, Mr. Breslin could be unkind, even vicious. In 1990, for example, he was suspended by his employer, Newsday, for a racist rant about a female Asian-American reporter who had dared to criticize one of his columns as sexist.

At the same time, Mr. Breslin was unmatched in his attention to the poor and disenfranchised. If there is one hero in the Breslin canon, it is the single black mother, far removed from power, trying to make it through the week.

According to his wife, Ms. Eldridge, Mr. Breslin became so upset by what he had witnessed in the streets of the city, streets he knew as well as anyone, that he often needed time to recover after writing his column. “Bad news puts him to bed,” she said.

Mr. Breslin came honestly to his empathy and distrust. Born James Earle Breslin on Oct. 17, 1928, he grew up in the Richmond Hill section of Queens. When Jimmy was 6, his father, James, a musician, deserted the family, leaving him to share an apartment with an emotionally distant mother, Frances — a supervisor in the East Harlem office of the city’s welfare department who drank — as well as a younger sister, a grandmother and various aunts and uncles.

Many decades later, after Mr. Breslin had become famous, his father, destitute in Miami, came back into his life “like heavy snow through a broken window,” he would write. He paid for his father’s medical bills and sent him a telegram that said, “NEXT TIME KILL YOURSELF.” When his father died, in 1974, he paid for the cremation and said: “Good. That’s over.”

Mr. Breslin found early escape in newspapers. As a boy, he would spread the broadsheet pages across the floor and imagine himself on a Pullman car, filing stories from baseball ports of call: Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh. Then The Long Island Press, in Jamaica, Queens, hired him as a copy boy in the late 1940s. High school took longer than necessary, and college received only a passing nod; his life centered on deadlines and ink.

After getting a job as a sportswriter for The New York Journal-American, Mr. Breslin wrote a freshly funny book about the first season of the hapless Mets, “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?” It persuaded John Hay Whitney, the publisher of The New York Herald Tribune, to hire him as a news columnist in 1963.

Soon Mr. Breslin was counted among the writers credited with inventing “New Journalism,” in which novelistic techniques are used to inject immediacy and narrative tension into the news. (Mr. Breslin, an admirer of sportswriters like Jimmy Cannon and Frank Graham, scoffed at this supposed contribution, saying that he and others had merely introduced Dickens-like storytelling to a new generation.)

Unleashed, Mr. Breslin issued regular dispatches that changed the craft of column writing, said the journalist and author Pete Hamill, a former colleague. “It seemed so new and original,” Mr. Hamill said. “It was a very, very important moment in New York journalism, and in national journalism.”

Mr. Breslin wrote about President Kennedy’s gravedigger, the sentencing of the union gangster Anthony Provenzano, the assassination of Malcolm X, and a stable of New York characters real and loosely based on reality, including the Mafia boss Un Occhio, the arsonist Marvin the Torch, the bookie Fat Thomas and Klein the lawyer. But Mr. Breslin’s greatest character was himself: the outer-borough boulevardier of bilious persuasion, often chaperoned by his superhumanly patient first wife, “the former Rosemary Dattolico.”

 “Jimmy invented himself,” said Donald H. Forst, a prominent New York newspaper editor who died in 2014 and first worked with Mr. Breslin at The Herald Tribune. “He was irascible, extremely talented and very, very hard-working. And he understood what news was.”

Mr. Breslin began his day early, making calls to judges, politicians, police officers and other journalists, always greeting them with words that signaled he was in the hunt for news: “What’s doin’?”

“He just keeps calling until he has a column in his head,” Ms. Eldridge explained. “But then he has to go see it.”

Over the years, Mr. Breslin would leave daily newspapers in search of better pay. In 1969, for example, he resigned from The New York Post after writing his first novel, “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” a best-selling satire about the Mafia that was later made into a forgettable movie. But he repeatedly succumbed to the sirens of daily journalism, first at The Daily News, then at New York Newsday, then at Newsday on Long Island, then back to The Daily News.

 “Once you get back in the newspapers, it’s like heroin,” Mr. Breslin told The Times. “You’re there. That’s all.”

Mr. Breslin always seemed to be “there.” He became one of the first staff writers at New York magazine. In 1968, he was nearby when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. In 1969, he ran for City Council president on a wacky, wildly unsuccessful ticket that included Norman Mailer for mayor. (Their contention that New York City should become the 51st state found little traction.) In 1986, he broke the story of how the Queens borough president, Donald R. Manes, had been implicated in a payoff swindle involving city officials; two months later, Mr. Manes committed suicide.

And in 1977, most famously, Mr. Breslin received a chilling letter from the serial killer known as Son of Sam, who, by that point, had killed five young people in New York and wounded several others with a .44-caliber revolver. “P.S.: JB, Please inform all the detectives working the case that I wish them the best of luck,” the killer wrote.

Mr. Breslin published the note with an appeal for Son of Sam to surrender, but the killer, David Berkowitz, struck twice more before being captured. The New Yorker magazine accused Mr. Breslin of exploiting the moment and feeding the killer’s ego. But he countered that he had published the letter at the suggestion of detectives, who thought it could encourage the killer to write another note that might bear clearer fingerprints.

Mr. Breslin won nearly every award known to the newspaper business, and also distinguished himself as a critically acclaimed author. He wrote novels, including “World Without End, Amen” (1973), a transcontinental love story set against the Troubles in Belfast, and “Table Money” (1986), about a Queens housewife freeing herself from her husband, an alcoholic sandhog.

He wrote biographies of Damon Runyon and Branch Rickey. He wrote “The Good Rat” (2008), in which he used the saga of two New York police detectives working as Mafia hit men to share his funny, hard-earned insights into mob culture.

Perhaps the quintessential Breslin book was “The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutierrez,” published in 2002, in which he focused on the death of an unauthorized Mexican worker at a flawed construction site in Brooklyn to rail against the shoddy building practices, political cowardice and racism of his beloved city.

Trial and tragedy accompanied his many triumphs. In 1981, Mr. Breslin’s first wife, Rosemary, died of cancer; she was 50. In 2004, his elder daughter, Rosemary, a writer, died of a rare blood disease; she was 47. In 2009, his other daughter, Kelly, died after collapsing in a Manhattan restaurant; she was 44. At these times, friends say, words failed even Jimmy Breslin.

But Mr. Breslin always returned to the distraction and urgency of writing. In 1982, he married Ms. Eldridge in a Catholic-Jewish union that, with his six children and her three, provided rich column material. (“Everybody hated each other,” he told The Times. “It was beautiful.”) In 1994, he underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm that threatened what he called his “billion-dollar memory,” an experience that led to a memoir, published in 1996, called “I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me.”

“Think of it: He still works every day,” former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, a close friend, wrote in remarks prepared for a 2009 celebration of Mr. Breslin. “Writing, or thinking about writing, and he has done it for 60 years, nearly 22,000 days and nights — except for the short hiatus when doctors were forced to drill a hole in his head to let out of his congested brain some of his unused lines. Then he wrote a book about it!”

In addition to his wife, Ms. Eldridge, a former city councilwoman from Manhattan, Mr. Breslin is survived by his four sons, Kevin, James, Patrick and Christopher; a stepson, Daniel Eldridge; two stepdaughters, Emily and Lucy Eldridge; a sister, Deirdre Breslin; and 12 grandchildren.

In 2004, Mr. Breslin resigned from his three-columns-a-week job at Newsday to pursue other writing projects. But in 2011, he briefly returned to The Daily News to write a weekly column, in which he revisited old mob acquaintances, reflected on the plight of job-seekers and denounced the deaths of the young in wars waged by the old.

It was as though he could not help himself. Telling the stories of others, he once wrote, allowed him to suppress his feelings about his own story — including, say, a father’s abandonment.

“I replaced my feelings with what I felt were the feelings of others, and that changed with each thing I went to, so I was about 67 people in my life,” he wrote.

Telling stories was how Mr. Breslin communicated. In 1994, just as he was about to undergo brain surgery, he told a nurse about Bo Gee, a small, thirsty man who sold Chinese-language newspapers in the bars and restaurants of the East Side. Between drinks, the man would call out the two headlines that sold the most papers.

One was “War!” Mr. Breslin told the nurse. And the other: “Big Guy Dies.”



SUNY Maritime in the Bronx Has the Highest-Earning Graduates of any College in the Country!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article today based on a new study, that finds that recent graduates of SUNY Maritime College earn more than graduates of any other university in the United States.  As reported:

“New York City is a college town. With no fewer than 137 institutions of higher learning, from community colleges to world-class private universities to specialized colleges like the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Juilliard School for music, there is a school for virtually every academic pursuit….Tucked away under the Throgs Neck Bridge in the Bronx is the often overlooked State University of New York Maritime College, which has become known for its strong engineering and marine transportation programs.

According to a new study, recent graduates of SUNY Maritime earn more than graduates of any other university in the United States. When surveyed the annual incomes of 1.4 million midcareer graduates with bachelor’s degrees, Maritime College ranked first, with an average income of $144,000, surpassing M.I.T., Harvey Mudd College and Princeton University.

The college is an unusual blend of engineering school and military academy; a majority of the students train to be merchant mariners, wearing uniforms and following a strict regimen that prohibits freshmen, for one thing, from leaving campus during the school week.

A typical cadet is Cullen Palicka, a 20-year-old junior who was raised in Manhattan and attended the Harbor School, a maritime-themed high school on Governors Island, which provided his first taste of life at sea. For Mr. Palicka, sailing on the Training Ship Empire State VI is what sets Maritime College apart from the typical college.

The navy blue ship — 565 feet long with a 32-foot draft, and weighing more than 17,000 tons — is crucial to Maritime College’s mission. Every cadet spends 45 days on it in the summers after freshman and sophomore years, then does a 90-day tour after junior year. “They are responsible for the ship’s navigation, plotting the course and powering the ship,” said Lori Shull, the director of communication at the college.

It serves as a traveling lab, replete with pumps and motors. “You’re no longer in a classroom, with a desk, chair and whiteboard,” Mr. Palicka said. “That’s our classroom.”

He said he would never forget departure day. “You’re with your friends; you see everything in motion,” he said. And for an 18-year-old raised in the Murray Hill neighborhood, sailing through the Narrows into the Atlantic was unforgettable. The ship stopped first at Charleston, S.C., then continued across the ocean, anchoring in Italy and Ireland.

But it was hardly a pleasure cruise; the days on the ship were highly structured. “You know what you’re doing every hour,” Mr. Palicka said.

The campus, between the East River and Long Island Sound, looks like a seaside town on Cape Cod, spread out over 55 acres that once housed Fort Schuyler. The population is relatively small; there were 1,635 undergraduates in fall 2016, 86 percent of them male.

Three-quarters of the students hail from the New York metropolitan area, many from Long Island. Mr. Palicka is one of the rare ones who attended a New York City high school.

“It’s a missed opportunity because of the diversity that New York City has to offer,” said Rear Adm. Michael A. Alfultis, a retired Coast Guard captain who is in his third year as the college’s president. He expects that in light of the PayScale survey, more seniors from city schools will apply.

Two types of students prevail at Maritime College: cadets and civilians. About 30 percent are civilian and live independently, dress like college students, earn bachelor’s degrees and participate in internships. The uniformed cadets lead a military lifestyle that prepares them for a structured life aboard ships. It costs $21,100 a year for civilians and $27,500 for cadets, with about 80 percent obtaining financial aid.

The school was founded in 1874 and opened to civilians in 1999. At first there was some friction between them and the cadets.

“As with any change, there is always resistance but the advantages to having civilian students far outweigh any concerns of nearly 20 years ago,” Admiral Alfultis noted. In fact, he said, it enables SUNY Maritime to recruit a “more diverse population of students who are interested in the maritime world but not necessarily in obtaining a U.S. Coast Guard license.”

Another student who is thriving is Hannah Mutum, 22, who grew up on Long Island in Franklin Square. She is a senior cadet due to graduate in May. She said she was attracted to Maritime because while she was very focused on her studies as a high school student, she also knew she “didn’t want to go to a normal college.”

Yet in her freshman year, Ms. Mutum said, she felt as if she was missing the party life her friends attending other colleges told her about. But now, she noted, “I’m the only one who has lined up a job.” She has been offered a position after graduation as an engineering assistant at Turner Construction, the firm that built the new Yankee Stadium, among many other buildings.

Most cadets earn a Coast Guard license, which enables them to work as mariners. Despite its name, the license does not require the cadet to join the Coast Guard.

In fact, the main connection to the military rests with the 10 percent of students who decide to join the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. “They’re here pursuing a commission either in the Navy or Marines,” Admiral Alfultis said.

Only 13 academic fields of student of study are offered at Maritime College, and while it’s possible to earn a degree in the humanities, by far the two most popular majors are engineering and marine transportation. “Engineering students can get a great job ashore or get a lot of money going to sea,” Admiral Alfultis said. “The few that go to sea get a very large salary because there’s such a large gap between the number of positions needed and the number of people qualified.”

Students attend two job fairs, one each semester. The next one is scheduled for Tuesday, when nearly 100 shipping companies, engineering and logistic firms, hospitals, power utilities and cruise ship operators will arrive to meet graduating seniors.

Despite the enthusiasm of these recruiters, the future of SUNY Maritime is tied to its training ship, and the Empire State VI — steam-powered and more than 50 years old — is nearing the end of its life. The ship is expected to be seaworthy until at least 2020, when it will be decommissioned.

Ms. Shull said the plan was to replace it with a state-of-the-art learning environment expected to cost $300 million. But it is up to the Trump administration and Congress to provide funding in the federal budget to approve the purchase.

“Because the ship is a federal asset, the federal government must take action to replace the ship,” Admiral Alfultis said. He said the college was pushing for a new class of high-tech vessel, what is known as a national security multimission vessel.

It would also be available to respond to disasters, as the Empire State did when it housed emergency personnel during Hurricane Sandy.

Nancy L. Zimpher, the chancellor for the SUNY system, gives Maritime College credit for planning ahead but noted that there is some anxiety about the future of the program. “Building a ship like the Empire State requires tremendous planning and foresight,” she said. “Getting funding for the next Empire State is a top priority for SUNY.”

We wish SUNY Maritime “Fair Winds and Calm Seas!”


Education Secretary DeVos Hires Special Assistant with Ties to For-Profit Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

In 2012, Joel Spring and I published a book entitled, The Great American Education-Industrial Complex:  Ideology, Technology, and Profits.  Among the topics in this book, was the for-profit colleges and their influence on federal agencies particularly the U.S. Department of Education.  We specifically presented the case of Sally Stroup, Undersecretary for Higher Education in the U.S. Department of Education in the George W. Bush administration, who prior to being appointed was a lobbyist for the University of Phoenix.  She was in a key position to influence a number of policies beneficial to for-profit colleges.  It appears the U.S. Department of Education under President Trump is getting ready to take the same tact with Robert S. Eitel who has been hired as a special assistant to Betsy DeVos.  As chief compliance officer for a corporate owner of for-profit colleges, Eitel spent the past 18 months as a top lawyer for a company facing multiple government investigations, including one that ended with a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lendingAs reported by the New York Times:

“…Mr. Eitel — on an unpaid leave of absence — is working as a special assistant to the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, whose department is setting out to roll back regulations governing the for-profit college sector.

The Education Department says Mr. Eitel has conferred several times with its ethics officer to avoid conflicts. But it says he is not precluded from having a voice on general issues and regulations that affect the for-profit college sector.

Ethics experts said Mr. Eitel’s position, which has not been announced publicly, could nonetheless bump up against federal rules involving conflicts of interest and impartiality, particularly given his position as a vice president for regulatory legal services at Bridgepoint Education Inc., an operator of for-profit colleges, during federal investigations into the company.

 “It raises considerable red flags, especially due to the fact that this company was under investigation,” said Scott H. Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan investigative group.

Mr. Eitel, an Education Department lawyer under President George W. Bush, has been a stalwart critic of federal regulation of both for-profit colleges and K-12 education under the Obama administration.

A department spokesman, who requested anonymity, said Mr. Eitel is part of a “beachhead” team, paid staff members who are temporarily helping to lead federal agencies as the Trump administration gets up and running but do not require Senate confirmation.

The spokesman said Mr. Eitel would recuse himself from policy decisions or discussions related to Bridgepoint and another former employer, Career Education Corporation. While on unpaid leave from Bridgepoint, the spokesman said, Mr. Eitel has also volunteered to recuse himself from weighing in on the department’s “gainful employment” regulation, which is intended to hold career schools accountable for their job placement records and is particularly despised by the industry.

The spokesman would not comment on the prospects for a longer-term role for Mr. Eitel, who served as deputy general counsel from 2006 to 2009. Some jobs he could potentially be a candidate for, such as general counsel, would require Senate confirmation.

Mr. Eitel did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, and Bridgepoint declined to comment on his work and status at the company, citing privacy concerns.

Guidelines from the Office of Government Ethics bar federal employees from engaging in decisions directly affecting a company in which they have any financial interest.

Even former employees without direct financial ties are subject to impartiality rules when they join the government. They are supposed to avoid doing anything that — in the eyes of a “reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts” — creates “the appearance that they are violating the law or the ethical standards set forth,” and are advised to bring any potential conflicts to the agency’s ethics officer.

Other industry insiders have also been brought into the agency, including Taylor Hansen, a former lobbyist for the for-profit sector’s trade association.

 “There’s no question that there’s a fast-moving revolving door between the Education Department and the industries that it regulates,” said Rohit Chopra, former assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a former special adviser to the secretary of education. “This is a bipartisan problem.”

For-profit higher education has repeatedly been tarnished by scandal. But since the election in November, stocks in the sector have soared — Bridgepoint’s has climbed more than 40 percent — as President Trump’s White House has made clear that it is undertaking a campaign to slash government regulations. Ms. DeVos and other administration officials have indicated that they do not plan to continue President Barack Obama’s regulatory crackdown on career-training colleges.

Last week, the Education Department extended the deadline for vocational schools to appeal the agency’s application of the gainful-employment rule. That provision has been criticized by the industry as unfairly taking aim at colleges focused on helping the most disadvantaged students.

While many graduates credit for-profits for their training and better employment prospects, other students complain that deceptive marketing persuaded them to enroll and to take on staggering debt for programs that failed to deliver promised skills and jobs.

Bridgepoint — a publicly traded company that operates Ashford University and University of the Rockies, enrolls roughly 50,000 students, and primarily offers online degrees — has come under frequent scrutiny by federal and state watchdogs.

The Justice Department, according to a Bridgepoint filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is investigating whether the company violated Education Department limits that bar it from receiving more than 90 percent of its revenue in federal student aid. If a college is in violation for two years in a row, the Education Department can cut off further access to funds, the college’s lifeblood.

In addition, the S.E.C. itself has been investigating Bridgepoint’s accounting practices. Attorneys general in California and Massachusetts are conducting separate investigations. And last month, Ashford received a final audit from the Education Department that said the company owed the agency $300,000 as a result of the university’s miscalculation of federal student aid eligibility dating to 2006, an S.E.C. filing noted. The university has 45 days to appeal.

In September, Bridgepoint reached a settlement with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to refund students $23.5 million and pay an $8 million civil penalty to resolve an inquiry into whether students were deceived into taking out private student loans that cost more than advertised. Bridgepoint neither denied nor admitted the allegations.

In 2014, before Mr. Eitel joined the company, Bridgepoint and Ashford agreed to pay $7.25 million to settle charges by the Iowa attorney general that they had given students in that state incorrect information about the university’s program. Bridgepoint denied the allegations at the time.

After leaving the Education Department in 2009, Mr. Eitel worked in private practice with Kent D. Talbert, who had been the agency’s general counsel. Mr. Eitel joined another for-profit education company, Career Education Corporation, in 2013, several months before it reached a $10.25 million settlement with the New York attorney general over charges that it had previously inflated graduates’ job placement rates. He was also executive director of that company’s political action committee. He moved to Bridgepoint in July 2015.

Mr. Eitel has written articles for conservative organizations like the Pioneer Institute and the Hoover Institution accusing the department of exceeding its authority. He opposed federal testing and standards for K-12 schools as a backdoor attempt at a national curriculum.

Those views resonate on the right. In December, an article by Joy Pullman, managing editor of the conservative web magazine The Federalist, recommended that Ms. DeVos hire Mr. Eitel as part of a “whip-smart legal team.”

The great American education-industrial complex is alive and kicking!



Speaker of the House Paul Ryan – No Wiretap Existed on Trump Tower!

Dear Commons Community,

The list of government officials denying Donald Trump’s claim that former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower now includes Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.

During a press conference today, Ryan explained the intelligence committees found no evidence to support Trump’s allegation. “At least so far with respect to our intelligence community — no such wiretap existed.”

“We’ve seen no evidence of that,” Ryan added when pressed about Trump’s claim.

Ryan’s not the only one saying this. House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Republican Devin Nunes, and Democratic Senator Mark Warner put out a statement that basically says the same thing — there’s no indication Trump Tower was ever under surveillance by the US government.

As for the president, he has yet to offer any evidence to support his claims. Still, earlier this month, White House press secretary Sean Spicer indicated the president was unlikely to walk back his comments.

This story is not over yet!  Next week FBI director, James Comey, is expected to testify under oath on the matter to the House Congressional Committee.