Kamala Harris fires back at Trump after his attack on her: “The only part you can take credit for is the ‘criminal’ part!”

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Dear Commons Community,

Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris fired back at President Trump after he attacked her for withdrawing from an event at a historically black college which had just honored him for his role in criminal justice reform. 

The California senator tweeted at Trump Saturday morning: “My whole life I’ve fought for justice and for the people — something you’d know nothing about. The only part of criminal justice you can claim credit for is the ‘criminal’ part.” 

Her post was in response to the president who had written on Twitter: “Badly failing presidential candidate @KamalaHarris will not go to a very wonderful largely African American event today because yesterday I recieved a major award, at the same event, for being able to produce & sign into law major Criminal Justice Reform legislation, which will greatly help the African American community (and all other communities), and which was unable to get done in past administrations despite a tremendous desire for it.” 

“This and best unemployment numbers EVER is more than Kamala will EVER be able to do for African Americans!” Trump added.  

The previous day, Harris announced she would no longer attend a forum at the historically black school Benedict College in South Carolina, citing Trump’s invitation to only 10 of the students to attend his award event. She said, “I cannot in good faith be complicit in papering over his record.”

Right on, Kamala!


Facebook Launches a News Section – Will Pay Publishers!

Steve Zuckerberg

Dear Commons Community,

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced yesterday  News Tab, a new feature in the Facebook mobile app that will display headlines — and nothing else — from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, NBC, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, among others.  As reported by the Associated Press.

“Over the course of its 15 year history, Facebook has variously ignored news organizations while eating their advertising revenue, courted them for video projects it subsequently abandoned, and then largely cut their stories out of its newsfeeds

Now it plans to pay them for news headlines — reportedly millions of dollars in some cases.

Enter the “News Tab,” a new section in the Facebook mobile app that will display headlines — and nothing else — from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, NBC, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

Breitbart, a conservative news outlet that has been accused of running racist stories, will also be part of the news tab, as will local stories from several of the largest U.S. cities. Headlines from smaller towns are on their way, Facebook says.

Tapping on those headlines will take you directly to publisher websites or apps, if you have any installed. Which is one thing publishers have been requesting from Facebook’s news efforts for years.

It’s potentially a big step for a platform that has long struggled with both stamping out misinformation and making nice with struggling purveyors of news. Though media watchers remain skeptical that Facebook is really committed to helping sustain the news industry.

Facebook declined to say who is getting paid and how much, saying only that it will be paying “a range of publishers for access to all of their content.” Just last year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he wasn’t sure it ”makes sense ” to pay news outlets for their material.

But now, as Zuckerberg told The Associated Press in an interview, “there’s an opportunity to set up new long term, stable financial relationships with publishers.”

The Associated Press is not participating in the initiative.

News executives have long been unhappy about the extent to which digital giants like Facebook make use of their stories — mostly by displaying headlines and short summaries when users post news links. A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress this year would grant an antitrust exemption to news companies, letting them band together to negotiate payments from the big tech platforms.

“It’s a good direction that they’re willing for the first time to value and pay for news content,” said David Chavern, head of the News Media Alliance, a publisher trade group. “The trouble is that most publishers aren’t included.”

Zuckerberg said Facebook aims to set up partnerships with a “wide range” of publishers.

“We think that this is an opportunity to build something quite meaningful here,” he said. “We’re going to have journalists curating this, we are really focused on provenance and branding and where the stories come from.”

At an event Friday in New York, Zuckerberg was asked why Facebook isn’t paying all publishers in the news section. He replied that the initial focus was on building a broad set of content and figuring how to compensate publishers with paywalls. The next step will be to add local and international sources to the tab, he said.

In a statement, the Los Angeles Times said it expects the Facebook effort will help expand its readership and digital subscribers. The New York Times said it was a “welcome first step.”

Facebook killed its most recent effort to curate news, the ill-fated Trending topics, in 2018. Conservatives complained about political bias, leading Facebook to fire its human editors and automate the section until it began recycling false stories, after which the social giant shut it down entirely.

But what happens when the sprawling social network plays news editor? An approach that sends people news based on what they’ve liked before could over time elevate stories with greater “emotional resonance” over news that “allows public discourse to take place,” said Edward Wasserman, dean of the graduate journalism program at the University of California-Berkeley.

“It deepens my concern that they’ll be applying Facebook logic to news judgment,” he added.

The social network has come under criticism for its news judgment recently. In September, it removed a fact-check from Science Feedback that called out an anti-abortion activist’s video for claiming that abortion is never medically necessary. Republican senators had complained about the fact check.

Asked at the Friday event asked Zuckerberg why Breitbart was included in the news section, Zuckerberg replied that the company wants a “breadth of content.”

Facebook says a small team of “seasoned” journalists it employs will choose the headlines for the “Today’s Story” section of the tab, designed to “catch you up” on the day’s news. The rest of the news section will be populated with stories algorithmically based on users’ interests.

That sounds similar to the approach taken by Apple News , a free iPhone app. But Apple’s effort to contract with news organizations has been slow to take off. Apple News Plus, a $10-a-month paid version, remains primarily a hub for magazines; other news publishers have largely sat it out.

Apple’s service reportedly offered publishers only half the revenue it pulled in from subscriptions, divided according to how popular publishers were with readers.

Zuckerberg said that he hopes to have 20 to 30 million people in the U.S. using the news section over a few years.”

A big step for Facebook!



The Federal Deficit Balloons to a Massive $1 Trillion!

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Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. federal budget deficit hit $984 billion — the highest in seven years, the Treasury Department announced yesterday. It’s an unprecedented amount during a growing economy, leaving little room to maneuver if the economy stumbles, experts warn.  As reported in The Huffington Post.

“Leaders are “ignoring trillions of dollars in shortfalls for Social Security, Medicare and other programs that many millions of Americans rely upon” amid an unsustainable sea of red ink, charged Republican Mitch Daniels, former Indiana governor and co-chair of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

“We are at a turning point ― without action now to phase in reforms over the coming years, Americans will face a much different future than the one that was promised,” Daniels said.

President Donald Trump vowed during his campaign to eliminate the deficit in eight years. But instead, his massive corporate tax cut and unchecked spending has boosted the deficit 50% while he has been in office to nearly $1 trillion. It grew $205 billion, or 26%, in the last year.

The government spent close to $380 billion in interest payments alone on its debt last year, nearly equal to its contribution to Medicaid, according to The Washington Post.

Republicans have traditionally pressed for balanced budgets. The GOP-dominated House in 2011 even pushed to pass a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget, the Post noted. But GOP lawmakers have dropped their opposition to an exploding deficit now that it’s being driven by a Republican president.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s response to the figures was to demand lawmakers “cut wasteful and irresponsible spending.” But Trump has increased military spending (from about $550 billion annually to more than $700 billion in 2019) and enacted $28 billion in new subsidies to farmers to mitigate the effects of his trade war with China — while slashing the corporate tax rate 40%.

Deficits traditionally run high when the economy is faltering, not when it’s growing. 

An overwhelming deficit during a long span of economic growth “shows just how reckless our leaders have become,” charged Democrat Leon Panetta, former CIA and Office of Management and Budget director under Barack Obama, and co-chair of the CRFB.

“This is exactly the time when deficits should be contracting, not expanding,” Panetta added. Instead, leaders “continue to binge on debt-fueled tax cuts and spending hikes.”

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the deficit could reach $1 trillion within this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.



Maryland’s Global Campus Is Restructuring and Professors Are Being Asked to ‘Recompete’ for Their Jobs!

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Image result for maryland global campus

Dear Commons Community,

A major restructuring is underway at the University of Maryland Global Campus and more than 100 employees were told that their current contracts would be terminated and that they would need to “recompete” for their jobs.

“Any way you go, it’s going to be tough,” Peter Smith, the campus’s interim chief academic officer, told The Chronicle of Higher Education of the transition. “It is a big change. But you can’t do it incrementally.”  As reported by The Chronicle..:

“The global campus, which used to be known as the University of Maryland University College, serves tens of thousands of students and is one of the nation’s biggest players in distance learning. The institution focuses on educating adult students and veterans.

The new structure is necessary, Smith said, to prepare for the rest of the 21st century, as employer and adult-learner needs evolve, and to prepare for challenges to come, before it’s too late.

“Most colleges wait until they’re really in the soup,” Smith added. “We’re not even close to the soup.”

But some faculty members said that they and their colleagues had been stunned by what they considered an unwelcome and jarring announcement. It was devastating for some people who no longer felt secure in their employment, said three faculty members who spoke to The Chronicle on the condition of anonymity, because they did not want to harm their job prospects or their reputations.

The ‘Future State’

On October 1, Javier Miyares, the university’s president, outlined the plan in an internal email that was obtained by The Chronicle. The Undergraduate School and the Graduate School will be replaced by three new schools, organized by discipline: the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, and the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology. The administrative arms of the university will be streamlined into four departments that are meant to better suit students’ and professors’ needs.

In the transition, faculty members will be added in certain disciplines, some job descriptions will change, and some positions will be eliminated, Miyares wrote. “I assure you that our goal is always to treat our colleagues with respect and dignity.”

That day and the next, the university held meetings to spell out details of the plan. Some employees were slotted directly into the new structure.

But 108 people learned that their existing contracts with the Undergraduate and Graduate Schools would be terminated because the schools will no longer exist next year, after the realignment is completed. They were told they’d need to apply for jobs in the new structure, called the “future state.” They had until October 10 to “recompete,” meaning reapply for functionally the same job, for a different job, or for multiple jobs, if they wanted.

Most of the 108 employees are program chairs or collegiate faculty members, who are appointed under annual or multiyear contracts with annualized salaries, according to the university’s website. The vast majority of faculty members at the university are adjuncts.

The abrupt timing of the announcement was a problem for one collegiate professor, who told The Chronicle that she was already “teaching a bunch of students, balancing a bunch of responsibilities, and now I have to step back and apply for my job.” At the meeting, she got the impression that if you wanted to keep your job, you had to “get on the ball and fight for it.”

“I don’t like badmouthing things,” she added. “But it’s tough to be kind of just cast aside.”

Though some departments will lose collegiate-faculty-member slots, as a whole, there will be a net gain of 25 of those positions, said Bob Ludwig, the university’s assistant vice president for media relations. To eliminate redundancies, the university will drop 27 program-chair positions, Ludwig said. People in those roles could apply for other positions they may be qualified for, including new ones that will be created. All internal candidates will be given a first crack at those jobs, Smith said.

No academic programs are being abolished, Ludwig said. Specifics on which programs would be most affected by the realignment were not immediately available.

Employees who have been with the university for more than seven years will receive six months of paid administrative leave if they do not reapply or are not chosen for new jobs, Ludwig said. Those who have worked fewer than seven years will receive three months of such pay.

Faculty members and program chairs who either chose not to reapply or weren’t picked for new jobs will remain in their posts through January 4. For staff members, that date is November 29, Kara Van Dam, vice provost and dean of the new School of Arts and Sciences, wrote in an internal email to affected employees that was obtained by The Chronicle.

“I know this is a tough transition to get us to what I firmly believe is a better future state,” she wrote, in boldface type.

‘Very Painful’

Interviews for all positions will take place until around November 15, according to an internal slide presentation about the realignment. On November 29, a slide says, employees will be told the outcomes. The plan is to issue new contracts that will be effective for about seven months, according to an October 10 internal email.

When it’s all over, hopefully only “a handful of people” who had jobs before the realignment will end up without one, Smith said, adding that it’s “still going to be very painful” for that handful.

“There’s no doubt it’s unsettling, and it is confusing,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons that a lot of institutions avoid dealing with this kind of change until it’s too late because it can be hard, in its own right.”

Outside the administration, people “are devastated,” said another collegiate professor. Dissolving existing employee contracts might have been possible through “a loophole on paper,” he said, but it genuinely disrupted “the spirit of the agreement.”

The university has demonstrated that the contracts it makes with employees mean virtually nothing, damaging morale, he said. That’s a dangerous precedent for a state institution to set, he said.

A third collegiate professor told The Chronicle that he worries about the broader future of the institution because it seems to him as if it has morphed over time from a mom-and-pop operation into a for-profit giant. Faculty members and administrators have already clashed over the university’s direction, as The Washington Post reported in June.

No structure is suitable forever, the faculty member acknowledged, and it’s difficult to balance the educational “heart and soul” of an institution with the need to contend in the marketplace. But he wishes the restructuring was done in a much “kinder and gentler” manner.

He has decided not to reapply. He didn’t want to compete for fewer spots with his colleagues, who are friends. It’s time, he said, to move on.”

Higher education restructuring is surely a viable option in these unsteady times. However, it seems to me that the Global Campus administration could have handled it more gracefully. 



Betsy DeVos Is Held in Contempt Over Judge’s Order on Loan Collection – Top USDOE Official Resigns!

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Dear Commons Community,

A federal judge yesterday fined Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for contempt of court, ruling that she had violated an order to stop collecting on loans owed by students from a now-defunct for-profit chain of colleges. It came on the heals of the abrupt resignation of A. Wayne Johnson, the Department of Education’s Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer, who stated that: “We run through the process of putting this debt burden on somebody… but it rides on their credit files—it rides on their back—for decades… The time has come for us to end and stop the insanity.” 

Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim of the Federal District Court in San Francisco ordered the Education Department to pay a $100,000 fine. The money will go toward various remedies for students who are owed debt relief after President Barack Obama’s Education Department found they were defrauded by the chain, Corinthian Colleges, which collapsed in 2014.  As reported by The New York Times:

“The ruling is a victory for the more than 60,000 students who have been on a financial roller coaster since Corinthian imploded, after state and federal officials found that it lured students through deceptive recruitment practices and falsified job placement rates.

The decision stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2017 by the Project on Predatory Student Lending of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School and the group Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, both of which represent former Corinthian students. For more than a year, the students’ lawyers argued that Ms. DeVos had illegally punished thousands of cheated students who were owed relief from the federal government.

Toby Merrill, director of the project, said that the ruling demonstrated “the extreme harm” of Ms. DeVos’s actions. “Secretary DeVos has repeatedly and brazenly violated the law to collect for-profit college students’ debts and deny their rights, and today she has been held accountable,” she said.

In a video statement posted on Twitter, Mark Brown, chief operating officer of the Education Department’s Federal Student Aid office, said that loan servicers had “mistakenly” billed about 16,000 students and parents.

“Although these actions were not done with ill intent, students and parents were affected and we take full responsibility for that,” Mr. Brown said.

He said the department had taken swift action to respond, including refunding nearly all payments that borrowers should not have had to make, returning tax refunds and wages that were seized, and updating credit reports for affected students and parents. He said the department had also formally reprimanded loan servicers that collected debts, and initiated personnel action against Education Department employees who failed in their oversight roles.

In 2015, Arne Duncan, the education secretary at the time, announced that the department would use a provision known as “borrower defense to repayment” to forgive the federal student debts of Corthinian’s students. “You’d have to be made of stone not to feel for these students,” he said. “This is our first major action on this but obviously it won’t be the last.”

But the department moved slowly to establish a formal process for discharging the students’ debts, and by the time Mr. Obama left office, only 12,000 Corinthian students had their ledgers wiped clean. Tens of thousands more awaited relief.

Instead of fully eliminating those students’ debts, however, Ms. DeVos instituted a new system for borrower defense claims that granted little to no debt forgiveness if those students were found to have earned a livable wage. The Project on Predatory Student Lending filed a lawsuit challenging that system.

Last year, Magistrate Judge Kim found the system illegal, ruling that the Education Department had violated borrowers’ privacy by obtaining and misusing their earnings data from the Social Security Administration. She issued an injunction ordering the department to stop using the data and collecting the debts of Corinthian students. The department appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and is waiting for a ruling.

But the department, through the outside student loan servicers that it pays to handle borrowers’ accounts, kept pursuing the debts and even garnished some students’ tax refunds and wages. The department’s loan servicers sent at least 16,000 Corinthian borrowers bills for payments they did not actually owe. The students’ lawyers asked the court to halt those collections and punish the department for its actions.

In a response to scathing criticism from Senator Elizabeth Warren over her handling of the debt collection, Ms. DeVos wrote on Twitter this month: “Loan servicers made an error on a small # of loans. We know & we’re fixing it.”

Magistrate Judge Kim made it clear this month that she believed the department had acted badly. “I’m astounded, really,” she said during a fiery hearing. “I feel like there have to be some consequences for the violation of my order 16,000 times.”

In her ruling on Thursday, Magistrate Judge Kim wrote that the department had made “only minimal efforts to comply” with her order, and that it had “harmed individual borrowers who were forced to repay loans.” She also ordered the Education Department to file monthly status reports detailing its compliance.

The Project on Predatory Lending said that more than 3,000 borrowers made payments that they were not, in fact, required to make. More than 800 students have had their credit reports tarnished, and 1,800 had their wages garnished or tax refunds seized. More than 1,100 remain in limbo because the department has not yet confirmed whether they are in the correct repayment status.

The department has essentially stopped evaluating borrower defense claims — leaving borrowers in limbo, sometimes for years — while it waits for the courts to resolve its appeal. The agency had 210,000 pending claims awaiting a decision as of June, up from the 106,000 claims it had sitting in its queue a year earlier.

In August, the Education Department rewrote its rules for the borrower-defense program, making it significantly harder for borrowers to qualify. The new policies will apply to federal student loans made from July 2020 onward.”

Congratulations to Judge Kim for putting students ahead of politics.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg Wins $1 Million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture!

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Dear Commons Community,

The Berggruen Prize Jury yesterday announced its selection of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States as the winner of the 2019 Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture. The $1 million award is given annually to thinkers whose ideas have profoundly shaped human self-understanding and advancement in a rapidly changing world. Justice Ginsburg will direct the monetary prize to charitable or non-profit organizations that she designates.  Justice Ginsburg was selected from more than 500 nominees and a shortlist of five, which included some of the world’s most renowned thinkers from various fields including social science, global justice, animal rights, and bioethics. Since its inception in 2016, the Berggruen Prize has been awarded to four outstanding thinkers, three of them women.  As reported by The New York Times:

“Few in our era have done more to bring vital philosophical ideas to fruition in practical affairs than Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, chairman of the prize committee and a professor at New York University, said in a news release. “She has been both a visionary and a strategic leader in securing equality, fairness, and the rule of law not only in the realm of theory, but in social institutions and the lives of individuals.”

The prize comes amid increased public recognition for Justice Ginsburg, a stalwart liberal voice on the court who underwent treatment for a tumor on her pancreas in August.

She was the subject of two movies released last year: the biopic “On the Basis of Sex,” which focused on her early years as a pioneering sex-discrimination litigator at the American Civil Liberties Union, and the more irreverent documentary “RBG,” which included footage of a petite, steely-eyed Justice Ginsburg lifting hand-weights while wearing a sweatshirt reading “Super Diva!”

In the prize announcement, jurors paid tribute to her jurisprudence and the power of her personal story.

“By grit and determination, brains, courage, compassion and a fiery commitment to justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg rose from unadorned beginnings to become one of the most respected, and most beloved, jurists of our time,” Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, said. “She inspires women and men of all ages to realize that a democracy thrives to the extent that it provides every citizen equal footing to achieve their dreams.”

The prize is awarded by the Berggruen Institute, a research organization in Los Angeles dedicated to improving governance and cross-cultural understanding. The three previous winners are the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, the British philosopher Onora O’Neill and the American philosopher and classicist Martha Nussbaum. Justice Ginsburg, who prize officials said was not available for comment, will accept the award in December at a private event in New York.”

Congratulations to Justice Ginsburg!


Back Home from the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) Convening  at the University of South Carolina

Jill Perry Opening the CPED Convening at the University of South Carolina

Dear Commons Community,

After three days,  I returned late last night from the the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) Convening  at the University of South Carolina.

Sponsored in part by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, CPED includes over 100 colleges and schools of education, which have committed resources to work together “to undertake a critical examination of the doctorate in education (EdD) through dialog, experimentation, critical feedback and evaluation.”  The Convening provided a good forum wherein those interested in an action-oriented applied doctorate shared thoughts and ideas.  The keynote address was delivered by Shaun R. Harper, professor at the Rossier School of Education and President-Elect of the American Education Association (AERA). There were a number of other fine presentations and panels.  I especially enjoyed hearing from graduates of these EdD programs, all of whom were working in schools and school districts.

Hunter College adopted the CPED model for its EdD program which is now in its fourth year.  I spent much of my time with my Hunter colleague, Marshall George.

A good three days of sharing experiences with each other.  The video above shows Jill Perry, Executive Director of CPED,  welcoming the attendees.


A Conference on Open Education Invited For-Profit Publishers to Keynote – Then Cancelled Them Due to Objections!

Dear Commons Community,

Less than two weeks before its 16th annual meeting, the Open Education Conference  canceled one of its keynote panels — “The Future of Learning Materials” — after facing backlash on social media. As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“The panel, which had been scheduled for November 1, was slated to include representatives from Cengage, McGraw-Hill, Lumen Learning, and MacMillan, all for-profit publishing companies, as well as the managing director of OpenStax, a non-profit. It was supposed to explore the potential role of traditional commercial entities in the future of open-education resources. “That role could be anything from ‘no role’ to ‘deeply committed participant,’” David Wiley, a member of the program committee and a co-founder of Lumen Learning, said in an email. Of the more than two dozen speakers and panels nominated for keynotes, the panel was one of the top vote-getters among the program committee, Wiley added. 

But the reaction to the panel highlighted the often contentious relationship between advocates for open-education resources and commercial publishers, as open-ed resources expand their presence in the learning-materials market. The outcry also raised broader questions about the politics of providing platforms to those with opposing views and social media’s tendency to amplify outrage. Many members of the open-ed community pushed back against the framing of the panel and objected to elevating profit-seeking entities with a keynote and pre-screening questions audience members could ask.

The conference’s program committee, comprising Wiley and 11 others involved in the open-education community, said the decision to cancel was because of “toxic behavior” on Twitter, adding that program-committee members received “abusive and harassing” direct messages. A statement said that two panelists withdrew and potential replacements declined to participate because of the tone of the discussion on Twitter. But some of those within the open-education community, both those who pushed back against the panel and those who stayed out of the discussion, say they did not see anything particularly troubling in the public posts.”

I find this troubling for two reasons.  First, we do have something called freedom of speech in this country.  Second, the future of open education resources will likely include partnerships between education and private companies.  The latter will be sticky in its development but will happen nonetheless.



Quantum Computing Making Strides – Maybe?


Dario Gil, director of IBM Research, standing in front of the IBM Q System One quantum computer. It is sealed in a cube of black glass to keep in the cold and seal out the universe of noise and interference.

Dear Commons Community,

A paper by Google computer scientists appeared on a NASA website, claiming that a quantum computer had demonstrated “quantum supremacy.”

According to the paper, the device, in three minutes, had performed a highly technical and specialized computation that would have taken a regular computer 10,000 years to work out. The achievement, if real, could presage a revolution in how we think, compute, guard our data and interrogate the most subtle aspects of nature.

But then the paper disappeared, leaving tech enthusiasts wondering.

At the time, Google declined to comment, but then yesterday, google reported its findings in the current edition of Nature published yesterday.

As reported in The New York Times:

“In an email, John Preskill, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology who coined the term “quantum supremacy,” said the Google work was potentially “a truly impressive achievement in experimental physics.”

Mathematicians are still debating what might be accomplished with all this quantum power when it finally grows up. Ordinary computers are good for solving “easy” problems — questions that can be answered in a reasonable amount of time, like navigating the rings of Saturn or predicting the path of a hurricane.

Then there are “hard” problems, whose solutions are difficult to find but, once identified, are easy to verify. Among them is the factoring of large numbers. Many modern encryption schemes, like the widely used RSA cryptographic algorithm, rely on the inability to factor such numbers in a reasonable amount of time.

In 1994 Peter Shor, then at Bell Labs and now at M.I.T., devised an algorithm that a quantum computer (a still-hypothetical device at the time) could use to factor big numbers and thus break most cybersecurity codes now in common use.

In 2012 Dr. Preskill, the Caltech physicist, invented the term “quantum supremacy” to describe the potential of quantum computers to drastically outperform classical ones.

That is what a Google team has been trying to do with a quantum computer called Sycamore. The calculation they are tackling is highly specialized and technical, designed mostly to show that quantum supremacy is possible.

Success would be an inflection point in the march of human knowledge, a baby step toward a radically different future, like the first Wright Brothers flight. But it’s only one step on a long road.

“We need to be very careful about setting expectations,” said Bob Sutor, vice president of Q strategy and ecosystem at IBM, which is competing with Google for a different kind of quantum supremacy. “It’s easy to overhype this stuff.”

Indeed, in a demonstration of just how hazy the quantum future is, and how hotly contested is its ownership, a quartet of scientists from IBM, led by data scientist Edwin Pednault, earlier this week challenged Google’s claim that the calculation would take 10,000 years on a regular computer. In a paper published on the physics website arXiv, and in a blog entry posted to IBM’s research website, they estimated that the task could be accomplished in just two and a half days.

“Because the original meaning of the term ‘quantum supremacy,’ as proposed by John Preskill in 2012, was to describe the point where quantum computers can do things that classical computers can’t, this threshold has not been met,” they wrote in the blog post.

They went on to invite aspiring young scientists who wanted to do quantum computing to log on to one of IBM’s machines: “Go ahead and run your first program on a real quantum computer today.”

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

In conversation, Dr. Gil maintained that the term “quantum supremacy” was misleading and rhetorical overkill: “The reality is, the future of computing will be a hybrid between classical computer of bits, A.I. systems and quantum computing coming together.”

He and his colleagues would rather that we not judge quantum computers by qubits at all. They prefer a new metric, “quantum volume,” which takes into account both the numbers of qubits and the amount of error correction.

Quantum volume is doubling every year, according to IBM, but nobody can say how far this doubling must go before things get interesting.

The ultimate goal of quantum supremacy would be to use qubits to crack encryption codes. But that will take a while. Google’s Sycamore computer has all of 53 qubits to its name, as does a new IBM computer, installed online at the company’s Quantum Computation Center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. System One, IBM’s black cube from tomorrow, only has 20 qubits.

In contrast, many hundreds of qubits or more may be required to store just one of the huge numbers used in current cryptographic codes. And each of those qubits will need to be protected by many hundreds more, to protect against errors introduced by outside noise and interference.

All told, it could take millions of qubits to break a code using Dr. Shor’s algorithm; patience is required. In the meantime, Dr. Preskill said, “it will be fun to play with them and learn what they can do.”

For laymen, the Times article went on to describe the power of qubits as follows.

“Ordinary computers store data and perform computations as a series of bits that are either 1 or 0. By contrast, a quantum computer uses qubits, which can be 1 and 0 at the same time, at least until they are measured, at which point their states become defined.

Eight bits make a byte; the active working memory of a typical smartphone might employ something like 2 gigabytes, or two times 8 billion bits. That’s a lot of information, but it pales in comparison to the information capacity of only a few dozen qubits.

Because each qubit represents two states at once, the total number of states doubles with each added qubit. One qubit is two possible numbers, two is four possible numbers, three is eight and so forth. It starts slow but gets huge fast.

“Imagine you had 100 perfect qubits,” said Dario Gil, the head of IBM’s research lab in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., in a recent interview. “You would need to devote every atom of planet Earth to store bits to describe that state of that quantum computer. By the time you had 280 perfect qubits, you would need every atom in the universe to store all the zeros and ones.”

If harnessed, quantum computing will revolutionize how we do computing but that future is a way off.


Elizabeth Warren Unveils Education Plan to Fight Segregation, Charter Schools, and High-Stakes Testing!

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Elizabeth Warren

Dear Commons Community,

Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) released a K-12 education plan yesterday, unveiling proposals designed to chip away at school segregation, beat back high-stakes testing and crack down on charter schools. As reported by The Huffington Post.

The detailed plan seeks to equalize school funding between low and high-income areas. It proposes a new education grant program funded at a whopping $100 billion over 10 years — the equivalent of $1 million for every school in the country — for schools to use on programs or resources of their choice. Her plan would be paid for by a wealth tax on fortunes above $50 million.

In recent months, Warren’s views of K-12 education have been a source of speculation and scrutiny. Soon after announcing a run for the presidency, she unveiled an expansive college and child care plan. But she disclosed fewer details on her plans for K-12, touching on an opposition to charter schools and pledging to appoint a public school teacher as the U.S. secretary of education.

However, her newly released plan is extensive, taking direct aim at some of the most entrenched sources of inequality in K-12 education.

On the issue of school segregation ― a polarizing issue that even liberal politicians often shy away from ― Warren pledges to encourage states to use a portion of their federal funds on school integration projects. Under a Warren administration, the departments of Education and Justice will crack down on wealthier, whiter communities that try to break away from their more diverse school districts and hoard resources ― a phenomenon called school district secession.

“Broad public affirmation of the Brown v. Board of Education decisions in the 1950s and recent debates about historical desegregation policies have obscured an uncomfortable truth ― our public schools are more segregated today than they were about thirty years ago,” states the plan, titled, “A Great Public School Education for Every Student.”

Notably, Warren also pledges to “eliminate high-stakes testing.” High-stakes testing came to prominence during the Bush administration, after the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, which tied schools’ test scores to a series of carrots and sticks. The Obama administration continued to center high-stakes tests as federal officials encouraged states and districts to tie teacher evaluations to test scores.

Warren’s plan represents a stark departure from this line of thinking. She pledges to ban test scores as a significant determinant in personnel terminations, school closures and other “high-stakes decisions,” noting that “the push toward high-stakes standardized testing has hurt both students and teachers.”

The plan also sounds off on charter schools, one of the most controversial issues in education, by taking a hard line against them. Charter schools — public schools that are funded with taxpayer dollars but privately operated ―  were once a darling of both mainstream Democratic and Republican circles, but have faced increasing scrutiny from liberals in recent years. 

Warren pledges to fight to ban for-profit charter schools, which represent around 15% of the sector. But she also goes after nonprofit ones, promising to end a federal program that provides funding for new schools and opposing provisions that allow them to sometimes evade the same level of transparency and accountability as traditional public schools. The plan seeks to ban nonprofit charters that employ or outsource operations to for-profit service providers and calls for the IRS to investigate these schools’ nonprofit tax status.

“Efforts to expand the footprint of charter schools, often without even ensuring that charters are subject to the same transparency requirements and safeguards as traditional public schools, strain the resources of school districts and leave students behind,” the plan says. 

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who released his education plan in May, similarly took aim at charters in his plan, framing them as an issue of racial justice. His plan drew ire from some education reform groups that argued he was actually doing children of color a disservice.

“Senator Sanders is literally saying I’m going to stand in the schoolhouse door and prevent kids from going [to charter schools], like a segregationist,” Amy Wilkins, senior vice president of advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, told HuffPost at the time. He is trying to “prevent kids, many of whom are low-income, or of color, from having a choice.”

Sanders, like Warren, also focused on curbing school segregation. Their plans stand in contrast to another Democratic nominee frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, who has historically supported programs that curtailed desegregation bussing.

Warren has framed public education as a deeply personal issue. She spent a short amount of time as a special education teacher when she was in her 20s, but said she left the classroom after being discriminated against as a pregnant woman.

Other aspects of Warren’s plan include quadrupling funding for Title I ― the federal program that provides money to schools with high proportions of low-income children ― as well as raising pay for educators, fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and helping to expand school employees’ collective bargaining power. She frames the recent wave of teacher protests around the country as a feminist issue, and she has pledged to enact a law that would make sure public employees can collectively bargain in each state. 

So far, “A Great Public School Education for Every Student” has garnered praise from the leaders of both of the nation’s teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. 

“Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan for our nation’s public schools would be a game changer for our public schools and the 90 percent of America’s students who attend them,” Randi Weingarten, the president of AFT, said in a statement. “Like so many of the other candidates’ education plans we have praised, this one is bold and thorough and lays out tangible steps and resources that are critical for all students to thrive.”

“What distinguishes this plan is that it is obvious it’s drawn through the lens of someone who has spent time as a teacher in a classroom,” Weingarten added.

Glad to see a presidential candidate talk about education.  Imagine Warren, Biden  or Sanders in a debate with Trump about improving American public education.