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New Research on a Better Way to Stimulate (Zap) Our Brains to Treat Neurological Dysfunction!

Deep brain stimulation, artwork

Alfred Pasieka / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times this morning has an article entitled, A Better Way to Zap Our Brains, that looks  at new research suggesting that stimulating neurons in the brain can address psychological issues with surprising speed and precision. It gets a bit heady at times but here is the main thrust of the piece.

“The brain is an electrical organ. Everything that goes on in there is a result of millivolts zipping from one neuron to another in particular patterns. This raises the tantalizing possibility that, should we ever decode those patterns, we could electrically adjust them to treat neurological dysfunction — from Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia — or even optimize desirable qualities like intelligence and resilience.

Of course, the brain is so complex, and so difficult to access, that this is much easier to imagine than to do. A pair of studies published in January in the journal Nature Medicine, however, demonstrate that electrical stimulation can address obsessive-compulsive urges and symptoms of depression with surprising speed and precision. Mapping participants’ brain activity when they experienced certain sensations allowed researchers to personalize the stimulation and modify moods and habits far more directly than is possible through therapy or medication. The results also showed the degree to which symptoms that we tend to categorize as a single disorder — depression, for example — may involve electrical processes that are unique to each person.

In the first study, a team from the University of California, San Francisco, surgically implanted electrodes in the brain of a woman whose severe depression had proved resistant to other treatments. For 10 days, they delivered pulses through the electrodes to different areas of the brain at various frequencies and had the patient record her level of depression, anxiety and energy on an iPad. The impact of certain pulses was significant and nuanced. “Within a minute, she would say, ‘I feel like I’m reading a good book,’” says Katherine W. Scangos, a psychiatrist and the study’s lead author. The patient described the effect of another pulse as “less cobwebs and cotton.”

The researchers also recorded what type of unmediated brain activity coincided with periods of low mood or energy. The aim was to use those responses to guide the placement of another set of electrodes that would deliver what is known as deep-brain stimulation — a technique that can restore lost function to neurons by zapping them with a consistent, high-frequency electrical pulse. To date, it has been employed most commonly to treat movement disorders, like Parkinson’s. It has also shown promise for depression. “But because depression presents differently in different people, it likely involves multiple neural circuits,” Scangos says. She and her colleagues wondered if a “more personalized approach” might make the treatment more effective. Based on their mapping of the patient’s brain activity, they programmed the electrodes to detect her depressed states and deliver stimulation in response, much the way a pacemaker acts on the heart. That experimental treatment will continue long term as the patient goes about her daily life.

Deep-brain stimulation is too invasive to use except in extreme circumstances. But in the second study, researchers used a noninvasive technique called transcranial alternating current stimulation to deliver electrical pulses through electrodes placed on participants’ scalps. The goal was to try to curb obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Past studies have suggested that the orbital frontal cortex, an area in the brain’s reward network, might play a role in reinforcing such behaviors, by regarding them as beneficial. So the researchers attached the electrodes to 64 volunteers and recorded the frequency in hertz at which their orbital frontal cortex fired when they won a monetary reward in a game.

Crucially, it was noted, the frequency varied slightly by individual. Using that personal frequency, the researchers next stimulated the same area in each participant for 30 minutes a day for five days in a row. Doing so, they found, reduced the number of obsessive-compulsive behaviors in the volunteers by an average of nearly 30 percent over the following three months. (None of the volunteers had an obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis. All of them, however, reported varying degrees of repetitive tendencies, and those whose symptoms were most intense got the most relief.) The researchers hypothesize that the stimulation helped the orbital frontal cortex maintain its optimal rhythm, thereby improving its coordination with other areas in the reward network.

The findings reinforced the idea that personalized brain stimulation requires determining not just the right area to target but also the right rhythm at which to do so. “The neural code — it’s frequency-specific,” says Robert M.G. Reinhart, one of the study’s authors and the director of the Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory at Boston University. “The channel of information-processing in the brain is just like a channel you might tune in to on the radio.” The study also illustrated that traits like compulsivity exist on a spectrum. Currently, a person for whom those traits are bothersome but not disabling might not seek treatment, particularly if it comes with side effects, as medications often do. Brain stimulation, though, could one day remedy all kinds of conditions we now target inexactly with drugs, Reinhart says. “If you want to get futuristic, you can imagine someone giving themselves a zap to get over a trans-Atlantic flight. What people use coffee for today.”

Psychiatrists won’t be prescribing brain stimulation to the masses anytime soon. But by identifying the neural circuits that give rise to particular symptoms, and by showing that alterations to the timing of their firing can change those symptoms, they offer new ways to think about what psychiatric disorders are. “There’s still a lot of stigma around depression that a lot of patients feel,” Scangos says. The subject of her study was no exception: “The fact that there was such an immediate response when we stimulated made her feel like, It’s not something I’m doing wrong; it’s something in my brain that can be addressed.”

Giving a collection of symptoms a diagnostic label like “depression” is useful because it helps doctors more efficiently find a successful treatment, currently a lengthy process of trial and error. “The million-dollar question is how to match the best treatment to the patient and how to avoid treatments that won’t work,” says Helen Mayberg, a neurologist and director of the Nash Family Center for Advanced Circuit Therapeutics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; she was co-author of a commentary on the two studies. As neuroscientists map the brain activity of more and more patients, they’re getting closer to being able to offer a battery of tests that show, Scangos says, “you have this type of depression, you’ll respond best to this medication.”

Ultimately, if we could address those symptoms directly, we might be able to get rid of diagnostic categories altogether, says Alvaro Pascual-Leone, medical director of the Wolk Center for Memory Health at Hebrew SeniorLife and a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. Rather than applying a default label of depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder, Pascual-Leone says, doctors could instead ask, “What is the disabling symptom that this person presents?” And then treat it specifically.

For now, what these studies offer everyone is additional evidence that “our brains are plastic,” says Shrey Grover, a graduate student and a co-author of the Boston University study. “And we can rewire the brain in different ways.” Those include psychotherapy and pharmacology. Our neural activity also changes as we learn; it changes as we age. This means we can improve how our minds work at any point in our lives, even without advanced technology.

But the brain’s plasticity makes it all the more puzzling that certain psychological states can be so hard to dispel. Research into personalized brain stimulation also probes at the larger question of why moods or habits that are mild or circumstantial in some people — carefully rechecking a tax form, say, or feeling deep sadness at the death of a loved one — are chronic and debilitating in others. “There’s nothing that gets right at the cause,” Reinhart says. “It’s like the water in the sink is running, and you can mop up the floor, but no one’s turning off the faucet.”

I found all of this most interesting and a peek into part of the world of brain research.

Tony

 

Maureen Dowd:  The Post-Trump Political Press!

Blue state: Why Democrats seem so worried - Columbia Journalism Review

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, has a piece today warning the press and liberals that there is not supposed to be a partisan relationship between them.  She rails that now that Trump is no longer president, it is critical for the press to establish its independence and beware partisanship to Democratic Party and liberal causes. Here is an excerpt.

“It was so enthralling and gratifying to assail Donald Trump as a liar and misogynist that it was bound to be jarring when the beast slouched out of town and liberals had to relearn the lesson that reporters don’t — or shouldn’t — suit up for the blue team.

…The truth is, many on the left don’t understand what a reporter is.

They loathe Fox News but assume that the mainstream media are basically on their side, the same way Fox commentators are on Trump’s, laying the groundwork for him to start his second coming at CPAC this weekend.

For the left, over the past four years, a reporter has been an ally and a superhero comrade in the epic mission of destroying Donald Trump. Liberals lionized any cable hosts and runaway Republicans who blasted Trump, even if they had previously been on the G.O.P. payroll, selling the Iraq war and Sarah Palin.

Let’s be honest. It’s a lot more pleasant to be hailed by the left than demonized, as you are during periods when you’re holding a Democratic president to account, because the left can be just as nasty as the right.

When I went to the Vanity Fair Oscar party with A.G. Sulzberger in 2017, movie stars rushed up to thank him for fighting President Trump. Over and over again, he explained that it was not the mission of The New York Times to be part of the resistance. Rather, he said, the paper would be straight and combat lies with the truth.

As the Trump years went on and the outrages piled up, with the renegade president making it clear that he would not be bound by decency or legality, the left declared it a national emergency and acted as though all journalistic objectivity should be suspended. Some thought that the media should ignore Trump’s news conferences and tweets and that the only legitimate interview with Trump was one where you stabbed him in the eye with a salad fork.

Many reporters offered sharp opinions; the kind not seen before in covering a president. The tango between Trump and the media — his most passionate relationship — was as poisonous as it was profitable. For reporters, who hadn’t been this chic since Ben Bradlee battled Richard Nixon, fat cable, book and movie contracts flooded in. CNN was on “Breaking News” for four years straight, thanks to Trump’s dark genius at topping himself with outlandish narratives.

Lines were blurred that would inevitably need to snap back when normality was restored.

Some of the new assertiveness was good and should continue. After many years when I had to comb the thesaurus to find a synonym for “liar” to use about Dick Cheney, The Times finally allowed us to call high-ranking politicians who lied, liars. Thank you, Donald Trump!

But the press, bathed in constant adulation and better remuneration, will have a tough adjustment. A whole generation of journalists was reared in the caldera that was Trump’s briefing room.

Some Washington reporters have been worried about this for some time, that the left would “work the refs,” as one put it, and turn on the media and attack if they dared to report something that could endanger the Republic (a.k.a. hurt a Democrat).

But the role of the press in a functioning democracy is as watchdog, not partisan attack dog. Politicians have plenty of people spinning for them. They don’t need the press doing that, too.”

Agreed!

Tony

 

 

WNBA Atlanta Dream Are Sold after Players’ Revolt Against Kelly Loeffler!

Ex WNBA Player Renee Montgomery Now Co-Owns The Atlanta Dream -  VIRALTEMPERATURE

Renee Montgomery and Kelly Loeffler

Dear Commons Community,

The Atlanta Dream, the W.N.B.A. team whose players revolted against co-owner, Kelly Loeffler, and campaigned against her in a Georgia Senate race she lost, are being sold to an ownership group led by two real estate executives and a former star player for the team.

Larry Gottesdiener, the chairman of the real estate equity firm Northland; Suzanne Abair, the firm’s chief operating officer; and the former W.N.B.A. star Renee Montgomery are the leading figures in the new ownership group.

The sale to Montgomery, Larry Gottesdiener, chairman of national real estate company Northland, and Northland president and chief operating officer Suzanne Abair was unanimously approved by the WNBA and its board of governors, the league said.  As reported by CBS News.

“With the unanimous WNBA and NBA votes, today marks a new beginning for the Atlanta Dream organization and we are very pleased to welcome Larry Gottesdiener and Suzanne Abair to the WNBA,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in statement. “I admire their passion for women’s basketball, but more importantly, have been impressed with their values. I am also thrilled that former WNBA star Renee Montgomery will be joining the ownership group as an investor and executive for the team. Renee is a trailblazer who has made a major impact both in the game and beyond.” 

Montgomery, a two-time WNBA champion, will be the first former player to become both an owner and executive of a WNBA team, according to the league. She sat out the 2020 season to focus on social justice issues and recently announced her retirement from the league from 11 seasons. 

“My Dream has come true,” Montgomery said in a statement. “Breaking barriers for minorities and women by being the first former WNBA player to have both a stake in ownership and a leadership role with the team is an opportunity that I take very seriously. I invite you to join me as the Dream builds momentum in Atlanta!”

 Atlanta’s Renee Montgomery shoots a free throw during the WNBA game between the Las Vegas Aces and the Atlanta Dream in 2019. Icon Sportswire

A WNBA spokesperson told CBS News on January 20 that the team was on the verge of being sold. It also marked the same day Loeffler would be finishing out her term as senator. 

The WNBA and the Dream made headlines with their league-wide support of Black Lives Matter during the summer with BLM warm-up outfits and jerseys. But Loeffler objected to the practice in June and asked WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert to put an end to it. 

In a statement deriding the protest in August, Loeffler called the players’ shirts a sign of “cancel culture.” In response, the Dream and other members of the WNBA endorsed one of her Senate opponents, Democrat Raphael Warnock, going so far as to wear “Vote Warnock” shirts at their games. Loeffler was defeated by Warnock in a January 5 runoff election in which both incumbent Republican senators from Georgia lost to Democratic challengers, shifting the balance of power in the Senate.”

Our country and WNBA do not need the Kelly Loefflers of the world.

Tony

 

 

Video: Mt. Etna Volcano Roars Back to Life!

Dear Commons Community,

Mount Etna, Europe’s most active and largest volcano, that towers over eastern Sicily, roared back to life earlier this month.

And the fiery show of power (see video above) it puts on for days or weeks, even years every so often, is always super spectacular. Fortunately, Etna’s latest eruption captivating the world’s attention has caused neither injuries nor evacuation.

But each time it erupts into dramatic action, it wows onlookers and awes geologists who spend their careers monitoring its every quiver, rumble and belch.  As reported by the Associated Press.

“On Feb. 16, Etna erupted, sending up high fountains of lava, which rolled down the mountain’s eastern slope toward the uninhabited Bove Valley, which is five kilometers (three miles) wide and eight kilometers (five miles) long. The volcano has belched out ash and lava stones that showered the southern side.

The activity has been continuing since, in bursts more or less intense. The flaming lava lights up the night sky in shocking hues of orange and red. There’s no telling how long this round of exciting activity will last, say volcanologists who work at the Etna Observatory run by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

While public fascination began with the first dramatic images this month, the explosive activity began in September 2019, becoming much stronger two months ago. The current activity principally involves the south-east crater, which was created in 1971 from a series of fractures.

Etna towers 3,350 meters (around 11,050 feet) above sea level and is 35 kilometers (22 miles) in diameter, although the volcanic activity has changed the mountain’s height over time.

Occasionally, the airport at Catania, eastern Sicily’s largest city, has to close down for hours or days, when ash in the air makes flying in the area dangerous. Early in this recent spell of eruptive activity, the airport closed briefly.

But for pilots and passengers flying to and from Catania at night when the volcano is calmer, a glimpse of fiery red in the dark sky makes for an exciting sight.

With Etna’s lava flows largely contained to its uninhabited slopes, life goes in towns and villages elsewhere on the mountain. Sometimes, like in recent days, lava stones rain down on streets, bounce off cars and rattle roofs.

But many residents generally find that a small inconvenience when weighted against the benefits the volcano brings. Lava flows have left fertile farmland. Apple and citrus trees flourish. Etna red and whites are some of Sicily’s most popular wines, from grapes grown on the volcanic slopes.

Tourism rakes in revenues. Hikers and backpackers enjoy views of the oft-puffing mountain and the sparkling Ionian Sea below. For skiers who want uncrowded slopes, Etna’s a favorite.

Inspiring ancient Greek legends, Etna has had scores of known eruptions in its history. An eruption in 396 B.C. has been credited with keeping the army of Carthage at bay.

In 1669, in what has been considered the volcano’s worst known eruption, lava buried a swath of Catania, about 23 kilometers (15 miles) away and devastated dozens of villages. An eruption in 1928 cut off a rail route circling the mountain’s base.

More recently, in 1983, dynamite was used to divert lava threatening inhabited areas. In 1992, the army built an earthen wall to contain the lava, flowing from Etna for months, from hitting Zafferana Etnea, a village of a few thousand people. At one point, the smoking lava stopped two kilometers (just over a mile) from the edge of town.

Over the last century, a hiccup in geological time, low-energy explosive eruptions and lava flows, both fed from the summit and side vents, have characterized Etna.”

If you ever have a chance to visit Sicily, Mt. Etna is a must see!

Tony

F.C.C. Approves a $50 Monthly High-Speed Internet Subsidy to Low-Income Households!

Dear Commons Community,

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved an emergency subsidy for low-income households to get high-speed Internet, an effort to bridge the digital divide that has cut off many Americans from online communication during the pandemic. The money is directed specifically at reducing the access gap to broadband connectivity.  As reported by The New York Times.

“The four-member commission unanimously agreed to offer up to $50 a month to low-income households and up to $75 a month to households on Native American land for broadband service. The F.C.C. will also provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible homes.

The program will use $3.2 billion allocated late last year by Congress as part of its Covid-19 relief bill to bring internet service to American families for distance learning, work and digital health care.

The program will be available within 60 days, said Jessica Rosenworcel, the acting chairwoman of the F.C.C. The agency still needs to sign up willing internet service providers and set up a program to approve and track recipients. At least 14.5 million Americans, according to a F.C.C. report, do not have broadband. Over the past year, the digital divide has taken on greater urgency.

“This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection,” Ms. Rosenworcel said in a statement. “It will help those sitting in cars in parking lots just to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go online for work. It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a wireless signal for remote learning.”

Eligible recipients include families with children on free or reduced lunch programs, Pell grant recipients and individuals who have lost jobs or seen their income fall in the past year.

The digital divide has been among the most persistent problems for telecommunications policymakers. More than $8 billion in federal funding is allocated each year to the problem. Much of that is allocated to internet service providers to bring service to rural and other underserved areas.

There are many challenges. Broadband maps, for instance, notoriously overcount how many households have access. If an internet service provider such as Charter or AT&T reaches just one home in a census block, the entire block appears connected on federal maps, even when all homes aren’t given the option of broadband.

Ms. Rosenworcel announced the formation of a task force to study the agency’s tracking of broadband access data.”

Great move on the part of the F.C.C. and long overdue!

Tony

 

New York City schools leader Richard Carranza resigns – Meisha Porter to become system’s first Black woman chancellor!

NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza resigns - silive.com

Richard Carranza

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Daily News is reporting that Richard Carranza, the New York City schools chancellor, will step down March 15 after a three-year tenure.

He will be replaced by Meisha Porter, who currently serves as executive superintendent for the Bronx. Porter will become the first Black woman chancellor of the nation’s largest public school system.

Carranza’s departure will take effect a year to the day after the hectic Sunday last March when officials shuttered city school buildings in an unprecedented response to the growing threat of COVID-19.

A year later, roughly 250,000 of the city’s nearly million public school students are attending in-person classes.

City officials say Carranza is stepping aside by his own accord and doesn’t have a new position lined up. The schools chief has suffered a brutal personal toll from the coronavirus, losing multiple family members to the illness, he’s said on multiple occasions in recent months.

New mayors typically install their own chancellors, and all of the city’s democratic mayoral contenders confirmed at a recent forum they would likely replace Carranza.

Carranza’s arrival in New York City three years ago followed a shocking about-face from Mayor de Blasio’s first choice for the position, Alberto Carvalho, who changed his mind about taking the post on live television.

Carranza, a former superintendent of the San Francisco and Houston school systems, kicked off his tenure on a jovial note.

The Arizona native and accomplished Mariachi musician gleefully told reporters at his introductory press conference “if I am asked to sing chances are I’m gonna sing. If I’m asked to play, chances are I’m gonna play. And if I’m not asked to sing or play, chances are I’m gonna sing and play!”

Carranza, true to his word, was never shy about vocalizing.

He kicked up long-simmering questions about segregation and race in city schools in a single tweet months into his tenure, posting a story that characterized the complaints of white parents at a meeting on school rezoning as “angrily rant[ing] against plan to bring more black kids to their school.”

Carranza went on to explicitly denounce the policy of screening students for admission to public schools and call for an end to the exam that controls entry to the city’s specialized high schools.

His policy approaches to those issues, however, were much more muted. A plan to end the specialized high school exam stalled in Albany, and rollback of admissions screens is proceeding piecemeal, rather than system-wide.

Carranza’s rhetoric on race and within the Education Department won fervent support from educators and parents who felt he gave voice to deeply embedded inequities.

It also sparked significant pushback from detractors who felt his sharp rhetoric and zeal to alter admissions policies and curriculum demonized white educators and unfairly punished Asian-American students.

The chancellor’s tenure was upended with the swift arrival and spread of coronavirus in New York City. The virus killed dozens of Education Department staffers and sent hundreds of thousands of students and their families into virtual classes.

Last summer, Mayor de Blasio made reopening city schools for in-person learning a political priority, kicking off a pitched battle over the safety and equity of in-person learning.

Education Department officials said, “under Carranza’s leadership, New York City has consistently led the way on school reopening nationally in the past year.”

Officials also pointed to a rising graduation rate under Carranza’s tenure and the city’s official adoption of culturally responsive education, a practice that seeks to incorporate kids’ identities and backgrounds into their curriculum.

In recent weeks, Carranza has voiced his opposition to the practice of testing 4-year-old children for the city’s Gifted and Talented program, and this week encouraged parents to exercise their right to opt out of standardized tests this spring.

Carranza and de Blasio heaped praise on his successor in Friday statements.

“Today is an historic day for New York City schools. Meisha Porter is a homegrown New Yorker who knows what it takes to give every kid the high-quality public-school education they deserve,” said Mayor de Blasio.

Porter grew up and attended public schools in Queens, served as a teacher and principal for 18 years at the Bronx School for Law, Government, and Justice, and became superintendent of the Bronx’s District 11.

She took over in 2018 as the Bronx’s Executive Superintendent — a role that Carranza created to add an additional level of supervision over district school chiefs. Graduation rates in the Bronx rose from 67% in 2018 to 73% last year, officials said.

“As a lifelong New Yorker, a product of our City’s public schools, and a career educator, it is the honor of my lifetime to serve as Chancellor,” said Porter. “Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza have laid an incredible foundation for me and I am ready to hit the ground running and lead New York City schools to a full recovery.”

Carranza’s resignation is not a surprise!

Tony

 

Longtime NYC educator Meisha Ross Porter to be first Black woman leading nation's largest public school district

Meisha Ross Porter

Battling the Mob, Harry Dunn, a Black Officer Came Face to Face With Racism on January 6th at the Capitol!

Capitol Police Officer Says Large Number Of People At Riots Were Racist -  UNILAD

Harry Dunn

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times had an interview yesterday with Harry Dunn, a Capitol Police officer, who related what he saw and heard when rioters, including white supremacists, stormed the Capitol, on January 6th.  “Black officers fought a different battle…It took a horrific toll on us.”

Below is the interview conducted by Luke Broadwater  as published this morning.

Tony

—————————————————————————————-

Feb. 25, 2021

WASHINGTON — The racist slurs hurled at Harry Dunn, a Capitol Police officer, during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol were cited as evidence this month in the Senate’s impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump. Until this week, Officer Dunn had remained anonymous.

Now, Officer Dunn, 37, who is Black and is a 13-year veteran of the force, and who grew up in nearby Prince George’s County, Md., is ready to speak publicly about the violence and racism he experienced at the hands of a pro-Trump mob during that grim day in American history.

Standing 6-foot-7 with a muscular frame, Officer Dunn is an imposing figure, but he says the bigotry and trauma he experienced that day were enough to intimidate anyone. Now that he is talking about his experience, he says other Black officers have told him that they, too, experienced racist slurs from the mob.

“So many people, for whatever reason, aren’t talking,” Officer Dunn said in an interview with The New York Times. “I just want to give a voice for us.”

How did Jan. 6 start for you? Were you worried?

It was a protest day. We deal with protests here all the time. People come up here because they’re angry about something. It could be anything. It could be displeasure with the Affordable Care Act or a Supreme Court nominee or whatever it is. For a regular officer on the ground, we were thinking: “Here we go. Let’s get through this day. And then go back to normal.”

When did you realize things were turning bad?

I got a message from one of my friends. It was a screenshot from maybe an Instagram page or something like that and it said they were storming the Capitol and to be ready for a fight. It was around 9 in the morning. I started work at 7. But I didn’t really get a sense things were turning bad until they found the pipe bombs at the R.N.C. [Republican National Committee] in the afternoon. Then, a couple minutes later, we found a second one. I thought, “Holy crap, what the hell is going on?” The crowd started growing in size, and now you’re like, “OK, something’s about to happen.” People are getting more agitated and then, boom. The next thing you know, we’re fighting with the people on the West Lawn of the Capitol. That’s where it started.

Did you notice a difference between the small crowd that had been protesting all morning in front of the Capitol and the mob that marched from the Trump rally and began attacking from the West Lawn of the Capitol?

On the West Lawn, those were the people that came from the rally. Those are the ones that started the violence.

What was the moment when your physical safety felt most in danger?

Shoot, man, the whole day. At one point, I was out there on the inaugural platform. I had this rifle, and I’m literally aimed in at the crowd. They’re fighting. They’re throwing smoke bombs. These were terrorists. They had weapons, and they were attacking us. They had flags that said “Come and Take It” with a picture of a gun. You know that these guys are fricking armed. And I’m thinking, “I got my gun pointed at these guys, and I can’t concentrate on one person. But 100 people could concentrate on me. And they could take me out right here on this stage. How long is it before I get shot?”

OK, at this point, you’re still some distance from the rioters. Tell me about when you first made physical contact with the mob.

Once they started to break the line is when I actually made contact and started defending myself and the building. It was just holding the line with other officers.

Did you have a shield or any other protective gear?

My fists are pretty protective. By the end, I had blood on my knuckles and swelling.

You are a big guy.

There were a couple punches. By a couple, I mean a lot. I didn’t even pick up my baton. My pepper spray? I didn’t deploy that until well into the fight, because I realized, “Oh crap, I have this — why don’t I use these tools?”

So you were outside the building to begin the day. How did you end up inside?

Once they breached the building, some of us decided to team up in teams of two and go inside the building. The M.P.D. [Metropolitan Police Department] guys had arrived and they were holding the line so valiantly. They fought their asses off, and I want to make sure they get credit.

Absolutely. I was there that day. I watched how the D.C. Police Department put down the riot — once their officers arrived on the scene with riot gear. What happened next?

Inside, we were getting overrun. The teams of two ended up getting separated. Now we’re just one-man units. It was so confusing because everybody was everywhere. They didn’t just come through the doors; they came through the windows. We were just outmatched. This fight starts going on for hours. You’ve got a mask on. There’s OC spray [a kind of pepper spray] in the air. All these factors are contributing to officer fatigue. Everybody’s just running on adrenaline, just pure adrenaline.

At one point, I confronted a group of terrorists in the crypt. There were downed officers behind me, and, I’m like, “I have to hold this hallway.” I’m tired, but I said, “Y’all not coming through here.” They said, “We’re coming. This is our house. We’re taking over.” That’s when I said, “We’ve got dozens of downed officers here. Why are y’all doing this? Get out!” I guess it was a group of the Oath Keepers and they appeared to be concerned. “Officers are hurt?” That’s when one guy said, “We’re doing this for you,” and showed me his badge. He was an officer. But they didn’t get through me. Only one person attempted to get through me at that time, and he met the floor. He met the floor. Finally, officers with armored gear responded and held that area.

Now, there was a moment when racist slurs were used against you.

So I run up the stairwell. There’s people freaking everywhere. They saw I came from an area that wasn’t occupied by terrorists. So they tried to go down the steps. I said, “No, you’re not going down there.” And I’m exhausted. They’re saying, “Trump is our rightful president. Nobody voted for Joe Biden.” I needed to catch my breath. So I said, “I voted for Joe Biden. What? My vote doesn’t matter?” A woman responded, “This [slur] voted for Joe Biden!” Everybody that was there started joining in. “Hey, [slur]!” It was over 20 people who said it.

Later, you broke down in the Rotunda.

Once the F.B.I. and all these other officers arrived, the Capitol started getting cleared out and more secure. The officers who had been fighting from the start, a lot of us just sat down on the floor. There was trash everywhere. The smoke was thick. I saw one of my buddies who I’ve known basically since I’ve been on the department, and we just looked at each other. And we just started talking about the day and how we were hurting. A war is made up of 100 battles. We were all in the war, but we all had different battles. A lot of us Black officers fought a different battle than everybody else fought. I said to my buddy, “I got called [slur] a couple dozen times today.” I’m looking at him. He’s got blood on him. I’ve got bloody knuckles. We’re hurting. That’s when I said, “Is this America?” and I started crying. Tears are coming down my face. “Is this America?”

I know you want to stay away from politics, but how did you feel when your experience was referenced in the impeachment trial?

At that time, I hadn’t gone public yet. But a lot of people knew my story. I was in the middle of the Rotunda crying. I was loud. I didn’t hide it. I was starting to heal, and it kind of brought me back there all over again. It was a rough time.

How has the impact of the violence of Jan. 6 been on officers’ mental health?

It took a horrific toll on us. Counselors have been available, but I think a lot of people are reluctant to use them. Mental health has always been a stigma. Nobody wants to talk about it. If you appear to be broken or hurt, you’re weak. Now people are wondering, “Can I even go tell them that I’m not OK without them taking my gun from me and losing my job?” I want people to know it’s OK and it’s normal to feel a certain kind of way.

Did you know Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who collapsed and died after the attack?

We worked together. He was a great man, a great person, somebody that you would want to work with. He did his job. He was somebody that you could trust.

There’s been a lot of praise of Officer Eugene Goodman, who led the rioters away from the senators, including Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah. He was a hero, absolutely. But you’ve said there were many officers whose names the public doesn’t know who were heroes that day.

People fought their asses off. Eugene was great. He did his job. He did it heroically, literally, in the face of danger. So many people did that that day. So many freaking people. We’ve got officers who suffered concussions and got attacked. So many people fought so bravely. There were so many Eugene Goodmans that day. Everybody I saw fought their asses off. And they’re heroes.

 

House Passes Sweeping Gay and Transgender Equality Legislation!

“In most states, L.G.B.T.Q. people can be discriminated against because of who they are, or who they love,” said Representative David Cicilline, an openly gay Democrat from Rhode Island and the lead sponsor of the bill.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Dear Commons Community,

The House of Representatives yesterday passed a bill that would extend civil rights protections to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  The legislation, passed 224 to 206 almost entirely along party lines, stands little chance of drawing enough Republican support in the Senate to advance, at least in its current form. It was the second time the Democratic-led House had passed the measure, known as the Equality Act, which seeks to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add explicit bans on discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in both public and private spaces.  As reported by The New York Times.

“In most states, L.G.B.T.Q. people can be discriminated against because of who they are, or who they love,” said Representative David Cicilline, an openly gay Democrat from Rhode Island and the lead sponsor. “It is past time for that to change.”

The passage of the legislation came as a broader fight over transgender rights played out on Capitol Hill, with Republicans attacking transgender people and Democrats insisting they warranted the same civil rights protections afforded to anyone else.

In the House, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the first-term Republican from Georgia who is known for spreading false and bigoted conspiracy theories, referred to the transgender daughter of Representative Marie Newman, Democrat of Illinois, as “your biological son.”

Across the Capitol, Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, attacked Dr. Rachel Levine, a pick for a top health post who would be the first transgender woman to be confirmed by the Senate, at a hearing to consider her nomination.”

Congratulations to the House for taking this bill up again.  We will have to wait and see what happens in the Senate!

Tony

Video: Butterfly iQ – Put the Stethoscopes Away!

Dear Commons Community,

The Butterfly iQ is a portable, single-probe ultrasound device that connects to a smartphone and can perform a range of bodily imaging processes (see video above).  I was not aware of how far this technology had advanced but it seems there are several companies that offer comparable products.

The Butterfly iQ also uses artificial intelligence via an app to enhanced the imaging and information it provides to medical personnel.  As the video above demonstrates, it is lightweight and a Godsend to doctors who work in the field. 

It was introduced in 2019 and is approved by the FDA for use by medical personnel only.  It costs about $2,000.

An incredible use of technology and A.I.!

Tony

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu Proposing a Merger of His State’s Public Colleges!

University Spotlight: University of New Hampshire - Slamstox

University of New Hampshire at Durham

Dear Commons Community,

The University of New Hampshire will consider merging or consolidating its public colleges in the next fiscal year. Governor Chris Sununu announced his intention to combine the state’s 13 four- and two-year public colleges into one unified system in the executive summary of his budget for 2022 and 2023.  If implemented, New Hampshire would join other states such as Pennsylvania, Maine, and Connecticut, considering similar consolidations.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article (see below) commenting upon Governor Sununu’s proposal.

I am afraid that we will see more consolidation and merger proposals especially once the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are fully understood.

Tony

——————————————————————————————————————

The Chronicle of Higher Education

More States Turn to Public-College Mergers, but Easy Fixes May Remain Elusive

By Lee Gardner

February 24, 2021

With a single paragraph, the governor of New Hampshire announced his intention to combine the state’s 13 four- and two-year public colleges into one unified system. Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, included the proposal in the executive summary of his budget for the 2022-23 fiscal years, released this week.

New Hampshire joins a growing number of states, including Pennsylvania, Maine, and Connecticut, that are turning to different forms of public-college mergers in response to ebbing numbers of high-school graduates and increased competition for the students that remain.

But the experiences of other states have shown that college mergers are complex and time consuming even in the simplest of circumstances, and the benefits they create are far from assured. The budget promised a “glide path to full integration by fiscal-year 2023,” only two years away. It also proposes an accompanying 9-percent cut in state support over two years for the combined system, from $151 million in the 2020 fiscal year to $138 million in 2023. System leaders and others in the state are now waiting for the devil in the details of how the mergers would be accomplished. The governor’s office did not respond to an email before press time.

In his executive summary, Governor Sununu wrote that the merger of the University System of New Hampshire and the Community College System of New Hampshire was necessary to improve educational paths and realize cost savings and other efficiencies, and because the state’s public colleges have “worked against each other to the detriment of students” for too long. Some campuses have experienced significant enrollment drops in recent years — first-time fall enrollment at Keene State College, for example, dropped from 1,267 in 2014 to 871 in 2019, before the pandemic, a drop of 31 percent.

There is a major challenge facing the state, and just doing things the way they were done before is probably not an option.

Competition between campuses isn’t the only trouble. New Hampshire’s public colleges are underfunded compared with their peers. In 2019, the state had the second-lowest level of state support in the country and the lowest level of annual state and local support per student, $2,871. Granite State students’ tuition dollars accounted for 78 percent of the total revenue at their public colleges, the second-highest level in the country.

The lack of state support has kept tuition relatively high. Annual tuition at the flagship University of New Hampshire campus at Durham for 2020-21, for example, was $15,520, while the flagship University of Maine campus at Orono offers annual tuition as low as $9,480 for in-state students. Out-of-state students who qualify for Maine’s Flagship Scholarship Match can pay about what they would pay at their home-state flagship to go to Orono.

Nearly half of the Granite State’s high-school students who went on to attend college in 2018 did so elsewhere, according to a Chronicle analysis. Vermonters were the only group of state residents to attend college out of state in greater margins.

The state system faces considerable competition from within its own borders. Southern New Hampshire University, which has established a national brand with its powerhouse online-education arm, announced last year that it would reduce tuition at its Manchester campus from $31,000 a year to as little as $10,000.

In principle, at least, using a merger to try to address the situation makes sense, says Aims C. McGuinness, a senior fellow at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, or Nchems. “This is not a naïve governor,” he adds. “There is a major challenge facing the state, and just doing things the way they were done before is probably not an option.”

Modest Savings, New Complexity

But college mergers take many forms and may bring with them nearly as many challenges as they solve. Combining every public institution in a state, marrying the four-year land-grant research university to the two-year technical college, may be especially tricky. And mergers are rarely a panacea.

Elected officials and higher-education leaders sometimes turn to mergers for reasons that can fail to live up to expectations. For example, cost savings are commonly invoked as a rationale for institutional mergers, and they do save money, mostly through administrators made redundant — two colleges that become one college no longer need two presidents, two provosts, and so on. But the savings from such personnel cuts are usually minor. When the University System of Georgia consolidated 18 of its campuses into nine new institutions during the 2010s, it found it “saved” about $30 million a year, only 1 percent of its annual operating budget of about $2.3 billion.

Combining institutions — especially many disparate institutions — can create significant costs for systems, says Robert E. Anderson, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, known as Sheeo. Data systems and back-office processes will probably need to be integrated, “and there are costs associated with the technical reconfiguration,” he says. “In order to get it right, there has to be a front-end investment.”

Cutting state support to colleges while attempting to merge them could cause a number of complications, especially in New Hampshire, says Sophia Laderman, a senior policy analyst at Sheeo. “It wasn’t clear to me what an additional cut is supposed to do to help attract students if a large part of the reason students are leaving is that tuition is so high,” Laderman says, since more cuts in state support will eventually lead to higher tuition.

In order to get it right, there has to be a front-end investment.

New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” spirit may make constituting an effective new system a particular challenge. The Community College System of New Hampshire asked Nchems to prepare a report on institutional mergers. Among the challenges the report noted for New Hampshire was its lack of strong centralized system structures. “The system office does minimal things compared to most systems,” McGuinness says. “It’s very lightly staffed.”

That may not be enough to run a combined entity. “What we often see in consolidated systems is a robust structure at the state level,” Anderson says, “because what is expected of them, and what they have to answer to, at the state level, is fairly significant.”

Accreditation will provide another hurdle for the proposed new New Hampshire system to clear. It’s not apparent whether the new system would continue with all its campuses continuing to hold individual accreditations, but improving educational pathways and the student experience could lead to the pursuit of some kind of combined accreditation, the better to share educational resources. The University of Maine system is pursuing a unified accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education, its accreditor, known as Neche, for similar reasons. Connecticut proposed combining its 12 community-college campuses under a unified accreditation to Neche in 2019, and the accreditor asked for more information and later follow-up.

Anderson, of Sheeo, says that close communication with accreditors would be key for the success of any college merger. Lawrence M. Schall, president of Neche, writes in an email that the accreditor is “aware of the plans, but nothing has come before the commission yet.”

The complications are many, and daunting. Labor unions representing employees, for example, can make almost any part of the merger process more painstaking in practice than it may have appeared on paper. And trying to complete a merger in just a few years increases the difficulty. “It’s a fairly short runway to have it all in place,” Anderson says. He recommends working with an outside neutral entity that knows mergers, and careful planning on the front end. “Having seen what it takes regarding back-office functions to get those integrated, sometimes that can be a multiyear process,” he says, “but there’s no reason that you can’t be well down the road by 2023.”