ChatGPT Is Kicking Off an A.I. Arms Race!

Why Generative AI Like ChatGPT Will Be the Defining Tech of This Year

Dear Commons Community,

Kevin Roose, the technology columnist for The New York Times, has an insightful piece this morning entitled, “How ChatGPT Kicked Off an A.I. Arms Race.”  He reviews how the company OpenAI which developed ChatGPT got started and how it is now attracting investments and interest from major American companies.  Microsoft, Amazon and Google are looking to its amazing success of having  logged more than 30 million users and getting roughly five million visits a day. That makes it one of the fastest-growing software products in history. (Instagram, by contrast, took nearly a year to get its first 10 million users.) Baidu, the Chinese tech giant, is preparing to introduce a chatbot similar to ChatGPT in March, according to Reuters.  Roose also mentions that a new OpenAI version of ChatGPT will arrive later this year and its abilities may make the current version look “quaint.” 

Incredible!

The entire column is below.

Tony

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The New York Times

“How ChatGPT Kicked Off an A.I. Arms Race”

By Kevin Roose

Feb. 3, 2023

One day in mid-November, workers at OpenAI got an unexpected assignment: Release a chatbot, fast.

The chatbot, an executive announced, would be known as “Chat with GPT-3.5,” and it would be made available free to the public. In two weeks.

The announcement confused some OpenAI employees. All year, the San Francisco artificial intelligence company had been working toward the release of GPT-4, a new A.I. model that was stunningly good at writing essays, solving complex coding problems and more. After months of testing and fine-tuning, GPT-4 was nearly ready. The plan was to release the model in early 2023, along with a few chatbots that would allow users to try it for themselves, according to three people with knowledge of the inner workings of OpenAI.

But OpenAI’s top executives had changed their minds. Some were worried that rival companies might upstage them by releasing their own A.I. chatbots before GPT-4, according to the people with knowledge of OpenAI. And putting something out quickly using an old model, they reasoned, could help them collect feedback to improve the new one.

So they decided to dust off and update an unreleased chatbot that used a souped-up version of GPT-3, the company’s previous language model, which came out in 2020.

Thirteen days later, ChatGPT was born.

In the months since its debut, ChatGPT (the name was, mercifully, shortened) has become a global phenomenon. Millions of people have used it to write poetry, build apps and conduct makeshift therapy sessions. It has been embraced (with mixed results) by news publishers, marketing firms and business leaders. And it has set off a feeding frenzy of investors trying to get in on the next wave of the A.I. boom.

It has also caused controversy. Users have complained that ChatGPT is prone to giving biased or incorrect answers. Some A.I. researchers have accused OpenAI of recklessness. And school districts around the country, including New York City’s, have banned ChatGPT to try to prevent a flood of A.I.-generated homework.

Yet little has been said about ChatGPT’s origins, or the strategy behind it. Inside the company, ChatGPT has been an earthshaking surprise — an overnight sensation whose success has created both opportunities and headaches, according to several current and former OpenAI employees, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

An OpenAI spokesman, Niko Felix, declined to comment for this column, and the company also declined to make any employees available for interviews.

Before ChatGPT’s launch, some OpenAI employees were skeptical that the project would succeed. An A.I. chatbot that Meta had released months earlier, BlenderBot, had flopped, and another Meta A.I. project, Galactica, was pulled down after just three days. Some employees, desensitized by daily exposure to state-of-the-art A.I. systems, thought that a chatbot built on a two-year-old A.I. model might seem boring.

But two months after its debut, ChatGPT has more than 30 million users and gets roughly five million visits a day, two people with knowledge of the figures said. That makes it one of the fastest-growing software products in memory. (Instagram, by contrast, took nearly a year to get its first 10 million users.)

The growth has brought challenges. ChatGPT has had frequent outages as it runs out of processing power, and users have found ways around some of the bot’s safety features. The hype surrounding ChatGPT has also annoyed some rivals at bigger tech firms, who have pointed out that its underlying technology isn’t, strictly speaking, all that new.

ChatGPT is also, for now, a money pit. There are no ads, and the average conversation costs the company “single-digit cents” in processing power, according to a post on Twitter by Sam Altman, OpenAI’s chief executive, likely amounting to millions of dollars a week. To offset the costs, the company announced this week that it would begin selling a $20 monthly subscription, known as ChatGPT Plus.

Despite its limitations, ChatGPT’s success has vaulted OpenAI into the ranks of Silicon Valley power players. The company recently reached a $10 billion deal with Microsoft, which plans to incorporate the start-up’s technology into its Bing search engine and other products. Google declared a “code red” in response to ChatGPT, fast-tracking many of its own A.I. products in an attempt to catch up.

 

Mr. Altman has said his goal at OpenAI is to create what is known as “artificial general intelligence,” or A.G.I., an artificial intelligence that matches human intellect. He has been an outspoken champion of A.I., saying in a recent interview that its benefits for humankind could be “so unbelievably good that it’s hard for me to even imagine.” (He has also said that in a worst-case scenario, A.I. could kill us all.)

As ChatGPT has captured the world’s imagination, Mr. Altman has been put in the rare position of trying to downplay a hit product. He is worried that too much hype for ChatGPT could provoke a regulatory backlash or create inflated expectations for future releases, two people familiar with his views said. On Twitter, he has tried to tamp down excitement, calling ChatGPT “incredibly limited” and warning users that “it’s a mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now.”

He has also discouraged employees from boasting about ChatGPT’s success. In December, days after the company announced that more than a million people had signed up for the service, Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s president, tweeted that it had reached two million users. Mr. Altman asked him to delete the tweet, telling him that advertising such rapid growth was unwise, two people who saw the exchange said.

OpenAI is an unusual company, by Silicon Valley standards. Started in 2015 as a nonprofit research lab by a group of tech leaders including Mr. Altman, Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman and Elon Musk, it created a for-profit subsidiary in 2019 and struck a $1 billion deal with Microsoft. It has since grown to around 375 employees, according to Mr. Altman — not counting the contractors it pays to train and test its A.I. models in regions like Eastern Europe and Latin America.

From the start, OpenAI has billed itself as a mission-driven organization that wants to ensure that advanced A.I. will be safe and aligned with human values. But in recent years, the company has embraced a more competitive spirit — one that some critics say has come at the expense of its original aims.

Those concerns grew last summer when OpenAI released its DALL-E 2 image-generating software, which turns text prompts into works of digital art. The app was a hit with consumers, but it raised thorny questions about how such powerful tools could be used to cause harm. If creating hyper-realistic images was as simple as typing in a few words, critics asked, wouldn’t pornographers and propagandists have a field day with the technology?

To allay these fears, OpenAI outfitted DALL-E 2 with numerous safeguards and blocked certain words and phrases, such as those related to graphic violence or nudity. It also taught the bot to neutralize certain biases in its training data — such as making sure that when a user asked for a photo of a C.E.O., the results included images of women.

These interventions prevented trouble, but they struck some OpenAI executives as heavy-handed and paternalistic, according to three people with knowledge of their positions. One of them was Mr. Altman, who has said he believes that A.I. chatbots should be personalized to the tastes of the people using them — one user could opt for a stricter, more family-friendly model, while another could choose a looser, edgier version.

OpenAI has taken a less restrictive approach with ChatGPT, giving the bot more license to weigh in on sensitive subjects like politics, sex and religion. Even so, some right-wing conservatives have accused the company of overstepping. “ChatGPT Goes Woke,” read the headline of a National Review article last month, which argued that ChatGPT gave left-wing responses to questions about topics such as drag queens and the 2020 election. (Democrats have also complained about ChatGPT — mainly because they think A.I. should be regulated more heavily.)

As regulators swirl, Mr. Altman is trying to keep ChatGPT above the fray. He flew to Washington last week to meet with lawmakers, explaining the tool’s strengths and weaknesses and clearing up misconceptions about how it works.

Back in Silicon Valley, he is navigating a frenzy of new attention. In addition to the $10 billion Microsoft deal, Mr. Altman has met with top executives at Apple and Google in recent weeks, two people with knowledge of the meetings said. OpenAI also inked a deal with BuzzFeed to use its technology to create A.I.-generated lists and quizzes. (The announcement more than doubled BuzzFeed’s stock price.)

The race is heating up. Baidu, the Chinese tech giant, is preparing to introduce a chatbot similar to ChatGPT in March, according to Reuters. Anthropic, an A.I. company started by former OpenAI employees, is reportedly in talks to raise $300 million in new funding. And Google is racing ahead with more than a dozen A.I. tools.

Then there’s GPT-4, which is still scheduled to come out this year. When it does, its abilities may make ChatGPT look quaint. Or maybe, now that we’re adjusting to a powerful new A.I. tool in our midst, the next one won’t seem so shocking.

 

U.S. Employment Soars Adding  517,000 Jobs – Unemployment the Lowest in 50 Years!

News: Unemployment is at its Lowest Level in 54 years | U.S. Department of  Commerce

Dear Commons Community,

America’s employers added 517,000 jobs in January, a surprisingly strong gain in the face of the Federal Reserve’s aggressive drive to slow growth and tame inflation with higher interest rates.

The unemployment rate dipped to 3.4%, a new half-century low.  As reported by the Associated Press.

Friday’s government report added to the picture of a resilient labor market, with low unemployment, relatively few layoffs and many job openings even as most economists foresee a recession nearing. Though good for workers, employers’ steady demand for labor has also helped accelerate wage growth and contributed to high inflation.

January’s job growth, which far exceeded December’s 269,000 gain, could raise doubts about whether inflation pressures will ease further in the months ahead. The Fed has raised its key rate eight times since March to try to contain inflation, which hit a four-decade high last year but has slowed since then.

Companies are still seeking more workers and are hanging tightly onto the ones they have. Putting aside some high-profile layoffs at big tech companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and others, most workers are enjoying an unusual level of job security even at a time when many economists foresee a recession approaching.

For all of 2022, the economy had added a sizzling average of 375,000 jobs a month. That was a pace vigorous enough to have contributed to the painful inflation Americans have endured, the worst such bout in 40 years. A tight job market tends to put upward pressure on wages, which, in turn, feed into inflation.

The Fed, hoping to cool the job market and the economy — and, as a consequence, inflation — has steadily raised borrowing rates, most recently on Wednesday. Year-over-year measures of consumer inflation have steadily eased since peaking at 9.1% in June. But at 6.5% in December, inflation remains far above the Fed’s 2% target, which is why the central bank’s policymakers have reiterated their intent to keep raising borrowing rates for at least a few more months.

The Fed is aiming to achieve a “soft landing” — a pullback in the economy that is just enough to tame high inflation without triggering a recession. The policymakers hope that employers can slow wage increases and inflationary pressures by reducing job openings but not necessarily by laying off many employees.

But the job market’s resilience isn’t making that hoped-for outcome any easier. On Wednesday, the Labor Department reported that employers posted 11 million job openings in December, an unexpected jump from 10.4 million in November and the largest number since July. There are now about two job vacancies, on average, for every unemployed American.

The Labor Department’s monthly count of layoffs has amounted to fewer than 1.5 million for 21 straight months. Until 2021, that figure had never dropped so low in records dating back two decades.

Yet another sign that workers are benefiting from unusual job security is the weekly number of people who apply for unemployment benefits. That figure is a proxy for layoffs, one that economists monitor for clues about where the job market might be headed. The government said Thursday that the number of jobless claims fell last week to its lowest level since April.

The pace of applications for unemployment aid has remained rock-bottom despite a steady stream of headline-making layoff announcements. Facebook parent Meta is cutting 11,000 jobs, Amazon 18,000, Microsoft 10,000, Google 12,000. Some economists suspect that many laid-off workers might not be showing up at the unemployment line because they can still find new jobs easily.

This is incredibly good news for the country and its economy!

Tony

 

House Republicans oust Democrat Ilhan Omar from Foreign Affairs Committee!

House set to vote to keep Ilhan Omar off House Foreign Affairs Committee -  ABC News

Ilhan Omar

Dear Commons Community,

House Republicans voted  yesterday to oust Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the chamber’s major Foreign Affairs Committee, citing her anti-Israel comments.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was able to solidify Republican support against Omar in the new Congress although some GOP lawmakers had expressed reservations. Removal of lawmakers from House committees was essentially unprecedented until the Democratic ousters two years ago of hard-right Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona.  

The 218-211 vote, mostly along party lines, came after a heated, voices-raised debate in which Democrats accused the GOP of targeting Omar based on her race. Omar defended herself on the House floor, asking if anyone was surprised she was being targeted, “because when you push power, power pushes back.” Democratic colleagues hugged and embraced their colleague during the vote.  As reported by the Associated Press.

“My voice will get louder and stronger, and my leadership will be celebrated around the world,” Omar said in a closing speech.

Republicans focused on six statements Omar has made that “under the totality of the circumstances, disqualify her from serving on the Committee of Foreign Affairs,” said Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss.

“All members, both Republicans and Democrats alike who seek to serve on Foreign Affairs, should be held to the highest standard of conduct due to the international sensitivity and national security concerns under the jurisdiction of this committee,” Guest said.

The resolution proposed by Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, a former official in the Trump administration, declared, “Omar’s comments have brought dishonor to the House of Representatives.”

Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said Omar has at times “made mistakes” and used antisemitic tropes that were condemned by House Democrats four years ago. But that’s not what Thursday’s vote was about, he said.

“It’s not about accountability, it’s about political revenge,” Jeffries said.

Omar is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. She is also the first to wear a hijab in the House chamber after floor rules were changed to allow members to wear head coverings for religious reasons.

She quickly generated controversy after entering Congress in 2019 with a pair of tweets that suggested lawmakers who supported Israel were motivated by money.

In the first, she criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she wrote, invoking slang about $100 bills.

Asked on Twitter who she thought was paying members of Congress to support Israel, Omar responded, “AIPAC!”

The comments sparked a public rebuke from then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who made clear that Omar had overstepped.

She soon apologized.

“We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me about my identity,” Omar tweeted. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”

Omar’s tweets were among several remarks highlighted in the resolutions seeking her removal from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, argued for excluding Omar from the panel during a recent closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans.

“It’s just that her worldview of Israel is so diametrically opposed to the committee’s,” McCaul told reporters in describing his stance. “I don’t mind having differences of opinion, but this goes beyond that.”

McCarthy has already blocked Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both California Democrats, from rejoining the House Intelligence Committee once the GOP took control of the chamber in January. While appointments to the intelligence panel are the prerogative of the speaker, the action on Omar requires a House vote.

Several Republicans skeptical of removing Omar wanted “due process” for lawmakers who face removal. McCarthy said he told them he would work with Democrats on creating a due process system, but acknowledged it’s still a work in progress.

This was an expected retaliation on the part of Housed Republicans!

Tony

“Science” Editorial – The Revolt against college rankings!

Dear Commons Community,

Science this morning has an editorial entitled,  “Revolt against educational rankings” which  examines the current development of major universities walking away from participating in U.S. News and World Reports’ annual exercise of rating colleges and universities.  Started by major law schools in the country, major medical schools such the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford have recently announced that they too will no longer participate in the rankings game.  This movement is long overdue.

The entire editorial is below!

Tony

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After Years of Decline, Undergraduate Enrollment Shows ‘Signs of Recovery’

Click to enlarge. Source:  National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported yesterday that undergraduate enrollment is stabilizing according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which provided a final tally on enrollment for the fall of 2022. It marks a slowdown of a longer term trend that had been in effect for years, and which had worsened during the pandemic.

Undergraduate enrollment in the fall of 2022 fell only 0.6 percent, or by 94,000 students, from a year ago. Total enrollment in the fall of 2022 was essentially flat as well — down by 0.7 percent from a year earlier.

But the odds of a bounce-back to pre-pandemic levels are still remote. Since the pandemic began, undergraduate and total enrollment have each dropped by more than a million students.

Here are three takeaways from the data:

A bright spot during years of somber enrollment news has faded.

During the early years of the pandemic, graduate enrollment was on the rise. In the fall of 2020, it was up 3 percent from the year before, followed by 2.4 percent in the fall of 2021.

But “we’re now seeing the end of that growth trend,” said Doug Shapiro, the center’s executive director, in a call with reporters. In 2022, graduate attendance fell 1.2 percent across all four-year sectors — public, private nonprofit, and private for-profit.

More would-be freshmen opted for college.

According to the data, freshman enrollment was up 4.3 percent, or 97,000 students. The increase is a reversal of the 10.2-percent slide in enrollment for first-time students in the fall of 2020.

Freshman enrollment rose in all sectors, including a 6.1-percent increase from a year ago at community colleges, where the steepest enrollment declines had surfaced during the pandemic.

“It’s very encouraging to start seeing signs of recovery here,” although freshman attendance still has a “long way to go” to return to 2019 levels, Shapiro said.

Some of the top majors have lost their shine.

Of the top-five majors at four-year colleges, only one of them, business management, grew in the fall of 2022. Business management was up 1.2 percent from the year before, after multiple years of decline. The other four majors — health professions, liberal arts and sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, and engineering — all declined in the fall of 2022.

Some of the other majors that saw gains: computer science at 10.7 percent; natural resources and conservation at 3 percent; visual and performing arts at 1.7 percent; agriculture at 1.4 percent; and psychology at 1.1 percent.

A small but good development for higher education!

Tony

The College Board Strips Down Its A.P. Curriculum for African American Studies after Criticism from Ron DeSantis!!

College Board revises AP African American studies course after criticism

Dear Commons Community,

The College Board released yesterday a revised curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies — stripped of much of the subject matter that had angered Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other conservatives.

The College Board purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism. It ushered out some politically fraught topics, like Black Lives Matter, from the formal curriculum.

And it added something new: “Black conservatism” is now offered as an idea for a research project. As reported by The New York Times.

When it announced the A.P. course in August, the College Board clearly believed it was providing a class whose time had come, and it was celebrated by eminent scholars like Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard as an affirmation of the importance of African American studies. But the coursequickly ran into a political buzz saw — first from conservatives after an early draft leaked to conservative publications like The Florida Standard and National Review. And then, once the curriculum was released on Wednesday, some academics and liberal groups protested the changes.

The dispute over the A.P. course is about more than just the content of a high school class. Education is the center of much vitriolic partisan debate, and the College Board’s decision to try to build a curriculum covering one of the most charged subjects in the country — the history of race in America — may have all but guaranteed controversy. If anything, the arguments over the curriculum underscore the fact that the United States is a country that cannot agree on its own story, especially the complex history of Black Americans.

The pushback began in January, when Governor DeSantis of Florida, a Republican who is expected to run for president, announced that he would ban the curriculum, citing the draft version. State education officials said it was not historically accurate and violated state law that regulates how race-related issues are taught in public schools.

The attack on the A.P. course turned out to be the prelude to a much larger agenda. On Tuesday, Mr. DeSantis unveiled a proposal to overhaul higher education that would eliminate what he called “ideological conformity” by, among other things, mandating courses in Western civilization.

In another red flag to the College Board, there was the possibility of other opposition: more than two dozen states have adopted some sort of measure against critical race theory, according to a tracking project by the University of California, Los Angeles, law school.

David Coleman, the head of the College Board, said in an interview that the changes were all made for pedagogical reasons, not to bow to political pressure. “At the College Board, we can’t look to statements of political leaders,” he said. The changes, he said, came from “the input of professors” and “longstanding A.P. principles.”

Moreover, College Board officials said ysterday that they had a time-stamped document showing that the final changes to the curriculum were made in December, before the Florida Department of Education sent its letter informing the College Board that it would not allow the course to be taught.

Mr. Coleman said that during the initial test of the course this school year, the board received feedback that the secondary, more theoretical sources were “quite dense” and that students connected more with primary sources, which he said have always been the foundation of A.P. courses.

“We experimented with a lot of things including assigning secondary sources, and we found a lot of issues arose as we did,” he said. “I think what is most surprising and powerful for most people is looking directly at people’s experience.”

After the curriculum was released Wednesday, Bryan Griffin, the press secretary for Mr. DeSantis, said the state education department was reviewing it for “corrections and compliance with Florida law.” Florida already requires the teaching of African American history.

In light of the conservative criticism, the College Board seemed to opt out of the politics. The revised 234-page curriculum framework ranges widely through content on Africa, slavery, reconstruction and the civil rights movement. And there is content on redlining, discrimination and Afrofuturism, as well as stories of individual achievement and heroism

But the study of contemporary topics — including Black Lives Matter, incarceration, queer life and the debate over reparations — is downgraded. The subjects are no longer part of the exam, and are simply offered on a list of options for a required research project.

And even that list, in a nod to local laws, “can be refined by local states and districts.”

The expunged writers and scholars include Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a law professor at Columbia, which touts her work as “foundational in critical race theory”; Roderick Ferguson, a Yale professor who has written about queer social movements; and Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author who has made the case for reparations for slavery. Gone, too, is bell hooks, the writer who shaped discussions about race, feminism and class.

After the curriculum was released, Professor Crenshaw said that even if her name and others had been taken out of the curriculum because secondary sources — theorists or analysts — were being eliminated in favor of facts and lived experience, the decision sent a troubling message. “I would have made a different choice,” she said. “Even the appearance of bowing to political pressure in the context of new knowledge and ideas is something that should not be done.”

But she said she was also disappointed because she had believed the course would capitalize on a hunger of young students to learn “ways of thinking about things like police brutality, mass incarceration and continuing inequalities.”

Instead, she said, “the very same set of circumstances that presented the need for the course also created the backlash against the content that people don’t like.”

David Blight, a professor of American history at Yale University, said yesterday that he had written an endorsement of the new curriculum, at the College Board’s request, and that he believed it had much to offer not just about history but also about Black poetry, art and the origins of the blues, jazz and hip-hop. But he withdrew his endorsement after learning that some sections had been cut.

“I withdrew it because I want to know when and how they made these decisions to excise these people, because that’s also an attack on their academic freedom,” Dr. Blight said.

PEN America, a free speech organization, echoed that concern. While the College Board had said the changes were not political, the board “risked sending the message that political threats against the teaching of particular types of content can succeed in silencing that content,” said Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America.

The changes were also condemned by the National Parents Union and CFT, a California affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, representing education workers from childhood through higher education.

Dr. Gates, who was a consultant to the curriculum, said he was “sorry that the College Board’s policy is not to require secondary sources in its curricula.” He teaches Harvard’s introduction to African American studies, “and academic subjects such as ‘Intersectionality’ and critical race theory, the 1619 Project, reparations for slavery, Black homophobia and antisemitism are fair game, of course, for such a class,” he said in an email. The 1619 Project is an initiative by The New York Times.

Some conservatives were not completely mollified, either. Ilya Shapiro, director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute, said he did not object to topics like the Black Panthers and the Black is Beautiful movement being included because “that’s certainly part of what was America.”

But after seeing the framework, he faulted it for omitting conservative or independent Black thinkers like John McWhorter, Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell and Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court.

“Maybe further changes could be made,” he said. “Even though they said they’re not responding to the specific concerns that Florida raised, it very much looks like they’re addressing the letter of them by making them optional.”

A.P. exams are deeply embedded in the American education system. Students take the courses and exams to show their academic prowess when applying to college. Most four-year colleges and universities grant college credit for students who score high enough on an A.P. exam. And more than a million public high school students graduating in 2021 took at least one A.P. exam.

But the fracas over the exam raises questions about whether the African American Studies course, as modified, fulfills its mission of mimicking a college-level course, which usually expects students to analyze secondary sources and take on contentious topics.

Chester E. Finn Jr., a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, said the College Board had come up with a smart strategy by not eradicating the “touchy parts,” but rather making them optional.

“DeSantis likes to make noise and he’s running for president,” Mr. Finn said. “But they’ve been getting feedback from all over the place in the 60 schools they’ve been piloting this in. I think it’s a way of dealing with the United States at this point, not just DeSantis. Some of these things they might want to teach in New York, but not Dallas. Or San Francisco but not St. Petersburg.”

The College Board got down on a bended knee with these revisions!

Tony

Ron DeSantis Plans to Defund Diversity Programs in Florida Universities!  

DeSantis Targets Diversity Programs, Tenured Professors in 'Unhinged'​ Attack on Higher Ed – Radio Free

Dear Commons Community,

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that he plans to defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs in every Florida university.

The governor and potential 2024 presidential hopeful laid out a list of higher education “reforms” his administration aims to carry out, including banning DEI programs that help universities create a more supportive and inclusive space for staff and students from marginalized backgrounds. The state legislature will need to approve the plans before they go into effect.  As reported by The Huffington Post, The Associated Press  and other news media.

“We are also going to eliminate all DEI and [critical race theory] bureaucracies in the state of Florida. No funding, and that will wither on the vine,” DeSantis said. “And I think that that’s very important because it really serves as an ideological filter, a political filter.”

The governor equated mandatory DEI trainings as “imposing an agenda” that constitutes “a drain on resources,” and claimed that having universities include diversity statements is no different than “making people take a political oath.”

The announcement is DeSantis’ latest attempt at turning Florida’s higher education spaces into incubators for far-right ideas. The governor has already unsuccessfully tried to ban workplace diversity initiatives. He also pushed right-wing higher education officials to ban discussions of “critical race theory” and prides himself on the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits public school teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity.

Last week, the Florida Board of Education approved a training for public schools that focuses on preventing children from reading books about racial justice and books with LGBTQ themes. DeSantis also recently announced a statewide ban on a new Advanced Placement course on African American history ― a move that led some high school students to accuse the governor of censoring public education.

Earlier this month, DeSantis appointed conservatives to the board of New College of Florida, a state liberal arts school he has claimed is too focused on racial and gender issues. The college of fewer than 1,000 students is considered a safe haven for students from marginalized backgrounds, particularly the LGBTQ community.

The governor said Tuesday that the school’s DEI programs are “part of the reason I think it hasn’t been successful,” and that he hopes his new board appointments will help turn the college into Florida’s version of Hillsdale College, a private Christian university in Michigan.

With the small college’s new conservative-leaning board of trustees, DeSantis announced that he wants $15 million “immediately” for faculty recruitment and scholarships at the school, with $10 million of that being annual recurring funds.

The announcement came hours before New College’s first board meeting since DeSantis’ new appointments. At the meeting, trustees will discuss the possibility of ending faculty tenure, terminating all employee contracts and rehiring anyone who aligns with the school’s “new financial and business model,” one of the new trustees said.

Many New College students and faculty have voiced concerns about the new board and anticipated changes to the school, defending its inclusivity and long-held progressive policies.

“The vast majority of people on campus don’t want this,” student Sam Sharf, a trans woman, told The Associated Press of the school’s anticipated conservative change. “They would erase a lot of things on campus. I don’t want to be in a place that tries to erase my existence.”

DeSantis keeps coming after Florida’s colleges and universities!

Tony

Nikki Haley expected to announce presidential bid on Feb. 15th

The Smearing of Nikki Haley - WSJ

Nikki Haley

Dear Commons Community,

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley this week is expected to move closer to launching a presidential bid, according to three sources familiar with the rollout, setting the stage for an announcement that would make her former President Donald Trump‘s first GOP primary opponent for 2024.

Haley, who was ambassador to the U.N. for two years in the Trump administration, will invite supporters to a special event Feb. 15 in South Carolina, two of the sources said, noting that the invitation could go out as soon as Wednesday.

The Post and Courier of Charleston first reported Haley’s plans.

Haley teased a potential presidential bid this month, saying in an interview on Fox News: “Yes, we need to go in a new direction. And can I be that leader? Yes, I think I can be that leader.”

Trump, who announced a third presidential bid in November, kicked off his campaign with stops in New Hampshire and Haley’s home state, South Carolina, over the weekend.

Since she left the Trump administration, Haley at times has criticized Trump, but she frequently praises him. Before she joined the administration, she was governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017 and was a member of the state House of Representatives.

Haley would be a welcome addition to the Republican field of potential presidential candidates.

Tony

Rep. George Santos says he will recuse himself from committee assignments amid investigations!

George Santos Recuses Himself From Committee Seats – Rolling Stone

Dear Commons Community,

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., said yesterday he will recuse himself from his committee assignments amid multiple ongoing investigations into his finances and other issues.

Santos, who has admitted to lying about much of his background and has faced numerous calls to resign from Congress, was assigned seats on the House Small Business and Science committees. He shared his decision during a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning with the House GOP Conference, Chairwoman Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., told reporters at a press conference afterward.

Santos told his colleagues that he was stepping aside from committees “to prevent from being a distraction,” according to lawmakers in the room.

A spokesperson for Santos confirmed his decision to NBC News.

“He has reserved to see it until he has been cleared up both campaign and personal financial investigations,” the spokesperson said.

The embattled congressman met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Monday night.

The GOP Steering Committee, which is led by McCarthy and doles out committee assignments, voted earlier this month to give Santos slots on the panels, which are two of the lower-profile ones on Capitol Hill.

Members of both parties had expressed concerns about Santos having access to classified information through his work on committees. At the same time, all lawmakers are able to periodically sit in on classified briefings such as those provided by administration officials.

In a poll released Tuesday from Newsday and Siena College, 71% of voters in Santos’ district said McCarthy should not have seated Santos on the two committees and 78% said they believed he should resign from Congress. Asked Tuesday if Santos should step down, Stefanik said the “process will play itself out” in the next election.

Last week, McCarthy said that while he stands by Santos, the freshman congressman will be removed from office if the House Ethics Committee finds he broke the law.

Santos has faced intense scrutiny after The New York Times published a bombshell investigation in December indicating that much of his résumé appeared to have been manufactured, including claims that he owned numerous properties, was previously employed by Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and had graduated from Baruch College. He has also lied about how his mother was at the World Trade Center during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Santos is also under investigation by the Nassau County district attorney and federal prosecutors in New York. Law enforcement sources have said federal authorities are examining his finances, including potential irregularities involving financial disclosures and loans he made to his campaign. The state attorney general’s office has also said it’s “looking into a number of issues” regarding Santos.

The congressman has repeatedly said he plans to explain the inconsistencies but has not followed through on those promises.

Now all Santos has to do is recuse himself from serving in Congress!

Tony

Center for American Progress (Liberal Think Tank) Calls for Election Reform!

Which electoral reforms would make the biggest difference? - City & State  New York

 

Dear Commons Community,

In a new paper released Monday by the Center for American Progress (CAP), an influential liberal think tank, argues that changing how elections are held in the U.S. should be a top-tier issue.

“There is another equally fundamental issue that has, until recently, received only niche attention. That issue is electoral reform,” writes Alex Tausanovitch, a senior fellow at (CAP).  As reported by Yahoo News.

Tausanovitch’s paper is noteworthy because of his elevation of the issue. He argues that America’s current way of running elections is corrosive to democracy. And he says the Democratic Party has been part of the problem.

“For the most part, instead of working together to solve the nation’s problems, the two major parties engage in an endless tug of war,” he writes. “In recent years, the core of each party has sometimes veered to ideological extremes.”

“It is incumbent on those who care about democracy — organizations, advocates, funders, and commentators — to make electoral reform a bigger part of their collective work,” Tausanovitch argues. “It is increasingly clear that electoral incentives are a big part of what is driving the dysfunction in American politics.”

The CAP paper does not endorse any one specific reform, but lists several as having promise, including ranked-choice voting, nonpartisan or open primaries such as the system adopted in Alaska recently, and multi-member congressional districts.

CAP was launched in 2003 and is now headed by Patrick Gaspard, who was President Barack Obama’s White House director of political affairs before he was appointed as U.S. ambassador to South Africa. His predecessor, Neera Tanden, is now a top aide to President Biden.

The fact that a CAP scholar is encouraging consideration of abolishing party primaries, and of reforms that make it easier for third parties to grow, indicates that polarization and gridlock have produced populist anger at Washington that is pushing major institutions to rethink the status quo.

Proponents of electoral reform argue that it is the best way to fight political polarization and pressure lawmakers to better reflect the views of their constituents. The basic idea behind reform proposals is that a mere sliver of hyperpartisan voters hold too much power in many U.S. elections by deciding the winner of party primaries.

Primary voters tend to be much more ideologically rigid than the broader electorate of a given area. As a result, they usually reward more extreme candidates with their votes. And because so much of the country is either solidly Democratic or reliably Republican, those candidates often face little more than token opposition in general elections.

“This represents the increasingly widespread conclusion that our electoral system is fundamentally broken, and the increasing consensus that we need structural electoral reform to rebuild our creaky and dysfunctional system of republican democracy,” Lee Drutman, a leading voice in the reform movement who is affiliated with the New America Foundation and co-founded Fix Our House, said of the CAP paper.

Electoral reform is not a partisan issue, however, and has support on the right as well. Walter Olson, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, told Yahoo News that “election reform is an exciting area these days because new ideas are getting a hearing that are scrambling some of the old battle lines.”

Olson noted that recent bipartisan cooperation on updating the Electoral Count Act of 1887 shows that reforms aimed at protecting democracy are possible.

“The successful reform of the Electoral Count Act at the federal level has made people aware that cooperation across party and ideological divides can get real results in ways that benefit the country as a whole. I see Alex’s paper as very much in this spirit,” he said.

Kristin Eberhard, director of climate policy at the centrist Niskanen Center, said electoral reform should be a central focus of anyone interested in good government.

“You can’t solve money in politics if you continue to have extremist-driven primaries. You can’t solve gerrymandering if you continue to elect all legislators from single-winner districts,” Eberhard told Yahoo News.

Ranked-choice voting is probably the best known of the reforms mentioned in the paper. This is the system in which voters rank their top choices, and as candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated, their supporters are reallocated to candidates who were ranked behind them. It is intended to reward candidates who appeal to broad swaths of voters rather than to a small but extreme minority, and to give voters more of a sense that their voice is being heard.

Ranked-choice voting has been adopted in statewide elections in Maine and Alaska, and 60 localities use it in some form, including New York City.

Alaska adopted a nonpartisan summer primary for the 2022 election, in which the top four vote getters advanced to the fall election. The general election is now decided by ranked choice.

Much of the attention in Alaska has gone to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican who defeated a Trump-endorsed opponent, and to the contest for the state’s one seat in the House of Representatives, which was won by Democrat Mary Peltola.

But the more interesting test of Alaska’s reform will be to see if it has a positive impact on the state Legislature, which was dubbed “America’s most dysfunctional legislative body” just two years ago.

There are signs of progress. Earlier this month in Juneau, “one of the longest-running battles for control of a legislative chamber ended Wednesday in remarkable harmony,” noted veteran political reporter Reid Wilson.

As Tausanovitch says in his paper: “It is still early to judge how the system will affect future elections, but it does seem to have ushered in a number of moderate candidates who align well with Alaska voters and who may have lost in a traditional partisan primary.”

Nationally, Tausanovitch concludes, “many voters — if not most — would prefer a government that is professional and responsive, in which politicians work together to solve the nation’s problems.”

“Unfortunately, however, that is not the government that America’s electoral rules incentivize politicians to deliver.”

Tausanovitch has it right!

Tony