Consummate NYC News Reporter Jimmy Breslin Dead at Age 88!

Dear Commons Community,

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

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

A great newspaperman!

Tony

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

By Dan Barry

March 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Dear Commons Community,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony

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

Dear Commons Community,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony

 

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

Dear Commons Community,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony

Donald Trump’s 2018 Budget Proposes 13.5% Reduction for Education Department

Dear Commons Community,

Donald Trump released details of his 2018 budget proposal that includes massive cuts to the EPA (31%) and the State Department (29%).  The Department of Education would see a 13.5 % reduction of its budget from $68.2 billion to $59 billion. The Education budget calls for a downsizing or elimination of a number of grants, including for teacher training, afterschool programs, and aid to low-income and minority college students. The cuts would be coupled with a historic investment — $1.4 billion — in charter schools, private schools and other school-choice initiatives.  The Washington Post summarized the Education budget as follows:

“The Trump administration is seeking to cut $9.2 billion — or 13.5 percent — from the Education Department’s budget, a dramatic downsizing that would reduce or eliminate grants for teacher training, after-school programs and aid to ­low-income and first-generation college students.

Along with the cuts, among the steepest the agency has ever sustained, the administration is also proposing to shift $1.4 billion toward one of President Trump’s key priorities: Expanding charter schools, private-school vouchers and other alternatives to traditional public schools. His $59 billion education budget for 2018 would include an unprecedented federal investment in such “school choice” initiatives, signaling a push to reshape K-12 education in America.

The president is proposing a $168 million increase for charter schools — 50 percent above the current level — and a new $250 million private-school choice program, which would probably provide vouchers for families to use at private or parochial schools. Vouchers are one of the most polarizing issues in education, drawing fierce resistance from Democrats and some Republicans, particularly those in rural states.

Trump also wants an additional $1 billion for Title I, a $15 billion grant program for schools with high concentrations of poor children. The new funds would be used to encourage districts to adopt a controversial form of choice: Allowing local, state and federal funds to follow children to whichever public school they choose.

That policy, known as “portability,” was rejected in the Republican-led Senate during deliberations over the main K-12 education law in 2015. Many Democrats see portability as the first step toward federal vouchers for private schools and argue that it would siphon dollars from schools with high poverty and profound needs to those in more affluent neighborhoods.

The slim budget summary released Thursday frames the new spending as the first step toward meeting Trump’s campaign pledge to invest $20 billion in school-choice initiatives. The document makes no mention of another policy Trump is expected to promote through a tax bill: a new tax credit for donations to private-school scholarships.”

Wow!

Tony

 

U.S. Senate Democrats Ask Betsy DeVos:  Why the  Delayed Enforcement of Gainful Employment Rule!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported earlier this week that twelve Democrats in the U.S. Senate sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education over its decision last week to delay the effective date of the gainful-employment rule until July 1.  The gainful-employment rule was enacted to assist college students to understand better career-oriented academic programs. As reported:

In a letter, the senators, led by Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Patty Murray of Washington, and Elizabeth A. Warren of Massachusetts, called on Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, to explain the decision. Several senators also asked the department’s inspector general, Kathleen Tighe, to investigate the choice.

“The gainful-employment rule is a critical protection for both students and taxpayers,” the letter says. “This delay needlessly stalls important protections for students and taxpayers, and creates more uncertainty for schools.”

The rule, crafted under the Obama administration, is intended to judge career-oriented programs based on the student-loan debt of their graduates in relation to the graduates’ earnings. “Implementation of this rule is an important part of your responsibility as secretary to protect students and appropriately oversee taxpayer dollars,” the letter says.

Lynn Mahaffie, acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education, said last week that the decision to delay the rule was intended “to allow the department to further review the GE regulations and their implementation.”

The senators asked Ms. DeVos for a “prompt response” to their questions, but if recent history is an indicator, they may be waiting a while. In a letter to Ms. DeVos in late February, senators requested clarification of reports of a higher-education task force to be led by Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. The senators wrote that they wanted a response “no later than” March 9, but as of this writing, they had not yet received an answer.”

We have only just begun!

Tony

Trump’s 2005 Tax Return Aired on MSNBC!

Dear Commons Community,

What will surely be the major story today is an unauthorized release of Donald Trump’s 2005 tax return last night on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show.  I did not see the show but here is a review from an article in the New York Times.

WASHINGTON — President Trump wrote off more than $100 million in business losses to reduce his federal taxes in 2005, according to forms made public on Tuesday night: a rare glimpse at documents that he had refused to disclose since becoming a candidate for the nation’s highest office.

Mr. Trump paid $38 million in federal income taxes on reported income of $150 million, an effective tax rate of 25 percent, according to forms disclosed on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. By claiming losses, Mr. Trump apparently saved millions of dollars in taxes that he would otherwise have owed.

The White House responded without even waiting for the show to air, issuing a statement that seemed to confirm the authenticity of the forms even as it defended Mr. Trump and assailed MSNBC for publicizing them. “Before being elected president, Mr. Trump was one of the most successful businessmen in the world, with a responsibility to his company, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required,” the statement said.

The White House described the business losses as a “large-scale depreciation for construction,” but did not elaborate. In addition to the federal income taxes in 2005, the statement said, he paid “tens of millions of dollars in other taxes, such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes, and this illegally published return proves just that.”

Mr. Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public during the campaign broke with decades of tradition in presidential contests and emerged as a central issue. That drumbeat has continued since he entered the White House, particularly from critics who contend that his returns may shed light on various aspects of his business practices, including whether he has done business with Russian companies and banks.

Nothing in the two pages produced on Tuesday night suggested any ties with Russia. Nor did they provide much information about his businesses that was not previously known. But they showed that the vast bulk of the federal income taxes he paid in 2005, $31 million, was paid under the alternative minimum tax, which Mr. Trump wants to abolish.

That tax serves as a backstop to the ordinary income tax and is intended to prevent wealthy Americans from paying no income tax at all. Without it, Mr. Trump would have paid about $5 million in regular taxes, plus nearly $2 million in self-employment taxes, on $153 million in income in 2005.

“Trump’s return shows that he’s pushing tax changes that benefit multimillionaire heirs like him, not the middle class,” said Lily Batchelder, a tax law professor at New York University and former majority chief tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee. “His proposal to repeal the A.M.T. would have slashed his own tax burden by $31 million, and his income tax rate would be lower than the average rate paid by families earning $75,000 to $100,000.”

Edward Kleinbard, a professor of tax law at the University of Southern California, said, “It’s disturbing that he is pushing to eliminate the only tax that really bit him in that year.”

The White House castigated MSNBC for reporting on Mr. Trump’s taxes. “You know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago,” its statement said. “The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda, while the president will focus on his, which includes tax reform that will benefit all Americans.”

Personally I don’t think this tax return tells very much.  Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston suggested that President Donald Trump himself may have been the unknown source who sent two pages of his 2005 tax return to the journalist. 

“It came in the mail over the transom,” Johnston told Maddow, following the host’s roughly 25-minute build-up before discussing the documents in detail. “…Let me point out, it’s entirely possible that Donald sent this to me. Donald Trump has, over the years, leaked all sorts of things.”

Tony

 

The Firing of Preet Bharara!

Dear Commons Community,

This past weekend, the news media was closely following Preet Bharara’s firing as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern New York District.  There were many questions regarding his dismissal.  The New York Times (see below) has a good review of his case in an editorial this morning.  The whole affair is troubling especially whether his firing had anything to do with Donald Trump’s relationship to Rupert Murdoch and Fox News which the Times refers to as the “propaganda arm of the White House”. 

New York magazine went further on the Murdoch connection referring to possible pending indictments against Fox News personnel that Bharara was pursuing and reported yesterday:

“Given that Fox News is Murdoch’s most profitable division, the prospect of indictments is a serious problem. “They’re really worried,” one source close to the network said. Another insider said that Fox News executives considered the investigation “political” because Bharara had been appointed by Barack Obama. Which is why, for Murdoch, it must be a relief that Bharara’s replacement could be an ally. According to the Times, Trump’s short list to replace Bharara includes Marc Mukasey — who just happens to be former Fox News chief Roger Ailes’s personal lawyer.”

Tony

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New York Times

Preet Bharara: A Prosecutor Who Knew How to Drain the Swamp!

The Editorial Board

March 13, 2017

 

Most Americans had never heard of Preet Bharara, Manhattan’s federal prosecutor, before he briefly took center stage in the drama over the Trump administration’s Friday order demanding the resignations of 46 United States attorneys.

Mr. Bharara alone refused to resign. He was fired on Saturday, and immediately cast as either a martyr for justice or a sanctimonious self-promoter, depending on one’s partisan inclinations. But New Yorkers, who have had a front-row seat to his work over the last seven years, know him for his efforts to drain one of the swampiest states in the country of its rampant public corruption.

Appointed in 2009 by President Barack Obama, Mr. Bharara quickly went after New York’s rancid political culture, where politicians of both parties have long treated anti-graft laws like suggestions and ethics rules like Play-Doh.

Mr. Bharara won convictions of more than a dozen lawmakers, culminating in 2015, when he brought down two of the state’s three most powerful politicians: Sheldon Silver, the Democratic former Assembly speaker, and Dean Skelos, the Republican former Senate majority leader. Both men have appealed their convictions, which included charges of bribery, extortion and money laundering.

Mr. Bharara also tangled repeatedly with the other member of that entrenched trio, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo. He investigated Mr. Cuomo’s suspicious disbanding in 2014 of the Moreland Commission, an anticorruption panel that Mr. Cuomo had established a year earlier to address the epidemic of self-dealing in state politics. Mr. Bharara eventually decided there was not enough evidence to charge the governor with interfering in the commission’s work, but at the time of his firing, Mr. Bharara’s office was prosecuting two of Mr. Cuomo’s former advisers in a bribery and bid-rigging scandal.

Mr. Bharara was an equal-opportunity prosecutor. One of the first cases as United States attorney for the Southern District of New York involved bank-fraud charges against a top Democratic donor, Hassan Nemazee, who had ties to Senator Chuck Schumer, for whom Mr. Bharara had worked as chief counsel and who had urged Mr. Obama to hire him.

At the time of his dismissal, his office was in the final stages of a criminal investigation into the campaign fund-raising of New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio.

It’s standard practice for United States attorneys to be replaced when a new administration takes office — roughly half of those appointed by President Obama had resigned before last Friday — but Mr. Trump, as president-elect, had personally asked Mr. Bharara to stay on during a meeting at Trump Tower in November. So why fire him now?

It has been reported that Mr. Bharara’s office is investigating whether Fox News, essentially the propaganda arm of the White House, failed to properly alert its shareholders about settlements with employees who accused the channel’s former boss, Roger Ailes, of sexual harassment.

It may be a while before the full story comes out, or before the Southern District of New York sees another prosecutor as cleareyed about rooting out public corruption. In the meantime, Mr. Bharara deserves credit for leaving New York a little cleaner than he found it. “We are not trying to criminalize ordinary politics,” he said in a 2015 speech. “Just try not to steal our money.”

Citing a Severe Shortage: California to Consider Eliminating Income Tax for Teachers!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. is in the throes of the worst teacher shortage since the 1990s, according to the Learning Policy Institute, which estimates that school districts need to hire about 300,000 new teachers. California, in particular,  is losing teachers at an alarming rate and does not have enough individuals in its teacher certification programs to fill the need. As a result, two legislators are considering a proposal to eliminate income tax for teachers with the hope of attracting more people into the profession.  As reported by U.S. News and World:

“…the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act, introduced by two state Senate Democrats, is the first of its kind in California and in the country. While a handful of states give retirees tax breaks on their pensions, and others, including including Maryland and New Jersey, have toyed with the idea of eliminating income tax for law enforcement officers, it doesn’t appear that any have seriously considered cutting the income tax for the teaching profession.

“There’s no other state in the country that has singled out teaching in the classroom as a profession that should not be taxed,” says Bill Lucia, president and CEO of EdVoice, a grassroots education advocacy organization in California that’s backing the proposal.

He continued: “We have a problem in California and we can’t deal with a problem that’s this serious by tinkering around the edges and putting Band-Aids on it or hiding it. We are hiding the issue. This bill is finally bringing out to the sunshine of California how serious the problem is.”

Teacher shortages are a local issue, with teachers in some parts of states competing for few slots while other parts of the same state are starved for educators. But California has borne the brunt of what’s increasingly considered a national teacher shortage crisis.

According to a survey of 211 California school districts, 75 percent reported having a shortage of qualified teachers for the 2016-17 school year, and 80 percent said the shortages have gotten worse since the 2013-14 school year, especially with regard to special education, math, science and bilingual teachers.

To counter the shortage, the state has largely relied on hiring underqualified teachers, filling slots with substitutes or asking educators to teach classes outside their subject area expertise.

Indeed, data from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the California Department of Education show that during this school year 155,000 students in California public schools are being taught by adults who lack the required state credentials to be full-time teachers.

For new teachers, the proposal would translate into approximately 3.4 percent salary increase annually. A first-year teacher earning $44,746 a year, for example, would be able to write-off up to $1,265, roughly 2.8 percent of their salary, in addition to offsetting the costs of additional credentials or a master’s degree that the state requires.

For veteran teachers, the proposal would be equivalent to a 4 to 6 percent salary increase annually. A year-six teacher with a salary of $59,728 would no longer be taxed $2,483, representing a 4.2 percent salary increase.

Overall, the proposal would cost $617.5 million annually, according to preliminary estimates by EdVoice – $9 million of which would help offset the cost of the additional teacher training the state requires and $608.5 million of which would provide the tax exemption for classroom teaching income.

“[The bill] addresses the immediate teacher shortage and sends a loud and clear message across the state and nation: California values teachers,” said state Sen. Henry Stern, a Democrat who co-sponsored the proposal. “We will help train you and we want you to stay in the classroom.”

The costs would be offset by short- and long-term benefits. For example, if the bill results in a 50 percent decrease in teacher turnover, as EdVoice predicts it would, California school districts would save $123.5 million annually.

It’s unclear whether there’s appetite for such an expensive proposal, especially in light of California Gov. Jerry Brown’s projected budget deficit of $1.6 billion – though a recent report from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office counters that estimate.

Although the likelihood of this legislation being passed is slim, it will be watched carefully as other states consider how to deal with the teacher shortage.

Tony