CUNY Sees 11% Increase in Student Applications as Excelsior Program Kicks In!

Dear Commons Community,

Last year, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo won approval for his groundbreaking Excelsior Scholarship program to make college tuition-free for many students at New York’s public colleges and universities.  It appears that the scholarship program may be gaining in appeal.

It was reported by CUNY officials yesterday that a record 50,546 students are seeking to enroll at the City University of New York for the 2018-19 school year.  That’s up from the 45,497 who applied for freshman seats in the current school year and represents a jump of roughly 11%.

CUNY officials said the new record number of applicants follows a 9% increase in applications for 2016, which resulted in CUNY’s largest-ever freshman class of 38,372 in 2017.  As reported in the New York Daily News:

“One reason for the surge, CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken said, is the state’s Excelsior Scholarship, which kicked off in this past fall.

“Students are seeing the tremendous opportunity and value that CUNY offers,” Milliken said. “We believe that Gov. Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship played a significant role in the increases in applications, enrollment and credit-taking by enabling eligible students to attend tuition-free.”

Cuomo rolled out the Excelsior Scholarship, named for the state motto meaning “ever upward,” to increase access to public colleges across New York State. As of October, about 22,000 students were participating in the program, which covers any tuition that remains after other aid is received for students whose families make less than $100,000.

CUNY students as well as those at the State University of New York are eligible for the scholarship.

As of 2016, about 272,957 students were enrolled at CUNY schools, representing a 40% increase from 2000, when 195,000 students enrolled for fall classes, CUNY officials said.”

This is good news for students, for CUNY, and for public higher education.  However, I am not sure what is happening at private colleges.  There were reports last year that many private colleges in the state would not be participating via the Enhanced Tuition Awards Program, which provides up to $6,000 for students who choose to attend private colleges instead of one of the state’s SUNY or CUNY colleges.

Tony

 

Steve Bannon Claims “Treasonous” Acts in Trump Election – Trump Retorts Bannon Has “Lost His Mind”!

 

Dear Commons Community,

Steve Bannon made incendiary comments about Donald Trump in a new book by Michael Wolff entitled, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, that is set to be released next week.   As reported by The Guardian yesterday, Bannon suggested that Trump was aware of a meeting his son Donald Trump Jr. had with Russian operatives at Trump Tower in June 2016 and that the then-candidate met with the delegation himself. Bannon also described the meeting as “treasonous” and “bad shit.”

“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” Bannon told Wolff, according to The Guardian.

Trump unleashed a furious denial of Bannon’s claims late yesterday saying his former adviser had “lost his mind” and alleging the former campaign chief had “very little to do with our historic victory.”

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency,” Trump said in a statement, which also accused Bannon of leaking information to the media. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”

Trump’s lawyers are threatening to sue Bannon for libel and breach of a confidentiality agreement he signed when he became a member of Trump’s campaign.

I think Wolff’s Fire and Fury.. is going to be a best seller!

Tony

 

Advances in Artificial Intelligence Imaging!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article reporting on advances being made in using artificial intelligence (A.I.) to create images.  The images above are not photographs but images created entirely by A.I. The article goes on to describe how these advances will make their way into 3-D imaging, games, and holography.  Here is an excerpt.

“At a lab in Finland, a small team of Nvidia researchers recently built a system that can analyze thousands of (real) celebrity snapshots, recognize common patterns, and create new images that look much the same — but are still a little different. The system can also generate realistic images of horses, buses, bicycles, plants and many other common objects.

The project is part of a vast and varied effort to build technology that can automatically generate convincing images — or alter existing images in equally convincing ways. The hope is that this technology can significantly accelerate and improve the creation of computer interfaces, games, movies and other media, eventually allowing software to create realistic imagery in moments rather than the hours — if not days — it can now take human developers.

In recent years, thanks to a breed of algorithm that can learn tasks by analyzing vast amounts of data, companies like Google and Facebook have built systems that can recognize faces and common objects with an accuracy that rivals the human eye. Now, these and other companies, alongside many of the world’s top academic A.I. labs, are using similar methods to both recognize and create.

Nvidia’s images can’t match the resolution of images produced by a top-of-the-line camera, but when viewed on even the largest smartphones, they are sharp, detailed, and, in many cases, remarkably convincing.

Like other prominent A.I. researchers, the Nvidia team believes the techniques that drive this project will continue to improve in the months and years to come, generating significantly larger and more complex images.

“We think we can push this further, generating not just photos but 3-D images that can be used in computer games and films,” said Jaakko Lehtinen, one of the researchers behind the project.

Today, many systems generate images and sounds using a complex algorithm called a neural network. This is a way of identifying patterns in large amounts of data. By identifying common patterns in thousands of car photos, for instance, a neural network can learn to identify a car. But it can also work in the other direction: It can use those patterns to generate its own car photos.

As it built a system that generates new celebrity faces, the Nvidia team went a step further in an effort to make them far more believable. It set up two neural networks — one that generated the images and another that tried to determine whether those images were real or fake. These are called generative adversarial networks, or GANs. In essence, one system does its best to fool the other — and the other does its best not to be fooled.

“The computer learns to generate these images by playing a cat-and-mouse game against itself,” said Mr. Lehtinen.

A second team of Nvidia researchers recently built a system that can automatically alter a street photo taken on a summer’s day so that it looks like a snowy winter scene. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have designed another that learns to convert horses into zebras and Monets into Van Goghs. DeepMind, a London-based A.I. lab owned by Google, is exploring technology that can generate its own videos. And Adobe is fashioning similar machine learning techniques with an eye toward pushing them into products like Photoshop, its popular image design tool.

Trained designers and engineers have long used technology like Photoshop and other programs to build realistic images from scratch. This is what movie effects houses do. But it is becoming easier for machines to learn how to generate these images on their own, said Durk Kingma, a researcher at OpenAI, the artificial intelligence lab founded by Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and others, who specializes in this kind of machine learning.

“We now have a model that can generate faces that are more diverse and in some ways more realistic than what we could program by hand,” he said, referring to Nvidia’s work in Finland.

But new concerns come with the power to create this kind of imagery.

With so much attention on fake media these days, we could soon face an even wider range of fabricated images than we do today.

“The concern is that these techniques will rise to the point where it becomes very difficult to discern truth from falsity,” said Tim Hwang, who previously oversaw A.I. policy at Google and is now director of the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund, an effort to fund ethical A.I. research. “You might believe that accelerates problems we already have.”

The idea of generative adversarial networks was originally developed in 2014 by a researcher named Ian Goodfellow, while he was a Ph.D. student at the University of Montreal. He dreamed up the idea after an argument at a local bar, and built the first prototype that same night. Now Mr. Goodfellow is a researcher at Google, and his idea is among the most important and widely explored concepts in the rapidly accelerating world of artificial intelligence.

Though this kind of photo generation is currently limited to still images, many researchers believe it could expand to videos, games and virtual reality. But Mr. Kingma said this could take years, just because it will require much larger amounts of computing power. That is the primary problem that Nvidia is also working on, along with other chip makers.

Researchers are also using a wide range of other machine learning techniques to edit video in more convincing — and sometimes provocative — ways.

In August, a group at the University of Washington made headlines when they built a system that could put new words into the mouth of a Barack Obama video. Others, including Pinscreen, a California start-up, and iFlyTek of China, are developing similar techniques using images of President Donald Trump.”

A.I. continues to progress. 

Tony

The Chronicle: When College Was a Public Good!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education today has a featured article examining why college is seen less and less as a public good by legislators and education policymakers.  The impact of this attitude is most pronounced on students of color.  Reductions in state appropriations in particular are hindering these students from receiving a quality education. Here is an excerpt.

“As the population has grown more diverse, support has dwindled for grand efforts, like the GI Bill, to open doors to higher education. Coincidence?

The GI Bill opened the doors to college to returning World War II veterans, including many from immigrant families. They joined the professional class and became further integrated into American society.

At a recent town-hall meeting in Tucson, local business leaders took up education in the state of Arizona. They examined state support for public colleges — among the lowest in the country — and fretted about their future work force, says Gary D. Rhoades, a professor of higher education at the University of Arizona. They had even gone to the statehouse to meet with legislators, he heard at the town hall. “If you need to raise taxes,” the businessmen had told their representatives, “we’ll give you political cover.”

To their surprise, the professor recalls, the legislators waved off their requests. One reportedly said: “Those kids don’t need college.”

In a state where 60 percent of schoolchildren are Hispanic, and the legislature is overwhelmingly white, the words “those kids” have meaning.

“It’s not hard to figure out that when people say‘those kids,’ it’s a euphemism for African-American kids, Latino kids, Native American kids,” Mr. Rhoades says. “We have been systematically disinvesting in higher education, and that is precisely at the time when people who want higher education — lower-income kids, students of color, and immigrant kids — have increased.” As the student population has diversified, the language that many people use to define the value of a college degree has shifted, from a public good to an individual one. Is that merely a coincidence?

It’s a jarring question for a sector that sees itself as a great equalizer, in a society that aspires to be a meritocracy. But look at a range of evidence, and it seems that policy makers — with the encouragement or tacit acceptance of the public — have erected barriers to higher education based on race and class.

Lawmakers seem less willing to help today’s students. State support for public colleges in Arizona, as here at Arizona State U., is among the lowest in the country. Legislators reportedly told local business leaders, “Those kids don’t need college.”

That is a difficult theory to pin down, and one not everyone believes. As federal and state governments face many financial obligations, and budgets are tight, it may be facile to argue that a decline in public higher-education funding is grounded in racism. Jason Delisle, who studies higher-education finance at the American Enterprise Institute, points to the burdens of pensions, Medicaid, and K-12 school systems, drawing a connection between increased spending there and declines for colleges.

Other scholars in economics, higher-education policy, and cultural studies point to arresting correlations, though they’re subtle, shrouded in dog-whistle politics. Even in the dawn of the Trump era — after xenophobic and racist rhetoric energized the campaign of the populist billionaire — few policy makers would bluntly say they don’t want to pay for some students’ education because of the color of their skin.

Yet such attitudes have been documented, says Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “This is a well-known, constant theme in economics.” Studies have found that diversity is an impediment to the welfare state, of which education is part. A report by the Harvard Institute of Economic Research in 2001 concluded that Americans do not support European-style social-safety nets, including education benefits, because of racial fragmentation — and a belief that minorities benefit more from wealth redistribution. Countries like Finland, Japan, and South Korea beat the United States in educational attainment not because their people are smarter, Mr. Carnevale says, but because they are racially homogenous. And that seems to lead to broad public support for education.

Working on labor and education policy for many years, Mr. Carnevale, 70, has seen that dynamic at play. “White people my age are not going to vote to educate Hispanic kids or black kids,” he says. “All the great advances in education” — like the Morrill Act to create land-grant colleges in 1862 and the GI Bill to educate veterans of World War II — “have come when there was a strong white majority.” As those majorities have diminished, the public instead has pushed through measures to limit education benefits, restricting tax revenue, for example, cutting spending, and putting constraints on immigrant students.

The GI Bill is as notable for the people it left out as for those it helped up, like some students here at New York U. in 1945. Among white veterans who turned 18 from 1941 to 1946, 28 percent enrolled in college, while among their black peers, the rate was only 12 percent.

Despite barriers to higher education, national and local campaigns are encouraging more minority students to go to and finish college. But gaps persist, and as the higher-education system stratifies, black and Hispanic students disproportionately end up on campuses with fewer resources. Simply raising attainment, if even that happens, may not be enough. A nation’s fortunes grow as more of the population actually learns new skills and accumulates knowledge, says Mr. Carnevale. If we are going to rebuild our economy, he says, we have to find a way to give more students the promise of a high-quality education.”

The Chronicle article raises important considerations.  The last paragraph above is insightful because even while student financial aid exists at the federal level and in many states, reductions of appropriations to our public higher education systems is stratifying many students of color to campuses with fewer and fewer resources.

Tony

Book by Douglas Preston:  “The Lost City of the Monkey God”!

Dear Commons Community,

During the holiday break, I read Douglas Preston’s The Lost City of the Monkey God which was on the New York Times best-seller list for much of 2017.  After reading several reviews, I was not sure what to expect from this true adventure of a group of modern day explorers looking for a mythical lost city in remote Mosquita, Honduras. 

Preston weaves a fine chronology of the difficulties of trying to undertake a 21st century expedition into a most difficult environment with the human interest stories of the participants.  Funding, government bureaucracy, modern technology, professional jealousies, disease, and respect for indigenous populations are all part of the book’s story.  There are also several excellent chapters on the Spanish conquest of South America which provide sad commentary on what the Old World brought to the New World.  Below is a review written by Dana Stabenow which appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books that captures the book’s highlights well.  

I recommend it without any reservation.

Tony

—————————————————-

Los Angeles Review of Books

The Lost City of the Monkey God

By Dana Stabenow

THE MYTH of the Lost City of the Monkey God has been a bedtime story for generations of Honduran children, but myths are often rooted in fact, and in the early 2000s inveterate searcher for lost cities Steve Elkins started looking for it. The novelist and writer for National Geographic and The New Yorker Douglas Preston, in the way nosy journalists do, heard tell of this search and was able to talk his way into the 2015 expedition.

Preston begins his trek with a briefing by an ex-soldier experienced in jungle travel who passes around a photo of someone on a previous expedition into the area bitten by a fer-de-lance — it isn’t pretty, this particular snake’s venom causing hideous necrosis. More cheery news of the local fauna follows in the way of mosquitoes and sandflies eager to pass on lovely diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and the dreaded leishmaniasis. Never heard of it? Me neither, and neither had Preston, but he’ll hear a lot more about it shortly. At the end of that first chapter he writes, “I paid attention. I really did.” No, he didn’t, or not enough, but it wouldn’t have mattered even if he had, because guys like Elkins and Preston will always go where others fear to tread. If we — and they — are lucky, when they come back they’ll write books like this one the rest of us can read.

Preston’s narrative is simply packed with information on a dozen different topics, to begin with notes on the practice of archaeology worldwide, legal and not.

It must be said that, in general, if archaeologists refused on principle to work with governments known for corruption, most archaeology in the world would come to a halt; there could be no more archaeology in China, Russia, Egypt, Mexico, most of the Middle East, and many countries in Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. I present this not as a justification or an apology, but as an observation on the reality of doing archaeology in a difficult world.

Preston provides a capsule history of Central American pre-Columbian civilizations — or at least the discovery of their existence — which were much more widespread than previously thought. And he discusses the limits of our knowledge of these civilizations, especially in Honduras, and what this means for Hondurans:

While the Spanish history of Honduras is well known, its pre-Columbian history is still an enigma. People need history in order to know themselves, to build a sense of identity and pride, continuity, community, and hope for the future. This is why the legend of the White City runs so deep in the Honduran national psyche: It’s a direct connection to a pre-Columbian past that was rich, complex, and worthy of remembrance.

There is a brief but uncomfortably vivid history of American, ah, entrepreneurship in Honduras, and the “dark colonialist legacy that has hung like a miasma over Honduras ever since”:

This legacy of instability and corporate bullying lives on in political dysfunction, underdeveloped national institutions, and cozy relationships among powerful families, business interests, government, and the military.

Fifteen years after his first failed overland expedition to find the White City, Elkins read about the use of lidar by archaeologists, a new technology that uses lasers the way sonar uses sound waves. Elkins, with the help of documentary filmmaker Bill Benenson, arranges for an airborne lidar survey of the least-visited corner of the Mosquitia jungle. The instrument, stabilized by a kind of top secret electronic gyroscope borrowed from the US military, pings lasers at the spaces between leaves to reflect back the features of the ground beneath them. The rain forest has a lot of leaves, but the lidar confounds even that dense canopy and discovers the Lost City (and maybe two lost cities) just three days into the mapping process.

I could see Sartori’s spiral-bound notebook lying open next to the laptop. In keeping with the methodical scientist he was, he had been jotting daily notes on his work. But underneath the entry for May 5, he had written two words only:

HOLY SHIT!

If John McPhee writes the way Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello, Preston is at least first chair. When I finished the book, I immediately went online to look at the expedition photos on National Geographic’s website and from his descriptions was easily able to recognize the people, the artifacts, and especially the place, this stunningly, dangerously beautiful tropical wilderness lost to time for 500 years. Preston is clearly a man in love.

Once again I had the strong feeling, when flying into the valley, that I was leaving the twenty-first century entirely. A precipitous ridge loomed ahead, marking the southern boundary of T1. The pilot headed for a V notch in it. When we cleared the gap, the valley opened up in a rolling landscape of emerald and gold, dappled with the drifting shadows of clouds. The two sinuous rivers ran through it, clear and bright, the sunlight flashing off their riffled waters as the chopper banked […] Towering rainforest trees, draped in vines and flowers, carpeted the hills, giving way to sunny glades along the riverbanks. Flocks of egrets flew below, white dots drifting against the green, and the treetops thrashed with the movement of unseen monkeys.

T1 (the expedition’s name for the location of their discovery, still a closely held secret for fear of looting) hosts an ecosystem that will try its best to kill you six different ways in the first 60 seconds after you step down from the helo, but that first step is like taking a time machine back to the Cretaceous Period.

All of it is now under threat from Honduran ranchers clear-cutting the forest to create new grazing land for their livestock. From the air Preston sees:

vast areas of the mountainsides had been cleared, even on slopes of forty to fifty degrees […] I could see that the clearing was not for timbering; it appeared that few if any trees had been taken out, and were left lying on the ground to dry out and be burned, as evidenced by the plumes of smoke rising everywhere. The ultimate goal, I could see, was to turn the land into grazing for cattle — which dotted even the steepest hillsides.

When Elkins and his expedition start reporting their findings, they face the perhaps inevitable blowback from the academic archaeological community.

Christopher Begley of Transylvania University (the archaeologist in Jungleland) and Rosemary Joyce of Berkeley began circulating a letter criticizing the expedition and inviting their colleagues and students to sign it. The letter alleged that the expedition had made “false claims of discovery” by exaggerating the importance of the site; that it had not acknowledged previous archaeological research in Mosquitia; and that it had disrespected indigenous people by failing to recognize that they already knew of the site.

Preston takes excruciating pains to report both sides without prejudice, but however carefully he parses it, this smacks a lot more of jealousy on the part of the people who didn’t discover the Lost City of the Monkey God directed at the people who did than it does legitimate differences between academics.

Their first night in camp, Preston almost literally stumbles across one of the aforementioned fer-de-lance. It’s too close to camp, so they kill it. Later, trying to get to sleep, Preston reflects:

I lay in the dark, listening to the cacophony of life, thinking about the lethal perfection of the snake and its natural dignity, sorry for what we had done but rattled by the close call. A bite from a snake like that, if you survived at all, would be a life-altering experience. In a strange way the encounter sharpened the experience of being here. It amazed me that a valley so primeval and unspoiled could still exist in the twenty-first century. It was truly a lost world.

What has priority here? The old-growth forest hosting a uniquely untouched ecosystem teeming with jaguars and spider monkeys? The livelihoods and futures of the people living in the area now? Or the excavation, exploration, and documentation of Honduran history and culture going back half a millennia? The fer-de-lance, the steer, or the historian? It will take more than 302 pages to answer that question.

And then there is leishmaniasis, a ghastly disease that literally rots off one’s face, and which infects not only Preston but half of the expedition as well. It’s like cancer in that the cure is as bad as the disease, and, as of writing this book, Preston’s has recurred. In even cheerier news, due to the enabling offices of climate change, leishmaniasis is steadily making its way north, occurring now in Texas and Oklahoma. Goody. Americans dying of it may be the only way to get the drug companies working on a cure, because why bother if it’s only killing poor people in the Third World? That’s no way to make money.

But leishmaniasis gives Preston the final clue to perhaps solve the puzzle: Where did the people of the Lost City go? And why did they leave and, especially, when?

 

 

Brookings and Brown Center: Top Ten Education Policy Stories for 2017!

Dear Commons Community,

The Brookings Institution and the Brown Center (Chalkboard) for Education Policy compiled a list of top ten education policy issues for 2017.  Below is the compilation along with links to articles on the issues.

Tony

——

The Year in Education: Top Chalkboard Posts of 2017

Louis Serino, Thursday, December 21, 2017

From Betsy DeVos’s turbulent confirmation as the secretary of education, to the continued development of state ESSA plans, to the debates over free speech on college campuses, 2017 proved to be a hectic year for education in America. At every turn, the Brown Center Chalkboard offered timely, research-based insight into important events affecting U.S. education policy. To wrap up 2017, we’re highlighting the top 10 Chalkboard posts of the year.

Achievement gaps, school choice, discipline discrimination, and 4-day school weeks were just some of the topics that emerged in the national conversation on education policy this year; many of these themes are mirrored in the 10 most-read posts. Below is a list of the Chalkboard’s most popular pieces for 2017.

 

1) WHAT DO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS THINK OF AMERICAN SCHOOLS?

In 2001, the Brown Center conducted a first-of-its-kind survey of foreign exchange students, asking their opinion of U.S. schooling. In the 2017 Brown Center Report, author Tom Loveless replicated the survey with a surprising result: Not much has changed. Among the findings, international students still believe that U.S. classes are easier and American students devote less time to schoolwork. Read here.

2) WHAT BYU’S ROCK-BOTTOM SOCIAL MOBILITY SCORE REVEALS ABOUT COLLEGE ACCESS

In January, a new ranking of social mobility across U.S. universities placed Brigham Young University almost dead last. Mike Hansen, a Cougar alumnus, writes about the troubling trend of income—not merit—determining access to high-quality college education, both at his alma mater and at institutions nationwide. Read here.

3) HOW HEALTHY SCHOOL LUNCHES IMPROVE STUDENT LEARNING

The Trump administration relaxed nutritional standards for school lunches over the past year, but a new study finds that a healthy lunch can boost student performance—especially among low-income students. Read here.

4) A TROUBLING CONTAGION: THE RURAL 4-DAY SCHOOL WEEK

Many small-town schools are adopting 4-day weeks, but do they really cut down on costs? Decreasing the amount of time rural students spend in school could exacerbate the difficulties they face in overcoming economic isolation and lack of opportunity, cautions Paul T. Hill. Read here.

5) SURFING THE 4TH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND THE LIBERAL ARTS

Artificial intelligence isn’t just for STEM fields, according to Daniel Araya and Creig Lamb. As the 4th Industrial Revolution approaches, liberal arts grads—working alongside engineers—are essential to sustaining innovation. Here’s how colleges can pair imagination with AI to achieve success. Read here.

6) ANALYZING RACIAL DISPARITIES IN SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

In the 2017 Brown Center Report on American Education, Tom Loveless examines trends in suspension rates in California schools. He finds that they have dropped significantly since 2013, but that African-American students continue to be suspended at a higher rate than other ethnic groups—about three times higher than Hispanic students and four times higher than white students. Read here.

7) THE INSIDIOUSNESS OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS IN SCHOOLS

Unconscious bias—the phenomenon by which stereotypes influence an individual’s behavior without the person even being aware of it—can create and perpetuate inequality in the classroom. Seth Gershenson and Thomas S. Dee describe the harmful impacts of unconscious bias, then discuss how teachers and schools can combat it. Read here.

8) WHAT INTERNATIONAL TEST SCORES REVEAL ABOUT AMERICAN EDUCATION

Has U.S. school performance improved over the past two decades? To shed light on this question, Tom Loveless analyzed the results of two international assessments—and found mixed results. Read here.

9) RACE GAPS IN SAT MATH SCORES ARE AS BIG AS EVER

New research finds persistent race disparities on the math section of the SAT, an important gateway to higher education. These stubborn achievement gaps reflect both racial inequalities in the United States and the failure of education to be America’s “great equalizer,” says Richard Reeves. Read here.

10) THE VALUE OF AMERICA’S SOCIAL STUDIES EDUCATORS

While much of the recent focus in education has been around science, literacy, and math, Michael Hansen and Diana Quintero look at who social studies teachers are and explore the unique role they play in the American education system. Read here.

Former President Obama Reminds Us What’s Best About America!

Dear Commons Community,

Former President Barack Obama took some time yesterday to reflect on the past year and tweet out some stories that “remind us what’s best about America.”  Despite a lot of turmoil in the world and here in America in 2017, Obama tweeted yesterday about three human interest stories that should make readers feel good about how people in this country help others.  The following summary is courtesy of the Huffington Post.

“The first story was about a Houston wedding planner named Kat Creech who transformed Sarah Samad and Mohsin Dhukka’s postponed wedding plans into a Hurricane Harvey victim relief effort. The initial small group of wedding guests turned into hundreds of volunteers and a group called Recovery Houston, local station KPRC reported. 

The second story was about NFL defensive end Chris Long, who gave his first six game checks to fund scholarships for students in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. Then according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he gave his final 10 game checks to launch Pledge 10 for Tomorrow, a campaign to “promote educational equity and opportunity for underserved youth” in the three cities he’s played for ― St. Louis, Boston and now Philadelphia.

Obama’s then tweeted the story of Jahkil Jackson, a 10-year-old on an intrepid mission to help the homeless population in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune article details the boy’s “stash of blessing bags — packages filled with socks, toiletries and snacks,” which he insists his parents keep “in the car at all times.”

Obama’s final message was to encourage Americans to do something.

“All across America people chose to get involved, get engaged and stand up. Each of us can make a difference, and all of us ought to try. So go keep changing the world in 2018,” he wrote.”

We miss you, Mr. President!

Tony

 

President Trump Gives New York Times an Impromptu Interview!

Dear Commons Community,

President Donald Trump gave the New York Times a brief interview yesterday which is unusual since he generally stays within the friendly confines of Fox News and other conservative media.  The Times published several excerpts this morning although I presume a longer piece will appeared in a later edition.  In this interview, Trump seemed presidential and generally avoided outlandish remarks.  Here is a sample.

On Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation:

“…[he]the president did not demand an end to the Russia investigations …

“It makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position,” Mr. Trump said of the investigation. “So the sooner it’s worked out, the better it is for the country…

“There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Mueller.

On North Korea and China:

“Mr. Trump explicitly said for the first time that he has “been soft” on China on trade in the hopes that its leaders will pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

He hinted that his patience may soon end, however, signaling his frustration with the reported oil shipments.

“Oil is going into North Korea. That wasn’t my deal!” he exclaimed, raising the possibility of aggressive trade actions against China. “If they don’t help us with North Korea, then I do what I’ve always said I want to do.”

Despite saying that when he visited China in November, President Xi Jinping “treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China,” Mr. Trump said that “they have to help us much more.”

“We have a nuclear menace out there, which is no good for China,” he said.”

On Roy Moore and the Alabama Senate Election:

The president also spoke at length about the special election this month in Alabama, where Roy S. Moore, the Republican candidate, lost to a Democrat after being accused of sexual misconduct with young girls, including a minor, when he was in his 30s.

Mr. Trump said that he supported Mr. Moore’s opponent in the Republican primary race because he knew Mr. Moore would lose in the general election. And he insisted that he endorsed Mr. Moore later only because “I feel that I have to endorse Republicans as the head of the party.”

On reelection and the media:

“Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes,” Mr. Trump said, then invoked one of his preferred insults. “Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times.”

He added: “So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ O.K.”

Mr. Trump would be wise to do more of this type of public relations and stay off Twitter!

Tony

Mike Huckabee Likens Donald Trump to Winston Churchill after Viewing “Darkest Hour” – What!!!

Dear Commons Community, 

Last weekend I saw the movie “Darkest Hour” which is a fine treatment of the early days of World War II when the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds. I was appalled when I read this morning that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee compared Donald Trump to Churchill after seeing this movie.  Here is an excerpt from a New York Times article describing Huckabee’s comments and the response.

“Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas drew a swift and intense response with a provocative claim on Tuesday: President Trump, he wrote, is similar to Winston Churchill, one of history’s most iconic leaders.

Mr. Huckabee had just watched “Darkest Hour,” a film about Churchill. It was, he wrote on Twitter, a reminder of “what real leadership looks like.”

“Churchill was hated by his own party, opposition party, and press,” he tweeted. “Feared by King as reckless, and despised for his bluntness. But unlike Neville Chamberlain, he didn’t retreat. We had a Chamberlain for 8 yrs; in @realDonaldTrump we have a Churchill.”

Likening modern leaders to Chamberlain and Churchill — something Mr. Huckabee has done before — is always a loaded proposition. Chamberlain, who preceded Churchill as prime minister of Britain, tried to appease Hitler by conceding Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland region to Nazi Germany in the 1938 Munich Agreement, and his name has come to be synonymous with weakness in the face of evil.

Churchill, by contrast, was an officer in the British Army during World War I; led Britain through World War II as prime minister from 1940 to 1945; and handled several foreign policy crises in a second term as prime minister from 1951 to 1955. He was known for his skill as an orator and writer, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.

“Sure. Churchill served his country 55 years in parliament, 31 years as a minister and 9 as pm,” Kristian Tonning Riise, a member of Norway’s Parliament, wrote in a tweet liked more than 19,000 times. “He was present in 15 battles and received 14 medals of bravery. He was one of history’s most gifted orators and won the Nobel Literature Prize for his writing. Totally same thing.”

Mr. Huckabee did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday evening.

Historians said that while Churchill and Mr. Trump shared certain characteristics, the broader comparison was unsupported.

It is true that Churchill made many political enemies before World War II, said Susan Pedersen, a professor of British history at Columbia University. He was also “more self-regarding and less inclined to compromise than most successful British politicians,” she said, and “had a hard-right view of British national and imperial interest.”

“He was basically in the wilderness in 1939, and had world history and circumstance not found him, that would have been the end of the story,” Dr. Pedersen wrote in an email.

“Luckily for him, and for many of us, his peculiar attributes and the needs of the time came together. But that happened partly because, for all his idiosyncrasy, he had real intellectual and political strengths: He was intelligent, literate, well-versed in history, had long experience in government, and knew what he stood for.”

The comparison to Mr. Trump, she wrote, is “ridiculous…

Timothy Riley, director and chief curator of the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Missouri, said that Churchill “was bold and passionate about his beliefs” and, much like Mr. Trump, “was not afraid to speak his own mind and ruffle a few feathers along the way.” But for Churchill, Mr. Riley said, “the greatest task, his ‘supreme task,’ was to bring countries together to support peace and prosperity and, during the Second World War, to defeat tyranny.”

And Dr. Del Testa said that after World War I, Churchill’s “self-celebratory style” was tempered by a newfound humility.

“He was trying to keep Britain strong and create a world order that was strong for Britain, but he was also conscious increasingly in the 1920s and 1930s of a world order that could be destroyed by populist dictators,” he said. “His own tendency toward self-celebration softened when he became aware of the larger world around him, that it really wasn’t a game, but it was humanly important.”

In case you did not know, Mike Huckabee is the father of Susan Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump’s press secretary whose press briefings are hilarious demonstrations of truth bending and obfuscation.  Like father like daughter!

Tony