Inauguration in Troubled Times: Looking Back and Looking Forward: Lincoln, FDR and Biden

At noon on Wednesday, January 20th Joe Biden will raise his right hand and repeat the constitutional oath of office.

 “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Twenty-five thousand National Guard troops and thousands of other law enforcement officers will protect the ceremony and Washington DC.

The swearing in ceremony is traditionally followed by a speech laying out the goals of the new administration.

The nation is facing unparalleled crises, the pandemic raging across the nation, cities and states teetering on a fiscal abyss, staggering unemployment, we eagerly await the new administration.

In our new world of social media the Biden team did not wait until the inauguration address, the president-elect announced his plan in detail, as well as summaries of meetings of cabinet-nominees, see meeting with Miguel Cardona here.

Executive orders will roll out of the White House and legislative initiatives: will Congress join with or thwart the president?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt took his oath of office on March 4, 1933, the nation in the depths of the Great Depression. The Stock Market crashed on October, 29, 1932; only six months after President Hoover assumed the presidency. Hoover was a traditional Republican; the government had no role in the economic cycles,

… wealth does not live in a vacuum and that people acting in their own self interest will eventually act in the best interests of the greater public good.

FDR and his advisors adopted the economic principles of John Maynard Keynes,

… classical economic theory did not provide a way to end depressions. Keynes argued that uncertainty caused individuals and businesses to stop spending and investing, and government must step in and spend money to get the economy back on track.

Eighty-eight years later many Republicans are still wedded to the economic views of Hoover.

FDR’s inauguration speech was only twenty minutes, watch segments of the speech here.

The speech was soaring,

… first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

threatening Congress to get on board, or else …

I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken Nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption. But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis — broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

In his First Hundred Days an incredible number of bills became laws, the faith in the nation was restored.

Soon to be President Biden faces a fractured nation, 74 million Americans voted for his opponent and many of them believe the lies and seditious statements of the former occupant of the White House.

On March 4th, 1865, in the waning days of the Civil War, facing a fractured nation, Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address.

Lincoln reflected on his first inaugural address.

Does this sound familiar?

While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide …

And evangelicals….

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces;

tough words …

Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it [war] continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”

Lincoln’s desire to “bind up the nation’s wounds,”

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

Robert E. Lee surrendered the last major Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9th and Lincoln was assassinated on April 15th 1865.

Would Lincoln have led the nation beyond Jim Crow, we’ll never know ….

Lincoln, FDR, and Joe Biden …. It may seem absurd.

We are at a moment in history,  COVID deaths approaching Civil War deaths, a seemingly endless battle with a persistent, invisible enemy, a nation divided, bitter antagonisms, Lincoln’s words resonate, how do we get beyond the “malice,” can we find “charity for all,”  “bind up the nation’s wounds,” can we “achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Without Lincoln the hopes for a new America disappeared behind Klu Klx Klan robes, we re-enslaved People of Color for more than a century. FDR provided hope, led the world against an assault on democracy around the world, will the heritage of Lincoln and FDR translate to Biden?

Let’s close with MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech”

NYS Board of Regents selects Lester Young as Chancellor

Over the last few years when an education leader was selected, i. e., head of NYC schools, or, US Secretary of Education I had to scramble to check them out.

The selection of Lester Young as chancellor of the Board of Regents culminates a lengthy career serving the children of the city and state of New York.

Back in the days of decentralization Dr. Young was the superintendent of District 13, a Brooklyn school district, mostly Afro-American with a corner in Brooklyn Heights. My colleague, Frank Lupo, was the union district rep. Frank and Dr. Young, in the roiling days of decentralization, when superintendents came and went, where school venality was all too common, District 13, lead by Dr. Young was a shining light.

When decentralization moved to mayoral control Lester led a new “experiment,” the city was divided into ten meg-districts, and, a range of services, guidance, attendance, community organizations, etc. worked with, not under, the regional superintendents, a leadership model that required enormous skills. I was working as a consultant in one of the regions and admired his patience and resolve.

The Board of Regents is a policy board, they don’t control dollars. Schools in New York State are funded by local property taxes and state aid. The formula always favored the high tax, aka, the wealthiest districts. In spite of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, in spite of the victory, a pyrrhic victory. Governor Cuomo ignored the courts and the litigants are back in court.

Lester, quietly, persistently, collected legislative allies, the Regents, under Lester’s leadership, created a task force and the legislature funded My Brother’s Keeper; taking an Obama initiative and moving it statewide.(See NYS MBK program here).

Curriculum has always been the responsibility of school districts, with 700 school districts in the state, ranging from hundreds of small rural districts to the Big Five, including New York City, the push and tug between local independence and the role of the State Education Department resulted in constant conflict. Under Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Commissioner David Steiner the state did establish EngageNY, open source curriculum modules, some districts adopted, other ignored.

Two years ago, led by Chancellor Betty Rosa, and Lester as chair of the K-12 Regents Committee, a task force was convened and the Board of Regents moved forward to adopt a Culturally Relevant Sustaining Education framework (See State Ed site here).

In his acceptance speech this morning Lester thanked, first, his wife, and his career mentors, if we’re wise, and, humble, we should know that the ladder is long with many rungs, if we’ve learned properly we know to listen, to respect, to adopt what we can, to continue to learn and to teach.

The Board of Regents made an extraordinary selection. And, be careful on the Harley

Teachable Moments – The Insurrection on the Capitol: How can we “teach” students to be warriors of Democracy?

Last week I researched my blog topic, the role of the Congress in counting the electoral votes, a pro forma process; I reread the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and posted the blog.

“Will Republican Senators and House Member ‘Objections’ Prevent the Election of Biden/Harris? Why January 6th Will Be an ‘Interesting’ Day,” (Read here)

Little did I know …..

Wednesday morning, as usual, I donned my dri-fit winter biking clothes pedaled around the almost deserted roads; awaiting my steaming black coffee; and turned on MSNBC. The media announced the Ossoff-Perdue race – the democrats won both Georgia seats and will control the Senate – barely. Senator Schumer will be the majority leader and control the Senate calendar and the bills that come to the floor.  I pumped my fist, “Yes.”

The combined meeting of Congress gathered and I settled in to watch the constitutional process, it looked like a long day with thirteen Republican senators and over 130 Houses members “objecting.” 

The insurrection exploded.

Watching a momentous moment in history from your easy chair is strange, welcome to the 21st century.

I had just finished reading Anne Applebaum, The Twilight of Democracy: The Lure of Authoritarianism   (July, 2020), a book that presaged the events of the day.

It was deep in the night, 3 AM or so, that I exhaled, Biden had 270 electoral votes, he was formally elected.

Teachers across the nation woke up wondering, how do I teach the “insurrection” lesson?  

Will they understand the word insurrection? [“…a violent uprising against an authority or government”], Or coup [“…a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government“], how about “sedition?”

Lesson plans and guides popped up on the web. A teacher described, in detail, his Thursday lesson, PBS posted a lesson plan, and Generation Citizen a superb teacher research guide here.

For me, the question is: how do we excite/engage/ teenagers? A twelve year old middle school-er, a fifteen year old high school student?  How does a White teacher engage students of color in a conversation about race?  Do references to “White Privilege “discomfort” you? Do you laugh at Dave Chappelle (Watch here) or, does he make you feel queasy?

For students (or adults), especially of color, the insurrection racial disparities are striking …. perhaps ask students to read below and comment.

“The violent breaching of the halls of power on Capitol Hill by the insurrectionist mob on Wednesday, which left one woman dead of a police gunshot wound, represents one of the plainest displays of a racial double standard in both modern and recent history.”

“When Black people protest for our lives, we are all too often met by National Guard troops or police equipped with assault rifles, shields, ‘itear gas and battle helmets,” the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation said in a statement.

“When white people attempt a coup, they are met by an underwhelming number of law enforcement personnel who act powerless to intervene, going so far as to pose for selfies with terrorists,” 

Every February, in my role as President of the Education Alumni at CCNY, I sponsor a Principal/Community Breakfast, a meeting with an education policy maker or a researcher, and this year a member of the Bureau of Census who made an excellent presentation: “The Census and Schools.” I also invited the leadership class from a local high school. At the end of the presentation I chatted with the high school kids, I asked how the possible loss of one or to seats in Congress might impact their lives; one kid had that look, ”why are you bothering me with this nonsense.” 

Student: “Congress is a bunch of old white guys; they don’t care about us.”

Me: “Why don’t you run for office?”

Student: That, you must be crazy look.

Me: “If you’re eighteen you can run for a County Committee member, all you need is 25 signatures from registered democrats and the only people who vote are people living in blocks around your house.”

She looked interested, the others kids urged her to run, I sent a link to  a candidate info site to her teacher – a month later COVID hit.

Maybe she is the Black AOC.

A lesson or a few lessons will not impact the way students think or act. We cannot bemoan the changing world in which we live and yearn for the past; we have to change with a changing world. We have to enter the world of teenagers, and teenagers of color.

Anne Appelbaum, a Pulitzer Prize winning author writes,

“Our new communications revolution has been far more rapid than anything we know from the fifteenth century or even the twentieth. After the printing press was invented, it took many centuries for Europeans to become literate …”

Communications has become democratized (Facebook, Twitter, Substack), you can chose your news, or, create your own news. Journalism is morphing, is changing from day-to-day.

In many advanced democracies there is now no common debate, let alone a common narrative. People have always had different opinions. Now they have different facts. False, partisan and often misleading narratives now spread in digital wildfires, cascades of falsehoods that move too fast for fact checkers to keep up … people click on the news they want to hear.

A generation of young people now treat elections as an opportunity to show their disdain for democracy by voting for people who don’t even pretend to have political views.”

Will a few lessons on “the insurrection” make us feel better, how can we engage and impact our students? 

Appelbaum concludes.

Western constitutional democracies always acknowledged the possibility of failure … we always knew, or should have known that history can once again reach into our private lives and rearrange them. We always knew, or should have known that alternative visions of our nations would try and draw us in. But maybe, picking our way through the darkness we can find that together we can resist them.

We may be the last guardians at the gates, hopefully, preparing a generation of democracy warriors.

Let’s go out listening to Woody Guthrie, “The Times They Are ‘A Changing.”

Will Republican Senators and House member “Objections” Prevent the Election of Biden/Harris? Why January 6th will be an “Interesting” Day.

On Wednesday, January 6th, at 1 PM, the Senate and the House of Representatives will convene jointly to view the counting of electoral votes.

Sen. Hawley, (R, Missouri) and a few members of the House of Representatives announced they will object to the count of the electoral ballots.

Can Hawley and company prevent the formal affirmation of Biden as the elected president?  Can they force the election into the House of Representatives?

On December 14th the Electors met in the respective states and voted by ballot, Article II of the Constitution states, “they [the Electors] shall sign and certify and transmit sealed to the seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate [the Vice President]. The President of the Senate [the Vice President], in the Presence of the Senate and the House of Representatives, open all certificates and the votes shall then be counted. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President.”

Sounds simple.

The election of 1876 was chaotic, corrupt and for a while it appeared that the civil war might resume.

The Republicans, the party of Lincoln, dominated the Congress and butted heads with Andrew Johnson, the Vice President who succeeded Lincoln upon his assassination in April, 1865.  The post-war position of the Republicans, called Reconstruction, included federal troops stationed throughout the South, officers of the Confederacy barred running for office and the growth of the Klu Klux Klan. Johnson refused to implement legislation and the Republicans impeached Johnson and failed to replace him by one vote.

Grant was elected in 1872 and a year later the nation fell into a deep depression. A Supreme Court decision (Slaughterhouse Cases) eroded the impact of the Fourteenth Amendment, the corruption within Grant’s demonstration resulted in Democratic victories in the 1874 midterm elections. The public enthusiasm for Reconstruction waned and in the 1876 election, Rutherford B Hayes, the Republican candidate and Samuel Tilden, the Democratic candidate, and governor of New York State, was extremely close. The results of the election was hotly contested, Tilden was one electoral vote short of a victory.

From November until early March the parties battled, a commission was created and in a “backroom” deal Hayes, the Republican, was “elected” as President and troops were removed from the South. For the remainder of the 19th century Supreme Court decisions and the creation of Jim Crow laws the 14th and 15th amendments crumbled away.

Read the story of the 1876 election here

The Electoral Count Act of 1887 attempted to remedy the inadequacies of the Article II provisions of the Constitution.

The law is quite specific,

Congress shall be in session on the sixth day of January succeeding every meeting of the electors.

The Senate and House of Representatives shall meet in the Hall of the House of Representatives at the hour of 1 o’clock in the afternoon on that day, and the President of the Senate shall be their presiding officer. Two tellers shall be previously appointed on the part of the Senate and two on the part of the House of Representatives, to whom shall be handed, as they are opened by the President of the Senate, all the certificates and papers purporting to be certificates of the electoral votes, which certificates and papers shall be opened, presented, and acted upon in the alphabetical order of the States, beginning with the letter A; and said tellers, having then read the same in the presence and hearing of the two Houses, shall make a list of the votes as they shall appear from the said certificates; and the votes having been ascertained and counted according to the rules in this subchapter provided, the result of the same shall be delivered to the President of the Senate, who shall thereupon announce the state of the vote, which announcement shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons, if any, elected President and Vice President of the United States, and, together with a list of the votes, be entered on the Journals of the two Houses.

Upon such reading of any such certificate or paper, the President of the Senate shall call for objections, if any. Every objection shall be made in writing, and shall state clearly and concisely, and without argument, the ground thereof, and shall be signed by at least one Senator and one Member of the House of Representatives before the same shall be received.

When all objections so made to any vote or paper from a State shall have been received and read, the Senate shall thereupon withdraw, and such objections shall be submitted to the Senate for its decision; and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, in like manner, submit such objections to the House of Representatives for its decision; and no electoral vote or votes from any State which shall have been regularly given by electors whose appointment has been lawfully certified to according to section 6 of this title from which but one return has been received shall be rejected, but the two Houses concurrently may reject the vote or votes when they agree that such vote or votes have not been so regularly given by electors whose appointment has been so certified.

In other words, electoral votes certified by a state may not be rejected.

Vice President Pence is the presiding officer.

Pence can ask the Senate and the House to “withdraw” and decide upon the validity of the “objections.”

Majority Leader McConnell has urged Senator Hawley not to object, beyond urged, threatened; Hawley might be seeking the anti-McConnell/pro Trumper leadership role on the right in the Senate.

Hawley could “reserving the right to object,” make the Trump case, and, not actually object; a common action in the Senate

If he does “object” Republican colleagues would be forced to make public votes, either losing pro Trump voters or moderate Republicans, in either case weakening them future elections.

Sometime in afternoon or evening of January 6th the presiding office will declare Joe Biden President and Kamala Harris Vice President of the United States of America.

Who is Miguel Cardona? [Why was he nominated for Secretary of Education?]

For sports fans a highly anticipated event is the draft: the commissioner walks to the podium and announces, “In the 2020 draft the Biden Team selects, [hesitates] Miguel Cardona” – who?

For weeks speculation circulated among the self-styled educational intelligentsia, would Biden nominate Linda Darling-Hammond, the leader of the education transition team, how about one of the teacher union leaders, Lilly Eckelson Garcia or Randi Weingarten, an urban superintendent, and on and on.

On the evening of December 22nd the Wall Street Journal wrote,

WASHINGTON—President-elect Joe Biden said he would nominate Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona as education secretary, tapping a third Latino for a role in his cabinet.

If confirmed, Dr. Cardona would be tasked with implementing Mr. Biden’s pledge to expand resources for public schools, make public college tuition-free for families making less than $125,000 annually and restore Obama-era student-rights guidelines that the Trump administration rescinded.

Two days later President-Elect Biden introduced the nominee and Commissioner Cardona gave his, “I was born in a log cabin,” speech  (Watch here).  I know I’m being harsh, I listened to John King upon selection as education commissioner in New York State and Richard Carranza to a teacher delegate meeting a few weeks after his selection as school chancellor in New York City. Always a well-crafted speech touching on the universally agreed upon issues, a little personal background, a little “I walked the road.” a little “I look forward to working together.” Who can disagree?

Chalkbeat, the education website got it right,

Choosing the Connecticut education commissioner, a relative unknown on the national stage, allows Biden to briefly sidestep fraught debates over charter schools, teachers unions, and testing that have divided his party. Biden would also fulfill his promise to nominate a former public school teacher to replace Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

AFT President Randi Weingarten gave the selection a thumbs-up,

I’m … incredibly excited that we’ll finally have a new secretary of education. Dr. Miguel Cardona—a former AFT member—will transform the Education Department to help students thrive, a reversal of the Betsy DeVos disaster of the last four years. But Dr. Cardona won’t just repair the damage done—he’ll act to fulfill the promise and potential of public education and higher education as an opportunity agent for all students, regardless of demography or geography, knowing full well that doesn’t happen without resources and a deep respect for educators.

Diane Ravitch, in an interview on Democracy Now was cautiously optomistic,

. Well, here’s the thing, is that I think that, in part, Cardona was chosen because he’s noncontroversial. In the end, as I understand it, the choice came down to between Dr. Cardona and Dr. Leslie Fenwick, who is the dean emeritus of Howard University. Dr. Fenwick is an outspoken critic of Teach for America, of charter schools and of, basically, the federal policy of the past 20 years. And I happen to agree — she is a progressive. I publicly supported her on my blog, because I think she would have upended federal policy. And I don’t think the Biden administration wanted to upset the so-called reformers by choosing someone who was so unspoken. Dr. Cardona, on the other hand, has been very low-profile. It’s hard to know if he’s for or against charters.

Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education was given a free hand, wide discretion, and increasingly both bullied and bribed the states through the lure of Race to the Top dollars and threats by the Civil, Rights division of the Department.

I suspect Cardona will be kept on a tight leash, and the other end of the leash will be held by Dr, Biden.

Will Cardona allow state to skip the federally required Standardized Tests?

He may allow states to apply for waivers and suggest/require states to administer a diagnostic test. (For example the NWEA).  “Learning loss” is a hotly debated topic, without any clear evidence. The predictions vary widely and we won’t actually know until later this spring, if at all.

How vigorous will Cardona be in urging school re-openings?

School openings are a decision made at the state and local level. In some states governors set specific guidelines, in others a local decision. It is beyond the scope of the Secretary of Education to do anything except express an opinion. As the vaccine becomes more widely available we hope the COVID rates will decrease and school openings will increase, again, a state-by-state and school district-by-school district decision.

Rescind Betsy De Vos policies?

Yes, and soon after his approval by the Senate.

Charter Schools

Charter Schools are created in state legislation and Trump-De Vos sent dollars previously only available to public schools to charter schools. Will the 900B Stimulus Bill, awaiting the president’s signature allow dollars to go to charter schools, as was the case under the CARES Act?   How aggressively will Biden-Cardona act?

College loans?

A major plank in the Biden campaign was college loans and Dr. Biden, a Community College instructor, has been outspoken; within the first hundred days we can expect an initiative to eliminate or sharply reduce college loans for Community College students.

Other initiatives?

De Vos eased Title IX requirements in colleges across the country allowing colleges to drop women’s sports programs; I expect Biden-Cardona will reinstate the requirements.

Will Biden-Cardona take on urban school segregation?  Encouraging Culturally Relevant Sustaining Education? We’re beginning to enter choppy waters.

While Cardona’s resume is thin, while he referenced equity in his introductory speech you can only dance for so long, the stage has many bumps and cracks.

Will Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) Change the Political Power Structure in New York City? Should We Use RCV in State and Congressional Elections?

The ballots in New York City elections commonly ask voters to vote on “ballot proposals” as  well as candidates, in 2019, an off year, no one was running for citywide or state office, the ballot contained four proposals, one of the proposals changed the method of voting in city elections: Ranked Choice Voting.

What is Ranked Choice Voting? How does it Work?

  Ranked-choice, or instant-runoff voting, allows voters to choose multiple candidates and rank them by order of preference. In New York City, primary and special-election voters will have the choice to rank up to five … You don’t have to rank all five – in fact, you can just choose one candidate. But the option is there for you to voice your support for multiple candidates. For the voter, that’s basically all they have to think about when going to the ballot box – which candidates to choose and how to rank them.

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) replaces run-offs for citywide elections. If a candidate did not reach 40% of the vote in a primary or general election for Mayor, Comptroller or Public Advocate the two leading candidates formerly would contest in a run-off election.

Run-offs were not required in City Council elections, three, four, five or more candidates could be on a ballot, the candidate with the most votes, maybe 20% or 25% of the total is the winner. With matching funds in New York City elections multiple candidates are commonplace.

New York City provides matching funds, see how matching funds works in elections here

The Ranked Choice proposal on the ballot was approved with 73% of the vote.

The new Ranked Choice Voting system will probably have its first election in February to fill a City Council vacancy. In June, all the city-wide office primaries, Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate plus the City Council, will be on the ballot.

The history of “single transferable votes” had its origins in the 1930’s and was a reaction to decades of the forerunner to the City Council, the Board of Alderman. The Board was dominated by candidates elected by deeply embedded machine politics, with roots in the days of Boss Tweed.

In 1936, New Yorkers voted to change how their city council was elected, beginning the largest experiment in proportional representation in American history. The electoral reform combined ranked choice voting with multi-winner districts (each borough electing council members borough-wide) to guarantee fair outcomes and minority party representation.

Proportional representation transformed the city’s legislature into an influential, deliberative, and democratic body. For the first time ever, elections now represented voters proportionally, as the city’s heterogeneous opposition to the majority Democratic Party gained representation. Third parties were given the chance to run and had significant electoral appeal. Proportional representation produced the most ideologically diverse council in the city’s history

The establishment fought back, and using “Red Scare” tactics, the beginning of the Cold War and the rise of McCarthy, voters returned to the former electoral system..

 While the days of Boss Tweed are long gone the Democratic Party is divided into “regulars,” “reformers,” and those with feet in both camps.

Political parties have district leaders; read a description of the role of a district leader here and here.

The Democratic Party structure at the local level “selects” candidates to run in primary elections and with rare exceptions the candidates succeed.

Will Ranked Choice Voting upset the power of local political organizations, derisively referred to as “the machine?”

Six Brooklyn City Council members, represented by the Brooklyn County Democratic organization attorney challenged Rank Choice Voting in the courts.

But just as the city is poised to put the ranked-choice voting system in place, opposition is mounting. Black elected officials have raised objections, arguing that absent substantial voter education, the system will effectively disenfranchise voters of color  …  six New York City Council members filed suit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan seeking to stop the city from starting the new voting system. 

A group of women, not part of the political structure vigorously opposed any delay in the Ranked Choice Election process.

More than 20 women, predominantly women of color, sent an open letter to the members of the City Council on Monday urging them to avoid any measure that would delay the implementation of ranked-choice voting.

“We are mothers, carpenters, chiefs of staff, teachers, public defenders and nurses. And with the adoption of Ranked-Choice Voting in New York City, we’re hoping to add City Councilmember to that list,” they wrote in a letter that also advocates for a bill that would require the city to conduct a thorough public education campaign.

The court denied the appeal on procedural grounds and the litigants will ask the Appellate Court to intervene.

Why are political organizations, whether they define themselves as “regulars” or “reformers” so upset: the uncertainty of Ranked Choice Voting.

A candidate who gets the most votes might not be elected, the transfer of votes may result in a candidate who finishes second or third or lower receiving votes transferred from other candidates and win the election.

The advantage of being supported by a political club, a party organization might not be determinate of who wins.

Will voters only rank the women on the ballot? Rank by the perceived ethnicity of the name? Should you suggest your candidate’s voters bullet vote (only vote your candidate), Should you collaborate with other candidates, agree to rank each other, no one is sure of a winning strategy.

Will we elect a City Council made up of “independents,” single issue candidates, an advantage or disadvantage for gender non-conforming candidates?

34 of the 51 current City Council members are term limited.

Who’s running in my district (See candidates here)? How does the matching system work? How much money have current candidates already raised? It’s all easily accessible here.

If I’m actually considering running how do I start?  See process here.

We are witnessing an experiment in democracy at the grass roots level.

Will Civics Education Help Students Make Better Decisions? [It’s complicated]

In my role as President of the Education Alumni Association at a local college I host a “Principal and Community Breakfast” every February. We invite a policy maker, a researcher, or a scholar to make a presentation to local principals and activists. This year we invited a speaker from the US Census; she made an excellent present – the Census and Schools.  In addition to the adults I invited the leadership class from a local high school. After the presentation I met with the kids and asked what they “learned.”  One student said if there was an undercount New York State could lose one or two members of the House of Representatives, another student was clearly “discomforted.”

**********
Today electors representing the winning candidate in the fifty states and the District of Columbia will cast their ballots, on January 6th, before a joint session of Congress the ballots will be counted: Biden 306, Trump 232.

The presidential election seemed to mark a revival in American civic engagement. A record two-thirds of the electorate voted. …

Yet large numbers of Americans appear to believe President Donald Trump’s baseless charges of election fraud. Civic life and discourse have been eroded by the normalization of lying by elected leaders, the dissemination of disinformation via social media and the attempted weaponization of the courts to undermine confidence in voting.

Andrea Gabor, an acclaimed professor at Baruch College/CUNY suggests,

  ,Has there ever been a better time for a revival of civics education? Not your father’s bland civics, with its how-a-bill-becomes-law tedium, but a vigorous set of lessons about American society and government that encourages fact-based exchanges of views and civil debate about controversial topics without taking sides in contemporary disputes about such issues as abortion or immigration policy.

The question is: will a “vigorous set of lessons” impact teenagers?

On Friday the Supreme Court denied the last ditch effort to overturn the election results,

The court, in a brief unsigned order, said Texas lacked standing to pursue the case, saying it “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections.”

In spite of the fruitless attempts to overturn the election, in spite of the total absence of evidence, 60% of Republicans believe the election was stolen from Trump.

Why did 75 million Americans vote for Trump and why fifty million of them continue to support him?

In recent publications, Berkeley scholars have suggested [in 2016] Trump won with an unconventional coalition of white working class and middle-class Americans who were motivated by resentment:

The culture and economy gave them no recognition and no respect for their work. Their industries were changing; their jobs were shifting overseas or lost to automation. They perceive that Black, Latinx and Asian people, and immigrants, are advancing at their expense.

Can civics education “teach” potential voters to delineate between “claims” and “facts?”

Many voters suffer from “rational ignorance,”

It was naughty of Winston Churchill to say, if he really did, that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Nevertheless, many voters’ paucity of information about politics and government, although arguably rational, raises awkward questions about concepts central to democratic theory, including consent, representation, public opinion, electoral mandates and officials’ accountability.

Many people acquire political knowledge for the reason people acquire sports knowledge — because it interests them, not because it will alter the outcome of any contest.

And with “confirmation bias,” many people use political information to reinforce their pre-existing views … the more political knowledge people have, the more apt they are to discuss politics with people who agree with, and reinforce, them.

The problem of ignorance is unlikely to be ameliorated by increasing voter knowledge because demand for information, not the supply of it, is the major constraint on political knowledge.

In other words, voters have always been ignorant of the issues.

Upgrading curriculum, as Gabor suggests, is fine, however, “teaching” teenagers and expecting the lessons to impact decisions is a stretch, unless, they feel the “lessons” are meaningful to their lives.

I was teaching an honors government class (in New York State every student take a civics course, “Participation in Government”). The principal asked to have the class construct a “constitution” for the school. We read constitutions, beginning with the Magna Carta, the British parliamentary system, a deep dive into our constitution, read every line, and the class decided our school was closer to a monarchy, a divine right monarchy, The principal the king, the assistant principal the royalty, the teachers the craftsman and the students the serfs.

One student said, the principal and assistant principals were management and teachers and students the workers – we should be “ruled” by a collective bargaining agreement. I divided the class in labor and management teams and the kids “negotiated” a contract, we presented it to the principal.

“Not what I expected, interesting, I don’t think the superintendent will agree to it.”  

A decade or so later I met one of the kids who was in the class; he immediately referred to the assignment: “We were all nervous when we met with the principal, after graduation I got a job with the phone company; I joined the union right away.” A decade later he remembered the experience.

Generation Citizen is an organization that provides facilitators to work with teachers in civics classrooms in middle and high schools.

Over the course of Generation Citizen’s’s in-class program, students choose an issue they care about, develop a focused, strategic plan to address the issue, take real action, and then reflect on their successes, challenges, and plans moving forward.

Generation Citizen is working in over 500 classrooms in New York City.

I asked the “discomfited” young lady, you know the look, what she had to say ….

“Old white guys make all the decisions, they don’t care about us, what difference does it make who gets elected?”

“Why don’t you run for office?”

She looked at me like I was crazy.

“Are you eighteen?”

“In a few weeks”

I explained to her how she could run for the County Committee in her Election District (ED), EDs are only a few square blocks, a few hundred voters.

I sent her teacher information about the role of the County Committee and how she could run. The other kids were excited, “Yah run,,,, we’ll help you …. You got a big mouth ….

What does the County Committee do?

  • Choose the Democratic Party’s nominee in special elections
  • Help create the Democratic Party pltform
  • Choose candidates to run for judges
 A month later COVID hit ….

Did I create another Shirley Chisholm, another Angela Davis? Either way, I hope so.

The “Police Powers” of Governments versus the Rights of Individual Citizens: Required COVID Testing and Required Vaccinations

New York City elementary schools will be reopening Monday (December 7th), a phased re-opening beginning with pre-k and kindergarten, moving up to students in District 75 (schools for moderately/severely handicapped children) and the remaining elementary grades, a caveat, the parent must have signed a COVID testing consent form (Read here)

In order for your child to return to in-person learning, you must submit the consent form for in-school COVID-19 testing by the first day your child returns to their school building 

The New York Post reports, a group of parents opposing barring students from school whose parents refuse to sign and submit COVID testing consent form threaten lawsuits,

“The decision by the Mayor and the DOE to force parents to consent to have their school age children tested for the Covid Virus as a condition of attending school is outrageous, immoral and a violation of their constitutional rights,” read a statement from a group called Parents Opposed to Mandatory Testing.

The group is planning to ask the Eastern District of the Federal Court to halt the consent form requirement.

The next question is whether government can require COVID vaccinations.  At the front of the line are nursing home residents,

A state official said the first batches should be enough to cover all nursing home residents and staff across the state, though Cuomo said he expects some people at those facilities will opt not to be vaccinated. He added he won’t mandate it, either. Instead, he hopes a state public education campaign convinces skeptics that the vaccine can save lives.

David Kirkland, the Director of the NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools is planning a major campaign to encourage vaccinations.

We are planning a campaign as part of our health awareness initiative to education BIPOC communities on the vaccine. The initiative is titled, “United We Heal.” Stayed tuned. It’s going to be important work.

If large percentages of folks are vaccinated herd immunity may protect the citizenry; however,

Experts do not know what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19. Herd immunity is a term used to describe when enough people have protection—either from previous infection or vaccination—that it is unlikely a virus or bacteria can spread and cause disease.

Unfortunately the general public is not wholly committed to COVID vaccinations.

Only about half of Americans said they would try to get a Covid-19 vaccine once one is available, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS, and that percentage appears to have dropped since May.

Some argue that the combination of COVID survivors and the vaccinated will create herd immunity. While experts differ Dr Fauci suggests around 80% of the population must be vaccinated or have anti-bodies for herd immunity to be in effect; however, the percent is disputed (Read discussion here)

The consent form requirement issue leads into the larger question: can COVID vaccination be a requirement to attend school?

Vaccination requirements for schools rests with the states, the federal government can recommend, urge, cajole; it’s highly unlikely, it can mandate COVID vaccinations.

All states require vaccinations for students, although the regulations vary and many states allow “religious and/or philosophical exemptions.”  (See New York State Department of Health vaccination requirements here)

In order to attend or remain in school or day care, children who are unvaccinated or overdue must receive at least the first dose of all required vaccines within the first 14 days. They also must plan to receive all follow-up doses at the ages and intervals (time between doses) listed in the recommended vaccination schedule.

Vaccines required for day care, pre-K, and school attendance
  • Diphtheria and Tetanus toxoid-containing vaccine and Pertussis vaccine (DTaP or Tdap, Hepatitis B vaccine,  Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR),  Polio vaccine, Varicella (Chickenpox) vaccine

There is vigorous resistance to requiring vaccinations for school age children. The anti-vaccination movement (“antivaxxers”) assaulted the State Education Department a year ago, pushing past guards, racing through the building, unfurling banners, pounding on doors, all in vain, the vaccination regulations are issued by the Department of Heath, not the Board of Regents or the Department of Education.

The question of requiring vaccinations is not new, if fact, the question was litigated before the Supreme Court,

In Jacobson v Massachusetts  (1905) SCOTUS affirmed the right of a city to require a smallpox vaccination in the midst of an epidemic, the penalty was a fine. The Court supported the City of Cambridge decision, affirming the concept of following the authority of local health authorities.

 To invest such a body [Board of Health] with authority over such matters [vaccinations] was not an unusual nor an unreasonable or arbitrary requirement. Upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.  …  if we are to attach any value whatever to the knowledge which, it is safe to affirm, is common to all civilized peoples touching smallpox and the methods most usually employed to eradicate that disease, it cannot be adjudged that the present regulation of the Board of Health was not necessary in order to protect the public health and secure the public safety.

Jacobson v Massachusetts has been mentioned in over 60 SCOTUS decisions since 1905. The “police powers” of the government to protect the health and safety of the nation has been firmly embedded for over 100 years.

Last week the Supreme Court, ignored a century of case law and overturned Governor Cuomo’s restrictions on the number of attendees at religious services citing the First Amendment,

Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.

Justice Sotomayor dissented,

“Epidemiologists and physicians generally agree that religious services are among the riskiest activities”). Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.

Would the Court choose to intervene in the question of mandatory vaccinations? 

Would a mandatory vaccination regulation violate the Fourteenth Amendment?

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Let me not get too far down the road, I believe the question of the COVID test consent form does not cause “irreparable harm,” students are currently learning remotely and could continue until the litigation is resolved.  The question of whether a COVID vaccination is required for September, 2021 is many months away, if it ever arises.

Is the Supreme Court a COVID Super Spreader?

Tommy Tuberville is the new Senator-elect from Alabama and former Auburn football coach; in an interview, defined the three branches of government as the President, the Senate and the House of Representatives instead of the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary.

The most controversial and impactful “legislative” policy changes are made by the judiciary, not the Congress, the Supreme Court of the United State, aka, SCOTUS, has become a legislative branch of government.

 The Court receives approximately 7,000-8,000 petitions for a writ of certiorari, requests for judicial review, each Term. The Court grants and hears oral argument in about 80 cases, one percent of petitions requesting review.

The Justices use the “Rule of Four” to decide if they will take the case. If four of the nine Justices feel the case has value, they will issue a writ of certiorari.

Wednesday night the Court released a decision, without oral argument, overturning lower court decisions dismissing Governor Cuomo’s restrictions on the number of participants in religious services in the most COVID contagious zones. The restriction had already been eased due to declining COVID rates. The Court insisted on issuing a decision overturning over 100 years of the Court supporting health care experts.

The unsigned decision was probably written by the latest Trump appointee, Justice Barrett

Unsigned

There can be no question that the challenged restrictions, if enforced, will cause irreparable harm. “The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.” …. If only 10 people are admitted to each service, the great majority of those who wish to attend Mass on Sunday or services in a synagogue on Shabbat will be barred. And while those who are shut out may in some instances be able to watch services on television, such remote viewing is not the same as personal attendance. Catholics who watch a Mass at home cannot receive communion, and there are important religious traditions in the Orthodox Jewish faith that require personal attendance.

Finally, it has not been shown that granting the applications [overturning the Cuomo restrictions] will harm the public. As noted, the State has not claimed that attendance at the applicants’ services has resulted in the spread of the disease. And the State has not shown that public health would be imperiled if less restrictive measures were imposed. Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.  Before allowing this to occur, we have a duty to conduct a serious examination of the need for such a drastic measure.

From Dr Fauci to Dr Brix to every leading health care expert  COVID is spread through contact in enclosed spaces for lengthy periods of time, i. e., religious services.  The Court argues super spreading events must infect before the government can take actions to prevent massive contagion. Body counts must precede skipping communion or Sabbath prayers,

Another Trump appointee in a snarky concurrence,

Justice Gorsuch concurring,

according to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, . Who knew public healthwould so perfectly align with secular convenience?

I “pick up a bottle of wine” at the door of my liquor store, no admittance into the store, I drop off my bike at the entrance to my bike repair store.

Is it acceptable to allow thousands of Hassidim, an ultra orthodox branch of the Jewish faith to attend a wedding, hours chanting prayers in a confined space?

The only explanation for treating religious places differently seems to be a judgment that what happens there just isn’t as “essential” as what happens in secular spaces. Indeed, the Governor is remarkably frank about this: In his judgment laundry and liquor, travel and tools, are all “essential” while traditional religious exercises are not. That is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids.

No, this is the Gorsuch’s interpretation of the First Amendment, and totally without merit.

Do electeds have the authority to bar super spreader events?  We would hope so …

In the end, I can only surmise that much of the answer lies in a particular judicial impulse to stay out of the way in times of crisis. But if that impulse may be understandable or even admirable in other circumstances, we may not shelter in place when the Constitution is under attack. Things never go well when we do.

Justice Sotomayor, joined by Breyer and Kagan, dissents.

Unlike religious services, which “have every one of th[ose] risk factors,” bike repair shops and liquor stores generally do not feature customers gathering inside to sing and speak together for an hour or more at a time. (“Epidemiologists and physicians generally agree that religious services are among the riskiest activities”). Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.

Absolutely!!

In Jacobson v Massachusetts  (1905) SCOTUS affirmed the right of a city to require a smallpox vaccination in the midst of an epidemic, the penalty was a fine. The Court supported the decision, affirming the concept of following the authority of local health authorities.

 To invest such a body [Board of Health] with authority over such matters was not an unusual nor an unreasonable or arbitrary requirement. Upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.  …  if we are to attach any value whatever to the knowledge which, it is safe to affirm, is common to all civilized peoples touching smallpox and the methods most usually employed to eradicate that disease, it cannot be adjudged that the present regulation of the Board of Health was not necessary in order to protect the public health and secure the public safety.

Jacobson v Massachusetts has been mentioned in over 60 SCOTUS decisions since 1905. The “police powers” of the government to protect the health and safety of the nation has been firmly embedded for over 100 years, until the new Court majority, in a tortured argument; an absurd argument, finds the First Amendment trumps protecting the nation.

The five justices affirming the decision define themselves as “originalists,” Court decisions should reflect “what those who wrote the Constitution most likely thought about the content and scope of the constitutional phrase.”  Unless Barrett, Gorsuch and their con-freres have a Ouija Board I doubt they can mine the thoughts of Madison and Hamilton.   

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise …the actions of Governor Cuomo do not “prohibit the free exercise” of religion, in fact, his actions are complying with “expert opinions of health officials”

Pope Francis, in an op ed in the New York Times wrote,  governments have made great efforts to put the well-being of their people first, acting decisively to protect health and to save lives. 

Should COVID vaccinations be required for students? For school staff members?

On Friday I stood on a COVID testing line for four hours, a lovely day, chatting with my line mates, their bosses had given them time off; they needed a negative COVID test in order to fly somewhere. The test, the nose swab, took minutes and my phone beeped with the results before I was home. (Negative). I’m staying at home for Thanksgiving.

Two vaccine developers, Pfizer and Moderna announced vaccines with 90 plus percent protection rates; at least five other companies are near competing trials and China and Russia report they’re already distributing vaccines.

The final hurtle is less than a month away, the CDC/FDA will probably approve the vaccines for use around December 10th.

The distribution procedures, called Operation Warp Speed (Read here) created a nationwide network, over 60 regions with distribution networks in each region, from hospitals down to pharmacies.

Warp Speed has been criticized by the scientific community as being too tied to big pharma and not transparent.

It will take months, perhaps many months to ramp up production, in the meantime who gets to stand at the front of the line is still hazy. The nation began preparing for a possible pandemic in 2008 with Obama’s creation of a national vaccine plan (See 2008 plan here). The Trump administration ignored the plan,

There are a number of advisory groups who are recommending priorities: who gets to the front of the line,

…a panel of experts …the priority setting framework for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine chose … to focus on the factors that create the risk for some people of color — systemic racism that leads to higher levels of poor health and socioeconomic factors such as working in jobs that cannot be done from home or living in crowded settings. 

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, (ACIP); part of the CDC, has laid out another strategy for prioritizing distribution of the vaccine

ACIP is considering four groups to possibly recommend for early COVID-19 vaccination if supply is limited:

  • Healthcare personnel
  • Workers in essential and critical industries
  • People at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness due to underlying medical conditions
  • People 65 years and older

The opinions in the scientific community vary, competing priorities: preventing deaths among the elderly or slowing the transmission.

Because Covid-19 is especially lethal for those over 65 and those with other health problems such as obesity, diabetes, or asthma, and yet is spread rapidly and widely by healthy young adults who are more likely to recover, mathematicians are faced with two conflicting priorities when modeling for vaccines: Should they prevent deaths or slow transmission?

The consensus among most modelers is that if the main goal is to slash mortality rates, officials must prioritize vaccinating those who are older, and if they want to slow transmission, they must target younger adults.

Vaccination requirements for schools rests with the states, the federal government can recommend, urge, cajole; it’s highly unlikely, it can mandate COVID vaccinations.

All states require the long established vaccinations for students, although the regulations vary and many states allow “religious and/or philosophical exemptions.”  See New York State Department of Health vaccination requirements here

In order to attend or remain in school or day care, children who are unvaccinated or overdue must receive at least the first dose of all required vaccines within the first 14 days. They also must plan to receive all follow-up doses at the ages and intervals (time between doses) listed in the recommended vaccination schedule.

Vaccines required for day care, pre-K, and school attendance
  • Diphtheria and Tetanus toxoid-containing vaccine and Pertussis vaccine (DTaP or Tdap, Hepatitis B vaccine,  Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR),  Polio vaccine, Varicella (Chickenpox) vaccine

There is resistance to requiring vaccinations for school age children. The anti-vaccination movement (“antivaxxers”) assaulted the State Education Department a year ago, pushing past guards, racing through the building, unfurling banners, pounding on doors, all in vain, the vaccination regulations are issued by the Department of Heath, not the Board of Regents or the Department of Education.

The general public is not wholly committed to COVID vaccinations.

Only about half of Americans said they would try to get a Covid-19 vaccine once one is available, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS, and that percentage appears to have dropped since May.

Some argue that the combination of COVID survivors and the vaccinated will create herd immunity. While experts differ Dr Fauci suggests around 80% of the population must be vaccinated or have anti-bodies for herd immunity to be in effect; however, the percent is disputed (Read discussion here)

A key question: can vaccinations be mandated by states?

In 1905 the Supreme Court said, yes.

… the Supreme Court (Jacobson v Massachusetts) said that states have under their police powers, … under the Constitution, the authority to enact reasonable regulations as necessary to protect public health, public safety, and the common good.

The court said: “The rights of the individual may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint to be enforced by reasonable regulations as the safety of the general public may demand.”

Vaccination mandates constitute exactly that kind of permissible state action to protect the public’s health. …this continues to be the benchmark case on the state’s power to mandate vaccination.

The New York State Bar Association recommended that the state consider requiring vaccinations across the state (See press release here)

Under his current emergency powers Governor Cuomo would appear to have the power to mandate vaccinations

Can an employer fire you if you refuse to get immunized?

Yes, with some exceptions, Dorit Reiss, a law professor from the Hasting School of Law in San Francisco wrote,

“It’s perfectly legitimate for an employer to regulate to make the workplace safer … They can certainly fire you if you don’t want to follow health and safety rules.”

Employees who are part of a union may be exempt from the vaccine requirement.

Anti-discrimination laws also provide some limits. If you can’t get the vaccine for medical reasons, that could be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would require an employer to accommodate you. That could mean requiring you to wear a mask on the job or have limited contact with other people, 

In my totally unscientific poll: Are you going to get the COIVD vaccination?

  • Yes, as soon as possible
  • Yes, not right away, my cell upgrades frequently have glitches.
  • Probably not until I’m convinced it really works
  • No, I don’t trust politicians.
  • I’m waiting to see what President Trump says …

I’m on the “yes” side, I trust science.

Listen to Leonard Cohen, “Democracy is coming to the USA”