Obama, Trump and Governing: Armageddon or a Breath of Fresh Air?

Carrie Fisher. forever Princess Leia, passed, and a few of the online comments are poignant,

I for one hope she is not resting, but at this moment being beamed to a galaxy beyond our imaginations, where she will adventure on … There has been a profound disturbance in the Force, as if thousands of voices have cried out in sorrow. 2016 cannot end soon enough.

Yes, 2016 has been a difficult year, the passing of icons as well as another force in the galaxy, the election of Donald Trump.

The passing of the torch is not without rough edges;  Obama in an interview muses that he could have been elected to  third term, (without that pesky 22nd amendment) and Trump tweeted back, no way.

Volumes will be written parsing his eight years at the helm: was he a memorable president, or was he the professor-in-chief? An op ed in New York Times asks: Was Barack Obama Bad for Democrats?

He rescued an economy in crisis and passed the recovery program, pulled America back from its military overreach, passed the Affordable Care Act and committed the nation to addressing climate change. To be truly transformative in the way he wanted, however, his success had to translate into electoral gains for those who shared his vision and wanted to reform government. On that count, Mr. Obama failed.

Mr. Obama also offered only tepid support to the most important political actor in progressive and Democratic politics: the labor movement.

Ta-Nisi Coates, in a lengthy essay in The Atlantic, “My President Was Black,” lauds his president,

… [With a Trump win] I knew what was coming—more Freddie Grays, more Rekia Boyds, more informants and undercover officers sent to infiltrate mosques.  

And I also knew that the man who could not countenance such a thing in his America had been responsible for the only time in my life when I felt, as the first lady had once said, proud of my country, and I knew that it was his very lack of countenance, his incredible faith, his improbable trust in his countrymen, that had made that feeling possible. The feeling was that little black boy touching the president’s hair. It was watching Obama on the campaign trail, always expecting the worst and amazed that the worst never happened. It was how I’d felt seeing Barack and Michelle during the inauguration, the car slow-dragging down Pennsylvania Avenue, the crowd cheering, and then the two of them rising up out of the limo, rising up from fear, smiling, waving, defying despair, defying history, defying gravity.

For years the arguments and books and PhD dissertations will debate: Is Obama the president who set the path for a caring/safe/prosperous world, addressing the critical issues of climate change and averting a worldwide conflagration, or, an aloof scholar who lost control of Congress and lost large segments of the American people. for some, an anti-Semite supporting policies that could lead to the destruction of Israel.

Trump, also, is reviled by many and revered by others.

For the last six years of the Obama administration Congress was led by Republicans, who thwarted many of the Obama initiatives and proposed a range of bills that died in the Senate.

For the first time in decades one party, currently the Republican Party will control both houses of Congress and the White House. Yes, the Cloture Rule in the Senate requires 60 votes to bring a bill to the floor; however, cabinet nominees only require a majority vote; additionally presidents have wide ranging powers in rule-making and establishing foreign policy. been

I have spoken with Trump supporters who argue that for decades Democratic administrations have created more and more entitlement programs. Social Security Disability Insurance, SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid and a host of others. They argue that entitlement programs discourage recipients from ever seeking employment setting up generational poverty dependent programs as well as unsustainable debt.

“The only way we can break the cycle of poverty is to force those dependent on the programs to seek employment and that will only happen if government sharply reduces the benefits, yes, there may be ‘hard years,’ in the long run we will benefit the entire nation.”

I have doubts, serious doubts about this approach, I read widely about a guaranteed national income; a discussion for another time

A swash-buckling, saber-rattling president, aggressive generals in leading policy positions, cabinet members antithetic to the department they are tasked to run and deficit hawks wanting to reduce the debt at all cost, and a president threatening tariffs to squeeze trading opponents.

is Trump the “right” leader; leadership has been the subject of debate for a millennium.

In the thirteenth century Catholic theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas wrote,

If it is natural for man to live in a numerous society, it is necessary that their should be provision for ruling such a society. Where there are many men and each seeks that which is agreeable to himself, the group will soon fall apart unless there is someone who cares for these things that concern the good of the aggregate …

In addition to that which works for the private advantage of each there should be something that acts for the common good of the many …

If the multitude is governed by a ruler for their common good, the government is right and just and appropriate … if the government is directed not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, then it is unjust and perverted. (St Thomas Aquinas, Concerning the Rule of Princes (1266)

Twentieth century Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr also mused over the role of governmental leadership.

Niebuhr maintains that “…it may be taken as axiomatic that great disproportions of power lead to injustice,” and he adds “…the larger the group the more certainly will it express itself selfishly in the total community.” This is because “…it will be more powerful and therefore more able to defy  any social restraints which might be devised.” He insists that “…there has never been a scheme of justice in history which did not have a balance of power  at its foundation.” But he sees danger also in the balancing of power with the possibility of anarchy.”

He concludes that “… a healthy society must seek to achieve the greatest possible equilibrium of power, the greatest possible number of centers of power, the greatest possible social checks upon the administration of power, and the greatest possible inner moral check on human ambition, as well as the most effective use of forms of power in which consent and coercion are compounded.” (Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics, 1960).

Will the Trump administration work for the “common good of the many” or, will he work for “the private good of the ruler,” and, if so, according to Aquinas,  he will be  “unjust and perverted.”

Will our next administration evidence “the greatest possible equilibrium of power … the greatest possible social checks … the great possible inner moral checks on human ambition?”

As we edge toward the new year a gloom has descended, the deaths of iconic Americans compounded by fear, fear that our new president will drive the nation, and perhaps the world towards an Armageddon.  Most of us ignore the other side of the coin, the Trump supporters who see a new awakening, a potential sea change in the direction of the country.

I have no idea who is correct. The polls had Hillary comfortably in the lead, the New York Times gave her a 93% chance of winning two weeks before the election and an 83% chance on election day. Why were the pollsters so wrong? Why were the “experts,” the sages who dominate the air waves and opinion columns so off course? Is our future as bleak as The New Yotk Times forecasts?

The ultimate poll will be the American people, the “wisdom of crowds; from 140-character tweets to governing is a huge leap. In mid-March we will reach the debt ceiling limit, in prior years the White House and the Congress negotiated a way around the crises: not this time. Our new president and the Republican Congress will make every attempt to use the “crisis” to “balance the budget,” proposing  sharp reductions in entitlement programs ranging from Medicare to food stamps to Social Security. Perhaps the “crowd” will agree, these are necessary to avert economic ruin, or, the fickle “crowd,” that elected president-elect Trump will rise up in anger.

A divided America, some seeing dark clouds and a treacherous future, others rays of sunlight. I’m keeping my umbrella handy.

Assessing What Teachers Teach and What Students Learn: Creating Authentic Assessments for Students and Teachers

Student waiving his hand in the air enthusiastically, “Teacher, teacher, is it on the test?”

These days the answer is, “I have no idea.”

The current Common Core grades 3-8 tests are not content-based they are standards-based, they “test” the ability to identify skills-acquisition; content, curriculum, has fallen by the wayside.

See two 9th grade Social Studies Standards below:

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.

I have no objection; the standards are perfectly reasonable and I would expect that teachers would address the standard in their lessons.  Testing companies, in New York State Questarai, creates test items that measure the ability to exhibit knowledge of  the standards; there are no New York State created curricula.

Standards are not new, we have had standards for decades. For a period in the nineties teachers had to include standards in each lesson plan. After the topic and the aim we were required to write three SWBATs (Students Will Be Able To)  standards related to the specific lesson. In many schools anything displayed in classrooms or hallway walls had to include the specific standard.

Standards are abstract and not related to content. New York State does provide curriculum modules on the open source Engage NY website. See an example of a Ninth Grade ELA Curriculum Module here. These are not required, they are detailed and the claim is that they are aligned to the Common Core and school districts frequently adopt the Engage NY modules.

School districts rarely have the ability to create their own curricula, they simply “adopt” the Engage NY so-called curriculum modules.

The state did spent years working on and finally released Social Studies Frameworks, close to a curriculum,

This Framework integrates existing New York State Learning Standards and the New York State Core Curriculum for Social Studies into a single, three-part document. It is intended to serve as a guide for local districts in developing their Social Studies curricula.

The state makes it clear, developing curricula is the responsibility of the local district.

The math side of the Common Core State Standards are far closer to what we would call a curriculum – see an example: the Second Grade Mathematics curriculum module.

Sol Stern, in the current issue of City Journal, is sharply critical of the absence of a “coherent, grade by grade curriculum,”

“The existing K-12 school system (including most charters and private schools) has been transformed into a knowledge-free zone. It is now producing the ‘dumbest generation’ ever …. digital-age social media stupefies young Americans and makes them less interested in serious reading than any previous generation. Add in the education establishment’s refusal to teach knowledge in the classroom and the result becomes a toxic mix of intellectual apathy and ignorance.”

Stern asks, “Will conservatives at long last begin working to restore a knowledge-based curriculum?”

No Sol, if  you define conservatives as the Betsy DeVos acolytes they will be focused on choice, and leave decisions to the Local Education Authority (LEA), including creationism as an alternative theory.

Governor Cuomo, to his credit, has suspended the use of the grades 3-8 state tests to evaluate teachers, the Board of Regents adopted a four-year moratorium.

Summative assessments, the six-day April/May state tests or the end of the term Regents Exams are not the best way to assess students or teachers. As we know school districts, schools and teachers coach students to pass tests, the test is the ultimate determinant of teacher and student performance.

In New York State teachers are currently assessed by a combination of principal observations and a locally negotiated Measurement of Student Learning (MOSL); during the moratorium  state test scores are not part off the teacher assessment process.

The United Federation of Teachers and the Department of Education, after many months of negotiations, finally agreed to a Annual Personnel Performance Review (APPR), the principal/teacher assessment metric.. See a summary of the plan here.

The new  APPR agreement makes major strides towards assessing what a teacher actually teaches,

* Project Based Learning assessment, students final assessment is at least partly composed of work the student has developed over time in  conjunction with a specific project based on a learning unit.

* Student Learning Inventories, collections of student work that will include both Department of Education  developed components as well as classroom artifacts that capture student growth.

Major steps to an authentic assessment system – assessing what teachers teach and students learn.

The Secretary of Education nominee appears centered on providing opportunities for choice, and we can expect battles over Title 1 funding and a range of other contentious issues.  The new law, ESSA, does “reserve for the states,” a wide range of education decision-making.

The New York City APPR agreement may provide a path for the state in the creation of the plan that the feds require of each state: authentic assessments.

Authentic Assessment: Will New York State Begin to Move from “Bubbling” to “Deeper Learning”?

Back in 2009 The New Teacher Project (TNTP) issued a report, The Widget Effect, school districts only rarely observed teachers or even attempted to discharge teachers.

“A teacher’s effectiveness – the most important factor for schools in improving student achievement – is not measured, recorded, or used to inform decision-making in any meaningful way.”

If we could “measure and record” teacher effectiveness, if we could identify the worst teachers and fire them we could improve student achievement. What we have seen is an unrelenting assault on teachers: use student test scores to assess teacher quality and remove tenure (See Vergara v The State of California here); make firing teachers easier.

The assumption that there is a long line of highly effectiveness teachers waiting to replace the “bad” teachers is ludicrous. In fact, 40% of teachers leave within their first five years of service, in high poverty, low achieving inner city schools the percentage of much higher; a revolving door of new teachers seriously impacts student achievement.

A perhaps well-intentioned reform, replacing “bad” teachers with new teachers had an unintended consequence,  a hugh unintended consequence. Since student test scores now drove teacher competence decisions, prepare for the tests, in fact, preparing for the tests became the driver of instruction.

In New York State the opt out movement exploded and eventually Governor Cuomo, to his credit, announced a four-year moratorium on the use of student test scores to assess teacher quality.

Couple the moratorium with the new ESSA requirement to create a new student accountability model and a window opens. Watch a webinar from the Learning Policy Institute laying out the opportunities under ESSA here .

Under the far more permissive regulations in ESSA, the new law states have wide discretion.

Teachers agree:  we should assess what we’re actually teaching?

In the ideal world, we teach a curriculum, a word that has virtually disappeared from the education vocabulary, we assess student performance periodically based on maybe a portfolio of work, a series of performance tasks, a lab report based on an experiment:  referred to authentic assessment:

A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills” — Jon Mueller

“…Engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field.” — Grant Wiggins

Performance assessments call upon the examinee to demonstrate specific skills and competencies, that is, to apply the skills and knowledge they have mastered.” — Richard J. Stiggins.

The movement, frequently called “deeper learning,” supports the change from bubbling in multiple choice answers to “create and produce,” a Stanford University online (MOOC)  Massive Online Open Course describes performance assessments,

Whether students are learning to select, use, and explain evidence to support a claim or to analyze data to evaluate a hypothesis, tests that require that students only bubble in a scantron are inadequate to measure (or support) students’ learning and growth. Performance assessments are more suited to this task. Performance-based tasks require that students create and produce rather than recall and regurgitate. While performance assessments vary along multiple dimensions, including duration and focus, they all demand that students use and apply critical skills and knowledge to demonstrate understanding.

Stanford has created a performance assessment resource bank, , a rich repository for schools planning to move from bubbles to deeper learning.

I believe the state is edging in that direction; remembering the Common Core disaster. The introduction of the Common Core Learning Standards coupled with Common Core state tests angered everyone and saw standardized test score grades flip from two-thirds “proficient” to two-thirds “below proficient.”  Either teachers forgot how to teach and students forgot how to learn or the entire process was deeply flawed.

A “deeper learning” approach to teaching, the use of authentic assessments requires “buy-in” from schools and extensive teacher training. Keeping track of student progress in a class of twenty-five or thirty students can be onerous, a three-day test in April may be viewed as a lot easier.

We don’t have to use a “one-size-fits all” approach to teaching and learning. School districts or clusters of schools in the “Big Five” can opt in while other schools continue the more traditional approach.

Commissioner Elia has been extremely sensitive to the “field,” aka, the stakeholders; opportunities for consultations and engagement have been myriad. For example, the Higher Education Committee is moving toward recommending changes in teacher preparation regulations, there have been I believe ten open forums around the state, all the Deans, from CUNY, SUNY and the privates have been invited to be part of the process.

A reminiscence: an authentic assessment.

An alum is writing a history of the school at which I spent my career teaching and is interviewing former students and publishing the history in the alum bulletin.  I was surprised and overjoyed at one of her articles. Around 1980 I was teaching a Sociology class, and, decided to create an exercise: create a statistically correct (“stratified random sample”) survey of student attitudes and opinions, questions dealing  from homework, to pot-smoking, to condom distribution to the quality of teaching to race relations. We worked on the assignment for weeks, eventually presented the report to the Principal and invited him to the class to discuss the findings. When the alum interviewed the former students and asked them what they remember about their school career three of them referenced that assignment – more than thirty years earlier – think they remember what was on the Regents that year?

Trump, ESSA and Education Policy: Musing Over the Future of Public Education

Unlimited power is … a bad and dangerous thing; human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion, only God alone can be omnipotent … no power on earth is so worthy of honor for itself; or for reverential  obedience to the rights which it represents that I would consent to admit its uncontrolled and all-predominant authority.

In my opinion the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise … from their weakness but from their overpowering strength; and I am not so much alarmed at the excessive liberty which reigns in that country as at the very inadequate securities which exist against tyranny.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.

A year ago the Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the successor to the much reviled No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The new law was the result of a few years of behind the scenes negotiating, the bill was bipartisan with Senators Lamar Alexander (R) and Patty Murray (D) leading the way.

While the law still requires annual grades 3-8 testing and the public reporting of the results states are given wide discretion in the design of accountability metrics.  States are currently deeply engaged in drafting plans that must be submitted to the feds by September, 2017. Some states are working with Linda Darling-Hammond at the Learning Policy Institute, others with Michael McGee at Chiefs for Change (See advocacy here) or the Council of State School Officers (See CCSSO guide here). States are grappling with designing accountability plans: how you measure and report student outcomes? Stick with the current pen and pencil, or computer-based testing, move to performance tasks, portfolios or other types of “authentic” assessments, and, as the law requires, are these new tools evidence-based in their reliability and validity?

The law itself, hundreds of pages of dense legal jargon must be reduced to regulations and the process is lengthy and tedious. The negotiated rule-making process, the posting of draft regulations, a lengthy public comment period and the final release of the regulations within the last month.

How will the new administration, the new Secretary of Education, implement the rules, and, can she change the regulations?

Betsy DeVoss has been one of the leading proponents of choice in the nation. Ideally choice means that each parent would be provided with a voucher, or coupon, or whatever term you use that is equal to the cost of education in a state and the parent could present the voucher to any school: public, charter, private or religious. Education; however, is a state function; over 90% of funding for schools is generated through local property taxes or state revenues, the feds on provide Title I dollars and other federal grants. DeVoss cannot impose vouchers; although she can hang the bait of increased dollars for those who take the bait.

Janelle Scott, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in a recent peer-reviewed article challenges the assertion that choice produces better outcomes. Read the essay here.

Even though ESSA is the law of the land and the regulations have been established the Secretary still interprets the law. The Secretary may issue “Dear Colleague” letters clarifying elements within the law and regulations (See examples of Dear Colleague letters here). “Dear Colleague” letters undermine the intent of the law or regulation.

How can the Secretary influence the distribution of federal education dollars?

The largest pot of federal dollars are Title I funds based on poverty metrics, distributed to states, school districts and schools. (See a detailed description of Title I here). Charter and religious schools also receive Title I funding under federal statutes. The formula for the allocation of federal dollars is complex and the Secretary plays a role; although, the states play the major role in determining cut scores for eligibility. For example: how do you measure poverty? Free and reduced lunch forms? federal census family income data? Should you concentrate the dollars: meaning should fewer schools receive more dollars?  These are debates that have been ongoing for years.

DeVoss will attempt to both reward charter and religious schools and encourage vouchers. Let us not forget that Arne Duncan offered competitive grants under Race to the Top to encourage Obama-Duncan policies, example, charter schools, Common Core, teacher evaluations plans, etc.

Will the Secretary decide how ESSA is applied to opt out schools?

The answer is yes, if she wants to play a major role. ESSA, and its predecessor required a 95% participation rate on the required standardized grades 3-8 tests. The purpose was to discourage/prevent schools from conveniently excusing kids who were likely to do poorly on the test; no one envisioned the opt out movement. Some states specifically prohibit. or specifically allow parent opt outs whiles others are completely silent. (Read description here). In January, 2016 the feds sent a letter to all states setting forth potential actions against states with low participation rates,

In addition, an SEA has a range of other enforcement actions at its disposal with respect to noncompliance by an LEA, including placing a condition on an LEA’s Title I, Part A grant or withholding an LEA’s Title I, Part A funds (see, e.g., section 440 of the General Education Provisions Act). If a State with participation rates below 95% in the 2014−2015 school year fails to assess at least 95% of its students on the statewide assessment in the 2015 − 2016 school year, ED will take one or more of the following actions: (1) withhold Title I , Part A State administrative funds ; (2) place the State’s Title I , Part A grant on high-risk status and direct the State to use a portion of its Title I State administrative funds to address low participation rates; or (3) withhold or redirect Title V I State assessment funds.

New York State, by far, has the largest number of schools/parents with low participation rates; there are a number of other states, i. e., Illinois, Maine, Connecticut, California, Colorado Idaho, North Carolina Delaware Wisconsin Washington and Rhode Island.

The law is clear, the feds can reduce Title 1 funding to states with low participation rates; to complicate many of the opt out school do not receive Title 1 funding, or receive relatively little Title 1  funding. Does the state allow Title 1 students to receive fewer dollars or does the state transfer funds form opt out to Title 1 schools?

I suspect the choice forces will do everything possible to fracture public education. Deepen the moat, sharpen the pikes, the next few years will be parry and thrust.

Trump, the Electoral College and Governing: Is There a “Better” System? How Will Trump Manage the Transition from Candidate to President?

Pursuant to law promulgated by Congress and regulations by the Federal Electronic Election Commission (FEEC) presidential elections will take place as follows:

* Ten days prior to the constitutionally required election date the FEEC will provide each appropriate registered voter, as determined by federal and state law, with a unique identifying code, the voter shall cast his/her ballot online and receive a vote verification code.

* The FEC will declare a winner one hour after the closing of the voting window.

Maybe in a few years, a decade, all voting will be online. Yes, I know the cyber world is capturing our lives, too many of us live online. How many times have you looked over a group of people and most, all, were staring at their phone and tapping away. According to Moore’s Law computing power doubles every two years – change is inexorable.

A friend, only half jokingly, said, “Pretty soon they’ll be stapling a chip into everyone’s earlobe.” A colleague responded, “I’ll never allow them to do that to me.” My friend: “Are you kidding, in six months you’ll be begging for the upgrade.”

How long before artificial intelligence (AI) catches up to human intelligence, then again, is our president-elect the first example?

Voting electronically will make voting easier and quicker; however, will not change the current constitutionally mandated electoral college.

Article II

Section 1. The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows 

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention did not trust the masses, the “mad cry of the crowd,” as Abigail Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson in her January, 1787 letter.  The founders feared a chief executive who would morph into George III, a king called a president. The electors, selected by the states, were intermediaries to protect the embryonic nation from the masses and to empower states. The delegates were seeking an alternative to the Articles of Confederation, our first government that created a weak central government; in fact, the new nation for virtually all services, was made up of thirteen separate nations, our name, the United States of America, was more hopeful than real.

In four previous instances candidates were elected who lost the popular vote.  John Quincy Adams won the electoral college vote in 1824 but lost the popular vote to Andrew Jackson, who won the next two elections. Rutherford B. Hayes was elected in the infamous 1876 election although Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote. The election was decided by an electoral commission that included a “deal,” the commission would declare Hayes the victor in exchange for the end of Reconstruction and the removal of federal troops from the former confederate states. Benjamin Harrison was the electoral vote winner in 1888 versus Grover Cleveland, who was the only president to serve non-consecutive terms. George Bush was the electoral college winner in an election determined by the Supreme Court, Al Gore won the popular vote by 500,000 votes.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2.6 million votes, and lost the electoral votes 306 – 232; however, if we remove California, Trump won the popular vote in the total of the other 49 states.

Calls for recounts in a few states have stumbled, and calls for changes in the constitution are futile. An amendment to the constitution requires a 2/3 vote in each house of the Congress and approval by the legislatures of 3/4 of the states. All states have winner-take-all elections with the exception of Maine and Nebraska who use a combination of at-large electors bound to the popular vote and district-specific electors bound to the outcome in their respective districts.

All states have the option of adopting iterations of the Maine and Nebraska systems. Each congressional district would, in effect, select an elector. Instead of the current fifty state elections we would have 436 elections – one in each congressional district plus the District of Columbia.

Each congressional district has about 711,000 residents, the number that registers and votes varies widely from district to district. The number of congressional districts in each state is determined by the census – the next census – 2020.

Congressional boundaries are set by state legislatures pursuant to standards that are determined by federal statues and court decisions.

The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear over the past quarter century that racial gerrymandering is an unconstitutional no-no, but partisan gerrymandering is still permissible. The question is: How do you tell the difference? Especially when the Voting Rights Act allows for some consideration of race to ensure minority representation, and when party affiliation often correlates with race.

Is there a “better” system? How would you define “better?”

Would a popular vote system benefit large cities and disadvantage smaller towns?

About 1/6 of Americans live in large cites, 1/6 in rural areas and 2/3 in suburban and exurban areas. On the other hand large cities tend to include more Democratic voters, although voter turnouts are lower in large cities.

The Democrats did gain two seats in the Senate and six seats in the House. The Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate, the Vice President breaks ties. Under Senate rules 60 votes are necessary to bring a bill to the floor – the cloture rule; however, presidential nominees only require a majority votes. Barring Republican votes the Trump nominees will be confirmed.

The bottom line: It is unlikely that any change will be made in the electoral college, Trump will get his cabinet level nominees appointed and the Democrats can block bills in the Senate.

The first domestic crisis may be the federal debt ceiling.

The federal debt limit, which was suspended by Congress and the president in November 2015, is set to be reinstated on March 16, 2017. At that point, the government’s outstanding debt would immediately bump up against the new debt limit of about $20.1 trillion, and the Treasury Department would be forced to take “extraordinary measures” to ensure the smooth functioning of the federal government’s finances.

…  extraordinary measures would allow Treasury to continue meeting its financial obligations for a limited amount of time, at least until mid-summer of 2017.

Will President Trump allow the nation to default?

Snarky early morning tweets are a lot different than actually running the nation.

Trump, Abigail Adams and Jefferson: Has the “Mad Cry of the Crowd” Seized Our Nation?

Within a few years of the end of Revolutionary War former solders were still unpaid, farmers were losing their farms, speculators were snatching land; the gap between the rich and the poor was widening, the goals of the revolution were crumbling. Appeals to state legislatures demanding debt relief went unanswered; Daniel Shay led a rag-tag army that prevented courts from convening and threatened to seize weapons in armories.  The new nation appeared to be on the verge of anarchy.

Abigail Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson,

 Ignorant, restless desperadoes, without conscience or principals, have led a deluded multitude to follow their standard, under pretense of grievances which have no existence but in their imaginations. Some of them were crying out for a paper currency, some for an equal distribution of property, some were for annihilating all debts, others complaining that the Senate was a useless Branch of Government, that the Court of common Pleas was unnecessary, and that the Sitting of the General Court in Boston was a grievance …

 Instead of that laudable Spirit which you approve, which makes a people watchful over their Liberties and alert in the defense of them, these Mobish insurgents are for sapping the foundation, and destroying the whole fabric at once. 

  I cannot help flattering myself that they will prove Salutary to the state at large, by leading to an investigation of the causes which have produced these commotions. Luxury and extravagance both in furniture and dress had pervaded all orders of our Countrymen and women, and was hastening fast to Sap their independence by involving every class of citizens in distress, and accumulating debts upon them which they were unable to discharge. Vanity was becoming a more powerful principal than Patriotism. The lower order of the community were presst for taxes, and though possessed of landed property they were unable to answer the Demand. Whilst those who possessed Money were fearful of lending, least the mad cry of the Mob  should force the Legislature upon a measure very different from the touch of Midas.

Abigail was incredibly prescient.  The “regulators” (the name adopted by the Shay army) can easily be compared to the current Trump voters. Disillusioned, ill-prepared for the 21st century economy and angry; instead of marching against the government they marched against the establishment, and, while Shay’s army was put down with force the new “regulators” seized control of the nation.

A few months after the Adams-Jefferson correspondence the delegates to the constitutional convention began trickling into Philadelphia. A new constitution, a successful battle over ratification, the Federalist Papers, the election of George Washington and the selection of an outsider, Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton, the immigrant from the Caribbean island of Nevis, saved the nation. His economic policies, a national bank, the federal assumption of debts, borrowing to create  infrastructure programs secured credibility for the fledgling nation, in spite of the increasing opposition by Madison and Jefferson,

A month later Jefferson responded to Adam’s letter

The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the Atmosphere.

In 1787 the rebellion was put down aggressively by troops, the “little rebellion” that Jefferson liked did not succeed. Or, perhaps the rebellion will be the new “regulators,” the opponents to the Trump administration “rebelling” against a government that appears to be tearing down decades of bipartisan progressive leadership.

The Trump cabinet nominees are more radical than the nominees that Rubio or Cruz may have made. An Attorney General nominee with racist roots, who opposes the Voting Rights Act, opposes protecting the rights of the disabled and on and on, in many ways rolling back the nation to the 1950s. An Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) head who is a climate change denier, an Education Secretary who supports unregulated charter schools and vouchers as well as prayer in he schools, basically an enemy of public schools.

What is especially interesting is how the stock market has responded; instead, as predicted by many, a sharp drop the market has hit all-time highs – the “Trump Bump.”  Has the Trump rhetoric freed up dollars and sent them into the market? Do the usually cynical and tough hedgefunders think that Trump can pump a trillion or two into a massive infrastructure program, renegotiate deals with China and bring jobs back to America?  New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman thinks not. Even conservative former Congressman Joe Scarborough, “Morning Joe,” questions Trump assertions that the government can both spend trillions on infrastructure and reduce taxes.

How will the new administration react to the first crisis?

Italy is tottering on the brink of an economic collapse that could drag down the European Banking system with a world-wide domino effect. Russia and/or China could decide to test the new administration with aggressive actions in the Baltic or in Hong Kong. Acting aggressively in the Middle East, sending in more American troops could further destabilize all-ready fractious part of the world. Obama’s reaction to he 2007-8 fiscal debacle was laudatory, the accretion of recession to depression was halted and slowly but surely our economy recovered. All of the economic indicators show we have returned to a pre-recession economy; however, the constant attacks from the right, that have little basis in reality, played a role in the Trump victory.

I am both cynical and fearful.

How will Trump react when the crisis occurs?

In the years leading up to World War 2 many millions of American were still suffering, ten years after the beginning of the Great Depression. The rise of Hitler was viewed as a European problem, the isolationists and the pacifists in Congress refused to allow us to aid our allies across the Atlantic as the continent fell to the Nazis.  At home the Dies Committee, lead by Congressman Martin Dies persecuted Americans accusing them of being Communists, to Dies a much more serious threat than Hitler. Anti-Semitism was rampant, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion accepted as gospel, and, lynchings were commonplace. Attempts to pass a federal anti-lynching law were thwarted by southern congressman and FDR made a political decision not to pursue the issue.

George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, reminded us that if we don’t learn from the lessons of history we are fated to repeat them.

I fear that as the economy falters, as a crisis abroad escalates the response will be to blame the unions, blame the civil rights advocates, blame the Jews, blame the immigrants, the minorities, blame the press, deflect blame and use the same scapegoating strategies we saw in Germany in the thirties and during the recent presidential campaign.

We live in a new world of communications, I may watch MSNBC, others may watch Fox, and fifteen million Americans subscribe to Trump’s Twitter feed. With a few finger taps the President-elect can send a 140 character message directly to his subscribers, bypassing the traditional sources of news. In fact the very definition of “news,” the code of conduct of journalism has changed. The “first out” wins, a Trump twitter assault on whoever becomes the news story repeated endlessly by the traditional media outlets. News stories no longer require two sources to validate the source as taught in journalism schools; reporting the tweet becomes the story. There are no rules on Twitter, or on Facebook. No one vets the story, the accusation, in fact, fake stories become the news.

Those of us who live in Northeastern cities or the cities along the West Coast live in a bubble. At 5:45 in the morning of Election Day I waited outside my polling place on a long line. It was a party; we were going to elect our first woman president, a woman with decades of experience, actually the most qualified person ever to run for president.

A month after the election we are still suffering from a new illness – post election PTSB. We are shocked, how could this have happened? Everyone we know was deriding Trump and voting for Hillary.

On the other hand I know too many voters who decided they couldn’t vote for Hillary and stayed home, or voted for Jill Stein, or, voted for Trump as a protest vote, after all, he could never win.

Maybe I am overly concerned, perhaps the optimistic market is an accurate predictor of a rosy economic future, or, maybe my concern is real, maybe we are on the cusp of the Inferno, and   whatever our differences we should unite and fight back before the Ninth Circle engulfs us.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Why do Trump, Pence, DeVos and Republicans Support Charter Schools, Education Vouchers, “privatizing” Social Security and Medicare/caid? What Does Supporting “Small Government” Mean? And, Will Trump Build a Statute of Ayn Rand on the Washington Mall?

Almost all the people I know are shocked and appalled at the election of Trump. I will not rehash the autopsy, the deep analysis and commentary parsing the election. I will examine why Trump, Pence, Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, Speaker Paul Ryan and many of their wealthy supporters believe they have the true path.

Adam Smith, an 18th century Scot, political scientist and economist wrote The Wealth of Nations, often referred to as the “bible of capitalism.”  Smith coined the term, “invisible hand,” that somehow by “pursuing his own self-interest” the rich benefit all of society.

The rich…are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society …  Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.                                                                                       

Couple the writings of Smith with German Sociologist Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism  who examines the theosophy of John Calvin, the concept of predestination, the concept that economic success is proof that you are one of the select, chosen by God for salvation.

Historian R. H. Tawney wrote,

Adam Smith …  saw in economic self-interest the operation of a providential plan… The existing order, except insofar as the short-sighted enactments of Governments interfered with it, was the natural order, and the order established by nature was the order established by God.

Tawney, a Christian Socialist reviled what he saw as a perversion of religion,

A society which reverences the attainment of riches as the supreme felicity will naturally be disposed to regard the poor as damned in the next world, if only to justify itself for making their life a hell in this.

For centuries wealth melded with religion.

At the other end of the spectrum is Karl Marx, the antithesis of Adam Smith. (Read a comparison of Smith and Marx here).

The European depression of the 1920’s and the Great Depression began with the stock market crash of 1929 challenged long standing economic theory. The “invisible hand” did not reach down from the heavens,

FDR, assuming the presidency in 1933, in the very depths of the depression vigorously intervened; federal program after program to put the nation back to work. FDR was viewed as a savior, elected four times, who led us out of the depression as well as our leader during World War Two.

Keynesian economic theory, the government has a crucial role to play; deficit spending to create demand and put us back to work was not universally accepted.

On the other side of the coin are the followers of Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged, (1956), her magnum opus that has become the guiding light for those on the right, including the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan.

Rand savaged the post-FDR view of the role of government that she defined as “collectivist.”

Collectivism is the tribal premise of primordial savages who, unable to conceive of individual rights, believed that the tribe is a supreme, omnipotent ruler, that it owns the lives of its members and may sacrifice them whenever it pleases.

 a philosophy of supreme self-reliance devoted to the pursuit of supreme self-interest appears to be an idealized version of core American ideals: freedom from tyranny, hard work and individualism. It promises a better world if people are simply allowed to pursue their own self-interest without regard to the impact of their actions on others. After all, others are simply pursuing their own self-interest as well.

Rand is enormously popular across college campuses today. The “hero” of Atlas Shrugged is John Gault, “… a ruthless captain of industry who struggles against stifling government regulations that stand in the way of commerce and profit. In a revolt, he and other captains of industry each close down production of their factories, bringing the world economy to its knees. ‘You need us more than we need you’ is their message.”

Do Ryan, Pence and DeVos worship statues of Gault?

The sharpest critic of our public school system is the Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Freedman; in his Capitalism and Freedom (1962) Freedman laid out his views of education, views clearly at the core of the Trump/Pence/DeVos education philosophy,

Governments could require a minimum level of schooling financed by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on “approved” educational services. Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum they themselves provided on purchasing educational services from an “approved” institution of their own choice. The educational services could be rendered by private enterprises operated for profit, or by non-profit institutions. The role of government would be limited to insuring that the schools met certain minimum standards, such as the inclusion of a minimum common content in their programs, much as it now inspects restaurants.

 With respect to teachers’ salaries, the major problem is not that they are too low on the average, but that they are too uniform and rigid. Poor teachers are grossly overpaid and good teachers grossly underpaid. Salary schedules tend to be uniform and determined far more by seniority, degrees received, and teaching certificates acquired than by merit.

If one were to seek deliberately to devise a system of recruiting and paying teachers calculated to repel the imaginative and daring, and to attract the mediocre and uninspiring, he could hardly do better than imitate the system of requiring teaching certificates and enforcing standard salary structures that has developed in the largest city and state-wide systems. It is perhaps surprising that the level of ability in elementary and secondary school teaching is as high as it is under these circumstances. The alternative system would resolve these problems and permit competition to be effective in rewarding merit and attracting ability to teaching.

I understand, and vehemently disagree with this perverse combination of philosophy, religion and a defense of ruthless aggrandizement. I am far more sympathetic to Karl Marx, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.

Thirty years ago I exchanged my apartment and lived in Paris for a month, my first trip was to the The Communards’ Wall (Mur des Fédérés) at the Pere Lachaise cemetery ”… where, on May 28, 1871, one-hundred and forty-seven fédérés, combatants of the Paris Commune, were shot and thrown in an open trench at the foot of the wall. … the wall became the symbol of the people’s struggle for their liberty and ideals.”  Rationalizing the plutocracy, the oppression that has created an underclass, the use of religion to justify inequity is despicable. My ancestors lived in ghettos, oppression was their reality, pogroms a fact of life, and, those who failed to flee Europe died in the holocaust. My wife’s forbearers were transported in slave ships. We live in a nation, far from perfect; however a nation that has offered opportunity to generations of immigrants. Immigration is our life-blood; we receive the “first round draft choices” from around the world; immigration has a Darwinian aspect.

An “invisible hand” is not hovering to “save us,” greed, racism, anti-Semitism, avarice can steer our nation to anarchy, can set neighbor against neighbor. We face an uncertain future.

Pence, DeVos and Ryan worship at the altar of Rand and Freedman.

Does Trump worship at the altar of Machiavelli?