Tag Archives: obama

Why is President-Elect Trump So Enamored of Russian leader Putin, What Can We Learn from Washington’s Farewell Address?

Bear with me … I will get around to education.

Tuesday night I walked over to a neighborhood sports bar that was taken over by a local Young Democrats group. I listened to President Obama’s Farewell Address in a room filled with twenty-somethings – a wonderful speech greeted with applause, cheers and occasional tears. I loved the references to Washington’s Farewell Address and to Atticus Finch (“To Kill a Mockingbird.” It was  classy speech that emphasized the foundations of our nation – the orderly transition from administration to administration with nary a jab at his successor.

Wednesday morning I listened to the Trump press conference, nasty, highly critical of our intelligence agencies. and, a comment sharply criticizing the pharmaceutical industries pricing policies, a policy that the Republican side of the aisle has supported. Odd.

In spite of mounting evidence of Russian interference in our presidential election  the President-elect has waffled, swinging from mild criticism to bashing our own intelligence services.

Clearly Trump sees Putin as a role model, a highly effective leader with an 80% approval rating by the Russian people, extremely wealthy (his net worth is estimated at $200 billion); a major player on the world stage, a leader who uses his power to attempt to return Russia to a preeminent position among the world powers. Putin has used a combination of threat, economic and military power clawing back Crimea from the Ukraine, eyeing the Baltic states and allying with the Assad in Syria.

Although elected as leader under the Russian constitution Putin has suppressed opposition: the press has been silenced, journalists mysteriously killed, the independent voices few; his tentacles reach around the world: from the Middle East (Russia borders Iran), to Europe (Russia is a major supplier of oil and gas to Europe), a nuclear power second only to the USA with a massive and nimble military.

Does Trump actually think he can become a Putin-like leader in the USA as well as on the world stage? I believe the answer is “yes.”

A little Russian history:

Russia is by far the largest nation in the world – it covers eleven time zones!! Our histories are both dramatically different and strangely similar.

Mongol and Tatar hordes enveloped Russia, our aboriginal ancestors crossed the Aleutian bridge, we may be distantly, very distantly related to Russians.

Medieval Russia was ruled by Boyars, essentially war lords who ruled limited geographic domains, once again similar to the European princes who ruled limited areas across Europe. In Europe lesser lords swore oaths of homage and fealty, and the masses were peasants tied to the land; while Russia ended slavery in the 18th century, serfdom, tying of peasants to the land did not end until Alexander I ended serfdom in 1861.

Massive Russian estates were in many ways similar to the plantations in our Southern colonies/states.

Tsar Peter the Great westernized Russia, Catherine the Great expanded Russian boundaries;  similarly through treaty, purchase and war we increased our boundaries.

2017 is the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

A hundred years that has seen many tens millions of Russians killed in the two World Wars as well as the purges of Stalin. Russia moved from a nation ruled by Tsars and an aristocracy to a totalitarian nation ruled by dictators and the Communist bureaucracy, to a flirtation with democracy under Gorbachev and the return to a classic Russian leader, a faux tsar and oligarchs, the billionaires riding the Putin wave.

Trump foresees a new alliance – the two most powerful leaders, Trump and Putin – American and Russia – leading an assault on radical Islam and the Chinese hordes.

To Trump Europe is weak and decaying: The Common Market, the Euro and integration of Europe has seen the weaker states dragging down the few stronger economies. Greece, Italy and Spain with very high unemployment rates, staggering deficits and chaotic banking systems. The right wing parties growing, the Brixit vote, and an uncertain future. The right-wing xenophobic political parties are challenging a century of progressive, socially conscious democratic governments.

Will Trump continue to lead NATO, defending Europe against an aggressive Russia, or, abandon NATO? Will Trump demand that Europe provide the primary support for NATO, and, tacitly accept that Europe is a Russian sphere of influence? The right wing insurgencies across Europe will look Trump as a model.

The Mongol and Tatar invasions from the East and Germans invasions from the West, tens of millions of Russians have died over the centuries due to foreign incursions. Under Putin Russia has taken a leap backwards, away from democratic values, Putin sees western democracy as an enemy not a partner.

The post World War 2 Cold War resulted in the creation of buffer states “protecting” Russia from incursions from the West. The crumbling of the Iron Curtain, for some was the beginning of Russia entering the democratized West, for others a disaster opening Russia to values that threatened Mother Russia.

We are living in an era of asymmetric warfare, modern armies versus insurgencies, i. e., Afghanistan and Iraq. Hopefully we have learned from Afghanistan and Iraq, while we can train and support the Afghans and the Iraqi we cannot fight their wars. I fear that the Trump bluster will create increasing radicalism in the Islamic world.  I fear that Putin will use his friendship with Trump to rebuild further barriers/buffers along its borders.

Have we learned from Vietnam?  A bitter enemy, 50,000 Americans died in the war, fears that communism will roll over Asia; now, decades later, an iteration of communism that has created a thriving economy and frequent American tourist destination.

Economic prosperity is the most effective enemy of radical Islam and other totalitarian regimes; and, economic prosperity means education.

The education level of voters had a stunning impact on the recent presidential election.

Nate Silver in the fivethirtyeight blog wrote,

I took a list of all 981 U.S. counties1 with 50,000 or more people2 and sorted it by the share of the population3 that had completed at least a four-year college degree. Hillary Clinton improved on President Obama’s 2012 performance in 48 of the country’s 50 most-well-educated counties. And on average, she improved on Obama’s margin of victory in these countries by almost 9 percentage points, even though Obama had done pretty well in them to begin with.

Now here’s the opposite list: The 50 counties (minimum population of 50,000) where the smallest share of the population has bachelor’s degrees:

These results are every bit as striking: Clinton lost ground relative to Obama in 47 of the 50 counties — she did an average of 11 percentage points worse, in fact. These are really the places that won Donald Trump the presidency,

The crowd in the bar, young, well-educated, engaged in local politics were enthusiastic and avid supporters of President Obama, the poorly educated are frequently “birthers,” refused to believe that the President was born in this country, believed he was a Muslim, and on and on.

The radical Islamic fighters are poor and uneducated with no future,  they succumb to  the propaganda that their leaders use to create armies willing to sacrifice their lives.

Armies will not defeat Islamic radicalism or North Korea, or rebut Chinese expansionism. Yes, we must maintain a nimble military able to respond to threats from asymmetric warfare.  “Winning” the war means responding to an ideology, means creating avenues to economic prosperity

My “plan” to winning the war in Vietnam was dropping Sears catalogs with $100 gift certificates.

I fear that the President-elect is ill-suited to lead the nation, I fear that Putin will use Trump to further entrench himself and expand his boundaries and I fear China will continue to encroach across Asia.

These are perilous times.

I find solace in the wisdom of our founding fathers, Washington’s Farewell Address  (1796) is amazingly prescient.

While the Obama Farewell Address was deeply personal Washington’s Farewell Address contained warnings that resonate today, warning us against “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men.”

… combinations or associations … may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Washington foresaw the bitter enmities of partisanship and fearing that a “spirit of revenge” will lead to a “frightful despotism.”

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Washington, cogently, warned against the “illusion of an imaginary common interest,” and especially “by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate.”

… a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As the confirmation hearings for the cabinet nominees continue the spirit of Washington is hovering over the Congress, reminding us ” … a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The Farewell Address was primarily written by Alexander Hamilton,  interred in the cemetery of Trinity Church;  hopefully Washington and Hamilton and Jefferson are still whispering into the minds of our current leaders.

“All politics is local,” Will Governor Cuomo Listen to the Folks in the Provinces?

“All politics is local,” Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House (1977-87)

Presidents, senators, speakers of the house, governors, political parties and the hordes who spin fight for the hearts and minds of the American people, well, at least the less than half of the American people who bother to vote.

The election cycle never ends.

Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration, response to the Russians in the Ukraine, fighting ISIS, and on and on, each side tries to “win” the intellectual and visceral fight, from Fox on the right, to CNN to MSNBC on the left; however, networks and cable stations no longer have the influence they once had.

Newspaper sales decline every year, cyberspace is the battlefield. Americans get their “news” from websites, from Facebook, and, increasingly from Twitter. Hashtags rule.

Slowly and inexorably the fight over education appears to be tilting against the Obama/Duncan/Cuomo agenda.

Rubin Diaz is the Borough President of the Bronx, an anachronistic elected position, with the demise of the Board of Estimate in 1990 the borough president has no vote and no control over legislation or budgets, the borough president is the cheerleader for their borough. Diaz is highly popular and dependent on the governor, the state legislature, the mayor and the council to fund projects. In his sixth State of the Borough address, a long list of job creation achievements, new housing and economic development projects, he added the line, “Children shouldn’t be defined by one test.” The line was greeted with applause from the hundreds in the audience.

Thirty-plus Republican members of the NYS Assembly introduce a bill to discontinue the Common Core,

Section 1 of the education law is amended by adding new section 115,
which shall discontinue implementation of the common core state

While the bill will not move in the Assembly, 106 members in the 150-seat Assembly are Democrats and the Assembly, similar to the House of Representatives, is driven by the majority party. The Republicans have seized upon a popular issue, especially in the suburban districts. The bill was widely applauded on blogs across the state.

Amy Paulin is an outspoken and widely popular Democratic member of the Assembly. When Regent Harry Phillips, after many terms of outstanding service announced he will not be seeking a new term Paulin and her colleagues in the judicial district (Westchester, Rockland, Duchess) organized public interviews for candidates for the vacancy. I believe fourteen candidates participated in the public interviews. In the past Regents were selected in backroom wheeling and dealing. A year ago Regent Jackson was dumped and replaced by Regent Finn, with no public input. With the change in Assembly leadership sunlight appears to spreading across the state.

Paulin authored a letter to Chancellor Tisch, following the pattern of Malatras letters to Tisch (Malatras is the Governor’s top policy advisor who penned two confrontational letters to the chancellor). The letter, with the signatures of five other Assembly members, (see entire letter below) trashes the governor’s proposal re changing the teacher evaluation law.

In his third term Mayor Bloomberg decided to confront teachers and their union, issue after issue, battles back and forth, and the public increasingly began to support teachers over the mayor, In May, 2013,Sol Stern in the City Journal reported,

New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents [to a Zogby poll] said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

Local politics is tilting toward teachers, in the waning years of the Bloomberg administration the public appears to be tilting against Cuomo’s education agenda. When electeds ask, “should I support the governor’s education agenda or ‘people’s agenda’?” more and more electeds are choosing to stand with their constituents.

Siena College polls reports, “By a 15-point margin, 49-34 percent, voters say implementation of Common Core standards should be stopped. Voters also say they trust the State Education Department (SED) and the Board of Regents to set education policy far more than they trust the Governor or Legislature.”

Five weeks down the road the state budget is due – the clock is ticking towards the April 1 deadline. While not reaching a budget is a possibility (Governor Patterson’s budget wasn’t concluded until the end of the legislative session in June). If a budget deal is not reached the governor, through executive orders, actually pushes through his budget piece by piece, however, for months the rhetoric is, “the governor has lost control.” It is likely that a budget deal will be reached, and, the governor’s education agenda will likely be part of the budget deal.

How can the governor reach a budget deal that includes a resolution to his many confrontational education initiatives?

Education is an obstacle to the elephants in the room: rent control and the property tax cap.

Both laws sunset at the end of the session, rent control, (the “Erstadt Law ” requires that laws dealing with rental apartments must be passed in Albany, not the City Council) must be renewed by the legislature or rent control will end in New York City. The Republican Senate will extract their “pound of flesh.” The property tax cap, the center of Cuomo policy, also requires the approval of the legislature, and is unpopular among local school boards and local governments; additionally mayoral control also sunsets at the end of the session.

Ideally, budget negotiations will resolve as many contentious issues as possible, narrowing the field for the end of session negotiations.

If the budget is completed by April 1 you can bet that teacher union leaders will not be on the stage. How do you reach a settlement, a settlement that will not make everyone happy, that will not lead to endless sparring?

An ambitious governor, a new speaker of the Assembly and a Senate majority leader with “Bharara” problem; let the games begin.

It’s Oscar night – my favorite movie clip – give it a look/listen: https://search.yahoo.com/search?p=The+Marseilles+Casablanca&fr=iphone&.tsrc=apple&pcarrier=AT%26T&pmcc=310&pmnc=410

Local State Reps Pen Critical Letter to NYS Education Chancellor Merryl Tisch
Pat Casey | Feb 18, 2015 |

In the wake of much criticism regarding the evaluation of teachers in New York State, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) penned the following letter, which was also signed by local representatives David Buchwald (D-White Plains), Thomas Abinanti (D-Greenburgh), Ellen Jaffe (D-Rockland), Steve Otis (D-Rye), and Kenneth Zebrowski (D-Rockland).

We believe that New York State’s Annual Professional Performance Review (“APPR”) process fails to accomplish the purposes for which it was developed, and provides unreliable data rather than accountability and transparency. While we believe that teachers and principals should be evaluated by trained administrators and held accountable for their performance, for the reasons set forth below we do not believe that the APPR, as currently constructed, is a reliable measure of teacher or principal performance. Nor do we believe that the APPR process contributes to the professional development of teachers or principals. And although Education Law Section 3012-c purports to expedite the process for termination of ineffective teachers and principals, it actually has the opposite effect.

1. The APPR “HEDI” scale is seriously flawed and makes it impossible for an evaluator to differentiate meaningfully among educators. A teacher receives scores on three subcomponents of the APPR: (i) student growth on state assessments (worth 20 points), (ii) locally selected measures of student growth (worth 20 points), and (iii) locally developed teacher practice measures, mostly classroom observations (worth 60 points). The composite score that a teacher must receive on the three subcomponents of the APPR in order to be deemed Effective is 75 out of a possible 100 points.

The scale doesn’t work because the percentage of available points required by the state for an Effective score on the first two subcomponents (45%) is much lower than the percentage of available points required for an Effective composite score (75%). Imagine a teacher who receives a 9 out of 20 points on the first two subcomponents, which deems her Effective. In order to achieve a composite score of Effective, she must receive 95% of the available points on the third subcomponent, which is negotiated by the school district.
With a very narrow point range to work with, i.e., 57 to 60 points, an administrator cannot meaningfully differentiate among effective teachers through the scoring of the third subcomponent, the locally developed teacher practice measure.

We urge you to recommend that the Commissioner fix these inconsistencies in the scoring ranges as part of the annual review process.

2. The APPR sets up for failure good teachers, good principals, and good schools. A teacher who earns a rating of Effective or Highly Effective may in a subsequent year earn an Ineffective rating because his new class of students did so well in the prior year that there is no room to demonstrate the amount of student growth required for a higher score. Even if his students do extremely well on standardized tests compared to similar students across the state, he may receive a poor APPR score.

A principal too can be penalized for setting high standards for his students. A principal may receive a score of “Developing” if the school does not offer more than five Regents as is required for a higher score. Many high performing school districts give their own, more rigorous exams in lieu of a Regents exam, and thus do not meet the threshold for a higher score. Another criterion for receiving a score of “Effective” or “Highly Effective” is the percent of students scoring 80% or more on the Algebra I Regents in ninth grade. In many districts throughout the state, the stronger students take the Algebra I Regents in eighth grade, and the weaker students take it in ninth grade. The scoring does not account for the students who took and passed the exam as eighth graders, thereby penalizing the principal.

3. The APPR is designed for less than 20% of all teachers. Only teachers of fourth through eighth grade ELA and math receive student growth ratings based solely on state standardized test scores. Teachers of other grades and content areas (more than 80%) must work with their principals to agree on student learning objectives (“SLOs”). If a teacher teaches a course that has a state-mandated assessment, such as a Regents exam, that teacher’s SLOs must include as evidence the results on those assessments. Teachers who teach other grades or non-regents subjects will have SLOs that may include test results from third-party vendors, district or BOCES developed assessments, or locally developed assessments—and the target outcomes are determined locally. Although SLOs are treated as if they are comparable in reliability to standardized test scores, they can’t be comparable simply because they are locally developed, with locally determined target outcomes. Even if one accepts—which we do not—the premise that results on ELA and math tests are a reliable indicator of student achievement or educator effectiveness, it is clear that it is unfair and unreliable to compare teachers whose ratings are based solely on state standardized test scores with teachers whose ratings are based on SLOs.

4. Most teachers do not receive appropriate professional development based on their APPR scores. A better designed APPR would require principals to work with all teachers, including those rated Effective or Highly Effective, on their professional development. It would require principals, as educational leaders in their buildings, to develop the most appropriate evaluation tools and the best professional development program for all teachers in their schools. New York is missing an opportunity to incentivize our best teachers to become leaders among their peers.

5. Education Law Section 3012-c makes the dismissal of ineffective teachers more difficult than under prior law. The APPR is supposed to enable administrators to identify those teachers who are ineffective, and to use the APPR ratings in an expedited 3020(a) proceeding. However, the use of the APPR in disciplinary proceedings requires two consecutive annual ratings of Ineffective, the development and implementation of a teacher improvement plan, and validation of those Ineffective ratings through at least three observations by an independent validator. The result is that ineffective tenured teachers will teach for at least two years before they can be removed from the classroom based on their APPR scores. Even worse, the law makes the termination of ineffective probationary teachers and principals more difficult than was the case under prior law.

New York State’s APPR process fails to accomplish the purposes for which it was developed because it provides a one-size-fits-all approach that does not adequately take into account differences in educator experience, class composition, subject and grade level taught or other factors. It is unreasonable to assume that the same standardized evaluation tool will fairly and reliably rate an experienced PE teacher in a rural middle school, a brand new fourth grade teacher in an urban school, a mid-career guidance counselor in a high-performing suburban school, and a principal of a BOCES career and technical education program. Because the tool is unreliable, the data it produces is also unreliable. Therefore, the proposed increased reliance on standardized testing would unfairly penalize, or fail to identify weaknesses in, teachers, principals, schools and school districts.

We believe that the Regents and the State Education Department must convene a group of superintendents, principals, teachers, school board members, and parents who can advise the legislature, based on their broad knowledge and expertise, how to improve Education Law Section 3012-c so that it will achieve the important goals of increasing educator accountability, encouraging professional development to develop great teachers and principals, and expediting the termination of ineffective teachers and principals.

Thank you for your consideration and for all that you do for the students of New York State.