Posted tagged ‘new york times’

Sensitive Eyes

August 22, 2014

Deborah E Lipstadt wrote an opinion column this week in the New York Times, titled “Why Jews Are Worried”. Lipstadt cites demonstrations in several major European cities in which anti-Jewish rhetoric was publicly used. The implications is that anti-Semitism is not dead in Europe and in fact is on the rise. Hmmm.

I cannot speak to whether Jews are worried, or whether anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe. I can however, speak to what Ms Lipstadt references and what I saw in some of these same European cities in August.

First we must recognize that many major European cities have sizable Muslim populations. These groups have either emigrated for economic reasons from former colonies or have been invited in as “guest workers”.

Regardless, theses Muslim groups see the conduct of the Israeli-Gazan conflict as grossly unfair to their Muslim brethren. Speaking out against a perceived injustice is a freedom most Western democratic nations strongly support. Hmmm.

For these Muslims, Israel is using its power unfairly.

There should be little doubt that these demonstrations are aimed at impressing the host governments to put diplomatic (or any other form of) pressure upon the Israeli government to come to some peace with Hamas. This is hardly a return of anti-Semitism (even though the demonstrators maybe highly anti-Sematic).

I visited Amsterdam, Paris, Cologne, and Bonn and witnessed demonstrations in each city. All were lead by “guests”, and all were directed against the Israeli actions in Gaza. Not anti-Semitism.

The Israeli Gazan action is not straight forward and difficult to either condemn or to support. Like most Middle East conflicts, tracing the cause back to square one leads one to totally lose the connection with what is happening today.

Both Israel and Hamas possess the means to end this bloody conflict today. Neither seems ready to carry on their disputes without involving innocent civilians. This is not anti-Semitism.

World opinion is a nuanced entity. The world tends to support the oppressed and resist the aggressor. Israel has some how overlooked this part in its choice of means to combat the reckless Hamas behavior. Most Europeans have seen the same news as we have in America and many have privately concluded that Israel has used disproportionate force. So have many Americans.  This is not anti-Semitism.

This is not, also, an endorsement for Hamas. I believe it is a sign of sympathy for the Palestinian people.

Lipstadt’s referenced demonstrations in European cities so far have been lead by Muslim guests or immigrants and have been used to make headlines. (These demonstrations have not been by European college students, for example.)

Hopefully Ms Lipstadt’s column reflects her interpretation of these events and not an attempt by friends of Israel to influence American support. Hmmm.

All The News That’s Fit To Print

May 17, 2014

Jill Abramson, the top editor at the New York Times, was dismissed this week and replaced by Dean Baquet, her top assistant. This business announcement, however, read more like “New York Times fires their first ever female editor in chief with their first ever African-American editor in chief”. Is that the news?

Abramson had been editor for over two years and the newspaper was functioning well (it appeared). Baquet was her assistant for that time and by most accounts also had performed well. So why the change?

Abramson’s supporters which may include Jill herself, released the message that Jill had complained about pay inequality. The NYT company management denied this and decided the disgruntled Abramson was no longer needed. Rumors followed saying Abramson had an abrasive manner and often was contentious with subordinates. Exit Abramson, enter Baquet.

One of the murkiest areas in corporate life is renumeration. Most corporations have pay grades and guidelines but specific pay amounts can vary. For example, if a company recruits someone, they may decide to pay that person at a higher level just to attract that person away from the previous employer. The company will rationalize that over time, the new hire’s pay will be “feathered” in to the new companies pay policies.

While it is certainly possible both sets of claims are true, that is Abramson was paid less than her predecessor, and Abramson was “bossy” and difficult to work with, her dismissal may have been rooted more in a quite different subject. The silent enemy, the digital world.

The newspaper industry is trying to come to grips with the digital world. More and more people are finding the NYT on-line fits their needs best. While “more and more” are a lot of people, there is as large a readership which wants the paper version and does not want an on-line version only.

Even more important, the NYT has not figured out how to make money digitally. Making money with the traditional paper version is no walk in the park either. Ad revenues are less reflecting other options for the Macy’s of the advertising world.

Consequently the top NYT brass have two worrisome opportunities. Ride a dying hard paper model or jump to a money losing digitally version. Hmmm.

Time will probably reveal that ultimately Abramson lost out because she resisted the move to an increased digital business model. In the eyes of the publisher, the digital threat is a do or die event. Her resistance most likely arose from the “business side” of the NYT placing subordinates into Abramson’s “news side”. Any editor in chief, worth their salt, would rise up against any owner who undermined the integrity of their news division. My guess is Abramson was no different.

The selective releases of each side of this story probably reflects each side’s view of “All The News That’s Fit To Print”.

Learning From History?

August 26, 2013

President Obama’s Middle East leadership or more directly, the lack of leadership has been the subject of many op-ed columnists.  Today, New York Times columnist Bill Keller joined the crowd who see problems galore in Egypt and Syria but does not see the type of rhetoric he feels appropriate coming out of the White House.  What’s going on?

Keller and the New York Times are generally considered friendly to Democrats and especially to President Obama.  What has happened to the President’s leadership if suddenly this criticism is spewing forth?

The President has tried to lead by an infrequently used method.  President Obama stands in contrast to former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush.  Clinton figured out what he wanted to do and then tested it with trial balloons.  If the first balloon was not well received (domestically), Clinton would alter his position and test again.  When the public opinion polls showed green, Clinton charged forward as if there had never been any other option.

President Bush fell under the political influence of Karl Rove and the foreign affairs desires of Vice President Dick Cheney.  Both relied on “over the top” right wing starting positions designed to intimidate the adversary as well as any one else who might want to suggest another approach.

President Obama, probably by nature, has chosen the middle approach as his preferred path.  Obama clearly understands the complicated and nuanced nature of the Middle East.   This option, however, is sure to generate the largest amount of criticism since both conservatives and progressives do not see their interests being championed.

It is a very complicated world and Bush’s hip shooting, or the Clinton poll watching method seem clearly inadequate too.   So what are Obama’s critics trying to say?

Some whine that America has lost its “influence”.  These critics wring their hands saying there are no good options because President Obama has done this or that.  Others simply say he is too timid or lacks the courage of leadership.

Often they call for cutting foreign aid or imposing sanctions or taking military means to make our nation’s point.  They say these things as if they are living in a vacuum.  They seem ignorant of the necessary conditions for democracy or the limits of our country’s treasury.

In Syria, the debate is about the use of force in support of the insurgents.  What?  Who are the insurgents and why would we expect them to be any different from those present Iraqi insurgents content to suicide bomb Iraq back into the dark ages?

One school calls for “surgical strikes” (like cruise missiles) which we are told are inexpensive and safe for Americans (sorry Syrians).  What’s the point?  Bush/Cheney “shock and awed” Iraq into open civil war over absolutely idiotic beliefs about Mohamed’s descendants.

Today Bill Keller was more “against” than “for” anything in particular.  Keller is against the “Generals” and sees a principled stand (free and fair elections I assume he means) as where President Obama should be putting his money.  The Generals should go back to the barracks and former President Morsi should be brought back.  Hmmm.

The US has a history of supporting the “Generals” or the “Strong Man” and it is not necessarily a pretty picture.  Sooner or later, time has a habit of revising America’s choice (Iran, China, Chile, Vietnam for example).

This would argue that supporting, or better yet, propping up the Generals might not bode well for the future.  There is a big difference, however, in keeping hands off Egypt and letting things work out by themselves, admittedly this favors today the Generals, versus picking a side and announcing it in public statements of support and behind the scenes intelligence activity.

In Syria, the Assad regime is no friend of democracy or the US.  The insurgents, however, are a dog’s breakfast of factions who offer little hope a better life for Syrians, or for that matter those living in the Middle East neighborhood.  How could anyone recommend an alternative?

Egypt is in a far better spot although hardly a candidate for Democracy any time soon.  The wealthy Arab Gulf States along with Israel are voting for a secular government where the streets are safe to walk in.  Lacking huge oil reserves, Egypt is the last place a government would want to fall under Islamic law.

So, pulling support for the Generals is tantamount to putting the Muslim Brotherhood in charge.  This would be like beginning a race for the 1400’s.  The Generals, on the other hand, would favor economic policies which would make them wealthier to be sure, but these policies could also improve Egypt overall.

These are not night and day choices but doing nothing (President Obama’s apparent choice) at least removes the US’ “often wrong but well intended” hand from the scales of history.

New York Test Scores

August 13, 2013

Over the weekend, the New York Times reported a huge drop in New York State public schools’ standardized test scores.  Principals and School Boards, especially in academically challenged public schools, were bracing for the anticipated onslaught of parental wrath.  Why has my child fallen so far behind in one year?

The reason is straight forward.  New York Schools have switched to the nationwide core curriculum and have adopted tests designed for that nationwide core set of studies.      According to these news reports, 31% of New York students, grades 3-12, met or exceeded the minimum standard.  This compares with 55% in 2011 and 77% in 2009.  Hmmm.

While there is the usual spread when these overall numbers are broken down by race, no group did all that well and only 16% of african-americans scored at or above standard.  Hmmm.

Initial reactions have run the expected gamut.  It’s not the teachers’ fault, said the teachers.  It’s not the Union’s fault, said the Union.  The curriculum is brand new, but let’s not kill it so soon, said the education experts.  Hmmm.  

We could blame poverty or one parent homes.  The problem is that the supposedly advantages students from two parent suburban homes did not do all that well and did poorer than previous years.

So what’s the reason?

Who knows for sure.  The realization that should be coming to the masses are that for whatever the reasons, the US educational system is not educating students as well as have been advertised even though the US spends more per capita on K-12 education than any other country.  (Does this remind you of the US health care delivery system?)

It would appear that the new core curriculum is tougher than what preceded it.  If all stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, and local school districts) worked together it might be more likely with the new curriculum that American students might score better against foreign students when tested on standardized tests.  Tests are themselves relative, but given the same test, results comparing students within a State, the US or versus other nations are telling.

At the end of the day, the objective is producing an intelligent, competent, and capable population, not winning the test score derby.  The US excelled worldwide in the early 1900s when the US adopted compulsory public education aimed at raising the “average citizen’s” education level.  If we fail to see that goal as still valid today, we do so at our own peril.  


When Does The Light Bulb Come On?

August 5, 2013

The New York Times has been running a series of articles on the cost of US health care.  This past Sunday they wrote about the cost of joint replacements comparing the cost of the same procedure in the US and in Belgium.  Unfortunately not enough people read the NYT because if they did a tidal wave of concerned citizens would be banging upon their Congress Member’s door demanding some explanation.

The headlines revealed Belgium costs of a hip replacement at about $13,000 (for everything, prothesis, doctor, and hospital).  The US weighed in at about $13,000 for the device alone and the total cost around $70,000.  Even more maddening was the news that there was about $150 of material cost in the device.  Profits and mark-ups made the difference to reach $13,000.  Hospital charges and doctor’s fees grew the total to the $70,000 range.


The Congressional nonsense currently being perpetrated by the House GOP stands out starkly in the light of this article.  Obamacare is not the enemy.  Rather US healthcare profit have kidnapped the health care delivery system and is distorting both our moral and financial sense of balance.

The US spends per capita about $9,000 annually on health care.  A citizen, over a life time (say 80 years), consumes $729,000 at this average rate.  Compared to most other countries (with health care outcomes as good or better) the US consumes about twice as much.

But do you know anyone who thinks his healthcare costs that much?

The US system creates insurance pools which estimate health risk by a number of factors, such as age, gender, and pre-existing conditions.  To American sensibilities, why should I pay a lot if I’m healthy?

Add to this, for most Americans, insurance premiums are paid by their employer.  Many Americans pay nothing more.  It is true a growing number now are paying co-pays, deductibles, and a portion of the premium.  For the individual, however, its the whole premium (maybe with co-pays and deductibles) if this person can find a policy they can afford.

With the true cost of healthcare masked by employer contributions and by age, gender and health condition, Americans are clue-less about what their doctors, hospitals,and drug suppliers are really charging.

The NYT article bluntly said hospitals and doctors (and drug companies) charge what they charge because they can.

One might understand a 10-20% higher cost but 100+% (depending upon procedure), who’s the sucker?

Our Congress members continue to distract American’s attention claiming they can fix Obamacare (by repeal) and implying life will be great. Hospitals and doctors seem comfortable not calling attention to the unsustainable per capita cost difference with other countries (they will cite low Medicare reimbursements or all those uninsured Americans that show up at the Emergency Room as reasons why they must charge so much).  Never the less, there are plenty of studies which highlight 30% or more waste in the overall system

Reaching parity with other modern countries will be complicated and require changes in doctors salaries and hospital charges, as well as Americans undisciplined consumption.  Asking highly skilled individuals and medically advanced institutions to accept less will be very hard.  Asking Americans to personally do more to keep healthy and to consume less “unnecessary” medical services will just as hard.


But as the NYT article hinted,  a business class ticket, a few great meals in Brussels, and a hip or knee replacement in Belgium will leave your wallet relatively full compared to a trip to a US hospital if you have to pay for it.


What’s Wrong? Look In The Mirror

July 22, 2013

Today’s New York Times carried an article about Paul Villas  and his travails with the citizens of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  As a veteran School Superintendent from cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and New Orleans, why should Bridgeport be so tough?

The answer probably is that Bridgeport is no tougher than Philly, Chicago or New Orleans.  When a school districts have problems (like not enough money, failing grades, and low graduation rates), mysteriously no one is to blame and no one is allowed to make any changes.  Hmmm.

For silver bullet wannabe educators, there must be a handle, someplace to rest their change plan upon.  It must be the teachers, or it must be the inadequate school funding, or how about the absence of progress measures (testing)?  Or how about all three?

Vallas was appointed by a State take over board.  This is strike one with respect to local control.  For strike two, Vallas wants to institute standardized testing.  His third strike is he wants his administrators to spend more time class rooms in order to evaluate the teachers.  Those recommendations did not go well with the teachers union.  Now there is a food fight.

In a school district (according to the NYT) where 49% of the students are Hispanic and 39% black, Vallas does not strike a cord of “he’s one of us”.  So the stranger must be wrong.

Logic should be clear that doing nothing different will not lead to improvement.  And certainly testing by itself will only confirm what is known already.  But what about getting rid of poor teachers?

This idea seems on the right track… until one asks, “how do we know which teachers are good teachers, and which ones are not”?

The chain of command is the answer.  But, how do we know the chain of administrators are qualified to separate the wheat from the chaff?  Hmmm.

In failing schools it is extremely difficult to separate “good teachers” from the rest.  Of course, with observation, one could detect the totally disinterested teacher.  But the rub comes in identifying good teachers when there is a need to first establish proper class room discipline before any type of teaching can effectively take place.  So, are the best teachers, the best disciplinarians?

This quickly begs the question, why do so many students not come to class thirsting for knowledge?  Why is there a classroom order question at all?  And why do parents not hold their children to account for their learning or lack there of?  And why are not parents insisting upon test scores so they have some evidence that their children are learning?  Hmmm.

A mirror for anyone?

In my opinion, these thoughts are getting close to pay dirt.  The problem in American education begins at home.  Parents who want their children educated find a school they trust if at all possible.    Unfortunately far too often that is all the parents do.

It would seem to me parents should demand testing and be especially interested in two test scores.  (1) How well is my child doing compared to other children (locally, nationally, and internationally)?  (2)  Is my child improving versus his/her peers each year?  One measures the overall school performance and the other measures the child’s personal achievement.

Given these results, parents could then responsibly support changing or leaving unchanged union seniority and teacher work rules.  School superintendents would also have ammunition to support training their subordinates (developing more competent and accountable administrators or weeding the weaker ones out.  And at the end of the day, test scores would support changing the superintendent and ultimately the board of education.

Oh, and one last thought.  There should be no class room preparation for the “test”.  No teaching to the “test”.  Teaching should be aimed at igniting the individual spirit to learn.  And if there is one measure of what a good teacher is, it would be the student seeking to learn on their own.  Hmmm.



Role Models?

July 1, 2013

Watching the beginning stages of the Tour de France, I could not help but think what hard work can do.  The areal views were magnificent, not just in the technical sense of photography but in the artistic sense of strong bodies seemingly synchronized.  Whether they use performance enhancing drugs or not, the race is a thing of beauty.

On an entirely different basis, the New York Times published a list of greedy anti-role models.  The list contained the top public corporation earners.  These CEOs showed once again the cancer that is pervading America separating the wealthy from everyone else.  It also contrasted the rewards others might receive (including those in the Tour De France) for arguably harder work.  I would also venture that this list is pure inspiration for our current crop of Congress Members.

The average compensation package was about $15 million, topping out at $96 million.  Now remember that the jobless rate is still above 7% and economic growth is around 1% per year.  The business fruits, however, apparently are good enough to set the banquet table for these CEOs.

Some took no salary (like $1 per year) but then their Board generously rewarded them with $50 million plus in bonuses of all types.  Really?

One wonders what issues are buried behind these outlandish sums, for example what is the relationship to the renumeration of  other workers in those businesses, or what example does these exorbitant pay awards make for others to follow.  The issue is not that CEOs make a lot of money or that they make more than others in their company.  Rather, the size of these paydays is disconnected from the real work that is done and bares no resemblance to the risks thee CEOs carry.

It does not take long to figure out why these CEOs make the amount of money they do… they earn this much because they can make that much.  There is no rule or law that stipulates how much they can make.  The only risk most run is that if  their businesses perform poorly in the future, they might be replaced and receive a generous golden parachute payout.  Remember when the “too big to fail banks needed a bail out, no one went to jail or personally was fined).

So the model is clear.  Do what is necessary to win the Tour De France.  Do what it takes to increase your personal estate while in elected office.  And for those in corporations, fight to get as high in the organization as you can.  The air is greener at the top.

There is another consequence to this model too.  For those who have no chance of becoming a CEO, and that is most of the nation, why even try?  Trade your vote for government benefits and just adjust to a different life style.  Trade your ambition for the opportunity to cheer others on Reality TV or even the Tour De France.