New York Public Library Makes 300,000 Titles Available on an App!


Dear Commons Community,

The New York Public Library is going mobile by making available an app for downloading 300,000 of its holdings.  

The app called SimplyE, is available if you have a library card.  If you do, you can simply head to the app to check your desired book’s availability and download it for free, right to your phone.  Books in the public domain are available for permanent download.

There are a limited number of licenses for each book, so if you have your eye on a popular choice, you may have to wait until it’s back “in stock” to read it. But you can always reserve a book and download it when it’s available.  

You can download the app now for iOS and Android. 

Go read and be happy!



U of Texas Students Protest and Find the Absurd in a New Law Allowing Concealed Guns on Campus!

Texas Gun Protest

Dear Commons Community,

Students at the University of Texas at Austin protested a new law allowing concealed handguns on state college campuses by carrying something they thought was just as ridiculous and out of place: Thousands of sex toys!  As reported by the New York Times:

“On the first day of classes at the University of Texas in this city that revels in its own oddball creativity, students protested a law  allowing concealed handguns on state college campuses by carrying something they thought was just as ridiculous and out of place: Thousands of sex toys.

“These laws won’t protect anyone. The campus doesn’t want them,” said an organizer of the protest, Jessica Jin. “It’s absurd. So, I thought, we have to fight absurdity with absurdity.”

On Wednesday, Ms. Jin, a recent graduate who majored in violin, helped distribute brightly colored dildos to hundreds of students gathered to protest the law that took effect Aug. 1.

Their plan was to carry the toys openly to class, attached to their backpacks, to show that they think that guns have no place on campus and could stifle the open exchange of ideas.

“For the state to deny research about gun safety and allow this in classrooms is kind of obscene,” Ms. Jin said. “What better way to show how we feel?”

Texas has long issued concealed handgun permits but banned guns from college campuses. After repeated efforts, the Republican-controlled State Legislature passed a law in 2015 lifting the ban.

Similar laws and court rulings have allowed guns onto campuses in a handful of others states in recent years, including Idaho and Colorado. The chancellor of the University of Texas system and the president of the flagship university in Austin have said that they are against guns on campus but that they have no choice but to implement the law.

Some faculty members say the administration is trying to limit the effect of gun laws while not antagonizing state lawmakers for fear of future legislation that could loosen gun laws on campus even more.”

To borrow the motto of the 1960s peace movement – “make love not war!”



Graduate Students at Private Universities Win the Right to Unionize!

Dear Commons Community,

In a reversal of a 2004 decision, the National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday that students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities have a federally backed right to unionize.  The case arose from a petition filed by a group of graduate students at Columbia University, who were seeking to win recognition for a union that will allow them a say over such issues as student stipends and the quality of their health insurances. As reported by the New York Times:

“Punctuating a string of Obama-era moves to shore up labor rights and expand protections for workers, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities have a federally backed right to unionize.

The case arose from a petition filed by a group of graduate students at Columbia University, who are seeking to win recognition for a union that will allow them a say over such issues as the quality of their health insurance and the timeliness of stipend payments.

Echoing longstanding complaints from blue-collar workers that they have become replaceable cogs in a globalized economic machine, the effort reflects a growing view among more highly educated employees in recent decades that they, too, are at the mercy of faceless organizations and are not being treated like professionals and aspiring professionals whose opinions are worthy of respect.

“What we’re fundamentally concerned about isn’t really money,” said Paul R. Katz, one of the Columbia graduate students involved in the organizing efforts. “It’s a question of power and democracy in a space in the academy that’s increasingly corporatized, hierarchical. That’s what we’re most concerned about.”

Columbia and other universities that weighed in with the board before the ruling argued that collective bargaining would lead to a more adversarial relationship between students and the university that would undermine its educational purpose.

The decision reverses a 2004 ruling by the board involving graduate student assistants at Brown University. The ruling held that the assistants could not be considered employees because they “are primarily students and have a primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their university.”

This is a win for organized labor and for graduate students around the country.



Kirsten Powers:  Fox News Political Analyst Leaves for CNN!

Dear Commons Community,

Kirsten Powers who has been a political analyst for Fox News, made her debut last night on CNN. Her leaving is being watched as a harbinger of possible other defections by women reporters and commentators of the Roger Ailes-tainted Fox News.  Ms. Powers has taken on the likes of Bill O’Reilly on the issue of racism in America and Donald Trump on freedom of speech.  As reported by The Wrap:

“Kirsten Powers made her CNN debut Monday night on “Anderson Cooper 360” after it was announced this afternoon that the political analyst was leaving Fox News.

Powers joins CNN as a political analyst and will continue to write columns for USA Today.

She was typically used by Fox as a political commentator, appearing on election nights, presidential debates in addition to both daytime and primetime special programming. In 2015, Powers got into a heated exchange of words with Bill O’Reilly about racism in America on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

In a column that recently appeared in USA Today, Powers wrote that Donald Trump “has a curious understanding of what freedom of speech means.” The piece goes on to mock the GOP nominee for his claim that negative newspaper stories about him are not protected speech.

“Trump loves free speech only when he or his supporters are speaking,” Powers wrote.

Powers’ writing has also been published in The Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the New York Observer,, the New York Post, Elle magazine and American Prospect online. Prior to her journalism career, Powers worked for the Clinton Administration as Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Public Affairs.”

Good luck to Ms. Powers!


Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): To Rein In College Costs, Use DVDs and Internet Instead of Teachers!

Dear Commons Community,

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said last week that to rein in college costs, let’s have more DVDs and fewer teachers.   As reported by The Huffington Post:

“We haven’t even come close to taking advantage of the power of technology in education,” Johnson said at a WisPolitics forum. “We’re still working on the exact same model ― almost the exact same model. … The way to really bust up the higher education cartel is move to a certification process versus a diploma process because a diploma process maintains that cartel within these institutions of higher education.”

Johnson also touted the benefits of online education and suggested that teachers really weren’t all that necessary anymore: 

JOHNSON: We’ve got the internet ― you have so much information available. Why do you have to keep paying differently lecturers to teach the same course? You get one solid lecturer and put it up online and have everybody available to that knowledge for a whole lot cheaper? But that doesn’t play very well to tenured professors in the higher education cartel. So again, we need destructive technology for our higher education system.

WISPOLITICS: But online education is missing some facet of a good ― 

JOHNSON: Of course, it’s a combination, but prior to my doing this crazy thing [of being in the Senate] … I was really involved on a volunteer basis in an education system in Oshkosh. And one of things we did in the Catholic school system was we had something called the “academic excellence initiative.” How do you teach more, better, easier?

One of the examples I always used ― if you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers that kind of know the subject, or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns Civil War tape and then have those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done? You keep duplicating that over all these different subject areas. 

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers ― a union with more than 1 million members ― sharply criticized Johnson for his remarks.

“Leave it to someone from a party led by a reality TV star to confuse videotape with the learning experience of a classroom,” she said. “What Ron Johnson doesn’t get is that education happens when teachers can listen to students and engage them to think for themselves ― and that can include using Ken Burns’ masterful work. But this is typical for a party with an education agenda as out of date as Johnson’s Blockbuster Video card.”

“We know Ron Johnson graduated from college 40 years ago, but we assumed it was from a university here on planet Earth,” said Scot Ross, the executive director of the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, which flagged Johnson’s remarks. “Not only does Ron Johnson oppose common sense measures like student loan refinancing that would immediately reduce costs for 515,000 hardworking Wisconsin borrowers, but he apparently thinks the solution to the nation’s higher education student debt crisis is getting rid of diplomas and watching more television.” 

Johnson is running for re-election against former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who lost the seat to Johnson in 2010.”



Hillary’s Achilles Heel:  The Clinton Foundation!

Dear Commons Community,

As we move into the Fall presidential campaign season, most polls show Hillary Clinton with a comfortable lead over Donald Trump.  However, her supporters are cautioning that she cannot take anything for granted.  Elizabeth Warren has said on more than one occasion to her and her campaign staff “Don’t Screw this up”.  Hillary has at least one really serious  trust problem, The Clinton Foundation, and the appearance of quid pro quo of donations for access.  It has reached the point where she, her husband, and her daughter have to disengage gracefully from The Foundation.  This will not be an easy sell.

The New York Times is reporting that Edward G. Rendell, a former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, said The Foundation should be disbanded if Mrs. Clinton wins, and he added that it would make sense for the charity to stop taking foreign donations immediately.

“I think they’ll do the right thing,” Mr. Rendell said, “and the right thing here is, without question, that the first gentleman have nothing to do with raising money for the foundation.”

Hillary has horrific trustworthiness ratings with the American people and The Foundation appears to be her most serious problem right now even with her supporters.




David Brooks:  Is Our Country as Good as its Athletes?

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, David Brooks, had a piece yesterday that examined American success at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio these past two weeks as indicative of broader strength in our country and its institutions.  He commented that we are not that bad off compared to other countries and compared to the pessimistic rhetoric of the presidential campaign.  Here is an excerpt:

“Pessimism has flavored this election campaign. America is in decline. The country is on the wrong track. We’re getting our clocks cleaned in global trade deals. We’re still suffering from the humiliation of Iraq.

The share of Americans who say that democracy is a “fairly bad” or “very bad” system of government is rising sharply. A quarter of young Americans feel that way, according to data drawn from the World Values Survey. A majority of young Americans believe that the United States should stay out of world affairs, according to a Chicago Council on Global Affairs report.

Yet when you watch the Olympics, we don’t seem like some sad-sack country in terminal decline. If anything, the coverage gets a little boring because we’re always winning! And the winners have such amazingly American stories and personality types (Biles, Ledecky, …

…America doesn’t win because we have better athletes (talent must be distributed equally). America does well because it has such great systems for preparing athletes. Medals are won by institutions as much as by individuals. The Germans have a great system for training kayakers, equestrians and throwers — the discus or javelin. The U.S. has amazing institutions to prepare jumpers, swimmers, basketball players, gymnasts, runners and decathletes.

The big question is: Is the greatness of America’s sports institutions reflective of the country’s strong institutions generally, or is it more like the Soviet Union’s sports greatness, a Potemkin show masking national rot?

Well, if you step outside the pall of the angry campaign rhetoric, you see that America’s institutions are generally quite strong. Over the past decades, some developing countries, like Brazil, India and China, posted glitzy economic growth numbers. But those countries are now all being hampered by institutional weakness and growth is plummeting.

But America’s economic success is like our Olympic success, writ large. The nation’s troubles are evident, but our country has sound fundamentals. The American dollar is by far the world’s currency. The Food and Drug Administration is the benchmark for medical standards. The American patent system is the most important in the world.

Nine of Forbes’s 10 most valuable brands are American (Apple, Google, IBM and so on). The U.S. is the leading energy producer. We have 15 (at least!) of the world’s top 20 universities, while Hollywood is as dominant as ever.

America is also quite good at change. The median age in the U.S. is 37.8, compared with 46.5 for both Germany and Japan. The newer a technology is the more the U.S. is likely to dominate it — whether it’s the cloud or the sharing economy. According to The Economist, 91 percent of online searches are done through American companies’ services, and 99 percent of smartphones run on American-made operating systems.”

Brooks concluded:

“Of course, we have to take care of those who are hurt, but the biggest threat now is unmerited pessimism itself, and the stupid and fearful choices that inevitably flow from it.”

Pessimistic, stupid, and fearful are apt descriptors of this year’s  Republican presidential campaign.


Surprise, Surprise – Paul Manafort Resigns as Chairman of Donald Trump’s Campaign!

Dear Commons Community,

Paul Manafort resigned as chairman of Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential campaign this morning days after he was demoted from his leadership position.  As reported by Reuters:

“Trump said in a statement he had accepted Manafort’s resignation, but did not offer an explanation for the departure. Campaign sources said that Trump had been unhappy with Manafort for a variety of reasons.

Manafort had presided over a period in which Trump had fallen behind in opinion poll numbers in the race against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for the Nov. 8 election.

On Wednesday, Trump overhauled his campaign team, hiring Stephen Bannon,  the head of a conservative news website to bolster his combative image and try to reverse poor opinion poll numbers.

That move, his second staff revamp in less than two months, essentially served as a demotion for Manafort, who had been brought in to try to bring a more professional touch but struggled to rein in Trump’s freewheeling ways.

“This morning Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign,” Trump said in a statement on Friday.

“I am very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today, and in particular his work guiding us through the delegate and convention process. Paul is a true professional and I wish him the greatest success,” Trump said.

In recent days, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had been searching for someone to join the campaign whom both he and Trump could agree was trustworthy, according to a campaign source. Both, the source said, had grown uncomfortable with Manafort.

Manafort had been brought in initially at Kushner’s urging, the source said.

Trump also was not pleased with ongoing revelations about Manafort’s past lobbying for the formerly pro-Russian government in Ukraine, said a source familiar with the situation. Manafort has come under scrutiny in recent days over his alleged ties with pro-Russian political groups in Ukraine. Earlier on Friday, a Ukrainian lawmaker offered more details of what he said were payments made to Manafort by the political party of the Kremlin-backed former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich.

Manafort, in a statement earlier this week, has denied any wrongdoing. The allegations were first made in The New York Times on Monday.”

I would venture to say that most observers saw this coming.


Helping Flood Victims in Louisiana!

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Dear Commons Community,

By now we have all seen the devastation caused by the flooding in Louisiana.  More than two feet of rain has fallen in the past week, causing massive flooding and leaving a swath of damage to areas in the eastern and southern parts of the state. At least 50,000 homes have been damaged, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). The death toll has risen to 13.  Roads are flooded and closed, while schools, businesses and government offices have been shut down for days. The country has not seen a natural disaster this bad since 2012, when Hurricane Sandy pummeled the East Coast.

If you would like to do help, Randi Weingarten, AFT President and Larry Carter, Louisiana Federation of Teachers Interim President, are making a plea and have set up a donation fund.  See details below.

Please be generous!




Our brothers and sisters in Louisiana need our help after severe rainstorms caused massive flooding there earlier this week, leaving at least thirteen  dead and more than 50,000 homes damaged, most beyond repair. 

Help us show our union family in Louisiana that we have their backs. Donate today.[]

In times of crisis, the AFT opens the Disaster Relief Fund to collect donations for our members in need and their families. We started the Disaster Relief Fund after Hurricane Katrina and have since helped members affected by Superstorm Sandy and by tornadoes in Oklahoma and Illinois. 

And now, our members in Louisiana need our help; any contribution makes a difference, so please consider donating today.[]

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been harmed by this flood, and we will be with them as they fight to recover from this disaster.

Please help AFT families in Louisiana rebuild their homes and communities by donating to the AFT Disaster Relief Fund today.[]

In unity,
Randi Weingarten, AFT President 
Larry Carter, Louisiana Federation of Teachers Interim President

P.S. If you have been affected by the flooding, please visit the LFT’s website[] for information and resources that might be available to you.

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What is Breibart and Who is Stephen Bannon!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday Donald Trump shook up the management of his campaign by adding two new top level managers to his staff.  Stephen Bannon, a former banker who runs the conservative outlet Breitbart News and is known for his fiercely anti-establishment politics, has been named the Trump campaign’s chief executive. Kellyanne Conway, a veteran Republican pollster who has been close to Trump for years, will assume the role of campaign manager.  Much of the attention with this announcement has been on Bannon and Breibart.  The New York Times published an article this morning describing the two.

“The Breitbart News Network, usually just called Breitbart, is a conservative-leaning news website. It was founded in 2007 by Andrew Breitbart, a former liberal from Los Angeles who became a conservative standard-bearer until his death from heart failure at 43 in 2012.

The site that bears his name comprises about a dozen different verticals that feature original reporting and commentary, including three of its most prominent sites: Big Government, Big Journalism and Big Hollywood. A fourth “Big” site,, now redirects to Breitbart’s National Security section.

Under the supervision of its founder, Breitbart gained prominence by breaking news about a series of scandals involving liberal politicians, bureaucrats and organizations, and by relentlessly pushing those stories…

The website is loathed by many liberals, moderates and establishment Republicans who say it stokes a partisan atmosphere and misleads readers in order to escalate what they see as nonissues.  But it has been beloved by many on the right as an answer to mainstream media organizations, including The Times, that are viewed as liberal in outlook.

Stephen Bannon, is a Navy veteran who has a background in finance and used to work at Goldman Sachs, was an adviser to Sarah Palin and has been a longtime adviser to Mr. Trump.  He became the executive chairman of Breitbart in 2012, after Mr. Breitbart’s death, and helped adapt the anti-Clinton book “Clinton Cash” into a film.

Not all of Mr. Breitbart’s friends are happy with the direction in which Mr. Bannon took the site. Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator who was 17 when he met Mr. Breitbart and who became the editor-at-large of in 2012 about three weeks before Mr. Breitbart died, said in an interview  “As I said when I left Breitbart,  I am absolutely appalled by what Breitbart’s become. I think Bannon has perverted Breitbart’s legacy.”

If you can imagine it, this election is about to get dirtier.