Mueller Report Released – Key Takeaways!

Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report durin

Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report during a news conference.  Associated Press.

Dear Commons Community,

A redacted version of the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller was released yesterday by Attorney General William Barr.   The report spells out the findings of the investigation that led to the indictment of six Trump associates as well as dozens of Russian operatives who hacked Democrats’ emails and boosted candidate Donald Trump on social media. It also examined allegations that President Trump obstructed justice by interfering with the investigation.   Here are key takeaways from the report as identified from several news media sources.

  1. Mueller looked at 10 instances of possible obstruction by Trump.

The report details multiple instances in which Trump may have obstructed justice by using his authority to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation. Mueller declined to make a determination about whether the president obstructed justice.

“Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations,” the report states. “These incidents were often carried out through on-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels.”

The report pointed to instances like Trump telling former White House Counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller as special counsel, and asking political operative Corey Lewandowski to tell then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of the investigation to future elections.

However, an obstruction of justice charge would require the special counsel to determine that Trump’s actions, which may have impeded the Russia probe, were done with that intent, Mueller said in the report. “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the special counsel wrote.

  1. Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice were foiled by his own staff.

Trump may have been saved from an obstruction of justice charge by his own aides’ refusal to follow his orders.

“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surround the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” Mueller wrote.

Then-FBI Director James Comey, for instance, ignored Trump’s request to stop investigating the president’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was later convicted of lying to the FBI; McGahn didn’t help fire Mueller, and Lewandowski didn’t pass along Trump’s message to Sessions saying Mueller’s investigation was unfair to the president and to limit its scope.

  1. Mueller’s report detailed Russia’s extensive interference in the 2016 election.

“The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a sweeping and systematic fashion,” Mueller wrote in the report.

The report goes into two main operations through which Russians interfered in the election: First a Russian group carried out a social media campaign designed to “sow discord” in the U.S. political system, supporting then-candidate Trump and disparaging Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton; second, Russian intelligence hacked the Clinton campaign volunteers and employees and released stolen documents, infamously through WikiLeaks.

  1. Mueller did not find that Trump’s campaign illegally conspired to aid Russia’s interference in the election.

Mueller’s investigation found extensive links between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials. “The links included Russian offers of assistance to the campaign,” he wrote. “In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away.”

Despite establishing election interference by the Russian government, Mueller wrote that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

The special counsel report specifically said that it was looking at “conspiracy” and not “collusion” (though Barr in his press conference on Mueller’s report echoed the president’s refrain that there was “no collusion”).

  1. The special counsel found plenty of other criminal leads that were forwarded on to other investigators.

The special counsel found evidence of crimes outside its scope and made 14 criminal referrals to other jurisdictions.

Only two of the referrals are publicly known to date. Mueller found evidence of potential wire fraud and Federal Employees’ Compensation Act violations related to Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal fixer, and referred that evidence to federal prosecutors in New York and the FBI’s New York Field Office. Cohen received three years in prison on charges including campaign finance violation and lying to Congress, and gave testimony in February that revealed the inner workings of the Trump campaign.

The second public criminal referral includes potential Foreign Agent Registration Act violations related to Gregory Craig and his former litigation firm, Skadden. A federal grand jury recently indicted Craig on charges of making false statements and hiding information from the Justice Department related to he and his firm’s work on behalf of Ukraine. The charges stemmed from investigating former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his work on behalf of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

  1. When told about the special counsel’s appointment, Trump responded, “I’m fucked.”

“Oh my God,” Trump said. “This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”

That’s how the president reacted in May 2017 to the news that Mueller had been appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to the report. Trump was apparently livid at then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he broke the news of Mueller’s appointment to the president, saying, “How could you let this happen, Jeff?”

“Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything,” Trump said, according to notes taken by Sessions’ chief of staff Jody Hunt. “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Trump later told The New York Times that he would never have appointed Sessions if he knew the attorney general would recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

  1. The Mueller team chose not to subpoena Trump because it wasn’t worth it.

Mueller’s report addresses why Trump was never subpoenaed, which would have forced him to testify as part of the investigation into his campaign and Russian interference in the election.

Essentially, after the president “would not be interviewed voluntarily,” per the report, the special counsel’s office “weighed the costs” of a potentially long legal battle to obtain an interview with Trump versus the value of completing the investigation sooner. Mueller’s team ultimately decided it had gathered enough information from other sources for its investigation.

Throughout Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation, the special counsel repeatedly sought to interview Trump. Ultimately, Trump ended up submitting written answers to some of Mueller’s questions in November 2018 ― which the report called “inadequate.” The president reportedly only answered questions related to Russia’s interference in the election, and not about whether he tried to obstruct the investigation into his campaign’s potential links with Russian meddling.

  1. Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied to the press about circumstances surrounding James Comey’s firing.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that the president only fired FBI Director James Comey because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had recommended it. Mueller’s report, however, indicates that Sanders’ May 2017 explanation for the president’s actions was not true; Trump wanted Comey gone because the director wouldn’t publicly state that the president was not under investigation.

“In the immediate aftermath of the firing, the President dictated a press statement suggesting that he had acted based on the [Department of Justice] recommendations, and White House press officials repeated that story,” Mueller wrote in his report. “But the President had decided to fire Comey before the White House solicited those recommendations.”

Sanders also admitted that when she told reporters the “rank-and-file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director,” her statement had no basis in fact, as was reported at the time.

  1. Yes, Donald Trump did try to cover up the real reason for that Trump Tower meeting.

Donald Trump Jr. eventually ended up tweeting out screenshots of emails setting up the now-infamous June 2016 meeting between himself, senior Trump campaign officials and a Kremlin-linked lawyer said to be offering information that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Before that, though, his father had attempted to cover up the true reason for the meeting, held at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Trump never wanted his son’s correspondence to become public. In the summer of 2017, the president repeatedly told Hope Hicks, then serving as a communications adviser, that he did not even want to speak about the emails, which she believed would be inevitably leaked. Trump did not believe her.

Later, however, the president ended up “edit[ing] a press statement for Trump Jr. by deleting a line that acknowledged that the meeting was with ‘an individual who [Trump Jr.] was told might have information helpful to the campaign’” ― instead, he stated only that the meeting was about adoption. Michael Cohen, at the time still serving as Trump’s personal lawyer, repeatedly denied that the president had helped craft the story given to reporters.

We will be watching and hearing for the next several months and well into the 2020 election various follow-up investigations into the Mueller report but unless there is a major change in the attitude of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate, who will protect Trump at any cost, there will be no impeachment.



My Interview at Drexel University on the Present and Future of Online Education!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this year I gave a talk at Drexel University entitled, Higher Education’s Future: The Digital University. 

After my talk, I was interviewed and asked questions on a number of issues related to my topic.  This interview was recorded and is now available on online at:

It is ten minutes and if you are interested in my views on online education, you might find parts of it provocative.



Mueller Report to be Released Today!

Image result for robert mueller

Dear Commons Community,

Finally after 702 days, the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be released today by Attorney General William Barr.  It will likely be heavily redacted but regardless, it will be the news story for days and weeks if not more.  Mueller’s report is one of the most highly anticipated documents in American history. Political journalists are treating this morning like it’s a presidential election night. The Justice Department has taken precautions to prevent its website from crashing. Publishers plan to rush copies of the report to print.   

At close to 400 pages, the Mueller report spells out the findings of an investigation that led to the indictment of six Trump associates as well as dozens of Russian operatives who hacked Democrats’ emails and boosted candidate Donald Trump on social media. It also examines allegations that President Trump obstructed justice by interfering with the investigation.   As reported by The Huffington Post:

“Attorney General William Barr, working in counsel with Mueller, will release a redacted version of the report that leaves out grand jury material, intelligence information that might reveal sources and methods, information that may affect ongoing investigations and information that would “infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

In a four-page letter to Congress on March 24, Barr said that Mueller “did not find” that any Americans conspired with the Russian government to influence the election. But the report likely further details Russia’s extensive efforts to boost Trump and hurt Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s campaign, answers questions about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian government officials and supposed agents, and lays out Mueller’s evidence on obstruction of justice.

No Collusion?

The Mueller investigation’s main focus was to determine whether Trump’s campaign illegally coordinated or conspired with Russian government actors to improperly influence the 2016 election. From what we know, Mueller chose not to bring criminal charges against Trump or members of his campaign for engaging in a conspiracy with the Russian government.

Barr wrote in his letter reviewing the report that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” That’s why Trump and many of his allies have been arguing that the report exonerates him.

But we do know of contacts between Trump campaign officials and alleged agents of the Russian government. The report should answer why some of these officials were prosecuted on charges related to these contacts ― mostly for lying to investigators ― and why others were not. It may also reveal previously undisclosed contacts made by Trump campaign officials and hangers-on with anyone connected to the Russian operation.

Thanks to Mueller’s charging documents, we already know a good deal about contacts between the Trump campaign and individuals presumed to be connected to Russian election interference efforts.

This whole ordeal began after Trump aide George Papadopolous divulged to Australia’s top diplomat to the U.K. that he had been told that Russians had obtained “dirt” on Clinton. The diplomat alerted U.S. authorities and the FBI responded with a counterintelligence investigation that would lead to Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. Papadopoulos lied to investigators when confronted about how he heard that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton and ultimately pleaded guilty to making false statements.

Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn also pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Rick Gates, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, pleaded guilty and Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was successfully prosecuted for their unregistered lobbying work for former Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovich, among other things. The prosecution of Gates and Manafort revealed that Manafort had provided 75 pages of Trump campaign polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian political operative alleged by Mueller to be a Russian military intelligence operative. Roger Stone, an outside adviser to Trump, is currently awaiting trial on charges of making false statements, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. Any section of the Mueller report on Stone’s prosecution will likely be redacted because the prosecution is ongoing.

Mueller’s report could provide answers about why he decided to charge Papadopoulos and Flynn for making false statements, why Flynn got such a sweet plea deal and proposed sentence, what Gates provided as part of his plea deal, what happened with Manafort’s aborted plea deal and why Mueller believes Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence operative. Of course, much of this information could also end up being redacted if it pertains to U.S. intelligence operations.

And then there are the non-prosecutions from the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016. Presidential son Donald Trump Jr., presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, and Manafort sat down with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in Manhattan for a meeting that Trump Jr. was told in emails would provide “dirt on Clinton” as part of the “Russian effort to aid” the Trump campaign.

As far as the public knows, Veselnitskaya didn’t provide any real dirt on Clinton and Trump Jr. left the meeting disappointed. But speculation persists about what happened behind closed doors, whether Trump Jr. spoke with his father about the meeting and if his pursuit of “dirt on Clinton” constituted an improper solicitation for a thing of value from a foreign national ― a potential campaign finance crime.

The report could help explain what other facts were uncovered during the investigation into the Trump Tower meeting and why Mueller chose not to prosecute anyone involved in it. Or perhaps the section is redacted to protect the reputation of peripheral characters ― including the president’s oldest son.

No Obstruction?

What is likely to be the most consequential part of the report focuses on allegations that Trump obstructed justice by trying to undermine and end the investigation into his campaign. Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton faced impeachment inquiries based on the charge that they obstructed justice. Barr wrote in his letter that while the Mueller report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

There are several areas to watch for potential obstruction of justice. One is the May 2017 firing of FBI Director James Comey, who detailed in internal memos Trump’s efforts to persuade him to end the investigation into Flynn. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, according to one Comey memo. When Comey wouldn’t end the investigation as Trump urged him, he was fired, prompting the appointment of Mueller as special counsel.

Another notable moment is when Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November 2018 after more than a year of relentlessly attacking Sessions for recusing himself from the Mueller investigation.

Did any of these acts obstruct the investigation? The report should provide some evidence either way.

Trump also repeatedly floated the idea of pardoning Manafort, who was charged with numerous counts of financial fraud, making false statements and lobbying violations. The report could indicate whether Mueller thought that the president undermined his investigation by giving Manafort an incentive not to cooperate. One of the pending articles of impeachment against Nixon related to his abuse of the pardon power by agreeing to pardon one of the Watergate burglars.

There is also the question of how Trump crafted his son Donald Jr.’s false answer to The New York Times about how the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting came about and whether the falsehood constituted an act meant to obstruct the investigation.

Barr’s letter said that “most” of the actions addressed in Mueller’s report “have been the subject of public reporting.” One big question then is what other potential obstruction Mueller may have uncovered.

Barr has already cast doubt on potential arguments that Trump obstructed justice in his letter summarizing the Mueller report. The attorney general argued that “the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding.”

This follows the argument that Barr laid out in an unsolicited 2018 memo to the White House in which he made a legal case against obstruction charges.

Russian Influence?

It’s unlikely that any of the indicted Russians will ever set foot on U.S. soil, so their indictments haven’t received much ongoing media coverage. But the conspiracy they lay out is extraordinary.

One indictment against 12 Russians says that Russia’s military intelligence agency hacked the Clinton campaign as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee and then published the stolen emails online using aliases. Mueller’s team alleged that the Russians “targeted over 300” Democrats and successfully spear-phished Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. They stole email credentials and thousands of emails from a number of Clinton campaign officials. They installed malware on at least 10 DCCC computers, which “allowed them to monitor individual employees’ computer activity, steal passwords, and maintain access to the DCCC network.” They hacked into the DNC network with stolen credentials, gaining access to “approximately thirty-three DNC computers.”

Even the redacted Mueller report is expected to include significant information about the Kremlin-linked campaign that used social media platforms to influence the 2016 election, something that was a major target of the special counsel’s investigation and resulted in numerous criminal charges against those Russian operatives.

The special counsel’s office last year indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities on charges related to election interference. Prosecutors alleged that operatives working with the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency created Facebook groups and Twitter accounts to push out disinformation about the U.S. presidential candidates and the election, sometimes even helping to set up political rallies in the real world. The Internet Research Agency also purchased around $100,000 worth of Facebook ads and published tens of thousands of posts aimed at sowing discord or aiding Trump.

We already know a lot about that disinformation campaign from the 2018 indictment, but the redacted Mueller report is likely to give a more complete picture of Russia’s interference as well as possibly elaborate on the motives behind it. The indictment of the Internet Research Agency previously indicated that the operatives had a clear goal of supporting the candidacies of Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and negatively targeting Clinton’s campaign.”

We will see in a few hours!


Colleague Herb Perr Passed Away!

Dear Commons Community,

Herb Perr, a good colleague of ours at Hunter College passed away in December 2018.  Herb taught arts education in our School of Education for decades. He was dedicated to the arts, to public education and to the City of New York where he lived his entire life. He retired a number of years ago and unfortunately we did not keep contact.  Below is his obituary. 

May he rest in peace!



Artist, educator and activist Herb Perr died at his home in Brooklyn on December 31, 2018, of a neurological disease.

Born at Coney Island Hospital in 1941, Herb grew up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. He played basketball for Lincoln High School, even competing at Madison Square Garden, but found his true kindred spirits on Lincoln’s Art Squad. Herb won a full scholarship to study art at New York University and taught art in the New York City school system while earning a master’s degree in education at Hunter College. He began teaching courses in art education at Hunter, where he became a full professor in 1989. Over decades, he encouraged thousands of teachers to infuse art throughout the curriculum.

Under the mentorship of the artist Helen Frankenthaler, Herb evolved as an abstract expressionist painter. His lyrical work appeared in galleries and museums. But a gnawing dissatisfaction with the art business led him to join Artists Meeting for Cultural Change and, in 1980, to co-found Political Art Documentation/Distribution (PAD/D). PAD/D provided artists with “a framework within which progressive artists can discuss and develop alternatives to the mainstream art system” (PAD/D Manifesto). The PAD/D archives are now part of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art.

Creative and curious, Herb loved talking to anyone and everyone. He was a PTA president at PS 3 in Greenwich Village, a proud soccer dad, a dedicated gardener, and an inventive cook.

Herb married writer and educator Mimi Bluestone in 1988. Both of their children are artists: Rosa Bluestone Perr is a handpoked tattoo artist, and Joey Bluestone Perr has written and illustrated a graphic novel, to be published in the fall of 2019, about Herb’s unusual family and very full life.

Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier: Braved the Notre Dame Blaze to Save Relics Including the Crown of Thorns!

The crown of thorns, which was believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ and was bought by King Louis IX in 1239, is seen atCrown of Thorns

Dear Commons Community,

There are many heroic stories coming out of Paris of people especially firefighers who risked their lives during the blaze that engulfed Notre Dame on Monday.  Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier is credited with running into the cathedral to help save religious relics among which was the Crown of Thorns believed to be worn by Jesus Christ during his crucifixion.  The Crown of Thorns was brought to Paris by French King Louis IX in 1238. The Catholic Church believes it is a relic of the wreath of thorns placed on the head of Jesus Christ.

Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier, the chaplain to the Paris Fire Brigade who previously served as a military chaplain in Afghanistan, entered the cathedral with firefighters and helped form a human chain to remove some of the artifacts, the Washington Post reported.

A local journalist shared Fournier’s efforts by posting a photo of the chaplain and a story of his heroism on Twitter, detailing how he helped save the Crown of Thorns.  

“Father Fournier is an absolute hero,” a first responder told Irish radio station NewsTalk Tuesday.

“He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day and shows no fear.”

Philippe Goujon, the mayor of Paris’ 15th Arrondissement, told reporters gathered outside Notre Dame Tuesday that Fournier insisted he be allowed into the smoldering building with firefighters.

Fournier was previously recognized for comforting victims and praying over the dead in the wake of the 2015 attacks that left 130 dead.

“I gave collective absolution, as the Catholic Church authorizes me,” he was quoted by Sky News quoted him at the time.

Paris’ Mayor Anne Hidalgo on Twitter recognized the volunteers who ran inside the cathedral to save the precious pieces and shared a video of some of the items being moved to the city hall for safekeeping. 

As Christians around the world observe this the holiest week of the year especially Good Friday, the saving of the Crown of Thorns has deep religious meaning.  Reverend Fournier and the firefighters who assisted him deserve the praise they are receiving.


Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier

University of Tulsa to Eliminate Scores of Programs as it Reprioritizes its Offerings!

Dear Commons Community,

The University of Tulsa with a $1 billion endowment for 4,000 students rolled out a plan last week that will result in the elimination of dozens of programs including majors, minors, and graduate offerings, but much of the resulting outcry has centered on undergraduate programs in the liberal arts.  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“For too long, we have tried to be everything to everyone,” said Janet K. Levit, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, in remarks delivered to faculty and staff members and published on the university’s website.

Here’s how the university is defining itself now: “a high-touch undergraduate institution that provides all students with a firm grounding in critical and creative thinking, and that is STEM-heavy with a professional, practical focus.”

To that end, the restructuring enrolls new students in a University Studies program before they select their majors. It shifts departments into interdisciplinary divisions in its arts-and-sciences college. And it creates what it’s calling a “Professional Super College” combining business, health sciences, and law.

Restructuring programs and cutting majors are common moves for colleges looking to shore up the bottom line. But to some observers, the move was surprising at a private university that has a billion-dollar endowment to support some 4,000 students. Why is Tulsa making these changes, and what might its plan signal about higher education’s evolving identity and economics?

Role of the Liberal Arts

Tulsa is cutting graduate degrees in physics and chemistry, all of its theater degrees, and some business programs. But the cuts in its liberal-arts program, including the elimination of majors in philosophy and religion, have gotten the most attention.

Laura Stevens, an associate professor of English, tweeted that she is collecting material to “create an archive of testimonials from current TU students and alumni about the role the Liberal Arts have played in their education, career, life…” Matthew Dean Hindman, an assistant professor of political science, described in a Twitter thread the university’s actions as a “cartoonishly bad plan to eviscerate the liberal arts.”

While the changes touch every college at Tulsa, the one “far and away the most affected” is Arts and Sciences, Hindman said in an interview. It’s not just about cutting majors, he said. The plan suggests that the liberal arts are courses that students take when they first arrive in college, before they go on to major in something else. The move away from traditional departments, he said, will mean that students will experience the liberal arts in “broad categories” rather than disciplines.

A sad day for the liberal arts at Tulsa!



Video: Notre Dame Cathedral Going Up in Flames!

Dear Commons Community,

As I write this post, Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral is on fire. As reported by Reuters.

“Notre-Dame Cathedral went up in flames on Monday in a roaring blaze that devastated the Parisian landmark, a searing loss for the city and for France.

Flames that began in the early evening burst through the roof of the centuries-old cathedral and engulfed the spire, which collapsed, quickly followed by the entire roof.

A huge plume of smoke wafted across the city and ash fell over a large area. Parisians watched on, many of them lost for words.

“Like all our compatriots, I am sad this evening to see this part of all of us burn,” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Basically the whole rooftop is gone. I see no hope for the building,” said witness Jacek Poltorak, watching the fire from a fifth-floor balcony two blocks from the southern facade of the cathedral, one of France’s most visited places.

Firefighters tried to contain the blaze with water hoses and cleared the area around Notre-Dame, which sits on an island in  

Buildings around were evacuated.

Nobody was injured, junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said at the scene, adding: “It’s too early to determine the causes of the fire.” France 2 television reported that police were treating it as an accident.

“Everything is collapsing,” a police officer near the scene said as the entire roof of the cathedral continued to burn.

Macron canceled an address to the nation that he had been due to give later on Monday evening. A presidential official said Macron was to go to the scene of the blaze.

The cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century, features in Victor Hugo’s classic novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.” It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that attracts millions of tourists every year.

The Gothic cathedral is famed for its many carved stone gargoyles, stunning stained glass windows and the flying buttresses that hold up its walls.

“There are a lot of art works inside…it’s a real tragedy,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told reporters at the scene.

The cathedral was in the midst of renovations, with some sections under scaffolding and bronze statues were removed last week for works.

The wood and lead spire was built during a restoration in the mid-19th century, according to the cathedral’s website. (Reporting by Sybille de la Hamaide, Simon Carraud and Sudip Kar-Gupta Writing by Robin Pomeroy Editing by Frances Kerry).

What a loss and tragedy for France!



Tiger Woods Shares Masters Victory with His Family!

Dear Commons Community,

Over the weekend, the sports story was Tiger Woods victory at the Masters Championship in Augusta, Georgia.  In a spectacular return to past glory, Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters on Sunday, his first victory in one of golf’s four major tournaments in over a decade.

Woods energized fans as he pulled ahead during the Masters’ fourth round in Augusta, Georgia. He entered the final day tied for second place, two shots behind Francesco Molinari. By the 18th hole, he held a two-shot lead. With that cushion, he bogeyed the last hole to shoot a two-under-par 70 on Sunday, winning the tournament with a score of 13 under par. Three players finished a stroke behind him.

Woods’ triumph marked his fifth Masters title; he previously won the green jacket awarded its victor in 1997, 2001, 2002, and 2005.

Woods now has 15 major titles under his belt, placing him three behind record holder Jack Nicklaus, who has 18. 

“It’s overwhelming, just because of what has transpired,” Woods said shortly after a tap-in on the 18th hole gave him his latest win. “Last year, I was lucky to be playing again.”

Woods, 43, had not finished first in a major championship in nearly 11 years; he won the U.S. Open in June 2008. And he has faced turbulence in his personal life since his last Masters win in 2005.

His father, Earl Woods, who mentored his golf game from the time Tiger was a toddler, died in 2006. His marriage and subsequent divorce become tabloid fodder in 2009 after a sex scandal made headlines, and he was arrested for a DUI in 2017.

Also over the past decade, Woods has undergone multiple surgeries, including four operations on his back, as he’s attempted to return to the top of his game. In 2017, Woods underwent a spinal fusion to alleviate pain in his back and leg. Just last month, he withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational due to a neck strain.

Fans, including fellow athletes, rejoiced on Twitter over his triumph, agreeing that Woods’ comeback was complete and historic. 

Perhaps the most heartwarming scenes (see video above) from yesterday was the way Woods embraced his children, mother and girlfriend.

Congratulations, Tiger!



Privacy Project: Artificial Intelligence Coming to the Insurance Business!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an op-ed today commenting on the onset of artificial intelligence (A.I.) applications in the insurance industry.  It raises important issues regarding privacy.  Here is an excerpt:

“A smartphone app that measures when you brake and accelerate in your car. The algorithm that analyzes your social media accounts for risky behavior. The program that calculates your life expectancy using your Fitbit.

This isn’t speculative fiction — these are real technologies being deployed by insurance companies right now. Last year, the life insurance company John Hancock began to offer its customers the option to wear a fitness tracker — a wearable device that can collect information about how active you are, how many calories you burn, and how much you sleep. The idea is that your Fitbit or Apple Watch can tell whether or not you’re living the good, healthy life — and if you are, your insurance premium will go down.

This is the cutting edge of the insurance industry, adjusting premiums and policies based on new forms of surveillance. It will affect your life insurance, your car insurance and your homeowner’s insurance — if it hasn’t already. If the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions should vanish, it will no doubt penetrate the health insurance industry as well.

Consumers buy insurance from companies to protect against possible losses. But this contractual relationship is increasingly asymmetrical. The insurance companies once relied on a mix of self-reported information, public records and credit scores to calculate risk and assess how much to charge. But thanks to advances in technology, the capacity to collect, store and analyze information is greater than ever before.

2018 report from the consulting firm McKinsey notes that “smart” devices — fitness trackers, home assistants like Alexa, connected cars and smart refrigerators — are proliferating in homes. The “avalanche of new data” they can provide will change the face of insurance…

…Artificial intelligence, in all its variations, holds great promise. The automated processing can help cut down costs, and even save lives. But the  opacity around many applications of automation and artificial intelligence are reason for pause. Not only do people have limited access to the code that determines key facets of their lives, but the bar to understanding the “reasoning” of algorithms and data sets is high. It will get higher as more industries begin to use sophisticated technologies like deep learning.”



NASA Twins Study!

NASA Astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly

Dear Commons Community,

What happens to your body after nearly a year in space? Plenty. Most things return to normal once you’re back on Earth ― but not all of them.  That’s the findings of NASA’s “Twins Study,” the results of which were published Friday in the journal Science.    As reported:

The study tracked the physiological and cognitive changes of astronaut Scott Kelly as he spent 340 days in space, then compared them to his twin brother, Mark Kelly ― who is also a retired astronaut ― back home.

NASA collected and analyzed 317 stool, blood and urine samples from both Mark and Scott over the course of the year. It also tested such things as the twins’ memory, as well as their heart and eye function. (Scott also received a flu vaccine aboard the International Space Station ― the first vaccine ever administered in space ― and his body reacted appropriately. While aboard the ISS, his immune system was much more active than his twin, the study found.)

Although 559 people have gone to space, only eight have spent more than 300 consecutive days in orbit. This has led to a scarcity of information about what happens to the human body in microgravity over time ― important information to have if NASA is serious about sending humans to Mars in the coming decades. A trip to the Red Planet takes about 300 days.

Scott returned to earth roughly three years ago, and he is mostly back to his regular self, NASA found, including his immune system, cognition and microbiome. But 7% of his gene expression has yet to revert to its pre-flight status, potentially because of DNA damage due to increased radiation exposure. 

And in another genetic surprise, the ends of Scott’s chromosomes ― a protective sequence called telomeres ― actually lengthened in space. Typically those get shorter as we get older, and their length is correlated with age-related health risks like heart disease and cancer.

“So, certainly we imagined, going into the study, that the unique kinds of stresses and extreme environmental exposures like space radiation and microgravity, all of these things, would act to accelerate telomere loss,” Susan Bailey, a researcher at Colorado State University and a co-author of the research, said at a press conference earlier this week. “We were surprised.” 

But Bailey cautioned against getting your hopes up that NASA has stumbled across a cure for aging.

“I don’t think that [the elongation] can really be viewed as the fountain of youth and that people might expect to live longer because they’re in space,” she said.

NASA found that Scott’s telomeres shortened “within days of landing” back on Earth. It’s unclear why, exactly, though the explanation may be decidedly terrestrial: Scott’s diet in space contained more folate (vitamin B9), which likely played a role.

Overall, though, NASA researchers came away encouraged by the findings.

“The bottom line is,” Scott told, “from all these studies — and, granted, this is an experiment with one data point … would be that there’s nothing that we saw that would prevent us from going to Mars.” 

Interesting Stuff!