President Trump Rescinds Rules on Bathrooms for Transgender Students!

Dear Commons Community,

President Trump on Wednesday rescinded protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, overruling his own education secretary and placing his administration firmly in the middle of a culture war.  As reported by Reuters and the New York Times:

“In a joint letter, the top civil rights officials from the Justice Department and the Education Department rejected the Obama administration’s position that nondiscrimination laws require schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.

That directive, they said, was improperly and arbitrarily devised, “without due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.”

The question of how to address the “bathroom debate,” as it has become known, opened a rift inside the Trump administration, pitting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr. Sessions, who had been expected to move quickly to roll back the civil rights expansions put in place under his Democratic predecessors, wanted to act decisively because of two pending court cases that could have upheld the protections and pushed the government into further litigation.

But Ms. DeVos initially resisted signing off and told Mr. Trump that she was uncomfortable because of the potential harm that rescinding the protections could cause transgender students, according to three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions.

Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, initially resisted signing off on the order and told President Trump that she was uncomfortable with it.

Mr. Sessions, who has opposed expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, pushed Ms. DeVos to relent. After getting nowhere, he took his objections to the White House because he could not go forward without her consent. Mr. Trump sided with his attorney general, the Republicans said, and told Ms. DeVos in a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he wanted her to drop her opposition. And Ms. DeVos, faced with the alternative of resigning or defying the president, agreed to go along.

Ms. DeVos’s unease was evident in a strongly worded statement she released on Wednesday night, in which she said she considered it a “moral obligation” for every school in America to protect all students from discrimination, bullying and harassment.

She said she had directed the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate all claims of such treatment “against those who are most vulnerable in our schools,” but also argued that bathroom access was not a federal matter.

A couple of hundred people gathered in front of the White House to protest the Trump action, waving rainbow flags and chanting: “No hate, no fear, trans students are welcome here.” The rainbow flag is the symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Individual schools will remain free to let transgender students use the bathrooms with which they are most comfortable. And the effect of the administration’s decision will not be immediate because a federal court had already issued a nationwide injunction barring enforcement of the Obama order.

Reversing the Obama guidelines stands to inflame passions in the latest conflict in America between believers in traditional values and social progressives, and is likely to prompt more of the street protests that followed Trump’s Nov. 8 election.


Federal Prosecutors Expand Investigation of City College’s Former President Lisa Coico!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times is reporting that federal prosecutors have expanded their investigation of the financial dealings of the former president of the City College of New York into whether she received tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized payments over several years from the school’s oldest alumni fund.

Lisa S. Coico, the college’s former president, was already being scrutinized over the improper use of federal research money, and the accounting of her personal expenses from the 21st Century Foundation, the college’s main fund-raising vehicle. She resigned unexpectedly in October after The New York Times reported that a memo concerning those expenses had most likely been fabricated to deceive prosecutors, and that she did not return a $20,000 security deposit for a rental home.

The new avenue of inquiry looks at a second source of money — the City College Fund, which is supposed to provide scholarships to indigent students, underwrite campus programs and organize alumni reunions — and it represents a notable expansion of an inquiry that began last summer. It has spread to other groups affiliated with the college’s parent entity, the City University of New York.

This month, the office of Robert L. Capers, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, subpoenaed records related to payments to Ms. Coico from the City College Fund. Among other issues, prosecutors are trying to ascertain why the fund, which has been run for years by one of Dr. Coico’s most trusted confidantes, apparently paid Dr. Coico or entities connected to her yet failed to get approval from university officials or report the arrangement on its tax returns.

The existence of the subpoena was confirmed last week by Vincent G. Boudreau, who took over as the City College interim president after Ms. Coico resigned.

Sad story!



Activists Unfurl Banner on Statue of Liberty “Refugees Welcome”!

Dear Commons Community,

Activist scaled the Statue of Liberty and unfurled a red and white “Refugees Welcome” banner on Tuesday, just hours after the Department of Homeland Security unveiled its sweeping plan to deport undocumented immigrants across the U.S.

The banner, which measured 3 feet by 20 feet in length, was unrolled and dangled from the statue’s observation deck, the National Park Service said.

The sign was removed more than an hour later after it surfaced, the Associated Press reported, but not before images spread like wildfire on social media.

According to CNN, an activist group called Alt Lady Liberty claimed responsibility for the banner. “​Almost all Americans have descendants from somewhere else,” the group told CNN. “Immigrants and refugees make this country great. And turning away refugees, like we did to Anne Frank, does not make us great.”

Alt Lady Liberty posted several images of the banner on its Twitter account, with one caption reading: “The message of the Statue of Liberty is unmistakable.”

As a reminder, the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”




“Not My Presidents Day” Protests in American Cities!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday marked the first “Not My Presidents Day” as thousands of people protested Donald Trump in cities all over the country including Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Austin, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Denver and Washington, D.C. 

In New York, protesters gathered outside Trump International Hotel and Tower to hoist signs that defended refugees, condemned the president’s Cabinet picks, and called for his impeachment. Families and individuals of all ages chanted “Not my president!” and “Black lives matter!”   

Here are comments from protesters courtesy of The Huffington Post:

Mercedes Vizcaino, 42, works in New York City and came to Monday’s protest with a friend who is a science teacher.

“I think it’s important to take a stand and not be complicit about what’s going on in the country,” Vizcaino said. “Democracy as we know it is being challenged. … My freedoms that I’ve cherished and perhaps never thought about disappearing, right now I know they may be taken away.”

Richard Rumph, a retired New York City elementary school teacher, said he couldn’t recall attending a rally before Trump took office. He joined in on Monday partly because he objects to Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.

“DeVos basically has no understanding of public education,” said Rumph, 66. “She’s going to push charter schools and public education is going to go down the tubes.”

Richard Rumph, center, came to New York City’s “Not My Presidents Day” from New Rochelle, New York. 

The “Not My Presidents Day” events are the latest in a wave of protests that have followed Trump’s inauguration, starting with the women’s marches on Jan. 21. After Trump imposed a contentious executive order halting refugee resettlement and travelers from several Muslim-majority countries, protesters rallied at airports around the country. Last week, the “Day Without Immigrants” movement inspired rallies and shuttered businesses nationwide.

Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) was in the crowd in Chicago, gathering signatures for a local ballot initiative. He said the uptick in protests since inauguration was necessary in the Trump era. 

“Freedom of assembly, freedom to protest, freedom of the press — these are all freedoms under attack by Trump,” Quinn said. “We’re going to resist authoritarianism. That’s what Trump is — an authoritarian.”

Olga Lexell, 24, helped plan the protest at Los Angeles city hall. The Facebook invite for the event spurred interest from other cities, and Lexell recruited volunteers in New York and Chicago to set up protests there. Most of the sister rallies were organized independently by grassroots volunteers and are focused on how Trump’s plans affect their cities.

“Pretty much all of the people who volunteered to help us organize turned out to be women,” Lexell told The Huffington Post in an email. “Women are really leading the charge with the anti-Trump resistance.”

Lexell said Monday’s protests had mostly been organized through Facebook and word of mouth. She planned the LA event with Heather Mason, one of her friends. 

“I don’t think either of us had ever organized any kind of protest or rally of this size before, but it just felt like something we had to do to have our voices heard,” Lexell said. “Lately I’ve been afraid because of the overwhelming anti-immigrant sentiment he’s building; I’m an immigrant myself, so that’s terrifying to me.”

Mason, 28, said she thinks Californians have a responsibility to lead the resistance to the administration’s efforts.

“After Trump was elected I cried and was physically ill honestly,” Mason said. “I felt miserable and depressed for days. And then I joined the Action Group Network and began brainstorming with friends as to what we could do to feel less useless.”

Voices are being heard throughout the country!  It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next several months.


President Patricia McGuire of Trinity Washington U Skewers Alumna Kellyanne Conway!

Dear Commons Community,

Patricia McGuire, President of Trinity Washington University, in a blog posting entitled, On Lies and the Truths We Must Tell, skewers the Trump administration and specifically alumna, Kellyanne Conway.  McGuire states that Conway, Trinity Class of 1989, has been a major manipulator of facts who facilitates much of  Trump’s agenda.  Here is an excerpt:

“Fear is the most powerful weapon dictators have to seize and maintain their power.  Fear preys on the most basic psychological needs of human beings to be free from physical harm, to be economically secure, to protect and care for our children and families.  Autocrats generate fear through capitalizing on ignorance and spreading lies — particularly widespread ignorance of other peoples and cultures and lies about their ability to commit violence and take away jobs.

We Americans study the history of tyranny and exclaim, “That’s terrible, but it would not happen here!” as we congratulate ourselves on the robust state of our democracy.  The experience of the last few months now exposes this once-confident boast as terribly naive and perhaps even dangerous as a new administration indulges in a remarkable torrent of false and misleading statements as a basis for policy and action.

The gravest lie we are grappling with at the present moment is the Trump Administration’s cruel and unreasonable war on immigrants — mostly people who are black and brown, and Muslim — Mexicans and refugees from central America, Syrian refugees, people from certain countries in the Middle East and Africa including Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.  Trump’s “travel ban” for people from the latter 7 nations is currently stayed by federal court order, but the executive order imposing the ban has spread fear and uncertainty among many people in the United States and worldwide. Outrageously, President Trump subsequently attacked the judges who ruled against him, and has his surrogates proclaiming that, “The powers of the president…will not be questioned.”  THAT, my friends, is an invitation to rise in vigorous defense of the balance of powers!

….Presidential Counselor Kellyanne Conway, Trinity Class of 1989, has played a large role in facilitating the manipulation of facts and encouraging the grave injustice being perpetrated by the Trump Administration’s war on immigrants among many other issues.  She is one of President Trump’s primary spokespersons, an almost daily figure on cable news shows.  Some people admire her staunch advocacy for her client’s positions, and others applaud the fact that she was the first woman to manage a successful presidential campaign.  But in fact, as is true of many of President Trump’s statements, her advocacy on his behalf is often at variance with the truth.   Ms. Conway invented the now-infamous phrase “alternative facts”  to defend Trump’s claims about the size of crowds at his inauguration, a thinly-veiled autocratic scheme to try to claim that the Trump inauguration drew the biggest crowd in history when, in fact, it was on the smaller side.  Ms. Conway has been part of a team that thinks nothing of shaping and spreading a skein of lies as a means to secure power.  Perhaps the “Bowling Green Massacre” comment was truly a mistake, as she claims, but she repeated that canard on three different occasions as an explanation for why the travel ban, an executive order that clearly discriminates against Muslims, was necessary.”

McGuire concludes:

“As I write about truth and justice, I recall the heroic example of  Sister of Notre Dame, Dorothy Stang, who was murdered 11 years ago today in the Amazon rainforest by ranchers who wanted to silence her advocacy for justice for the indigenous people she worked with.  Sr. Dorothy did not hesitate to speak the truth on behalf of the people she served.  Her ability to tell the truth, to be an advocate for people on the margins.  She paid the ultimate price for her courage.  While none of us can hope to have nearly that much courage, we should pray for at least enough backbone to speak out about what we see that is unjust, to raise our voices for those who cannot speak.”

Powerful message for this President’s Day!


John McCain:  Free Press is Vital to Protect Against Dictatorships!

Dear Commons Community,

In a NBC Meet the Press interview to be aired today (Sunday), Senator John McCain criticizes Donald Trump and his attacks on the media.  He also comments that the White House is in disarray.   Here is a recap of McCain’s interview.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” McCain took a swipe at President Donald Trump’s volleys against the Fourth Estate, particularly a Friday tweet in which the press was called the “enemy of the American people.”

“We need a free press,” said the 2008 Republican presidential candidate. “We must have it. It’s vital.” 

“If you want to preserve ― I’m very serious now ― if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press,” he added.

McCain said that without a free press, “we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time.”

“That’s how dictators get started,” he added, noting that attacks on journalists questioning those in power are a tactic used by autocratic governments.

“When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press,” he said. “I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”

“A fundamental part of that new world order was a free press,” he added. “I hate the press; I hate you especially,” McCain quipped. “But the fact is we need you.”

Trump has ratcheted up his assaults against media organizations in recent weeks, culminating in a belligerent press conference Thursday in which he excoriated the members of the press as “fake news.”

McCain, in Germany for the Munich Security conference, has unleashed a series of thinly veiled attacks on the White House.

In a speech before the conference, he slammed a “hardening resentment” toward “immigrants, and refugees, and minority groups, especially Muslims” and asked world leaders not to give up on America despite the country’s current politics.

During a question-and-answer, the senator said the resignation of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, showed the administration was “in disarray.



Betsy DeVos on the Importance of Community Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday highlighted the importance of community colleges in promoting vocational and technical training as a way to lower unemployment and fuel economic growth.

Addressing the Community College National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C., DeVos said she supports President Donald Trump’s plan to make alternative approaches to postsecondary education a priority. DeVos said community colleges cost less, are flexible and equip job seekers with the skills that the economy needs.

“Community colleges are a uniquely American national asset,” DeVos said. “You are nimble, you are inclusive, you are entrepreneurial.”

“You are absolutely essential engines for … economic development locally and regionally,” DeVos added. “You help identify and close the skills gap between employers and job seekers so that U.S. businesses and industries can thrive and expand.”

Given that DeVos has made few public statements about higher education in the past, these comments can be taken as positive as she assumes the responsibilities of Education Secretary.  This also assumes that President Trump does not eliminate the US Department of Education.


NY Times Editorial: President Trump is a White House Apprentice!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times editorial today takes aim at Donald Trump and the “mess” he is making in the White House.  The editorial sets the record straight by commenting that Trump did not inherit “a mess” from Barack Obama but a nation recovered from recession and with strong alliances abroad. Mr. Trump is well on his way to creating a mess of his own, weakening national security and even risking the delivery of basic government services. Most of the top thousand jobs in the administration remain vacant. Career public servants are clashing with inexperienced “beachhead” teams appointed by the White House to run federal agencies until permanent staff members arrive. 

The editorial also comments that “If there is any upside here, it is that the administration’s ineptitude has so far spared the nation from a wholesale dismantling of major laws, including the Affordable Care Act, though he may yet kill the law through malign neglect. In the meantime, however, the chaos carries other risks.

The editorial concludes that the White House is isolating itself and is having trouble attracting people and keeping people who have the experience to right Trump’s ship.

If it continues on this course,  Vice President Mike Pence is waiting in the wings.



President Trump, White House Apprentice

By NY Times Editorial Board

Feb. 17, 2017

It’s with a whiff of desperation that President Trump insists these days that he’s the chief executive Washington needs, the decisive dealmaker who, as he said during the campaign, “alone can fix it.” What America has seen so far is an inept White House led by a celebrity apprentice.

This president did not inherit “a mess” from Barack Obama, as he likes to say, but a nation recovered from recession and with strong alliances abroad. Mr. Trump is well on his way to creating a mess of his own, weakening national security and even risking the delivery of basic government services. Most of the top thousand jobs in the administration remain vacant. Career public servants are clashing with inexperienced “beachhead” teams appointed by the White House to run federal agencies until permanent staff members arrive.

Mr. Trump lost his national security adviser this week in a scandal involving ties to Russian intelligence. Robert Harward, a retired vice admiral, refused the job on Thursday, rattled by a dysfunctional National Security Council and a president who has alienated Mexico, Australia and even the British royal family, while cozying up to Moscow.

When Mr. Trump’s assistants can keep the edge of panic out of their voices, they insist that Mr. Trump has gotten more done in the early going than most presidents. And Mr. Trump is so adept at creating smoke that Americans might be forgiven for thinking that’s true. But at this point in the Obama presidency, which did inherit a mess, Congress had passed laws aimed at dragging the economy back from the brink of depression while committing $800 billion in Recovery Act spending to projects ranging from housing to roads to advanced energy technologies.

Mr. Trump’s vaunted $1 trillion infrastructure spending program, by contrast, doesn’t yet exist, because the president confuses executive orders with achievements. Orders are dashed off without input from Congress and the government officials who would implement them. The White House is a toxic mix of ideology, inexperience and rivalries; insiders say tantrums are nearly as common as the spelling errors in the press office’s news releases. Steve Bannon writes the president’s script, and Reince Priebus, the embattled chief of staff, crashes meetings to which he has not been invited.

Mr. Trump complains about the slow pace of congressional confirmation of his appointees, but the obstacle is at his end. His staff doesn’t bother to vet nominees in advance. His pick for labor secretary failed in part because no one in authority seemed to know that the nominee had employed an undocumented immigrant and had been accused of abusing his ex-wife.

“Everything he rolls out is done so badly,” Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, marveled recently. “They’re just releasing comments, tweets and policies willy-nilly.”

If there is any upside here, it is that the administration’s ineptitude has so far spared the nation from a wholesale dismantling of major laws, including the Affordable Care Act, though he may yet kill the law through malign neglect. In the meantime, however, as Mr. Harward’s retreat on Thursday suggests, the chaos carries other risks. A Navy SEAL turned corporate executive, Mr. Harward cited family and financial considerations for refusing the national security job, but privately he was reported to be worried about the effect of a mercurial president on national security decision making. As Gen. Tony Thomas, head of the military’s Special Operations Command, said this week: “Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon, because we’re a nation at war.”    

The most damaging downside to the administration’s stumbles could be an exodus of talent from the broader government; scientists, lawyers and policy specialists at the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, are openly disheartened at the prospect of working for Scott Pruitt, whose nomination as the agency’s new boss was approved by the Senate on Friday. And if others follow Mr. Hayward’s lead, capable people may be reluctant to come on board and fix things. That would leave the White House further isolated, particularly on foreign policy.

Indeed, unless Mr. Trump can bring some semblance of order to his official household and governing style, the only element of his famous campaign pledge that may prove accurate is the “alone” part.


Donald Trump Rants about the Media, Hillary Clinton, and his Electoral College Victory on a Day Without Immigrants!

Dear Commons Community,

During a press conference yesterday, Donald Trump ranted about the biased media, Hillary Clinton and his electoral college win while immigrants around the country stayed home and did not go to work.  As reported in the New York Times:

“It first spread on social media, rippling through immigrant communities like the opposite of fear and rumor: a call to boycott…Around the country, many cooks, carpenters, plumbers and grocery store owners decided to answer it and not work on Thursday as part of a national “day without immigrants” in protest of the Trump administration’s policies toward them.

The protest called for immigrants, whether naturalized citizens or undocumented, to stay home from work or school, close their businesses and abstain from shopping. People planned for it in restaurant staff meetings, on construction sites and on commuter buses, but the movement spread mostly on Facebook and via WhatsApp, the messaging service. No national group organized the action.

“It’s like the Arab Spring,” said Manuel Castro, the executive director of NICE, short for New Immigrant Community Empowerment, which works primarily with Hispanic immigrant day laborers in Jackson Heights, Queens. “Our members were coming to us, asking what the plan was. Frankly, it kind of came out of nowhere.”

But what began as a grass-roots movement quickly reached the highest levels of federal government. In Washington, the Pentagon warned its employees that a number of its food concessions, including Sbarro’s, Starbucks and Taco Bell, were closed because immigrant employees had stayed home and that they could expect longer lines at restaurants that were open.

Restaurants, from San Francisco to Phoenix to Washington, D.C., were some of the most visible spots affected, with well-known chefs closing some of their eateries for the day in support. Rick Bayless, the Chicago chef and owner of the Frontera Grill, closed several of his restaurants and said he would give a portion of the revenue from the ones that remained open to an immigrant and refugee rights group.

“What really makes our country great is the diversity we experience here,” Mr. Bayless said in an interview. “I can’t say enough about the lack of respect and the fear-mongering and hate-mongering that I’m sensing around us these days.”

Sadly, so much of the fear-mongering and hate-mongering has been fueled by the White House!



Neighborhood Bookstores Join the Anti-Trump Movement!

Dear Commons Community,

Neighborhood bookstores around the country are becoming focal points in the anti-Trump movement.  Here is an excerpt from New York Times article describing what is going on.

“A hundred people packed a bookstore in Brooklyn to write postcards to elected officials and, as the invitation urged, “plot next steps.” In St. Louis, bookstore owners began planning a writer-studded event to benefit area refugees. At a bookshop in Massachusetts, a manager privately asked his senior staff members how the store should respond to the Trump presidency.

“Go hard,” they told him.

In the diffuse and suddenly fierce protest movement that has sprung up on the left since President Trump took office, bookstores have entered the fray, taking on roles ranging from meeting place to political war room.

Many stores have distributed information for customers who are mobilizing against Mr. Trump’s actions: his cabinet choices, his threat to cut off funding for sanctuary cities and his immigration bans on refugees and many Muslims. At City Stacks, a bookstore in Denver, employees printed out forms with elected officials’ contact information in a gentle nudge to customers.

On Inauguration Day, Broadway Books in Portland, Ore., handed out free copies of “We Should All Be Feminists,” a book-length call to arms by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the novelist.

All over the country, independent bookstores have filled their windows and displays with “1984,” by George Orwell; “It Can’t Happen Here,” by Sinclair Lewis; and other books on politics, fascism, totalitarianism and social justice. Booksellers have begun calling the front table devoted to those titles the #Resist table.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘We’ve turned our store over to the revolution,’” said Hannah Oliver Depp, the operations manager for Word, which has bookstores in New Jersey and New York. “I do think that it is going to fundamentally change bookstores and book selling.”

The pen is mightier than the sword!