Petition PBS to Air Documentary about the Koch Brothers and the Role of Money in American Politics!

Dear Commons Community,

Below is an email from Joe Dinkin of the organization Working Families. Joe started a petition on the MoveOn website.

I have signed it and would encourage you to do so also.


Dear MoveOn Member,

Last month, The New Yorker reported that public television backed out of its deal to air the documentary Citizen Kochjust because they were afraid of upsetting billionaire donor David Koch. David Koch has donated $23 million as a board member of two flagship PBS stations, WNET in New York and WGBH in Boston.

Public television was founded to support the public interest, not to cater to the private interests of wealthy donors like the Koch brothers.

Directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmakers, Citizen Koch exposes the outsize role of money in American politics, from the Kochs and other major political spenders. This is exactly the kind of dialogue that public television was founded to foster, regardless of whether or not a powerful donor is happy about it.

That’s why I started a petition to Corporation for Public Broadcasting President and CEO Patricia de Stacy Harrison, Public Broadcasting Service President and CEO Paula Kerger, and Independent Television Service President and CEO Sally Jo Fifer, which says:

Koch money shouldn’t influence public television programming—we want to see the film Citizen Koch aired on PBS!

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.


–Joe Dinkin

This petition was created on MoveOn’s online petition site, where anyone can start their own online petitions. Working Families didn’t pay us to send this email—we never rent or sell the list.

UCLA Gets Approval to Privatize its M.B.A. Program!

Dear Commons Community,

The University of California at Los Angeles’s business school has won approval from the system’s president, Mark G. Yudof, to transform its full-time M.B.A. program from state-supported to self-supported by tuition and private money. The Anderson School of Management, of the University of California at Los Angeles, has been seeking to opt out of public financial support for several years.   Judy Olian, dean of the Anderson school, described the proposal as a “creative solution” that would allow the cash-strapped university system to reallocate the money to undergraduate programs. “The UC system is arguably the greatest public university system in the world,” she said. “But we’re not going to keep it that way with the old model.”  But critics have  called the controversial plan an effort to privatize part of a public university even though the  final version was less ambitious than the original proposal. A UCLA news release noted the conditions that Mr. Yudof had placed on the program’s change in status, including that the program continue to offer students financial aid at the same level as similar programs across the system.

This is an interesting precedent.  We will have to see if other public university systems consider similar strategies.


Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones – Teaching Might Have Been More Gratifying!

Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press is reporting that during an interview Mick Jagger commented that his original career plan to become a school teacher might have provided plenty of satisfaction. The Rolling Stones lead singer told BBC Radio Friday that his music career has not been challenging intellectually and that teaching might have been “gratifying” instead. He also said he had considered becoming a politician or a journalist when he was a teen. Instead he has become one of the most successful rock singers in history. Despite his interest in other careers, Jagger says he’s “very pleased” with how things have turned out.



New Yorker’s Supreme Court Gay Marriage Decision Cover Features Bert and Ernie!

Bert and Ernie


Dear Commons Community,

The New Yorker magazine’s cover is causing quite a stir in featuring The Muppets Bert and Ernie snuggled together watching the Supreme Court gay marriage decision on television.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“The New Yorker celebrated the Supreme Court’s historic rulings on gay marriage with one of its most awesome covers of all time. It marked the moment by featuring what many people consider to be one of the most famous gay couples in pop culture: Bert and Ernie.

In the magazine’s cover, titled “Bert and Ernie’s Moment Of Joy,” the two Sesame Street characters are shown snuggling together on the couch as they watch the landmark Supreme Court rulings on television.

The magazine wrote that the cover artist, named Jack Hunter, originally submitted the image, unsolicited, to a Tumblr. “It’s amazing to witness how attitudes on gay rights have evolved in my lifetime,” he told the New Yorker’s Culture Desk. “This is great for our kids, a moment we can all celebrate.”

Sesame Street has long denied that Bert and Ernie are anything more than friends, saying in a 2011 statement that the two “do not have a sexual orientation.” Even so, now that the pair have been celebrated as the ultimate gay duo, wouldn’t it be time to bring them a little closer together?”


U.S. Department of Education Releases New Information on College Costs!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Department of Education released its third round of College Affordability and Transparency information on Thursday, calling attention to the nation’s most- and least-expensive colleges.  This information is most timely given the fact that the U.S. Congress is currently debating the rates on federal student loans.

Started in 2011 as a requirement of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, the information—with price lists by sector—is part of a continuing effort to give prospective students and families more information about college. At the same time, the lists call out colleges whose prices are rising most quickly.

As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The tuition for 2011-12 at four-year public colleges rose an average of 15.6 percent, according to the data, while the increase at four-year private nonprofit colleges was 10.2 percent.

At four-year public colleges, tuition ranged from a mere $182 at Haskell Indian Nations University, in Lawrence, Kan., to $16,132 at the University of Pittsburgh, the most expensive for in-state students. While tuition went up more steeply in percentage terms at public colleges, they are less expensive on average than are private institutions.

Elite institutions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions were the most expensive private colleges in terms of tuition. Columbia University had the highest tuition among all private nonprofit colleges in 2011-12—just over $45,000—followed by Sarah Lawrence College, Vassar College, George Washington University, Trinity College, and Carnegie Mellon University, where tuition and fees all exceeded $44,000…

Among public colleges with the lowest net prices, Florida, New York, Puerto Rico, and Texas were all well-represented.”

Nine CUNY colleges are on the list of public four-year colleges with the lowest net prices.



Linda Greenhouse Analyzes the Supreme Court’s Decisions on Affirmative Action, Voting Rights, and Gay Rights!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down major decisions this week on affirmative action, voting rights, and gay rights.  There has been much analysis of each of these decisions.  Linda Greenhouse (author, reporter, and columnist)  in today’s New York Times provides an integrated analysis of all three decisions with some insightful comments about the justices themselves especially John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy.  As an example:

“These have been a remarkable three days, as the Supreme Court finished its term by delivering the only four decisions that most people were waiting for. The 5-to-4 decisions striking down the coverage formula of the Voting Rights Act and the Defense of Marriage Act will go far toward defining the Roberts court, which has concluded its eighth year. Monday’s place-holding ruling on affirmative action in higher education, although it decided very little, is also definitional… There is a great deal to say about each decision, and about how each reflects on the court. My thoughts are preliminary, informed by that phrase in the chief justice’s voting rights opinion: current conditions. “

Worth a read!



Great Day for Gay Rights – Supreme Court Rules on Two Cases!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled favorably for gay rights on two important cases today.

On California’s Proposition 8:

The Supreme Court over-ruled California’s same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8.

By a 5-4 vote, the justices held in Hollingsworth v. Perry that the traditional marriage activists who put Proposition 8 on California ballots in 2008 did not have the constitutional authority, or standing, to defend the law in federal courts after the state refused to appeal its loss at trial.

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

Roberts was joined in his majority opinion by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. Justice Anthony Kennedy filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor.



The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states, is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday by a 5-4 vote.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

Justice Kennedy delivered the court’s opinion, and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito all filed dissenting opinions. Justice Clarence Thomas joined Scalia’s dissent in whole and parts of Alito’s opinion.

As Kennedy read the majority opinion from the bench, cries were heard in the courtroom when the justice delivered the verdict that DOMA violates the Fifth Amendment. A number of same-sex couples sitting in the audience looked up at the ceiling, while others wiped away tears.

DOMA, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, prevented same-sex couples whose marriages were recognized by their home state from receiving the hundreds of benefits available to other married couples under federal law. During the Obama administration, the Justice Department initially defended DOMA in court despite the administration’s desire to repeal it. But the Justice Department changed course in early 2011, finding that the law was unconstitutional and declining to defend it any longer. House Republicans have since spent hundreds of thousands of dollars taking over that defense.”

Congratulations to the attorneys who pleaded these cases especially Ted Olsen, a conservative who saw the discrimination in California’s Proposition 8.



Furious Reactions to Supreme Court Decision on Voting Rights!

Dear Commons Community,

The fallout from yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on voting rights was fast and furious.  NBC legal correspondent Pete Williams said that the Court had struck down a “key part” of the Voting Rights Act by ruling that one of its sections was unconstitutional.  “It’s a huge defeat for the civil rights community on the most important civil rights law ever passed,” he said.

That view was echoed across other networks. ABC’s Terry Moran, for instance, said that “right now, there is no Voting Rights Act operative in the United States.”

Speaking on MSNBC, Al Sharpton called the news “devastating.” Later, he said the Court had “revoked” and “canceled” part of Martin Luther King’s “dream.”

A New York Times editorial stated:

“The conservative majority on the Roberts Court issued another damaging and intellectually dishonest ruling on Tuesday. It eviscerated enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, in which Congress kept the promise of a vote for every citizen. But it did not rule on the constitutional validity of the idea that some places have such strong records of discrimination that they must seek federal approval before they may change their voting rules. Instead, the 5-to-4 ruling usurped Congress’s power and struck down the formula that it has repeatedly reauthorized to determine which states fall into that category.”


Anti-Abortion Bill Passes (Maybe?) in Texas Amid Protests, a Filibuster and Bedlam!

Dear Commons Community,

The fate of a sweeping Texas anti-abortion bill, filibustered for 11 hours by state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), was uncertain today after protesting Texans erupted in “pandemonium” as Republican lawmakers tried to vote before the special legislative session’s midnight expiration.  As reported in The Huffington Post and the New York Times:

With 12 minutes to go before the special session’s end at 12 a.m. local time, Senate Republicans tried to vote on the abortion bill. But the crowd of protesters in the capitol erupted into loud cheers and screams when state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”

Amid the bedlam, it was unclear whether a vote was taken before the clock ran out on the session.  Republicans said it passed, according to the The Austin American-Statesman. Several Democrats told the newspaper the midnight deadline had passed while the vote was still being taken.

The raucous end climaxed Davis’ daylong filibuster, shut down by Senate Republicans 90 minutes before the legislative session expired.

Davis, who took no bathroom breaks and wore a back brace so she would not have to lean on anything, captured the attention of President Barack Obama, lawmakers, celebrities and spectators from around the world as she attempted to fight off Republican efforts to thwart her filibuster.

BRAVA Wendy!




Voting Rights Act – Section 4 Struck Down By Supreme Court!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Supreme Court in a divided 5-4 decision struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which was enacted and signed into law in 1963.  Voting along ideology lines, Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, and Alito were in the majority with Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan in the minority.  As reported in The Huffington Post, below are summaries of the majority and minority opinions:

“The Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, the provision of the landmark civil rights law that designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court.

The 5-4 ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that “things have changed dramatically” in the South in the nearly 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965.

The court’s opinion said it did not strike down the act of Congress “lightly,” and said it “took care to avoid ruling on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act” in a separate case back in 2009. “Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so. Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare [Section 4] unconstitutional. The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.”

The Voting Rights Act has recently been used to block a voter ID law in Texas and delay the implementation of another in South Carolina. Both states are no longer subject to the preclearance requirement because of the court’s ruling on Tuesday.

“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Roberts wrote.

“There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act,” he wrote. “The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.”

In his bench statement, Roberts said that Congress had extended a 40-year-old coverage formula based on “obsolete statistics and that the coverage formula “violates the constitution.”

Congress, the court ruled, “may draft another formula based on current conditions.” But given the fact that Republicans currently control the House of Representatives, many voting rights advocates consider it unlikely that Congress will act to create a new formula.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a wide-ranging dissent on behalf of herself and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, justifying the continued vitality of the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provision.

“The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective,” Ginsburg wrote. “The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclear­ance is no longer needed.”

The court did not rule on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the preclearance requirement itself, which requires those affected states to have changes to their voting laws cleared by the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, D.C., before they go into effect. Rather, the court ruled that the current formula that determines which states are covered by Section 5 is unconstitutional, effectively eliminating Section 5 enforcement, at least for the time being.

“In the Court’s view, the very success of §5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy,” Ginsburg wrote.

She said in her bench statement that in renewing Section 5 in 2006, Congress “found that 40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the 15th Amendment.”

The provision has proven “enormously successful” in increasing minority registration and access to the ballot and preventing a “return to old ways,” Ginsburg said. Even in jurisdictions where discrimination may not be overt, “subtle methods” have emerged to diminish minority turnout, such as racial gerrymandering.

As for Section 4, Ginsburg wrote that “the record for the 2006 reauthorization makes abundantly clear [that] second-generation barriers to minority voting rights have emerged in the covered jurisdictions as at­tempted substitutes for the first-generation barriers that originally triggered preclearance in those jurisdictions.”

“Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan and I are of the view that Congress’ decision to extend the act and keep the formula was a rational one,” Ginsburg said.”

It was rational and is still needed.  This is not a good day for civil rights in the U.S.A.!