Ezra Klein: Donald Trump’s nomination is the first time American politics has left me truly afraid!

Dear Commons Community,

Ezra Klein, editor-in-chief for Vox News, sounded off on Donald Trump yesterday.  Below is his column.  There is nothing more that I need to add.



Donald Trump’s nomination is the first time American politics has left me truly afraid! by Ezra Klein

Tonight, Donald J. Trump accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president of the United States.

And I am, for the first time since I began covering American politics, genuinely afraid.

Donald Trump is not a man who should be president. This is not an ideological judgment. This is not something I would say about Mitt Romney or Marco Rubio. This is not a disagreement over Donald Trump’s tax plan or his climate policies. This is about Trump’s character, his temperament, his impulsiveness, his basic decency.

Back in February, I wrote that Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he’s a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he’s also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it’s hard to know if he even realizes he’s lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.

He has had plenty of time to prove me, and everyone else, wrong. But he hasn’t. He has not become more responsible or more sober, more decent or more generous, more considered or more informed, more careful or more kind. He has continued to retweet white supremacists, make racist comments, pick unnecessary fights, contradict himself on the stump, and show an almost gleeful disinterest in building a real campaign or learning about policy.

He has, instead, run a campaign based on stoking fear and playing to resentment. His speech tonight invoked a nightmarish American hellscape that doesn’t actually exist. His promise to restore order made him sound like the aspiring strongman his critics fear him to be. “I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end,” he said. “Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored.”

Here is what we know — truly know — about Trump. Here is why he should not be president.

Trump is vindictive. So far, the unifying theme of Trump’s convention is that the leader of the opposition party should be thrown in jail. Trump didn’t like the Washington Post’s coverage of his campaign, so he barred its reporters from his rallies and threatened to use the power of the presidency to bring an antitrust suit against the Post’s owner, Jeff Bezos.

He was upset that Ohio didn’t vote for him, so he sat its delegation in the cheap seats, even though the state is hosting the convention. He was angry about an interview his ex-ghostwriter gave to the New Yorker, so he sent his lawyers after him. He hates the protesters who interrupt his campaigns, so he said he would look into paying the legal fees of a supporter who sucker-punched one of them.

Imagine Donald Trump with the powers of the presidency. Imagine what he could do — what he would do — to those who crossed him.

Trump is a bigot. Donald Trump kicked off his campaign calling Mexican immigrants murderers and rapists. He responded to Ted Cruz’s surge in Iowa by calling for a ban on Muslim travel. He sought to discredit a US-born judge by saying his rulings were suspect because of his “Mexican heritage.” Trump’s campaign is certainly the first time in my memory that a sitting speaker of the House has had to describe something his party’s nominee said as “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

This is not a man who should be put in charge of an increasingly diverse country that needs to find allies in an increasingly diverse world.

Trump is a sexist. Stories of Trump’s casual sexism abound, but during the campaign, it was women who questioned him who felt the full force of his misogyny. The first Republican debate, for instance, was hosted by Fox News and moderated by Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace. Kelly wasn’t obviously tougher on Trump than her colleagues, but she was the antagonist he focused on, retweeting a follower who said she was “a bimbo” and saying she had “blood coming out of her … wherever.”

After Carly Fiorina challenged him in a debate, Trump said to Rolling Stone, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” After Hillary Clinton needed to take a bathroom break during a debate, Trump told the crowd, “It’s too disgusting. Don’t say it, it’s disgusting.”

It’s not just during political campaigns that this side of Trump emerges. Trump once toldhis friend Philip Johnson that the secret to women was “[y]ou have to treat ’em like shit.”

Trump is a liar. Trump boasts constantly that he had the judgment and foresight to oppose the Iraq War. But he didn’t. On September 11, 2002, Trump was asked by Howard Stern whether he supported the invasion of Iraq. “Yeah, I guess so,” he replied. Trump has not sought to explain these comments or offer evidence of an alternative judgment he offered elsewhere. He just lies about this, and he does so often.

But that’s true for Trump across many issues. He says his health care plan will insure everyone, when it will do nothing of the kind. He says his tax plan raises taxes on the wealthy when it actually cuts them sharply. Trump has lied about his net worth, hisreasons for not releasing his tax returns, and his charitable donations. He lies easily, fluently, shamelessly, constantly.

Trump is a narcissist. Trump’s towering self-regard worked for him as a real estate developer. His real business was licensing his name out for building, menswear, golf courses, steaks. A bit of a narcissism is necessary to become a global brand. But the trait is maladaptive in a presidential candidate.

The most recent example was the 28 minutes he spent talking about himself when he was supposed to be introducing Mike Pence, his vice presidential candidate, for the first time. The most grotesque example was when he responded to the deadliest mass shooting in American history by tweeting, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”

Trump admires authoritarian dictators for their authoritarianism. When MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asked Trump about his affection for Vladimir Putin, who “kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries,” Trump replied, “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.”

But it’s not just Putin. Trump has praised Saddam Hussein because “he killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights.” He said “you’ve got to give [Kim Jong Un] credit. He goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss. It’s incredible.” It’s not just that Trump admires these authoritarians; it’s that the thing he admires about them is their authoritarianism — their ability to dispense with niceties like a free press, due process, and political opposition.

Trump is a conspiracy theorist. Trump burst onto the scene as a leader of the absurd “birther” movement. He’s said that Bill Ayers is the real author of Barack Obama’sDreams From My Father, explained that the unemployment rate in America is really over 40 percent, and suggested that both Antonin Scalia and Vince Foster were murdered.

Trump is very, very gullible. This is related to his conspiracy theories, but Trump has a habit of believing and retweeting bad information that sounds good to him at the time.

This has led to, among other things, Trump retweeting false crime statistics, Trumpretweeting Mussolini quotes from a Twitter account called Il Duce, Trump promoting a fake video claiming a protester who rushed his stage was sent by ISIS, and Trumpendorsing a National Enquirer report suggesting Ted Cruz’s dad helped kill JFK. When pressed about these sundry embarrassments, Trump said, “All I know is what’s on the internet.”

That’s a reasonable response from your uncle who forwards you weird email chains, but not from a presidential candidate.

Trump doesn’t apologize, and his defensiveness escalates situations. On Monday night, it became very clear that Melania Trump’s 2016 convention speech had lifted two paragraphs from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech. The error was an embarrassment, but it could have been dispatched quickly by simply admitting fault and apologizing.

Instead, the Trump campaign turned it into a multi-day story and a character issue by denying anything had happened and blaming Hillary Clinton. This is “an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down,” said campaign chair Paul Manafort, in one of the most genuinely ridiculous comments in recent American history.

The campaign also tried to argue that Michelle Obama doesn’t own the English language, and that similar language was used by Twilight Sparkle, a My Little Pony (I’m serious). Finally, days later, the Trump campaign admitted there was plagiarism and blamed a miscommunication between Melania and her speechwriter.

A similar pattern played out when Trump tweeted an anti-Hillary meme that superimposed a Star of David atop a pile of money and accused Clinton of corruption. The image was obviously anti-Semitic, and the Trump campaign quickly took it down. But Trump himself went on a Twitter rampage, arguing that what was clearly a Star of David was actually just a sheriff’s star, or maybe just a regular old star, and that the campaign shouldn’t have removed the offending meme in the first place.

So far, these examples are farce, but as Tim Lee writes, this tendency in the Oval Office could lead to tragedy: “[Trump’s] behavior on the campaign trail suggests that he would be unlikely to admit mistakes and defuse tense situations. Instead, his first instinct would be to escalate every conflict in an effort to bully foreign adversaries into giving him his way. That might work in some cases. But in others — especially against powerful countries like China or Russia — the results could be disastrous.”

Trump surrounds himself with sycophants. It’s tradition for presidential candidates to release a note from their physician testifying to their fitness to fulfill the duties of the presidency. On December 14, Donald Trump submitted his entry to this quadrennial custom.

“If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” Dr. Harold Bornstein writes. “His blood pressure, 110/65, and laboratory test results were astonishingly excellent. … His physical strength and stamina are extraordinary.”

This is … not how most doctor notes read. “Reached for comment regarding this, a spokesperson at the American Medical Association just giggled,” reported the Daily Beast.

There are many positions where one might accept a pliable crony. But “personal physician” should not be one of them. The fact that Trump would entrust his health to a doctor who would sign off on a note like this should terrify his family and friends. But more than that, it should disqualify him from the presidency.

Trump has proven too lazy to learn about policy. Trump didn’t know much about policy when the campaign started, and as far as anyone can tell, he hasn’t made any obvious effort to rectify that.

The latest and most damaging example is his interview with the New York Times, in which he said he would not automatically defend NATO countries against attack from Russia. It’s not obvious Trump meant to say that, or even knew what saying that meant, as Manafort immediately began denying Trump had ever said it. (The Times subsequently released a transcript showing that, yes, Trump had said it.)

But this is a pattern for Trump, who doesn’t bother to come up with convincing answers even to obvious questions, and definitely has not put in the time to develop a deep understanding of the issues he might face as president. As Matt Yglesias wrote, this is very much a choice Trump has made. “Trump is now the GOP nominee, and there are hundreds of professional Republican Party politicians and operatives around the country who would gladly help him become a sharper, better-informed candidate. It doesn’t happen because he can’t be bothered.”

Trump has run an incompetent campaign and convention. As brilliant as Trump has been in securing media attention for himself and channeling the anxieties of conservative voters, he hasn’t bothered to build a real campaign organization, and his convention has been a festival of unforced errors.

This is the context of Melania Trump’s plagiarism, of Ted Cruz’s anti-endorsement, of the night that was supposed to be about jobs and the economy but was actually about Benghazi and jailing Hillary Clinton. In isolation, these are gaffes, mistakes, bad luck. Together, though, they tell a damning story of organizational incompetence.

The most generous interpretation of this is that Trump is capable of running an effective organization, but he’s just not interested in conventions and field operations in the way he is interested in golf courses and condos. Others have certainly testified to the trouble Trump has focusing on tasks that don’t engage him. His former ghostwriter says, “He has no attention span.” Unfortunately, the president actually needs to focus on all kinds of dull and unpleasant tasks.

Trump is a bully. Trump won the Republican nomination by proving that even adults can be bullied with schoolyard taunts. There was “low-energy Jeb,” and “Little Marco,” and “Lyin’ Ted,” and now we’ve got “Crooked Hillary.” Trump made fun of Rand Paul’s looks and Chris Christie’s weight and Carly Fiorina’s face and a New York Times reporter’s physical disability.

It seems like this shouldn’t have to be said, but it’s better to be kind than cruel, and there’s a deep, instinctual cruelty in Trump — he finds people’s weak spots, their insecurities, and he exposes them in front of crowds.

Trump has regularly incited or justified violence among his supporters. At a rally in St. Louis, Donald Trump lamented that “nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.”

Yes, lamented.

The topic was protesters, and Trump’s frustration was clear. “They’re being politically correct the way they take them out,” he sighed. “Protesters, they realize there are no consequences to protesting anymore. There used to be consequences. There are none anymore.”

Earlier in the campaign, two of Trump’s supporters attacked a homeless Mexican man and told the police, “Donald Trump was right — all these illegals need to be deported.” Trump’s response? “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.”

The simple fact of it is that Donald Trump should not be president of the United States. That is not because he is too conservative, as some Democrats would have it, or because he is not conservative enough, as many Republicans would have it. It’s because the presidency is a powerful job where mistakes can kill millions, and whoever holds it needs to take that power seriously and wield it responsibly. Trump has had ample opportunity to demonstrate his sense of seriousness and responsibility. He has failed.

It is said that the benefit of America’s long presidential campaigns is they offer the candidates time to show us who they really are. Trump has shown us who he really is. He is a person who should not be president. That he is being brought this close to the presidency — that he is one major mistake by Hillary Clinton away from winning it — should scare us all. It certainly scares me.


Donald Trump’s Acceptance Speech:  Dark, Negative, and No Substance!

Dear Commons Community,

I endured Donald Trump’s acceptance speech last night at the Republican National Convention with pain and concern.  He did not speak but shouted almost the entire time.  His comments were negative, foreboding, angry, and strident without one specific proposal on how he would change anything.  And he repeated the same narratives over and over again throughout his speech. According to “The Donald” everything about President Obama and Hillary Clinton is a disaster. He invoked his law and order theme repeatedly but not once did he mention the criminal justice system.  He pandered to the LGBT community by promising he would protect them from terrorists. Perhaps the most awful part of his speech was how he characterized immigrants as the cause of all of the crime in this country.  Below is today’s New York Times editorial that comes to many of the same conclusions.

What was of greatest concern to me was the applause and cheers he got from the Republican Party faithful who were present in the audience.  As an aside, as the camera panned the arena, I saw only two African-Americans in the crowd.  I am not a fan of Ted Cruz but at least, he showed some principle on Wednesday by refusing to endorse Trump.  



Donald Trump’s Campaign of Fear


July 22, 2016


Donald Trump ascended the dais on Thursday night as the most improbable of Republican presidential nominees.

What historical shift, what tremors in American culture, yielded up Mr. Trump’s moment from the depths of the national id? How did a braggadocious Manhattan billionaire with a history of dodgy business deals convince 13 million people feeling battered by a changing world that he is their solution? Chutzpah, reality TV and a hyperactive Twitter account are part of the answer. But Mr. Trump’s nomination is also a referendum on the Republican Party, delivered by working people fed up with leaders who want their votes but don’t address their struggles.

Given a chance to replace the empty sloganeering and self-aggrandizement of his primary campaign with solid proposals worthy of Americans’ trust, Mr. Trump made clear that he instead intends to terrify voters into supporting him, who will protect them from violence, a word that occurs over and over in his remarks.

Asserting that his nomination comes at a moment of national crisis, of “poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad,” Mr. Trump offered no solutions beyond his messianic portrayal of himself. “Every day I wake up determined to deliver a better life for the people all across this nation that have been neglected, ignored, and abandoned,” he says in advance excerpts from his speech.

The dark vision of America advanced by Mr. Trump is one in which immigrants, including immigrant families, are prime sources of “violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities.” Abroad, America is a disrespected, humiliated nation.

This is not only factually false, it’s a wildly distorted view of all the nation stands for. One would think that if Mr. Trump believed this dystopia existed, he would have a clear and detailed plan for change. But, as always, he has only his empty sales pitch to offer — “I’m with you, I will fight for you, and I will win for you,” he says.

Mr. Trump trounced 16 rivals and won 37 states by crude, boastful force. Refusing ever to acknowledge error, he has aimed to “knock the hell” out of all who rejected his vision of an America made great again, denying inconvenient facts or inventing convenient ones.

The more he was dismissed by Republican politicians, the more he fired up voters angered by the same treatment. In the end virtually nobody in active Republican leadership stood up to him. He dispatched Jeb Bush, scion of the party’s old guard, early on. When the House speaker, Paul Ryan, didn’t immediately endorse Mr. Trump, he lashed out, saying that Mr. Ryan was “not ready” to support his big-think agenda. Soon after, Mr. Ryan crumpled, and now, almost daily, he offers weak defenses of Mr. Trump’s ideas and conduct.

Ted Cruz, Mr. Trump’s chief primary rival, has emerged as one of the few Republicans to look beyond this political cycle, consider his own honor, and refuse to truckle to the nominee. Mr. Trump savaged Mr. Cruz during the primaries, sowing doubts about his citizenship, encouraging misogynistic attacks on his wife, and implying that his father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Mr. Cruz used his prime-time convention speaking slot on Wednesday to exact revenge, speaking for more than 20 minutes without endorsing Mr. Trump, while the candidate stewed.

It was doubtless a calculated move on Mr. Cruz’s part, but it was refreshing to see Mr. Trump at last reap some consequences for his vile tactics.

The consequences for the Republican Party still lie ahead. Mr. Trump emerged as a political force with the racist claim that President Obama was not born in the United States. He has since sought advantage by playing to disaffected people’s worst instincts, inventing scapegoats and conspiracy theories, waging and inciting vicious attacks on those who disagree with him. He is a poisonous messenger for a legitimate demand: that an ossified party dedicate itself to improving working people’s lives, instead of serving the elite.

Senator Ted Cruz Causes Chaos at Republican Convention:  Refuses to Endorse Trump!

Cruz Trump Convention

Dear Commons Community,

Senator Ted Cruz was booed off the stage after declining to endorse Donald Trump during his speech last night at the Republican Party National Convention and instead told the audience to “vote your conscience” in November.

“To those listening, please, don’t stay home in November,” Cruz said. “Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.”

Boos immediately erupted from the audience as attendees started chanting, “We want Trump!”

The photo above snapped by a Getty Images photographer captured the Trump family’s reaction to Cruz’s speech before the Republican National Convention — they looked flabbergasted as did most of the conventioneers and I am sure much of the television audience. 

Cruz was warmly welcome by the audience when he first came out.  He started his speech by congratulating Trump on winning the nomination and earned sustained applause as he laid out a conservative agenda for the party.  However, as reported by The Huffington Post:

“…the crowd, led by the New York delegation, grew notably restless as the speech went on and Cruz refused to mention Trump’s name. Cruz acknowledged them ― “I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation” ― but kept soldiering on, a slight smirk on his face. 

The restlessness turned to outright jeers when Cruz told the crowd to “vote your conscience” ― a phrase that has been adopted by the group of Republicans who had asked delegates to not coronate Trump as the nominee. And when he declared that Republicans are “fighting, not for one particular candidate or one campaign,” the boos began.

Trump’s children looked on from their box seats, stoic and not applauding. 

As the speech entered its closing stages, Cruz had completely lost the crowd. Screams of “endorse” came from the rafters. John Antoniello, the Chairman of the Staten Island GOP, helped lead them.

“It didn’t seem to me he was ever going to say it,” Antoniello told The Huffington Post.

If the situation wasn’t chaotic enough, it rose a level higher in that moment. In an act of pure showmanship, the room’s eyes turned back to that Trump booth. The candidate had perfectly timed his entrance to take away attention from his former primary foe.”

Great theater and so much for party unity!


Roger Ailes Negotiating His Departure from Fox News!

Dear Commons Community,

Roger Ailes, the Chairman of Fox News, is negotiating his departure from the cable news corporation, in light of allegations of sexual harassment.  As reported by the New York Times:

Roger Ailes’s tenure as the head of Fox News appears to be over.

Mr. Ailes and 21st Century Fox, Fox News’s parent company, are in the advanced stages of discussions that would lead to his departure as chairman, Susan Estrich, one of Mr. Ailes’s lawyers, said in an interview on Tuesday.

The development follows a sexual harassment suit filed on July 6 against Mr. Ailes by a former anchor, Gretchen Carlson. The suit prompted 21st Century Fox to conduct an internal review and it set off an intense round of speculation in the news media and the television industry about Mr. Ailes’s future at Fox News.

On Tuesday, the sides were negotiating terms that could include Mr. Ailes’s staying on in a consulting role for Fox News. Ms. Estrich said nothing had been finalized about what sort of continuing role he could have at the network.

“Roger is at work,” 21st Century Fox said in a statement. “The review is ongoing. And the only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement.”

Mr. Ailes’s exit would be a humbling and startlingly sudden fall from power for a man who started Fox News from scratch 20 years ago and built it into a top-rated cable news network and a critical profit center for 21st Century Fox. Along the way, Mr. Ailes, a former Republican operative, established Fox News as the leading media platform for conservative politics. He also minted prime-time stars like Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Greta Van Susteren.

Mr. Ailes, 76, has also long been at the center of Republican politics, and the timing of the discussions between Mr. Ailes and 21st Century Fox was remarkable, occurring on the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

News of Mr. Ailes’s impending exit landed like a shock wave in Cleveland, where many of the nation’s leading television executives and personalities were gathered in tight quarters. Several Fox anchors who were approached on Tuesday afternoon declined to comment on Mr. Ailes’s fate, many having followed developments from the chaotic convention scene.

Rupert Murdoch, who was on vacation with his wife, Jerry Hall, on the French Riviera, had been in constant telephone contact with his sons, James and Lachlan, on the matter, according to a person familiar with the discussions. All three were in agreement on Mr. Ailes’s fate, the person said, though the moment was particularly poignant for the elder Mr. Murdoch, whose successful partnership with Mr. Ailes spanned more than two decades. Both James and Lachlan have had disagreements with Mr. Ailes over the years.

One of the people who participated in the investigation was the network’s most popular female star, Ms. Kelly. She told investigators that Mr. Ailes had made advances toward her multiple times in the past, according to two people briefed on the matter. (Ms. Kelly’s accusations were first reported by New York magazine.) Other employees also told the investigators that they had been harassed by Mr. Ailes, one of the people briefed on the matter said.

In a statement, Ms. Estrich, Mr. Ailes’s lawyer, said: “Roger Ailes has never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly. In fact, he has spent much of the last decade promoting and helping her to achieve the stardom she earned, for which she has repeatedly and publicly thanked him.”

Ms. Kelly’s lawyer, Willis J. Goldsmith, said in a statement, “Megyn Kelly has made no public comment on the matter, nor will she while the review is pending, other than to say she has cooperated with the inquiry fully and truthfully.”

Roger Ailes made a lot of money for Rupert Murdoch and 21st Century Fox, and for that he should be congratulated.  However, much of the programming during his tenure was more conservative talk show and vitriol than news with many reporters regularly spinning every story and segment to fit a conservative and Republican Party ideology.   


First Day of the Republican Convention:  Quick Recap!

Dear Commons Community,

The media is awash reporting and commenting on the first day of the Republican Convention. Summaries are readily available in the newspapers, social media, and televised programs.  My own quick impressions were as follows:

The Convention opened with an interesting floor fight precipitated by the last vestiges of the Never-Trump Movement.  Some pundits called it a rebellion, others called it a minor squabble.

The theme of Making America safe again resonated well with the attendees.

Donald Trump’s wife Melania did an effective job in letting the audience know more about who she was. [Later this morning, it was reported that parts of Melania’s speech were plagiarized from a speech given by Michelle Obama in 2008]

Rudy Giuliani was his usual bombastic self.  Many of us in New York view him as a very divisive figure whose comments about minorities are usually outlandish and hurtful.  He played well to the Republican crowd.


Michael Feinstein:  Compares Adaptive Learning to Driverless Cars!

Dear Commons Community,

Michael Feinstein, of MindWires Consulting, had an op-ed piece in yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education, cautioning against the hype that some adaptive learning companies are generating regarding their products.  He compares adaptive learning to driverless cars.  He feels both have been over-hyped by their proponents. He specifically calls out the adaptive learning supplier Knewton:

“Knewton, has been endlessly mocked by many involved with educational for making exaggerated claims about the power of his products.

Among its choice pronouncements:

  • “We think of [our product] like a robot tutor in the sky that can semi-read your mind and figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are, down to the percentile.”
  • “We can take the combined data power of millions of students — all the people who are just like you — [who] had to learn a particular concept before, that you have to learn today — to find the best pieces of content, proven most effective for people just like you, and give that to you every single time.”

Feinstein advises:

“The truth is that Knewton’s mixed messages are different from those of many other adaptive-learning vendors in degree rather than kind. They will all tell you that they respect teachers and are not trying to replace them. Many will then quickly move on to tout the ability of their products to fill vital teaching functions without explaining the relationship between those two claims.

The very best adaptive learning products on the market are closely analogous to Level 2 autonomous cars. They combine several types of assistive technology that can be very useful in certain circumstances but are not anywhere close to being full human replacements. When it comes to teaching with these technologies, professors still need to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

The over-the-top marketing by some vendors encourages irresponsible behavior that can lead to students getting hurt.”

Feinstein’s advice should be well taken.  Digital technology in all areas of endeavor [not just education] has frequently been over-hyped.  In the 1980s, we used the term vaporware to characterize technology that “vaporizes” when trying to live up to its advertising.  Educators would indeed be wise to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.


In Age of Isis, Who is a Terrorist and Who is Deranged?

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article this morning that examines differences between acts of violence carried out by trained terrorists and those carried out by deranged individuals. Here is an excerpt:

“In December 2014, a middle-aged man driving a car in Dijon, France, mowed down more than a dozen pedestrians within 30 minutes, occasionally shouting Islamic slogans from his window.

The chief prosecutor in Dijon described the attacks, which left 13 injured but no one dead, as the work of a mentally unbalanced man whose motivations were vague and “hardly coherent.”

A year and a half later, after Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel slaughtered dozens of people when he drove a 19-ton refrigerated truck through a Bastille Day celebration on Thursday in Nice, France, the authorities did not hesitate to call it an act of Islamic terrorism. The attacker had a record of petty crime but no obvious ties to a terrorist group, yet the French prime minister swiftly said Mr. Lahouaiej Bouhlel was “a terrorist probably linked to radical Islam one way or another.”

The age of the Islamic State, in which the tools of terrorism appear increasingly crude and haphazard, has led to a reimagining of the common notion of who is and who is not a terrorist.

Instances of wanton violence by deranged attackers — whether in Nice or in Orlando, Fla. — are swiftly judged to be the work of terrorists. These judgments occur even when there is little immediate evidence that the attackers had direct ties to terrorist groups and when they do not fit a classic definition of terrorists as those who use violence to advance a political agenda.

“A lot of this stuff is at the fringes of what we would historically think of as terrorism,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism and a professor at Dartmouth College. But, he said, “the Islamic State and jihadism has become a kind of refuge for some unstable people who are at the end of their rope and decide they can redeem their screwed-up lives” by dying in the name of a cause.

Mr. Benjamin said this also led the news media and government officials to treat violence like the Nice attack differently from other mass attacks, like shootings at schools and churches that have been carried out by non-Muslims.

 “If there is a mass killing and there is a Muslim involved, all of a sudden it is by definition terrorism,” he said.

The spectrum of terrorism is widening and now includes attacks loosely inspired by the Islamic State, those carried out by its affiliate groups and attacks directed by the group’s leadership. All have drawn public condemnation and concern, but the plots organized and executed by the Islamic State usually prompt greater concern from the authorities.

On Saturday, a bulletin on the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency channel described Mr. Lahouaiej Bouhlel as a “soldier of the Islamic State” who answered a call to attack nations involved in the military campaign against the group. But the bulletin gave no specifics about the extent of the attacker’s ties to the terrorist network.

On one hand, there is now good reason for government officials to make immediate assumptions after some mass killings that the Islamic State has played a role, however indirect. The group’s ideology, spread widely through social media and slick propaganda videos, appears to have inspired a scourge of violence for more than a year: including the shooting in December in San Bernardino, Calif.; the mass killings last month at a gay nightclub in Orlando; and the deadly attack early this month at a cafe in Bangladesh. These were in addition to attacks that top Islamic State operatives apparently planned directly, like the Paris assaults in November and the Brussels bombings in March.”

The article conclusion is most illuminating.

William McCants, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and the author of “The ISIS Apocalypse,” said there was a large cadre of “men and women who have no organizational ties to ISIS but murder in its name.” These irreligious criminals and social misfits, whom he described as “ISIS-ish,” are “rebels looking for a cause,” he said.

During congressional testimony last week, Nicholas J. Rasmussen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, gave a sober assessment of the broad campaign against the Islamic State. “It is our judgment that ISIL’s ability to carry out terrorist attacks in Syria, Iraq and abroad has not to date been significantly diminished,” he said.

“Either lone actors or small, insular groups continue to gravitate toward simple tactics that do not require advance skills or outside training,” he said.

The murderous truck-driving rampage by Mr. Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, a Tunisian-born Frenchman, is the embodiment of this phenomenon. The authorities in France are still trying to piece together what direct ties, if any, Mr. Lahouaiej Bouhlel had to the Islamic State.

On Saturday, the Islamic State’s Bayan radio station said Mr. Lahouaiej Bouhlel had used “a new tactic” to wreak havoc.

“The crusader countries know that no matter how much they enforce their security measures and procedures, it will not stop the mujahedeen from striking,” the station said.

Such ominous warnings about indiscriminate violence create formidable challenges for world leaders, who must strike a balance of raising awareness about the terrorist threat without gratuitously stoking fears.

“As for how governments can calm their citizens, I’m at a loss,” Mr. McCants said.

“Every attack is discussed endlessly on television and social media, which heightens fear of future attacks, makes citizens scared of one another” and puts pressure on governments to look tough, he said.

And, he added, it “gives politicians a cudgel to club their governing opponents when they don’t react strongly enough.”



More Senseless Violence:  This Time in Baton Rouge!

Baton Rouge

Dear Commons Community,

By now most of you have heard that three policemen were shot to death in Baton Rouge this morning by a gunman who probably acted alone.  Every other day, there is some tragedy that is going on in the world where innocents are killed.  In the space of few days, we have had more than eighty people mowed down by a truck in Nice, an aborted coup in Turkey where hundreds of people were killed, and now policemen murdered in Baton Rouge.  Different countries and different circumstances.

In Baton Rouge, the gunman was identified as Gavin Long of Kansas City, Missouri, a US Marine veteran who was a data specialist and served one tour in Iraq.  Local and national government leaders are calling for calm and sympathy for the victims.  The sheriff in the Louisiana parish where the killings occurred said in an interview that “all of us need to look in our hearts to solve our problem.  It is not a black problem or a white problem, it is our problem.”



Horror Week and Trump Picks Mike Pence as His Vice Presidential Running Mate!

Dear Commons Community,

During this hellish week of news with the killing of innocents in Nice, a bloody aborted coup attempt in Turkey, and Newt Gingrich calling for loyalty tests of all Muslims, Donald Trump has picked Mike Pence (Republican Governor of Indiana) as his vice presidential running mate.  Mr. Trump’s choice came down to Pence, Chris Christie, and Newt Gingrich.  Of these three finalists, Pence was probably the best choice. 

Chris Christie has fallen very far from the can-do governor he once was in New Jersey.  After bridge-gate, his popularity plummeted in his home state.  On the Trump tour, he has looked more like a gofer than a political leader.  He also would have little appeal in much of the country outside of the northeast.

Newt Gingrich is a bitter ex-politician who is good in debates and a favorite with the Fox News crowd but his political future burned when he attempted to shut down the government when he was speaker of the house during the Clinton presidency.  Clinton called his bluff and the Republicans backed down and his House colleagues wanted Gingrich out. 

That leaves Mike Pence who is the best candidate that Trump has at this time.  It will be interesting to see how Pence gets along with Trump. The Huffington Post in a piece yesterday commented:

“Many have questioned how Pence will mesh with Trump, as speculation grew this week about the Indiana governor being tapped for the VP slot. Pence is pro-trade and pro-Iraq War, two positions that directly conflict with Trump’s campaign platform. And he didn’t even support Trump earlier this year.

Pence penned an op-ed in May ahead of the Indiana GOP primary, giving a half-hearted endorsement to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R). At the same time, he gave an interview in which he was careful to “particularly commend” Trump for “giving voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans with the lack of progress in Washington, D.C.”

Not everyone bought Pence’s diplomatic approach, however.

The National Review’s Tim Alberta reported in April that longtime friends of Pence’s said the governor “loathes” Trump. Alberta stood by that reporting on Friday.”  

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Next week we have the Republican National Convention and right after there will be the Hillary watch as she decides who her running mate will be.



The Future of MOOCs:  Daphne Koller Interview!

Dear Commons Community,

The MOOC era to some degree has come and gone.  Or has it?  Daphne Koller, the founder of Coursera, gave an interview with The Chronicle of Education and discusses this question.   A transcript of the interview and the podcast is available.

I think Dr. Koller makes a number of interesting comments.  For instance, she readily admits that MOOCs were overhyped in their early days and are still trying to overcome their rocky start.  Second, she indicated that Coursera has 145 partners around the world.  She also indicated that MOOCs are being used in ten different languages and that there is a lot of interest in the international community especially those countries that have limited on-ground campuses and growing populations that want more higher education opportunities.  For me her most important comment about the future especially as applied to mainstream American higher education was that:

“ I [Koller] think what we learned is the extent to which, once you have learners or students who know their own mind, what they’re looking for is so very different than the kind of experience that we’ve been providing on campus. They’re looking for shorter, more-to-the-point modules of knowledge. “

For me the key phrase is “modules of knowledge”.  Coursera and other MOOC providers should think at least for the next 5-7 years about how to integrate their materials into existing academic programs.  In addition to full courses, MOOC providers should consider providing modules that faculty can blend into their courses.  In a sense, merge the pedagogical benefits of blended courses with the well-developed, cost-effective, access rich nature of MOOC material.

I am one of those who criticized the early deployment of MOOCs, however, they have a place in the future of higher education but the Daphne Kollers of the world need to figure out how to gracefully integrate their product into the mainstream.  Blending their material is the way to go.