President Trump’s Proposed Budget!

Dear Commons Community,

President Donald Trump delivered his proposed budget to Congress yesterday and there are few surprises as to the cuts to domestic programs and the increases in defense, infrastructure, and veterans affairs.  The graphic above says it all but keep in mind that this is only the opening of the budget process.  The Congress even though controlled by Republicans will not support all of Trump’s proposals.

As far as education, the budget illustrates full support for school choice programs championed by Education Secretary Betsy Devos. It includes a $1.4 billion increase for public and private school choice programs while eliminating funding for before- and after-school and summer programs. Federal work-study would also be “significantly reduced” while the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which is reserved for college students with the greatest need for financial aid, would also be eliminated. Funding to historically black colleges would remain the same.  Further information on this and other parts of the President’s proposals  are available here.


Monica Lewinsky and Her Roger Ailes “Nightmare”!

Dear Commons Community,

Last week, Roger Ailes, longtime head of Fox News, died.  There has been lots of commentary on his genius as a media mogul as well as the disgraceful way he treated the women who worked for him. In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, Monica Lewinsky, the center of the Bill Clinton impeachment hearings in the 1990s, gives her opinion of Ailes as “her nightmare.”

Lewinsky has maintained a relatively low public profile regarding her affair with Bill Clinton over the years so her public comments below are a rarity.



Roger Ailes’s Dream Was My Nightmare

By Monica Lewinsky

MAY 22, 2017

This is not another obituary for Roger Ailes, who died last week 10 months after being ousted at Fox News. It is, I hope, instead an obituary for the culture he purveyed — a culture that affected me profoundly and personally.

Just two years after Rupert Murdoch appointed Mr. Ailes to head the new cable news network, my relationship with President Bill Clinton became public. Mr. Ailes, a former Republican political operative, took the story of the affair and the trial that followed and made certain his anchors hammered it ceaselessly, 24 hours a day.

It worked like magic: The story hooked viewers and made them Fox loyalists. For the past 15 years, Fox News has been the No. 1 news station; last year the network made about $2.3 billion.

Some experts have noted that viewers found Fox for the first time because of the crisis. John Moody, a Fox executive editor, reflected on that period: “The Lewinsky saga put us on the news map.” As he put it in another interview: “Monica was a news channel’s dream come true.”

Their dream was my nightmare. My character, my looks and my life were picked apart mercilessly. Truth and fiction mixed at random in the service of higher ratings. My family and I huddled at home, worried about my going to jail — I was the original target of Kenneth Starr’s investigation, threatened with 27 years for having been accused of signing a false affidavit and other alleged crimes — or worse, me taking my own life. Meantime, Mr. Ailes huddled with his employees at Fox News, dictating a lineup of talking heads


For myriad reasons — information gathering, boredom (I couldn’t leave my home without being trailed by paparazzi) and a touch of masochism — I watched the news around the clock. On Fox, it seemed, no rumor was too unsubstantiated, no innuendo too vile and no accusation too abhorrent.

Let’s not pretend that Fox News was the only network to cover this story in the gutter. Mr. Ailes’s station may have pioneered this new style of television reportage, but the other cable news channels didn’t hesitate to join the race to the bottom. In fact, in late 1998, when Keith Olbermann briefly left MSNBC, he expressed disgust with the frequent Lewinsky coverage.

Just as television news was devolving into a modern coliseum, the internet came along and compounded this culture of shame and vitriol. Remember: The story of my affair was not broken by The Washington Post, The New York Times or the networks, but online by the Drudge Report. The comments on television and online were excruciating. I ceased being a three-dimensional person. Instead I became a whore, a bimbo, a slut and worse. Just days after the story broke, Fox asked its viewers to vote on this pressing question: Is Monica Lewinsky an “average girl” or a “young tramp looking for thrills”?

Our world — of cyberbullying and chyrons, trolls and tweets — was forged in 1998. It is, as the historian Nicolaus Mills has put it, a “culture of humiliation,” in which those who prey on the vulnerable in the service of clicks and ratings are handsomely rewarded.

As the past year has revealed, thanks to brave women like Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, it is clear that at Fox, this culture of exploitation wasn’t limited to the screen. The irony of Mr. Ailes’s career at Fox — that he harnessed a sex scandal to build a cable juggernaut and then was brought down by his own — was not lost on anyone who has been paying attention.

There are some positive signs that the younger generation at Fox — James and Lachlan Murdoch — seem to want to change the culture Mr. Ailes created. Last week Bob Beckel, a Fox pundit who made a racist remark to an African-American Fox employee, was dismissed. Would this have happened in the Ailes era?

Although I imagine the desire by the Murdoch brothers to present a clean record to the European Commission reviewing their proposed takeover of Sky News played a role in their thinking, the Murdochs deserve praise for their part in the decision to fire Bill O’Reilly, whose show brought in $100 million a year in ad revenue but who harassed and bullied women he worked with. I hope the Murdochs understand that Americans will no longer tolerate a corporate culture that views hate and harassment as part of running a successful news business.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t have a credible conservative point of view in our media — quite the opposite. If we’ve learned nothing else from the 2016 presidential election, it’s that we must find a way to foster robust and healthy discussion and debate. Our news channels should be just such places.

So, farewell to the age of Ailes. The late Fox chief pledged Americans fair and balanced news. Maybe now we’ll get it.


Notre Dame Students Walk Out of VP Mike Pence’s Commencement Address!



Dear Commons Community,

A group of about one hundred students walked out of the Notre Dame commencement ceremony yesterday in protest of the speaker, Vice President Mike Pence.   As reported by the New York Times:

“Vice President Pence praised Notre Dame, one of the nation’s most prominent Catholic universities, as “a vanguard of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas.” Other schools do not measure up, he said.

“While this institution has maintained an atmosphere of civility and open debate, far too many campuses across America have become characterized by speech codes, safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness — all of which amounts to nothing less than suppression of the freedom of speech,” he said. “These all-too-common practices are destructive of learning and the pursuit of knowledge, and they are wholly outside the America tradition.”

The protest began as Mr. Pence began his remarks at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., where degrees were conferred on 2,081 students. As the students left the stadium, the audience erupted into a mixture of boos and applause.”


Frank Bruni on Trump’s Visit to the Centers of Three Western Religions – “Clutch the Rosary Beads!”

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni comments on Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican. Given the mess he is in, it is fitting that the President is turning to God.  Here is an excerpt:

He has fled the country — not a moment too soon! — for his first foreign excursion since taking office, and it’s less a conventional presidential trip than a roving seminar in world religions: Islam (Saudi Arabia is the first stop), Judaism (Israel is second) and Roman Catholicism (the Vatican is the capper).

I’m especially eager for his communion with Pope Francis, an entry in the annals of odd couples that ranks somewhere just above Oscar and Felix, and below Mork and Mindy.

One of them is splenetic. The other is ascetic. One sins. The other redeems. Cue the metaphors and clutch your rosary beads.

They’ve a history, these two, and it’s not pretty. During the campaign, Francis denounced the notion of a wall along the Mexican border, and Trump didn’t exactly turn the other cheek. “Disgraceful!” he shot back, confirming his willingness to make an adversary of anyone, no matter how tall the miter.

But they can skip over that and look to future matters like the reportedly imminent nomination of Callista Gingrich as America’s next ambassador to the Vatican. She’s Newt’s third wife, who was sleeping with him when he was still married to his second. Time and, it seems, annulments have washed the couple clean.

The president intended his pilgrimage as a statement that the diverse peoples of the world can and should get along — and that he, Trump, had the stature and sway to point them toward peace. This was to be a moment of bold leadership.

But on the heels of the worst two weeks of a ceaselessly beleaguered presidency, it looks more like a hasty retreat. Plus, there’s the continued wonder — the comedy, really — of watching a man so unabashedly profane pay such ostentatious heed to the sacred… 

…Facts are turning out to be as important as attitudes. Every hour brings some fresh mortification for his administration. A special counsel is commencing work. Words like “Watergate” and “obstruction of justice” whip through the air. If I were Trump, I’d probably get out of town, too.

And I’d definitely pray.”

Bruni has captured this presidential moment!



Notre Dame Students Plan Walkout over Commencement Speaker Mike Pence!

Dear Commons Community,

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to be the main speaker at Notre Dame University’s commencement exercises.  A Notre Dame student group is planning to walk out in protest.  As reported by MIC:

“Student activist group We Stand For is organizing a protest against Pence during Sunday’s commencement exercises, in which participants will walk out of the ceremony when Pence begins speaking to stand in solidarity with those affected by his damaging policies.

“For us, there’s nothing that could be more in the spirit of the university and the university mission than to stand up for human dignity and the most vulnerable among us,” We Stand For organizer Luis Miranda said in an interview.

In addition to students, a Facebook event for the protest encourages all attendees, including faculty and students’ families, to participate in the protest.

“During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as a vice president, Pence has targeted the civil rights protections of members of LBGT+ community, rejected the Syrian refugee resettlement program, supported an unconstitutional ban of religious minorities, and fought against sanctuary cities,” We Stand For said in a statement, as quoted by ThinkProgress. “All of these policies have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.”

As part of the commencement ceremony, Pence will also be conferred with an honorary degree, the Notre Dame website notes. He will be the first vice president to deliver the commencement address at the university, which is located in Pence’s home state of Indiana.”

This will create a quandary for the Notre Dame administration.


Trump to Explore Obscure Ethics Rule to Undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller!

Dear Commons Community,

Reuters is reporting that the Trump administration is exploring whether it can use an obscure ethics rule to undermine the special counsel investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia.  As reported:

“Trump has said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s hiring of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation “hurts our country terribly.”

Within hours of Mueller’s appointment on Wednesday, the White House began reviewing the Code of Federal Regulations, which restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating their prior law firm’s clients for one year after their hiring, the sources said.

An executive order signed by Trump in January extended that period to two years.

Mueller’s former law firm, Wilmer-Hale, represents Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who met with a Russian bank executive in December, and the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is a subject of a federal investigation.

Legal experts said the ethics rule can be waived by the Justice Department, which appointed Mueller. He did not represent Kushner or Manafort directly at his former law firm.

If the department did not grant a waiver, Mueller would be barred from investigating Kushner or Manafort, and this could greatly diminish the scope of the probe, experts said.

The Justice Department is already reviewing Mueller’s background as well as any potential conflicts of interest, said department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.

Even if the Justice Department granted a waiver, the White House would consider using the ethics rule to create doubt about Mueller’s ability to do his job fairly, the sources said. Administration legal advisers have been asked to determine if there is a basis for this.

Under this strategy, the sources said the administration would raise the issue in press conferences and public statements.

Moreover, the White House has not ruled out the possibility of using the rule to challenge Mueller’s findings in court, should the investigation lead to prosecution.”



CNN’s Van Jones:  Donald Trump Has Become “President Snowflake”!

Dear Commons Community,

CNN’s Van Jones said that President Donald Trump is nothing like the tough-talking candidate he was on the campaign trail last year. 

“When he ran he was this tough guy,” Jones said last night on “Anderson Cooper 360.”

“This guy who’s going to get things done, this great negotiator.”

He was Trumpzilla. He was going to make Washington bow down. He was going to drain the swamp. Now he’s President Snowflake. Everything he says, ‘Oh, they’re mean to me, and they don’t like me, and I just don’t understand it and it’s not fair.’”

Jones said that kind of talk might appeal to Trump’s base, but to everyone else, “he looks increasingly bizarre.”

“It turns out you don’t have Trumpzilla,” he concluded. “You’ve got President Snowflake.” 

It does seem that Trump is doing a lot of whining lately. 



Robert Mueller Appointed Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Influence in U.S. Presidential Election!

Dear Commons Community,

The major news headline today is that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.   As reported by Reuters and other news media.

“The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

The move followed a week in which the White House was thrown into an uproar amid rising demands by Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans for an independent probe of whether Russia tried to sway the outcome of November’s presidential election in favor of Trump and against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The White House reportedly found out about the appointment with less than an hour’s notice.  In a statement after the Justice Department announcement, Trump said he looked forward to a quick resolution of the matter.

“As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” he said.

Mueller, in a statement tweeted by CBS News said: “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.”

Trump has long bristled at the notion that Russia played any role in his November election victory, but the Russia issue has clouded his early months in office. Moscow has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion it meddled in the campaign.

But pressure on the White House intensified after Trump’s firing last week of Federal Bureau of Investigation chief James Comey, who had been leading a federal probe into the matter, and allegations that Trump had asked Comey to end the FBI investigation.

The issue spilled over onto Wall Street on Wednesday where the S&P 500 and the Dow had their biggest one-day declines since September as investor hopes for tax cuts and other pro-business policies faded amid the political tumult.

“My decision (to appoint a special counsel) is not the finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement announcing the special counsel.

“I determined that a special counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome,” he said.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill welcomed the Justice Department action, but House and Senate Republican leaders said they would go on with their own investigations of the Russia matter.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Mueller was the right choice for the job

“A special counsel is very much needed in this situation and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has done the right thing,” Schumer said in a statement.

Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said he was confident Mueller “will conduct a thorough and fair investigation.”

Mueller, 72, was decorated as a Marine Corps officer during the Vietnam War. A former federal prosecutor, he is known for his tough, no-nonsense managerial style. Appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, he became FBI director one week before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In 2011, he was asked by Democratic President Barack Obama for two more years. He was replaced by Comey in 2013.”

This investigation will dominate our news for months to come.  Shades of Watergate for those of us who remember the early 1970s.



Amazon’s New Office Complex in Seattle to Include Homeless Shelter!

Dear Commons Community,

The online retail giant, Amazon, announced yesterday that it will dedicate more than 47,000 square feet of its new downtown Seattle headquarters into a permanent home for Mary’s Place, a nonprofit that operates several homeless shelters for women and families. The Amazon-sponsored Mary’s Place shelter will include 65 rooms, offering more than 200 homeless individuals a place to sleep every night.

The donated shelter space was announced as the city of Seattle is ramping up its own response to its growing homeless population, which caused the city to declare a state of emergency in 2015. 

“Mary’s Place does incredible, life-saving work every day for women, children, and families experiencing homelessness in the Seattle community,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a press release. “We are lucky to count them as neighbors and thrilled to offer them a permanent home within our downtown Seattle headquarters ― Amazon employees and Mary’s Place residents will move in together in early 2020.”

Last year, Amazon invited Mary’s Place to settle into a former Travelodge hotel located on a lot the company acquired in 2014 as it awaited construction of the new campus, according to The Seattle Times.

Construction of the new Amazon campus and the shelter begins in the fall. In the meantime, Amazon will relocate the shelter from the former Travelodge to another former hotel in the Seattle area.

Once the campus and shelter are complete, Amazon employees will be able to volunteer at the shelter. In fact, many already do, according to the company.

“Amazon employees are frequent visitors and volunteers at the existing shelter – bringing meals, organizing arts and crafts projects, throwing parties for the families, and more,” the Amazon’s press release said.

Critics have blamed Seattle’s tech giants, including Microsoft and Amazon, for creating a tech boom driving an affordable-housing crisis. As NPR pointed out, census data from September shows Seattle median incomes jumped $10,000 in one year.

But tech companies and people associated with them are giving back to the community. In April, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen committed $30 million to Seattle’s homeless crisis. And in January, companies including Microsoft, Starbucks, Alaska Airlines and Expedia helped to raise $4.5 million to open family shelters during the annual “No Child Sleeps Outside” campaign.

Congratulations to Amazon and these other companies for supporting their communities in such a tangible way.



Charter School Advocates Win Los Angeles School Board Election!

Dear Commons Community,

In perhaps the most closely watched school board election in modern times, two charter school advocates were the victors.  Less than two hours after polls closed yesterday, the president of the school board, Steve Zimmer, conceded the race. Addressing a crowd of supporters, Zimmer called his loss to candidate Nick Melvoin “devastating” and vowed never to run for office again. In a sign of how deeply polarizing this election has been, and how difficult it will be to forge consensus in the weeks and months to come, Zimmer said he would not call Melvoin.

From the moment the candidates filed to run for the Los Angeles Board of Education, the election has been a proxy war between wealthy charter school advocates and public employee unions. Charter supporters seemed poised early Wednesday morning to secure their first-ever majority on the seven-member Los Angeles Board of Education.

Early returns showed charter-backed Kelly Gonez, 28, leading against her union-supported opponent, Imelda Padilla, 29, in the race to fill a vacant seat in District 6.

Just after midnight, Gonez declared victory.

With a clear majority of advocates on the school board, Los Angeles will become a center for the charter school movement in the coming years.