Democrat Linda Belcher Beats Republican in State House Seat Special Election in Kentucky!

Dear Commons Community,

The Democrats continue to do well in special elections at the state level.  Yesterday, Democrat Linda Belcher, a former public school teacher and state lawmaker, defeated Republican Rebecca Johnson, 68 percent to 32 percent.  Belcher’s win flipped the Republican-held Kentucky state House seat  handing the Democrats its 37th state legislative pickup nationwide since Donald Trump won the presidency. As reported by The Huffington Post:

“Linda Belcher’s “lifelong commitment to bettering her community and her door-to-door campaign showcased her dedication to standing up for Kentuckians,” Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “She will work hard on behalf of working families, students, and the people of Bullitt County.”

Belcher is no stranger to the 49th District, which is in Bullitt County, just south of Louisville. Belcher represented the district from 2009 to 2012 and again from 2014 to January 2017, after being defeated in the 2016 election by a narrow margin.

Belcher’s victory is nonetheless symbolically important since Trump defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton among the district’s voters, 72 percent to 23 percent.

The special election was prompted by the December death of then-state Rep. Dan Johnson, a Republican. Johnson took his own life after denying allegations that he had molested a 17-year-old girl at a church where he had served as a pastor.

Rebecca Johnson, the defeated Republican candidate, is Johnson’s widow.

Belcher did not provide details of her policy proposals on her campaign website. But in an Election Day Facebook post, Belcher vowed that a vote for her was a vote for “keeping funding for Bullitt County schools, supporting our working families, and bringing Bullitt County’s share of road and infrastructure funds to the district.”

Belcher first ran for office in 2009 after her husband, then Democratic Rep. Larry Belcher, died in a car crash in October 2008.

During the special election campaign, Johnson implied that Linda Belcher had taken part in a Democratic plot to undermine her husband, according to Louisville’s Courier-Journal.

Belcher denied the accusation.

“I know the pain of losing a husband,” she told WHAS 11 in December. “I’ve been through that. I don’t wish that on anybody.”

Belcher’s election does not affect the balance of power in Kentucky. Republicans continue to hold considerable majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is not up for re-election until 2019.

Democrats have been on a roll in state-level special elections. Last Tuesday, the party picked up a Florida House seat in a Sarasota district that Trump had won.

And last month, Democrats flipped a state Senate seat in a rural stretch of Wisconsin that went heavily for Trump. Republican Gov. Scott Walker called the outcome a “wake-up call.”

Democrats still have a long way to go to reverse the losses they have endured in state legislatures since 2009. The party lost about 1,000 state legislative seats from 2009 to 2016.”

Belcher’s and other Democratic candidates’ recent wins in longtime Republican districts bode well for the midterm elections in November.


Teacher Asked by Students:  “Would you give your life for me?”

Funeral of Teacher Scott Beigel – Killed in Parkland, Florida Shooting!

Dear Commons Community,

As we continue to mourn the victims of the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, teachers are reflecting on what their roles and responsibilities are if a gunman came to their schools.  The New York Times has a featured article (see below) this morning that explores this question with a number of teachers from around the country.   Among the responses was one from Bruce Klasner, 61, of Everglades High School.  As reported:

“I teach the Holocaust,” he shouted at the rows of exhausted teachers. “I taught them,” he said of his students, “about a man by the name of Janusz Korczak who walked into the gas chambers with his children because he refused to leave them. And after this happened my kids are sitting outside saying, ‘Mr. K, would you give your life for me?’”

Mr. Klasner said he would — of course. “I said, ‘Did you even have to ask?’”

As we mourn the victims at Parkland, we honor the teachers who gave their lives for their students. 



School Shootings Put Teachers in New Role as Human Shields

By Julie Turkewitz  Feb. 19, 2018

TAMARAC, Fla. — The shooting was all over, but the emotional reckoning had just begun, and so on Saturday the teachers of Broward County packed their union hall to discuss what it meant to have become the nation’s human shields.

“Last night I told my wife I would take a bullet for the kids,” said Robert Parish, a teacher at an elementary school just miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, where a former student killed 17 people, including three staff members who found themselves in the line of fire.

Since the attack last week, said Mr. Parish, “I think about it all the time.”

Across the country, teachers are grappling with how their roles have expanded, from educator and counselor to bodyguard and protector. They wonder if their classrooms are properly equipped, if they would recognize the signs of a dangerous student, and most of all, if they are prepared to jump in front of a bullet.

In the last few days, teachers wrote to Congress, urging bans on assault weapons, and to state lawmakers, seeking permission to carry firearms to school. They attended local protests and reviewed safety plans with students. And in the evenings, they spoke with friends and family about an excruciating reality — that teachers, who once seemed mostly removed from the life-or-death risks faced by the ranks of police officers and firefighters, might now be vulnerable.

“I visualized what it would look like, and it made me sick,” said Catherine Collett, 28, a sixth-grade teacher in Northern Virginia who has spent recent days running through a thousand violent scenarios. “Could I empty out the cabinet and throw out the shelves and put kids in the cabinets? Is my better chance just barricading the doors? Can I move furniture that fast? Do I ask my kids to help me?”

Many teachers said even contemplating such worries felt far from what they had once imagined their challenges would be. As if the mounting pressures of test scores and email messages to parents and bus duty and hall duty and new certifications and all those meetings wasn’t enough. But the death toll has piled up — staff killed in shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 and now at Stoneman Douglas in Florida — and is forcing a shift in how teachers view their responsibilities.

“When I started teaching, I thought I was just coming in to teach,” said José Luis Vilson, 36, a middle school math teacher in New York City. Now he has come to view himself as a first responder, too, and added that instruction on topics such as conflict resolution and first aid would be useful.

Bo Greene, 56, a calculus and statistics teacher in Bar Harbor, Me., said the planning for dangerous situations had increased and grown more specific in the last year, even in her quiet school district. All of it feels jarring after decades in education, she added.

“I never had any of this,” Ms. Greene said. “We had the basic fire drills.”

Nowhere was the conversation among teachers more intense than in Broward County, where Stoneman Douglas is one of more than 300 schools, and Nikolas Cruz, charged in the shooting, had been among the district’s 270,000 students.

Laurel Holland, who was Mr. Cruz’s 11th-grade English teacher, said teachers in big public schools cannot possibly be expected to look into every student’s background to know if they have long been troubled. The year that she taught Mr. Cruz, she had more than 150 students, she said.

“There’s not enough time,” she said.

In the case of Mr. Cruz, she said, it was clear something was wrong. “He didn’t work and play well with others,” she said. “I was frightened.”

Ms. Holland eventually reported him to the administration, and he was removed from her class after one semester.

Inside the crowded union building on Saturday, educators held hands and shouted “Union strong!” before getting down to business.

How, they asked, were they going to stop the next one?

For hours they spoke of the golf clubs and baseball bats they would like to keep in their classrooms, of the bulletproof vests they wish they had, of the challenges of removing mass killers from their midst.

 “I’m curious to know, out of the people here, how many Nikolases they have at their school?” said Elizabeth Sundin, 48, a teacher’s assistant. “Because I have one at our school.”

Outside, in the balmy Florida night, Mr. Parish, 51, of Broadview Elementary, was wrestling with the question of the class door. When an armed attacker begins to prowl, and a student is left in the hall, “Do I let the kid in, and maybe the gunman behind her?” he said. “Or do I not let them in and save the whole class? That’s a decision I can’t make.”

Inside, under the glare of fluorescent lights, Bruce Klasner, 61, of Everglades High was wondering why the district had not created a text message system that could send instructions in the event of an attack.

“I teach the Holocaust,” he shouted at the rows of exhausted teachers. “I taught them,” he said of his students, “about a man by the name of Janusz Korczak who walked into the gas chambers with his children because he refused to leave them. And after this happened my kids are sitting outside saying, ‘Mr. K, would you give your life for me?’”

Mr. Klasner said he would — of course. “I said, ‘Did you even have to ask?’”

In a corner, Andrea Suarez, 35, of Westpine Middle School was worried about her own students, who have special needs and often make loud noises, meaning it is almost impossible to hide them.

These days, she said her plan for responding to a shooting involves corralling the children into a closet, occupying them with snacks, and positioning herself in front of the closet door with a pair of sharp scissors.

“I’ve been having a lot of difficulty sleeping,” said Ms. Suarez, whose four children have been urging her to leave the profession. “I keep hearing kids screaming and gunshots in my head.”

Here in Tamarac, the union meeting was wrapping up.

Jim Gard, in cargo pants and a union polo, stood outside, amid palm trees. At 58, he has been a teacher for 36 years, he said, and works at Stoneman Douglas. When the shooting broke out, he was in math class, not far from where many were shot. He had taught Mr. Cruz, as well as two of the dead.

“You know, if I go through my college transcripts — master’s degree, doctorate courses, all that — I know for sure there are no courses that say: ‘Shooter on Campus 101,’” he said.

The Broward County school district announced on Monday that staff members would return to Stoneman Douglas at the end of the week. Classes are expected to resume on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

Mr. Gard said many of his colleagues were struggling with the idea of returning.

And yet, he said, “I want to go back. I want to go back to my kids. I want to go back to my classroom. I want to see the kids, I want to teach the kids — and that’s the bottom line.”



Rick Gates Ready to Flip Against Paul Manafort in Mueller Investigation!

Dear Commons Community,

It appears that another suspect in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling and possible collusion in the 2016 election is ready to flip.  The Los Angeles Times and other media are reporting that Rick Gates, a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump, will plead guilty to charges related to fraud and is willing to testify against his longtime business partner, Paul Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign manager during part of the 2016 presidential race. As reported by The Los Angeles Times :

“Speculation has grown for weeks that Gates would cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing inquiry into Russian meddling in the presidential election. Gates, who served as Trump’s deputy campaign manager, was indicted in October along with Manafort on charges ranging from money laundering to violations of foreign lobbying laws. He pleaded not guilty to all charges at the time, which carry 10 years or more in potential sentences.

The plea will reportedly change in the coming days, and Gates will likely serve about 18 months in prison in exchange for his cooperation, the Times reported.

“Rick Gates is going to change his plea to guilty,″ a source familiar with the case told the outlet.

The Mueller probe has flipped two other high-profile Trump associates in recent months ― former national security adviser Michael Flynn and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. Both men have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russian officials and have been cooperating with the investigation for months. 

Gates’ lawyers have been negotiating with Mueller’s legal team for weeks, CNN reported on Saturday. According to the outlet, the special counsel’s team was finalizing a deal after Gates was allowed to give what’s known as a “Queen for a Day” interview, which typically allows a defendant to speak openly about their knowledge of an investigation without facing additional charges.

Gates could play a pivotal role in a trial against Manafort, who has stood by his own not guilty plea following the October indictment. A source told the Times that Gates’ cooperation would be a “cherry on top” of the case.

A White House official told CNN the Trump administration wasn’t worried about Gates’ cooperation with Mueller, as the president believed the flip was arranged to get more information against Manafort.

The Justice Department announced a sweeping set of charges against 13 Russians and three Russian entities on Friday, detailing a sophisticated campaign to sow discord among U.S. voters in the presidential election and in the process help elect Trump.”

Special Counsel Mueller is getting closer and closer to those around Trump and company.


LeBron James and Kevin Durant Give Laura Ingraham a Lesson in Democracy:  Everybody Has a Voice!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this week, Fox News host Laura Ingraham criticized LeBron James for expressing his political opinions with a “just shut up and dribble” comment. James made it clear yesterday that he has no intention of keeping his mouth shut.  As reported by various news media:

“[Lebron James].. will “talk about what’s really important” when it comes to the state of race relations in America.

 “I will not just shut up and dribble,” James said during a media session. .”.. So, thank you, whatever her name is. … I get to sit up here and talk about what’s really important and how I can help change kids.”

James has used his platform and ability to reach people. He has criticized President Donald Trump and did so again in January when he and Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant sat down with ESPN and both issued strong comments condemning the leadership in the White House.

Ingraham’s comments — they included telling James to “keep the political commentary to yourself” — were in reference to the James/Durant interview.

James initially put a #wewillnotshutupanddribble hashtag on his Instagram account after hearing Ingraham’s remarks.

“It lets me know that everything I’ve been saying is correct for her to have that type of reaction,” James said Saturday of Ingraham. “But we will definitely not shut up and dribble. I will definitely not do that.

“I mean too much to society, I mean too much to the youth, I mean too much to so many kids that feel like they don’t have a way out and they need someone to help lead them out of the situation they’re in.”

Durant echoed James’ comment with some of his own on Saturday.

“I feel like everybody has a voice, especially with our own platforms, we can use our voices for good,” Durant said. “It’s not just me. I feel like everybody in this room has a voice and it’s getting louder and louder every day, so we’ve got to speak what we believe in, we’ve got to speak our truths, and we’ve got to keep it real out here.”

Ingraham needs a lesson in civics and that in a democratic society, everybody has the right to an opinion. She might not understand this given that she is a host on Fox News where she is given a script daily to distort news for her mostly Republican Party viewership.


President Trump Stop Calling Russia’s Interference “Fake News” and Do Something!


Dear Commons Community,

The fallout from yesterday’s announcement that Special Counsel Robert Mueller turned in 13 indictments against Russian nationals meddling in our elections is coming fast and furiously.  The only person appearing to think it is less than what it is, is President Trump.  He feels vindicated because there is no mention of collusion on his part.  However, he ignores the point that our democracy was and will continue to be undermined by the Russian government.

Below is today’s editorial in the New York Times calling on the President to please wake up and act in the country’s not just in his own personal interests.




Stop Letting the Russians Get Away With It, Mr. Trump

By the Editorial Board

FEB. 16, 2018

Are you sure you still want to call it fake news, Mr. President?

For the past year, Donald Trump has repeatedly denied the existence of a profound national security threat: Russia’s attempt to interfere in the 2016 election on his behalf. He dismissed the Russian subversion effort as a hoax by his opponents and the media despite voluminous evidence to the contrary — including the consensus of the American intelligence community — that it did in fact happen, and is sure to happen again.

Now come the indictments. On Friday, Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia’s role in the 2016 election, filed criminal charges of fraud and identity theft against 13 Russian citizens and three Russian organizations, all alleged to have operated a sophisticated influence campaign intended to “sow discord in the U.S. political system.”

One organization, the Internet Research Agency — which the indictment says is funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the “go-to oligarch” of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin — began its efforts as early as 2014, according to the indictment. Its staffers, known as “specialists,” posed as Americans and created false identities to set up social media pages and groups aimed at attracting American audiences. The broad outlines of this interference have been known publicly for a while, but the sheer scope of the deception detailed in Friday’s indictments is breathtaking.

By the spring of 2016, the operation had zeroed in on supporting Mr. Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton. The Internet Research Agency alone had a staff of 80 and a monthly budget of $1.25 million. On the advice of a real, unnamed grass-roots activist from Texas, it had focused its efforts on swing states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida.

Staffers bought ads with messages like “Hillary is a Satan,” “Ohio Wants Hillary 4 Prison” and “Vote Republican, Vote Trump, and support the Second Amendment!”

They created hundreds of social media accounts on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other sites to confuse and anger people about sensitive issues like immigration, religion and the Black Lives Matter movement — in some cases gaining hundreds of thousands of followers.

They staged rallies while pretending to be American grass-roots organizations. A poster at one “pro-Clinton” rally in July 2016 read “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims,” along with a fabricated quote attributed to Mrs. Clinton: “I think Sharia Law will be a powerful new direction of freedom.”

As the election drew nearer, they tried to suppress minority turnout and promoted false allegations of Democratic voter fraud. The specialist running one of the organization’s Facebook accounts, called “Secured Borders,” was criticized for not publishing enough posts and was told that “it is imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton.”

After the election, they continued to spread confusion and chaos, staging rallies both for and against Mr. Trump, in one case on the same day and in the same city.

All along, they took steps to cover their tracks by stealing the identities of real Americans, opening accounts on American-based servers and lying about what their money was being used for. Last September, after Facebook turned over information about Russian ad purchases to the special counsel, a specialist named Irina Kaverzina emailed a family member: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.” Ms. Kaverzina continued, “I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.”

Fake news, indeed.

Mr. Trump’s defenders, desperate to exculpate him, seized on a single word — “unwitting” — that the indictment used to describe certain “members, volunteers and supporters of the Trump campaign involved in local community outreach” who had interacted with the Russians.

In other words, as the White House subtly put it in a statement on Friday, “NO COLLUSION.” The president repeated the claim himself in a tweet, grudgingly acknowledging Russia’s “anti-US campaign,” but emphasizing that it had started “long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!”

It’s true that, as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in an announcement, these particular indictments do not allege that any American knew about the influence campaign, nor that the campaign had changed the outcome of the election. But that’s quite different from saying that there was no collusion or impact on the election. As Mr. Rosenstein also said, the special counsel’s investigation is continuing, and there are many strands the public still knows little or nothing about.

Remember, Mr. Mueller has already secured two guilty pleas, one from Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser and another from a former campaign adviser, for lying to federal authorities about their connections to Russian government officials. He has also charged Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his top aide, Rick Gates, with crimes including money laundering. Mr. Gates appears to be nearing a plea deal himself.

Then there were Russian cyberattacks on the elections systems of at least 39 states. And the hacking of emails sent among members of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign — which Mr. Trump openly encouraged.

This is all going to happen again. Intelligence and law enforcement authorities have made that clear. The question is whether Mr. Trump will at last accept the fact of Russian interference and take aggressive measures to protect American democracy. For starters, he could impose the sanctions on Russia that Congress overwhelmingly passed, and that he signed into law, last summer. Of course, this would require him to overcome his mysterious resistance to acting against Russia and to focus on protecting his own country.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller Indicts 13 Russians for Interfering in American Elections!

Dear Commons Community,

Special Counsel Robert Mueller III charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations today with illegally trying to disrupt the American political process, including efforts designed to boost the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump and hurt that of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The indictment represents the first charges by the special counsel for meddling in the 2016 presidential election — the fundamental crime that he was assigned to investigate.  As reported by the New York Times:

“In a 37-page indictment filed in United States District Court, Mr. Mueller said that the 13 individuals have conspired since 2014 to violate laws that prohibit foreigners from spending money to influence federal elections in the United States.

The indictment charges that the foreigners falsely posed as American citizens, stole identities and otherwise engaged in fraud and deceit in an effort to influence the U.S. political process, including the 2016 presidential race.

“The nature of the scheme was the defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists,” Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing Mr. Mueller’s inquiry, said in a brief news conference on Friday afternoon at the Justice Department.

I don’t know whether Russian activities alone caused an election upset in 2016, but I do know that between Comey’s late-breaking news right…

Though the Russians are unlikely to be immediately arrested, they are now wanted by the United States government, which will make it hard for them to travel or do business internationally. All were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, three with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud and five with aggravated identity theft.

President Trump emphasized in a tweet and a statement that the indictments accused neither him nor his campaign of wrongdoing and said that the partisan rancor that dominates politics made room for “bad actors, like Russia,” to sow discord.

 “We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections,” he said in the statement.

In the midafternoon tweet, he wrote that Russia began its operation before he even announced his candidacy and that its efforts did not affect the election results. “The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!” he wrote.

The indictment lays out a highly sophisticated, well-funded, three-year-long scheme designed in part to put President Trump in The White House.

The Internet Research Agency, operating out of St. Petersburg, was described in the indictment as a hub for a sophisticated operation designed to reach millions of Americans to disrupt the political process in the United States. Its annual budget was millions of dollars; its stated goal was to “spread distrust toward the candidates and the political system in general.”

This is an incredible development that gives credibility to the work of the special counsel.  I have a sense that this is only the beginning.  There will be more indictments against various individuals associated with Donald Trump’s campaign.



17 Killed in Shooting at Florida High School!

Dear Commons Community,

It has become a regular occurrence in this country for a gunman armed with a high-powered weapon decides to kill innocents, all too often it happens at a school.  There have been more than 40 “active shooter” episodes in schools recorded in the United States since 2000, according to the F.B.I.  The shootings have become so common that many schools now conduct drills in which students practice huddling in classrooms behind locked doors.

Yesterday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a heavily armed young man barged into his former high school opening fire on terrified students and teachers and leaving a death toll of 17 that could rise even higher, the authorities said.  As reported by the New York Times:

“Students huddled in horror in their classrooms, with some of them training their cellphones on the carnage, capturing sprawled bodies, screams and gunfire that began with a few shots and then continued with more and more. The dead included students and adults, some of whom were shot outside the school and others inside the sprawling three-story building.

The gunman, armed with a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, was identified as Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old who had been expelled from the school, the authorities said. He began his shooting rampage outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in this suburban neighborhood shortly before dismissal time around 2:40 p.m. He then made his way inside and proceeded down hallways he knew well, firing at students and teachers who were scurrying for cover, the authorities said.

“Oh my God! Oh my God!” one student yelled over and over in one video circulating on social media, as more than 40 gunshots boomed in the background.   

By the end of the rampage, Mr. Cruz had killed 12 people inside the school and three outside it, including someone standing on a street corner, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. Two more victims died of their injuries in local hospitals. The aftermath at the school was an eerie shrine, with chairs upended, a computer screen shattered with bullet holes and floors stained with blood.

“This is catastrophic,” said Sheriff Israel, who has three children who graduated from the high school. “There really are no words.”

“There really are no words” for this horrific incident which is all so common in a country prone to insane violence at the hands of deranged individuals with easy access to weapons of destruction. 


NY Times CEO:  Paper Will Likely Transition to Digital Editions Only in Ten Years!

Dear Commons Community,

Those of us who read the New York Times on a regular basis may have to read a digital only edition within ten years.

New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said in a Monday interview with CNBC that the next decade will likely witness the decline of the paper’s print edition as it transitions to digital-only distribution.

“I believe at least 10 years is what we can see in the U.S. for our print products,” Thompson said. Although he’d like to see the print edition “survive and thrive as long as it can,” the CEO said his company will decide when to shutter its print operations “simply on the economics.”   As reported at the CNBC website:

“The key thing for us is that we’re pivoting,” Thompson said. “Our plan is to go on serving our loyal print subscribers as long as we can. But meanwhile to build up the digital business, so that we have a successful growing company and a successful news operation long after print is gone.”

Digital subscriptions, in fact, may be what’s keeping the New York Times afloat for a new generation of readers. While Thompson said the number of print subscribers is relatively constant, “with a little bit of a decline every time,” the company said last week that it added 157,000 digital subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2017. The majority were new subscribers, but that number also included cooking and crossword subscriptions.

Revenue from digital subscriptions increased more than 51 percent in the quarter compared with a year earlier. Overall subscription revenue increased 19.2 percent.

Meanwhile, the company’s fourth-quarter earnings and revenue beat analysts expectations, “even though the print side of the business is still somewhat challenged,” Thompson said. Total revenue rose 10 percent from a year earlier to $484.1 million. New York Times’ shares have risen more than 20 percent this year.

Even with the recent market volatility the stock is up 8 percent from last week.

Under Thompson’s leadership, the New York Times has become the first news organization in the world to pass the 1 million digital-only subscription mark.

“Without question we make more money on a print subscriber,” Thompson said. “But the point about digital is that we believe we can grow many, many more of them. We’ve already got more digital than print subscribers. Digital is growing very rapidly. Ultimately, there will be many times the number of digital subscribers compared to print.”

The problem doesn’t stop at print. The media industry in general whether providing  content in print, on television, or on the Internet faces challenges across the board as they struggle with subscription models and advertising revenue.



Book/Two Pieces by Rob Rieman:  “To Fight Against this Age:  On Fascism and Humanism”!

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading Rob Rieman’s book, To Fight Against this Age:  On Fascism and Humanism. Rieman is a cultural philosopher who founded the Nexus Institute (Amsterdam), a center devoted to intellectual reflection and cultural debate.  Rieman’s book contains two pieces:  “The Eternal Return of Fascism” and “The Return of Europa”. 

“The Eternal Return…” is an essay written in 2010 and warned that fascism could return based on its politics of resentment,  the incitement of anger and fear, looking for scapegoats, and the hatred of the life of the mind.  Here are excerpts:

“The fact that fascism could gain political power in Italy and Germany was, to a great extent, a result of the hubris, as much as the cowardice and perfidy, of social elites…in 1932, they were happy for Hitler and his henchmen to take over.  They assumed that they could keep him in check, and use the mistakes he would make to politically eliminate him.”

Quoting Primo Levi:  “…it happened that an entire civilized people, followed a buffoon whose figure today inspires laughter, and yet Adolf Hitler was obeyed and his praises sung right up to the catastrophe.”  

Question:  Can we associate Rieman’s thesis with any world leaders today?

“The Return of Europa” is a story that examines the meaning of European humanism with its values of truth, beauty, justice, and love of life that are the origin and basis for democratic civilization.  Rieman warns that Western society has replaced philosophy and religion with science and technology and:

“seeks to create the singular man based on robotics and artificial intelligence…”

“has fallen in love with data and information…”

“where the only value we still recognize is economic value…where only material things exist, everything has become money, everything is calculable, and reduced to a number.”

I highly recommend this short book that one can read in one rainy weekend as I did last Saturday and Sunday.  Below is a New York Times Book Review of To Fight Against this Age…



On Fascism and Humanism 
By Rob Riemen 
176 pp. W.W. Norton & Company. $19.95.

Review by Damon Linker

One year after the Allied obliteration of the Third Reich, the historian Friedrich Meinecke published what would be one of the first efforts on the part of a German scholar and intellectual to come to terms with National Socialism. The slim volume, titled “The German Catastrophe,” traced the rise of the Nazis to a turning away during the 19th century from the glories of German high culture in favor of an obsession with economic efficiency that eventually led to the total mobilization of Hitler’s rabidly nationalist war machine.

How could Germany inoculate itself against a future return of fascism? Meinecke proposed the creation of “Goethe communities” in cities across the country, with ceremonies in churches on Sundays devoted to the celebration of the great poet and other literary figures, accompanied by the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms.

It’s tempting to mock Meinecke’s faith in the power of humanism — poetry, literature, philosophy, music, art — to save Germany, and potentially the world, from political extremism. But this faith wasn’t unique to him. A century and a half before Meinecke published his reckoning with National Socialism, Goethe’s friend and contemporary Friedrich Schiller proposed an “aesthetic education” for the human race that would reunify the fractured modern soul, ensuring that the bloody, proto-totalitarian excesses of the French Revolution would never be repeated.

Now, seven decades after Meinecke, the Dutch author Rob Riemen has revived this tradition in our own time. Outraged by the rise of Geert Wilders and his far-right Freedom Party in the Netherlands, Riemen wrote an acidic pamphlet, “The Eternal Return of Fascism,” in 2010 that provoked alarm and sparked debate across Europe. Riemen followed it up a few years later with a more positive vision in “The Return of Europa: Her Tears, Deeds and Dreams,” a brief work of didactic fiction loosely modeled on Thomas Mann’s sublime philosophical novel, “The Magic Mountain.” With center-left parties in electoral free fall and right-wing populists surging in several countries of the European Union over the intervening years, Riemen’s dire warnings cannot help appearing prescient.

American readers who are rightly worried about similarly distressing developments in the United States will feel fortified by the publication of “To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism,” which brings these two pieces together in a single slim volume and establishes Riemen as an erudite, well-meaning and inspiring ally in the struggle to combat anti-liberal political trends. Whether he is an especially wise guide to that struggle is another matter.

The message of the book is simple, insistent and powerful: The West is not confronting a threat of “populism,” as so many contemporary analysts claim. It’s facing a threat of fascism — the form of modern mass politics that actively cultivates “our worst irrational sentiments: resentment, hatred, xenophobia, lust for power and fear!” Above all, fascism mobilizes ignorance and prejudice by nurturing and flattering them, by persuading democratic citizens to cut themselves off from the wisdom contained in “poetry and literature, philosophy and theology, the arts and history” — in short, from “the domain of culture” that puts us in touch with “what unites us and makes the unity of mankind possible.”

The proper response to the fascist threat, according to Riemen, is therefore education — the cultivation of individuals who are as “free and responsible” as “Socrates and Spinoza,” and also capable of resisting our “nihilist kitsch society” in which “nationalism, resentment and hatred” blossom and thrive. Education can accomplish this task by teaching the “care for the soul” that, at its peak, European culture exemplifies.

Riemen maintains that such an education in “culture, philosophy and art” can bring forth a “humanist society” that is “morally mature” and thus capable of standing against “the rebirth of nationalism, the triviality of technology, the vulgarity of commerce and the cultivated stupidity of the media and the universities.” Only when such an education has spread the love of “truth, goodness, beauty, friendship, justice, compassion and wisdom” will the West have succeeded in immunizing itself against “the deadly bacillus called fascism.”

No one who’s tasted the glories of European high culture or who’s appalled by the latter-day descent of our politics into the gutter can fail to be moved by Riemen’s rousing rhetoric. But that doesn’t mean his diagnosis of what ails us is correct, or his cure for it sensible.

Take his insistence, now widely shared by commentators on both sides of the Atlantic, that “fascism” is on the rise across the West. Yes, the centrist consensus of the postwar era, and especially the neoliberal one that has dominated since the end of the Cold War, is being challenged today by many on the right and some on the left. But is this challenge really best understood as a revival of the kind of politics that was practiced in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Franco’s Spain?

In some respects, perhaps. But one necessary component is missing: a uniform, galvanizing ideology that could plausibly animate a centralized totalitarian state to co-opt civil society, driving out dissent by employing a combination of surveillance, repression and propaganda. The threat facing liberal politics today is quite different and in some ways the opposite: a rising tide of polarization and chaos in civil society driven by numerous forces, some structural (social media) but others political (right-wing disinformation, Russian meddling), that threatens to empower a form of postmodern, kleptocratic authoritarianism. That’s certainly bad, and potentially antidemocratic. But it’s not fascism.

The error is important not only because inaccurately tossing around the f-word contributes to the hyperbole that is turning civil society into a circus of inflammatory charges and countercharges, but also because it reveals a serious failure of understanding — one that’s troublingly pervasive in Europe and even common among a distressingly large number of American liberals.

The misunderstanding concerns nothing less than the nature of politics itself. For many liberals, politics involves bureaucratic administration, the management of government benefits and the jostling of interest groups. One party or coalition tweaks the numbers in one direction, another nudges them a different way. Such fiddling with policy is a good part of modern politics. But it’s not the whole of politics. At a more elemental level, the one to which Aristotle directed much of his attention, politics is about more existential issues: this bounded community in this place with this history and heritage, determining its own character for itself, deciding who is and who is not a citizen, who will rule and in the name of which vision of the good life.

After the cataclysm of World War II, European leaders concluded that the disaster was a product of an excess of politics in this elemental sense. Emphasizing certain transcendent themes in Western humanism, they advocated the universalism of human rights and denigrated any and all attachment to particular nations or cultures. The Common Market and then the European Union itself were experiments in devising a postpolitical politics that treated particular attachments as morally unacceptable and therefore politically out of bounds. Favoring anything less than open borders became invariably xenophobic, caring about the ethnic and cultural character of one’s own nation became invariably racist and fearing outsiders who wish to do it harm became invariably fascist.

For a while it looked as if Europe’s experiment in forging an antipolitical politics might succeed. Not so much anymore.

Riemen’s book is admirable in many ways, but it is an unusually hermetic example of the thinking that led so many Europeans to believe in the first place that it was possible, necessary and desirable to produce a civilization in which citizens are expected to look down on the love that has always defined citizenship — the love of one’s own. We have ample reason to doubt that liberal politics can be saved by more of the same.